What’s New at the Opera
Cayman Ilika Revels in First Concert Since Pandemic
By Karen Bossick
Cayman Ilika has just sent her son Teddy off to his first day of school in the basement of her home where he will spend the school year learning with three second graders, one second grader and one first grader.
The singer-actor, who has been called “one of the brightest lights to glow in the Seattle Theatre scene the past decade,” has been tending to his schooling since the coronavirus pandemic shut Seattle schools down in mid-March. And it is, she says, the hardest thing she’s ever done.
“I failed pretty miserably at teaching last spring. I figured out quickly I’m not someone who’s good at teaching. I didn’t go to school to learn to teach. I went to learn to sing,” she said.
But, with the COVID pandemic turning the lights off in theaters across the country, Ilika hasn’t performed since February. That’s why she can’t wait to perform at a Garden Concert Al Fresco organized by Sun Valley Opera with her accompanist and good friend Christopher DiStefano.
The concert, organized by Sun Valley Opera, will be held in a private garden at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 25. Tickets are $75, available at 208-726-0991 or via https://www.sunvalleyopera.com. There will be pre-assigned socially distanced chairs on the lawn in groups of two and four.
“I am so excited,” Ilika said. “I’m going to rehearse at my parents’ house this weekend.”
Ilika and DiStefano have constructed what she calls “an excellent song list,” including many of the songs she has sung in shows over the years.
The raven-haired singer portrayed June Carter Cash in the musical “Ring of Fire” and Patsy in “Always, Patsy Cline.”
“I’ve got a great rendition of ‘Ring of Fire’ probably unlike anyone has heard before,” she said. “And Patsy Cline is almost bluegrassy with some yodeling. And that’s a flip between your chest voice and your head voice. If you get it right, it’s a magical trick that’s really fun.”
DiStefano will join her in a duet and she will perform songs from other roles in such musicals as “Oliver!” “Mary Poppins,” “Showboat,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” and “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” as well as favorite country songs from the likes of Carl Perkins and Elvis.
“Country is one of my favorite forms of music,” she said. “There’s something special about country music. It has a really rich storytelling aspect—more so than popular music.”
Not being able to perform has been excruciating.
“This is my full-time career. I’ve performed in more than 100,000 performances. Never in my life have I held a job that’s not musical theater—nobody would want me making their coffee,” she said. “Everybody in theater has suffered tremendously. But the only way to do live theater is to gather people in one place–that’s just the nature of it. And not everyone has open-air space.”
Ilika started singing at 7 around the house where her mother, an OB-GYN, and her father who played Mr. Mom were always playing Ella Fitzgerald and Judy Garland records. Her parents signed her up for choir, but when she could not blend in with other voices they got her voice lessons, instead.
She recorded her voice lessons and mimicked them over and over, easily putting in 100,000 hours of practice.
“I can get lost in a song. I feel great when I’m singing and I love to make others happy,” said Ilika who studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I love it when I sing a Johnny Cash song or some other song that enables people to remember personal experiences.”
Aside from singing, Ilika loves dogs, Indian food, The Beatles, Harry Potter and adding to her taxidermy collection.
She loves old things. And her husband Gavriel Jacobs–high school sweetheart, a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war and now prosecuting attorney for King County—are always on the lookout for old records for him and jade and seafoam green Depression-era glass for her.
She also loves scouring antique shops for Victorian scrapbooks full of old newspaper advertisements, postcards and calling cards.
“I love looking through them and imagining how someone sat there for hours looking through cards that came from guys who would come to court,” she said.
But that’ll have to wait for now. After all, she has a show to perform.
“I will give the people in Sun Valley a wonderful evening full of songs,” she said. “I recognize this is such a gift to be able to do this at this time.”
Fall To Begin With Music Bloom
By Eric Valentine
Sun Valley Opera will host live music in September. Yes, this September! Sort of.
The local vocal arts organization has begun selling tickets to its first pandemic-era concert, starring Seattle-based acting and singing talent Cayman Ilika and her longtime friend and colleague Christopher DiStefano accompanying her on piano. Billed as a “Garden Concert al Fresco” and held at a private home in Warm Springs, it is not a pavilion or opera house event, but marks a step in the direction of hearing live music performances by Sun Valley Opera again.
“My last appearance was in February in New York. My next for-sure gig isn’t until August 2021,” said Ilika, who will perform a variety of country music classics and Broadway hits at the Sept. 25 event. “It’s a little scary right now.”
The fear factor has nothing to do with being on stage again for the veteran performer who has won multiple industry awards and is a proud Actors Equity member. It has to do, rather, with the performing arts industry’s future as COVID-19 restrictions have all but decimated live music in the Valley and beyond. On Sept. 15, Sun Valley Opera will present a screening of the 10 Academy Awards-winning 1961 film “West Side Story” starring Natalie Wood and Rita Moreno on the Sun Valley Lawn where folks can bring a picnic and lawn chair. It figures to be a refreshing and much-welcomed affair, but it’s still not a live show.
“I can’t wait to get back to Idaho and perform in front of real, live human beings again,” Ilika said.
This will be Ilika’s debut performance in Idaho, although she has visited the Gem State before. Her husband is a rock enthusiast and made a special trip to the Boise area earlier this year, she explained.
“Garnet is abundant there. We found some pretty cool stuff,” Ilika said.
On With The Show
Ilika, a Gregory Award nominee for her lead role in the musical Patsy Cline, is one of those rare vocal talents who can both croon country and belt Broadway. She’s been the lead in Mary Poppins, a key player in Show Boat and her vocals can be heard on the original cast album of Persuasion and the studio cast album of Yankee Doodle Dandy. Ilika and DiStefano will perform a number of hits from those and similar shows.
“Chris (DiStefano) is that annoying performer who can do everything,” Ilika quipped regarding her accompanist and musical arranger.
That’s why she’s especially excited to perform a duet with him made famous by Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline.
After the Sun Valley performance, Ilika says she’ll be back in Washington state primarily focused on improving her teaching and teacher-support skills for her seven-year-old whose school will not have in-person instruction until some time next year.
“I have a whole new appreciation for teachers. I don’t know how they do it,” Ilika said.
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“I was a senior in high school when I just fell in love with it—the storytelling, the costumes, the sets, the music—everything.”
Robyn Watson first became enamored with opera at a young age while a student in Tulsa, Okla. She has carried that love of the art form with her ever since.
Thirteen years ago, Watson moved to the Wood River Valley full time and soon became a regular attendee of Sun Valley Opera events. Fast-forward to summer 2019, and her passion for the opera has landed her the position of executive director of the Sun Valley Opera.
Earlier this year, after many years of devoted service, Mary Jo Helmeke retired from that role and passed the torch to Watson.
“I’m excited. We had a busy summer full of concerts, and I’m looking forward to the next items on the agenda,” Watson said. “We’re planning to continue to bring the high quality of performer that our audiences have come to know and expect from us.”
The opera’s summer festival concluded just this past Sunday, Sept. 1, with a Country Cookout event featuring live music by up-and-coming country music star Brandon Lay, who also played the Wagon Days street party the day before.
That event concisely captured what the Sun Valley Opera hopes to do for the local arts and music landscape. Though the word “opera” concludes the organization’s moniker, and that genre accounts for a fair amount of its programming, its reach extends well beyond the boundaries of opera.
In a summer filled with music, Sun Valley Opera’s Summerfest is a standout! As in past years, there is something for everyone’s musical tastes whether it be Broadway, Opera or Country. The Summerfest begins with a Diva party in the garden of a private home on July 16th with the Broadway stars who will perform the following evening in the Sun Valley Pavilion. Each star will perform a song during the cocktail party. Diva tickets include the cocktail party and premier seating at the concert the following night and are $200 per person. Diva tickets can be purchased by calling Sun Valley Opera at 208.726.0991 or online at sunvalleyopera.com.
The following evening’s concert, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, in the Sun Valley Pavilion stars three Broadway singers performing songs by the best of the girls’ groups-The Shirelles, The Supremes, The Pointer Sisters and more! The concert begins at 8 pm and general admission tickets are available by calling 208.622.2135 or sunvalley.ticketfly.com. The concert is produced by 42 Productions in New York.
For the lover of the classical voice, tenor Ashley Faatoalia will perform a Signature Salon Concert in a private home July 25th. Mr. Faatoalia. Opera News calls Faatoalia’s singing “hauntingly beautiful” and credits him with “a voice of winning purity and variety of expression” and The San Francisco Chronicle labels him “sweet-toned.” He has performed with major opera companies, symphonies and is featured on several recordings. Tickets are $150 and include a hosted cocktail party which begins at 6:30 pm followed by the concert at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling Sun Valley Opera at 208.726.0991 or online at sunvalleyopera.com.
As part of its Outreach program, Sun Valley Opera will host the BYU-Idaho Collegiate Singers in a FREE family concert on August 6th at the Community Theatre at 6:30 pm. Fifty fabulous singer will perform a variety of songs sure to appeal to the entire family.
The season concludes with a hosted Country Cookout and Concert by Brandon Lay who is making his mark in the world of Country music. The concert will take place on the beautiful grounds of River Grove Ranch. Tickets are available by calling Sun Valley Opera at 208.726.0991 or online at sunvalleyopera.com and are $175 per person. Mr. Lay is signed to EMI Records Nashville. He’s able to share his songs on a grand scale, beginning with his autobiographical debut single “Speakers, Bleachers and Preachers.” Inspired directly by Brandon’s life, the song spells out right in its title the three chief influences that shaped him. There was always country music on the radio, he played basketball, football and baseball, and his dad spread the gospel on Sundays as a minister. This is a great way to hear a person who performs in front of large crowds in an intimate setting.
For the first time, the SVO is offering season tickets for $500 which includes: one ticket to each event, plus reserved section seats for each concert.
Board members and friends of Sun Valley Opera along with 2 of the Costa Jackson sisters who performed the following evening gathered January 29th to present a $10,000 check to Tim Mott for the Argyros Performing Arts Center. Mr. Mott is a Sun Valley Performing Arts Board member and Chair of the Argyros Performing Arts Center Planning Committee and Co-Chair of the Campaign Committee. Sun Valley Opera is the lead non-profit donating to APAC and is excited that they will have a “home” to present their concerts and events.
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