Hannah Penn hopes to turn experience into a musical opportunity
by: Cory Weaver Steven Brennfleck and Hannah Penn play major roles in the Portland Opera's "L’Enfant et les Sortilèges" (“The Bewitched Child”), at the Newmark Theatre through April 9.

Each year, the Portland Opera recruits apprentices through its Studio Artist program. Most of them come for two years, display their talents and leave.

Hannah Penn of Clackamas stayed.

'I really loved Portland, I didn't want to move away,' says Penn, 31, a Studio Artist alum who will perform the lead role in one of the opera's season-ending Maurice Ravel shows, 'L'Enfant et les Sortiléges' ('The Bewitched Child') at the Newmark Theatre.

The opera's program helps aspiring singers bridge school and career. Steven Brennfleck of Trenton, N.J., concludes his Studio Artist stint with roles in 'L'Enfant' and 'L'Heure Espagnole' ('The Spanish Hour'). A former choral conductor at Desales University in Pennsylvania, he took the Portland Opera opportunity to try to make something of his singing career.

'It's going to be very hard to leave Portland,' says Brennfleck, 28. 'But, for a singer in my position, I need easy access to New York City, where there are auditions going on all the time.

'The opera company has been fantastic. Incredibly supportive place to work.' He especially enjoyed the personal direction of Christopher Mattaliano, opera general director, on some productions - including the finales.

There are usually four singers as part of the Studio Artist program. One left this year, leaving tenor Brennfleck, mezzo soprano Daryl Freedman and baritone Nicholas Nelson.

Brennfleck says such apprenticeships are important.

'If you don't have your foot in the door by the time you're 30, you can pretty much not count on having a substantial career,' he says. 'When I started (26), I was on the older end. Kind of scary to think.'

Brennfleck will head back East to forge his career.

Penn made a name for herself by substituting in the lead role in 'Carmen' as a member of the Studio Artist program in 2007. 'I was lucky, excited about the process of 'covering' the role,' she says. 'I knew all the music and words. A very dramatic introduction to Portland Opera.'

A mezzo soprano who hails from rural Indiana and grew up on the East Coast, Penn has performed twice for the Tacoma Opera, but she hasn't done any formal auditions since leaving the Studio Artist program in spring 2009. She has done various singing engagements in Portland, including with dance troupe BodyVox, all the while completing her music doctorate at New England Conservatory last fall.

'Now I'm going to hit the audition circuit hard,' she says, 'try to get more consistent work.'

The Ravel double bill will be 7:30 p.m. April 1, 5, 7 and 9 and 2 p.m. April 3 at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway. Tickets start at $75 and are available by calling 503-241-1802.

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