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From cartoon music to “Sweeney Todd,” the Richmond Symphony and Virginia Opera gear up for a whimsical fall.

click to enlarge It’s hard to deny the music in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” about the bloodthirsty revenge plot of a crazed barber. Virginia Opera is hoping newcomers will see their top-notch version and want to keep coming back for more

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It’s hard to deny the music in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” about the bloodthirsty revenge plot of a crazed barber. Virginia Opera is hoping newcomers will see their top-notch version and want to keep coming back for more

To close its 40th season, the Virginia Opera is going back to its beginning.

Founded by a group of volunteers in Norfolk in 1974, the company began its run with a staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” which follows a Parisian courtesan while she wastes away from tuberculosis. The same tale of woe will finish this season.

“It’s kind of bookending these 40 years, the legacy of opera in this great state,” says Adam Turner, principal conductor and artistic adviser for the opera.

The season will begin with a musical, Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which follows a man seeking revenge after being banished for 15 years.

The popular work is a “gateway opera for many folks who have maybe never been in an opera house,” Turner says. “Once they see it performed by these tremendous performers and singers, I think they’ll see just how captivating opera can be.”

In November, the company will stage Gilbert and Sullivan’s “HMS Pinafore,” a comic opera that takes place aboard a ship, mocking class, patriotism and authority. “It’s satire at its finest,” Turner says. “It’s funny, it’s witty, it’s a perfect marriage of words and music.”

Richard Strauss’ “Salome” will take things back to biblical times in February, and Turner says the audience will be captivated by its staging of the Dance of the Seven Veils. “La Traviata” — and its doomed courtesan — will close the season in March.

It’s one of the most famous operas in all of the repertory, Turner says. “It features four or five arias that everyone will recognize instantly.”

The Richmond Symphony starts its season with a bang, bringing Joshua Bell, one of the world’s leading violinists, to perform the Bruch “Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor” on Sept. 20.

On Sept. 27, the symphony will kick off its Genworth Symphony Pops Series, with “Abba — the Music.” In January, No BS! Brass band will open for New Orleans jazz revival group the Dukes of Dixieland.

“That’s going to be a really exciting experience, seeing No BS! performing with the orchestra,” says Scott Dodson, director of advancement and patron communications for the symphony.

The symphony’s Altria Masterworks Series will begin in October, performing the works of Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Mozart. April will see the world premiere of a work by local composer Benjamin Broening, a performance of Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto in D Minor” by symphony violinist Daisuke Yamamoto, and a performance of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

On Valentine’s Day, the symphony will perform “An Evening of Duke Ellington” with One Voice Chorus, the St. Paul’s Baptist Church Chorus and the Richmond Symphony Chorus.

“[Music Director] Steven Smith has been looking for a way to highlight the music of Duke Ellington,” Dodson says. “It’s the music of Ellington that you don’t get to hear as often.”

Of special interest is “Warner Bros. Presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony II” on May 16, featuring none other than the wascally wabbit himself on a big screen while the full orchestra plays along, Dodson says — “a really great, unique experience.”

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