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How one couple turned their love story into a Kansas City opera company

Landlocked Opera, Inc
Landlocked Opera
Jonathan Ray and Christina Casey-Ray (center) of Landlocked Opera.

Landlocked Opera, founded by real-life couple Jonathan Ray and Christina Casey-Ray, celebrates Valentine's Day with a night of romantic music from Giuseppe Verdi, performed by talented Kansas City artists.

This story was first published in Classical KC's "Take Note" newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox the first Wednesday of every month.

When a love story is wrapped in a love story, it’s probably an opera.

Jonathan Ray and Christina Casey-Ray fell in love with opera separately, but it was the genre that brought them together, performing the lead roles in Hector Berlioz’ “Béatrice et Bénédict” at Louisiana State University.

“We got to play two passionate enemies turned lovers, and it translated into our own lives — well, not the enemies part," said Casey-Ray, laughing. "We feel very blessed when we have the opportunity to perform together and to share the thing we love most with the person we love most.”

Now based in Kansas City, Ray and Casey-Ray started the company Landlocked Opera.

“We decided that we wanted to start our own company so we could bring positive experiences in this art form to anybody who wants to share it, whether it’s a singer, a crew member, or an audience member. We want people to realize that opera is a joy, not life and death,” said Ray.

Casey-Ray agreed.

“We saw a need for something like community opera to give all of the amazingly talented artists who live here locally an opportunity to hone their craft and to give them a safe space to perform leading roles and, possibly, perform things that they’ve never had the opportunity to do otherwise," she said.

Landlocked Opera's 'A Very Verdi Valentine's' will take place on Feb. 12.
Landlocked Opera
Landlocked Opera's 'A Very Verdi Valentine's' will take place on Feb. 12.

The company hosts a love-themed benefit concert on February 12: "A Very Verdi Valentine’s." Originally intended to be a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” health and safety precautions and logistical concerns prevented their fully-fledged vision.

“We decided to make lemonade out of lemons and utilize the amazing artists we had secured to do mini sections of ‘La Traviata’ and portions of other Verdi operas and Verdi art songs,” said Casey-Ray.

The show evolved into a varied Verdi concert, focused on love stories. “Who doesn’t think of passionate lovers when they think of Verdi operas!” she laughed.

The concert is at Westport Presbyterian Church, with a suggested donation of $20, and the fundraising event includes a raffle for chocolates and wine. The concert will also be streamed on Landlocked’s YouTube page.

In a way, “La Traviata” started it all. Casey-Ray saw a performance with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City when she was just 16. “I’ve been hooked ever since!” she said.

And while Verdi neglected to write a love duet for mezzo and tenor, “we always look for opportunities to be able to sing together,” said Ray. Their favorite duets include “People will say we’re in love” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” and “Un soave non so che” from Gioachino Rossini’s “La Cenerentola.”

“It brings us back to our very first show that we did together,” said Ray. “The chance to sing with my crush is always a great blessing to me.”

For more Landlocked Opera, listen to their December 2020 interview on Classical KC.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.