Opera preview: Covers for 'Turandot' aren't second string

Great news for opera lovers: Although the Opera Company of Middlebury has sold out every ticket for its main performances of Puccini’s “Turandot,” which opens at the Town Hall Theater this Friday evening, you might still score a seat for a June 5 performance by the “covers.” Covers are the full stand-by cast of understudies, all gifted professional singers who rehearse along with the main cast and are ready to step in for a lead singer if needed.

For soprano Lindsey Anderson (no relation to OCM artistic director Doug Anderson), the chance to understudy Leah Crowne in the title role of Turandot has been a welcome learning opportunity.

“Covering Leah is an amazing experience. I just soak up all the amazing things that she does, especially her complete comfort with being still and open to the audience,” she said. “When she sings, she just opens up.”

Anderson, after an early career as a mezzo-soprano, is transitioning to the lyric soprano repertoire; covering Turandot is her first soprano role.

Tenor Joshua Collier, who covers Turandot’s suitor Calàf, played by Alok Kumar in the main cast, has good reason to value the artistic opportunities that come from playing backup. His own international debut came at an Italian festival that had hired him as an understudy for Donizetti’s “L’Elisir D’Amore” but promoted him to lead singer when the original tenor showed up completely unprepared for the role.

The opera “Turandot” has a pinch-hitter story of its own. In 1924, composer Giacomo Puccini had written half of its third and final act when he died of a heart attack. Franco Alfano was chosen to complete the opera working from Puccini’s extensive notes and sketches.

Both Anderson and Collier, in tenor-soprano unison, said, “This is the best company I’ve ever worked for,” and both call Doug Anderson a visionary. “The sounds that he has brought to this small town in Vermont, it’s stuff that you would expect to find on the Metropolitan Opera stages. It’s world-class talent,” Lindsey Anderson added.

This production of “Turandot” opens the Opera Company of Middlebury’s 12th season. Since its humble beginnings in 2004, OCM has earned a national reputation. It was recently called the “most exciting opera company in the Northeast,” and articles in Opera News and the Huffington Post have saluted the company’s creative productions and high standards.

“We now have over 500 singers a year sending submissions to sing with our company,” says Doug Anderson. “It’s something of a miracle that we have this thriving professional opera company in the tiny market of Middlebury, Vt.”

“Turandot” is a simple tale, set in China, of a princess who refuses all suitors. It is drenched in Puccini’s sweeping romantic music, this time with haunting Asian overtones. Kumar sings the most famous tenor aria in all of opera, “Nessun dorma,” made famous by Luciano Pavarotti.

The OCM production will be under the musical direction by Maestro Emmanuel Plasson. Unfortunately (for opera lovers, not for the deserving OCM) the sold-out performances are May 29, and June 4 and June 6 at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on May 31.

The cover performance is set for Friday, June 5, at 7 p.m., and it should be a very good show. For tickets, visit Town Hall Theater, call 382-9222, or order online at www.townhalltheater.org.

An extra treat: A special recital for the eight singers in the Young Artists Program is scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, at 8 p.m. at Town Hall Theater.

“This is the first time we’ve had a Young Artists Program,” Anderson said. “We’re very proud of these young singers who are generally graduate students with terrific careers ahead of them.”

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