International soloists set to dazzle with Viva Opera!

By Kelly Schlicht, Development Manager

London Soprano Kate Royal appears as a picture of operatic elegance. She’s performed on some of the most prestigious stages across the globe. Adding to her distinctly British sophistication, Royal is married to actor Julian Ovenden, famous for his role of Charles Blake on Downton Abbey.

But, she might also be the kind of diva Milwaukee opera fans could sit down and have a beer with.

“It is always great to discover new cities and, to be honest, I am a huge ale and beer fan. So, I’m quite excited about discovering that side of Milwaukee!” Royal said.

The Florentine’s March concert, Viva Opera!, marks Royal’s debut with the Florentine, and her first time in Milwaukee. She will be joined by Florentine favorites Baritone Keith Phares and Soprano Rena Harms, along with the Florentine Opera Chorus and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Royal, Phares, Harms and their colleagues will be performing a vast array of repertoire spanning the operatic canon.

“It’s a tasting menu,” Harms said. “It’s a lovely smattering of voices and different styles and I think it will be a great opportunity for newcomers.”

“You get to hear lots of styles in one evening. There are so many genres in opera and it is a kind of smorgasbord of voice types, solos, ensembles duets and chorus works, as well,” said Royal.

“They [the audience] can come away from this and say ‘I like Mozart the best!’ and maybe they’ll go check out a Mozart opera. Then there’s funny stuff and serious stuff, so it’s a perfect program for someone who, maybe, they know they want to see and listen to opera, but they’re not sure where to start. That’s how I’ve gotten into all kinds of music. I start with one artist and explore from there,” said Phares.

Royal said she has used the same approach for her Viva Opera selections—including the Song to the Moon from Rusalka—as she would to prepare a role in a full production.

“It really helps to immerse yourself in the character even if you are taking the piece out of context. Obviously preparing a whole role takes many months, in some cases up to a year. The details remain the same, though: language, history, movement and looking for the composer’s intention. Injecting the flavor of the opera into one short scene is quite a challenge,” she said.

Phares said the chance to perform some of opera’s greatest hits, including the Toreador song from Bizet’s Carmen, provides a variation from the American opera and new works for which he’s most well-known.

“This kind of repertoire is why people come to the opera. This is what grabs people. When I first listened to opera, I was listening to these types of numbers. There were some pieces that are just huge and that’s what hooks people in. So it will be exciting and I hope this will mean a bigger audience for the Florentine,” said Phares.

Phares will also sing the love duet from Pagliacci with Harms. Milwaukee audiences may remember the pair played siblings Bea and Charlie in the March 2016 production of Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers.

“Rena and I have a good chemistry, too. We’re friends in real life,” said Phares. “That’s the thing doing concerts—You may not know who you’re performing with but when you have to do a duet like this, it’s nice knowing the person beforehand and we can figure out what we need to do right away. We can create something a little more interesting perhaps than if we had been strangers.”

“The duet is quite lengthy and it’s the story of a woman who is being unfaithful so it’s a whole drama in itself. I think that it’ll be really fun, and Keith is such a wonderful performer and actor.  I’m really looking forward to that,” said Harms.

Aside from singing a duet with her self-described “bestie” Keith Phares, Harms said she’s excited to be back in Milwaukee for another purpose.

“I’m out of the chorizo spice that I love from the spice store [the Spice House] at the Milwaukee Public Market. I’m obsessed. It’s the best ever. And I’m from Santa Fe, so that’s saying a lot,” Harms said, with a laugh.

All kidding aside, Harms said she feels like Milwaukee could be home. “I find something new that I love every time I’m there. I find it to be an inspiring city. There’s so much to offer there. People are just friendly and cool, and it has a great vibe. It feels small, but there is so much to offer. I would move there if it wasn’t so cold in the winter!” the Santa Fe native said.

All three performers said they look forward to returning to Milwaukee and the Florentine in the fall of 2018 for the regional premiere and recording of Carlisle Floyd’s Prince of Players.

“It is so nice to have the chance to return to a venue and a bonus to work with the same colleagues. Of course, when rehearsing an opera, you have the chance to build a great feeling of ensemble. This takes trust and a certain kind of openness, which takes time to build,” said Royal.

“Once you’ve done something together and you come back to it, It helps. Most gigs I do, you don’t start to bond until the gig’s almost over. You wish that it could go on a little longer or have more performances because you’re finally gelling and having the chemistry going on. So, I think this is a great way for us to get acquainted with each other and work with each other and we can hit the ground running for Prince of Players,” said Phares.

See Kate Royal, Keith Phares, Rena Harms, and the other fantastic singers in Viva Opera on March 16 and 18 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall. For tickets, call the Florentine Opera Box Office at 1-800-32-OPERA or visit



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