Meet Sotto Voce’s current members, the cast of Jessie Downs’s new opera, “The Second Sight”!

Jessie Downs, soprano (photo credit Jill Barille)

Jessie Downs is a vocalist and composer whose wild yet delicate aesthetic compellingly combines elements of tradition and innovation. In June 2021, her new opera The Second Sight will be performed for the first time by members of Sotto Voce. Jessie will be co-producing and directing these first performances, as well as performing in the role of the impish spirit-child Sashatya (also First Spirit and Luciana).

In 2018, Jessie was one of ten composers chosen by Beth Morrison Project’s Next Generation Competition, showcasing promising creators of new opera. Other compositional accolades include winning 2nd place for best new harp composition in the 2014 Dutch Harp Festival. In December 2018, Jessie made her Carnegie Hall debut as an operatic soprano soloist for the Night of Inspiration. Earlier that year, she was awarded a New Music USA Project Grant for directing and performing with her contemporary vocal ensemble the Sotto Voce Vocal Collective in a Rust Belt Tour entitled “Living Voices.”

As a vocalist, Jessie has studied traditional bel canto technique since the age of 14, most recently with master pedagogue Maestro Franco Bertacci. She regularly performs dramatic staples of the soprano repertoire – works by masters such as Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, and Donizetti – in recitals around Buffalo, and performs as a concert soloist with ensembles such as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. She has also premiered many operatic roles and concert works by other living composers, and participated in workshops with luminaries of contemporary vocal performance such as Juliet Fraser (EXAUDI) and Jeff Gavette (Eckmeles). Enthusiastic about keeping the tradition of true bel canto singing alive, Jessie is now passing on all she has learned to her own vocal studio, as well as providing regular vocal coaching to the members of the Unitarian Universalist Church choir as Soprano Section Leader and Associate Director. Jessie holds a BMus in Composition from Oberlin Conservatory (OH) and is currently a MA/PhD candidate in Composition at the University at Buffalo (NY).

Marissa Young, mezzo-soprano (photo credit Toney Tapia)

Marissa Young is a 27-year-old dramatic mezzo-soprano from Darien, Connecticut. She will be playing the role of Diskana, the haunted mystic, in the first production of The Second Sight.

Ms. Young has sung the roles of Baba in The Medium in Bernardsville, New Jersey, Mamma Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana with Opera Angelo in New York City, and both Azucena and Inez in Il Trovatore.  She has also sung in the chorus of Madame Butterfly, Amahl & The Night Visitors, and Verdi’s Requiem. Ms. Young was also the alto section leader for Faure’s Requiem in Hackensack, New Jersey.

When she is not singing, Ms. Young spends much of her time volunteering with mental health facilities by advocating for low-income patients and as a mentor to young women with trauma. She also provides public education on the resources available for mental health treatment and overall wellness through NAMI and other mental health organizations. She works as a website designer and social media manager for her own her own brand-building company, Marissa Young Works, and has worked in the fine art industry as a model with various photographers in New Jersey, New York City, and Delaware.

To deepen her understanding of herself, her instrument, and the world she lives in, Ms. Young practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, Meditation, and Hot Yoga regularly.  “To connect the mind with the body is to radically accept our shortcomings with compassion – and to move forward with the understanding that growth is a disciplined decision we may only attain through a beginner’s mind.”

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Claudia Brown, soprano

Claudia Brown, conductor and coloratura soprano, serves as Clinical Assistant Professor of Voice and Choral Music at UB, where she directs the choral ensembles, teaches applied voice, choral conducting, and a course on philosophy of music in religion. She will be playing the role of Freyaria, the empath mother, in the first production of The Second Sight.

Under her leadership, the UB Chamber Singers were founded and UB’s choirs have toured to New York City, Niagara Falls, and Pittsburgh, and sang backup to Kristen Chenoweth and Kenny Rogers. Under her direction, UB Choir recently performed with Gonville and Caius College Chapel Choir, Cambridge, and at the Three Choirs’ Festival in Buffalo. This spring, UB Choir will work with choral composers Jake Runestad and Ethan McGrath, premiering three news commissions written for them by the latter.

Equally a choral and solo singer, Brown has held leading roles in opera and oratorio in the U.K. and U.S. Recent roles include Phyllis (Iolanthe), Serpina (La Serva Padrona), Yvette (La Rondine), Kate Pinkerton (Madame Butterfly), Adele (Die Fledermaus), Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro), Laetitia (The Old Maid and the Thief, director), and Lucy (The Telephone, director). She has also served as chorus master for Barber’s Vanessa and Mozart’s Idomeneo with professional opera companies in the U.K. During 2018-2019 Brown toured and recorded two albums in England and Portugal with the Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Robinson College Choir, Cambridge, and Armonico Consort of London. In July 2019, she had the honor of performing alongside the BBC Singers and Britten Sinfonia for Stephen Cleobury’s Farewell Concert at King’s College, Cambridge.

Brown holds a Masters of Music in Choral Studies from the University of Cambridge and an M.M. in Vocal Performance from Duquesne University. In the U.K., she was a member of King’s Voices, the mixed-voice choir of King’s College Chapel, touring France and the Netherlands. In Buffalo, Brown sings with Harmonia Chamber Choir, St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral Choir, Vocalis Chamber Choir, and serves as a Bach soloist regionally.  Passionate about music and theology and the cross-cultural impact of music, Brown taught music in South India from 2011-2012 and has worked with musicians in Germany, Honduras, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

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Mariami Bekauri, mezzo-soprano (photo credit Kevin Michki)

Mezzo-soprano Mariami Bekauri has been praised for her “warm” and “handsome” tone.  She will be playing the role of Second Spirit – one of the specters that variously haunt and guide the lead characters – in the first production of The Second Sight.

This past November, she made her debut in the titular role of Rossini’s La Cenerentola with Buffalo Opera Unlimited.  She has appeared as a soloist with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Western New York Chamber Orchestra, and in roles with Buffalo Opera Unlimited, The Hillman Opera, and Geneva Light Opera. Recent roles include Barbarina and Marcellina (The Marriage of Figaro), and Berta (The Barber of Seville) with Geneva Light Opera.  Other role highlights include the Second Lady (The Magic Flute), Cecilia March (Little Women), Mrs. Nolan (The Medium), Maria (Maria de Buenos Aires), and Mad Margaret (Ruddigore).  Her solo credits include Vivaldi’s Gloria, Salieri Mass in D major, Bach Magnificat, BWV 147: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 79: Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild, Handel’s Messiah, Copland’s In the Beginning.

Bekauri received her M.M. in Voice Performance from the Fredonia School of Music.  She holds an M.S. in materials science engineering from Brown University, and a B.A. in physics and music from Wellesley College.  Ms. Bekauri currently teaches in the Music Department at Buffalo State College, and at Houghton College Buffalo.

Derick Evans, baritone

Derick Evans is a composer, songwriter and musical performer living in Buffalo, NY. He will be playing the role of Third Spirit – one of the specters that variously haunt and guide the lead characters – in the first production of The Second Sight.

Derick’s works explore musical, visual and performative forms of storytelling, often combined with elements of community-building and outreach. He has been described as an artist of “radical hope and caring” (The Oberlin Review). His diverse output spans writing and recording pop music and music for films, to composing experimental chamber works for new music ensembles, producing theatrical one-person multimedia performances, and performing original songs for children.

Evans has earned degrees in music composition from The College of Wooster and the University of Arizona. In 2019, he received a PhD in music composition as a Presidential Fellow at the University at Buffalo. He currently performs in Buffalo with his band The Best Strangers.

Julia Anne Cordani, soprano (photo credit Saffi Rigberg)

Julia Anne Cordani is a Buffalo-based performer and educator, passionate about music accessibility and advocacy. She will be playing the role of Fourth Spirit – one of the specters that variously haunt and guide the lead characters – in the first production of The Second Sight.

Julia is a light coloratura soprano. Originally from Lewiston, New York, she is currently a first year graduate student at the University at Buffalo, working towards her Master’s Degree in Voice Performance. She holds two Bachelor’s Degrees from UB in Voice Performance and Linguistics, and studies with Dr. Tiffany Du Mouchelle. Julia has extensive experience in the performance of contemporary solo and choral repertoire, as well as standard works. At UB, Julia sings in the Contemporary Ensemble, Polyglot Opera Studio, Choir, and Chamber Ensemble. In the greater Buffalo community, she sings in the Women’s Chorus of Buffalo, QED Vocal Ensemble, and Vocalis Chamber Choir.

An accomplished soloist, she has performed locally and nationally with the Freudig Singers of Western New York, Ensemble Signal, Slee Sinfonietta, University at Delaware Chorale, the Syndicate for the New Arts, Buffalo Opera Unlimited, and the UB Symphony Orchestra. Outside of her vocal career, Julia enjoys serving as the Site Manager and Instrument Inventory Manager at Buffalo String Works, a Buffalo-based music education nonprofit. She also enjoys taking care of her betta fish, Oya, and her friend Snail the (aptly named) Snail. Recent engagements have included appearing as a chorus member in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore and as Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone. Julia is also excited to be singing Frasquita in Georges Bizet’s Carmen in May 2020 and Angel More in Virgil Thompson’s The Mother of Us All in October 2020, both with Buffalo Opera Unlimited.

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Suzanne Fatta, contralto (photo credit  Luke Copping)

Possessing a unique and powerful voice, Suzanne Fatta is a Contralto (Tiefer Alt/ Contralto Profondo/ Oktavista) based in Buffalo, NY, performing in top venues in the US, Canada, England, Scotland, France, Malta, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic. She will be playing the role of Fifth Spirit – one of the specters that variously haunt and guide the lead characters – in the first production of The Second Sight. She also serves as the Managing Director for Nickel City Opera, a local Buffalo opera company with whom Sotto Voce is collaborating for this production.

Ms. Fatta has been praised highly for her very expansive range and dramatic skills, singing from Bass I to Soprano II. She performs professionally as a Bass in the famous Vivaldi’s Women choir (aka Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi) as seen on the BBC (Richard Vendome, director), and is also the Founder and Artistic Director of The Women of Vivaldi, one of the few full all-female ensembles in the nation. Suzanne also enjoys performing both early and contemporary music with some of the top organizations in WNY such as Buffalo Philharmonic OrchestraThe Buffalo Chamber Players, Eastman Collegium Musicum, Nickel City Opera, Ars Nova Musicians/ Viva Vivaldi Fest, Vocális Chamber Choir, Sotto Voce Vocal Collective, QED, Camerata di Sant’AntonioOpera Sacra, June in Buffalo, Harmonia Chamber Singers, Buffalo Opera Unlimited, Buffalo Gay Men’s Chorus, Buffalo Master ChoraleOperaBuffs of WNY, The Opera Foundation of Buffalo; and with several early music groups in Europe. An early music specialist, Suzanne sang the Tenor and Alto solos in Bach Weihnachtsoratorium completing the cycle in early 2019. In early 2017 Suzanne headlined the Vivaldi WinterFest with Music Niagara; she debuted at Rochester Early Music Festival and the Fredonia Bach & Beyond Baroque Music Festival some time earlier. She also performs in a cabaret-style show (the longest run in WNY) with the award-winning DIVA by DIVA, and her pop-jazz-world Demo CD Brucia La Terra came out in late 2016 (2-time nominee for Female Jazz Vocalist of the Year in the JazzBuffalo Reader’s Poll).

For 5 years Suzanne lived in York UK, where she studied historical performance practice with Grammy-winning John PotterPeter Seymour, and world famous soprano Lynne Dawson. Prior to that, she studied Performance, Musicology and Historical Performance Practice at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Joint BA With Honors), Suzanne has also done doctoral studies in Historical Performance Practice at the Eastman School of Music with Paul O’Dette performing in the Eastman Collegium Musicum as a featured soloist. In addition, she has a Masters in Medieval Studies and Religion from Harvard University, where she won a university-wide Teaching Award of Distinction for a course on Jazz and Music of the Swing Era. You can find Suzanne presenting lectures through groups like OperaBuffs of WNY (her 2014 presentation was selected by OPERA America as one of the top 15 National Opera Week events in the nation) and The Forest Lawn Sunday Series.

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William Zino, baritone  (photo credit Saffi Rigberg)

William Zino is a baritone and fourth-year PhD student in musicology at the University at Buffalo. He will be playing the role of Sixth Spirit – one of the specters that variously haunt and guide the lead characters – in the first production of The Second Sight.

Will received his Bachelor’s degree in musical studies at SUNY Potsdam, and a certificate of performance while a student in Dr. Deborah Massell’s voice studio. Previous performance experience includes UB Choir and Chamber Ensemble under Professor Claudia Brown, The Crane School of Music Chorus, working with Maestro Duane Wolf at Carnegie Hall, and numerous musical theatre roles and castings (Javert – Les Misérables, Harry – Company, Action – West Side Story, and others). William also took part in the Frost School of Music’s Summer in Salzburg program, in which he attended vocal coaching and master classes. His research interests currently include the musicals of Stephen Sondheim, and the sociological concepts of agency and power struggle in those works.

Alex Huddleston, operations director (photo credit Igor C.A.S. Marques)

Alex Huddleston, Operations Director for Sotto Voce productions, is a composer currently based out of Buffalo, New York. His music seeks to occupy a liminal space in which serendipitous relationships emerge and collapse in a play of familiarity and otherness. Centered on themes of alienation, sorrow, anxiety, schizophrenia, and fear, while functioning through polyvocal durations, his work embodies a singular affect – there is too much and too little, it is too fast and too slow, it is elegant and awkward, it makes too much sense and makes no sense. He is pursuing his doctorate in Composition at SUNY Buffalo where he Studies with David Felder. Additional instructors include Martin Iddon, Steven Takasugi, Pierluigi Billone, and Joshua Fineberg. His music has been performed in the United States and Europe and he has participated in many contemporary music festivals, including Composit, SICPP, and Darmstadt. He has collaborated with the Arditti Quartet, the JACK Quartet, the Mivos Quartet, Ensemble Mise-En, percussionist Christian Smith, vocalist Jessie Downs, and the Sotto Voce Vocal Collective.