Sandford Studio Artist Program

The acclaimed Barbara & Halsey Sandford Studio Artist Program at Kentucky Opera brings young professional opera singers to Louisville as apprentices to expand their performance experience. With more than 400 singers auditioning for limited positions each year, the program features some of the most talented upcoming voices to be heard worldwide.

The Sandford Studio Artist Program provides tailored training experiences and career guidance for emerging opera singers at an important stage in their career. Studio Artists have typically completed their graduate studies in voice and are looking to cultivate their training through mainstage experiences. Studio Artists gain exclusive access to professional artists, conductors, directors, and coaches, as well as other professional development opportunities. In addition, Studio Artists have the opportunity to sing in recitals, concerts, participate in master classes, and represent Kentucky Opera in various community and patron cultivation programs.

Previous projects have featured Studio Artists as principals in collaborative semi-staged concert operas with regional partner orchestras and arts partners; education and family audience programming; and the Composer Workshop, a composer in residence project with the University of Louisville School of Music. Composers in Residence in the Composer Workshop have included Jake Heggie, Ben Moore, Daron Hagen, and Paul Moravec. Professional development opportunities include coachings, lessons and masterclasses with industry professionals.

2023-2024 Barbara & Halsey Sandford Studio Artists

Georgia Belmont, soprano

Georgia Belmont is a native of the United Kingdom, currently living in Los Angeles. Most recently, in May 2023, Ms. Belmont made her U.S. theatrical debut in the Tony Award winning theatre Pasadena Playhouse’s production of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music as Mrs. Nordstrom. For the 2023-2024 season, Ms. Belmont will be joining the Kentucky Opera Barbara & Halsey Sanford Studio Artist Program. 

In May 2022, Ms. Belmont received her Master’s of Music in Vocal Performance from Rice University, where she also received her Bachelor’s of Music in Vocal performance as well, studying with Dr. Robin Rice. For her 2021-2022 season, Ms. Belmont sang the role of Poppea in Shepherd School Opera’s production of Händel’s Agrippina. In her 2020-2021 season, Ms. Belmont made her Shepherd School Opera debut, as Le Feu and Le Rossignol in Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortilegès. 

In the 2022 summer, Ms. Belmont joined DMMO once again for their season, covering the roles of Isabella Stewart Gardner in Geter’s American Apollo, and Peaseblossom, Cobweb, and study-covering Titania in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In February 2022, Ms. Belmont was a finalist in the Houston Saengerbund Awards, as well as receiving the Encouragement Award in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mildred Miller International Voice Competition. Ms. Belmont was an Encouragement Award winner in the New York District of the 2020 Metropolitan Opera’s Laffont Competition. In the summer of 2020, Ms. Belmont was supposed to join the Apprentice Artist program at Des Moines Metro Opera for their season, but due to COVID-19, that program was cancelled in person. DMMO presented a Virtual Festival, where Ms. Belmont was featured in their Soprano Spotlight, and performed various opera scenes. Luckily, Ms. Belmont was able to return to DMMO for their 2021 season, in their productions of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades, as well as a number of scenes. In the 2019-2020 season, Ms. Belmont was the soprano soloist in various concerts, including Handel’s Messiah with West University Baptist Church in collaboration with Houston’s Kinetic Ensemble, as well as Schubert’s Mass in G with Rice Chorale. In August 2020, Ms. Belmont was selected as one of 5 singers to participate in Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Vocal Academy. 

Ms. Belmont joined Opera Steamboat as a Young Artist for their 2019 season, portraying the role of Cristina Khalo in Rodriguez’s Frida. While at Opera Steamboat, Ms. Belmont participated in their scenes program, as First Lady in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. In the spring of 2019, Ms. Belmont was the ensemble dance captain in Shepherd School Opera’s production of Floyd’s Susannah. In 2018, she joined Opera in the Ozarks as a Studio Artist, performing the roles of Kate in Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe, and Fairy Godmother in an Opera in the Ozarks’ adaptation of Cinderella. She also portrayed the role of Greta Fiorentino in Weill’s Street Scene, in their annual scenes concert. 

Brennan Blankenship, soprano

Brennan Blankenship, American soprano, is an exciting and versatile performer quickly establishing herself in the opera world.

Ms. Blankenship’s 2023-2024 season includes a return to Opera North in a role debut as Julie Jordan/CAROUSEL as well as a house and role debut as Mabel in Kentucky Opera’s production of  PIRATES OF PENZANCEEqually at home in the standard operatic repertoire, Brennan debuted the role of Violetta with Opera North‘s LA TRAVIATA in the summer of 2022.  She was slated to join Michigan Opera Theater’s Young Artist Program for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons as a transitioning soprano, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID. 

During the summer of 2019 Ms. Blankenship sang the leading role of Brittomara in Jake Heggie/Gene Scheer’s world premiere of IF I WERE YOU as an artist with the Merola Opera Program in San Francisco, CA.   Other notable roles include Cherubino/LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Rosina/IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Fox/CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN, Hermia/A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Meg Page/FALSTAFF, Mrs. Noye/NOYE’S FLUDDE (Britten), and Jo and Meg/LITTLE WOMEN. Oratorio and concert works include Mozart’s REGINA COELI, Haydn’s LORD NELSON MASS, and Handel’s MESSIAH.  

Competition winnings include 2nd Prize at the Dorothy Nocity Vocal Competition hosted by the Palm Springs Opera Guild of the Desert in 2022, being chosen as a semifinalist for the Montserrat Caballé International Competition, as well as winning First Prize in the 2019 and 2017 Young Texas Artists Music Competition.

Training programs and apprenticeships include the Merola Opera Program, Canto Vocal Program, Berlin Opera Academy, and Mill City Summer Opera.

Ms. Blankenship holds degrees from University of Minnesota and Pepperdine University.

Erik Nordstrom, baritone

Hailing from Saint Paul, Minnesota, Erik Nordstrom brings a rare combination of laser-beam focus and calm sincerity to every performance. Erik earned his Master’s degree from Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM), and is currently working toward his Artist Diploma, also at CCM. In the 2022-23 season, he sang the roles of Marquis de la Force in les Dialogues des Carmelites and Hawkins Fuller in Fellow Travelers. In the summer he covered Pantalon in The Love for Three Oranges and El Dancaïro in Carmen with Des Moines Metro Opera. Upcoming performances include Tarquinius in The Rape of Lucretia at CCM. Other interests include fishing, mountain biking, and generally being outside.

Joshua Thomas, bass-baritone

Bass-Baritone Joshua Thomas was born and raised in Hosuton, TX. In the summer of 2022, he joined Des Moines Metro Opera as an Apprentice Artist covering Crown in Porgy and Bess as well as Marv in the world premiere of A Thousand Acres (Kuster/Campbell). Upcoming engagements include joining the Barbara and Halsey Sandford Studio Artist Program at Kentucky Opera where he will be seen as the Seargant of Police in Pirates of Penzance. and cover the Pirate King. He’s also excited to be seen as the Maestro in Salieri’s Prima La musica, poi le parole and Mathew in Thomas Pasatieri’s La Divina at the University of Nevada Las Vegas where he will continue his studies pursuing an Artist Diploma with Baritone Andre Chiang and teach voice as a part time instructor with the university.

In the summer of 2023, he is excited to return to Des Moines Metro Opera as an Apprentice Artist where he will cover the roles of Zuniga in Carmen as well as Farfarello/Cook in Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges.

Some of Mr. Thomas’ notable opera performance credits to date include Commendatore (Don Giovanni), Le Baili (Werther), Le Comte de Grieux (Manon), Tolomeo (Giulio Cesare), Bonze/Yamadori (Madame Butterfly), the title role in Hailstork’s Rise for Freedom: the John P. Parker story, and Simone (Gianni Schicchi).

On the concert stage, Josh has been seen as the Bass soloist in Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, Wynton Marsalis’ All Rise, Bruckner’s Te Deum, and the North American premiere of Schumann’s Adventlied. In addition to oratorios in concert he performed excerpts of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro).

Joshua Thomas currently holds degrees from The Univeristy of Michigan (M.M. Vocal Performance) and Louisiana State University (B.M. Vocal Performance).