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Michael Spyres speaks out on Ozarks Lyric Opera's 'Don Giovanni' — and what it's like to be a 'hillbilly knight'

Courtesy Ozarks Lyric Opera

Ozarks Lyric Opera's Artistic Director Michael Spyres talks up their new "Don Giovanni" production, his upcoming Metropolitan Opera broadcast, his new album — and what it means to be a "hillbilly knight."

For the first time in more than 25 years, Ozarks Lyric Opera brings one of the greatest operas ever composed to Springfield and the historic Gillioz Theatre, 325 Park Central East: Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18, at 7:30 p.m.

Springfield’s own Jay Jackson is stage director for this production. (For ticket information, visit ozarkslyricopera.com or gillioz.org, or call the Gillioz box office at 417-863-9491.)

Today on “Arts News,” I played a pre-recorded telephone interview with Artistic Director Michael Spyres, who is currently wearing his other hat as globe-trotting star tenor (or, I should say, “baritenor”).

Spyres is in New York, having just begun the current run of Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece “Norma” at the Metropolitan Opera, co-starring with soprano Sonya Yoncheva. (The live Met broadcast of “Norma” will be Saturday, March 25 at 12 p.m. on KSMU’s HD2 stream.)

Michael and I talked about that and about what else is happening in his life and career — which, typically, is a lot.

For one thing, there’s the new album on Erato/Warner Classics, “Contra Tenor,” a follow-up (actually a sort of “prequel”, according to Michael) of his multi-award winning album “Baritenor,” released last year and winner of the 2022 Gramophone magazine “Album of the Year.” It’s a project Michael has been thinking about for a number of years: to trace a lineage of the modern tenor voice from its origins in the late 17th century to the present.

It has required a lot of “bizarre research,” Spyres says, taking him “down quite a lot of rabbit holes. The tenor voice has shape-shifted, in 400 years, more than any other voice type.”

On this new album, Spyres says the music he sings traverses more than three octaves.

And Spyres, a native of Mansfield, says he can now lay claim to the title of “Hillbilly Knight”!

Here's why: Over the past several years Spyres devoted a great deal of time to French music, from both the opera and solo-song repertoires. And for his services to French music and culture, Spyres in 2021 was awarded an honorary knighthood by the committee of The Arts and Letters of the Republic of France — a singular honor awarded to very few artists. Michael’s entire family will travel to France with him for the award ceremony.

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.