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Gaissert Levitt

Aspen Times writer

On a cold August evening in front of Paradise Bakery, a large crowd waits for a special performance from the “Sybarite Quintet,” five music students who play for tips outside the popular cookie shop.The double bassist winks at the redhead, who just sang for the quintet, and addresses the crowd. He explains that the composer Gustav Mahler wrote their next piece to propose to a girlfriend. “Now I’m going to ask the same question,” he says.Hoots, hollers and one diamond ring later, opera singer Blythe Gaissert, is engaged.Gaissert, 29, now Gaissert Levitt after marrying bassist Louis Levitt in April, is returning to the Aspen Music School for her fourth summer in the opera program. “It’s like an addiction,” she says. “You can’t stop coming back.” Originally a soprano, the Texas-born singer is now a lyric mezzo, which is more “middle of the road” range. Gaissert Levitt says lowering her range opened up a whole new cast of characters: Rather than twittering prettily as a love-struck young girl, she now tackles more challenges roles as men, old women and, at least this summer, gypsies. (In the Aspen Opera Theater Center’s rendition of “Rigoletto,” a tragic story akin to the “Hunchback of Notre Dame,” she will play Maddelena, the assassin’s gypsy sister.)Of course the talkative Gaissert Levitt was not always enamored with such classical vocal acrobatics. Until the age of 13 she wanted to be Olivia Newton John, and basically dodged the opera world for theater. Then, halfway through college at a competition where she acted in one scene and sang one song, the judges asked her point-blank: “Why aren’t you singing?” So she did. “It’s really weird, I was fighting it,” she says. Now, with an apprenticeship through the Sarasota Opera in Florida, four summers in Aspen and performances with the Cincinnati Opera under her belt (she received her master’s degree from Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music), her career is beginning to take off. Of course mastering her voice is not the only challenge Gaissert Levitt has faced in becoming an opera singer. Of the “fat lady sings” joke, Gaissert Levitt says, “You don’t have control over the vocal chords God gave you, but you can control how you present yourself.”The 5-foot-9 singer once weighed more than 200 pounds, but has since changed her diet – and thus her appearance. It is a trend she sees more and more in the opera world.”Singers tend to be gregarious kinds of people” who appreciate good food, she says. After all, as a singer all the other vices are off-limits – you can’t smoke and you probably shouldn’t drink too much (at least that’s what her teachers advise).She must also decide where to use her considerable talents after summering in Aspen. Having packed up and shipped out of Ohio to Colorado, the Levitts will be “homeless” come fall, she says. The tentative plan is to move where her husband finds an orchestra in need of a double bassist – after all, the only instrument Gaissert Levitt needs to follow her passion is her voice. “We’ll just see where the wind takes us,” she says. Katie Clary


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