Headlined by five prominent artists returning to Townsend Opera and four artists making their company debut
Modesto, California – February 22, 2018
Townsend Opera is pleased to announce the cast for the upcoming production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly on Friday, April 27 and Sunday, April 29, 2018 at the Gallo Center for the Arts. Christopher Bengochea, Roy Stevens, Guillermo Garcia, Jr., Donn Bradley and Kelsi Schuller return to Modesto’s stage along with newcomers Ashley Bell, Linda Baird, Nathan Stark, and Larry Zabel.
Cio Cio San (Butterfly): Ashley Bell*
Pinkerton: Christopher Bengochea
Suzuki: Linda Baird*
Sharpless: Roy Stevens
The Bonze: Nathan Stark*
Goro: Donn Bradley
Prince Yamadori: Guillermo Garcia, Jr.
Kate Pinkerton: Kelsi Schuller
Imperial Commissioner: Larry Zabel*
* Company debut
About the Cast
Ashley Bell (Cio Cio San)
Ashley Bell has been performing from the age of 9, beginning as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus and making her Off-Broadway debut at 16 in the world premiere of the musical The Golden Touch. Upcoming performances are to include Norina in Don Pasquale at the Bay Street Theatre, her debut as Gilda in Rigoletto with New Jersey Verismo Opera, and several recitals in the US and Italy. She will join the Townsend Opera Madame Butterfly production directly from an engagement with New York City Opera in the leading role of Fiora in Montemezzi’s beautiful verismo opera, L’Amore dei Tre Re.
Christopher Bengochea (Pinkerton)
Christopher Bengochea has performed with many opera companies including Opera San Jose, Atlanta Opera, Opera Idaho, Opera Canada, da Corneto Opera, Center City Opera, and Opera Company Brooklyn. His last performance with Townsend Opera was in La Bohème as Rodlofo. Recent engagements included the title role in Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann for Palm Beach Opera, the tenor part in the Verdi Requiem with the San Jose Symphony, the title role of Idomeneo for Opera San Jose, Rodolfo in La Bohème and Cavaradossi in Tosca with Opera Santa Barbara.
Linda Baird (Suzuki)
Canadian mezzo-soprano Linda Baird has sung in numerous opera companies and symphonies including: Seattle Opera, Vancouver Opera, Northern Czech Philharmonic, San Jose Opera, and Burnaby Lyric Opera. Recent performances include her debut as Kate with San Luis Obispo Opera’s Madame Butterfly and Suzuki cover; her debut as Fricka with Heroic Opera’s Die Walkure in Vancouver, Canada; and Tisbe in California Opera’s La Cenerentola.
Roy Stevens (Sharpless)
Modesto native Roy Stevens has been an international opera singer since his 1987 professional debut at the Teatro Comunale in Alessandria, Italy, as the title role of Cirano in the world premiere of Cyranno de Bergerac. He has performed in some of the great international opera houses; Teatro alla Scala in Milano, the Liceu in Barcelona, Semperoper in Dresden, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and many others. Roy has previously appeared with Townsend Opera as Marcello in La Boheme, the title role of Rigoletto, Eisenstein in Die Fledermous, and most recently as Bartolo in The Barber of Seville.
Nathan Stark (The Bonze) Hailing from Hughson, California, Mr. Stark has performed with opera houses throughout the United States, including the Metropolitan Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Dayton Opera, Atlanta Opera, and Fort Worth Opera. Some of his noted operatic roles have included Mustafà in L’Italiana in Algeri, both Don Basilio and Don Bartolo in il Barbiere di Siviglia, both Leporello and il Commendatore in Don Giovanni, both Monterone and Sparafucile in Rigoletto, both Zuniga & Escamillo in Carmen, Colline in La Boheme, and Banco in Macbeth. Mr. Stark has given recitals throughout the United States and Germany, as well as concerts at the Great Wall of China, the U.S. Colombian Embassy, U.S. French Embassy, the U.S. Austrian Embassy and the Washington National Cathedral.
Donn Bradley (Goro)
A native of California’s Bay Area, Donn studied voice with Joseph Wiggett at CSU, Stanislaus. He has performed with Townsend Opera as Njegus in The Merry Widow, Monostatos in The Magic Flute, Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore, and Ko-Ko in The Mikado. He performed with San Francisco Opera during the 2013 season as a chorus member in Mefistofele, Der Fliegende Holländer, and the Verdi Requiem.
Guillermo Garcia, Jr. (Prince Yamadori)
Guillermo began his musical studies as a violinist before pursuing voice at California State University, Stanislaus. There he acquired his Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance while studying with Connie Weichert and Dr. Joseph Wiggett. He performed previously with Townsend Opera in The Merry Widow, Romeo and Juliet, Madama Butterfly, The Mikado, and La Traviata. Currently, Guillermo is the Director of Liturgical Music at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca.
Kelsi Schuller (Kate Pinkerton)
A dramatic soprano from Ripon, Kelsi attended Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, where she earned her BA in Music Vocal Performance and Pedagogy. She has performed in numerous Townsend Opera productions, including Our Town, Dead Man Walking, Sweeney Todd, and H.M.S. Pinafore. She has also performed frequently with Modesto Performing Arts and has been the soprano soloist for the Ripon Oratorio Society’s production of Handel’s Messiah for a number of years. Miss Sculler was the 2006 National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Iowa District 2nd place award winner and the 2003 Kristina Townsend Memorial Competition award winner.
Larry Zabel (The Imperial Commissioner)
Larry performed the baritone roles of Elder McLean in Susannah and Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus at Modesto Junior College. More recently, he has performed at MJC in the role of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and with Stockton Civic Theatre as Fred/Petrucchio in Kiss Me Kate. Last summer, he was seen as Jackie Elliot in Billy Elliot, and as Bill Sykes in Oliver with Modesto Performing Arts. Larry retired twelve years ago after a twenty-year career at MJC as a stage technician.
About Townsend Opera
Townsend Opera was founded in 1983 by Modesto native Erik Buck Townsend, a graduate of Modesto High School, who had a successful international career as an opera singer. Buck Townsend worked tirelessly to lead the company for 25 years directing, conducting, teaching, and singing in performances, building sets and doing virtually every other job to keep the company operating. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2007, Buck and then-Board President Carl Bengston led an initiative to establish second-generation leadership that would ensure the Company’s future beyond his lifetime and allow it to thrive in its new home at the Gallo Center for the Arts. In February, 2008, the board appointed Matthew Buckman as the Company’s first Executive Director and Ryan Murray as Music Director. Mr. Buckman and Maestro Murray both worked with Buck until his passing in September, 2008, helping to secure the Company’s place in the community and in the opera world.
As its artistic profile has expanded over the past decade, the Company has been fortunate to welcome to our community some of the greatest artists and personalities in the field, including legendary composers Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking) and Ricky Ian Gordon (The Grapes of Wrath), author and advocate Sister Helen Prejean, singers like Leah Crocetto and Irene Roberts, who are now gracing the stages of the finest opera houses in the world, and some of the leading stage directors working today. Townsend Opera is committed to providing the community with access to innovative operatic experiences as well as to the most popular and well known operas in the repertoire.
Townsend Opera Contact:
1214 11th St., Suite 3
Modesto, CA 95354