Tag Archives: opera

Magdalena Garcia

May 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was published in the May/June issue of Omaha Magazine.

As executive director of El Museo Latino, Magdalena Garcia pours her heart into the museum she founded. She can’t help it; art isn’t just her work, it’s her life.

“It’s always about the art,” she says. “This isn’t something I just go do for eight hours, it’s a way of life.”

Garcia’s family moved to Omaha when she was nine, but returned to visit her artist aunt and grandmother each summer in Mexico City, providing her lots of cultural inspiration.

“Art was always part of our lives,” she says. “We’d go to the museum, ballet, theater—I remember grandmother cleaning on Saturday mornings with opera music blasting. None of it was ever foreign to me. That’s why I believe it’s so important to expose children to different art forms.”

Garcia frequents the symphony, opera, and museums in Omaha, and when she travels she’s always investigating local museums and culture.

“I love research. I love to learn new things, and one thing takes you 50 other places and then you come back around,” says Garcia, motioning in a circle.

Skeptical she could make a living as an artist, Garcia pursued related interests to situate herself in the museum field. She volunteered at the Joslyn Art Museum while earning an art history degree from the University of Nebraska-Omaha and working full time in human resources for Northern Natural Gas. She relocated to Houston when the company’s headquarters moved there and later used severance pay as a springboard for graduate school.

“I liked what I was doing,” Garcia says, “but over time I realized I just really wanted to work in a museum. It could be human resources—but in a museum.”

While seeking an internship, Garcia noted there were only three Latino museums in the country. Despite that early ’90s stat, she found a common, burgeoning interest in serving a growing Latino demographic.

“Why not Omaha?” she asked herself. And with that, the seed was planted for El Museo Latino, which Garcia opened in 1993 on a shoestring budget anchored by her own elbow grease.

Today El Museo Latino is one of 12 U.S. Latino museums, including one in Puerto Rico.

“None of us really know when that last moment of our lives will come, but I didn’t want to wonder: ‘Could I have tried it? Should I have tried it?’” says Garcia.

Garcia did traditional Mexican folk dancing for years, and continues to teach it at the museum. She also enjoys gastronomy, with a love for Italian, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican cuisines, and says she loves to “cook, experiment, taste.

“My other love is tennis,” she says. Garcia also adores swimming, and has been playing racquetball and weightlifting—“just for variety.”

“I’m always inventing new stuff to do, but making time for the things I love is important,” she says. “I think you have to find something that you really enjoy. When it comes to being active, I just want to get out there and have some fun. I want to go play.”

MagdalenaGarcia

Michael Lyon

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After years singing opera, this transplanted Brit finds a niche in American standards.

He studied with some of the world’s finest opera coaches and vocal teachers; sang the lead in famous operas like Tosca, La Bohéme, Aida, Pagliacci, and Madame Butterfly; performed as soloist for oratorios and masses by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Verdi; and graced the main stage at Carnegie Hall as a featured soloist.

So why is Michael Lyon singing cover songs of Sinatra, Bennett, and Bublé for the Thursday-evening crowd at Ryan’s Bistro? He’s living his dream—a dream he has re-formed many times over.

“It took me until my mid-50s to understand that what I am is a performer,” says the singer in his West Omaha home. And what a performer he is!

Dressed casually in black, Lyon sings the standards with the air and confidence of a seasoned professional. His beautiful tenor voice carries a rich tone, but he holds back on the power his voice can reach. He hits high notes with ease and in tune. He’s smooth but never smarmy and keeps the schmaltz at bay. He doesn’t rely on gimmicks; he has the talent and training to let the music and lyrics do the talking.

 “…I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.”

“We get people in here who think they’re listening to a recording, a sound system,” says Julia Stein, bar manager at Ryan’s. “He’s awesome. We love him here.”

Is this what Lyon envisioned over 30 years ago when he set out to be a great opera singer? No. Is he satisfied with his life as Omaha’s go-to tenor for special events? “Yes,” he says without hesitation. “I have become very adept at surviving in this world.”

Lyon’s world began in England’s county of Cornwall, where he grew up in a small dairy farming community. Neither parent displayed any musical abilities, so when their little son opened his mouth and made a beautiful sound, the only nurturing of his talent came from the school choir…until he got kicked out at age 10 for “goofing around.”

Lyon eventually channeled his feistiness into a single-mindedness that paved the way for his future. When he was about 20, he listened to a recording of an Italian opera “and I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.” And so he did.

With newfound purpose, Lyon won a position with the Bristol Opera Company. Within a year and still without vocal training, he secured the lead in a production—as a baritone. “I then decided that I had to study seriously, which I did, and won several competitions,” explains Lyon.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said…’How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Flush with confidence in his talent, Lyon emigrated in 1981 to Los Angeles, where he continued his vocal studies. He credits opera star Baldo dal Ponte for “giving me my high notes” and transforming him into a tenor. In 1984, Lyon met his future wife at an opera workshop. He and Kristin, an Omaha native, spent the next decade and a half performing in L.A.’s numerous opera and music theatre venues. They were at home on the stage and in demand, but singing didn’t pay the rent. The bottom fell out when both lost their day jobs within a month of each other.

Michael, Kristin, and son Max relocated to Omaha in 2000. With limited opportunities to pursue opera here, Michael and Kristin began a successful real estate career. Michael also teamed up with KIOS-FM as the local host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 5-10 a.m.

But Lyon, who retains only a tinge of an accent from his native England, knew his whole identity was wrapped up in singing. After an eight-year hiatus, he bought a sound system and remade himself into “a hip guy.” Word-of-mouth brought success quickly.

“An events planner at Stokes [Grill & Bar] told me about Michael,” says Chris Blumkin, a management consultant and wife of Ron Blumkin, the president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We went to hear him at the Zin Room downtown. He has a genuine, warm way about him. We’ve hired him five times for corporate and family events.”

Lyon has never lost sight of who he is. That’s why sideways compliments from customers don’t faze him.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said, ‘You’re so great. How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Opera Omaha Guild

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 1958, a volunteer organization called the Omaha Civic Opera Society took the stage, creating and fostering an opera-loving community in Omaha. After tremendous support, the organization became fully professional in 1970, making Opera Omaha the only professional opera company in Nebraska. As Opera Omaha has expanded its seasons of mainstage productions and increased musical events throughout the community, the company has found constant encouragement in the dedicated, fully volunteer-based Opera Omaha Guild, originally called Omaha Angels when it began in 1967.

The Guild stands behind Opera Omaha each year, raising funds to support its productions, creating outreach opportunities, and educating the community about opera through memberships and events.

“Omaha has a strong fine arts community, and it is so very important that opera continues to play a prominent role,” says Jillian Tuck, current president of the Opera Omaha Guild.

Tuck moved back to Omaha from Fort Worth, Texas, a few years ago and found that she wanted to support the arts in her former community. “I had been involved with a Fort Worth Opera volunteer group, so I decided to seek a similar opportunity here in Omaha.” Luckily for Tuck, the Opera Omaha Guild had just what she was looking for—a passion for opera and activities and social events that were accessible.

“Omaha has a strong fine arts community, and it is so very important that opera continues to play a prominent role.” – Jillian Tuck, president of Opera Omaha Guild

As president of the Guild, Tuck presides over the Guild meetings, appoints committee chairpersons, and serves as an ex-officio member of all Guild committees. “The Opera Omaha Guild is a working board with committee chairs and volunteers bringing the effort, organization, and energy behind all of the events. They are the reason for our success.”

Tuck loves opera and says that being in the Guild has allowed her to share that love with other people every day. Recently, she had the opportunity to talk about her passion at the Guild’s Cotillion graduation dinner. The Cotillion—French for “formal ball”—is one of the Guild’s fundraisers and provides the opportunity for Omaha sixth-graders to learn the art of formal dining, mature communication, and ballroom dancing through several classes and a final graduation dance.

Because the Cotillion supports Opera Omaha, Tuck knew she could reach out to a younger generation about opera. “Speaking to adults about opera can be challenging because they often have preconceived notions, [but] speaking to 300+ sixth-graders and their parents was something I found inspirational.” In her five-minute speech, Tuck felt she was able to open the door to an art that most of the children had never experienced. “I believe that opera truly is for everyone to enjoy throughout a lifetime, and creating young opera fans through the sharing of my own love for opera is something I will always cherish.”

Funnily enough, it was the Cotillion that got President-elect Lisa Hagstrom involved with the Guild. “I was in the first Cotillion class that Opera Omaha conducted in 1985,” she explains. “I had been looking for volunteer opportunities within the arts community and had attended a couple fundraising events for Opera Omaha. [Since then], I have been involved with the Guild as a board member for 10 or 11 years.”

“The great thing is that nearly 100 percent of all money raised [at Spirits of the Opera] goes back to Opera Omaha.” – Lisa Hagstrom, president-elect of Opera Omaha Guild

Hagstrom helps with several of the Guild’s events, including the Cotillion; the annual Opera Omaha Gala, which was held in February this year to celebrate the partnership of Opera Omaha and artist Jun Kaneko for the production The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s most famous operas; and the currently on-hiatus Burgers & Bordeaux chef competition event.

The Guild’s most notable event, however, is the award-winning Spirits of the Opera fundraiser, which replaced an event called Wine Seller. “Wine tastings became a very popular fundraising idea for many groups, so we thought a cocktail tasting would be something different,” explains Hagstrom. “The first year of [Spirits of the Opera], we matched cocktails with operas, and attendees tasted eight different cocktails. It was a fun event, but it was lacking ‘something,’ and we just didn’t know what that was.”

Fortunately, the president of the executive board for Opera Omaha at that time, Jim Winner, found exactly what that “something” was while he was eating at Dixie Quicks, a Southern comfort food restaurant in Council Bluffs. One of the well-known Dixie Quicks servers, Bruce “Buffy” Bufkin, suggested to Winner that the Guild include a drag show as entertainment at the event.

Today, Spirits of the Opera is a drag show set to opera with the performers singing popular arias and other opera selections of their choice. The event is held at local hot-spot The Max, which is known as the best gay dance club in Omaha. The Max donates its space for the event, and all of the performers donate their time and talents. “It is an amazing experience,” says Tuck. “It blends the classical arias of well-known operas with some of the region’s most talented female impersonators.” In addition to the drag show, the event has the themed cocktails, silent and live auction opportunities, a raffle, and food from local restaurants, including Dixie Quicks.

Drag performers from the 2012 Spirits of the Opera event.

Drag performers from the 2012 Spirits of the Opera event.

“The great thing is that nearly 100 percent of all money raised goes back to Opera Omaha,” adds Hagstrom, who went out to Philadelphia last June to receive the Most Unique Fundraising Event award for Spirits of the Opera, presented by Opera Volunteers International.

As the Guild looks forward to this year’s Spirits of the Opera in May and further into 2013, Tuck says their goals remain the same. “[We just want] to support Opera Omaha and provide opportunities to educate the community about the importance and joy of opera.”

This year’s Spirits of the Opera will be held May 4 at The Max (1417 Jackson St.). For more information about the event or about the Opera Omaha Guild, visit operaomaha.org or call 402-346-7372.