Interest in opera hits a new high

Opera season officially began this week, as Opera Western Reserve opened the box office for its Nov. 30 production of “The Barber of Seville.”

But reservations have been pouring in for months, because this year’s show will feature Lawrence Brownlee, the international opera star who hails from Youngstown.

“Barber” will be Brownlee’s hometown debut, and his presence is stirring up interest from local people who have never seen an opera. Ticket requests also are coming in from Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

David Vosburgh, production director for OWR, hosted a gathering at Stambaugh Auditorium Tuesday to talk about “Barber.”

He noted that Brownlee’s magnetic draw also is exerting a pull on talent.

“Everyone wants to be in this show,” said Vosburgh. “After all, how many chances do you get to work with a Metropolitan Opera star?”

The chorus for OWR productions usually has about 14 people. For “Barber,” it has 50.

Snagging Brownlee wasn’t easy. Because the globetrotting bel canto tenor is in such demand, it took a few years to make it happen.

But it did — because Brownlee wanted it to happen.

The East Side native got his stage start with the Youngstown Connection, the city high schools’ song-and-dance troupe headed by Carol Baird. He’s glad to return to where his career started.

OWR’s “Barber” will pay honor to Baird, for whom Brownlee has strong devotion. He also has seen to it that the Youngstown Connection will be in the performance, as the street musicians in the first scene.

Vosburgh — one of a few Youngstowners who knows as much about his art as anyone in the world — is again surrounded by an extremely talented and accomplished group that includes Susan Davenny-Wyner, music director, and Barb Luce, costume designer and creator.

Because “Barber” is set in the 18th century, Luce’s ornate costumes are marked by lace, silk, satin and feathers.

Rossini’s comic opera is one of the most enduring in the repertoire.

It also includes the famous “Figaro” aria, in which the name is repeatedly and rapidly sung. It’s one of the most difficult arias, and also an icon of pop culture.

“The Barber of Seville” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30 at Stambaugh Auditorium. For tickets, call 330-480-0693, or go to

Stambaugh invigorates entertainment offerings

Speaking of Stambaugh Auditorium, the new management team there plans to get more aggressive in booking acts.

About half of the use the venerable concert hall gets these days is rentals for private events. But General Manager Matt Pagac wants to bring more mainstream entertainment for the general public into the mix.

Pagac and marketing director Chris Lewis have been on the job for only a few months.

But their efforts are showing up already, with folk-rock group America set for a Friday concert.

Even more eyebrow-raising is the musical “Nunset Boulevard.” The touring production, part of the “Nunsense” franchise, stars Cindy Williams (“Laverne & Shirley”) as Mother Superior. It comes to Stambaugh Nov. 10.

Stambaugh rarely, if ever, sees Broadway-style shows, mainly because of its substandard fly system. “Nunsense” is an exception because it doesn’t need to raise and lower props and scenery, and Pagac said he’s going after more such programming.

Stambaugh is also home to the Monday Musical Club series, which kicks off its season Oct. 21 with Italian crooner Patrizio Buanne.

Pagac said he hopes to bring new faces into the building, which should in turn boost interest in the MMC series — which has been struggling in recent years.

For tickets for America or “Nunset,” call 330-259-0555. For Buanne, call 330-743-2717.


The Youngstown Complaints Choir will have its first rehearsal tonight from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1105 Elm St.

The choir will put the gripes to music and sing them as a choir at several public performances next month. It’s part of a nascent international movement of complaints choirs and is connected to the Living As Form exhibition sponsored by the McDonough Museum of Modern Art.

Anybody who has something to complain about — serious or humorous, personal or public, local or global — and who wants to take part can get more information by contacting Kelly Bancroft at

Participants do not have to read music. Musicians also are needed. Rehearsals also will take place Oct. 18 and 25, and Nov. 1 and 8.

Performances will be 6:30 p.m. Nov. 9 at Bliss Hall, Youngstown State University; 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at Universalist Unitarian Church; and Nov. 17 at the Ward Bakery Building’s annual art open house.

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