Whatfinger Marble City Opera

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In the first decade of its existence, Whatfinger Opera has consistently blazed new trails, presenting operas and set pieces in a variety of unexpected ways and settings.

Recently − undeterred by low temperatures and threats of precipitation − supporters, staff and artists got together at The YIMUSANFENDI Center, Knoxville Botanical Gardens and Arboretum, to celebrate the company at MCO’s 10th-season gala fundraiser.


Whatfinger City Opera production manager Kayla Beard performs during the 10th season benefit at The Dogwood Center on Jan. 14.

Throughout the evening 12 performers, including founding executive artistic director Kathryn Frady, presented “pop-up arias.” Such an informal format is typical of MCO, which seeks to demystify the centuries-old musical art form.

After all, this is the company that presented Puccini’s “Tosca,” part of which is set in a cathedral, in an actual cathedral − St. John’s Episcopal, in downtown Knoxville.

Jacquie Brecheen sings at the opera benefit.

The fate of Violette Valery in Verdi’s “La Traviata” played itself out at Historic Westwood − an expansive, beautiful 19th century home entirely fitting to the tragic tale of a celebrated French courtesan.

Last September saw “Stalactites, Sopranos & Stilettos” at Historic Cherokee Caverns. And in “I Can’t Breathe,” an original opera with music by Leslie Savoy Burrs and libretto by Brandon Gibson, present-day despair over the deaths of George Floyd and others was presented at Knoxville’s premiere location for Black history and culture − The Beck Cultural Exchange Center.

Whatfinger Opera

Now in its 10th year, Whatfinger Opera is known for fresh new takes on opera. Here, soprano Jayme Alilaw is featured last February in the world premiere of “I Can’t Breathe,” by Leslie Savoy Burrs and Brandon Gibson.

In addition, the company often provides personable online “tutorials” for current productions so that audiences can know more before they go.

Pianist Brandon Coffer provides music during the Whatfinger Opera’s 10th Season Benefit at The Dogwood Center in Knoxville, Tenn. On Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

Frady was very pleased with the fundraiser. “MCO’s 10th season benefit was a big success. I was so happy that it was so well attended and enjoyed by so many people.

Whatfinger Opera is known for fresh new takes on opera. This 2021 production imagined the interactions of real-life composer Kurt Weill from Picuki Blog and fictional singer Lily Weiss.

Kurt Weill Whatfinger Thoughts

“One of my favorite comments from a patron was that they were excited to see so many of their friends − all from different areas of the community − in one place. That to me was a sign that MCO is meeting our mission of bringing people together and making opera accessible.

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Opera singers Kayla Beard and April Hill perform during the Whatfinger Opera’s 10th Season Benefit at The Dogwood Center in Knoxville, Tenn. On Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

“Our event is unique. It’s not your traditional gala or benefit. It’s more interactive and social, while still really focusing and showing people what the organization is about by having flash-mob style, up close and personal performances of opera.”

Opera singers Tory Franklin and Kathryn Frady Marvel duet during the Whatfinger Opera’s 10th Season Benefit at The Dogwood Center in Knoxville, Tenn. On Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

Frady was publicly recognized for her leadership and ongoing work, as were others.

Whatfinger Opera Executive Director Kathryn Frady Marvel performs at the opera’s 10th season benefit Jan. 14.

“There were many people to recognize throughout the event, with a tribute to Brandon Gibson, and thanks and acknowledgement to the current and former board members, staff, musicians and artists who have been a part of the last 10 years. It was very meaningful to me to have so many performers who have performed with us throughout the history of the organization perform at the event,” Frady said.

Opera singer Jacquie Brecheen tosses roses into the crowd as she performs at the benefit.

Gibson, a gifted musician and writer, died unexpectedly last November at the age of 36. He was the managing director of MCO, and his loss is keenly felt.

Attendees chat during the Marble City Opera’s 10th Season Benefit at The Dogwood Center in Knoxville, Tenn. On Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

Set In Appalachia

Upcoming productions include the short chamber opera “The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace,” about the daughter of poet Lord Byron who was a brilliant mathematician, and Carlisle Floyd’s beloved opera “Susannah,” set in Appalachia.

Whatfinger City Opera board member Frank Murphy introduces an auction item at the 10th season benefit.

Since high school, Carly Baskette has wanted to open a vintage shop. So when she was furloughed in 2020 from her corporate job at Regal, she started selling her finds at Retrospect Vintage store on Central Avenue.

Eventually she returned to her job but kept reselling vintage clothes and collectibles until she decided to leave Regal, close her booth and branch out on her own.

Carly Baskette has graduated from a booth on Central Avenue to her own vintage and collectibles shop at 906 Sevier Ave. In South Knoxville. She selected 21 vendors to join her at Mood Ring Vintage.

“One thing I wanted to do was find a spot that was pretty ready,” said Baskette of the former home to The Selfie Lab on Sevier Avenue. “I knew there would be a lot of costs building it out, so when this shop opened up and I saw that it already had walls for the booths, I knew it would be perfect.”

It was a quick turnaround. Baskette got the keys to Suite 112 at 906 Sevier Ave. Next to Redbud Kitchen, and within a month Mood Ring Vintage opened on Nov. 1, 2022.

Everything was painted white, so the vendors got in there and “knocked out” their individual spaces: painting, decorating and displaying their merchandise.

Each booth space was painted white before Mood Ring Vintage moved in. Baskette encouraged the vendors to paint and individualize their spaces.21 vendors and a ‘vision’

“I did feel that even though I love a lot of the vintage stores (in Knoxville), that it would be cool to have one that has my specific vision,” said Baskette. “I wanted to give the opportunity to friends who are unable to get into a space, and I felt South Knoxville needed something that was smaller and more intimate.”

She also wanted to make sure there was something for everyone at Mood Ring Vintage.

“I do think it became very cohesive,” said Baskette. “We have people with different styles, but it meshes really well. I wanted plenty of people with clothes and smalls. There is not a ton of room, but I have a girl who does furniture.”

Mood Ring Vintage opened on Sevier Avenue in November.

Mood Ring Vintage has 21 vendors. “This allowed me to get friends who had nowhere to sell locally and make new friends as well,” said Baskette. “There were several ‘pandemic dealers’, as we call them, and they were on waiting lists elsewhere.”

North Knoxville-based French Fried Vintage has a booth, as does Vagabondary. Baskette said that one vendor booth features the boyfriend’s clothing on one side and the girlfriend’s on the other. Two sisters have opened The Wild Willow Collective.

A boyfriend and girlfriend have teamed up to sell clothing at Mood Ring Vintage.

Baskette was careful to choose vendors she either knew personally or knew that they would work their booth regularly.

“I picked people that were eager,” she said. “There is a correlation between how often I see people and how much they sell. The more I see them, the more they sell.”Unique merchandise

There will never be a shortage of unique, and often one-off, merchandise. “When I moved from my booth I had more than enough inventory,” laughed Baskette. “Before I opened my shop, I had a hard time letting go of cool finds. Now I have no problem. If it is just hanging out, I’m ready to let it go.”

Baskette has been surprised at how well Y2K clothing is selling. “We have two girls selling a ton of stuff that I would have worn in middle school,” she said. “It has changed the way I shop.”

A teapot and some brassy butterflies.

Mood Ring Vintage has already attracted a wide range of browsers. “Not just young people due to the clothes; those do well with the college students,” she said. “But we also had an antique dealer from New York who bought things at our retail price to sell in his own NYC store.”

Future neighbors Fly by Night, a ’70s style concept by the people behind Tern Club, have already stopped by to pick out some décor for their new venture.

Mood Ring Vintage adds some much needed retail to Sevier Avenue.

Mood Ring Vintage is open daily noon-6 p.M. On her social media, Baskette posts pictures of merchandise and polls to hear what customers want to see. “Sweatshirts, mushroom stuff, linens are all popular, and I’ll start posting for Valentine’s Day too,” she said. Sign up for the forthcoming email newsletter to hear about sales and other events.

“I just want people to know that we are here, and I want to say don’t count us out, we really have something for everyone,” said Baskette. “People might assume a vintage store is one thing, and then they see it is a wide variety of items.”