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In an expansion of its usual four-opera lineup, Virginia Opera will present five operas and one operatically inclined Broadway musical in its 2013-14 Richmond season. Four of the operas — “Falstaff,” “The Magic Flute,” “Ariadne auf Naxos” and “Carmen” — will be marketed as a subscription package. Two special engagements — “The Girl of the Golden West” and “Sweeney Todd” — will be sold as subscription add-ons.
All six will be performed in two or three performances in single weekends in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage.
What’s the difference between a subscription opera and a special engagement?
Its point of origin, according to Russell Allen, Virginia Opera’s president and CEO.
Giacomo Puccini’s “The Girl of the Golden West” will be a recast version of a production that originated at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, N.Y. Likewise, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” originated at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
No matter how it’s served up, Virginia Opera’s upcoming season is one of its most diverse.
“Balance is the key word,” said New York-based Robin Thompson, who has been serving as Virginia Opera’s artistic adviser, a part-time consulting position, pending the appointment of an artistic director to replace Virginia Opera founder Peter Mark.
Mark was forced out as founding artistic director in November 2010, proceeded to found Lyric Opera Virginia, which ceased to produce operas after one season, and was named Virginia Opera’s artistic director emeritus last April.
“I try to get one opera in the Italian repertoire each season, one French, one German and one American,” Thompson said, adding that “Sweeney Todd,” despite its special-engagement status, is next season’s bow to the American repertoire.
Thompson said he’s most excited about “Ariadne auf Naxos” because he thinks he’s found two perfect singers for lead roles, but he acknowledges that “Ariadne auf Naxos” is a box-office risk, as is “Falstaff.”
That’s why he’s also scheduled “The Magic Flute” and “Carmen,” which have proven box-office appeal.
Virginia Opera’s upcoming season will be mounted on a $6.5 million budget, slightly more than for this season because of the special engagements, Allen said.
“Right now, we’re looking to have a small deficit this year, but that may go away by the end of the year,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about the future of Virginia Opera. We’ve had some real challenges because of the recession and the split (over Mark) in our organization, but now the economy is recovering and the split is healing.”
Here’s a rundown of Virginia Opera’s 2013-14 Richmond season:
“Falstaff,”Oct. 4 and 6: Baritone Stephen Powell will make his Virginia Opera debut as Shakespeare’s most lovable and laughable fat man, Sir John Falstaff, in Giuseppi Verdi’s late-in-life comic opera based primarily on Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” This opera, which is being produced for the first time by Virginia Opera, marks the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth. (In Italian with English supertitles.)
“The Magic Flute,” Nov. 22 and 24: Mozart’s fairy tale exploring the limits of loyalty and love is being accorded a fresh production under director Michael Shell with former Richmond Symphony music director Mark Russell Smith in the pit. Baritone David Pershall and soprano Heather Buck are rejoined after singing opposite each other in this season’s “The Pearl Fishers.” (In English with English supertitles.)
“The Girl of the Golden West” (special engagement), Jan. 17 and 19: Saloon owner Minnie holds her own against miners, cowboys and her own heart in Giacomo Puccini’s opera set in the American West. This opera was scheduled originally by Lyric Opera Virginia before it scuttled its 2012-13 season. The singers have not been announced. (In Italian with English supertitles.)
“Ariadne auf Naxos,” Feb. 21 and 23: Garrett Keast will preside in the pit for this version of Richard Strauss’ comic opera in which Vienna’s richest aristocrat creates a head-on collision between low comedy and high art when he asks a burlesque troupe to perform alongside an opera company. Christina Pier and Audrey Luna have leading roles in Virginia Opera’s first staging of this opera since 1990. (In German with English supertitles.)
“Carmen,” April 4 and 6: Up-and-coming mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson will play the title spitfire in George Bizet’s torrid tale of desire and vengeance in sticky-sultry Seville under Tazewell Thompson’s direction. Bass-baritone Ryan Kuster will sing opposite her as the assertive bullfighter Escamillo, a role he recently performed at San Francisco Opera. (In French with English supertitles.)
“Sweeney Todd,” (special engagement) May 23-25: A revenge-minded London barber slits his clients’ throats, then dispatches their bodies to the bakery downstairs to be turned into meat pies, in this Stephen Sondheim musical that has found favor in many of the world’s opera houses. This production is a remounting of the production director Ron Daniels created originally for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. (In English with English supertitles.)
Four-opera subscriptions in Richmond range from $96 to $349 for the Friday opening series and from $101 to $358 for the Sunday matinee series. Tickets to the two special engagements are add-ons with prices ranging from $35 to $97 each. Subscriptions represent a 20 percent savings over single-ticket prices, according to Virginia Opera.
Lyric Opera Virginia sold tickets to its planned production of “The Girl of the Golden West” before canceling its second season. These tickets are being exchanged by Virginia Opera for tickets to its production through arrangement with individual ticket buyers.
To subscribe, call (888) 673-7282 or visit www.vaopera.org.
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By Roy Proctor
© February 3