Annual Aquilon Music Festival at Linfield College features singers from around the world staging two full operas

PHOTO BY JOHN PAK - The second annual Aquilon Music Festival, an intensive program that trains classical singers and musicians while giving them the experience needed to keep perfecting their craft, began July 1 and continues through July 21 at Linfield College and other sites throughout the county.

The Willamette Valley has long had the reputation of being a place that brings people from around the globe to the area, although typically wine is involved in that process.

However, for the next three weeks more than 40 people will come together for something rather different than libations: classical music.

This year marks the second season for the Aquilon Music Festival, an intensive program that trains classical singers and musicians while giving them the experience needed to keep perfecting the craft.

Anton Belov, the founder and artistic director for the festival, said he got the idea while working at the Atlantic Music Festival in Waterville, Maine. After working there for eight seasons while traveling frequently to Oregon, he decided the Northwest needed its own festival.

"Last year was a tremendous success," Belov said of the festival's maiden voyage. "We had two fully staged operas, which was a little insane."

This year's headliner will be a fully-staged performance of Mozart's "The Magic Flute," which Belov described as something of a fairy tale with a lot of symbolism. The festival mostly takes place at Linfield College in McMinnville.

Belov said when staging an opera, directors must be very specific in casting players. Since most of the performers are young, he said Mozart makes sense because of how light it is. He said younger performers don't always have the range for the more heavy and dramatic operas.

"It has to be appropriate for young voices," he said.

Following that, the musicians will perform eight winery shows, which are more paired down and not fully staged. Those will take place all around Newberg, Dundee, Sherwood and other nearby towns.

"We will celebrate summer and great wine," Belov said.

But this festival is no walk in the park for the performers. Belov said most of the performers are in the 20s and 30s and are working on graduate level work in the field. He described them as "pre-professional artists," in that they have likely worked with conservatories and gone to college for the art, but still need experience in opera singing.

"You have to fill your resume, you have to have stage experience to be taken seriously," he said.

So while three weeks in wine country might sound like a dream come true to some, for these singers it's a lot of work. Belov said they will be in classrooms going through lectures and rehearsals.

"It's a very demanding program," he said.

The singers hail from all over the United States, with several from the east coast. Belov also said the program attracts attendees from around the world. Just this year, they had performers from Germany, Slovakia and different parts of Asia.

But the goal of the festival isn't only to fill out resumes. Belov said the Aquilon Music Festival also serves as a vehicle to bring classical music and opera to underserved communities.

"It's an opportunity for young singers to perform in communities without music," he said.

The festival began on Monday and runs through July 21. Belov said tickets for the performances are going fast and he expects most will sell out.

"We're feeling great, very excited," he said. "The first couple of shows will be insane. Tickets are selling very, very well. Hopefully our performances will be completely full."

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