Arts & Culture

Tenor Ben Bliss to take hometown stage with Lyric Opera — and his mother, Judy Bliss

Tenor Ben Bliss’ mother Judy Bliss is the longest tenured member of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.
Tenor Ben Bliss’ mother Judy Bliss is the longest tenured member of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Lyric Opera of Kansas City

Judy Bliss is the longest-tenured member of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s chorus. She’s been a stalwart of the company since performing in the 1976-77 season.

But her performance in the Lyric’s upcoming production of Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” is certain to be her most memorable. Her son, acclaimed tenor Ben Bliss, will be making his first appearance with the Lyric, singing alongside his mother, who introduced him to the world of opera so many years ago.

The Lyric Opera will present “Abduction from the Seraglio” for four performances at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre beginning Sept. 21.

Ben Bliss grew up in a household filled with opera.

Not only did his mother perform in countless Lyric productions, she was also a voice teacher. But as a young man, Ben Bliss had no thought of having a career in opera.

“Funnily enough, I wasn’t particularly interested in opera as a kid,” Bliss said. “I think it had something to do with the fact that when we’d go see my mom perform with the Lyric, it was a Sunday matinee right in the middle of a Chiefs game. That was kind of a detractor for me.”

But Bliss did sing in high school choir and took part in theater productions, which gave him an interest in film. When he decided to get a degree in film production, his school search took him to Chapman University.

“It’s a school in Orange County, near Disneyland,” Bliss said. “What attracted me was they offered a choir scholarship even if you were a non-music major. So I sent them a CD of me singing a solo with the high school choir, and they were enthused. The dean of the music school, who was also the choir director, started calling my house every week and talking to me about financial aid packages and offered me a scholarship.”

While at Chapman, Bliss found he was doing as much if not more music than film. He sang in the school’s choirs and, at the encouragement of the school’s dean, began taking voice lessons.

“Then in my sophomore year, my voice teacher twisted my arm a little further into auditioning for the opera, and, as opera folks know, they always need tenors. I’m a tenor, so they cast me in the lead role in ‘The Magic Flute.’ I sang that and did a couple of concerts with the orchestra and in my junior year I sang the title role in a Benjamin Britten opera called ‘Albert Herring.’”

In his senior year, Bliss refocused his attention on his film major. He graduated with a film degree and made a film that toured festivals around the world. He also scored a gig working for the “Doctor Phil” show.

“It was hilarious and a little jarring, but I really missed music,” Bliss said. “I didn’t see a bright future for myself at the ‘Doctor Phil’ show, so I left in January of 2011 and called my voice teacher from college who had been saying for years that I really had a shot at this music thing.”

Bliss says he started fervently studying with his teacher in 2011, paying for his lessons by drywalling his teacher’s garage. Within five months of restarting his music lessons, Bliss had an audition for Placido Domingo at Los Angeles Opera, where Domingo offered him a spot in the young artists program.

“Ben’s path was so unusual,” Judy Bliss said. “It seemed that as soon as Ben made up his mind to go into music, all these doors opened. He had opportunities, he auditioned for things, he got a position with the L.A. Opera and the Lindemann young artists program at the Metropolitan Opera and won numerous competitions. I think the universe was telling him this is what he was supposed to be doing.”

In 2015, Bliss concluded his apprenticeship program with the Metropolitan Opera and started his professional career, which has included performances around the world and lead roles at the Met. Bliss says one of the highlights of his career so far has been singing the role of Belmonte in “Abduction from the Seraglio” at the Metropolitan Opera.

“I know James Levine is not a popular name any more, and for very good reason, but the year after I finished as a young artist, the Met asked me back to sing one performance as the lead role in ‘Abduction’ with Levine conducting. He had been there for 40-plus years and was a legend. It was really a singular experience to get up on stage and sing my first lead role with Levine looking up at me from the pit.”

Now, he’ll be singing the same role on the Lyric Opera stage, but with his mom looking on instead.

”I really expect my experience with the Lyric to be one of the highlights of my career,” Bliss said. “To be in my hometown with my mom on stage and the whole family in the audience. I think that’s going to be really quite an experience. There’s never going to be anything like that ever again. Unless I come back here and sing again, of course.”

7:30 p.m. Sept. 21, 25 and 27 and 2 p.m. Sept. 29. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $36-$195. 816-471-7344 or www.kcopera.org.

Stanislav & Friends

Park University’s International Center for Music is drawing on its all-star faculty and students for a fundraising gala Sept. 20 at Helzberg Hall. Headlining the concert is, of course, Van Cliburn gold medalist and the school’s director Stanislav Ioudenitch.

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Park University graduate student Kenny Broberg will perform Sept. 20 for a fundraising gala. Jill Toyoshiba jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

He’ll be joined by his former student and London International Piano Competition winner Behzod Abduraimov, Ioudenitch’s daughter, the talented violinist Maria Ioudenitch, and the Park Trio, made up of Stanislav Ioudenitch, violinist Ben Sayevich and cellist Daniel Veis.

But perhaps the most-anticipated performer of the evening is Kenny Broberg, who recently won the bronze medal at the International Tchaikovsky Competition, widely considered the most prestigious piano competition in the world. Broberg is a product of Park’s International Center for Music.

Tickets are going fast, so get yours while they last.

6:30 p.m. Sept. 20. Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $82. icm.park.edu.

Heartland Men’s Chorus new season

Concerts by the Heartland Men’s Chorus range from the fun and fabulous to the moving and spiritually uplifting. The group’s recently announced 2019-20 season encompasses all those emotions.

The season begins with their annual holiday concert, which is always a tinsel-fest. “Making Spirits Bright” on Dec. 7 and 8 will feature traditional carols and holiday nostalgia as well as numbers as campy as an aluminum Christmas tree.

“Smitten with Britain,” March 28 and 29, 2020, is a British invasion of folk and pop songs from the Beatles to Elton John to Adele. “Unbreakable” on June 13 and 14 is a new musical from a top-notch creative team that includes composer Andrew Lippa (“The Addams Family”) and Academy Award-winners Dustin Lance Black (“Milk,” “When We Rise”) and Bruce Cohen (“Milk,” “American Beauty,” “Big Fish”). The musical tells the real-life stories of four characters involved in the LGBTQ movement over the past 12 decades.

All performances are at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St.

“Making Spirits Bright” Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 4 p.m.; “Smitten with Britain” March 28, 2020, at 8 p.m. and March 29 at 4 p.m.; “Unbreakable” June 13 at 8 p.m. and June 14 at 4 p.m.

For tickets and more information, 816-931-3338 or visit hmckc.org/season-2.

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat, at www.facebook.com/kcartsbeat.

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