The Christ Lutheran Church is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Christ Lutheran Church is seen on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Opera: Aggressive, refined, for everyone

The Performing Arts Society presents a recital by a baritone vocalist and a pianist

The Performing Arts Society is launching this season’s performance series on Saturday with a recital by baritone vocalist Dr. Cory Renbarger and pianist Dr. Stephen Carlson of Minnesota’s Bemidji State University.

The performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. The two men will be performing a mix of opera and folk works, including selections from their recently released album of music by Austrian composer Franz Schubert.

Renbarger said he wants to bring his opera sensibilities and performance to the local community, but that he wants to identify with people too.

“What I hope people see is that we are still common folks. I hope people find a connection to some of this music, whether they’re used to listening to country on the radio or anything,” he said. “I don’t come from this culture of high society and concert halls. I’m a farm kid from North Dakota. I was a college football player.”

Opera is, Renbarger said, beautiful because it’s something that is equal parts aggressive and refined. He said it’s for everyone. He’s looking forward to bringing it to the Kenai Peninsula as “northwoods people,” even if Alaska is “way more northwoods than us.”

“I’m a baritone,” Renbarger said. “Oftentimes I sing the older brother, or the father, or the bad guy.”

He said sometimes he sings in a grand, operatic and bombastic fashion, but this performance will be “something a little bit more intimate.”

“The songs are really emotional,” he said. “They’re really powerful and they’re really beautiful.”

Renbarger said some of the songs will be familiar to folks — even if they don’t make a habit of listening to opera. Many of the songs exist in popular culture or show up in commercials.

Rosemary Bird, a member of the Performing Arts Society, said she came to know Renbarger when he performed in an opera with her daughter. She said he made a strong impression on her — both in regards to his talent and his personality.

Bird said it’s been a very long time since the society has featured a male vocalist. She said Renbarger quickly came to mind as a good fit.

She said a key goal for the performance series is to “reach out and pull people in who can provide a concert experience that we can’t come up with ourselves in our own area.”

Renbarger said he’s visited Alaska before because he has a cousin stationed at the military base in Anchorage. He’s eager to do some sightseeing during the weekend.

“I just love it,” he said. “The ability to see the unfettered wilderness and the beautiful oceanside vistas and the trees. It’s just a really beautiful place to be, so, when given the opportunity to go up there, of course I said ‘yes, let’s do that.’”

Renbarger also said that he appreciated the strength of the arts and music community in the area, in a place “seemingly remote.”

“I want to be a part of that,” he said. “I love supporting that.”

There are two other performances in this season’s series. In February, Dr. Armin Abdihodžic, an assistant professor from the University of Alaska Anchorage, will be performing classical guitar with guest Thomas Tallant. In March, Dr. Aaron Lohmeyer, who is an assistant professor at Winona State University and former local teacher, will be playing a concert that is half classical saxophone, half jazz. Bird said Lohmeyer is resurrecting his former jazz group for the show.

Tickets for Renbarger and Carlson’s performance are $20 general admission and $10 for students and can be purchased in Kenai at Already Read Books, Country Liquor and Curtain Call Boutique, and in Soldotna at North Country Fair and River City Books.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

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