Opera Buffs 2013 “Catch a Rising Star” – Los Angeles concert opera report

Lauren Edwards, mezzo-soprano – Photo by Sequoia Emmanuelle.

Seven new singers, recently selected at the Opera Buffs auditions, will sing arias and duets from operas by Bellini, Donizetti, and Rossini in a spectacular showcase on Sunday, March 10, in downtown Los Angeles.

Additionally, special guest artist Janai Brugger, winner of the 2012 Met National Council Auditions, will sing Liu’s aria from Puccini’s Turandot.

In October 2012, The Opera Buffs broke tradition when it presented, for the first time in its nearly 30 year history, a full-length opera – Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera – at its Fall Performers Showcase rather than presenting the usual staged excerpts from an array of operas.

On Sunday, March 10, the all-volunteer organization of opera enthusiasts committed to supporting emerging singers will again break new ground when it presents its Spring Performers Showcase, Catch a Rising Star, at 2:30 p.m. at Zipper Hall at the Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles.

“This is another groundbreaking program in that it is our first Performers Showcase devoted solely to Bel Canto opera,” explains David Gibb, President of the Opera Buffs Board of Directors. “The Bel Canto era lasted roughly from 1805 to 1840 and encompasses the works of three Italian composers – Gioachino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini, and Gaetano Donizetti – all of whom will be represented in this performance. This is opera at its most lyrical and beautiful.”

Adds Gibb, “Catch a Rising Star is also unique in that it features not four or five talented singers just embarking upon their careers, as our Showcases usually do, but seven!  Sitting in on our recent auditions, I felt as if I were gazing up at a veritable galaxy of up and coming artists, which is what led us to title this showcase ‘Catch a Rising Star.’

Artists selected to perform are Hae Ji Chang, soprano; Rebecca Nathanson, soprano; Lauren Edwards, mezzo-soprano; Joshua Guerrero, tenor; David Castillo, baritone; Jure Počkaj, baritone; and Ryan Thorn, baritone. In addition, soprano Janai Brugger, a former Buffs protégée and winner of the 2012 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, will sing Liu’s aria from Puccini’s opera, Turandot – her debut role at the Met.

“I love this group of singers because of the huge difference in their sound within the same voice types,” says Mona Lands, Music Director. “For instance, we have three baritones – unheard of in the same program! But, in this case, we have a Filipino baritone with a higher range, a 6’4” humorous Slovenian baritone and a suave, blond American baritone. I had no trouble finding wonderful repertoire for each of them.”

When it comes to repertoire, Lands builds the program of music around the singers rather than try to make the singers fit a preconceived program.

“This spring I ended up with singers who all sing or want to learn music from the Bel Canto period,” Lands continues. “There are a lot of very fast notes in this repertoire, and our ladies sing rapid runs with voices like butter or silver or angels.  The men, meanwhile, must have the ability to sing their words like rapid-fire shotguns – which David, Jure, Ryan and Joshua do brilliantly. I often describe this kind of singing as the precursor to the “Rap” of today.”

Operas from which the singers will perform staged scenes under the guidance of Michael Van Duzer, stage director, include La Cenerentola (Cinderella), Barbiere di Siviglia (Barber of Seville) and Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Reims) by Rossini, I Capuleti Ed I Montecchi (The Capulets and The Montagues) and I Puritani (The Puritans) by Bellini, and Don Pasquale, Roberto Devereux, and Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti.

“Whether the repertoire is romantic or fun and funny, it’s all very entertaining,” says David Gibb. “It is also very gratifying. Not only are you lending invaluable support to a group of amazingly talented young singers but you will be part of musical history in the making. So many of the singers we help go on to have major international careers. Here’s your chance to say, ‘I heard them first.’”


Jure Počkaj, baritone – Photo by Valter Leban.

The Opera Buffs celebrates its 30th Anniversary Season

Catch a Rising Star!

An afternoon of Bel Canto opera.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2:30 p.m.

Zipper Hall at the Colburn School

200 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

(parking at Disney Hall or in surrounding lots)

Suggested contribution $25.00, students $5.00

Reservations are required:

RSVP to Jean here or call 323.851.5204

Tickets for Catch a Rising Star are free for members of the Opera Buffs.

For more information, visit their official site



The Opera Buffs, now celebrating its 30th year as a force in the musical life of Southern California, is dedicated to supporting emerging opera singers at the crucial juncture — the years of transition from student to professional performer. Since 1983, hundreds of Southern California-based singers, including such artists as Brian Asawa, Richard Bernstein, Charles Castronovo, Michelle DeYoung, Julianna Di Giacomo, Greg Fedderly, Jesús León, Danielle De Niese, Sandra Radvanovsky and Deborah Voigt, have benefited in the early stages of their careers from the financial and moral support of our nonprofit organization and from the opportunity to gain paid performance experience. The Buffs provides funding for career-related expenses based on current talent and career potential, filling a niche generally not served by opera companies, competitions and music schools.

Hae Ji Chang, soprano – Photo by Do Jun Park.


Janai Brugger, soprano, most recently appeared with LA Opera in 2012 as Musetta in La Bohème. A former member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, she is the 2012 winner of both Operalia and of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. She kicked off the 2012/13 season with her Metropolitan Opera debut as Liù in Turandot. She will appear with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at the May Festival under the baton of James Conlon, and travel to China for a series of recitals. She rounds out the season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel as the High Priestess in Aïda at the Hollywood Bowl. Recent successes include her 2012 appearance at Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of James Conlon as the First Lady in The Magic Flute, and her debut with Palm Beach Opera in 2012 as Juliette in Roméo et Juliette. Brugger made her LA Opera debut in 2010 as Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro. Other future engagements include Micaëla in Carmen at Opera Colorado. (

Hae Ji Chang, soprano, has been described as “an exciting young artist on the rise” (Opera Boston) with a voice “full of silvery color and nuance” (Boston Globe).  In the 2012-2013 season, Chang will cover the role of Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni with LA Opera as a Domingo-Thornton Young Artist. She will also sing Euridice in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice in Jordan hall with NEC Philharmonia. Last season she sang Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute with Saint Louis Symphony and covered the role of Giannetta in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore with New York City Opera. As a Gerdine Young Artist, she also covered the role of Mélisande in Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Recently she was the soprano soloist in Fauré’s Requiem with Colorado Music Festival Chamber Orchestra. Chang made her debut with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra as Ste. Marguerite in Honegger’s oratorio, Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, which also marked her debut at Carnegie Hall. Chang received an Artist Diploma at the New England Conservatory and a MM degree at Manhattan School of Music.  At the Seoul National University in South Korea she received both BM and MM degrees. Her previous performance with the Opera Buffs was as Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera.

Lauren Edwards, mezzo-soprano, holds a MM degree from UCLA and a BM degree from Arizona State University. At UCLA, Edwards has performed as soloist with UCLA Philharmonia and with the Angeles Chorale. She has appeared in two UCLA Opera West Coast premieres: as the title role in Cavalli’s Giasone, and as the Stewardess in Jonathan Dove’s Flight.  In 2007 she studied opera in Florence, Italy and in the summer of 2011, Edwards studied German lieder at the Franz-Schubert-Institut in Austria, performing in master classes held by Elly Ameling, Barbara Bonney and Julius Drake. Her opera roles include L’enfant in Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges, Nireno in Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto and Ottone in Agrippina, Soeur Mathilde in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites,  Gertrude Stein in Blood on the Dining Room Floor, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Suzuki in Madama Butterfly.  Edwards is a recent recipient of the Encouragement Award from the Western Region of the Metropolitan Opera National Council.

David Castillo, baritone – Photo by Kristina Jacinth.

David Castillo, baritone, has been honored as the 2010 Grand Prize Winner of the Steward Brady Competition; a 2011 Metropolitan Opera National Council Regional Finalist; a 2010 National Finalist in Classical Singer’s University Competition; the 2012 Encouragement Award Recipient from the Palm Springs Opera Guild Competition; and an Opera Buffs  Grant Recipient.  Castillo is a MM candidate at the USC Thornton School of Music, studying under Rod Gilfry. This season, he performed the role of Ferdinand in the West Coast Premiere of Lee Hoiby’s The Tempest with USC Thornton Opera, and returns to Green Mountain Opera Festival as Sid in Britten’s Albert Herring and understudies/performs as Don Giovanni.  Notable roles he has performed include Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, the title role in the West Coast Premiere of Britten’s Owen Wingrave, Dr. Malatesta in Don Pasquale, le Mari in Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Belcore in The Elixir of Love. Castillo has performed professionally with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra and the New Orleans Opera.

Joshua Guerrero, tenor, performed the role of Le Chevalier in Opera UCLA’s production of Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmélites last year as well as performing the title role in Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld.  For the past two years, he has been the featured tenor soloist in Palm Springs Opera Guild’s annual Opera in the Park. In the summer of 2011 and 2012, he studied intensively in Payerbach, Austria with world renowned Baritone Vladimir Chernov. Most recently, he was a member of the Santa Fe Opera’s Summer Apprentice Artist program and is currently a first-year member in the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program at LA Opera.

Rebecca Nathanson, soprano, was hailed by Opera News as a “particularly vivid” performer. She will make her debut this summer with the Aspen Music Festival in the title role of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, conducted by Jane Glover. Highlights for 2012-2013 included her international debut at the Royal Opera House Muscat under the baton of Lorin Maazel in La Bohème, where the Times of Oman praised her “delightful, fiery, independent Musetta” and “layered and decadent” singing. She began the season at the Castleton Festival singing both Musetta and Frasquita in Carmen. In the 2011-2012 season, Nathanson was a resident artist at Opera Santa Barbara. She also sang the soprano solos in Carmina Burana with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony and Handel’s Messiah with the Monmouth Civic Chorus. During the 2010-2011 season, she made her role debuts as Musetta at Opera North and as Marguerite in Faust at Indiana University Opera Theater. She later covered Marguerite at Santa Fe Opera, where she was an Apprentice Artist. Nathanson was a 2010 and 2008 Gerdine Young Artist with Opera Theatre St. Louis, where she made her professional debut singing the 1st Bridesmaid in The Marriage of Figaro.  She was a Studio Artist with Wolf Trap Opera in 2009.  She has an MM from Indiana University and a BM from the University of Michigan.  She is in her first season with the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program at LA Opera.

Jure Počkaj, baritone, took the gold this year in the Young Singers’ Competition of Slovenia. He received the Student Preseren Award for his graduation concert staged at the Slovenian Philharmonic in 2008 and top award at the first International Solo Singers’ Competition Bruna Spiler in Montenegro. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Novo Mesto Orchestra in Mozart’s Spatzen Messe; with the Academy of Music Orcestra in Oratorio de noël by Saint-Saens; with the Symphonic SNG Orchestra Ljubljana; and with the Symphonic SNG Orchestra Maribor among others. Počkaj was chosen to perform his own arrangement of the European Union anthem at the WDR Europe Forum. He made his operatic debut as Baron Douphol in La Traviata and has also appeared as Ping in Turandot and Albert in Werther (SNG Maribor). Last season he debuted with the SNG Orchestra Ljubljana, portraying Slook in Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio. He aslo sang Morales and Escamillo in Carmen. He continues working with the SNG Orchestra Ljubljana, studying the role of Pripovedovalec (Narrator) for the new opera Pastir (Shepherd) by Peter Šorli and the role of Marcello in La Bohème. He is currently a MM degree candidate at UCLA, where he sang in the All Stars concert in January and, in February, the role of Count Gil in Opera UCLA’s Il segreto di Susanna by Wolf-Ferrari. Počkaj is a student of Vladimir Chernov.

Ryan Thorn, baritone, has been praised for his beautiful tone and innate musicality. His most notable roles include the title roles in Don Giovanni and Sweeney Todd, Danilo (The Merry Widow), Captain Corcoran (HMS Pinafore), Morales and El Dancaïre (Carmen), Testo (Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda), and Claudio (Agrippina), as well as the baritone solo in Fauré’s Requiem and the bass solo in Handel’s Messiah. Ryan has appeared with numerous organizations in and around Los Angeles. He returns to the Pacific Opera Project this season to sing Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro as well as Fiorello/Figaro cover in Il Barbiere di Siviglia . This past spring, Ryan performed the baritone solo in Robert Cohen’s heart-wrenching concert piece Alzheimer’s Stories with the Angeles Chorale. Thorn has given numerous art song recitals and has studied Lieder under Elly Ameling, Helmut Deutsch, and Robert Holl among others. A proponent of opera outreach, Ryan has toured with the non-profit company Opera for the Young, performing Rusalka: A Mermaid’s Tale at elementary schools throughout the Upper Midwest. Ryan recently received his MM degree from UCLA and holds a BM degree from UW-Madison. Currently he studies with Vladimir Chernov.

Mona Lands, Buffs music director and accompanist, is a graduate of Mills College and received her masters’ degree in accompanying at USC. She has been an accompanist and coach at California State University Northridge, California State L.A., the Aspen Opera Theater Center, Opera Pacific’s Overture Company, the Ezio Pinza Council (EPCASO) summer program, Guild Opera and for the Metropolitan Opera Palm Springs Showcase Concerts. Currently, Lands is the accompanist for the Angeles Chorale and the Loren L. Zachary National Vocal Competition.  She is also the accompanist and music director for the Palm Springs Opera Guild and artistic director for the José Iturbi International Music Competition. As a member of the UCLA Music Department, she works as accompanist and coach for Opera UCLA and is coordinator of opera and accompanying.

Michael Van Duzer, stage director Michael Van Duzer, stage director, has staged Opera Buffs Showcases since 1991, including a complete production of Amahl and Night Visitors and his own adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Gondoliers.  Los Angeles theater directing credits include The Collection, As You Like It, What the Butler Saw, Edward II, The Double Dealer (Drama-Logue Award, Best Director), Halsted Street: Chicago, The Lisbon Traviata and In On It. Van Duzer has helmed the local premieres of his own works including Hopeful Romantic (Drama-Logue Award, Best Playwright), Recalled to Life and Tawdry Tales. His Incitation to the Dance, won best play in the Chandler Studio’s Hot Summer Shorts Contest, while Theatre Out in Orange County has commissioned two one-acts from him–Trattoria of Terror and Totally Gay! An Utterly Subjective History of  Theatre. He also reviews opera performances for StageHappenings and ShowMag.







Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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