2019 Greater Colorado Tour – Days 4-5

The 2018-19 Artists in Residence in Gunnison, joined by Digital Content Manager Kelly Maxwell, who accompanied the group to capture video of the artists in action. Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

Days 4 and 5: March 11–12, 2019
Denver to Gunnison and back again

Good morning readers. Apologies for the delay in this installment of the blog. Our plans changed rapidly due to the weather so there was little time to write the blog in the moment.

Monday, March 11:
We leave bright and early to drive to Gunnison. We hit weather and icy roads almost as soon as we get into the mountains. It’s going to make the drive slower and very interesting.

We’ve switched up the cars a bit on this trip; we’re all still getting along with each other, we just have an addition to our group and that means extra stuff, too. Kelly Maxwell, Opera Colorado’s Digital Content Manager, is hitching a ride to film us on the road so she has content for an upcoming video project. We’re delighted to have her with us. Kelly is riding with Tyler and Kira; Nick and Aaren are in the Yeti; and I’ve got Rebekah, Edward, and Eric in my car. The majority of the drive was spent listening to Rebekah spin stories, Eric becoming one with all of the roles in Wicked, and being pseudo-serenaded by Edward while he worked on music for The Marriage of Figaro.

Collegiate Peaks.. Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

We hit some pretty bad roads around Fairplay and over Trout Creek Pass. We come into the valley near the Collegiate Peaks and you can’t even see them. Monarch Pass is beautiful and completely covered in snow—feet upon feet of it. I have never driven this pass in ideal weather and today is no exception. The added element of driving it while under an avalanche warning is lovely and not at all nerve-wracking.

As we make the final push into Gunnison, we pass bald eagles and drive by hundreds of deer. There is so much snow, they’ve all gathered in the valley. It’s a beautiful sight, but yet another thing we need to be mindful of as they are right off of the road in several places. We make it to Gunnison and stop for a quick lunch. I decide to take a breather in the car while the others eat. We made it here safely—thank goodness. I am concerned about the weather, though. It’s snowing at the moment and it’s not supposed to stop until Thursday. Each time I check the weather report for Denver, it just looks worse. We could have a very hard time getting back on Wednesday.

But—we have a show to do, so everyone gets back into the cars. At the school, Rebekah checks us in and we navigate ourselves to the load-in area. I’ve worked with this school for more than eight years now and it’s great to be back. They have a fabulous music program and they’re truly dedicated to the students. It’s a wonderful environment to be in after a stressful drive. We get to the business of loading in while trying to avoid mud puddles big enough to swallow you, icy ground, snowy mountains, and foot-long killer icicles. Kelly is really getting her money’s worth on her first opera tour experience.

Tenor Aaren Rivard gets into costume as the Witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

While set up happens, Kelly interviews one of the school’s fabulous music teachers and a few students. I catch up with the principal and check the weather again. (It’s snowing harder now.) Once everyone is ready, we see to the final pre-show needs and it’s time to start. I give the pre-curtain talk, introduce Tyler, and we’re off. Most of these kids have seen opera, because we’ve been here before, so they know a bit about what to expect. They’re immediately laughing at Rebekah’s and Kira’s antics as Hansel and Gretel and it seems like the energy on stage is good. That is, until Aaren comes on. Readers, I have no idea what happened to him today. He’s usually so reliable. Today… well… he lost it. Completely. In all the best ways. Aaren takes his character of The Witch to a whole new level today. It’s like a combination of Roger Rabbit, Jack Sparrow, and Ethel Merman all rolled into one fabulous, crazy creation. I wish this blog had sound effects because I can’t actually find the words to type the sounds that he ad-libbed during his dance. I was laughing out loud as was everyone backstage. Kira, supposed to be sleeping as Hansel, had to hide her face in a blanket just to get through the scene. Tyler was unflappable at the piano, or keyboard as it was, but that might have been because it suddenly decided to play a rhumba accompaniment track in the middle of the show. It’s fine, he turned it off and quickly back on. We performed acapella for a moment or two, but it worked out. Ah, live performance. And it’s all made even better when I think that THIS is the performance that Kelly is recording.

We make it to the end and the students are cheering. During the Q&A, we get a question about why The Witch is played by a boy and Hansel is played by a girl. Aaren and Kira answer it beautifully, talking about the fact that this is just a part of opera, what those roles are called and how much fun it is. We say our goodbye, but not before the principal thanks us and tells his students to remember what a special day this has been because it was the day opera came to their school. Stressful drive: worth it.

Tenor Aaren Rivard, in full regalia as the Witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

We begin to load out. It’s stopped snowing for the moment and the sun is out. While we finish, I scrape the mud/ice hybrid shards off the rental so we can at least get in without creating a bog inside. I also try to figure out a plan for tomorrow, because the weather report has again gotten worse and we’ve had another unpleasant development. Apparently the costumes for Romeo & Juliet have been left in Denver. That’s what we’re scheduled to perform tomorrow night. Admittedly, I’m less than amused by this. I email my contacts at Western State and let them know, telling them I’m coming up with an alternate plan. Load out is complete and no one was maimed by an icicle, so I take a moment to snap a group picture (minus me) and we head over to our hotel to check in.

Room keys in hand, we unload the vehicles and take a few minutes to catch our breath. I try to call the college to talk about tomorrow, but have to leave a message. I’ve proposed that we do the master class as planned and then we have the Artists in Residence perform for the students and end with a talk-back session so they can ask us questions. Then, the hard part. I’ve made the decision to cancel our performance of Romeo & Juliet tomorrow night for the community. I hate to do it, but I know it’s the right decision. Costumes aside, our safety has to be a priority and I’m afraid if we wait until Wednesday morning to get back, we won’t actually make it thanks to something called a “Bomb Cyclone.”

We have some down time, so the ladies decide to head over to Main Street and look around. I have no idea what the gentlemen chose to do. We leave them to bond or, more probably, to nap, and I spend some time with Kira, Rebekah, and Kelly. We window shop, try to convince Kelly to purchase a pair of vastly overpriced but very cute sunglasses, try to make sure I do not purchase shoes, and, finally, grab some refreshments (I realize now that I never did eat lunch). While that’s going on, road manager Nick, who apparently is not napping, springs into action and devises a poll on Facebook Messenger so we can decide where to go for dinner. Our voting options are “Indian,” “Pizza,” or “Neither.”

Pizza wins (Eric votes twice) and we head back to the hotel to get the guys. Edward will not be joining us, instead choosing to stay and work on his music. Arriving at the restaurant, we see a sign that raises our hopes that this will be not just good, but very good. They apparently have the BEST pizza, the BEST salad, the BEST wait staff and the BEST chef. They’ve won awards and everything. Our server is indeed delightful and after she discovers that we’re with the opera, she tells us that her daughter was at the school we performed at earlier. She apparently came home raving about the opera she saw and very enthusiastically asked her mom if she could join the choir. Her mom said she’s never asked before today. Yeah!!! Yet more proof that this matters. What we’re doing makes a real impact on these kids. It can be hard to measure that in a way that is tangible for people that aren’t experiencing what we are every day…but we’re working hard to reach them in a way that means something.

Killer icicles portend what’s to come… Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

The food is good and we enjoy dinner as we relax with each other for a bit. Then Nick gets into a heated discussion with Kelly about morals or bands or games or beer, I really don’t know what it was about. Not because I wasn’t listening (you’re right, I wasn’t), but because in the two years that I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve learned that Nick loves to debate. He’ll do it with anything, even beans (go back and read last year’s blog, you’ll understand). He also loves to tease people and Kelly walked right into it. It’s OK, though; she ultimately won. Upon reflection, I think it all started after Nick ate the equivalent of a brick of cheese as an appetizer…

Dinner completed, we head back to the hotel. I’ve heard back from the college and we’ve got a plan. We have a quick meeting in my room to discuss tomorrow and the changes. Tyler and I will conduct the master class and Kelly will be there to film. While that’s happening, the others will have time for lunch. Then they will join us and we’ll do an Arias & Ensembles, then a talk-back. Romeo & Juliet will be cancelled, which I’m still not happy about, but it is what it is at this point. Then we’ll drive back to Denver in the evening. It’s a good plan and will hopefully allow us to get back before the bomb drops, literally. I bid everyone goodnight and then spend my evening catching up on work. I think they may have gone swimming or played a game. All I know is that I heard some pretty raucous laughter in the hallway around 10:00 PM. I assume it was my group because we’re always the loudest people in the room. It’s an occupational hazard.

Tuesday, March 12:
It’s morning, and I’m up and ready for a meeting I need to call in for. I open the drapes and… well, I thought I did. Apparently I opened the wardrobe because we’re in Narnia and Aslan is not home. Either that or all of Aaren’s gyrating during the show yesterday awakened the weather spirits. It snowed overnight. A lot more than we expected. The roads are covered and it’s still snowing. Hopefully it will slack off and the roads will improve as they warm up. After my meeting, I have just enough time to get ready before packing up my bags and heading to the car. I spend the next 25 minutes cleaning off the car so I can get into it and see out the windshield, then removing the snow I got off the car from my shoes and inner garments. I meet up with everyone and we load all the bags. The Artists in Residence head to lunch in two of the cars, while Tyler, Kelly, and I go to Western State University for the master class.

We’re happily greeted by the head of the music department and taken into their beautiful recital hall. This is another long-time collaboration and I’m very happy to be here. Tyler and I spend the next hour working with three of their voice students while other students in the music program and some departmental staff observe. Tyler and I make a really good team. We each have our own things we work on with the students, but we’re also able to play off each other and make the most of our time. Everyone else arrives right on time and we perform a selection of duets and arias. Then we take questions from the audience. They have so many questions. More than we have time for. These are students who are pursuing degrees in music and now they have people in the room who are actually doing what they’re going to school for. When I do this type of thing, I have one overarching rule. Be honest. Let them know what it’s really like so they have some idea of what lays ahead of them, some idea of just how hard and how wonderful a career in music can be. The answers are thoughtful and full of personality. It goes well. I end by making sure they know that I’m here to be a resource for them and we say goodbye.

A snowy Monarch Pass. Photo: Opera Colorado/Cherity Koepke

With that, it’s time to head back. It’s stopped snowing and the roads are OK, we think. We fuel up the vehicles and Tyler, Kelly, and I grab food and then we get on the road. The drive, while long, is fairly uneventful, thank goodness. We make it back to Denver safely and before the storm hits.

Now, as I sit finishing this blog after the fact, it was a good thing we came back early. There is no way we would have made it back to Denver on Wednesday. This “Bomb Cyclone” was no joke. It closed the Opera Colorado offices for two days, and we had four student programs cancelled due to school closures.

Well—that’s all for now, readers. We’ll be heading back out on the road in early April and then again in mid-May. I’ll be blogging away again soon enough. Thank you for joining us; we love having you be a part of our adventures. I love getting your comments about the blog, too, so let us know if you’re reading!

Until then,


P.S. Oh… one more thing. Edward is not only a wonderful singer, he’s also very handsome. (I promised him I would tell you that.)

Cherity Koepke is Opera Colorado’s Director of Education & Community Programs and the Director of the Artist in Residence Program. To learn more about some of Opera Colorado’s many education and community opportunities, click here. To learn more about this year’s Artists in Residence, click here.


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