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Photo by Bruce Zinger

“The Extreme of Everything…”

Peggy Kriha Dye didn’t just know very little about opera.

She didn’t know anyone who knew about opera.

While she was an undergraduate student studying elementary education, Peggy Kriha Dye, took a music class and was encouraged by her teacher to pursue the study of opera – a short time later, the Minnesota native was auditioning for the Manhattan School of Music. She sang the only two full-length pieces of classical music in her repertoire, neither of which was in a foreign language. She earned a full scholarship to graduate school, and went on to perform with the Chautauqua Opera Young Artist Program and the Juilliard Opera Center.

BOOM. Opera Singer. It’s an identity that still seems surreal to her.

“I thought, ‘I’ll do this until the ball stops rolling,’ and it never stopped,” she said.

Kriha Dye has performed and continues to perform internationally with the San Francisco Opera and Opera Atelier, a Toronto-based company that specializes in 17th and 18th century opera, drama, and ballet. Much as she redefined herself, Kriha Dye, a soccer mom living just outside Grove City, is now redefining opera in Columbus as the General Manager of Opera Columbus.

Kriha Dye inherited Opera Columbus as a company that had essentially dissolved, existing only to stage productions of other companies on tour. It had a single staff member and the resources of CAPA. It was a situation most arts administrators would have run from. Kriha Dye, however, saw the chance to redesign the company almost entirely – and a bit unconventionally.

Having no desire to repeat other productions in smaller form, Kriha Dye, who sees opera as “the extreme of everything,” has committed to producing new works, casting new and emerging artists along with established artists, and using local designers to create a freshness on stage. Last November, Opera Columbus collaborated with OSU’s Department of Theater and Dance to produce a sellout rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, its first return to local productions where all but two of the 35-member cast hailed from Columbus.

According to Kriha Dye, the biggest challenge in rebuilding Opera Columbus as a company has been getting the word out.

“I’m so tired of hearing people say, ‘I didn’t know we had an opera company,’” she lamented.
Consequently, Dye has worked to bring opera to the people. Opera on the Edge is another collaborative effort between Opera Columbus and Shadowbox Live, with free performances held at Shadowbox Live’s Backstage Bistro, and now expanding to The Refectory. The Opera on the Edge project cuts a typical “war horse” opera down to an hour in length and performs the work in English, often with a contemporary twist. Audience members have the opportunity to interact with the cast afterwards in a casual setting.

Opera on the Edge is not just a fun way to experience opera, but is also a way to build an audience who will be prepared to enjoy the corresponding full-length productions.
Or, as Kriha Dye explains, “It’s Cliff’s Notes with a beer.”

Kriha Dye also says to watch for upcoming opera flash mobs and “Opera Undercover,” where the company will drop clues as to where their secret location, totally fabulous, opera-themed party will be.

“We’re just trying to include people in the opera family,” said Kriha Dye, who encourages people to set aside their stereotypical horns-and-helmet, fat-lady expectations of opera. “It’s not what you think.”

Continuing with its collaborative efforts, Opera Columbus will open its 2014-2015 season with Twisted, a creative “twisting” of the talents of Opera Columbus, BalletMet, and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, and a show that will bring the “unexpected” to opera fans and newcomers alike.

“There’s nothing to compare it to,” she said.

The 2014-2015 season will also feature an English-language, updated production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Does Kriha Dye worry about angering more traditional opera-goers with updates and innovations? Although she admits she used to, she points to Cleveland and San Diego, where both cities have recently closed major opera companies. “That could be us,” she said. “This has to happen.”
Kriha Dye promises the new future for Opera Columbus will have the highest of musical standards, as well as all the glamour that opera deserves. It’s the audience that will represent the biggest change in the opera experience.

“It’s glamour, but it’s glamour for everybody,” she said.

Twisted will run from September 25 – 28 at the Ohio Theatre. For more, visit www.operacolumbus.com.

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