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Il Trovatore at The Riviera Theatre

Victoria Livengood as Azucena, the role she reprises in Nickel City Opera's Il Trovatore.

Nickel City Opera launches its third season with big plans

On Friday, June 24, at 8pm, and on Sunday, June 26, at 2:30pm, the Nickel City Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi’s ever-popular tale of love and gypsy revenge, Il Trovatore, at the Riviera Theatre on Webster Street in North Tonawanda.

The Nickel City Opera exists due to the vision of its artistic director, Buffalo native and Metropolitan Opera bass Valerian Ruminski, who along with the company’s executive director, Eileen Breen, felt that there was both the need and the opportunity to continue the legacy of Gary Burgess’ groundbreaking Greater Buffalo Opera Company, which produced full-staged opera productions from 1986 to 1997 with an increasingly high level of professionalism. The first two Nickel City Opera seasons featured a thoroughly enjoyable inaugural production of the Barber of Seville, and a more ambitious production of Rigoletto last year, followed by a charming holiday production of Amahl and the Night Visitors on the weekend after Thanksgiving, which will be given a reprise this November.

While the first two seasons of the Nickel City Opera have to be considered as genuine successes, Ruminski feels that the organization has reached a turning point. “The Nickel City Opera is currently experiencing a growth spurt,” he says. “Something significant, maybe like an individual going through puberty. I have to consider our first two seasons to have been successful, but as we now expand, and plan on additional productions, beyond our core month of June time-frame, we definitely are hoping for a little box office bump for Trovatore, which, I think, is our strongest production, to date.”

As part of the company’s growth, Nickel City Opera is taking the bold step of producing a second summer opera, on July 2 and 3, at a most unusual location, when it stages Puccini’s Il Tabarro aboard the USS The Sullivans, the destroyer docked in the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.

The legendary tenor Enrico Caruso famously once said that all that it takes for a successful performance of Il Trovatore is the four greatest singers in the world. Perhaps with Caruso’s remark in mind, for this production Ruminski has assembled the strongest cast of soloists in the company’s short history.

The pivotal role of the gypsy Azucena will be sung by the internationally renowned Metropolitan Opera star Victoria Livengood, a Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano who is best known for her dynamic portrayals in well over 100 performances with the Met, where she has established herself as a house favorite. Livengood has also appeared throughout Europe, South America, Canada, and the United States, including many appearances at the Spoleto Festival, where she sang the title role in The Medium under the direction of the work’s composer, Gian Carlo Menotti. Her portrayal of Azucena in a recent production of Il Trovatore in Fort Worth, Texas drew high praise: “The real star of the production is the simply awe-inspiring Victoria Livengood as Azucena. Her potent mezzo includes a fearsome chest voice; a smooth, flexible middle voice; and a bright trumpet of an upper range that cuts through chorus and orchestra with amazing force.”

“I have a powerful voice,” Ruminski says, “and while I sometimes have had to rein in my volume level when singing with others, the only time that I have ever had to raise my voice was when I was singing with Victoria.”

The role of the doomed lover Manrico will be sung by the versatile tenor Eduardo Villa, who has appeared in the role more than 100 times. Villa is a regular guest star of the Metropolitan Opera, having appeared on the Met stage in the title roles in Verdi’s Don Carlo and Ernani, and as Radames in Aida, Rodolpho in Luisa Miller, Don Jose in Carmen, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Enzo in La Gioconda. He has also appeared as well as in other leading opera houses throughout Europe, Australia and North America.

Soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, most recently heard worldwide in the Sirius Satellite Radio Metropolitan Opera Broadcast of Puccini’s Tosca, with tenor Marcello Giordani, and in Verdi’s Macbeth, as Lady Macbeth, at Santiago, Chile’s Teatro Municipal, will appear in the role of Leonara, a women who unwittingly tempts men to their ultimate destruction.

John Packard, who has become the de-facto “house baritone” for the Nickel City Opera, following solid performances, both in the title role of Rigoletto and in the Barber of Seville, will portray the tragically libidinous Count di Luna, while Nickel City Opera artistic director Ruminski appears as Ferrando, loyal henchman to the Count, who Ruminski also characterizes as being “something of a father-figure” to that unlucky individual.

Ruminski had originally engaged an Irish director for this production, but after that individual was left scrambling due to the loss of his position, following a forced merger of his company, Ruminski was luckily able to engage Henry Akima, the director of the Hawaii Opera Theatre, a company with which Ruminski has sung for the previous three years, and with which he will again be appearing in February.

Wesley Krantz, former operations manager at the BPO, is the production manger and Zachary Kampler will once again lead the Eastern Festival Symphony Orchestra, and the large chorus of gypsies – a dozen women and a dozen men – all local singers, in the opera’s many well-known numbers, including the famous “Anvil Chorus.”

Tickets range from $20 to $57. For more information, call 692-2413 or visit

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