The Virginia Opera is an opera company that I am just getting to know, and the more I learn, the more impressed I become. An obvious distinguishing feature for Virginia Opera is that its productions are presented in three different cities in Virginia, always beginning in Norfolk, then moving to Richmond and finishing in Fairfax, or vice versa. I have attended performances in Fairfax and Richmond and hope to visit the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk in the coming year (seafood and opera sounds good to me). Another distinguishing feature is its stated goal of having the youngest opera audience in the nation by 2025. They are backing that commitment with a number of activities, especially involving schools in Virginia. For example, they offer student nights at performances in Norfolk and Richmond, with modestly priced tickets sold for students and teachers/chaperones in grammar/secondary schools. One benefit for you of their educational outreach is the online posting of free study guides for 50 commonly performed operas.
Here is the lineup for 2016-2017:
- Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill/Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo, Sep 30 – Oct 16
- The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, Nov 11 – Dec 4
- Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber, Jan 27 – Feb 19
- Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, March 17 – Apr 2
First up is an unusual pairing (the curveball; baseball season starts Sunday) of a couple of short operas. Pagliacci is a mainstay of opera company repertoires and a beautiful lead role for tenors. The cast is youngish, but still has experience in many opera houses around the U.S. The usual opera pairing with Pagliacci is Cavalleria Rusticana; it’s sort of expected. I am not familiar with Seven Deadly Sins, but it sounds almost Hitchcockian. The main character Anna is played by two performers representing two sides of her personality. Anna I, the singer, will be played by Austrian soprano Ute Gfrerer, making her debut performance in the U.S. Anna II, the dancer, will be played by Gabrielle Zucker, a dancer and choreographer who has not only danced, but has created roles for a number U.S. opera companies. Modern composer Kurt Weill is credited with being one of the most important composers for the theater, though it is not clear that “opera” composer really fits him. Actually, reading about this production made me think it is not to be missed. Virginia Opera seems to be making a statement with this pairing of intent to update and surprise.
On the other hand, I would not be surprised if at any given moment somewhere on earth, or somewhere in distant solar systems, The Barber of Seville is playing. And the high comedy and spirited music of Rossini justifies them all. If you are a newbie or just want a delightful evening, this is a good place to start. I am not familiar with Weber operas in general, or Der Freischutz (The Magic Marksman) in particular, though I have heard passages of his excellent symphonies. He was influential in the development of early German Opera; Der Freischutz was immediately successful and the only opera in that category to become a standard offering today. The story involves supernatural and sinister elements, making me think it should have been offered around Halloween. The lead tenor in the opera is described in the Virginia Opera brochure as a “heldentenor”. This sounded much to close to some of the supernatural characters on the television show, Grimm; so, I looked it up and it is a tenor with a powerful voice who plays heroes – whew! I have several fond memories of Turandot. My family gave me a birthday present of seeing it at the Metropolitan Opera back in October, a stunning opera with gorgeous Puccini music. The Met had the resources to do a spectacular Franco Zeffirelli staging. I will be very interested to see how Virginia Opera carries off their production.
A personal wish: I’d like to see more coverage of the Virginia Opera productions in the Washington Post.
Right now, you can buy season subscriptions at a 10% discount over the price of buying tickets individually for Norfolk and Richmond venues. I was told by the box office at the GMU Center for the Arts that the Center’s 2016-2017 Season will be announced on April 6, and you then can buy Virginia Opera subscriptions at the discounted price. A major advantage of the subscription packages is that they offer ticket exchange if you cannot attend a performance for which you hold a ticket. As mentioned above, check out student night tickets for Norfolk and Richmond; the Center for the Arts in Fairfax offers free tickets to George Mason University students. While the opera productions are the same at the three venues, the ticket policies of the venues are not necessarily the same; always check policies for the venue you are interested in. Prices for the subscription packages which include a ticket to all four operas vary by seat and date, ranging from a little under $100 to a little over $500. I have sat in the mid-level seats and these are quite good in these venues. All tickets include attendance at 45 min pre-performance discussions prior to each opera.
I have already discussed the upcoming performance of The Flying Dutchman in April (The Big Bad Wolf for the Opera Newbie) and dates are listed in the sidebar.