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Buffalo's Nickel City Opera Presents SHOT! An Original Work By Persis Vehar Based On The Assassination Of President William McKinley At The 1901 Pan American Exposition

Buffalo, New York - Out of a sense of homegrown spirit and pride, Nickel City Opera enlisted the 27 time ASCAP award winning composer, Persis Vehar to set a libretto to music based on the assassination of President William McKinley at the 1901 Pan American Exposition by Polish-American dissident and self proclaimed anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Commissioned by Dr. Judith Wolf and written by librettist Gabrielle Vehar, 'SHOT!' dramatizes the events before, during and after President McKinley's death providing the flavor of Buffalo in 1901 including actual songs that were written about the Pan American Exposition and its' relationship to Buffalo.

General Director Valerian Ruminski (Metropolitan Opera/New York City Opera), a Cheektowaga, NY native, wanted to create a new opera around a pivotal time in history. "Opera is always about life and death. The assassination of President McKinley changed the world. Any event that changed the world is a good subject for an opera and I wanted to present this tragedy within the genre. An assassination, a death row inmate, the underground railroad and fascism have all been subjects of new operas. SHOT! breathes life into the relevance of the art form as well as the subject matter. For an arts organization to grow you have to challenge yourself."

Valerian Ruminski

Now in it's 8th Season, Nickel City Opera has performed works in the standard repertoire from Puccini, Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. Ruminski has been planning on programming SHOT! for a number of years, and feels that the company is ready to present this World Premiere. With so many ties to the city of Buffalo, it is only fitting that the opera will be produced on the stage of the historic Shea's Buffalo Theatre. This will be the first time a local company has staged an opera at Shea's since the Greater Buffalo Opera Company's last performances in 1997. SHOT! engages a full chorus, orchestra, costumes and sets that help suggest the excitement of the electrification seen at the Pan Am by many for the first time, utilizing a combination on projections and set pieces.

Rendering of set and projections for Pan American scene

Ruminski will be portraying President McKinley and tapped into his vast network of colleagues for the cast. John Packard, last seen at Nickel City as Count Di Luna in Il Trovatore returns to Buffalo as assassin Leon Czolgosz, the tormented self proclaimed anarchist influenced by political activist Emma Goldman. An internationally recognized helden tenor, John originated the role of Joseph De Rocher in the San Francisco Opera premiere of 'Dead Man Walking' and appeared in the NCO productions of 'Rigoletto' and 'The Barber of Seville'.

Rounding out the cast as First Lady Ida McKinley, Maria Teresa Magisano (New York City Opera/Vancouver Opera) appeared as the Countess in NCO's production of 'The Marriage of Figaro' and Eric Fennell (New York City Opera/Glimmerglass Opera) as Staff Secretary Mr. Cortelyou. Local favorites, Jena Abati (NCO's production of La Boheme/The Marriage of Figaro), Jessica Best (Gotham Chamber Opera/Finger Lakes Opera) and local tenor Stephen MacDonald (lead singer of Buffalo's legendary rock bandcRobin) as 'The Vaudevillian', our host for the evening. International Soprano Michele Capalbo (Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, France, the Canadian Opera Company and San Francisco Opera), who most recently portrayed TOSCA to great acclaim in Nickel City's Opera's 2014 production portrays Emma Goldman, the leader of the Anarchist movement in the USA.

David Grabarkewitz, Director

Stage Director David Grabarkewitz returns to Nickel City Opera after directing it's 2013 production of DON PASQUALE. He served as The New York City Opera's Resident Stage Director from 1995-2010 and as Artistic and General Director of El Paso Opera from 2009-2015. His staging of MADAMA BUTTERFLY for The New York City Opera won the 2008 Prime Time Emmy Award for Best Live Performance, Music or Dance.

Grabarkewitz has done extensive research regarding this important event in American history, but also notes that this was a very historic time for anarchist caused assassinations around the world. King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated in 1900 and Alexander I of Serbia was assassinated in 1903. He notes that in interviews Leon Czolgosz stated "all these people seemed to be bowing to the great ruler. I made up my mind to kill that ruler."

Mr. Garabrakewitz fully realizes the importance of accurately bring to the stage this part of Buffalo's history while honoring the the composer's decisions. Vehar has added a character named the Vaudevillian to introduce each scene, giving a framework and commentary for the action. He describes how the opera starts with a cast of 60 onstage to convey the excitement of the Pan Am Exposition and President McKinley's visit, but by the final scene the opera is pared down to two characters, with President and Mrs. McKinley on his death bed. These private final hours attempt to dramatize their love story, as well as the First Lady's anguish.

Persis Vehar, Composer

Composer Persis Vehar (Eleanor Roosevelt/Hill of Bones) believes that a natural evolution from music of the past, wedded to new and different ideas, makes for accessibility and listenability for both opera audiences and those new to opera. "Based on traditional operas successful for centuries, SHOT! contains a drinking song, death scene, recurrent motives and conflicting personalities. The musical style includes syncopation and mixed meters, diatonic with chromaticism and jazzlike elements. A Vaudevillian, like a Greek Chorus, introduces scenes with recitatives (spoken word) and 1901 melodies. After a 'McKinley Two Step' and a 'gay '90s like song', the love story between the President and his wife Ida unfolds."

Michael Ching, Conductor

SHOT! will be conducted by Nickel City Opera's Music Director Michael Ching. The former Artistic Director of Opera Memphis, Maestro Ching is a noted composer himself and his opera SPEED DATING TONIGHT! has been programmed over twenty times since its premiere at the Janiec Opera of the Brevard Music Center in July 2013. This spring, the opera will play at UT El Paso, Vanderbilt University, University of South Carolina, Emerald City Opera (Colorado), Humboldt State University (California), and Arkansas State University. His most recent one act opera, ALICE RYLEY, was commissioned and premiered by the Savannah Voice Festival in October 2015. ALICE featured a speaking role for baritone Sherrill Milnes. Michael is currently writing another one act for Savannah Voice Festival. His 2010 opera, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella, was recorded and released on Albany Records and his PIANO CONCERTO will be rereleased on a 25th anniversary recording by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra.


In 1901, the world came to Buffalo to celebrate peace and prosperity between North and South America. The Pan American Exposition was called "The Rainbow City" for its celebration of light, color, and architecture. The Expo offered companies, cities and countries an opportunity to show off their agricultural techniques, technological innovations, and cultural contributions to the world. Millions of people came from every corner of the globe to see the spectacle.

SHOT! will be performed Friday, June 10th at 8:00pm and Sunday, June 12th at 2:30pm. Tickets available at the Shea's Performing Arts Center box office at 650 Main Street, Buffalo or by calling Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000 or

For more information, including a SHOT! Video Promo, visit:

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