Virginia Opera’s 2019-2020 Season: Tosca Leads Off A Winning Lineup

As baseball season winds down and moves into its post season, opera season gears up for a run.  Leading off for Virginia Opera this season will be Puccini’s Tosca.  What?  Isn’t that like Babe Ruth batting first instead of clean up?  Good question, and if you are going to hit the Babe first, your follow-up hitters better be Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.  I am showing my age, but though I am a huge baseball fan, I did not see the Babe in action, okay?  Fortunately, VA Opera does have Rossini’s Cinderella and Verdi’s Aida waiting in the wings, along with a promising rookie, Catán’s Il Postino, in the on-deck circle.  For opera fans, that’s a winning lineup.

Here are the dates at the different venues:

Tosca (1900) by Giacomo Puccini:

            Norfolk – Oct 4, 6, 8

            Fairfax – Oct 12, 13

            Richmond – Oct 18, 20

Il Postino (The Postman, 2010) by Daniel Catán:

            Norfolk – Nov 8, 10, 12

            Fairfax – Nov 16, 17

            Richmond – Nov 22, 24

Cinderella (La Cenerentola, 1817) by Giaochino Rossini:

            Norfolk – Jan 31, Feb 2, 4

            Fairfax – Feb 15, 16

            Richmond – Feb 21, 23

Aida (1871) by Giuseppe Verdi:

            Norfolk – Mar 20, 22, 23

            Fairfax – *No performances; see The Fan Experience section below for an explanation

                             and news about a plan to help Fairfax fans see a performance in Richmond.

            Richmond – Mar 27, 29

Tosca is one of the most often performed operas in the world; I think the number of Metropolitan Opera performances alone of Puccini’s Tosca since 1901 is up to about a thousand, and fans keep returning for additional productions year after year.  If you haven’t seen Tosca, go.  If you haven’t seen any opera, go.  If you have seen it multiple times, still go.  I plan to address why I make these exhortations in my next blog report, soon to follow this one, and it will include comments from VA Opera Conductor/Artistic Director Adam Turner and Director Lillian Groag who began her career with the Virginia Opera in 1993 by directing Tosca.

Il Postino (The Postman) is next up.  Name the last Spanish-speaking opera you attended.  If you can’t think of one, don’t be surprised; somehow opera did not flourish in Spain as it did in Italy, France, and Germany.  So, perhaps Il Postino could be your first.  Mexican composer Daniel Catán’s opera is based on the 1994 award-winning movie of the same name and follows it closely in presenting the story of a postman who seeks the aid of exiled poet Pablo Neruda in finding the words to win the hand of the woman he has fallen in love with.  Composer Catán also wrote the libretto, in Spanish, and fashioned the role of poet Neruda specifically for tenor Placido Domingo, who starred in its 2010 premiere.  This was Mr. Catán’s final opera; he died the year following its premiere.  He is credited with adding Spanish operas to the international repertoire; his opera Florencia en el Amazonas is also performed today.   Il Postino has a political theme as well, and it should be interesting to see where Director Crystal Manich sets the balance in this new production.  Worried whether you will like the music?  Washington Post’s Anne Midgette covered the premiere of Il Postino, stating that “It has lyrical vocal writing, lush orchestral interludes, hints of Verdi and Puccini”.  And it has poems by Neruda transformed into arias.  This could be the sleeper in a season of more renown operas by Puccini, Rossini, and Verdi. 

Cinderella, La Cenerentola, Cendrillon, or Altschutten: what’s in a name?  All these names have been used to tell the story of the good girl mistreated in an oppressive family situation, yet who somehow prevails to marry a prince.  Rossini provides pleasing music with beautiful arias and ensemble pieces.  The libretto by Jacopo Ferritti, adapted from Charles Perrault’s “Cendrillon”,  tells a story that pleases children and also has twists and turns to amuse adults.  It is easy for charm and humor to rule in Cinderella, but it is the triumph of the good heart that must reign to capture the enduring impact of this endearing fairy tale.  After all, the full title is La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo (Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant).  Virginia Opera’s production is in sure hands with veteran director Kyle Lang; I thought his Elixir of Love last season was a pleasure from beginning to end.

Verdi’s Aida is about spectacle or is it?  One might ask if this is Verdi as P. T. Barnum or the same Verdi who touched hearts with Rigoletto and La TraviataAida has triumphant rulers of Ancient Egypt, the plight of the captured, and palatial intrigue, all as backdrop for a prohibited, secret love affair.   Aida has three spectacular roles: Aida, the captured princess; Amneris, the reigning princess; and Radamès, an ambitious military leader, and oh, what a love triangle they make.  Director Lillian Groag will return to direct VA Opera’s Aida, and I am willing to bet that this Aida will be much, much more than spectacle.

Each opera will be directed by Adam Turner featuring the Virginia Symphony Orchestra for the first three operas and the Richmond Symphony Orchestra for Aida.  An exciting cast mixed with younger stars and veterans has been arranged for each opera; the web page for each production lists principal cast members with hyperlinks to their bios.  I got even more excited reading them.  It’s live opera.  Tape the playoff games.  Let the season begin!

The Fan Experience: Virginia Opera gives performances in three different cities and venues: Norfolk (Edythe C. and Stanley L. Harrison Opera House), Fairfax (George Mason University’s Center for the Arts), and Richmond (Carpenter Theater at Dominion Energy Center).  The same opera travels from city to city, typically three performances in Norfolk, followed by two each in Fairfax, and Richmond.  Each venue has its own ticket pricing and policies, including discounts for student tickets.  Check their web sites carefully.  All performances have supertitles in English.  Here is Virginia Opera’s statement about the exception being made this year regarding Aida.

"Virginia Opera is disappointed that due to technical limitations at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts we are unable to present our production of Aida in Northern Virginia.  Patrons are encouraged to attend Friday or Sunday, March 27 or 29, 2020 performance of Aida at the Dominion Energy Center in Richmond.  Virginia Opera is also planning a Sunday, March 29 Aida ticket/brunch package that includes round-trip transportation from George Mason University to Richmond’s historic Jefferson Hotel and the Dominion Energy Center.” VA Opera also reports that the easiest way for people to secure the package is to call their box office: 866-673-7282, Monday through Friday 10am-5pm. There is the same information on their Aida webpage

A couple of suggestions: Subscriptions and single tickets are available. If you are able to purchase your tickets at the box office you can save money on handling fees charged online.  Also, Dr. Glenn Winters, Virginia Opera's Community Outreach Musical Director, provides pre-opera talks forty-five minutes before showtime; they and his blog reports leading up to each opera offer entertaining and informative insights; the pre-opera talks are frequently standing room only, so get there early.