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Dec. 17th – Luncheon Notes & Photos

John Salan provided a very encouraging Polio Plus update about Rotary International’s work in Afghanistan. As many will remember, the country’s Taliban leadership had been distrustful of the World Health Organization (WHO), which works with RI in country to vaccinate citizens against polio. As a result, there was an increase in the disease. The WHO recently has announced a peace accord with the Taliban to allow volunteers, including those from RI, to be trained and provide the polio vaccine. Thank you John for sharing this great news!

We got the first hint of the uniqueness of this week’s program with the singing of our opening song. “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” never sounded so good with two winners of Opera Grand Rapids’ collegiate vocal competition, Levi Hamlin and Alicia Renney, both graduating seniors from Western Michigan University.

Paul Farr, also a board member of Opera Grand Rapids, introduced Executive Director Anne Berquist, who’s been in the job for about two years and has overseen a number of changes to keep the organization vibrant and relevant in the 21st Century.

Berquist said she and the organization’s leadership have worked to address opera’s stereotypes that it is long, boring and distant. “For me,” she said, “opera is the art of emotions and when performed well, it takes your breath away.”

This year’s season is aptly titled “A Season For Love” and includes a number of different performances to dispel those opera stereotypes. From more traditional “grand opera” performances to student competitions, smaller recitals and pre-performance talks, there’s something for everyone, which is very intentional, Berquist said.

In between remarks from Berquist and Marketing Director Ashley Roberts were stirring performances from Levi and Alicia. Levi performed a work from a German operetta, which is more light-hearted than a grand opera, or as he jokingly put it, “more light-hearted than a typical opera; it’s not gut-wrenching with people dying.”

Roberts said Grand Rapids Opera “is on the edge of a cultural renaissance” by addressing these stereotypes by stressing education in everything they do. Making opera relevant to everyone is important as this type of music “does not make the cut in educational programs” which are always under budget pressure in schools.

Berquist said Opera Grand Rapids is marking its 48th year with a recently completed strategic planning process. “It’s all about the experience…our plan is to step out to meet and engage people whenever and wherever they don’t expect it.”

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