Opera Singers Find Inspiration in Art

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Tenor Ian Koziara with Oskar Kokoschka’s “Lac d’Annecy II” at the Phillips Collection. Photo by Richard Selden.

Two young opera singers took a stroll recently through the Phillips Collection galleries. Though they looked no different from the other museumgoers, many in town for the Fourth of July, mezzo-soprano Megan Samarin and tenor Ian Koziara weren’t sightseeing; they were working.

Fresh from lead roles in Wolf Trap Opera’s production of Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” Samarin and Koziara — two of this summer’s 20 Filene Artists — were preparing for a July 19 recital at the Phillips. Participants in the annual “Vocal Colors” series, they and pianist Joseph Li were choosing paintings to pair with musical selections.

At the 6:30 p.m. recital, images of the artworks will be projected as they perform. The musicians will also briefly introduce each pairing. According to Morgan Brophy, Wolf Trap Opera’s manager of artistic operations, who came along on the walk-through: “This program is unique because management takes a back seat.”

“I love the funereal poles,” said Koziara, referring to the decorated standing logs by Nonggirrnga Marawili inspired by traditional burial practices in the exhibition “Marking the Infinite: Contemporary Women Artists from Aboriginal Australia.”

Koziara recalled how his mother, an artist, would take him out of school to visit the Art Institute of Chicago in his hometown. Among the paintings at the Phillips that appealed to the tenor, who sang snatches of music as he explored, was Oskar Kokoschka’s “Lac d’Annecy II” of 1930.

A graduate of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and of Rice University in Houston, Koziara now lives in New York and performs with the Metropolitan Opera as a member of the Met’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.

Samarin, who grew up in Los Angeles, is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music and an alumna of the Young Artists Vocal Academy at Houston Grand Opera, where she has performed for several seasons. A fan of “personal” art museums, three of her favorites are the Frick Collection in New York, the Menil Collection in Houston and, in part due to her Russian background, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood, here in D.C.

One of the paintings that caught Samarin’s eye at the Phillips was “Summer” by American Impressionist John Henry Twachtman. The two discussed another Twachtman, “My Summer Studio,” painted around 1900, and — with wave-like melodies in mind, no doubt — paused in front of Paul Nash’s “The Sea” of 1923 and Milton Avery’s “Shells and Fishermen” of 1941.

Li, who conducted Wolf Trap Opera’s production of the Brecht-Weill show “The Seven Deadly Sins” at Union Market last month, will accompany Samarin and Koziara and perform solo pieces. A faculty member at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, he was particularly taken by Wassily Kandinsky’s “Succession” of 1935, saying that there was “something childlike about it that I want to capture.”

Tickets to the “Vocal Colors” recital are $20. For details, visit wolftrap.org.

Mezzo-soprano Megan Samarin with “Summer” by John Henry Twachtman at the Phillips Collection. Photo by Richard Selden.
Pianist Joseph Li with Wassily Kandinsky’s “Succession” at the Phillips Collection. Photo by Richard Selden.
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