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Kentucky Symphony, CCM Team Up for "Turandot" at NKU

Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music come together on Saturday night for a concert staging of Puccini’s final opera Turandot at Northern Kentucky University’s Greaves Hall.

The romance takes place in Peking, where cruel princess Turandot challenges suitors to answer three riddles or lose their heads. A prince gambles his life that he can win the contest and melt her icy heart.

The concert (performed without sets or costumes) is grand opera with almost 200 performers including area choirs. It’s very much a celebration of the long and deep association of the Symphony and CCM, and a perfect example of the impact CCM’s finely trained singers and musicians have on the area’s outstanding classical music scene possible.

Turandot’s 76-piece orchestra features 58 CCM alums or current students; opera department faculty and graduate students take the majority of principal singing roles.

Kentucky Symphony chief James R. Cassidy says that in the orchestra’s 25 years, just under 90 percent of the 1,472 musicians have carried CCM credentials.

And he happily brags, “Hundreds of these musicians have moved on to orchestras world-wide -- the New York Philharmonic, Berlin, Seoul, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Hong Kong, Seattle, Cleveland -- and regionally, in Cincinnati, Dayton, West Virginia, Columbus, Louisville, Lexington.”

Certainly the most important connection is Cassidy himself, who graduated from CCM in 1991.  

“Without CCM I probably wouldn’t have started the orchestra. The Conservatory, plus the spouses of the CSO, music faculty members at area universities (NKU, Xavier, Dayton) and a talented freelance pool provide a very rich and deep stable of musicians in Greater Cincinnati and expanded region.”  

An example of long, happy collaborations on the concert stage is Amy Johnson in the title role. She first sang with the KSO in 2000, soon after appearing as Tosca for Live From Lincoln Center.

“We stayed in touch,” Cassidy explains, “and she has appeared several times with the KSO since.  A few years ago she moved to Cincinnati to teach voice at CCM. Johnson’s husband Vernon Hartman, Metropolitan Opera veteran, joins her onstage as the Lord Chancellor.

Chicago Lyric tenor Jeffrey Springer plays Prince Calaf; CCM faculty members and KSO veterans Kenneth Shaw and Daniel Weeks are among the supporting cast. 

Cassidy heard CCM students at last fall’s auditions, and with CCM opera head Robin Guarino and the voice faculty and agreed on casting.

The opera chorus is made up of Cincinnati Children’s Choir’s Bel Canto choir, Voices of the Commonwealth, KSO Chorale and CCM Opera Department 

“Concert operas allow the listener to focus on the music, story and the performers, who enter and exit as they would in a fully staged production,” Cassidy says. 

Turandot will be sung in Italian with supertitles. 

Turandot, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, January 27 at Greaves Concert Hall on the campus of NKU. Tickets are $35, $27, $19 (children ages 6-18 are 50% off all ticket prices) and are available online at kyso.org, by phone at (859) 431-6216, or at the door.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts