Artistic & Music Director
American Conductor Craig Kier has already received high praise for his “Tesla-like intensity” and “impeccable orchestral support” while leading performances throughout the United States and on international stages. Since becoming the Director of the Maryland Opera Studio at The University of Maryland, Mr. Kier has expanded the footprint of the program’s activities. Beginning in the 2015-2016 season, he has led an annual commissioning prize as part of the Maryland Opera Studio New Work Reading Series, giving composers and librettists an opportunity to cultivate their creative voices, emerging artists an opportunity to work directly with a creative team on a work written specifically for them, and audiences an opportunity to be exposed to new work and observe the creative process. Along with his dedication to the development of New Work, Mr. Kier organized a festival celebrating the work of Kurt Weill, in coordination with The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music, which included his leading performances of The Road of Promise, Mahagonny Songspiel, and Street Scene. Recent performances in the season included his debut with Indianapolis Opera leading La bohème, his return to Opera Birmingham for Tosca, performances of The Nutcracker for Houston Ballet, and his debut leading the Schwabacher Summer Concert for San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program.
In the current season, Kier leads Tosca for Annapolis Opera, continues his relationship with the National Symphony Orchestra and their music director, Gianandrea Noseda, leads performances of The Nutcracker with Houston Ballet, and shares the podium for Houston Ballet’s Jubilee of Dancein celebration of their 50th Anniversary. He also leads Ariodante and The Cunning Little Vixenwith Maryland Opera Studio and returns to Brevard Music Center, leading their Opera’s Greatest Hits Concert and Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
Recent appearances for Mr. Kier include his debut with La Cenerentola at Brevard Music Center, with Wolf Trap Opera conducting Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, his debut with Arizona Opera leading Madama Butterfly, and his debut with Opera Saratoga conducting Verdi’s Falstaff. Mr. Kier enjoys long relationships with several organizations including Opera Birmingham, for whom he has already conducted La traviata and Hamlet, and with Houston Ballet, for whom he has conducted The Nutcracker since 2011.
Productions at the Maryland Opera Studio for Mr. Kier include Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte, Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges, Blitzstein’s Regina, Rossini’s L’occasione fa il ladro, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. Last season, along with his work with the Kurt Weill Festival, he lead Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
Kathy Swekel, General Director, is a non-profit arts manager with experience in producing national and international performance projects, which include tours, concerts and recording projects. Ms. Swekel has worked with more than ten major US symphonies, including the San Francisco and Detroit Symphonies, as well as with individual artists, organizations and performing arts venues. Ms. Swekel has been responsible for the realization of performance projects at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center and the Kimmel Center and is the cofounder of the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, a full symphonic orchestra comprised of young international virtuoso performers presenting concerts in Washington, DC, Baltimore, New York and Richmond. Her recording projects include works by Barber, Bach, Mozart, Copland and Bernstein, a collection of jazz standards by the artists of Utopia, and a live recording with American folk legend, Arlo Guthrie.
Victoria Mangum earned her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Delaware, where she also studied Music Management and Theatre. She has done previous administrative and production work with the Washington National Opera, Opera Delaware, UD Opera Theatre, the Harrington Theatre Arts Company, and 2nd Star Productions. A frequent performer in the Annapolis area, she has recently been seen with Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 2nd Star Productions, Wolf Pack Theatre Company, Prince George’s Little Theatre, Laurel Mill Playhouse, Young Victorian Theatre Company, and the Annapolis Opera.
Soraya Karkari earned her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College. Before relocating to Maryland, she worked as an assistant for the Social Impact programs at Carnegie Hall. When she isn’t in the office, she is singing as a lyric mezzo-soprano. Soraya has performed in New York, Germany, and France.
RONALD J. GRETZ
Artistic Director and Conductor
Ronald J. Gretz celebrated 37 seasons as Artistic Director and Conductor of the Annapolis Opera, a position that he has also held with both the Chesapeake and Harford Opera companies. Mr. Gretz served as chorus master and assistant conductor with the Baltimore Opera and Chautauqua Summer Opera in New York and has conducted Baltimore Opera’s Summer Opera. A graduate of the Peabody Conservatory, Mr. Gretz returned to his alma mater for five years [1995-2000] as an Opera Coach. In 2012 he was again appointed to the Vocal faculty as a Vocal Coach where he remains as a part-time faculty member.
In addition to his work in opera, he has conducted musicals with Cock-pit-in-Court and various area dinner theaters. Internationally he has performed twice at the Kanagawa Theater Festival in Japan as well as in Shanghai, China. In 1994 Mr. Gretz was appointed conductor of the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for 10 years. In 2004 he founded the Maryland Philharmonic Orchestra and continued as artistic director and conductor until 2008. Mr. Gretz was named Professor Emeritus upon retiring from teaching at CCBC where he taught music theory for 41 years. His theory textbook “Music Language and Fundamentals”, published by McGraw Hill is used throughout the U.S. and Canada. Mr. Gretz is also the organist and choir director at the University Baptist Church in Baltimore, a position that he has held for over 25 years.
Known throughout the region, Stage Director Braxton Peters, has performed in or directed over eighty operas and musicals. In his twenty-eight years with Annapolis Opera he has directed numerous productions including Don Giovanni, La Bohème, Romeo et Juliette, Tosca, Carmen, Madama Butterfly, L’elisir d’amore, La traviata, The Student Prince, The Mikado, Die Fledermaus, Die Zauberflöte, Il barbiere di Siviglia, Rigoletto and Così fan tutte. Mr. Peters is well known as a performer in musical theatre, having stared in Sweeney Todd, My Fair Lady, The Secret Garden, Camelot, A Little Night Music, Follies and Man of La Mancha (a role he performed with Annapolis Opera and Virginia Opera companies).
Mr. Peters teaches voice at the Community Colleges of Baltimore County, Essex and Catonsville campuses, and serves as the Stage Director for Little Patuxent Opera Institute, at Howard Community College.