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Gwinnett artists are at the helm of opera company

Special Photo. The Peach State Opera will perform Mozart's "The Magic Flute" at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Georgia Perimeter College.

Special Photo. The Peach State Opera will perform Mozart's "The Magic Flute" at 8 p.m. on Thursday at Georgia Perimeter College.

When the Peach State Opera opens its third season at 8 p.m. Thursday with a performance of Mozart's beloved masterpiece, "The Magic Flute," audiences will have many Gwinnett artists to thank for the experience. This performance will be held at Georgia Perimeter College's Cole Auditorium Fine Arts Building in Clarkston.

This organization was created in 2008 when founder and Artistic Director Evelyn Hughes, a resident of Lawrenceville, was retiring from a 20-year career as the head of the vocal and opera division of the music department at Georgia Perimeter College. She saw a need for young opera singers to be able to perform fully staged operas in professional settings.

The company was formed as a touring company, where young artists with exceptional music ability could take their talents "on the road" to venues where opera is not frequently performed. The "portable" staging makes this touring possible. The Peach State Opera has performed such operas as "Carmen" and "Amahl and the Night Visitors" since its premiere in 2009.

"The audience-friendly nature of our productions makes us accessible to young and old alike," Hughes said. "We program opera scenes, galas and one-act or abridged operas."

The "Gwinnett Connection" within Peach State Opera is considerable. Hughes is not the only resident of Lawrenceville to help create this group's magic. Jacqueline Putnam, also of Lawrenceville, is a soloist with the Peach State Opera as well as performing as a soloist with the Michael O'Neal Singers and The Lanier Chamber Singers.

Donna Knapp, a music teacher at Winn Holt Elementary and named as one of Gwinnett's "Top 20 Teachers," is the Children's Chorus Master for "the Magic Flute." Other participants are chorus members Fatimah Mustafaa and James Simpson, both from Snellville, and Garet Erwin who will dance the part of the Enchanted Bird in the opera. Garet was a member of Gwinnett Ballet Theatre for eight years. Upon graduation from high school, she danced professionally with the Milwaukee Ballet. Other cast members include participants from Norcross and Loganville.

Hughes hopes that the Peach State Opera will perform soon in a Gwinnett venue. "We would love to perform in Gwinnett," Hughes said. "Since we are a touring company, we have performed in a variety of venues across the state. We just need someone in Gwinnett to book us!"

Opera is a rich experience that any audience can appreciate. Hughes said, "Opera is a combination of almost all art forms: vocal and instrumental music, dance, visual art (sets, costumes, lighting) and literature for the libretto. When all of these are brought together, the results are exciting and affecting in many ways. 'The Magic Flute' takes us to a fantasy land of enchanted animals, magical instruments, bird people, an evil queen, a kidnapped princess, a handsome prince and they all live happily ever after!"

The Cole Auditorium at Georgia Perimeter College is located at 555 N. Indian Creek Drive Clarkston, Georgia. Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and $10 for students. For information about the Peach State Opera, for ticket information and to order tickets, visit the website at www.peachstateopera.org.

Holley Calmes is a freelance writer and public relations consultant specializing in the arts. Email her at hcalmes@mindspring.com.