Edvard Tchivzhel and Stephen Kechulius – as close as YouTube

I’ll admit something – this weekend, I ended up spending a lot of time on YouTube.  I started looking for clips or moments from performances I’ve experienced over the years on television of favored opera performances.  Yes, I love opera and am not afraid to mention it.  Among the 100 or so clips I experienced over the weekend, was one by former Principal Conductor and Music Director of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic (1993-2008), Edvard Tchivzhel.  He has been with the Greenville Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina since 1999 as Music Director and Conductor.  There are several YouTube clips available from the GSO featuring Maestro Tchivzhel.

The clips look to be something the Greenville Symphony Orchestra is now trying and feature Maestro talking about the various works to be performed.  A quick look at their website reveals that they performed an Ultimate Opera Concert last weekend with Soprano Kallen Esperian and Baritone Sergei Leiferkus.  Leiferkus, you may remember, was here May 12th 2008 to perform with Tchivzhel and the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.  Esperian is an accomplished American Soprano.  

They performed Dimitri Shostakovich’s “Kazn’ Stepana Razina”, op. 119 or The Execution of Stepan Razin.  I was able to attend the dress rehearsal and sat four rows from the stage, directly in front of Mr. Leiferkus.  I first heard Leiferkus live at the Metropolitan Opera House on February 25, 1998 as the High Priest in Samson et Dalila with Plácido Domingo (my hero!) and Denyce Graves. Although I did go backstage after that performance to meet Domingo and Maestro Leonard Slatkin, I didn’t have an opportunity to meet Leiferkus.  I did meet him after a later performance and had a photograph with him.

The lady in the above photo, behind my right shoulder, was a legend around the Met.  I don’t remember her name, but she died a few years ago.  She would be backstage after every single performance to get signatures on a program of all the cast members. She’d done this for many years, if not decades.  To have had that collection!

Anyway, hearing Leiferkus live this past May, reminded me of the power of his voice and how much it hadn’t changed since 1998.  It was great to be so close to that voice again!  It used to be that Metropolitan Opera stars passed through Fort Wayne frequently.  In fact, there were a few performances of Verdi’s Aida complete with elephants and circus animals in the Act II procession at the Scottish Rite, in the 1940s, on Berry – which was also the scene of a John F. Kennedy stump speech during his 1960 campaign for President.  I’ll have to pull my program collection and see if I can give you some names some time of the various opera stars that passed through.

So anyway, it’s good to see Maestro Tchivzhel active and performing opera.  He tried to bring some opera to each season, but wasn’t always successful.  I remember an announced concert version of Aida that was later scrapped and also a disappointing cancellation by American Soprano Ruth Ann Swenson.  Keep up the great work, Maestro!

Stephen Kechulius

This is a name you may not recognize.  Stephen is another baritone who’s home base is Fort Wayne.  He has performed in several opera houses the world over including the New York City Opera.  Stephen has one of those huge, solid baritone voices with a solid technique.  I had the opportunity to meet Stephen here in Fort Wayne several years ago through his brother.  Today, I remembered a recording of two arias I’d been given.  After listening to them, I happened to do a google search for him as I’d not been following his career closely in the past year and found his managment’s website.

Lo and behold, as in the case of the GSO opera concert, I missed my opportunity to see Stephen in Toledo Ohio earlier this month where he stepped in at the last minute to cover the title role in Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto”.  From an account in the Toledo Blade, Sally Vallongo wrote, “You would never have guessed that baritone Stephen Kechulius was a last-minute substitution in the title role. His was a masterful portrayal of the dark-hearted court clown, his rich and colorful voice soaring and growling with convincing passion.”

Kudos, Stephen! or should I say, Bravo!?!

Above is a YouTube video of Stephen performing Scarpia in the second act of Tosca in Athens Greece.


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