At first glance, the Astoria Music Festival & Academy appears as complex as a Beethoven concerto. With Academy students, accomplished vocalists, spotlight concerts, various opera performances and master classes, it's hard to tell where the Festival ends and the Academy takes over.

But that's precisely the idea.

The three-week Festival and Academy is at once a time for professionals to make music together, a place to nurture young singers and an opportunity for the community to attend stellar operatic concerts.

"Not only the Academy students are immersed in music, the community can be too," said Katherine Matschiner, festival founder and executive director. "I want to make sure everyone is involved with this in some way."

Matschiner created the music festival last year after she noticed locals filling the seats at Clatsop Community College student vocal concerts and the weeks-long buzz from Portland Opera Works performances. The Coast was craving this type of rich, cultural experience, she said.

Deac Guidi plays Papageno, the birdcatcher, in "The Magic Flute." Photo by Gary Henley.Matschiner also saw a need to provide training for students and young professionals who couldn't afford to travel to New York or to Europe, where opera is on the streets and in theaters every night.

Now in its second season, the Astoria Music Festival & Academy features a longer run, international artists and the polish that any musician knows comes with practice.

About 8,000 people are expected to attend, double last year's crowd.

"It's very classy, very special and very real," said Nancy Olsen-Chatalas, professional soprano and Portland State University professor.

The Academy

One of the 25 Northwest vocalists accepted into the Academy is Andrew Sauvageau, an Astoria native majoring in music performance at the University of Oregon.

He made it a point to sign up for summer training because of the three-month break from university classes.

Papageno (right) sings a beautiful duet with his love, Papagena. Photo by Gary Henley."While personal practice time is necessary and helpful, it's nice to be able to bounce what you're doing off of other people," Sauvageau, 20, said.

Last year he participated in the Astoria Music Festival and after the intensive two-week training made some breakthroughs vocally. This year, he's coming back for more.

"I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to work with the faculty and meet some of the new students," he said. "It just seems like a fun thing."

Although their experience is varied - some Academy students are still in high school while others are on the brink of a professional career - all are coming for their shared love of music and the chance to work with accomplished artists.

Papagena and Papageno cower before the evil Queen of the Night. Photo by Gary Henley."We're nurturing our academy singers," Matschiner said. "We're building a level of professionalism in our up-and-coming opera singers and instrumentalists."

Ruth Dobson, Academy director, is particularly proud that the Academy singers will have the benefits of a live orchestra.

"There are lots of training programs for singers where it's done with piano," she said. "To give them an opportunity to sing with an orchestra makes a huge difference in their experience and their resume."

The Master Classes

The first chance for locals to immerse themselves in music will be 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 6. Molly Lyons, a classical Shakespearean actress and international director, will lead a Discovery Series Master Class, "Acting for Singers."

Yum Yum from Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operetta, "The Mikado," takes the stage as part of "La Bella Serenata," or "An Evening of Opera Scenes." Photo by Gary Henley."People don't pay to hear you sing notes. They pay to hear you reveal your soul," Lyons said, explaining why it's crucial that opera singers know how to act.

Other classes will delve into Shakespeare, the life of a Wagnerian opera singer, famous posture and movement techniques for musicians, and vocal chamber music.

The Discovery Series is designed to introduce classical music to the coastal community and further educate singers and instrumentalists. The faculty-led classes allow listeners to enhance their understanding of music and students to improve their performances through analysis and commentary.

Each class is $5, unless included in a festival pass, or a package is $65 to attend all the classes and spotlight concerts.

Lyons, who is the stage director for "The Magic Flute," has high expectations for this year's festival classes and performances.

"I think there is something about beauty and grandeur, about the mouth of the Columbia, that will encourage artists to create something as beautiful as their environment," she said.

The performances

The Opening Gala at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 9 will feature The Three Sopranos: Ruth Dobson, Nancy Olsen-Chatalas and Milagro Vargas, with Signe Lusk, pianist. A reception at the RiverSea Gallery will follow.

Violinist Adam LaMotte returns to the Liberty for the "Mozart Matinee." Photo by Don Frank.In their program, "From Paris to Vienna," the group will sing French songs, arias and duets, and end with a trio from a German operetta.

"I always have something surprising and fun for people," Olsen-Chatalas said.

Clayton Brainerd, an Oregon native and one of a select group of Wagnerian singers, will perform "Schubert's Winter Journey" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 10.

Violin soloist Adam LaMotte is returning again for a Mozart Matinee at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 11 with Romanian conductor Dumitru Goia.

La Bella Serenata, a romantic evening featuring Academy singers performing favorite operatic scenes, will be 7:30 p.m. Monday, July 19.

Three Spotlight Concert Series performances will be held at the Performing Arts Center and will feature Academy singers. "Highlights from the Magic Flute" will be tailored especially to children.

Richard ZellerClayton BrainerdKatherine MatschinerFestival-goers will also have the chance to hear Verdi's "Falstaff," an extremely difficult opera rarely performed because of its speed and musical complexity.

"It's genius because of the orchestral arrangement, how Verdi tied in so many singers singing at the same time," Matschiner said. "And the characters are so funny - the fat old knight who loves to drink beer. There's a lot of melodrama."

While mainly professional artists will perform in "Falstaff," Mozart's "The Magic Flute" will feature Academy students. "The Magic Flute," about a prince rescuing a maiden with the assistance of a comic birdcatcher, is chock-full of familiar arias and the overture has been featured in serveral movie scores. Though a comic opera, the hero faces trials of character that draw on Mozart's enthusiasm for secret Masonic rituals.

"Falstaff" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 16 and at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 18. "The Magic Flute" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 24.

All the performances will feature specialty pastries, food and drinks, such as the Mozart Martini (returning for an encore), and Beethoven's Bay Breeze.

"There will be a special theme for each concert so when you walk in, you are walking into an event, not an afternoon or evening concert with coffee and cookies," Matschiner said.

11-year-old piano prodigy Karsten Gimre will perform as part of this year's Astoria Music Festival. Photo by Don Frank.The crowning end to the festival will be a free concert of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at John Warren Field. A beer garden, wine and Viennese food and drink will cap the evening.

Not only will Festival and Academy musicians perform, the North Coast Chorale and community singers will participate.

"It resounds all over Astoria and everyone hears 'Ode to Joy,'" Matschiner said, imagining the night. "It's a celebration of Astoria, the Festival and classical music."

For a complete listing of events, performances and ticket prices, see The Daily Astorian's Astoria Music Festival guide, contact the Astoria Music Festival office at (503) 338-5545 or visit www.astoriamusicfestival.com

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