Soloists Preparing For Messiah

A quintet of world-renowned solostos are preparing to perform in one of the longest running performances in the country at Bethany College. The Bethany Oratorio Society has announced the 2023 Messiah Festival of Arts soloists.

The Bethany Oratorio Society has performed Handel’s “Messiah” every year since 1882 and Bach’s “The Passion According to St. Matthew” since 1929. Guest soloists for this year’s concerts include Julianne Daviss ‘94, soprano; JoAna Rusche, mezzo-soprano; Gene Stenger, tenor; and Nicholas Skotzko, bass. Leslie John Flanagan, baritone, will also be featured in the performance of “The Passion According to St. Matthew.” Below is a brief biography of their work.

Davis, Rusche, Stenger, and Skotzko will perform a free recital at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 4 at Messiah Lutheran Church on the campus of Bethany College. They will also perform at the ticketed events, “The Passion According to St. Matthew” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 7 in Presser Hall Auditorium and Handel’s “Messiah” at 3 p.m., Sunday, April 9, in the same location. Purchase tickets for each concert at or by calling the festival office at (785) 227-3380, ext. 8235 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday. 


Soprano – Julianne Davis –  Julianne Davis ‘94 is an acclaimed soprano performer based in Longmont, Colorado. With over 15 years of experience as a vocal soloist, pianist, and choir director, she has performed in several prestigious venues and concerts, including appearances with the Boulder Chorale and the Boulder Symphony. Ms. Davis has also presented recitals in Longmont, Colo., Boulder, Colo., and Lindsborg, Kan., where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Music Education and Vocal Performance with a Minor in Sacred Music from Bethany College. During her time in Long Island, N.Y., Ms. Davis performed with the International Vocal Arts Institute and the Bronx Opera production of “La Traviata.” She was also active in church music and taught private piano and voice lessons while raising her three children. Ms. Davis holds a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Iowa and has studied with notable teachers and coaches such as Inci Bashar, Ashley Putnam, and Joan Dornemann. Ms. Davis is a member of Prima Trio, an ensemble composed of three singers and a pianist that found deep vocal and personal resonance with one another. The ensemble originated from First Lutheran Church in Longmont, and the name “Prima” is a nod to the church’s influence on the group. Ms. Davis looks back on her time at Bethany College with gratitude for the formative and inspiring experiences that have contributed to her success as a performer.

Mezzo-soprano – JoAna Rusche – JoAna Rusche, a mezzo-soprano, has been lauded by Opera News for her “notably sweet voice.” She is an Academy of Vocal Arts alumna and has played various roles, including Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni,” Fiora in “L’amore dei tre re,” Tamara in “The Demon,” and the Second Lady in “Die Zauberflöte.” In December, she performed as Carmen with Music On Site. She played the title role in “La Cenerentola” with Opera North, where the Rutland Herald praised her as “an effervescent Cinderella” and commended her for managing “Rossini’s florid lines with flair and warmth.” As a young artist with Palm Beach Opera, she premiered the role of Sheva Haddas in the world premiere of “Enemies, A Love Story” and served as an understudy for Rosina in “Il barbiere di Siviglia.” Ms. Rusche also performed as Soeur Mathilde in “Dialogues des Carmélites” during her three summers at the Caramoor International Music Festival, now known as Teatro Nuovo. Ms. Rusche won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions District twice, came in second place in the Birmingham Opera Competition and the Heafner-Williams Vocal Competition, and first place in the Long Leaf Opera National Vocal Competition. She holds degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of Michigan, where Dr. Louise Toppin was her instructor. She currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Central Arkansas.


Tenor – Gene Stenger – Gene Stenger, tenor, has been praised by The New York Times as an “impressive tenor” who sings with “sweet vibrancy,” according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer. He is a highly sought-after Bach specialist and is acclaimed for his performances of Handel, Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Mozart oratorios. Mr. Stenger’s 2022-2023 season includes solo debuts with the Helena Symphony (Handel’s “Messiah”), Messiah Festival of the Arts (Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” and Handel’s “Messiah”), and Canticum Novum (Bach’s “Mass in B Minor”), as well as returning solo appearances with the Buffalo Philharmonic (Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”), Eastern Connecticut Symphony (Britten’s “Serenade”), Pioneer Valley Symphony (Mozart’s “Mass in C Minor”), Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (Handel’s “Messiah”), Colorado Bach Ensemble (Handel’s “Messiah” and Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”), Baldwin Wallace University’s Bach Festival (“Mass in B Minor”), the Handel Society of Dartmouth College (Britten’s “Serenade” and Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”), TENET Vocal Artists (Bach’s “Magnificat” and “Easter Oratorio”), and Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity New York (BWV 62, 243, and 126). Originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., Mr. Stenger holds degrees from Yale University’s School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music, Colorado State University, and Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music. Recently, he played the role of the Minstrel (Narrator) in the world premiere recording of Arnold Rosner’s opera “The Chronicle of Nine” with Odyssey Opera and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP). He was also a tenor soloist in Schmelzer’s “Le Memorie Dolorose” with TENET Vocal Artists and ACRONYM and a tenor soloist on Yale Schola Cantorum’s album “Fauré Requiem” and other sacred music led by David Hill, released on Hyperion Records. Mr. Stenger lives in New Haven, Conn., where he serves as a voice instructor at Yale.


Bass – Nicholas Skotzko Nicholas Skotzko, a baritone from Vienna, Va., has been lauded for his “mellifluous” and “smooth” singing by the South Florida Classical Review. Mr. Skotzko began his musical training while living overseas with his parents and later attended the Washington National Opera Institute in 2015. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Oklahoma in 2020 and a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music in May 2022. Mr. Skotzko studied with Verdi baritone Kim Josephson during his six years of collegiate training and continues to do so as he pursues an Artist Diploma at the University of Miami. Recently, Mr. Skotzko joined Opera North in New Hampshire as one of their resident artists for the 2022 summer season, performing the roles of Don Alfonso in “Così fan tutte” and Il Barone in “La Traviata.” In March 2022, he debuted as Don Onofrio in the world premiere of “The Leopard” by Michael Dellaira with libretto by J. D. McClatchy. Mr. Skotzko’s past credits include Orphée in “Les Malheurs d’Orphée,” David in “Hand of Bridge,” Don Alfonso in “Così fan tutte,” King Dodon in “The Golden Cockerel,” King Bertarido in “Rodelinda,” Chair and Tree in “L’enfant et les Sortilèges,” and the Father in “Hansel and Gretel.” Mr. Skotzko has performed as a concert soloist in works such as Faure’s Requiem, Handel’s “Messiah,” “Voices of Light,” and Duruflé’s “Requiem.” Notably, he sang the baritone solo in the Polish premiere of “Voices of Light” in the summer of 2019 in Legnica, Poland. Mr. Skotzko is excited to make his debut with the Messiah Festival of the Arts at Bethany College.

Bach Baritone – Leslie John Flanagan – Australian baritone Leslie John Flanagan has performed leading roles across the globe. He earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Queensland Conservatorium in Brisbane and a Master of Opera Performance from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. Dr. Flanagan was an inaugural member of the English National Opera’s Jerwood Young Singer’s Programme in London. Dr. Flanagan’s roles with the English National Opera include Figaro in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Guglielmo in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte,” Schaunard in Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Morales in Bizet’s “Carmen,” Barney in the world premiere of Mark Anthony Turnage’s “The Silver Tassie” alongside Gerald Finley, Donner in Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” and Ned Keene in Britten’s “Peter Grimes.” The recipient of numerous awards, Dr. Flanagan has been honored with the Australian Singing Competition’s Royal Conservatory of Scotland Award, the Texaco International Opera Prize, and the Benton-Schmidt Competition. Dr. Flanagan has also had an extensive concert career, including performances of Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” Mendelssohn’s “Elijah,” “Carmina Burana,” and Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.” He has worked with notable conductors, accompanists, and directors, including Sir Charles Mackerras, Edward Gardner, and Graham Johnson. Dr. Flanagan’s professional recording credits include the First Apprentice on Chandos’ recording of “Wozzeck,” Barney in ENO’S live world premiere recording of “The Silver Tassie,” Bach’s “St. John Passion” with the BBC, and on Roger Webster’s “Travels with my Trumpet” with English soprano Janis Kelly. Dr. Flanagan also teaches and conducts masterclasses throughout the United States, the UK, and Australia. His students have performed at top opera houses. They have won awards at national and international competitions, including NATS, the International Mediterranean Music Competition, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Leslie John Flanagan is a standout opera and classical music performer with impressive accomplishments and a reputation as a sought-after teacher and conductor.