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‘Songs For St. Louis’ Brings Opera Magic To Public Television

With theaters closed and opera on a year-plus hiatus, what’s a rising star singer to do? One solution: Take the stage outdoors and sing your heart out, far from your admiring fans — and then let public television bring a socially distant audience to you.

That’s just the collaboration dreamed up by Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the Nine Network. In early October, they teamed up to film a moonlit concert sans audience on the Public Media Commons in Grand Center. The production features three young operatic singers from the 2020 Gerdine Young Artist Program singing some of the most beloved songs of Broadway and opera. That includes offerings from “La bohème,” “Rigoletto,” “South Pacific” and “West Side Story.”

Patricia Racette, Opera Theatre’s artistic director of young artist programs, explained that the outdoor set-up in front of a crew of about 20 provided the desired frisson of excitement without the possibility of a super-spreader event.

“There was an essence of live performance that was maintained, and I think it fed all of us,” she said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.

Racette cited “logistical reasons,” including the need for street closures, for the concert’s evening setting. But, she said, it’s a choice that works, and not only in how it mimics the idea of an evening at the opera: “You have the added benefit of beautiful lighting adding a nuance that’s so beautiful and appreciated.”

The concert features soprano Angel Riley, a local favorite from Belleville, Illinois; lyric tenor Ganson Salmon and bass-baritone Christopher Humbert.

Racette said the young singers she works with have been devastated by the way the pandemic has brought performances to a halt.

“It’s really been difficult,” she said. “This is a lifelong endeavor of training; it’s a virtuosic art that needs constant, constant polishing. You spend quite a few years preparing … and just waiting for that moment to take flight. And for this all to have been stopped, it’s been rough.”

She said she urges the singers she works with to use the time. “Learn a language,” she said. “Learn some roles that you really feel are appropriate for you. Continue to take this time and hone your craft. If you really look at what is involved, all your time can be very well occupied, make no mistake.”

“Songs for St. Louis: A Concert in the Commons” premieres on the Nine Network at 7 p.m. Monday, with encore presentations scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 22 and 7 p.m. Nov. 26.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis. She won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her work in Phoenix exposing corruption at the local housing authority. She also won numerous awards for column writing, including multiple first place wins from the Arizona Press Club, the Association of Women in Journalism (the Clarion Awards) and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. From 2015 to July 2019, Sarah was editor in chief of St. Louis' alt-weekly, the Riverfront Times. She and her husband, John, are raising their two young daughters and ill-behaved border terrier in Lafayette Square.