UNLV Opera presents ‘Le Comte Ory’ featuring its own TikTok star

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Photo by Medel Aquino.

UNLV’s award-winning opera is preparing to stage “Le Comte Ory,” a medieval-themed play featuring UNLV’s TikTok star Christian Shelton in the leading role.

The play, which is set during medieval times and narrates the stories of Count Ory, is directed by Linda Lister, director of Opera Theater and professor of music, and conducted by Darryl Cooper, music director and vocal coach for opera studies at UNLV. The play will be performed in French, with English supertitles displayed above the stage to provide translations.

In her written interview, Lister talks about the history of UNLV Opera. “UNLV Opera was founded in 1972 by Emerita Professor of Voice Carol Kimball. I have been Director of UNLV Opera since 2011. Since then, UNLV Opera has won six national awards, most recently second place in the 2024 National Opera Association Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition.” 

She describes the upcoming play as follows, “With music by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini, the comic opera ‘Le Comte Ory’ is based on the French play by Eugène Scribe and Charles-Gaspard Delestre-Poirson. Set in medieval times, it follows the antics of Count Ory, who disguises himself first as a hermit and then as a nun to enter the castle of Formoutiers and woo the Countess Adele. I think of it as a medieval operatic version of ‘Wedding Crashers.’”

“The most striking thing about the show is its mix of disguises. The Count takes on several personas- first a religious hermit, then a nun named Colette. He leads a group of knights all disguised as nuns in a scene that’s like a mashup of Sister Act and Some Like It Hot,” she adds. 

As Lister mentions, the cast of “Le Comte Ory” comprises UNLV undergraduate voice majors and graduate students, including Christian Shelton, Collin Salmon, Xinyu Pan-Herrington, Alonna Younger-Naughton, Ana Elisa Portes, Courtney Schwalbe, Dongmin Byeon, Aaron Oberlander, Valeria Ore and Yile Huang, Chase Orlando Gutierrez, Danielle Noletto and Ana Rangel Ortiz. Lister adds, “The production/design staff is mostly UNLV theatre students.”

Christian Shelton, UNLV’s famous TikTok star with over 800,000 followers, plays the leading character Count Ory in “Le Comte Ory.”

In his written interview, Shelton says, “‘Le Comte Ory’ is a very funny opera. The story follows the Count Ory, who is the character I am singing. He is a mischievous character who puts on many disguises, including a nun and a hermit, all to be able to spend alone time with the countess.” He also adds that they will sing the same parts with Collin Salmon on different days.

Shelton says he started singing classical music while he was in high school, “I went to The Las Vegas Academy of Arts which aided in my love of opera. My amazing high school choir teacher, Megan Franke, put me in contact with my voice teacher Dr. Anderson who I have been studying with since 2018.” 

Shelton continues to talk about taking opera education at UNLV and discussing the character he portrays, saying, “Being a UNLV opera student is great! Often at other major universities in the country, major roles in opera productions are reserved for graduate students whether that be masters or doctoral students. This is my very first full opera role, and I feel very blessed and honored to be the leading role in the opera, while simultaneously being the youngest only undergraduate in a principal role.”  

When asked about his notable success on TikTok, Shelton mentions that he began his journey on the platform in 2020, at the onset of the pandemic, “I needed an outlet to sing. I decided to post one video on TikTok and was surprised by the response of all of the viewers. For the last four years I have posted regularly on TikTok, and I have amassed over 800,000 followers which I am incredibly grateful for. It still sometimes doesn’t feel real when you say that number out loud. I really didn’t post a lot of opera content until last year and could not believe how many people said that they loved opera and knew so many of the composers and arias that I post.” He adds, “My operatic content happens very naturally because often I post performances and rehearsals that I am already participating in.”

Another star in the cast of “Le Comte Ory” is Ana Elisa Portes, who portrays the character of Count’s page, Isolier. “My character Isolier is a young, courageous, and charming man who wants to win the heart of the Countess. He is smart and ambitious, but also passionate, loyal and honest,” says Portes.

Portes, the winner of the 2023 UNLV Concerto Competition, says that after receiving her diploma in music education, she decided to apply to a vocal performance program in a larger city, “I was 21 years old and knew nothing about opera; my goal was to pursue a career as a chorister. When I entered the program and began to work on solo repertoire and technique, I fell in love with opera and a new and fascinating world opened up to me.”

Portes emphasizes the multidisciplinary aspect of opera while sharing her thoughts and emotions about it and explains, “Opera is beautiful because it is a genre that encompasses so many different artistic fields: literature, music, plastic and visual arts, dance, costumes, staging, etc. It is fascinating because, like any other live performance, it has a vulnerable and ephemeral aspect that makes each performance unique.”

UNLV Opera’s medieval-themed play “Le Comte Ory,” which carries elements of humor, mystery and drama, will run at the Judy Bayley Theatre on March 8 and 9.More information about the play and tickets can be found at  https://www.unlv.edu/event/unlv-opera-theater-le-comte-ory-1

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