Corvallis Repertory Singers take on opera at the Whiteside

The Corvallis Repertory Singers are set to close their season this week with their end-of-year unconventional performance, venturing into a very different realm than previously explored: opera. The group performs “Passion, Virtue, Revenge: Opera at the Whiteside” at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis. 

“This is going to be a different sound than has ever been done by CRS,” said the group’s founder and conductor, Steven Zielke. “The people who really know our sound are going to be very excited.”

The idea to close the season with an opera concert instead of a musical theater performance came to Zielke and the committee when they were examining their performers.

“We looked at our ensemble and saw these tremendous singers that would just be ideal to focus on an opera performance than on musical theater,” Zielke said. “It just kind of came to us: Why haven’t we done this?”

Thursday’s program includes pieces from Bizet’s “Carmen”; Bellini’s “Norma”; “La Traviata”; “La Forza del Destino”; Verdi’s “Nabucco” and “Il Trovatore”; Victor Herbert’s “Naughty Marietta & The Enchantress”; “Wonderful Town”; “Trouble in Tahiti”; Bernstein’s “West Side Story” and “Candide”; and Copeland’s “The Tender Land.”

Zielke put together a committee that helped choose the program based on experiences with particular repertoire that would be exciting for the Repertory Singers’ audience, making sure to also keep it approachable.

“It was important to me to have the second half be in English, for the audience,” Zielke said.

The program also explores the full range of opera emotions, from up to down, fury to tragic sadness, love to loathing.

“It’s opera, so everything is just sort of over the top,” Zielke said. “The title is sort of tongue-in-cheek — passion, revenge, love. It’s all there.”

The leap from choral music to opera hasn’t been too much of a stretch for the singers, Zielke said.

“Everything we’re doing is kind of choral music,” he said. “It is in some ways harder, because the languages are hard — French, Italian — but I find that opera music, from a compositional point of view tends to be more simple than choral music ... they’re on stage and they’re dancing and they’re acting, and so there tends to be a little more simplicity to the music.”

Another change for the Repertory Singers: Performing at the Whiteside Theatre. After deciding on an opera concert, Zielke knew he didn’t want to hold the performance in a church. “There’s a sacredness to a church that I think is at counter-purposes to opera,” Zielke said. “It’s hard to pull off an operatic feeling in front a of a cross.”

After visiting the Whiteside, Zielke was immediately taken with its 19th century feel. “It doesn’t feel modern,” he said. “To me, it feels a little like opera.”

Thursday’s performance is also dedicated to former Corvallis Repertory Singer and charter member Tom Walmsley, who passed away last September at the age of 84. Walmsley was an active member in the art community. He was not only involved with the Repertory Singers, but with other community groups such as Corvallis Community Theatre, Opera Theater Corvallis and the Presbyterian Church Choir.

“Tom was for arts in Corvallis, just really central to the theater parts of town and the music parts of town,” Zielke said. “I think his passing sort of represented in some way a bit of the end of an era in Corvallis. We thought this was the perfect performance to thank Tom for what he gave to Corvallis.”

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Sarah Payne is the Entertainer editor. She can be reached at or 541-758-9518.

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