Local pianist to join with rare singer for ‘emotional’ concert

Audiences will get the chance to hear something rare this weekend in Soldotna.

Local musician Maria Allison is teaming up with Michigan singer Rehanna Thelwell for a highly anticipated performance Saturday at the Soldotna Christ Lutheran Church. The evening’s program begins at 7:30 p.m.

Thelwell’s voice is what makes the performance so special, as the University of Michigan grad is a classically trained opera singer, and is recognized as a “contralto” — the lowest vocal type for female singers. Thelwell said she operates in the area between contralto and the next highest, mezzo-soprano, and considered herself a mezzo-contralto to avoid confusion.

Allison said contralto women are rare, so rare that she has worked with only one contralto in her career prior to this weekend, and Thelwell will be the second.

“Sopranos and altos are a dime a dozen, but contraltos not as much,” Thelwell said.

Thelwell said the program music was hand-picked by herself with recommendations from several of her professors that will give the performance a good flow and will represent her vocal talents well.

Allison said the night is expected to engage the audience with a rich, powerful range of emotion derived from Thelwell’s voice and Allison’s piano.

“It has a strong emotional message that is really appealing to (listeners), some of it makes me want to cry,” Allison said. “It has powerful messages, it’s really moving.”

Allison said the program will consist of various arias, and will also include more recent Broadway plays. Allison said one of the highlights for her will be performing the hit song “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel.”

“I would just say I’m really lucky,” Allison said. “I’ve been playing piano for 40 years in Alaska and this’ll be a great show.”

Thelwell graduated last May from Michigan’s specialist program, which she described as essentially a secondary degree. The Ann Arbor singer, who also spent time at Northern Arizona, said she will be moving to Washington, D.C., at the end of 2019 to participate in the Young Artists Program. The program helps coach and mentor young singers, and guides them in taking the next career step toward finding performance companies to join. It also gets them out in the community by joining outreach programs. Thelwell said she plans on joining the Washington National Opera.

Allison began her music career studying music education, piano performance and chamber music at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, before heading to Alaska to continue her opera and musical theater career. Allison also taught opera appreciation at the Kenai Peninsula College.

This week will be the second visit to Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula for Thelwell, who also performed in August 2016 with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. Allison said Thelwell’s 2016 performance showed her just how talented she was, as Thelwell proved in a well-sung cantata by Sergei Prokofiev entitled “Alexander Nevsky,” and said she knew a second trip was in the cards.

“She walked out on stage and looked around at the orchestra, and she has this incredible stage presence,” Allison said. “Her voice is so rich … and we thought, ‘We have to get her back here’.”

Thelwell’s second trip to the 49th state has thus far been a much different experience than her first, which came in the summer, but this week’s snowstorm hasn’t turned her off from loving Alaska.

“It’s just a gorgeous place,” Thelwell said. “I’ve lived on the East Coast all my life, so it’s nice to see something completely different, the snow-covered trees, a moose here and there.

“It’s otherwordly.”

Thelwell said she hopes Saturday night’s concert will be just as successful, if not more so, than her first peninsula showing, and said she hopes to achieve that with a wide range of pieces that will satisfy all comers.

“Nobody wants to go and be bummed out by (a sad song), but it’ll be a good combination of joyful, soulful and happy,” she said. “It’ll be more on the side of dramatic, all over the place, and vocally, presentation wise, it’s going to be a fun evening.”

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