‘Accidental Tenor’ describes journey to Denver Lyric Opera Guild

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When Andrew Lunsford was 15, he saw “Phantom of the Opera” onstage, and although he remembers not being happy about it, he knew all the words because his sister played the record constantly. “I learn best through my ears,” he said.

That led to a visit to “Les Miserables,” where his jaw dropped when that chandelier fell. He got a CD. Another CD in the basement was “Opera’s Greatest Hits.” He sang along. He played a guitar at 15, but couldn’t read music.

He married and had a young family and a growing business in construction — “I also had a passion for business.” Then the bottom fell out of homebuilding and his business cratered.

“It might be fun to learn an aria,” he thought and his dad took him to Rockland Music in Lakewood. “Looking for an opera song” — “You mean an aria?” the clerk wondered. He talked about “tenorish arias” — “sad, depressing ... empty chairs, empty tables … the baritone always gets the girl.”

His bankruptcy lawyer had heard him sing and suggested he look into performing at the Brown Palace Hotel, where he sand “Nessun Dorma” from “Turandot” and “This is the Moment” from “Jekyll and Hyde.” “I sang in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for Performance Now,” he recalled, and was invited back for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

A new journey had begun. He spoke to members of the Denver Lyric Opera Guild on July 18 at the group’s summer luncheon, interspersing his story with favorite arias. He was accompanied by Gerald Holbrook and in sang duets with soprano Kimberli Render on two arias. (She was DLOG’s winner last year and will be teaching at CSU this year.)

He started work with a voice teacher, sang in a “Five Tenors” concert for Denver Lyric Opera Guild and won the group’s annual competition for young singers. A full ride scholarship to Indiana University’s famed music school followed.

While there, he performed at the Kennedy Center and in April debuted at Carnegie Hall in New York. He thought of his feet standing in the same place as great singers from the past.

He just finished at Indiana — at age 34 — and has a number of engagements on his calendar as he starts on a professional career as an operatic tenor. In May 2014, he will sing with Opera Fort Collins, with Kimberli.

He closed by saying how very much the support from the guild has meant to him. “It means we have a chance.”

“We give away more money than any comparable organization in the country,” said active member Jane Gibson.

Denver Lyric Opera Guild membership is open to all who are interested. The group meets monthly through the academic year, at various venues, for “Opera on Tuesday” — lunch and an opera-related program. It also hosts a Master Class and Preliminary and Final Competitions each year. (March 2014 dates are announced.) The competitions, at Bethany Lutheran Church in Englewood in 2013, are free and open to the public — offering a chance to hear wonderful young voices.