Photography by Stan Fry
We at Riverside Lyric Opera are dedicated to providing high quality opera productions for the Inland Empire and surrounding communities. We present both traditional and recently created operatic works. We feature internationally renowned as well as locally trained artists. We conduct opera development programs to offer encouragement and training to both adults and children in the opera art form.
Riverside Lyric Opera is a Riverside-based professional regional opera company. In December 2002, RLO was established as a California non-profit corporation and obtained its IRC 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in 2003. The first opera production was “Cavalleria Rusticana” in April 2003.
The company is the brainchild of local music educator and opera singer Reynir Gudmundsson, who started the fledgling organization as Riverside Little Opera.
Gudmundsson arrived in Riverside from Connecticut where he had been involved with a community music school and opera company. He wanted to establish something similar in Riverside. “He said he would like to form an opera company in town and create a nonprofit,” said Daniel E. Olson, a Riverside attorney in corporate and business law, real estate and general civil litigation. Gudmundsson approached Olson about establishing an official nonprofit corporation for the opera and Olson provided guidance for its creation. Olson, a former music major and a long-time member of the Pacific Chorale along with his wife, interpreter Doris C. Perez, were intrigued by Gudmundsson’s idea. The couple, together with attorney and choral singer Montessa Holt, formed the opera’s first board, and Gudmundsson served as the company’s first artistic director.
“The reason I agreed to be involved in this company was because of the need for opera in Riverside,” Perez said. “I personally wanted to help in this art form and learn more about it.”
With piano accompaniment and a chorus of roughly 20 singers from the region, the opera held its first production of Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” in April 2003 starring internationally-known operatic soprano Awilda Verdejo, a childhood friend of Perez’s, and directed by Verdejo’s husband, Hartwig Eichberg, an accomplished opera coach, director, pianist and musicologist.
An estimated 130 people attended the first performance at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Riverside where Gudmundsson served as music director. “The launch went very well. All involved were very excited to be part of the new adventure and the audience was very appreciative,” said Olson. The inaugural performance also received positive reviews in the Press-Enterprise newspaper with music reviewer Sherli Leonard noting, “the Riverside Little Opera Company may be on its way to growing bigger.”
The opera company went on to perform two productions a year, bringing such classics to the stage as Johann Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” and Giuseppe Verdi’s “La traviata.” Its directors have included the late Lorene Forsyth whose background includes work with Gian Carlo Menotti, composer of the 1951, made-for-television opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” This family holiday production has become a traditional performance for Riverside Lyric Opera. “She [Forsyth] taught us that opera the way Menotti wanted it to be performed,” Olson said.
The opera’s early performances were typically held at All Saints’ Episcopal Church and at a concert hall at California State University, San Bernardino. The organization branched out with productions in public libraries in Hemet and Corona, and in the Corona Historic Civic Theater. In Riverside the company has presented operas at the Life Arts Center (” Die Fledermaus”), the Music Room at the Historic Mission Inn, the First Congregational Church, on stages at Riverside Community College, the UCR Culver Center for the Arts (John Adams, “A Flowering Tree”), La Sierra University, and most recently at The Box, Fox Entertainment Plaza
February 2008, and in recognition of its growth into an opera company with orchestral accompaniment, the board re-named the company Riverside Lyric Opera.
In between productions, Riverside Lyric Opera, in keeping with its mission, organizes community and education outreach events including productions of the popular children’s opera, “Hansel and Gretel,” and family programs at the C Riverside Lyric Opera is moving ahead again with plans for the future that include new educational outreach opportunities and music events. Its founders and directors look forward to continuing to bring the beauty and majesty of opera to the Inland Empire and expanding the influence of the classical arts. “It’s been quite a journey,” said Olson.
The company raises money to support its endeavors largely by way of fundraisers, grants, donations and ticket sales. A fundraising event in September 2013 at the home of former Riverside County Supervisor and current California State Senator Jeff Stone and his wife, Regina, brought in about $10,000 for the organization, and popular fundraising concerts organized by chorus member Anna Cameron showcasing music from the Cotton Club era, are instrumental in raising money for the company.
Other RLO productions include “La Traviata,” (Corona’s Historic Civic Theatre), “Gianni Schicchi,” “La Traviata,” “Lucia di Lammermoor, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia,” and “Dido and Aeneas” in addition to concert-style operatic and chamber music performances throughout Southern California and in Mexico.
Dan Olson and Doris Perez are members of the board, sponsors and performing artists. They are the cornerstone of RLO.