Tirana, Albania
The National Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Albania

October 25 – 30, 2011

2011-2013 SEASONS ~

Encompass Tenors Performed Internationally
in "Tre Tenoret" Concert Broadcast on New Year's Day!

Read about the Event

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Elizabeth Lewis of the American Embassy in Albania wrote us on December 27th:

“Eapen and Matt were extraordinary! And the concert was a smashing success. Thanks for your pivotal role in making it happen for us. The concert will be broadcast on Albanian Public Television on New Year’s Day. Our heartfelt thanks to you for all of your help in finding such wonderful tenors.”


Tirana, Albania — 2014

Robert Balonek, Baritone  Hailing from Rochester NY, Robert always had a love for music.
Robert went to SUNY Purchase College in Westchester where he started training with his first teacher, Jacque Trussel. During this time he performed The title roles in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Gianni Schicchi.

He also performed Ottone in Poppea, both Ferdinand and Prospero in the NY Premiere of Lee Hoiby's The Tempest, as well as the world Premiere of Raphaël Lucas' Confession.

After Purchase, Robert moved to Manhattan where he received a professional studies diploma from Mannes School of Music under the tutelage of Bonnie Hammilton. Robert performed Guglielmo in Cosi Fan Tutte as well asFord in Falstaff.  in 2013, Robert was in collaboration with new composers such as Zachary Johnson (Boston Tea Party Opera) Gerald Cohen (Steal A Pencil For Me) and Stefnia DeKenessey (Bonfires of the Vanity).

Tirana, Albania
November 23, 2013 — December 2, 2013

In 2013, Encompass New Opera Theatre hosted two singers from the United States who will perform on National Albanian Television in a worldwide classical opera competition, established by Albanian producer, Zana Cela.

Elizabeth Baldwin, Soprano has studied at the Boston University Opera Institute and holds a Masters of Music degree in Vocal and Opera Performance from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana, where she studied with Metropolitan Opera stars Carol Vaness and Timothy R. Noble. She also holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Some of the major roles Ms. Baldwin has performed include:  Micaëla (Carmen); Countess (Le nozze di Figaro); Arabella (Arabella); La Ciesca (Gianni Schicchi); Mrs. Webb (Our Town); among others.  She is currently preparing the title role in Puccini’s Tosca at Kentucky Opera.

On the concert stage, Ms. Baldwin performed the soprano solos in Mendelssohn’s Elijah at Boston’s Symphony Hall and was the only vocalist in Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood On Parade 2010 concert where she sang selections from John Williams’ Seven For Luck with orchestra, in front of an audience of 15,000 people

Ms. Baldwin has participated in several opera programs including the San Francisco Merola Opera Program (2012), Chautauqua Opera Studio Artist Program (2006), and Virginia Opera Emerging Resident Artist Program (2009-2010 & 2011-2012). She participated in the Marilyn Horne Foundation’s “The Song Continues…2009” with Maestro James Levine at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Ms. Baldwin was a 2012 Semi-Finalist in New York’s Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions competition, as well as a 2011 Grand Prize winner in The William Matheus Sullivan Musical Foundation competition. She won First Place in both the National Orpheus Vocal Competition (2011) and The Heida Hermanns International Voice Competition (2010), among others.

José Rubio, Baritone  Internationally acclaimed Baritone performs at major and regional venues across the country.  He recently made his Carnegie Hall Recital Debut and The Opera Insider proclaimed that the "...recital was nothing short of stellar." describing the performance as " hour of intensely passionate singing and playing.  It could have gone on forever without complaint." 

Mr. Rubio's recent engagements include Cincinnati Opera, to reprise his roles of the Priest and 3rd Cardinal in Galileo Galilei, Guglielmo in Così fan Tutte for Tacoma Opera, Bob and Ben in The Old Maid and the Thief, and The Telephone with Brava!

Opera Theater, Marcello in La Bohème and Le Mari in the US premiere of the Benjamin Britten adaptation of Poulenc's Les Mamelles de Tiresias with Vespertine Opera, and a return to Portland Opera for the West Coast Premiere of Galileo Galilei, by Philip Glass.  He made his New York City operatic debut to great acclaim in Angel of the Amazon by Evan Mack,  a world premiere production with Encompass New Opera Theatre; and he can be heard on Albany Records' recording of the Encompass Opera premiere.  

In the summer of 2011, he performed the title role of Figaro in Il Barbiere di Siviglia with the Music Academy of the West, and Mr. Rubio was selected as runner up  in the prestigious Marilyn Horne Song Competition.  In 2010 he completed a 2-year engagement as a Studio Artist with the Portland Opera where he performed and covered over twelve roles for the mainstage, including: Schaunard in La Bohème, Sam in Trouble in Tahitti, Mercurio in La Calisto, Fiorello in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Marullo in Rigoletto, Barone Douphol in La Traviata, and Tancredi in Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.  His other leading credits include; Marcello in La Bohème, the title role in Gianni Schicchi, Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, Dr. Rappaccini in La Hija de Rappaccini, Papageno in The Magic Flute, and Masetto in Don Giovanni.

He received his Artist Diploma and Master’s degree from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and holds a Bachelor’s from the University of Washington.

In 2011, Encompass New Opera Theatre hosted Sara Heaton (soprano) and Ricardo Rivera (Baritone) from the United States who performed on National Albanian Television in a worldwide classical opera competition, established by Albanian producer, Zana Cela.


Sara sang Violeta's Aria from La Traviata.

Ricardo Rivera was highly regarded by the Jury Members for his talent and fine singing. He was one of the Finalists and he gave a great performance, and he was an audience favorite too.

The American Embassy Public Affairs Officer, Elizabeth Lewis, attended the two performances, and she was delighted. We thanked her and the Embassy for their support of our singers. 

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1st Place Winner

Sara Heaton

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Ricardo Rivera


Photos from the Competition:

Jury Members for the
Marie Kraja International Singing Competition


Inva Mula
(International opera singer, originally from Albania)


Luca Targetti
(Casting Director of La Scala, 1997 - 2010)


Cecilia Gasdia
(International opera singer, from Italy)


Curro Carrere

Curro Carrere
(Director de Escena Lirica: Opera & Zarzuela, Madrid)


Giovanna Lomazzi

Giovanna Lomazzi
(Vice-President, Aslico Ospite a Capri Opera Festival & Competition for young opera singers of Europe, Italy)


 Danusa Luknisova
(General Manager, Arte Musica Italia, Societa cooperativa di rappresentanza artistica)

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Nancy Rhodes
(Artistic Director, Encompass New Opera Theatre, New York City)

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Mr. B. Saphiu
 (singer and professor of music, Albania

The 2011 Winners of the
Marie Kraja International Singing Competition

FIRST PLACE Sara Heaton, Soprano, USA - hosted by Encompass
SECOND PLACE Luciana Distante, Soprano, Brazil
THIRD PLACE Lada Kysykova, Soprano, Kazakhstan
Arjol Xhaferri, Bass, Albania
Special Prize for Albanian Singers Klodian Kacani, Tenor
Arjol Xhaferri, Bass
FINALIST Ricardo Rivera, Baritone, USA - hosted by Encompass



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Othalie Graham,
Dramatic Soprano

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Joo Won Kang,



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3rd Place Winner

Michelle Trovato,
Lyric Coloratura Soprano



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1st Place Winner

Michael Anthony McGee, Baritone



Dec. 2014:

The Marie Kraja competition was an AMAZING experience! As one of the finalists from 17 singers from all over the world, it really helped boost my singing confidence. It was kind of like singing on American Idol, with swooping cameras and big screen monitors all around.

The orchestra was amazing and being able to sing those arias in Albania’s most famous hall was a huge thrill. Being immersed in not only their culture but the other singers as well was very enlightening. All the singers are still in touch today.

I had an incredible experience and met some wonderful new friends. I’ll never audition, perform or compete the same again.

Robert Balonek

Oct. 30:

Great news! Sara Heaton won FIRST PLACE! Sara sang Violeta's Aria from La Traviata. Big celebration and party afterwards!

Ricardo Rivera was highly regarded by the Jury Members for his talent and fine singing. He was one of the Finalists and he gave a great performance, and he was an audience favorite too. The American Embassy Public Affairs Officer, Elizabeth Lewis, attended the two performances, and she was delighted. We thanked her and the Embassy for their support of our singers.

That's all for now! On our way home today!


Oct. 29:

Tonight the Jury members for the Marie Kraja International Singing Competition saw seventeen singers from Albania, Brazil, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, South Africa, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and our two singers from the United States, Sara Heaton, soprano, and Ricardo Rivera, baritone. Each singer performed two classical arias with full orchestra on National Albanian Television.

At the end of the program, the jury members chose ten finalists and I am thrilled to report that both Sara and Ricardo were chosen to be finalists. They sang gloriously and are both strong competitors.

Now, tonight, Sunday, October 30th, all ten Finalists will each sing one aria chosen by the judges. Again, they will be filmed live for national Albanian television. It is getting more exciting by the moment. Stay tuned for the results coming soon!

From Tirana,

Oct. 28:

Ricardo Rivera and Sara Heaton, our two singers from the United States which Encompass New Opera Theatre sponsored for the Marie Kraja International Singing Competition, have been rehearsing with the orchestra in preparation for the first day of competition ... which begins this evening at 7:00 PM and will be filmed on National Albanian Television. Tonight the finalists will be selected by the Jury. There are seventeen singers from around the world. So, tonight will be exciting. The American Embassy in Tirana has supported our singers and my participation in the competition and we are very grateful for their support and to have this opportunity to represent artists from the USA.

More to come and I'll keep you posted! [Read more from Nancy on the Encompass Facebook page]

Oct. 10:

We're counting down the days!