Schyler Vargas is a Mexican-American baritone who grew up in a very musical family. From a young age, Schyler’s mother made sure that he and his brothers participated in shows at their community theater and participated in their church’s youth choir. Taking a break from music, Schyler found his way back later in high school and quit football to sing in musicals. It wasn’t until he started his undergraduate studies though that opera came into his life. Originally pursuing a business degree, a voice teacher showed him his potential and new career path!
Schyler has most recently performed with The Glimmerglass Festival as Marchese in La traviata and Frank in Show Boat, and covered Beaumarchais in Corgliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles with the Châteaux de Versailles Spectacles. He has also performed nationally at companies including Dayton Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and The Atlanta Opera. Prioritizing new works, he has worked with Cincinnati Opera’s Opera Fusion, workshopping new works including Rufus Wainwright’s Hadrian and Tobias Picker’s Awakenings, as well as Nicholas Benavides’ Gilberto.
For Schyler, it’s important that new operas are created to bring new composers and librettists to light and to share diverse, powerful stories through music. “I strive to be an honest and versatile performer and have accepted many challenging tasks to help tell these stories whether it be incorporating serious dance, fight choreography, spoken dialogue, vocal percussion or playing the harmonica on stage.” He dreams of a project where he will be able to originate a character in a bilingual opera that tells a story about Latinx experiences in the US. “Extra points if that opera included dance!”
The power of music is a main driver in Schyler's work. He is inspired by artists who pour themselves into their singing to bring the text and music to life. He has also seen first hand how music can spark the curiosity of young people through a performance for students: ”In my second year pursuing my operatic career, I had the opportunity to sing for a regional company in Colorado playing Samuel and covering the Pirate King in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. As a cover, I was able to perform the Pirate King for children in the afternoons which included a Q&A after the show. After getting to perform for them and interact with them after the show, I saw the excitement and awe on their faces. My proudest accomplishment was receiving an email from the company including a statement from one of the teachers saying that her class of children decided to start an opera club at their school where they would listen to music from operas and guess what language they were singing.”
Learn more about Schyler and connect with him at https://www.facebook.com/schylervargasbaritone.
"Wow! I am so grateful that I kept moving forward." is a frequent thought for soprano Jonelle Sills when she’s making music with her colleagues. She loved singing as a child and it was her experience in a children’s choir that sparked her interest in classical music. This interest led Jonelle to pursue singing at York University in Toronto, Ontario, and then at The Glenn Gould School. For her it can sometimes feel unreal, but she continues to work on her craft to share new and traditional repertoire with audiences.
Having been praised for her “... warm, full, elastic tone” (Schmopera, Greg Finney), Jonelle was recently named as one of CBC Music’s classical “30 under 30” performers for 2020. Looking to share not only a “beautiful” voice, Jonelle seeks to share her heart in her artistry. “Opera is something that I continue to fight for because I believe at its core, it can be revolutionary.” As she moves forward in her career, she is not only working to meet the musical and technical demands of the art form, but to push against traditions that have limited opera from motivating its audiences to change and grow. ”My hope is that people will love their neighbours more, think a little more critically or maybe even smile more because they went to an opera.”
In the fall of 2019, Jonelle made her role debut as Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème on tour with Against The Grain Theatre through dive bars from Banff, Alberta to Toronto, Ontario. Directly following the tour, she sang PriaSoprano in A Million Billion Pieces by David James Brock, with music by Gareth Williams and directed by Philip Akin with Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre. Jonelle won a 2019 Dora award for “Outstanding performance of an Ensemble” in Vivier’s Kopernikus also with Against the Grain Theatre. This past summer Jonelle was a Resident Artist with Against the Grain Theatre at the Banff Centre’s “Opera in the 21st Century” program. During that residency she premiered the role of Esther in composer Paola Prestini and librettist Royce Vavreck’s Silent Light, which was directed and designed by Thaddeus Strassberger.
Though COVID-19 continues to limit live performance opportunities, Jonelle is looking forward to joining the Yulanda M. Faris Young Artists Program with Vancouver Opera in the new year and to performing Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and narrating Carlos Simon's Portrait of a Queen in the near future. She will also be making her debut with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Ontario. Until then, she continues to stay inspired in her work giving special credit to Black Women in Opera’s Instagram account founded by Renee Ombaba. “This instagram page allowed me to know that I wasn't alone and that there were SO MANY black women who have done and are doing amazing things in opera.”
Keep up with Jonelle’s journey at https://jonellesills.com.
SAMUEL JAMES DEWESE
“My goal in every performance, from a street corner to a vaunted stage, is to change someone's mind about what ‘opera’ means.” Baritone Samuel James Dewese is forging a path as an evocative artist in the US and beyond. His love of changing perceptions and pushing limits has led him to successful collaborations in creating and performing new works, specifically seeking creators who live on the margins, outside of the expected canon.
A graduate of University of Illinois and the Royal College of Music, London, it was Samuel’s undergraduate teacher who pushed him forward in his training. When he was ready to change his major after a difficult freshman year performance, his teacher did not allow him to quit and Samuel was able to find the enjoyment in putting in the hard work to rebound. That support and encouragement convinced Samuel to continue his studies and find joy in singing for an audience.
Samuel’s most recent engagements include Marcello in La Boheme, Father in Hansel and Gretel, and Astrophel in The Arcadians. His oratorio and concert performances include Portsmouth Festival Orchestra, Highgate Choral Society, and Illinois Wind Symphony, among others. Samuel’s performances in new works include the title role in the world premiere of John Henry (McCarthy) with Tête à Tête in London and The Perfect Opera (Davis) with Virtually Opera at the Edinburgh International Fringe. In competition, Samuel has twice been named a district winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions (St. Louis), captured second prize in the James Toland International Competition, and was a grand finalist in the Hariclea Darclée Competition.
During the pandemic, Samuel began a performance project, On Your Street, which brings him and a bluetooth speaker to front porches, back decks, and street corners in and around Chicago. He’s looking forward to collaborating with additional singers in Spring 2021 to responsibly perform small ensembles at a safe distance from each other and our audiences. He is also currently developing a lecture recital series in collaboration with an art gallery in Chicago to choose (and premiere) vocal works inspired by art in the performance space. While he’s dreaming of future projects, one of Samuel’s dreams is to “commission and present a new song cycle about one of my heroes, Barack Obama, to the man himself.”
Stay connected with Samuel at www.samueljamesdewese.com and learn more about his work.
Tennessee native, Camron Gray, began his vocal studies in his undergrad program 10 years ago which led him to participate in opera workshops and young artists programs since then. Last summer he attended the Glimmerglass Festival and is currently completing his Artist’s Diploma at the University of Michigan.
Seeking to move people with honest portrayals of characters, Camron is proud to have performed in Blue at the Glimmerglass Festival. “That work merged my passion for social activism with my love for music and truthful storytelling.” Though his passion for music and the human voice is what has brought Camron to this point in his career, he looks forward to using his platform to help move someone and inspire them through his music-making.
His performance work includes Tom Snout in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2017), Larry Renault in William Bolcom’s latest opera Dinner at Eight, as well as the authoritative, fully-revised version of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, as Robbins and Crab Man in February 2018 in conjunction with the University Musical Society (UMS). He performed as part of the Cincinnati Opera chorus in La Traviata (Verdi), The Flying Dutchman (Wagner), and Another Brick in the Wall (Bilodeau).
Camron looks forward to future performances of Blue and to performing some of his dream roles in La Boheme, Faust, and La Traviata. As well as taking part in many of the new works being created. Keep an eye on Camron’s upcoming performances at https://www.camrongraytenor.com.
ROBERT ELLSWORTH FENG
“The first opera I saw was Aïda at Hawaii Opera Theatre and the drama and emotions that could be conveyed through music stuck with me.” Robert Ellsworth Feng began his operatic career in the chorus of Turandot which led to a life-long passion. “I knew I had a story to tell and a voice to tell it with.”
As a singer and librettist, Robert sees his role as giving back to the world by offering his truth and story. His performance work has included traditional repertoire including Don Giovanni (Il Commendatore) with Kor Productions, La sonnambula (Count Rodolfo) and Così fan tutte (Don Alfonso) with Opera Alchemy. And he has also premiered new works including Tony Small’s operetta Qadar, Nick Peros’ monodrama Lamentation of Ruin, and with Christman Opera in their Voices Rising Voices series.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Robert has been active through Social Distance Opera's production of Street Scene as Henry Davis and was an Emerging Artist with Seagle Music Colony. He has also been a featured artist for Tony Small's Virtual Masterclass series for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. A highlight of his professional career, Robert has enjoyed participating in Small’s Project 31, an education series to introduce young kids to opera.
A lover of the Horror genre, his dream opera is a new opera based on a horror story. “The Magnus Archives is a recent favorite of mine for horror.” Until then, his upcoming projects include Don Giovanni (Conmendatore) with Kor Productions, Mikado (Ko-Ko) with Hawaii Opera Theatre, Voice Acting with Circle Round WBUR, and continuing Tony Small’s Project 31.
Stay connected to Robert’s upcoming performances and explore some of his written work at https://www.robertfeng.com.