Voices across the valley

Taos Opera Institute debuts 10th season of vocal brilliance

By Dena Miller
Posted 6/8/17

For the 10th year in a row, the Taos Opera Institute (TOI) is poised to be out and about in our community, delighting audiences at restaurants, galleries, churches and private homes with 17 classical music performances by the TOI Singers and Cantos de Taos

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Voices across the valley

Taos Opera Institute debuts 10th season of vocal brilliance


For the 10th year in a row, the Taos Opera Institute (TOI) is poised to be out and about in our community, delighting audiences at restaurants, galleries, churches and private homes with 17 classical music performances by the TOI Singers and Cantos de Taos, an esteemed quartet.

Beginning today (June 8) at 7 p.m., the 10th annual Taos Opera Institute Festival will kick off with an hourlong performance spotlighting Cantos de Taos on the patio of Pizaño’s Pizza and Pasta, 23 State Road 150, north of El Prado. Admission to the family-friendly performance is free and open to all.

This year’s Cantos de Taos quartet — comprised of artists with advanced degrees in music from distinguished universities who have enjoyed featured roles in opera productions nationally and internationally — features Jillian Cox, soprano and TOI graduate; Britt Brown, mezzo-soprano; Eric Barry, tenor, former Cantos and TOI instructor; and Andrew Craig Brown, bass-baritone and a returning Cantos singer from 2016.

Cantos de Taos will continue with an ambitious schedule throughout June, performing at David Anthony Fine Art, Taos Art Museum at Fechin House, Sabroso Restaurant & Bar, Taos Inn, Taos Retirement Village, Taos Plaza and Bella’s Mexican Grill. Dates, times and location details are available on the institute’s website at

Kandace Nachtrab, chair of the institute’s board of directors, noted, “The Cantos de Taos truly serve as ambassadors for the TOI in their numerous performances at the venues throughout Taos.”

The singers of Cantos de Taos are not the only “stars” of TOI, nor are they the only performers. The TOI Singers will feature solos by each participant in one of five languages: French, German, Italian, Russian or English. The singers’ schedule includes multiple two-hour concerts at St. James Episcopal Church and private local homes, plus a performance at Holy Trinity Church in Arroyo Seco. As with the Cantos, all performances are free.

The singers will join Cantos de Taos for two appearances, both of which are always highly anticipated local events. The first will take place on Taos Plaza on June 23; then, a grand finale is scheduled July 1 at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The Taos Opera Institute Gala and Reception is the only event for which tickets must be purchased.

“The gala showcases the achievements of both the TOI singers and Cantos de Taos quartet and is a fundraising event with a ticket price of $25, which includes a dessert reception during intermission,” Nachtrab said. “As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, this is our only fundraiser and the community really turns out and has been very supportive of us. We hope to sell out all 275 seats at the TCA this year.”

Tickets for the gala may be purchased by calling the Taos Center for the Arts office at (575) 758-2052, going online at or, if still available, on the night of the performance at the door, she noted.

In an environment that is brimming with artistic energy, the Taos Opera Institute has occupied a rarefied station since its inception one decade ago. The brainchild of co-founders Mary Jane Johnson and Linda Poetschke, Taos Opera Institute was modeled upon the prestigious American Institute of Musical Studies (AIMS), the premier six-week-long summer music program in Europe. The two women connected while teaching at AIMS in 2006 and, though their professional affiliations spanned more than two decades, Johnson and Poetschke found that year a compelling common bond during their stay in Graz, Austria: they knew, together, they could bring a better program to the United States.

Both brought the assets of their extraordinary musical careers – Johnson, a soprano who has appeared in many venerated international opera houses with the most notable of opera performers, and Poetschke, a revered orchestral soprano and music educator – into the creation of the institute in 2007.

Their goal was to provide exceptional students with the opportunity for an immersion in integrative and intense study. Their mission was “designed to bridge the gap between academia and apprenticeships for the emerging young vocal artist.” And they have succeeded.

Today, the institute provides lodging for an average of 28 students in Taos Ski Valley. The four-week program includes training in performance, production and educational careers in opera. A student’s typical weekly schedule includes a minimum of four lessons with a master voice teacher or coach, language coaching, aria staging and scene rehearsals. Guest artists and coaches provide training in performance psychology and technique, improvisation and stage direction. The training also includes a visit to the Santa Fe Opera during a final dress rehearsal.

Perhaps, though, what sets apart this program apart is its holistic approach to the business of singing. Said Poetschke, the program’s director, “We are teaching the students to take care of their whole body. Our high-altitude location trains them in breathing and the remoteness trains their focus. We show them it’s more than just the performance aspect and give them the best life disciplines we can provide.”

“First and foremost, the Taos Opera Institute is a school,” added Johnson, who is also artistic director, in agreement. “We rigorously vet the applicants in person and travel throughout the country to do so. It’s a serious, no-nonsense program from which we hope to unleash the next generation of great international talents.”

The scheduled performances of the TOI Singers are a critical element in their training, as they are platforms for critique by their teachers and coaches, who can provide real-time feedback. And despite their elevated levels of training and experience, even the year’s selected Cantos de Taos performers must participate in the monthlong program.

So, the embrace of the Taos Opera Institute by the Taos community has a twofold benefit. Not only does the audience have the pleasure of free classical music performances under the direction of some of the world’s best opera professionals, they can leave the venues knowing their participation has provided seeds of growth for the future of opera.

“Our audiences appreciate this and love hearing the students and watching them grow into professional performers,” said Johnson.

For more information on performance schedules, visit the Taos Opera Institute’s website at or call (575) 740-6431. For information on the gala event, visit or call (575) 758-2052.


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