There is much to like about the Virginia Opera – their productions move about the state giving a wider audience access to opera; their outreach programs engage younger audiences, including in schools; and the creativity and excellence of their opera offerings is impressive. This year again, each opera production will be performed in Norfolk, Fairfax, and Richmond. For their 2017-2018 season, as last year, they are offering broad coverage of the opera repertoire, providing audiences a wide sampling of fine opera. This year there is French opera in a biblical setting, Italian opera that takes place in the American West, English opera based on Shakespeare, classical Italian opera, opera with happy endings, opera with tragic endings, traditional works, modern opera, less often performed operas, and widely popular ones. I thought last year’s productions of Der Freischutz and Turandot were stand out achievements for the Virginia Opera; they have raised my expectations even higher for the season now upon us. Season tickets or buying them one by one will expose you to a wide, delightful range of operatic experiences.
Here is the line-up for the Virginia Opera's 2017-2018 season:
Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saens
Sep 29, Oct 1, 3 – Norfolk, Harrison Opera House
Oct 7, 8 – Fairfax, GMU’s Center for the Arts
Oct 13, 15 – Richmond, Dominion Arts Center
The Girl of the Golden West by Giacomo Puccini
Nov 10, 12, 14 – Norfolk, Harrison Opera House
Nov 17, 19 – Richmond, Dominion Arts Center
Dec 2, 3 – Fairfax, GMU’s Center for the Arts
A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten
Feb 9, 11, 13 – Norfolk, Harrison Opera House
Feb 17, 18 – Fairfax, GMU’s Center for the Arts
Feb 23, 25 – Richmond, Dominion Arts Center
Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti
Mar 23, 25, 27 – Norfolk, Harrison Opera House
Apr 7, 8 – Fairfax, GMU’s Center for the Arts
Apr 13, 15 – Richmond, Dominion Arts Center
Samson and Delilah (1877, fr. Samson et Dalila) by composer Camille Saint-Saens and librettist Ferdinand Lemaire is an opera in French (shown with English supertitles) based on the well-known Bible story found in the Book of Judges. Saint-Saens was a child prodigy known both as a concert pianist and organist and as a composer. He is best known today for his orchestral music, perhaps most widely for his suite, “The Carnival of Animals”. Sampson and Delilah is the only one of his 13 operas that is performed today. In the story, Samson is a hero of extraordinary strength rallying the Hebrews in their struggles with the Philistines; Delilah is used by the Philistines to seduce and bring about the his downfall. It is a story rich with political and psychological dimensions. Dr. Glenn Winters, Community Outreach Musical Director for the Virginia Opera, writes a series of blog posts on each opera produced by the Virginia Opera. The posts are well-researched and typically offer unique insights into each opera, their historical contexts, and analyses of their music. The ones for Samson and Delilah are now posted, and I recommend them to you. Delilah will be played by mezzo soprano Katherine Goeldner, who owns Lyric Opera of Chicago and Metropolitan Opera credits. Samson well be portrayed by Derek Taylor, who made a fine Prince Calaf in last season’s Turandot.
Next up, by composer Giacomo Puccini and librettists Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarani, is opera’s only spaghetti western (long before Clint Eastwood showed up), The Girl of the Golden West (1910, it. La Fanciulla del West), complete with outlaws, a menacing sheriff, and a 'purty' girl. Levity aside, I like this opera. Mention the music is by Puccini and count me in. I also recommend this opera because it has a message of redemption through love that is made for our time. The production has an additional feature that adds considerable interest for me. The director is Lillian Groag, who staged last year’s immensely impressive Turandot. I am intrigued and look forward to seeing how this opera will be staged in her hands.
I love opera, especially modern and contemporary opera, and I love Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1960) by English composer Benjamin Britten and librettists Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears is made for me. This comedic opera buffa follows Shakespeare’s famous play with some alterations; this plot involves a play within a play and use of a love potion gone awry to set the comedy in motion. It is a challenge for the opera stage given the large number of characters involved, but this also means that the audience gets to experience an unusually large sampling of opera voices. One unusual opera feature is that one of the more prominent characters, Oberon, is sung by a counter tenor. I ran across a short, but engaging exploration of this opera at a web site, The Opera 101, complete with some samples of the music and a graphic of the relationships being jostled about in the opera – check it out. Be not afraid of this modern opera; the music is said to be among the most melodious music ever written by Britten and contains enchanting choral pieces.
The Virginia Opera’s last production for the 2017-2018 season, Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), is a staple of opera companies worldwide. This opera by composer Gaetano Donizetti and librettist Salvadore Cammerano tells the story of Ill-fated love and a woman driven mad. The mad scene in the opera is quite famous and allows a soprano with the requisite singing and acting skills to own the stage for an extended period of time. Virginia Opera’s choice for this role is coloratura soprano Rachele Gilmore. Her performance will be the defining element for this production. There is no question she has the skills and ability, having performed at leading opera houses around the globe. Wikipedia credits her with possibly having hit the highest note ever on the Metropolitan Opera stage. This most traditional and beautiful Italian opera will likely leave you with tears in your eyes, but a sense of greater artistic enrichment in your heart.
These offerings by the Virginia Opera are going to be fun rides!
The Fan Experience: Subscriptions and single tickets are now on sale. Single tickets range in price from about $30 to $120, varying by seat selection, venue, and day of the performance. There is a discount when you buy season tickets and easy ticket exchange. If you live close to one of the box offices you can save a few bucks on the handling fees by obtaining your tickets there. The performance patterns are for Norfolk to lead off a production with a Friday evening performance followed by a Sunday matinee followed by a Tuesday evening performance; for Fairfax it is a Saturday evening performance followed by a Sunday matinee; and for Richmond it is a Friday evening performance followed by a Sunday matinee. I have attended performances in Fairfax and Richmond. There is free parking at George Mason University’s Performing Arts Center that requires a short walk and a parking garage with a modest price (around $8) next door to the Center. Richmond’s Dominion Arts Center is in a downtown business area; it has both street parking and lots close by, priced moderately. I have yet to attend opera at the Harrision Opera House in Norfolk. Looking over the season schedule, my guess is that the enormously popular Lucia di Lammermoor, is most likely to sell out, so get your tickets for that one as early as you can commit. In my experience, even the cheap seats are good, so if price is a factor (and it is for me), don’t be afraid of the less expensive seats; you will be viewing from a little farther away, but the music will not suffer and sometimes the acoustics are better for the higher up seats.