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Roll over Puccini, and tell Hank Williams the news

Bill DeYoung



The Opera Cowgirls have three bay area performances this week. Publicity photos.

There’s a thin line, singer Caitlin McKechney believes, between opera – that’s her chosen profession – and country music (her other great love).

“Interestingly,” McKechney points out, “so many opera arias have chord progressions that are not dissimilar from country music. And many of the topics they cover are very similar – it’s all about heartbreak and love lost, and drinking songs.”

As the founder of head wrangler of Opera Cowgirls, a five-woman lineup of classically-trained, professional opera singers who combine the highbrow stuff with classic country, McKechney has put a lot of thought into this genre-comparison business.

And she has a clever tagline: “Grand Opera Meets the Grand Ole Opry.” She’s very proud of it, thank you.

Caitlyn McKechney founded Opera Cowgirls in New York City.

“Our thesis behind the band is that these two seemingly totally disparate art forms are actually not that far apart,” she says. “When you play Verdi on banjolele, it just works really easily. It’s almost disconcerting how easily it translates.”

 The Opera Cowgirls have three local dates this week – Thursday at the Tampa Theatre, Friday at Opera Central (headquarters of St. Petersburg Opera Company) and Sunday at the Floridian Social Club.

“We will take favorite and familiar opera tunes, and self-accompany on our country-ish instruments,” says McKechney. “I play the guitar and banjolele. We have a cello which sort of acts like a standup bass, and things like accordions and melodicas and mandolins.”

There are other instruments, too. But the focus – on the country songs and the opera selections – is on the five voices.

“Because we’re all well-trained vocalists, we pride ourselves on having awesome vocal harmonies – and we do throw in some angelic high notes. But we also feel that these country songs should be honored as they great tunes that they are, so we really try to do them justice.”

McKechney, a mezzo soprano, and soprano Jessica Sandidge are the only members of the quintet who have (so far) performed with St. Pete Opera. Sandidge was in La Traviata, while McKechney had a role in Kiss Me Kate.

The other singer/instrumentalists are Maria Maxfield, Mila Henry and Sarah Beckham-Turner.

Opera Cowgirls began in New York a decade ago. “It sort of started slowly, with singers and musicians coming and going,” McKechney explains. “I moved to Miami for a couple of years to work with Florida Grand Opera, and once I was finally back in New York more full-time – around 2015 – the group that’s really the core of the Opera Cowgirls jelled.”

The pandemic sent several band members out of New York, scurrying for home, where they eventually found work and decided to re-settle. But their dedication to the band remained, even though the Opera Cowgirls now reside in several different states.

“It’s too unique,” offers McKechney, “and we all felt like it was too important – to us, and to the genre. We really see ourselves as advocates and ambassadors for opera as a whole. Because we’re all also soloists who love the purest form of opera as well.

“It’s a way for people who might not go see Tosca realize that they actually do like opera – and they’ll go see Tosca and be further blown away. Our mission is to do that.

“And for us, as a group, to have a great time. Which we always do.”

Tickets for all shows  are available here


















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