Denise Sheffey-Powell stars as Victoria in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s world premiere of the compelling contemporary jazz and gospel opera A Gathering of Sons. Her character's son Victor is shot by a rogue police officer as her other son's child is being born.

Denise Sheffey-Powell
Photo by Patti Brahim

The Pittsburgh native returns to our company having led in our productions as Carmen Jones in Carmen Jones, and as a jilted bride in Dwayne Fulton's "Bridal Suite" (both shown here), Bess/Serena in Porgy and Bess, Julia in Just Above my Head, and Amahl’s mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors.  

Where have you been singing recently?
I was recently part of the ensemble for the world premiere of Pittsburgh Opera's The Summer King. I’ve been doing local church concerts and club dates as well.

What are you most excited for this Festival season?
I’m looking forward to the premiere performances of A Gathering of Sons and singing with the finest young singers I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Also, singing the score composed by Dwayne Fulton, which is an eclectic mixture of Opera, Gospel, Jazz, and R&B.

How is rehearsing a world premiere different than rehearsing for some other shows you have sung?
My first premiere was also with Pittsburgh Festival Opera when it was known as Opera Theater of Pittsburgh. It was an opera based on the novel by Alec Baldwin, Just Above My Head, composed by Nathan Davis. Rehearsing for premiere productions require more time because there is no blueprint and everyone involved has to be able to make adjustments to facilitate the creative process.

What was your own first opera experience like?
My first opera experience was as a teenager. I saw a performance of Hansel & Gretel and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

>Denise Sheffey-Powell
Photo by John Bauerlein

My first production was Gounod’s Faust, which was exciting and opened my eyes, ears, and voice to a new musical realm.

What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do for a role?
I was in a production of Fiddler on the Roof with CLO and sang the role of Grandma Tzeitel who was an old Jewish woman. That was a stretch for me as a character actor and a lot of fun.

Do you have any dream roles?
I’ve always wanted to sing the role of Liu from Turandot.

What’s next? 
After A Gathering of Sons, I’m going on a little vacation to visit my son who is in college in Philly and relatives in Washington DC. Hopefully, I will find some new musical venues to explore in the near future.

More about Denise
Denise is a frequently-sought after soprano soloist for various oratorio works, including numerous performances of Messiah, Requiem, and King David. She has been a featured performer in productions of Ain’t Misbehavin, Blues in the Night, Cole, Sweet Thunder, as well as Lost in the Stars and Beggars Holiday with Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Her notable roles also include Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. Denise has been an active singer with Pittsburgh Opera since 1982 and has performed various roles with the company, as well as Civic Light Opera and City Theatre at Hartwood Acres. Denise was also a featured vocalist in the Civic Light Opera’s tribute performance in honor of Stephen Sondheim, which was performed for Sondheim as part of a gala awards ceremony. She has been a featured vocalist with the Pittsburgh and Canton Symphony Orchestras. Denise received her bachelor of science degree from Duquesne University in Vocal Music, under the tutelage of the late Julia May and Mija Novich. She earned a MA degree in elementary education from Chatham University. 

Denise Sheffey-Powell
Photo by Amy Crawford


A Gathering of Sons  runs June 15- July 8, 2017, the second world premiere in Pittsburgh Festival Opera's Music that Matters series of new works.


—Anna Matia