Michael Spyres performs a song from Pagliacci and another song at Tie & Timber Brewing Co. in 2022. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

“Love” has been the name of the game for Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s 88th season, given the playful moniker #SwipeRight, a reference to online dating. 

From the greatest love stories in modern cinema to the beloved Tchaikovsky classic “Swan Lake,” no aspect of romance has been left untouched by musical director and conductor Kyle Wiley Pickett and his 50-plus musicians.

The big question is, how do you end a concert season with a bang when your subject is something as tender as love?

Why, power ballads, of course. It all happens Saturday, May 13, at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts in Springfield.

“‘80s power ballads were all kinds of love songs where the emotions are at the forefront,” Pickett said. “Think about Journey or Chicago. Your heart is on your sleeve. You’re expressing your feelings in the most powerful way. The whole rock power ballad thing comes straight from opera and musical theater. These are kind of the original power ballads—a big orchestra, a big sound. 

Of course, a larger-than-life sound necessitates larger-than-life voices. 

“Imagine 150 years ago, before you had amplification. You didn’t have speakers and microphones,” Pickett said. “The loudest thing that basically exists is an orchestra backing up an opera singer. That’s about as loud as it gets. Now you can turn the volume up to 11. This is kind of like the original version of ‘turn the volume up to 11.’”

The vocal power of the Spyres family

Thankfully, Springfield happens to have connections to some of the most sought-after talents — and most powerful voices — in the worlds of both opera and Broadway, born and raised right here in the Ozarks.

The Spyres family, also lovingly referred to as “The Hillbilly Von Trapps,” are a veritable powerhouse of talent. Michael Spyres is quickly rising the ranks to become one of the biggest opera superstars in the world

“To see Michael, you have to go to Vienna, Munich or Paris,” Pickett said, “or you could see him here at Hammons Hall in Springfield.”

Michael’s wife, Tara Stafford-Spyres, performs alongside him. Brother Sean Spyres is an accomplished singer in his own right, as well as operations manager for Ozarks Lyric Opera. Finally, sister Erica Spyres is a rising star on Broadway in addition to performing in national tours and commercials. Together, they will combine their incomparable skills into a one-night show featuring the best arias, duets and ensembles the music world has to offer in an alignment of the (entertainment) stars rarely seen.

Want to go?

Springfield Symphony Orchestra presents: Power Ballads is Saturday, May 13, 7:30 p.m., at Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Ticket prices range from $35-$60 and can be purchased by calling the Hammons Hall box office at (417) 836-7678 or online at mpv.tickets.com.

From left, Tara Stafford-Spyres, Michael Spyres, Erica Spyres and Sean Spyres. (Photos submitted by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra)

Pickett initially approached the Spyres clan with the idea of bringing them all together to perform iconic power ballads. Not an easy task, considering the family members reside in different states — or in some cases, different countries. 

“The tricky thing with Michael is that he’s everywhere right now,” Pickett said. “He is literally flying in and out of the country all the time. Trying to find a date that works for him is just nuts.”

But they succeeded. With the briefest of openings in everyone’s schedules, the Spyres gang is all here and ready to perform together as a family.

“It was just one of those things where the timing was right,” Pickett. said “The stars aligned for all of them to be here. It’s been a really, really big, thrilling season for the symphony, and this is just the capper for it.”

Moment after show stopping moment

The show itself will feature 24 music pieces of all sorts from the worlds of opera and Broadway, including “Phantom of the Opera,” “Barber of Seville” and “Singing in the Rain.” Being able to pick and choose the best music pieces from such timeless classics ensures the show brings a constant stream of energy from beginning to end.

“This concert is ridiculous,” Pickett said. “Every opera and musical has a couple show stopping numbers. When you get to that moment, everybody goes crazy. This concert is like 24 show stopping numbers. Every single one is a grand finale type of piece.”

With that came yet another monumental task: narrowing down the pieces of both opera and Broadway to determine which of the 24 pieces would be most suitable to perform. After all, the show can only pack so much into a two-hour runtime. Between Pickett and the Spyres, they managed to pull it off.

“There was a lot of picking and choosing,” Pickett said, “a lot of cutting to make everything fit.”

The other challenge was going through the proper channels to get the necessary materials. Performing contemporary works requires going through more red tape than a concert solely made up of classical pieces. 

“If I’m going to do a Mozart symphony, that’s super easy,” Pickett explained. “It’s either in my library or I know exactly where I can go get parts for that. It’s in the public domain, so there’s no one for me to pay rights to. Andrew Lloyd Webber, on the other hand, protects his intellectual property, so if we want to do a piece by him — which we’re doing — we have to rent that music and pay rights to him. If we’re doing 24 pieces, some of them are from opera, which means they’re in the public domain because they’re old enough that no one owns them anymore. Same thing for all the musicals. It’s a logistical challenge to have to find those pieces and put them together.”

Once all the hurdles have been overcome, it’s time for the fun part: performing.

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Springfield Symphony Orchestra (Photo by Dean Curtis)

As far as the Springfield Symphony goes, Broadway fare might seem like a far cry stylistically from the works of Beethoven or Mozart, but Pickett says the style of such pieces comes naturally to him and his musicians.

“I got my start as an orchestra player playing in pit orchestras for musicals,” Pickett said. “A lot of the players did. Musical theater companies always need someone to conduct the pit. Rodgers and Hammerstein, “Wizard of Oz,” “Phantom of the Opera—” those things are pretty much in our consciousness as much as Beethoven and Mozart. If you look at American classical music, think about American composers in the 20th century, most of them are on Broadway or doing things through film. It’s kind of our form of classical music.”

It’s that combination of live instrumentalists and voices that really makes shows like this one special.

“There’s something about a big orchestra backing up a singer,” Pickett said. “If you watch something like America’s Got Talent and see some of the good singers, they’ve got recorded tracks backing them up. That’s a really different experience to having 65 orchestra players on stage with the singer backing them up.”
With some of the biggest voices in music today in the Spyres family, accompanied by the talents of Pickett and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the show promises to be one for the ages.

“This is your chance to see, right here in Springfield, what people all over the world pay a lot of money to go see,” Pickett said. “There’s a real good reason for it. This is a can’t miss, once in a lifetime kind of experience. It’s going to be unbelievable. I could not be more excited.”

Paul Cecchini

Paul Cecchini is a freelance writer, aspiring author and award-winning former editor of the Mansfield Mirror newspaper (the Missouri one, not the Texas one). His writing mantra is that everyone has a story, and he’s always on the lookout for the next one to tell. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook @peachykeeny or view a sampling of his published work at muckrack.com/peachykeeny. More by Paul Cecchini