Saturday evening, the Virginia Opera brought back to the Harrison Opera House one of the most popular operettas, “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss II. With all singing and dialogue in English, the large audience could follow every detail of the comical text.
It’s late 19th century Vienna, the home of Gabriel Von Eisenstein, a wealthy man about town, who loves a good practical joke, even if it humiliates a friend. But what happens when that friend hatches an elaborate scheme to teach the womanizing Von Eisenstein a lesson he won’t soon forget? The answer is revealed in the grandest masked ball of the season, where the champagne flows freely and identity is obscured!
Georges Bizet’s classic tale of forbidden love unfolds on an island fishing village, cloaked in mystique. Pearl fishermen Zurga and Nadir, are old friends who swore an oath to never pursue the beautiful Leila, with whom they are both in love. In preparation for a fishing trip, an anonymous veiled virgin arrives to pray for the fleet’s safety. When the two men learn of the virgin’s true identity, they become locked in a bitter love triangle that tests the bonds of friendship and loyalty.
Dorothy Danner has never been one to rest on her laurels. In 2003 she served as stage director for a well-received production of “Die Fledermaus” at Virginia Opera. This weekend, the company is bringing back the light-hearted Strauss operetta, with Danner again serving as director.
The Virginia Opera presented a delightful evening of opera favorites this past Thursday evening in the main auditorium of Fairfax City’s striking new Stacy C. Sherwood Center on Old Lee Highway. Soloists Abigail Paschke, Megan Marino, Jeremiah Johnson, and Drew Duncan were ably accompanied by pianist and apprentice vocal coach Tessa Hartle during this enjoyable but all-too-brief recital highlighting vocal works from Mozart to Franz Lehar.
So what was French composer Georges Bizet up to before he staked his claim to immortality on “Carmen” shortly before he died in 1875? A dozen years before, the 25-year-old Bizet was warming up to scale the “Carmen” heights with another opera, “The Pearl Fishers,” a beautifully staged production that is launching Virginia Opera’s 35th Richmond season this weekend in the Carpenter Theatre at Richmond CenterStage.
Considering the popularity of “Carmen,” you’d think that Georges Bizet’s other major opera, “The Pearl Fishers,” would be at least vaguely familiar. Not really. Many longtime operagoers in this country have never heard, let alone seen, a production. Others know the opera only from this or that excerpt, notably the Act 1 “Pearl Fishers duet” for tenor and baritone.
On Oct. 19, Virginia Opera begins its 35th consecutive season performing in downtown Richmond. From 1978-1983, Virginia Opera was sponsored by Richmond Friends of Opera, led by Anna Garner and a group of opera devotees from across the greater Richmond community. The Friends of Opera provided the foundation for the Opera’s current Central Virginia Board, which came into being in the early ’80s and is now led by Kemper Hyers.
When tenor Chad A. Johnson found out he’d be performing in Virginia Opera’s production of island fantasy “The Pearl Fishers,” he acknowledges having some misgivings.
The Virginia Opera’s current production of Georges Bizet’s early opera, Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) at GMU’s Center for the arts this weekend was a delightful surprise. Spare, yet colorful, active without seeming too busy, the production was given a further boost by good to great soloists in the key roles.