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  • Writer's pictureThe Dayton Weekly News

Dayton Native Returns for Maria Callas: A Centennial Celebration

Dayton Performing Arts Alliance presents an Opera Star Recital honoring prima donna Maria Callas Sunday, February 5 at 2:30 pm in the Schuster Center.

Dayton native and University of Dayton alum, pianist Howard Watkins joins four young rising stars as they honor the centennial celebration of Maria Callas’ birth. Tickets for start at $5 and are available at the Box Office in the Wintergarden of the Schuster Center, by phone at 937-228-3630, or online at

“Maria Callas was the epitome of an opera star,” says Opera Artistic Director and Dr. Ron Anderson and Robb Sloan-Anderson Endowed Chair, Kathleen Clawson. “When I discovered this year was the centenary of her birth, it struck me that she should be the ‘star’ for our Opera Star Recital this season. The performers bringing the Callas legacy to the stage for this concert are excellent. The four young singers are rising stars in the world of opera and, like Callas, are exceptional musicians with unique voices and prodigious technical skills. The pianist, Dayton native Howard Watkins has collaborated with some of the world’s greatest singers. His knowledge and expertise are incomparable; we are thrilled to bring them to Dayton for this concert.”

Dr. Howard Watkins, a graduate of the University of Dayton’s School of Music, joined by sopranos, Toni Marie Palmertree, Murrella Parton, Heather Phillips, and mezzo-soprano Sarah Saturnino in a concert of Maria Callas’ most famous arias. Callas is considered by many as the greatest opera singer of the 20th century. She appeared in more than 600 performances of more than 40 different roles in many of the most famous opera houses worldwide. Her recordings have become classics and continue to be popular today.

Audiences will recognize favorite Callas arias on the program, such as Puccini’s “Un bel di” from Madama Butterfly, “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca (performed by Toni Marie Palmertree), Bellini’s “Qui la voce” from I Puritani (performed by Heather Phillips); “Casta diva” from Norma, “Addio del passato” from Verdi’s La Traviata (performed by Murella Parton) and “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Bizet’s Carmen (performed by Sarah Saturnino).


About Maria Callas

Maria Callas (1923–1977) is considered by many to be the greatest opera singer of the 20th century. She was born in New York, the daughter of Greek immigrants. At fourteen, she and her mother moved to Greece, where her vocal talent was nurtured. She soon made her professional operatic debut (at the age of fifteen). By her retirement, she had sung over six hundred performances of more than forty different roles in many of the world’s most important opera houses. In addition, she recorded over twenty complete operas. These recordings have become classics and continue to be popular today.

Callas was nicknamed “La Divina” (the divine one, or goddess), and with reason. A perfectionist with a storied work ethic, she possessed an extraordinary technical virtuosity, making her performances riveting when allied to her unsurpassed dramatic expression. In addition, her vocal agility led to a revival of bel canto works by Bellini and Donizetti that had been forgotten.

About Dr. Howard Watkins, music director and piano

American pianist Howard Watkins is a frequent collaborator of some of the world’s leading musicians on the concert stage; he’s also an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. His appearances throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, Russia, and Israel have included collaborations with Joyce DiDonato, Diana Damrau, Kathleen Battle, Grace Bumbry, Mariusz Kwiecień, Anna Netrebko, and Matthew Polenzanias, well as violinists Xiang Gao and Sarah Chang at such venues as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Spivey Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Pierpont Morgan Library, the United States Supreme Court, Alice Tully Hall with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the three stages of Carnegie Hall, and the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. He has accompanied the classes of legendary artists Renata Scotto, Frederica von Stade, Régine Crespin, Birgit Nilsson, Sherrill Milnes, and George Shirley. Watkins has served on the faculties of the Tanglewood Music Center, the Aspen Music Festival, the Mannes School of Music, the North Carolina School of the Arts, the International Vocal Arts Institute (Israel, Japan, and China), IIVA in Italy, the Brancaleoni Music Festival in Italy, the Tokyo International Vocal Arts Academy (TIVAA), and VOICExperience in Orlando, Tampa, and Savannah. He has also worked on the music staff of the Palm Beach Opera, the Washington National Opera, and the Los Angeles Opera. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Watkins completed his Doctor of Musical Arts in Accompanying and Chamber Music at the University of Michigan. In 2004, he received the Paul C. Boylan award from the University of Michigan for his outstanding contributions to the field of music and a special achievement award from the National Alumni Association of the University of Dayton. He is a resident of New York City.

About Toni Marie Palmertee, soprano

Soprano Toni Marie Palmertree is rapidly becoming recognized as one of America’s most riveting performers of Puccini and Verdi heroines. She has recently been heard on the stage of San Francisco Opera in the title role of Madama Butterfly; of her performance, Janos Gereben from San Francisco Classical Voice wrote: “The young soprano not only met the challenge, but she claimed her place among the finest vocal interpreters of the role heard here recently.”

Other roles at San Francisco Opera include Nedda in Pagliacci and Liù in Turandot. She also made her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut in the 2019–20 season, stepping into the title role of Luisa Miller. In the 2022–23 season, she will perform the role of Cio-Cio-San in Madama Butterfly at Palm Beach Opera and sing the title role of Tosca at Florida Grand Opera. At the Metropolitan Opera this season, she will perform the role of Voce dal ciel and cover the role of Elisabeth de Valois in Verdi’s Don Carlo and cover the title role of Cherubini’s Medea. Further recent performances include Contessa Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro with Opera Delaware, Nedda in Pagliacci in her return to Festival Opera New Zealand, Carmina Burana with Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with Reno Philharmonic.

About Murrella Parton, soprano

Murrella Parton made her Santa Fe Opera debut with her comedic portrayal of Berta in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. A 2022 apprentice, she joined the choruses of Carmen and the world premiere of M. Butterfly. Later in the summer, she took the stage for the apprentice scenes programs as Elisabeth in Don Carlos and The Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. Mrs. Parton has been described as "magnificent" and praised for her “commanding voice” by Arts-Louisville for her portrayal of Older Alycein in Tom Cipullo's Glory Denied with Kentucky Opera (2019)

Ms. Parton has performed in the Cincinnati Opera Chorus for productions of Le Nozze di Figaro and Roméo et Juliette, Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer, and the American premiere of Julien Bilodeau's Another Brick in the Wall. In 2018, she had the opportunity to workshop the role of Sabina in Rufus Wainwright's newest opera, Hadrian, with Opera Fusion: New Works. In addition, she has performed the roles of Nella in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, Ginevra in Handel's Ariodante, Elettra in Mozart’s Idomeneo, Fiordiligi in Mozart's Così fan tutte, Sylviane in Lehar’s The Merry Widow, and the choruses of Puccini's La Bohème, Massenet's Cendrillon, and Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. In addition to operatic repertoire, she has been a featured soloist in concerts of Finzi's In Terra Pax, Handel's Messiah, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Vivaldi’s Magnificat, Bach’s Magnificat, Bach's Mass in B minor, Bach's Ascension Oratorio, and Mozart's Requiem. Mrs. Parton holds an Artist Diploma in opera and a Master of Music in vocal performance from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a Bachelor of Music in vocal music education from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

About Heather Phillips, soprano 

High lyric soprano Heather Phillips, whose performances have been described by Opera News as “beautiful” and “shimmering,” “continues to garner critical acclaim with reputable performances on the opera and concert stage.  Most recently, during the 2022 season, Ms. Phillips made her professional European debut at Oper Frankfurt in Germany as the title role in Rossini's Bianca e Falliero. Ms. Phillips reprised her role in Bianca e Falliero for her Austrian debut at the Tiroler Festspiele Erl in the summer of 2022, to critical acclaim. She also appeared in Austria on the concert stage with the Tiroler Festspiele Orchestra for a gala concert featuring the music of the bel canto repertoire of Bellini, Rossini, andDonizetti. Further in the 2022–23 season, Ms. Phillips appears in concert with Princeton Pro Musica and Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra. This season also includes Ms. Phillips’s debut as Adina in L'elisir d'amore with the Charleston Opera Theatre.  

Ms. Phillips has performed across the United States as an operatic and concert soloist in the high lyric soprano repertoire with the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Ravinia Festival, Arizona Opera, Tucson Desert Song Festival, Austin Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Cincinnati Opera, New Orleans Opera Association, Austin Symphony Orchestra, Boise Philharmonic, Oregon Music Festival, Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra, True Concord Festival Orchestra, Canton Symphony Orchestra, Aspen Opera Theatre, Kentucky Opera, Opera Southwest, Brevard Music Center, and the Bayview Music Festival.  

Ms. Phillips received her Master's and Bachelor's degrees from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. Before her collegiate operatic studies began, Ms. Phillips trained and performed as a pianist and flutist for ten years, performing as an adolescent with the Canton Youth Symphony Orchestra as a flutist and throughout the community as a volunteer outreach performer on piano, flute, and voice with the McDowell Music Club of her hometown of Canton, Ohio. 


About Sara Saturnino, mezzo-soprano

Mexican-American Mezzo-Soprano, Sarah Saturnino, is quickly establishing herself as one of opera’s brightest young singers. She is known for her “elegant phrasing and silvery top register” (Miami Herald). A recipient of the Campbell/Wachter Scholarship Award from the Santa Fe Opera from the 2021 season, Miss Saturnino has placed in the finals for the Talents of the World competition, top ten in the Brava! Competition, and was a semi-finalist in the Marcella Sembrich Competition. She has appeared with companies such as Amarillo Opera, Opera San Antonio, Baltimore Concert Opera, Delaware Opera, Painted Sky Opera, and Eastern Connecticut Symphony. Role credits include Lucretia in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Hippolyta in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Marcellina in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Second Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Gertrude in Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel, Dorabella in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, Prince Charmant in Massenet’s Cendrillon, and Carmen in Tragedy of Carmen. She is a graduate of UCLA and the Yale School of Music. She is an alumna of the Chautauqua Opera Company Studio Artist Program and an Apprentice Artist with Santa Fe Opera during their 2021 and 2022 summer seasons. She was the mezzo-soprano SOX Young Artist for the Shreveport Opera Company in the 2020–21 and 2021–22 seasons. She joined LA Opera this fall as a Young Artist in their DCS Young Artist Program and makes her house debut with LA Opera in their production of Otello in the spring of 2023.

About Dayton Performing Arts Alliance

Dayton Performing Arts Alliance (DPAA) was formed in a groundbreaking and innovative merger between Dayton Ballet, Dayton Opera, and Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. Together, they are the largest performing arts organization in the greater Dayton community, with a mission to be the community’s indispensable source for traditional, diverse, and innovative experiences in ballet, opera, and orchestral music. The vision of DPAA is to transform lives through the power of music and dance. In addition, DPAA offers various performance and education programs, setting a new standard for artistic excellence. DPAA performances reach an audience of more than 90,000 people annually, and their rich arts education programming serves over 60,000 schoolchildren in 150 schools in southwest Ohio. These performances and education initiatives are made possible partly through significant support from the Ohio Arts Council, Culture Works, Montgomery County, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Tickets for Maria Callas: A Centennial Celebration start at $5 and are on sale now at the Box Office in the Wintergarden of the Schuster Center by calling 937-228-3630 or online at

For more information about Dayton Opera’s production of Maria Callas: A Centennial Celebration and to view the digital program, visit:

For more information about DPAA’s 2022-23 Ballet, Opera, and Philharmonic seasons, visit


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