Connellsville woman displays her musical talents in Europe
Connellsville native Chelsea Ritenour recently made her professional opera debut in Germany.
The 22-year-old daughter of Chelsea and Shelly Ritenour of Connellsville was hired through a James Madison University program that takes a small group of students to Freiberg, Germany. The students and recent graduates perform in the student productions, outreach concerts and a large festival concert with orchestra at the end of the program. A chosen few, like Ritenour, are hired to perform in the professional summer production.
“I'm obviously more than proud that at 22 years old she got to make her professional debut in Germany,” Shelly Ritenour said. “Everything just seems to be falling into place for her the way it needs to.”
Ritenour performed the lead role of Arsena with the professional theater in the operetta “Der Zigeunerbaron” by Johann Strauss, and the role of Belinda in the student production of “Dido and Aeneas” by Henry Purcell.
“The experience was amazing! I got to study German, begin my professional career, sing concert pieces with a full orchestra and experience a true professional environment for the first time,” Chelsea Ritenour said.
The group also partook in German language coaching sessions, voice lessons and vocal coaching sessions with the in-house German conductor, Raoul Grüneis.
“My second day there, I started rehearsal for the professional production and was a little shocked to find that the director and music directors barely spoke English. The entire rehearsal process was in German and only three people in the main cast spoke English. It was a lot to process at first, but fun, and I ended up being very happy that I was thrown into a situation like that. It forced me to learn new vocabulary in the quickest way possible and really sharpened the German language skills that I already had,” Chelsea Ritenour said.
She performed at the Mittelsaechsisches Theater in Freiberg, the Döbeln Theater, the Seebühne in Kriebstein, and multiple churches and castles in the nearby areas of Germany.
“I was kept extremely busy, but I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Being treated as a professional American singer overseas is an opportunity and experience I will never forget,” she said.
Chelsea Ritenour is a graduate of Connellsville Area High School and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University this past spring with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Vocal Performance. She said she actually had to miss her graduation ceremony because she had to leave for Germany a week earlier than expected.
“It was a little bittersweet that she didn't get to take part in her graduation ceremony but at the same time she was blessed with this great opportunity,” Shelly Ritenour said.
Chelsea Ritenour said she was bitten by the performance bug at a very early age.
“My first performance was in kindergarten at the South Side Elementary talent show. I was obsessed with ‘The Little Mermaid' and was set on singing ‘Part of Your World.' I practiced for weeks singing along to my Disney princess CDs. The big day came and I stood on stage confident as could be in my Little Mermaid costume with props and accessories all around me. I told my mom that it wasn't good enough for me to just stand there and sing the song. I actually had to become Ariel. I think it was at that moment I knew I wanted to sing,” Chelsea Ritenour said.
She said she tried other activities like sports, gymnastics and dance and enjoyed them, “but nothing seemed to satisfy me the way singing on stage did.”
“My mom took notice to my singing abilities and we decided to look into performing art schools that would allow me to thrive artistically,” she said.
At age 10, she began taking musical theater classes at Stage Right! School for the Performing Arts in Greensburg.
“I remember being really nervous at first but I loved the end product of performing an entire musical on stage,” she said.
Two years later, she began taking private voice lessons with Katerina Musetti of Greensburg.
“I remember singing my first classical piece of music, ‘Caro Mio Ben,' which I learned at my first lesson with her. I had absolutely no idea what I was singing but I remember feeling an immediate connection to it,” Chelsea Ritenour said.
She said at the end of her first lesson, Musetti and her late husband David Musetti told her she was meant to be an opera singer.
“When I heard the natural vibrato and beautiful color of her voice, I knew she was going to sing opera. My voice teacher and mentor, the iconic diva Renata Tebaldi, instilled within me the ability to understand the voice, spirit and temperament of individuals while instilling technique and discipline within each unique artist. I knew Chelsea had all the required attributes necessary for opera from the first time I worked with her,” Musetti said.
Eventually, Chelsea Ritenour chose opera over musical theater.
“The more I studied, I felt a stronger connection to classical music. My junior year of high school, I decided that it was time to completely commit to just classical music, and I made the full transition to opera at 16,” she said.
Musetti has continued to work with Chelsea Ritenour during the past 10 years. She said she was extremely proud of her student for making her professional debut this summer but not surprised by her success.
“Chelsea's grand instrument and formidable vocal technique combined with her incredible memorization skills, and dedication to her art, are the elements required to secure such roles at such a young age,” Musetti said.
Chelsea Ritenour studied music theory, sight reading and rhythm classes with Gayle Cuneo and at the Atkins Music Center. “It proved to be a very wise decision as Mrs. Cuneo really helped prepare me for the academic side of music. I also got to kick back and have a little fun taking guitar lessons with Dave Petrone in my spare time, also at Atkins,” she said.
Prior to college, Chelsea Ritenour performed many roles including Demeter in “Cats,” Cosette in “Les Miserables,” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” with Stage Right. She was seen by local audiences as Johanna in “Sweeney Todd” and Cassie in “A Chorus Line” at the Geyer Performing Arts Center. She played Luisa in The Pretty Good Theatre Company's production of “The Fantasticks.” She is also remembered for her portrayal of Peter Pan in “Peter Pan” at CAHS and has performed at many weddings in the area.
While at Carnegie Mellon, she studied voice with Daniel Teadt and was chosen for three lead roles her junior and senior year there, including, Cinderella in “Into the Woods,” Laurie in “The Tender Land” and Miss Wordsworth in “Albert Herring.”
She sang the entire Carmina Burana by Carl Orff at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
She said she plans to continue studying opera and go to graduate school. She has moved to New York City to begin school at the Mannes College the New School for Music, a music conservatory in the upper west side of Manhattan.
“I'm extremely excited to start this new chapter in my life and can't wait to see what opportunities lay ahead in New York City,” she said.
While in Germany, Ritenour started a Facebook page to document and share her German performances. The page can be found at www.facebook.com/critenour.
Linda Harkcom is a contributing writer.