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Opera in Bloom 2017 Artist Information  
                                  (Stay tuned for the 2018 Cast Announcement) 

Ryan C. Connelly, tenor, is a 2011 graduate from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music Master's Program. In the 2017/18 season, he sang Squeak in Billy Budd at the Des Moines Metro Opera, as well as returning to the Kentucky Opera stage for their production of Ariadne auf Naxos. Additionally, he appeared as Tamino in Opera in the Heights' production of Die Zauberflöte and with Brava! Opera as Pedrillo in their production of Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Pianist and conductor Cris Friscois a collaborative musician equally at home in the worlds of both classical and popular music.  This season, he conducts Glory Deniedat Opera Birmingham; music directs A Christmas Carolat the McCarter Theater and a festival of short American Operas at Opera Fayetteville; and partners singers in recital across the country. He also prepares singers for performances at major opera companies, Broadway productions, major regional theaters, and in international concert venues.  A committed educator for the next generation of performing artists, he has served on the faculty of the Westminster Choir College, Rutgers University, and The New School for Drama.  He is the founder and artistic director of The New Voice Project, a fledgling non-profit arts organization that commissions and presents performing and visual arts projects.
American mezzo-soprano Heather Jones has been praised for her skillful and amusing performances in opera, operetta, and musical theatre. Originally from Charleston, SC, Heather is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. The 2017-2018 season marks Heather's first international engagement in Beirut, Lebanon, where she will join the American University of Beirut as the alto soloist for Dvorak's Mass in D Major and Pärt's Berliner Messe.    
Rising star soprano Natalie Polito is enjoying a busy career on the country’s finest opera and concert stages. In the 2017-2018 season, Ms. Polito returns to Houston's Opera in the Heights for her signature, show stopping role of Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. She makes her role debut as Nedda in I Pagliacci with Boheme Opera New Jersey, joins Opera Fayetteville for their Opera in Bloom Festival, and returns to Resonance Works Pittsburgh to sing the Foreign Princess in Rusalka.
Praised for her ethereal coloratura and clear, powerful, expressive voice, lyric coloratura soprano Alissa Roca enjoys performing in a variety of styles ranging from Baroque to Contemporary and everything in between. This season’s highlights include Morgana in Handel’s Alcina with Meadows Opera Theatre, Yum-Yum in The Mikado with the Young Victorian Theatre Company and Manuelita in the Dallas Opera’s touring production of Offenbach’s Pépito.
Hailed by The Boston Globe as a "breathtakingly solid" soprano,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer as "charming" and "fearless," and the Boston Musical Intelligencer as having "the comedic genius of Madeline Kahn" as well as a "captivatingly expressive strength,” soprano and Opera Fayetteville General Director Tamara Ryan has appeared in recent seasons as Sibyl Vane in Lowell Liebermann's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Stephanie in Jake Heggie's To Hell and Back, and Madame de Tourvel in Conrad Susa's The Dangerous Liaisons, as well as premiering the title role in Daniela DeMatos' Ondine and the lead role of Sonny in the initial workshop of White Snake Productions' Permadeath.
Baritone Nicholas Ward has been hailed as a performer of “effortless voice and agile presence” (Houston Press). In the fall of 2017, he made his debut as Papageno in Die Zauberflöte at Opera in the Heights. He also made a return to Thompson Street Opera, premiering the role of Nick in a new version of Eric Lindsay’s Cosmic Ray and the Amazing Chris. In 2018, he joins Opera MODO in Detroit as Le Mari in Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias. This summer, he will return to the Crested Butte Music Festival in an exciting role debut as Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff.

Jeremiah Albers is a writer and director from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Past directing credits include Life is a Dream, Opera In Bloom, Angels in America: Perestroika, God of Carnage, Rumors, Once On This Island, Ruthless!, The Laramie Project, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Wanderlust, Tuesdays With Morrie, The Pushers, Tall Tales, and Shadowlands. He is also the co-librettist/lyricist for the off-Broadway musical Cuff Me: The Unauthorized Fifty Shades of Grey Musical. He holds a BA in Theatre from Old Dominion University, and is currently a third year MFA candidate in Directing at University of Arkansas.

Steven Marzolf is a professor of Theatre at the University of Arkansas and is a professional actor and director. He has been a member of the actors union (AEA) since 2011 and has directed several productions professionally and academically. Directing credits include: The Glass Menagerie with Riverside Theatre in Iowa City, Romeo and Juliet: In Concert, a co-production with Theatresquared & The South Arkansas Symphony, The Taming of the Shrew with The Classical Edge, The War To End All Wars, which he co-wrote and directed for Echo Theatre Company in Tulsa, The Country Wife for the Aphra Behn Society, Crave with The Side Project in Chicago, The Trojan Women with The Stella Adler Institute in NYC, and several productions with the University of Tulsa and University of Arkansas. He holds an MFA in acting from The Old Globe Theatre/University of San Diego Professional Actor Training Program.

 Laura Shatkus is an actor, director and producer who spent 10 years working and training as a theatre artist in Chicago before relocating to Northwest Arkansas for her MFA in Acting. She was most recently seen in Ripcord at The Hippodrome Theatre, where she also appeared as Syme in 1984 and the Charwoman in A Christmas Carol. In Arkansas, Laura is the Producing and Artistic Director of ArkansasStaged, a collective of theatre artists, placing an emphasis on womxn’s voices and leadership, working to bring staged readings and experimental/experiential theatre to life in unique spaces like 21C Museum Hotel. Other acting work in Northwest Arkansas includes many appearances on stage at TheatreSquared including Mrs. Van Buren in Intimate Apparel and Eliza Poe in The Fall of The House as well as roles in All The Way, Amadeus, and several seasons in The Arkansas New Play Festival. She holds an MFA in theatre from the University of Arkansas and was named one of 20 visionaries by the Arkansas Times in 2017.

 Cole Wimpee is an MFA candidate in Directing at U of A where he's previously staged Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Hedda Gabler in cooperation with the Fay Jones School of Architecture & Design. His directing and producing credits in New York include P.S.122, Ohio Theatre, The Tank, Dixon Place, JACK, The Brick, Galapagos Art Space, Player's Theatre, Bushwick Starr, and Brooklyn Fireproof.