Some 24 years since its founding in 1997, the Taconic Opera company continues to delight Westchester’s opera lovers with beautifully produced performances of beloved classics as well as more contemporary operas.
Dan Montez is the founder and General Director of Taconic Opera. Under his leadership, the company strives to promote the advantages of resident-opera while offering many singers the opportunity to gain stage and repertoire experience in paid performances. The company employs area artists, most of them live in Westchester, Rockland or Putnam Counties with others coming from Connecticut and New York City. The chorus is comprised entirely of local singers. It is not, however, a typical community choir explains Mr. Montez. “People interested in joining us need some serious music and language skills and a willingness to create a professional level performance. They all train hard and sing both oratorio and opera in several languages. Most have had private voice lessons.”
Montez’s inspiration to pursue a career in music came from a high school orchestra teacher who helped him fall in love with classical music. “I played with the orchestra for four years and in various traveling ensembles. At first, I was a piano major for three years, thinking I was on track to be a concert pianist.” His first experience with opera was in college. “Someone tricked me into singing for the faculty, which resulted in a surprise scholarship. Within six months, I had the lead in their next opera. After putting on the costume and singing, I was hooked and gave up my piano scholarship to sing.” Montez received a B.Mu. from Brigham Young University in Vocal Pedagogy and his M.A. in Vocal Performance from San Jose State University.
He landed a position with Opera San Jose as their first resident, full-time tenor. During this tenure, he was asked to direct and teach at the opera program of the local university. “I loved directing. That led me to conducting and composing. I composed oratorios for the prophet Enoch, Jonah, Daniel, Job, and King David and recently, finally, Esther.”
As a professional singer he has appeared in principal roles in over 60 productions on stages including Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and San Francisco Opera and performed in numerous oratorios and recitals throughout the United States. His flourishing career as a full-time operatic tenor began to take its toll, it meant being on the road 10 months of the year. “I made a difficult decision to end my full-time singing so my wife and I could stay home and raise and homeschool our kids together.” Their kids spent more time studying music and resulted in one becoming a concert pianist and his other two children becoming opera singers. Montez decided it was time to make his dream of creating a resident opera company a reality.
This company has been a true labor of love for Montez. Collaborating with him, Musical Director, Jun Nakabayashi has, since its inception, contributed to ensuring the reputation of Taconic Opera as a company that can present challenging works in the highest quality. Montez adds, “We are proud of the quality of music that we bring to our audiences. We do oratorios, operas, concertos, chamber and symphonic music, all of which are almost non-existent in Northern Westchester.”
Each year, oratorios with professional operatic soloists, full orchestra, and a classically trained chorus are performed throughout the county and at various venues. Recent performances have included Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in Italian with supertitles and full orchestra at Yorktown Stage.
The recent premiere of Montez’s own oratorio, Esther was performed at Congregation Sons of Israel in Briarcliff. “It is a beautiful venue and they have been so nice to us as we have tried to bring classic singing back after Covid. We hope to be there in the future with other oratorios.” said Montez.
Unlike a fully staged, costumed opera, an oratorio is a choral work performed with soloists and orchestra, usually in a church. “I felt especially drawn to Esther because she is a female heroine. Jews were commanded to celebrate Purim each year in remembrance of her heroism. And yet, Handel, 300 years ago was the last person to try to compose an oratorio about her. I decided it was time to change that.”
To grow and maintain classical music’s audiences, the company strives to nurture and engage the younger listeners. Updating their operas and setting them in modern times as well as having simultaneous English translations above the stage, make them more accessible to younger audiences. They’ve also established school programs and young artist workshops, including a summer training program for young opera singers, just starting their journeys. Montez explains that “Four casts of these young singers present two complete operas to our local community every summer. Schools from all over the county are bussed in to see our fully staged operas. It is a joy to see the faces of the next generation experiencing classical music in this accessible way for the first time.”
His advice to aspiring arts professionals; “I believe in doing what you love. Being an artist full-time takes a lot of work and daily habits. If you have that, you can achieve most anything. Set your goals big. Get up when you fall and make mistakes.”
Matinee Performances of two intriguing oratorios are upcoming: Giacomo Puccini’s famous Messa di Gloria and the French composer Maurice Duruflé’s beloved Requiem. Performances at Holy Name of Mary Church in Croton-on-Hudson, on Saturday March 19, 2022, and Sunday March 20, 2022, are both at 3:00 p.m.
For more information on Taconic Opera and their upcoming performances visit: TaconicOpera.org or call 1(855) 88-OPERA (67372).