What’s Opera, Doc?

Virginia Opera’s upcoming season has something for everyone.

For its 49th year of operation, Virginia Opera is pairing crowd pleasing gateway operas like “The Barber of Seville” and “Madama Butterfly” with the Ring Cycle warhorse “Siegfried” and “Sanctuary Road,” a modern oratorio that tells the story of a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

“It’s a little bit of everything for everyone,” explains Artistic Director Adam Turner. “I wouldn’t say there’s an overarching theme.”

Before “Siegfried” hits Richmond’s Dominion Energy Center on Oct. 13, here’s a preview of the Norfolk-based opera company’s upcoming season.


Oct. 13 and 15

Most people might not associate Richard Wagner with comedy, but Turner assures that “Siegfried” is the “funniest, lightest” opera of the Ring Cycle, four works loosely adapted from Germanic legend.

Virginia Opera began the cycle in 2021 with “Das Rheingold.” As a COVID precaution, these performances took place at Topgolf locations, with singers dressed as pro golfers belting their arias on the driving range as audiences watched from the hitting bays.

Last year, the opera presented “The Valkyrie” indoors, but with a staging that channeled sci-fi works like “Star Wars.” “Siegfried” will maintain the sci-fi motif.

“It’s a continuation of exploring the world of artificial intelligence and exploring how our humanity, our collective humanity, is being affected by machines and digital enhancements or distractions or disruptions,” Turner says. “It’ll be big and bombastic, and hyper-romantic. It’s like a Grimm Brothers fairy tale combined with ‘Game of Thrones’ combined with ‘Lord of the Rings.’ But it also packs that powerful punch of Wagner.”

Virginia Opera will conclude the Ring Cycle next year with “The Twilight of the Gods” for its 50th anniversary season.

“The Barber of Seville”

Nov. 17 and 19

Seven years ago, Virginia Opera staged a hilarious, chicken-themed “Barber of Seville” loosely based on Pedro Almodóvar’s black comedy “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

Now, the two-act opera buffa returns to Virginia’s stages, sans chickens this time.

In the show, Count Almaviva is smitten with Rosina, the young wealthy ward of Bartolo, an elderly doctor. Bartolo, however, plans to marry Rosina once she’s of appropriate age so that he can access her sizeable dowry. Into the mix comes Figaro, a mischievous barber who helps the Count woo Rosina.

“It’s a classic opera that is beloved by all kinds of operagoers young and old. And it’s a lot of fun,” Turner says.

This production will feature the direction of Nora Winsler, who has served as a resident assistant director at Virginia Opera for the last two years.

“She’s a young artist who’s on the verge of an exceptional career,” Turner says. “We’re getting one of her very first forays into steering the ship, so to speak.”

“Sanctuary Road”

Feb. 9 and 11 (2024)

“William Still was a conductor on the Underground Railroad, helping hundreds of enslaved people escape to freedom and compiling their stories in the book “The Underground Railroad Records.” Still and his stories have served as the inspiration for “Sanctuary Road,” a 2017 Grammy-nominated oratorio by composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell.

“Early next year, Virginia Opera will give this oratorio (defined as a large-scale musical work for orchestra and voices) a full dramatic staging.

“Turner first saw the work performed in Pennsylvania a year and a half ago under the baton of Everett McCorvey, the director and executive producer of University of Kentucky Opera Theatre; McCorvey will also conduct Virginia Opera’s staging.

“I was just awestruck by the sound he was able to elicit from that very small chamber chorus. I can’t wait to see the sound he gets from our 40-voice chorus here in Virginia,” Turner says. “It’s a large orchestral and choral piece with a dramatic story that features five soloists. It’s our largest sonic representation of the entire season.”

“Many of the narratives explored in the show connect with Virginia, Turner says. One portion of the oratorio relates the story of Henry “Box” Brown, who famously shipped himself in a crate from Richmond to Still in Philadelphia to claim his freedom.

“Madama Butterfly”

March 22 and 24 (2024)

While it’s only been five years since Virginia Opera last staged Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly,” Turner says the pandemic has operagoers itching to see the most popular works in the canon.

“These pieces are in such demand because audiences love them,” he says.

“Butterfly” is about a young Japanese maiden who marries an American naval officer at the turn of the last century. Shortly after their wedding, he leaves her for three years. The aftermath of their actions have devastating consequences.

“It’s a romantic opera. It’s also very tragic,” Turner says. “It’s so compelling, it’s so beautiful. The music is just romantic and lush and really captures the spirit of early 20th century Japan.”

Aside from Turner in the orchestra pit, this performance will feature an all-female Asian American production team.

“They really bring a unique perspective to the staging, the lighting, the costuming of the opera,” Turner says.

For this show, the setting has been moved to just after World War II.

“Right after World War II and the bomb, there were a lot of American GIs stationed in Japan. There really was this sense of the Japanese war bride,” Turner says, adding that the shift “gives it a little more immediacy, even more relevancy for audience members.”


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