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Bio

Kenya Lawrence Jackson

Kenya Lawrence Jackson currently serves as the Director of Music and Worship at St. Timothy United Methodist Church in Mandeville, LA where her duties include coordinating a large and diverse music program. She conducts the much anticipated, Christmas on the Northshore concerts, showcasing the talents of the 100-voice St. Timothy Choir and the Northshore Orchestra, an ensemble of over 40 local musicians. Additionally, she created, produces and directs the annual Of Thee I Sing patriotic celebration each Memorial Day weekend.  

Kenya is also the newly appointed Director of the Northlake Performing Arts Society, an auditioned community choir whose purpose is to enhance and enrich the cultural life on the Northshore by using choral music as a catalyst to embrace and promote other art forms. 

Kenya also enjoys performing and is currently the Principal Soprano with New Orleans based opera company Opera Créole. She was last seen as Mother Juliette Gaudin in the award-winning original production of Les Lions de le Reconstruction. She also sang the title role in the award-nominated production of Treemonisha and also helped make Opera Créole history in the title role of Flamenca in the award-winning La Flamenca

Kenya has also produced many children’s theater productions, including Seussical the Musical, Alice in Wonderland, and Godspell Jr, in addition to several original productions. 

A native of Hammond, LA., Ms. Jackson, holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Southern Methodist University and a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Southeastern Louisiana University, where she was recognized with the James Wilcox Award for Outstanding senior.  She currently studies with LSU Professor, Dr. Lorraine Sims.

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Bio

Valerie Anne Jones Francis

Valerie Anne Jones Francis is a native of New Orleans and a proud product of the New Orleans Public School System. She is a 1979 graduate of McDonogh #35 where she studied under the capable tutelage of Mrs. Patricia Sallier Seals. She holds the B.A., M.M., and D.M.A. in Vocal Music Education/Performance from Dillard University, (Dr. S. Carver Davenport), the University of New Orleans, (Dr. Raquel Cortina) and the University of Oklahoma, (the late Dr. Thomas Devore Carey), respectively. She also attended American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria. She was one of the first recipients of the Carol Brice Carey Scholarship. 

In 1994, she represented the Gulf Coast Region for the National Council Auditions at the Metropolitan Opera, in New York. Roles to her credit include, Aida, Bess, Serena, Magda, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Musetta, Madame Euterpova, Madama Butterfly, Micaela, Carmen and Marschillin with the University of New Orleans Opera Theater, Cimarron Circuit Opera Company, Shreveport Opera and New York Opera Studio. She made her debut with New Orleans Opera as the Strawberry Woman and Soprano I Prayer Soloist, in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess in October 2010 and returned as Inez in Il Trovatore in April 2011.  In 2013, she sang the role of Leonie in a premiere concert performance of a newly commissioned opera, entitled, Freedom Ride, by Dan Shore. She has also appeared as guest soloist with the Dallas Symphony, American Institute of Musical Studies, the Louisiana Philharmonic and Jefferson Performing Arts Society Orchestras. With Opera Creole she performed the roles of Piquita (Flamenca) by Charles Lucien Lambert, Treemonisha (Treemonisha) by Scott Joplin and Trolla (Thelma), by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Dr. Francis continues to present concerts with Dr. Wilfred Delphin, some of which have included Benefit Concerts for AIDS Relief in Zambia in Carbondale, Illinois and Sundays at Three Afternoon Recitals Series, in Memory of Alpha Brawner Floyd at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, Tennessee, Trinity Artist Series, MOJA, and Piccolo Spoleto Festivals. 

Dr. Francis has also represented the United States as one of three judges for the X, XVI, and XVII Concurso Internacional Canto Lirico, an international vocal competition in Trujillo, Peru, where she presented master classes and recitals and served as Presidente de los Jueces in 2012 and 2015. One very proud moment during her time in Trujillo last year was that her 17-year-old daughter, Imani Sarai Francis, shared the stage in concert for an international audience. Her international travels in 2015 also included San Jose and Terrialbo, Costa Rica.

Dr. Francis and Dr. Delphin have also presented and premiered original and arranged vocal works by local artists/composers of New Orleans to include the works of Roger Dickerson, Ellis Marsalis and Moses Hogan. 

As musical director of “Voices of Purpose”, she premiered “Water Too High Bones too Low” by Hannibal Lokumbe. In 2013, Dr. Francis performed Camille Nickerson’s Creole lullaby, entitled Fais Do Do, orchestrated by Hale Smith with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra; she was honored to serve as guest soloist for the swearing in ceremony of Chief Justice Bernette Johnson, the Lawyers for Civil Rights Under the Law, 50th Anniversary of Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award Dinner, in 2013 and the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, AL, 2015. She has also shared her talent as guest soloist for Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Marian Wright Edelman, Jessie Jackson, “Daddy” King, Dick Gregory, and other notable historic figures.

Dr. Francis also sings annually as guest soloist for the National Baptist Convention of America and various church denominations throughout our city and nation. She has presented concerts with New Orleans greats to include E. Dwight Franklin, Rev. Thomas Brown, Timothy Ray, Warren Williams, the late Moses G. Hogan, Albinas Prizgintas and others. Dr. Francis is also a member of One-A-Chord Gospel Ensemble under the direction of Mrs. Betty Winn.

Dr. Francis also serves as Executive Artistic Director of “The Patriotic Project Statewide Youth Chorus”, an interactive, music empowerment program providing youth an opportunity to be exposed to several forms of creative arts. This program also allows children from various backgrounds to come together, transcending race, economic, and cultural differences to form a diverse group of singers and performers who have volunteered their voices and hearts to show the strength and beauty of unity in a patriotic project to remind America that we are ALL Americans!

Dr. Francis currently serves as Assistant Professor of Vocal Music Education at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA, Executive Artistic Director of Opera Programs, Founder and Executive Artistic Director for the Celebration of the Negro Spiritual Concert Series and Nicholls State University Gospel Choir. She currently serves as Minister of Music at her home church, Free Mission Baptist Church, where her father, Reverend Johnny Jones, Jr. serves as pastor.

Dr. Francis continues to perform locally, nationally and internationally.

Her favorite bible verse is: I CAN Do all things through Jesus Christ that strengthens me. Philippians 4:13

Her Motto is: DARE TO BE DIFFERENT!

Her Life goal is to live so that the Lord can use me!

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Bio

Frank Convit

Frank Convit described as singing with the “poignant power of a seasoned soloist” (Richard Balthazar Blog), has been captivating audiences with his rich timbre and ringing high notes. In March of 2020, Frank made his Midwest debut with Heartland Opera Theatre as Marco in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Earlier that year, Frank also made his New Orleans Opera debut as Loreé a wounded soldier in Tchaikovsky’s Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans). He regularly performs in the New Orleans Opera touring show Little Red Riding Hood as the Big Bad Wolf. In 2019, Frank performed as Pandolfe in the Loyola Opera Theater production of Massenet’s Cendrillon. Before that, Frank performed as Raphael/Adam in Haydn’s Creation with Tulane Choir and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, the baritone soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with the Cornish-American Song Institute and Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder with the Consortium Novum Orchestra. In 2018, Frank performed as Pablo Picasso in Tom Cipullo’s Afterlife with the Loyola Opera Theater for the National Opera Association Convention in January, and the Jailor and Marquis de la Force in Dialogues of the Carmelites with Loyola Opera Theater in March. In 2017, Frank performed as the baritone soloist for Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols with the New Orleans Volunteer Orchestra, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte in Toronto, CA with the Toronto Summer Opera. Prior to his performance in Canada, he performed as the baritone soloist in The Letter Quintet from Sweeney Todd with New Orleans Opera.

Frank earned his Master of Music Performance Degree from Loyola where he studied voice with mezzo-soprano Luretta Bybee in 2019. Frank earned his Bachelor’s Degree of Music from Loyola University New Orleans in 2015. In 2016, he performed as Sid from Albert Herring and Morales from Carmen with Spotlight on Opera in Texas. Frank performed in multiple recitals with the Cornish-American Song Institute in 2015 and 2018 at St. Anne’s College at the University of Oxford and the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. Frank is an active member of the New Orleans Opera Chorus under the expertise of Carol Rausch. He is a regular at Opera On Tap and can also be heard as section leader and soloist at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church.

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News

Virtual Summer Camp

June 8th – July 10th

Community Works is having another innovative season of summer camps; this time it is virtual and FREE! Registration is open now and will continue throughout the summer, so go check out their incredible programming! 

New Orleans Opera is teaching a fabulous workshop featuring characters and music from Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville as well as Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, along with other operas, time permitting. 

Don’t miss this unique opportunity for your children, grades 4 through 8 to learn about singing, character development, the parts of the theatre, famous opera songs and arias and how to construct props and costume pieces at home!

If you are interested in signing your child up for the opera classes, choose the ‘Storytelling Works’ for your area of interest.

The opera classes include:

  • Exploring Figaro, Act I aria the “Largo al factotum” (in English) and we’ll learn about the plot and characters in The Barber of Seville! We’re also going to teach vocal warm-ups, along with acting, prop-making and costume activities. 
  • Weeks two and three will continue with the songs “Poor Wand’ring One” from Pirates of Penzance and a song that we have named “Warriors of Wotan” (based on the melody from the Ride of the Valkyries) from Die Walküre.  
  • We’ll teach fun facts about the stories and characters from these operas, and the students will have lots of imaginative activities in all three workshops! 

This is New Orleans Opera’s second year participating with the Community Works Summer Camps. Classes led by Taylor Ott with Jesse Reeks accompanying.

Taylor Ott, Instructor

Taylor Ott is a graduate from the New York City Mannes Conservatory of Music and she has extensive experience in opera and musical theatre performance in London, U.K. Taylor is also a stage director, choreographer and multimedia arts producer.  She has been the artistic director for several of our NOOA education projects since 2019, and she was the stage director for the Summer, 2019 Community Works, NOOA and Dillard University collaboration, entitled From Bizet to Mozart: A Journey Through Opera.

Jesse Reeks, Collaborative Pianist

Jesse Reeks is the son of two very successful musicians, and he has played the piano since he was old enough to speak! He is also an expert on the accordion and a master-level organist.  Jesse is comfortable in any realm of music, from secular to sacred and from classical to jazz. He has been the collaborative pianist for the Opéra Nouvelle series for the past year and a half, and he maintains an active performance schedule, even on the “virtual” level!

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Balcony Ballads New Orleans Opera Video Series Opera at Home

Pa-pa-pa! ACT II Duet from Die Zauberflöte

VIDEO CREDIT: DYLAN TRẦN

It is Act II and the setting is a Temple of Wisdom in a faraway land, place and time. Throughout the course of the opera, Papageno, a bird-catcher, has been trying to find a wife. Though he fails in most of the trials that Sarastro, the High Priest of the Temple of Wisdom asks him to endure, the Three Spirits arrive just in the nick of time to keep Papageno from ending his life! Miraculously, he is forgiven his failures in the trials, and he is presented with Papagena, a beautiful bird girl who will be his wife.  In typical musical and thematic brilliance, W.A. Mozart features the two characters, within a chirping orchestral underpinning, in an ebullient and charming avian duet.  They sing of all of the wonderful little Papagenas and Papagenos they will produce in joy, laughter and love!

Rachel Looney, soprano

Rachel Looney has been praised by The Times Picayune for her smooth silvery tone and ringing top notes. In November, 2018, she made her operatic debut with the New Orleans Opera as La statue animée in Rameau’s Pygmalion. Rachel has also performed with New Orleans Opera’s “Opera on Tap,” the Victory Belles at the National WWII Museum, and Tulane Summer Lyric Theatre. She has logged over 20 performances as the title role in the New Orleans Opera touring production, Little Red Riding Hood. Rachel holds a Master of Music degree from Loyola University New Orleans where she studied with Luretta Bybee and performed the role of Juliette in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Frank Convit, baritone

Frank Convit, described as singing with the “poignant power of a seasoned soloist” (Richard Balthazar Blog), has been captivating audiences with his rich timbre and ringing high notes. In March of 2020, Frank made his Midwest debut with Heartland Opera Theatre as Marco in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. Earlier that year, Frank also made his New Orleans Opera debut as Loreé a wonded soldier in Tchaikovsky’s Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans). He regularly performs in the New Orleans Opera touring show Little Red Riding Hood as the Big Bad Wolf. In 2019, Frank performed as Pandolfe in the Loyola Opera Theater production of Massenet’s Cendrillon, and, In 2018, Frank performed as Pablo Picasso in Tom Cipullo’s Afterlife with the Loyola Opera Theater, for the National Opera Association Convention.

Jesse Reeks, pianist

Jesse Reeks is the son of two very successful musicians, and he has played the piano since he was old enough to speak! He is also an expert on the accordion and a master-level organist.  Jesse is comfortable in any realm of music, from secular to sacred and from classical to jazz. He has been the collaborative pianist for the Opéra Nouvelle series for the past year and a half, and he maintains an active performance schedule, even on the “virtual” level!


Part of the Balcony Ballads Series from the New Orleans Opera Education Department
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Balcony Ballads New Orleans Opera Video Series Opera at Home

Un bel di vedremo

VIDEO CREDIT: DYLAN TRẦN

Singing “Un bel di vedremo,” soprano Betsy Uschkrat portrays Cio-cio san, a Japanese woman promised to an American naval officer during the height of late 19th Century American colonialism and cultural exploitations. She sings about the beautiful reunion with her beloved Lieutenant Pinkerton, who, unbeknownst to her, has a girlfriend in every port of call. Jesse Reeks is the collaborative pianist.

Dr. Betsy Uschkrat, soprano

Known for her impressive vocal range and artistic versatility, soprano Betsy Uschkrat continues to enthrall audiences across the United States, winning several operatic competitions in the process. Audiences have adored her performances of classical, musical theatre, and the great American Songbook repertoire, described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a “vocal powerhouse.” Since 2010, Dr. Uschkrat has taught at Loyola University in the Classical Voice Department and the Popular and Commercial Music degree program. Her students have gone on to perform professionally, become music educators, and work as music therapists across the country.

Jesse Reeks, pianist

Jesse Reeks is the son of two very successful musicians, and he has played the piano since he was old enough to speak! He is also an expert on the accordion and a master-level organist.  Jesse is comfortable in any realm of music, from secular to sacred and from classical to jazz. He has been the collaborative pianist for the Opéra Nouvelle series for the past year and a half, and he maintains an active performance schedule, even on the “virtual” level!


Part of the Balcony Ballads Series from the New Orleans Opera Education Department
Categories
Balcony Ballads New Orleans Opera Video Series Opera at Home

In des Lebens Frühlingstagen

VIDEO CREDIT: DYLAN TRẦN

Tenor Tyler Smith is Florestan in Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera Fidelio. The second act opens with “Gott! welch’ Dunkel hier!” which translates in English to “God, what darkness here!” Florestan is in the deepest recesses of a prison for those who have supposedly committed political crimes.  Though he is innocent, he has lost all hope. The second section of the aria, and our featured selection is “In des Lebens Frühlingstagen…” which means “In the spring days of life…”  Here, Florestan recalls past days of love before his years in the prison.  In a moment of glorious foreshadowing, he also sees a rescuing angel “Ein Engel” who is like his wife, Leonore, and a beacon of light to lead him to Heaven.  Jesse Reeks is our collaborative pianist.

Dr. Tyler Smith, Tenor

Dramatic tenor Tyler Smith has appeared in numerous operatic and concert performances throughout the United States, Europe, and South America.  For his debut as Canio with New Orleans Opera, Mr. Smith stepped in with six hours notice for an ailing colleague.  Opera News deemed his performance a “heroic job…[a] powerful voice and was remarkably in touch with the drama.”  Notable title roles include, but are not limited to Don Jose in Carmen, Rodolfo in La Bohème, Max in Der Freischütz, Boris in Katya Kabanova, the title role in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, and Belfiore in Argento’s Casanova’s Homecoming. Mr. Smith made his Houston Grand Opera Debut as Carlson in Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, which was released on the Albany label.

Jesse Reeks, pianist

Jesse Reeks is the son of two very successful musicians, and he has played the piano since he was old enough to speak! He is also an expert on the accordion and a master-level organist.  Jesse is comfortable in any realm of music, from secular to sacred and from classical to jazz. He has been the collaborative pianist for the Opéra Nouvelle series for the past year and a half, and he maintains an active performance schedule, even on the “virtual” level!


Part of the Balcony Ballads Series from the New Orleans Opera Education Department