Aria Group displays 'Passion!'

For George Smith, opera is a passion.

So it's no surprise he chose "Passion!" as the title and theme of the first concert of the season by the Rochester Aria Group. Smith is director of the group, which begins its 12th season with a performance Saturday.

"When I started this, I had no idea it would go this long," Smith said. "Around year six, I decided to go until at least year 10. But last year we had record attendance, which gave me a boost to go for a 12th year."

And it probably won't end there. Smith's connection with the Minnesota Opera (he teaches the opera's resident artists) means he has even more opportunities to bring singers to Rochester to perform. "I think the quality of singers we've attracted here has gotten higher and higher," he said.

"The whole idea," Smith said, "is that we're trying to promote opera outside of a major urban area. The Minnesota Opera is collaborating with us a lot. I think they understand that in order to build an audience you need to go outside the groups that are the traditional core audience."


Saturday's concert will feature Minnesota Opera singers Victoria Vargas and Rudolfo Nieto in a selection of pieces from "Rigoletto," "Madama Butterfly," "Faust" and other operas.

For the singers, it's an opportunity to perform in an intimate venue (First Unitarian Universalist Church) in front of an appreciate audience. That audience, Smith said, has become more knowledgeable about opera.

"I think our audience members feel more comfortable commenting on everything we do," Smith said. "People understand they're allowed to like or not like whatever they're hearing. And they give us opinions on what they want to hear more of."

In turn, the aria group feels able to take a few more chances with programming, to range beyond a limited opera comfort zone. "In some ways, we are getting a little more adventurous," Smith said.

In addition to Saturday's concert, the Rochester Aria Group will present a Christmas-themed concert Dec. 18, and a spring concert March 26.

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