Chicago Tribune article
August 7, 1992

American Gets Calling to Bring Opera on Christ’s Life to Russia

by Carey Kinsolving

Basso Jerome Hines of New York’s Metropolitan Opera was strolling around Red Square in Moscow last summer when he had an inspiration. He said he felt God telling him to bring his opera based on the life of Christ to the famed Bolshoi Theatre.

When Hines returned to the United States, he called Patrick Kavanaugh, director of the 500-member Christian Performing Arts Fellowship in Washington, D.C. Last month Kavanaugh carried Hines’ dream to Moscow with prayers, albeit strong doubts.

“Quite frankly, I didn’t think this was going to come off,” Kavanaugh said. “I was already aware that the Bolshoi had refused the Metropolitan Opera. In the theater’s 200-year-old history, operators had never allowed an American opera to come in.”

At first, Kavanaugh’s calls were greeted skeptically. Even efforts to get a ticket to a performance at the Bolshoi failed.

Finally, Kavanaugh called Vladamir Oielen, a music critic and publisher of a Christian newsletter who had once been a schoolmate of the Bolshoi’s director.

Soon, doors began to open. Two days later, Kavanaugh was watching an opera at the Bolshoi from the director’s personal box with the director at his side. At a meeting with Bolshoi officials, Kavanaugh explained that his company wanted to perform the opera for free. When he added that all the performers, including Jerome Hines, would donate their time, skepticism grew.

“The raised eyebrows took care of the translation problem,” Kavanaugh said. He said he sensed that Bolshoi officials were trying to “size up this supposed capitalist who was not making any money on the deal.”

After the shock subsided, Kavanaugh and Bolshoi officials signed an agreement for two performances of Hines’ 1952 opera, “I Am the Way.” They are scheduled for July 5 and 7, 1993. On July 4, Kavanaugh plans to perform Handel’s “Messiah.”

Kavanaugh said about 100 Washington-area performers will make the Moscow trip.

Kavanaugh finds irony in the Russians’ acceptance of an opera based on the life of Christ. Back home, the director of a Washington theater had rejected the production because he felt it might offend his patrons. Yet, Bolshoi officials said that they wanted the opera precisely because of its spiritual nature.

Performing at the Bolshoi will be new for all the performers except one. During the height of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, Premier Nikita Khrushchev led a standing ovation for Hines’ title role in “Boris Godunov.”

Hines said composing “I Am the Way” was a life-changing experience for him. It compelled him, he said in a recent interview, to read the Bible deeply for the first time.

“I’d swept through the Bible years before to say I had read it, but had not made much of a dent in it. But in writing the opera, I was concentrating a lot on the Gospel of John, which is a pretty potent book.”

In his autobiography, “This Is My Story, This Is My Song,” Hines chronicles his search for God. “I had always been led by my intellect and, in a fashion, I worshiped it,” he wrote.

“Now I was about to learn to be led by God himself – by his revelation. I discovered that Jesus Christ is a reality… living today – in my heart!”

Washington Post article
November 30, 1991

An Alliance of Talent and Prayer

Christian Performing Artists Fellowship to Present ‘Messiah’

by Carey Kinsolving

What began with a prayer meeting here in 1984 has grown to an organization of more than 500 musicians and dancers, including Metropolitan Opera singers Jerome Hines and Myra Merritt, who perform as a sign of their commitment to the Christian faith.

And at 8 p.m. Friday in Constitution Hall, the group, Christian Performing Artists Fellowship, will present a free performance of Handel’s “Messiah,” its fourth and final production of the season.

Merritt, one of the soloists, turned down a request for a paid performance elsewhere Friday, and, like all members of the organization, will sing without pay.

In the world of opera, Merritt has sterling credentials. She has sung with the Met for 12 years, and last year, Glamour magazine named her as one of the outstanding women in classical music.

“I am really excited about being on stage with Christians who are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” Merritt said recently. “Because we are there for the express purpose of exalting the gospel of Christ through the dancers, singers and instrumentalists, I think it will be a unique and fulfilling experience.”

The genesis for the performing fellowship was a 1984 prayer meeting of Robert Kavanaugh and three couples who met to consider their undefined desire to minister to the performing arts community.

“We felt God was calling us to have an impact for Christ in the world of performing arts. We never dreamed it would grow to this extent,” said Kavanaugh, executive director of the fellowship and conductor of the Asaph Ensemble, the fellowship’s performing group, named after King David’s choir director. He said the director of a major opera company once asked him how he had managed to assemble such a notable cast. “We just pray,” Kavanaugh replied.

In addition to performing for free, cast members for the organization’s productions also give up many of the comforts often associates with major stars.

In its last major production, “Mefistofele” at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Hines, one of the world’s foremost bass singers, and a Metropolitan Opera cast drove to Washington because the fellowship couldn’t afford to pay for plane tickets.

Kavanaugh said that to save money, the 6-foot-7-inch Hines was prepared to sleep on Kavanaugh’s living room sofa. But the manager of a Washington hotel, an opera lover, donated rooms for Hines and the cast, Kavanaugh said.

Another unusual aspect of the fellowship’s performances is its forthright embrace of Christian values and teaching in each production’s printed program. In that distributed for the “Mefistofele” concert, Hines said: “Although we certainly want to entertain you with the finest production possible, our desire is to also share with you the love that God so freely bestows upon us through his son, Jesus Christ.”

Some performers say the fellowship’s mission has made a difference in the way they view their talent. “The difference between dancing in the Asaph Ensemble and dancing in a major company is that the dancers glorify God and not themselves,” Robin Sturm said.

Sturm and her husband, Robert, with professional dance experience at the Washington Ballet, teach classes in their Manassas dance studio. But as volunteers, they are principal dancers and choreographers for the dance company that will perform Friday night.

They and others in the 100-plus cast will be participating Friday night in what is another distinction of the fellowship’s performances. About a half-hour before the curtain goes up, instead of the circus atmosphere at productions by more secular groups, cast members will be standing in a circle with their heads bowed in prayer.

Friday’s performance, which includes Respeghi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 2,” has been sold out or given out, but seats will be available for those without tickets at 7:45 p.m. No one has ever been turned away from a performance, Kavanaugh said.