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Vancouver opera singer returns to roots

Mezzo-soprano joins Portland Opera for ‘Italian Girl in Algiers’ production

By , Columbian Features News Coordinator
Published: July 30, 2016, 6:03am
3 Photos
Katrina Galka as Elvira, left, and Vancouver native Laura Beckel Thoreson as Zulma gossip as their characters during rehearsal for "The Italian Girl in Algiers." (Jonathan Ley)
Katrina Galka as Elvira, left, and Vancouver native Laura Beckel Thoreson as Zulma gossip as their characters during rehearsal for "The Italian Girl in Algiers." (Jonathan Ley) Photo Gallery

Laura Beckel Thoreson is the opera singer next door. She will be making her main stage debut this weekend with Portland Opera and its production of “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

Though she worked with the opera company in the past as a guest artist, this will be the first time Thoreson, 31, will be part of full main stage production.

“Being a local girl, it’s super exciting to join this incredible cast,” she said.

“The Italian Girl in Algiers” by Gioachino Rossini is madcap comedy that follows Isabella, the titular Italian girl, who shipwrecks off the Algerian coast. She’s captured by soldiers of the leader Mustafa, who, upon seeing Isabella, discards his current wife Elvira. But the assertive Isabella is out to rescue her fiancé, Lindoro, whom Mustafa has captured.

The play is sung in Italian, with translations projected screens. But according to Thoreson, the story is easy to follow with its expressive music and colorful acting.

If You Go

• What: “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”

• When: 2 p.m. July 31, 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4 and Aug. 6.

 Where: Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland.

 Cost: $35 to $200.

 Information: 503-241-1802 or www.portlandopera.org

“(The opera) is a really fun mix of modern with a story of traditional fantasy storytelling atmosphere,” she said.

A mezzo-soprano, Thoreson will play a supporting character, Zulma, servant and confidant of Elivra.

“It’s a real thrill, new and different for me. Personally, I don’t get to play a lot of character roles. She’s a sassy, wise-cracking sidekick.”

Thoreson said that Zulma is jaded, bored and grumpy, which is the complete opposite of the vocal work she will be doing, that’s focused and consistent.

Rossini, who’s most famous opera is “The Barber of Seville,” wrote “acrobatic” pieces, said Thoreson, which will be combined with all sorts of running, jumping and sliding across the stage.

“I think on of the real challenges in opera or musical theater, it’s not just about acting, it’s also this athletic feat of performing.”

Opera singers don’t use microphones to project their voices from the stage, so performing becomes a “full-body event,” Thoreson said.

“Your entire instrument is working, from your core muscles to larynx. It resonates in your skull,” she said. “It has to be audible, clear and beautiful. It’s a naked art, there’s nowhere to hide.”

Thoreson was born and raised in the Lincoln neighborhood, where she now lives with her husband, Joel.

“Latte Da (coffee house and wine bar) is basically my home office,” she said.

Thoreson has performed with a variety of operas, plus as concert soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Portland Baroque Orchestra and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She has also performed at the at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

She didn’t start singing until a growth spurt dashed her dreams of ballet at 13, and her mother encouraged her to try choir.

“Margaret Green at Vancouver School of Arts and Academics changed my life. She nurtured my love of singing,” Thoreson said. “She opened the door to this whole new world of music.”

Her budding talent was also helped along by Vancouver music instructor Linda Appert and former Clark College choir director April Duvic.

“Those three women in particular encouraged and challenged me, not just to be a literate musician, or develop a love of singing, and piano skills, but built the necessary discipline to be a professional singer,” Thoreson said.

She earned her undergraduate degree from Central Washington University before attending Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, one of the top voice schools in the country. Thoreson said she and her husband made a deliberate choice to return to their roots in Vancouver.

“I never really realized (when younger) that I could come back to this community that I love so much and make a difference, while still traveling and broadening my horizons,” she said.

In addition to performing professionally, Thoreson is a faculty member of the University of Portland’s voice department and runs a private voice studio.

She also founded Northwest Art Song, an organization dedicated to highlighting singers and musicians in the Northwest, along with songs written about the region.

“The culture of music out here is so strong. We just want to get the word out more,” she said.

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Thoreson brought a few of her voice students to the dress rehearsals, and they were blown away, she said.

“If I can get a 15-year-old high school football player to have the time of his life at the show,” then it really is a show for all, she said.

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