Dr. Mitchell Kahn and the Skagit Opera
In January, the Skagit Opera performed at Lairmont Manor in Bellingham for the first time. One of the missions of the Skagit Opera, which has been in operation since 2003, is to spread an appreciation to new audiences, in addition to serving well the audience they have already established. “Most of our audience members come from Bellingham and surrounding areas, so it makes sense to have performances there,” said opera director Dr. Mitchell Kahn. The challenges of acoustics, parking and other logistics make Bellingham a tough place for opera. Some spaces are too big, some too small, some have inadequate parking. But for the string ensemble-accompanied Aida, Lairmont was an excellent choice.
The Skagit Opera is mainly volunteer-run, though the company members are paid professionals. It can be difficult to keep the company assembled. Kahn told me about his difficulty in getting a tenor for Rigoletto. The tenor he had cast left for another job, and a second tenor was selected. He died at the age of 35 of a heart attack. The Skagit Opera flew in a third tenor from New York, who came down with laryngitis and dropped out two weeks before the show. Eventually, Kahn found a tenor, but that kind of shuffling and switching is not unusual—and is very stressful—for a small opera company.
The Skagit Opera is lucky to have Dr. Kahn on board. Dr. Kahn spent his career in New York as the House Doctor for the Metropolitan Opera and moved out here for the quieter pace. In addition to being Skagit Opera’s director since 2011, he also runs a medical practice. “I still have a lot of contacts in New York, and I can draw on those resources.” Dr. Kahn also mentioned that singers who haven’t performed on main stage in companies in New York and other major areas don’t have many opportunities to perform. “If you’re going to perform in a major production, you have to have performed in a production before.” Some of the performers from the Skagit Opera have gone onto very successful careers, including tenor Tony Kalil, whose second performance ever was with the Skagit Opera.
“We try to use local people as much as possible,” Dr. Kahn said. “Western Washington University has a great theater department. We try to give students singing roles and we let them understudy the major roles.” For young performers, the Skagit Opera is a great beginning. The next performance is La Cenerentola by Rossini, the story of Cinderella.