The Amateurs of the Opera by Kirby Knowlton and Haley Sprankle

  photo credit - David West

 (Palmetto Opera generously offered two guest tickets to Jasper interns who would write about their first experience at the opera. Please find the young women's article below.)

The Palmetto Opera has been working to make opera a part of Midlands and South Carolina culture since 2001. Its mission is to contribute to the community’s entertainment, education, and economy and to introduce as many people to opera as it can. The Palmetto Opera also aims to promote local talent by hiring local performers and utilizing Columbia venues. Overall, it hopes to bring opera to people who’ve never experienced it before, people like Jasper intern Haley and me (Kirby).


Last Saturday, Haley and I had the pleasure of attending the Palmetto Opera’s Great Moments in Italian Opera at Harbison Theater. The show featured a full orchestra of local Columbia musicians and a troupe of world-class traveling soloists Teatro Lirico D’Europa. Directed by Giorgio Lalov, Teatro Lirico D’Europa is composed of baritone Dobromir Momekov, soprano Stanislava Ivanova, mezzo-soprano Viara Zhelezova, and tenors Fabián Robles and Simon Kyung. The company has toured extensively around the world, performing at top international stages and musical festivals. Their latest traveling concert is Great Moments in Italian Opera, a sampler of the best-loved Italian arias with an opportunity to meet the performers afterward. The show is made up of solos, duets, and ensembles from some of the most influential operas ever written.


“Have you two ever been to the opera before?”

“No ma’am,” we both replied.

So what could two non-opera-goers such as ourselves possibly think or have to say about the opera?


Kirby: Hey, this music actually sounds familiar! No, I’ve definitely heard this before. It’s funny how much opera is a part of culture that I would have heard it before and never consciously processed it.

Haley: That girl in the orchestra was in my computer science class last semester. Wow, they sound great! I had no idea how talented she is!

Kirby: Am I supposed to be understanding these words? I mean, is this English and just different-sounding because it’s opera? Or am I listening to Italian? Does it matter? Nope. I can definitely tell what this guy’s singing about. That’s a I’ve-Got-Lady-Problems face.

Haley: Ivanova has wonderful dynamic changes for a soprano. I find most sopranos to just be loud, but she exhibits beautiful control over her voice through her breath support. Even her vocal runs are at a perfect volume, and are gorgeous at that!

Kirby: It appears that in opera, the relationship between the singer and the audience is much more tangible than in other types of live performance. Several times in Momekov’s first solo, he would pause to give the audience a moment to laugh or react. It seems as though the singers sing with more gusto when the audience gives them a reason to.

Haley: Not only does Momekov have a lovely, powerful voice that he’s able to send to all corners of the room, but his stage presence is also enviable. Through his facial expressions and body language, he was able to playfully engage the audience. He drew us into the song and destroyed the language barrier that kept the audience from understanding the piece.

Kirby: Maybe opera is the simplest, most innate incarnations of human emotion. I don’t even know the plots of these stories, but if I just sit back and listen, it almost doesn’t matter. The performers cease to make music come out of their mouths. After a certain point, it’s pure, concentrated emotion. The notes turn into elongated cries, sighs, and laughs. Even without understanding the words, I can understand the feelings.

Haley: The passion behind each singer’s performance is so breath-taking. Not only does each singer command the stage during their solos, but they also create dynamic relationships between each other in duets and group numbers. As each voice compliments the other, the singers emote and relate to each other beautifully. Through their wonderful performance and the structure of the music itself, the audience is able to fall into the story of each relationship between the singers onstage.

Kirby: Honestly, I never understood the appeal of opera until Kyung’s first solo. I tried to come to this performance with an open mind, but there was still a voice in the back of my head whining and wondering how long it would take. But during Kyung’s aria, I understood all the to-do, that going to the opera is not just a fancy, high-culture activity, but something that speaks to and enriches the deepest parts of you. At its best moments, opera transcends entertainment and becomes something you don’t seek out because you want to, but because you need to. We go around with all these ideas about how to be, but when it comes down to it, all humans want is to connect to other humans. And I’m glad the opera was one way that I was able to do that.

Haley: From beginning to end, I was truly engaged in each moment of the performance. I was skeptical at how I would be able to understand the opera and its culture of it all, but it was all too easy to fall in love with. Each and every performer displayed vocal technique that I could only dream of, and acted out pieces in a way that even the most unfamiliar audience member could comprehend. This lively, energetic evening did not display the propriety and exclusivity that I would have expected from the opera, but rather an all-inclusivity that sought to bring in people from all backgrounds to help them find an appreciation for opera. That was almost more beautiful than the performance itself.


“The only way opera is going to become a real part of culture in Columbia is when folks like you come out to support it,” Kathy Newman, the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Palmetto Opera said.


Other than what Kirby has gathered from popular culture and what I’ve (Haley) learned in my musical theatre training, the two of us had no idea what to expect when we entered Harbison Theater for the performance, but even non-opera-goers such as ourselves would recognize some of these names, such as La Traviata and La Boheme.


The general population seems to have the impression that they are disconnected from the opera, when the opera is incorporated into most aspects of pop culture without our realization of it. Whether it’s in a movie, a television series, or even a video game, opera surrounds us. Its powerful themes and iconic tunes ingratiate themselves into our everyday lives, but it’s our jobs now to recognize it.


So, what does this mean for you? Go to the opera, listen to ETV radio and NPR in hopes of catching some classical music, be aware of the score when you’re watching a movie. As for Kirby and me, you may just catch us at the next event for the Palmetto Opera.


Go to for more information on their mission, opera, and future shows.

Palmetto Opera, Lowe, Lenz, Krajewski & McClendon all help Jasper celebrate its fourth year of publication - Thursday Night!




We’re starting our fourth year of bringing Columbia in-depth local arts coverage in theatre, dance, visual arts, literary arts, music, and film, (and we’ll be adding design soon), and we’re celebrating with a multi-disciplinary release celebration to kick the year and the arts season off right.


Please join us on Thursday, September 18th at 5 pm at Vista Studios – Gallery 80808 at 808 Lady Street as we welcome the new issue of Jasper Magazine.


Classical oil paintings by internationally renowned realist Tish Lowe will set the stage in the main gallery.  Palmetto Opera’s artistic director, Walter Cuttino, will lead a one-night-only performance of highlights from Puccini’s La Bohème, hits from familiar musicals such as Phantom of the Opera and Carousel. .


The atrium will showcase a collaborative installation by fiber and installation artist Susan Lenz, who was Jasper’s 2012 Visual Artist of the Year and artist Michael Krajewski, who was Jasper’s first centerfold.  Their work, Threads: Gathering My Thoughts, will be a manifestation of the mental images and ideas that naturally flow through the human mind while engaged in the viewing of La Bohème.  Lenz’s tangle of unraveled, old threads will cascade in and out of suspended baskets mimicking the colors, complex plots, and emotions of a performance. Krajewski’s bohemian, pencil graffiti will literally express the connections between the visual, musical, dramatic, literary, and poetic world of a bygone, operatic world still dancing in the twenty-first century mind.  The arts exhibition will remain on view through Tuesday, September 30th.

Jasper adores the film Wade Sellers, our beloved film editor, made for Susan Lenz -- you can watch it here - and you should because it's really lovely.


Following the presentations by Palmetto Opera, multi-talented musical artist Tim McClendon, who is also featured in this issue of Jasper Magazine for his design work, will perform an impromptu set of music.  One Columbia will also be on hand to kick off their Cultural Passport program as will the Rosewood Arts Festival and the Jam Room Music Festival to share information about their upcoming events. The event is free and open to the public.


La Traviata or The Woman Who Strays

Boy meets girl.  Boy loves girl. Boy loses girl because she's from the wrong side of the tracks, and his family interferes...but will true love prevail in the end?  The idea of star-crossed, mismatched lovers been around for a while, from Love Story to Pretty in Pink, but most of the plots derive from the younger Alexandre Dumas (not the Three Musketeers author, but his son) who dramatized his own doomed love affair with a courtesan in a fabulously popular novel and play called The Lady of the Camellias. Better known in English as Camille, the title character became one of the primo roles for the great actresses of the 19th and 20th centuries; Greta Garbo was nominated for an Oscar for her 1936 film version. Great plays usually became great operas in those days, and composer Giuseppe Verdi adapted the basic Camille story into one of his best known and most popular works, La Traviata (loosely translated, the title means "the woman who strays," as in "away from the morality of society."  Or you could just call it "The Fallen Woman.")

Columbia audiences have a rare chance to see La Traviata live at the Koger Center this coming Saturday evening, March 3rd, at 7 PM, performed by the acclaimed Teatro Lirico D'Europa (.i.e. Lyric Theatre of Europe.)  Professional touring opera companies don't often come through Columbia these days; we recall seeing the Goldovsky Opera Theatre perform Traviata at the Township c. 1976, and this honestly may have been the first time this opera has been performed locally by a professional company since then.  Teatro Lirico D'Europa was founded in 1988, and is currently in the middle of their 13th consecutive season touring America. According to their press material, they have received rave reviews throughout the world, consistently appearing before sold out audiences.  The group is "noted for the brilliance and vitality of its talented international cast, realistic costumes and sets, and beautifully lit stages."  The Boston Globe wrote that ''audiences love this company," The St. Louis Classical Examiner hailed the performance of La Traviata as ''first rate," and The Heritage Theatre wrote that it was "amazed by the musicianship of both singers and orchestra." (Some additional reviews can be found at .)

Lest you think that this production will involve zaftig women in horned helmets brandishing spears, remember that this is not a Wagnerian nor even Mozart an opera.  Verdi was/is one of the more accessible classical composers, and you'd recognize any number of his melodies and motifs in the backgrounds of various movies.  The light, peppy clarinet music in the Godfather films for example.  Ever been to Italy?  Remember the bearded guy on the thousand-lira note, i.e. the equivalent of the dollar bill?  That was him.  He was that important. The story here is pretty accessible too, especially since we think Blake Carrington tried something similar in 3rd or 4th season Dynasty, sabotaging his son's romance with a shady lady.  So if you've ever been curious about how real opera really works, here's your chance to see as good as it gets - one ranking lists La Traviata as the second-most frequently performed opera there is.

The lead role of Violetta, the bad girl with the proverbial heart of gold, is sung by Olga Orlovskaya, a beautiful young dramatic coloratura soprano who graduated with honors from the Russian Academy of Music. She was a special prizewinner of the international completion in Operetta Land for best performance in 2008 in Moscow.  Ms. Orlovskaya has performed solo concerts in Paris, Dresden, Brussels, Luxembourg, and Geneva. She made her debut in the United States in 2006 with the role of Adele in Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus with the Stanislavsky Opera of Moscow in a fifty-city tour.  She is the founder and artistic director of the quartet The Russian Sopranos, and is now a U.S. citizen, based in Maryland.  She made her debut with Teatro Lirico D’Europa during its fall 2010/winter 2011 USA tours as Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermore to outstanding critical acclaim.

We have our own local Palmetto Opera to thank for this production.  Founded in 2001, The Palmetto Opera is dedicated to bringing professional opera to South Carolina. In addition to arranging shows like this one, they also sponsor Opera Nights at a number of local restaurants, where guests are treated to a special dinner, and arias from well-known operas performed live.  This in fact has become a regular part of First Thursdays at Villa Tronco, at 1213 Blanding Street, just across the street from the Tapp's Art Center. (Call (803) 256-7677 for details on Opera Night at Villa Tronco.)  The owner of  Villa Tronco, Carmella Roche, will actually be making a cameo appearance on stage in La Traviata in a party scene, along with other local celebrities, including Jim Welch (host of ETV's Nature Scene)  former Lexington City Council member Constance Fleming, and Karen Alexander (founder of the Auntie Karen Foundation.)  For more information on The Palmetto Opera, contact Kathy Newman at 803-776-9499 or Tickets for La Traviata may be obtained at the Koger Center Box Office, online at, or by phone at 803-251-2222.

August Krickel is the Theatre Editor for Jasper Magazine -- The Word on Columbia Arts

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