Garrett Andrews

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July 3, 2014
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Oakland winery hosts Eugene Opera in an evening of arias

Reggie Tonry’s is an interesting opera story.

The son of the house manager of the Metropolitan Opera House (“I literally grew up in the theater”), he first appeared onstage at age 10 at the Met, in Giacomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”

At the Met.

Though a trained vocalist, he went in another direction professionally, becoming a locomotive conductor. But he never let opera go.

“For me, it’s just the love of music,” he said.

Tonry, 75, will be among approximately two dozen singers performing individual and ensemble arias July 12 at Oakland’s MarshAnne Landing Winery. The evening is a result of complementary efforts: the winery’s ambition to present classical music in Douglas County and the opera’s outreach-minded Artist Mentor Program.

“The whole idea is to promote the arts,” said Tonry, the Eugene Opera’s outreach coordinator.

In this vein, the Eugene Opera has been serious about presenting modern works, not just big, serious tragedies from opera’s golden age. The company recently staged “Nixon in China” (which is just what it sounds like), “Dead Man Walking” (based on the same book as the movie) and Puccini’s little-known, schlocky “Girl of the Golden West,” complete with sheriff, Native Americans and a chorus of shabby miners.

Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” is scheduled for next season.

Tonry says he’s one of two or three “true” basses in the Eugene area. Those who sing in the lowest register can perform well into their senior years, provided one takes care of his instrument.

“Opera is the most difficult of the performing arts because not only do you need the singing, but you have to have the costumes and the acting everything else that goes into a performance,” Tonry said.

“Opera singers are the Olympic athletes of musicians.”

This being the off-season for opera singers, performances like the one at MarshAnne help keep singers honed. For now, keeping match fit is a priority, said soprano Brooke Cagno, who will also sing in Oakland.

Along with Italian, prominent operas have been written in German, French, Spanish, Latin, English and Russian.

“I haven’t had to sing in Russian yet,” Cagno said.

The 34-year-old soprano added it’s not enough to phonetically sound out the words of a foreign language. Diction coaching is required to get the right sound to a native speaker.

Cagno can hold a note for nearly a full minute. Onstage she can hit a high E flat, and in the privacy of her home, a high F.

Cagno is a “compramario,” an opera bit player. She’s never died onstage, though she’s often been the grieving attendant.

She has also been asked to serve as a “cover study,” filling in for featured performers at rehearsal. Marquee soloists, even working for the relatively tiny Eugene Opera, get flown in and don’t rehearse as much with the full cast, Cagno explained. She had this role in the modern English-language opera “Dead Man Walking,” which was surprisingly affecting.

“The joy for me comes from bringing opera to smaller communities,” she said.

Greg and Fran Cramer have hosted the Eugene Opera at their MarshAnne Landing Winery for eight years. The couple came to Oregon from Washington D.C., where they worked for the Food and Drug Administration until heading west to make wine in 2001. They’ve made the deck overlooking their 17 acres the site of numerous classical music performances.

Greg Cramer, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry, said he tested levels of environmental contaminants in seafood supplies while Bill Clinton was president. He’s been hooked on opera since hearing Maria Callas sing Verdi’s “La Traviata” in 1976.

“It’s a rare treat to host this level of talent in the Roseburg area, because you don’t hear opera in Douglas County,” he said.

The Cramers have other higher-brow offerings planned for 2014. On July 19, MarshAnne hosts a Brazilian jazz concert by the seven-piece Tom Bergeron Brasil Band. Soprano Siri Vik will perform Aug. 9. Pianist Alexander Schwartzkof will play Bach’s Goldberg Variations Sept. 21, tenor David Gustafson will perform Italian arias Nov. 29 and the Oregon Bach Collegium will perform period holiday music on early instruments Dec. 7.

“It’s going to be an elegant affair,” Cramer said.

• You can reach reporter Garrett Andrews at 541-957-4218 or at

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The News-Review Updated Jan 2, 2015 05:19PM Published Jul 14, 2014 10:21AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.