Mezzo-soprano and voice teacher Heidi Skok discovered young mezzo-soprano Riley Hensley in March of 2016 at Riverside High School’s Chamber Music Festival where she was invited by Glenn Obergefell, the Director of Choirs at Riverside to be a judge for the event. Riley as a 12- year old, soon to be 13 young music student, offered Mozart’s Allelujah. Ms. Skok knew that the voice should be lying lower and be singing less difficult repertoire and at the conclusion of Riley’s appearance, she ran after Riley and her family kindly asking to have Riley study with her. Ms. Skok had been misrepresented as a soprano for over twenty years in her professional career which included the Metropolitan Opera, so she is quite passionate about helping voices to find their way technically so her difficult path does not happen to others. Riley began private study with Heidi Skok in 2016 and in 2017 Riley became a member of Resonanz Opera which Skok founded, as a High School Intern-she was a Freshman. That summer, Riley sang in Dialogues of the Carmelites as a nun and had a small part in L’enfants et les Sortileges. She also sang numerous concerts throughout the Cleveland area with Resonanz Opera. In 2018, Riley returned as a High School intern, this time as a Genie in Mozart’s Magic Flute. She was a leader to the other interns and her maturity level was apparent early on to Skok.
Heidi Skok had the dream of forming a duo of the same voice years 14 years ago while residing in Albany, NY. She began with another mezzo to form this concept, even looking into a website and logo at the time, but it did not work out with the other singer. Heidi felt that this other singer really was a dramatic soprano and not a mezzo, and the match was not a good fit so Heidi decided not to continue in that venture. The idea was shelved for many years. In 2017 when Riley Hensley really began to evolve and grow vocally, Ms. Skok tried again to form a duo, this time with her young student Miss Hensley. Pictures were taken in 2017 but again, the idea was shelved. It was obvious the idea was not ready yet. Resonanz Opera was born and took much work to get off of the ground and running. After three seasons of Resonanz, with the vision growing clearer all the time and obvious growth in Riley’s vocal technique and delivery after the summer of 2019, Heidi Skok and Riley Hensley re-visited the idea of a same voice duo that would be based in Classical music but have a fusion to it by crossing into other genres and having their own strong and defined look.
The duo name In Fine Leather came easily and naturally after the first photo shoot in 2019 surfaced for the duo. An edgy, industrial look was what they were after and it represented strength, courage, fortitude, resilience, persistence and perserverance. A thorough search of the Thesaurus of many words that indicated strength brought the name. After perusing the synonyms for the word “strong” “in fine leather” was one of the words associated as a synonym for strong. The name could not be more perfect. Firstly, it really had three meanings with each word. “in” represented the duo’s involvement in the musical activity and wearing the attire described as leather, and the word “fine” indicated Classical music, very fine music indeed and thus the name was found.
It’s not every day that teacher and student can perform together. Every day tremendous growth forward happens in an artist, the journey is a constant and consistent one that needs to be taken with great patience and a love for the artform and for those you pursue it and audience alike you love it. Heidi Skok possesses this spirit and loves to champion other singers, especially her students.
In forming this duo Heidi Skok has done with her teaching and performing life what she loves best: singing alongside a voice she has built from the ground up in the initial stages, presenting the talent and performing alongside a talent that will surely continue to grow with every step forward. The best part of this for Heidi Skok is having introduced Classical music to another young singer. The survival of Classical music and opera relies on the continuation of this artform being shared and passed down through the generations and she finds this to be a great honor and privilege. This is truly a unique and singular partnership, there are no other teacher/student mezzo duos doing what we are doing.
The duo is recording their first Album in Cleveland at the end of October, 2019. Please stay tuned to the release information. Within just two weeks, the Duo has booked ten concerts upcoming for the Christmas season and into 2020. Please keep an eye on our social platforms for upcoming concert dates and events.