On Oct. 11, George Mason University’s Center for the Arts plays host to the opening of Virginia Opera’s 40th Anniversary season with a stunning production of Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim’s notorious Tony Award-winning musical thriller about revenge, murder, and meat pies.
“Broadway musicals began being produced by Virginia Opera many years ago as a way of attracting new audiences while adding diversity for our loyal patrons; all of whom have really enjoyed the unforgettable productions of West Side Story, Carousel, Oklahoma!, and many more over the years,” says Adam Turner, Virginia Opera’s new principal conductor and artistic adviser.
“Sweeney Todd will capitalize on this long-standing tradition and offer audiences, both old and new, a riveting production.”
Turner previously had conducting successes on Virginia Opera stages with The Mikado (2011-2012), and Camelot and Carousel (2012-2013). Other conducting credits include Ash Lawn Opera, Central City Opera, and Seattle Opera.
Sweeney Todd will be directed by Ron Daniels, who co-wrote the stage adaptation that inspired the 1979 musical, and star Stephen Powell as the notorious title character and soprano Amanda Opuszynski as Johanna.
Last season, Opuszynski enjoyed a season full of role debuts with Virginia Opera, including Nannetta in Falstaff, Papagena in The Magic Flute, and Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos.
In recognition of its landmark 40th Anniversary Season, Virginia Opera will showcase powerful selections from its acclaimed dynamic range of staged vocal repertory—from Broadway musicals to operettas and fully staged operas.
“The Center for the Arts is honored to be a part of the Virginia Opera’s 40th Anniversary celebration. The longstanding relationship between the Center and the Virginia Opera has provided the Opera with a Northern Virginia home, and has given music lovers in the area the opportunity to enjoy the extraordinary talent and diversity of productions that are hallmarks of the Virginia Opera,” says Tom Reynolds, GMU’s director of artistic programing. “Through its commitment to education and support of young artists, the Virginia Opera continues to provide George Mason students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts with opportunities to experience high level, professional productions, as well as participate in master classes and lectures presented by its artistic staff.”
Through the years, the company has taken strong measures to appeal to traditional opera devotees while also making opera accessible and entertaining for new and younger audiences.
Beginning Dec. 5, Gilbert & Sullivan’s beloved maritime masterpiece H.M.S Pinafore will hit the GMU stage. The musical follows the story of a captain’s daughter who falls for a lowly sailor then sets out to overturn conventional order to win her man through the power of love. H.M.S. Pinafore will be directed by the renowned Nicola Bowie, making her Virginia Opera debut.
“It’s one of the most popular operas in the Victorian age, full of satire and comedy, and truly a groundbreaking piece,” Turner says. “It premiered in England in the late 19th century and is still relevant as its comedy transcends time.”
Next up is Richard Strauss’s chilling one-act opera, Salome, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s notorious play about the Bible’s wicked femme fatale. The opera begins on Valentine’s Day, 2015.
“This is a turn of the 20th Century, revolutionary opera that is 90 minutes, and though it wasn’t extremely melodic, it had necrophilia and nudity and took classical musical by storm when it first was staged,” Turner says. “Featuring the alluring Dance of the Seven Veils, scandalous to Victorian audiences, today we are seized by the gripping final scene as Salome sinks to the murky depths of corruption. Here we are 110 years later, and it feels contemporary today.”
Salome will be performed in German, and is a premiere example of the lush musical sound of the early 20th century opera composition. The beautiful and talented Kelly Cae Hogan will star as the title character. She achieved huge Virginia Opera success as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire two seasons ago.
Conductor Ari Pelto will return for Salome.
Virginia Opera’s 40th season comes to an end with the final production of the season, La Traviata, beginning on March 22. One of the most dearly loved operas, Verdi’s heart-wrenching tale of the desirable and fragile courtesan is a heartrending classic.
“Our final show of the season, the mid-19th Century tale, was revolutionary as well,” Turner says. “It portrays real life on stage and seedy societal things going on. It was certainly scandalous when it first premiered and was banned.”
What makes the opera even more special is that it was performed by Virginia Opera in its very first year, so ending the 40th season is something of a tribute to that first production.
“Looking back at the 40 years of our rich history, providing incredible singers from all over the world and productions of high artistic quality, I think we are honoring the legacy by putting this out again,” Turner says.