Tuesday, November 21, 2017
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'Aida' performers make production a family affair at the Straz Center in Tampa

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TAMPA

For Gustav Andreassen and Stacey Rishoi, it is a rare treat to be working together. They are husband and wife opera singers — he's a bass, she's a mezzo-soprano — who are both performing in this weekend's Opera Tampa production of Aida.

"It's happened a few times," Rishoi said last week at their Tampa hotel. "We did a Verdi Requiem and Rigoletto together." She is singing Amneris, the Egyptian princess, and her husband is Ramfis, the high priest, in the grandest of grand operas by Verdi. But for the most part, the two are usually cast in different productions in different parts of the country, which certainly could play havoc with a marriage.

"We were talking with friends of ours, Greer Grimsley and Luretta Bybe, also opera singers (and also a bass and mezzo), and they said, 'We don't see any of our friends who stayed married but you guys,' '' said Andreassen, 43, who has known his wife since they were undergrads at University of Arizona. They have been married for 13 years.

The Andreassen-Rishoi family gained a third member with the birth of their son, Owen Lucas, 16 months ago. He is with them in Tampa, tended to during rehearsals by Stacey's mother, Sharon, who came from her home in Watertown, S.D., to lend a helping hand.

"It has been a challenge to make the marriage work, but we've gotten through all the challenges so far," said Rishoi, 42, a fairly late-in-life mother. "Even the logistics. Just to book plane tickets to be with each other at that golden time of the month when we were trying to have a family."

The couple tried for four or five years to conceive, and they think it actually happened in Tampa in 2010, when she was one of the soloists in Mendelssohn's Elijah. Andreassen, not performing elsewhere, flew in from their home in Cincinnati to spend the weekend with her.

"If it had been Anchorage, Alaska, I might not have made the trip," he said.

"We were just going to give it one more try," said Rishoi, beaming at her son, who played with the TV remote. "And look what happened. It's a dream come true to have this precious child."

Tampa was also the scene of one of Rishoi's most unusual performances. It was seven years ago in another Opera Tampa production of Aida, also with her playing Amneris and her husband as Ramfis. But that time she ended up singing the title character's role in the finale when the soprano playing Aida, Marquita Lister, lost her voice. With just a few minutes to prepare, Rishoi sight-read the part from the wings while Lister mimed the death scene on stage.

"It was surreal," Rishoi said. "I was glad to help."

"Even though Stacey is a mezzo, she's so musical, she sang the high B flats beautifully," said Andreassen, who turned pages of the score for his wife.

In this weekend's Aida, the two are delighted to be performing in the swan song of Anton Coppola, the founding conductor for Opera Tampa who is stepping down. "My first professional job was with maestro Coppola," the bass said. "I was singing in the chorus of La Boheme at Cincinnati Opera back in 1994, and he was conducting."

With their new baby, the opera parents are looking at career options. For the near future, Andreassen is planning to play Mr. Mom, because he is going to be learning the imposing role of the god Wotan in Wagner's Ring cycle. He can learn at home and work with his voice coach at the Cincinnati Conservatory.

"I'm reinventing myself, and going to take a lighter year," he said.

"It's good for the family," Rishoi said. "We've had to sacrifice, he and I both, in order to make the marriage work. And now to make the family work, it can't be a selfish career. This time, it's him making the sacrifice, but he'll also be doing the things he needs to do to learn a very difficult part. I think he's going to be a brilliant Wotan."

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

 
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