Knoxville Opera debuts season opener with a guest appearance from Mayor Rogero

Living East Tennessee

Knoxville Opera is launching their 41st season with a comedy double bill featuring Mozart’s “Impresario” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”

Executive and Artistic Director for Knoxville Opera, Brian Salesky said the inspiration for the show comes from comedic influences from his family.

“Now we all have some relatives that we know in our family, who are hilarious. I certainly have mine and I thought, well how do I tell this story, but it make it more interesting for everybody here in Knoxville,” Salesky said.

Salesky then took this idea and made Mozart’s originally Germanic “Impresario,” obtained an English translation and then further localized for the Knoxville community.

“By making this a contemporary version of the show, we are able to tell the story of the foolishness of opera singers, but made it local with lots of references to Knoxville locations, Knoxville businesses, Knoxville people and even have Mayor Rogero in the cast,” Salesky said.

Salesky is not only proud to be working at yet another season with Knoxville Opera, but doing it with a close friend.

Salesky and one of the performer’s in this weekend’s show, Andy Wentzel, have called each other friends for more than 30 years. Salesky said the two met doing an opera show in Colorado and later raised their two boys together Knoxville. Salesky said Wentzel’s wife is even his family doctor.

For Knoxvillians, Wentzel may be a recognizable voice as Tennessee’s “National Anthem Man.”

Wentzel replaced George Bitzas in 2001, as the “Star Spangled Banner” singer for all of the University of Tennessee’s home games.

Prior to his position as the resident singer for the Tennessee Volunteers, Wentzel spent more than 20 years of his life singing professionally in the opera business.

Wentzel even spent a few years at the crème de la crème of all of the operas, at the Metropolitan Opera on Broadway.

“It was a place that my family, my father and grandfather could say, ‘wow, my son sings at the Met,” Wetzel recalled.

Wentzel said there he got to sing with some of the greatest singers and some of the greatest names in 20th century opera, but Wentzel said his opera home was closer to the “Gateway of the West” than it was the Big Apple.

Wentzel spend 15 seasons with The Opera Theatre of St. Louis where he did a number of opera world premieres, two of which were by a Japanese composer, where they later took those pieces to Tokyo and performed them with Japanese subtitles.

Yet Wentzel said after a stint in New York City and more than a decade in St. Louis, he’s proud to call Knoxville home.

Outside of Wentzel’s passion for performing lies another one of his greatest pleasures in life: teaching.

“I get a great satisfaction out of working with these young singers,” Wentzel said. “My wife tells me that when she watches me while I’m watching my students on stage having success, having an opportunity to do what I love so much, she sees me more passionate than she’s ever seen than when I was performing.”

Wentzel and Salesky have both poured countless of time, energy and effort into their upcoming production and encourage locals to come and see this hilarious, comedic opera. The show will be on stage at the Tennessee Theatre for one weekend only, beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26 and at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.

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