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There are many titles that Michael Spyres, an international opera singer, has attached to his name: baritenor, artistic director and award-winning recording artist. Oh, and that of a knight, having received the honor of Knighthood of the Arts and Letters from the French government in 2021.
But there is one title that Spyres is particularly fond of: Ozarkian.
“I’m the world’s first hillbilly knight,” he says, laughing.
Born and raised in Mansfield, Spyres comes from a musically talented family that includes his brother Sean, whom he works with at the Springfield-based Ozarks Lyric Opera, formerly called Springfield Regional Opera. Michael Spyres has helped the organization through a renaissance of sorts, winning the Phoenix Award at the 2017 Ozzie Awards from the Springfield Regional Arts Council.
Although Spyres spends about nine months each year in Europe, he makes the most of it when in Missouri. The Ozarks Lyric Opera 2022-23 season premiered with an original opera, “Sweet Louisa,” written by his longtime friend Katie Kring.
“Opera exists to create new art, new interpretations of old things,” Spyres says. “People are surprised about the fact that new pieces are written.”
By commissioning new works and holding events such as A Foreign Affair, where attendees experienced French food and wine pairings with Spyres on stage at Gillioz Theatre, he hopes to make opera more accessible.
“Yes, opera can be elitist,” Spyres says. “But it’s also inclusive. It should be inclusive. We should shy away from the fact that it’s hoity-toity.”
The kinds of stories found in opera, from new pieces like “Sweet Louisa” to Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” written in 1787, are nice to see reflected in art, Spyres says: “Opera is the manifestation of these deep-seated inner feelings that are in us and society, and our job is to portray it on stage.”
Spyres says up next in Springfield is a family collaboration with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra in May 2023.
“My life is so crazy right now,” Spyres says from Paris, where he is recording a new album.
Spyres says that morning he traveled from Madrid, where he attended the International Opera Awards and an after-party celebrating his Best Solo Recording for the album “BariTenor.” His wife, Tara, will join him in southern France, where they’ll perform at two festivals, and then it’s back to more album recording before his next visit home.
Spyres says sometimes the recording and performing process feels like being in a machine. “It’s a weird process, but I love it,” he says.
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