New opera company debuts this week in Ventura County

by Alan Nitikman, Lister contributor

Opera by the Glass is a new opera company in Ventura County, and is presenting its inaugural production, Vincenzo Belllini’s “The Sleepwalker” (La Sonnambula), sung in the original Italian with English supertitles, and debuting this coming weekend, with two performances on November 4th & 6th.

This new venture is a labor of love, formed by a group of committed opera professionals trying to bring a new and exciting opera experience to both aficionados and opera newbies in this underserved region of Southern California.  Performances take place at Ventura County’s charming historical landmark building, the Somis Thursday Club (pictured here).


Why the name?  The “glass” refers to the atmosphere the company wants to create, described on their event page:

“We are: Opera by the Glass, a community of singers, directors, and musicians devoted to providing fantastic opera experiences for contemporary audiences in fun, intimate, and unique venues in Ventura County. Our concept is inspired by the NYC Loft Opera, a movement which strips away rigid performances styles by offering operas in a cabaret-style setting – small tables with an open end toward the stage, and including light refreshments such as wine, etc. with every show.”

Internationally recognized director and performer Zeffin Quinn Hollis is the Artistic Director; and Timothy León, an accomplished conductor and dramatic tenor, serves as Music Director, Conductor and Chorus Master. Hana Chelberg, coloratura soprano, will be singing the role of Amina, and Count Rodolfo will be played by baritone Patrick MacKellan.  Alex Mendoza, lyric tenor, performs the role of Elvino, and Dianna Burdick, a co-founder and lyric soprano, will be singing the role of Lisa.

Bellini’s opera is rarely performed these days, but it is the quintessential Bel canto opera, emphasizing the beauty of melody and the well-produced voice. Chopin, known for his own emphasis on extended, soaring melodies, was a huge fan of Bellini’s operas, and was said to have considered “Ah, non credea mirarti”, Amina’s final aria, to be his favorite melody — even asking that it be performed at his deathbed. Bellini composed only six operas in his sadly short life, but he crammed a great deal of beautiful music into every one of them. La Sonnambula may arguably be the most beautiful, just in terms of sheer melodic invention. From the beautiful bass-baritone aria “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” to both of the soprano-tenor duets, this opera gives many opportunities for beautiful singing, which is the literal translation of “Bel canto”.

This team appears to have what it takes to fill those demands admirably, and they want to take the experience further, as described in their production notes and advance press:

[The] opera is set in a little alpine village and is a pastoral piece. It revolves around plans for the wedding of Amina and Elvino that are unexpectedly changed after the new count comes to town. What was the cause? A love triangle? The town phantom? Themes of jealousy and trust, friendship and betrayal, sobriety and madness, and ultimate reconciliation and reunion are masterfully woven into Bellini’s gorgeous and unforgettable melodic line. [Event page]


“The story is haunting and atmospheric with a pensive pace and muted eroticism,” says Zeffin Quinn Hollis, The Sleepwalker‘s Production Designer and Stage Director. “In the opera, a young engaged woman sleepwalks through her village at night, which leads her to a strange bed… her sleepwalking suggests psychological trouble – a problematic relationship between the conscious and unconscious.” [BroadwayWorld]

Additional cast members include J. Esteban Perez as Alessio, Lisa’s suitor; Christie Lynn Lawrence (stepping in at the 11th hour) as Teresa, a mill owner and Amina’s foster mother; and Ricardo Mota as The Notary, as well as chorus members Andrea Blunt, Constance von Briessen Kamm, Jessie Massoudi, Juan Antonio Rivera, Sarah Shields, Nicholas Saremi, and Kyril Kasimoff. The production will also feature a 7-piece live orchestra of Ventura County area musicians.

We look forward to the production from this newcomer organization, and will report next week with a review.

Opera by the Glass presents Vincenzo Bellini’s

The Sleepwalker

Friday November 4th at 8 pm 
Sunday November 6th at 2:30 pm

Somis Thursday Club
5380 Bell St
Somis, California
Map & Directions

Get tickets here

This post has been updated:  the role of the Count will be played by Patrick MacKellan, and readers have been redirected to the Eventbrite event page for information about this project, rather than the GoFundMe page.

Featured wine glass image:  Elizabeth Espichan / FreeImages

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