Sumrall native scores job with Opera San Jose

By CALEB MCCLUSKEY,

Sumrall native Christopher Ray will pick up the baton as Opera San Jose's next resident conductor in July 2019.

Ray said he is grateful to San José Musical Director Joseph Marcheso for believing in his work and trusting him with this responsibility.

“[Marcheso] created the Resident Conductor title some years ago to facilitate the development of young conductors and is expanding it now to provide even more opportunity,” Ray said. “I’m the fortunate beneficiary. This is absolutely and exactly the type of position I’ve needed for a couple of years.”

Ray will have the honor to lead as conductor on four productions a season, which is quite a generous amount. Ray said his job duties will include planning, casting, rehearsing and performances in a “never-ending cycle,” but he enjoys it nonetheless.

“This is an incredible opportunity for me,” he said. “Four operas in a season is just about as many as anyone could hope for, but especially early on in a career. ”

Ray, a graduate of Florida State University, has a background in both traditional and contemporary opera. He worked on many projects such as leading a double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci with the Mississippi Opera in 2014.

“For the last three years, I have been based in New York City,” he said. “My highest-profile and most exciting position during that time was at the Bayreuth Festival in Germany where I was able to work on a number of Richard Wagner’s operas in the theater he created specifically for his works.”

Ray said his goal is not unlike most in his profession. He strives to have a long career conducting internationally in high-level performances. He said being named resident conductor is the next step in the goal of full directorship at an opera house. This position, Ray assured, will help him build a repertoire that is truly his own.

“I suppose there are big milestones like ‘conducting at the Met,’ but overall I’d like to reach a place/level where I can choose projects about which I am passionate and say ‘no’ to works/projects that are better left to other artists,” Ray said.

Ray was recently back in Sumrall to talk with three of the choirs under the tutelage of Sumrall High School Choral Activities Director Jeffery Coulter. Ray also gave a recital with soprano Kristen Gunn of Meridian.

“In December, one of my choirs sang two concerts in New York City,” Coulter said. “Christopher attended one of the concerts, and after the concert over coffee, we came up with the idea of him to come down and speak to the choirs and perform at the recital.”

Coulter has known Ray for 17 years and taught during Ray’s senior year of high school. Coulter said he stayed connected with Ray over the years through social media.

“(Ray) is very deserving of his new appointment. He has worked extremely hard to further his career and will continue to achieve new goals,” Coulter said.

Ray debuted at Opera San Jose in the 2018-2019 season as part of the process of consideration for the position he now holds. He conducted Pagliacci and Moby Dick. The four performances Ray will conduct in 2019-2020 are Die Fledermaus, Hänsel und Gretel, Il Trovatore, and Die Zauberflöte. Tickets can be ordered online at operasj.org and Ray would love to have Pine Belt residents in the audience.

Opera San José is located in San José, California, and was founded in 1984. It is the only year-long resident opera company in the nation.

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