A NIGHT FOR NOTABLE WOMEN
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: The Patrick Henry Ballroom.
How much: $55, History Museum of Western Virginia members and Opera Roanoke subscribers, $45
Info: 342-5770; vahistorymuseum.org
Opera Roanoke and the Historical Society of Western Virginia have teamed up to honor a Roanoke native who was once an international opera star.
Hollins College and Juilliard School graduate Jane Stuart Smith made her professional opera debut in Detroit in 1951.
The next year she debuted in Europe, and through the rest of the decade she was an international opera star. She performed in Egypt, Italy, Austria and Greece, but also from time to time returning to the United States and even performing with the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra.
She was praised in Italy for her performances in the lead role of Giacomo Puccini's "Turandot." She was the first American singer to sing "Turandot" in that country.
Yet she found her career dissatisfying. In 1956, she met Francis Schaeffer, the founder of L'Abri, an evangelical Christian organization based in Switzerland. Four years later, after a plane she was riding in nearly crashed over the Swiss Alps, she decided to join L'Abri and leave opera performance behind.
These days, she resides in Roanoke. And she hasn't abandoned opera altogether - she serves as a consulting trustee for Opera Roanoke.
The tribute Thursday night to the woman once known as the "Yankee Doodle Diva" includes performances by soprano Amy Cofield Williamson, wife of Opera Roanoke director Scott Williamson, and the singers in Opera Roanoke's Young Apprentice Artist program.
AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS
When: 6 p.m. Friday
Where: St. John's Episcopal Church, 1 Mountain Ave. SW, Roanoke (corner of Jefferson Street and Elm Avenue)
How much: Free (offerings accepted)
Info: 343-9341; stjohnsroanoke.org
If you're pining for the Christmas spirit to linger a little longer, this free performance from Opera Roanoke will help.
"Amahl and the Night Visitors" by Gian Carlo Menotti bears the distinction of being the first opera written specifically to be broadcast on television - NBC presented it in 1951 on Christmas Eve in the premiere "Hallmark Hall of Fame" special.
The opera tells in an hour the story of Amahl, a crippled shepherd boy who meets the three wise men following the Star of Bethlehem and whose giving nature is rewarded with a Christmas miracle. Though not in as heavy rotation as "The Nutcracker," "A Christmas Carol" or "It's a Wonderful Life," "Amahl" became an enduring Christmas classic.
Opera Roanoke will put on a concert performance of Menotti's opera as part of St. John's Episcopal Church "Music on the Corner" program.
For classical music aficionados, there's a special treat in store. The concert's guest conductor is Joseph Flummerfelt, a friend of Menotti's who worked frequently with the composer. Menotti founded both the Spoleto Festival in Italy and the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C. Flummerfelt was choirmaster for the Italian Festival for 23 years and is co-artistic director of its American counterpart.
Flummerfelt himself founded and directs the New York Choral Artists and was once called "the greatest choral conductor in the world" by legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.
Though he's conducted many of Menotti's operas, Friday's concert will mark the first time Flummerfelt has conducted "Amahl."
"Joe Green" Tree Honors Opera
November 10, 2011
The City of Roanoke, along with the Roanoke Arts Commission, Roanoke Public Libraries, Opera Roanoke, and the Harrison Museum of African American Culture came together last week to dedicate a tree on the grounds of the Gainsboro Branch Library. The "Joe Green" Tree Project was scheduled as part of National Opera Week, and honors a tradition in which the family of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi would plant a tree for each new opera he wrote. The tree also sets in motion plans to enhance the landscaping in the area around the "Reading Garden" sculpture, which was installed at the Gainsboro Branch Library in November 2009. A mix of music lovers, library patrons, environmental advocates and residents of the neighborhood attended the dedication, which was followed by a program of music and discussion with representatives of Opera Roanoke.
Opera Roanoke Bravos!
Madama Butterfly Review, The Roanoke Times, March 19, 2011, Seth Williamson
"Grand opera - complete with staging, sympathetic characters and great tunes - was back Friday night before a sold-out house at Shaftman Performance Hall in Jefferson Center. After several concert productions minus the bling, Opera Roanoke revived colorful sets and costumes, not to mention acting, for its spring production of Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." There'll be one more performance Sunday at 2:30 p.m., although it, too, is sold out.
Mother's Day Serenade, May 8th, 2011
I hope the people of Roanoke know how blessed we are to have such talent perform for us! Thank you! - Cam, OR Friend, May 2011
Congratulations! What a fantastic afternoon of music and opera. Throughout, I had to pinch myself to remember that such innovative and challenging music was being done in Roanoke. Thanks, - Bruce, OR patron, May 2011
Monday, May 02, 2011 - Concert review: Conductor Steven White, RSO members were in fine form, By Seth Williamson, Special to The Roanoke Times
After the massive opening chords, guest conductor Steven White maintained a pulse that kept straining forward. ...White always seems to get the best efforts of these players. This was a richly detailed performance, with deftly controlled dynamics and a sure architectural conception of the work from beginning to end... Especially fine was the soulful "Andante," overflowing with heart-on-the-sleeve lyricism, its melodic stream skillfully shaped by White. The entire woodwind section sounded as if it were kidnapped from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, especially the clarinets.
Friday, May 20, 2011 - AMADEUS Review, Chrysler Hall, Norfolk, By M.D. Ridge
"The sextet of soloists was equally remarkable, most notably Scott Williamson (Tamino's impassioned aria) and Amy Cofield Williamson's impeccable brilliance..."
Opera Roanoke conductor Steven White makes debut at the Met
April 9, 2010 The Roanoke Times
By Mike Allen
A New York arts scene scandal has opened up the opportunity of a lifetime for Opera Roanoke conductor and artistic director Steven White.
Wednesday, White made his debut as conductor of the Metropolitan Opera during its performance of the classic Giuseppe Verdi staple "La Traviata," the tragic tale of a courtesan dying of tuberculosis who meets the man who may be her true love. The current production stars world-renowned soprano Angela Gheorghiu and baritone Thomas Hampson.
Despite the potential pressure involved in stepping into a spot that's the opera equivalent of coaching a team in the Super Bowl, White seemed well on top of things in an interview last week.
"My collaborators are the best in the world at what they do," he said. "I'm anticipating that I'll have a great time."
White will conduct the Metropolitan Opera orchestra again Saturday. His premiere in the nation's most prestigious opera venue made national news as he became one of three cover conductors (a role similar to an actor's understudy) to step in after the departure of the production's original conductor, Leonard Slatkin.
According to a story in The New York Times, Slatkin had originally been designated to conduct a lavish production of the modern opera "Ghosts of Versailles." Yet in a cost-saving measure, the Met chose to put on "La Traviata" instead -- an opera that, it turns out, Slatkin had never conducted before.
Despite an effort chronicled on his Web site to learn the opera, Slatkin's opening night efforts March 29 were savaged by critics. New York Times reviewer Anthony Tommasini wrote, "I have seldom heard such faulty coordination between a conductor and a cast at the Met."
On April 1, Slatkin withdrew from the production "for personal reasons," The New York Times reported.
White has served as a cover conductor for the Met in four productions, starting with Bellini's "La Sonnambula" in 2008. Much of this has involved conducting rehearsals. "This is the first one where I'm actually called upon to conduct a performance," he said.
White declined to comment on the developments with Slatkin. He did note that he has conducted "La Traviata" before, and the first time he did it was for Opera Roanoke.
Regardless of how he fares at the Met, White said he's looking forward to Opera Roanoke's next show, a concert performance of the tragic tale of murder and madness, "Lucia di Lammermoor," happening April 30 and May 2.
Without his experience in Roanoke, he wouldn't be where he is now, White said.
YOUNG APPRENTICE ARTISTS
Congratulations on a magnificent show! I thought the entire opera [Madama Butterfly] was just wonderful and moving and I just wanted to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a part of it! I had so much fun and I loved working with everyone. I learned so much in such a short period of time. Thank you so much for taking a special interest in helping one of your young artists "learn the ropes." I loved being up on stage and I cannot wait for the next time I get the opportunity to do it again! - Brooke, OR Young Apprentice Artist, Radford University Student, March 2011
OPERA AROUND ROANOKE
The Roanoke Times, Letter to the Editor, Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Free Taubman event had a great show, Anyone who did not attend the Taubman Museum's Spectacular Saturday's event (which is free, by the way) on Saturday afternoon missed a truly spectacular performance featuring Scott Williamson, general and artistic director of Opera Roanoke. Not only did we hear his lyric and expressive tenor voice singing American and British folk ballads inspired by paintings in the museum's American and Contemporary art galleries, we were also highly entertained by Williamson's extensive knowledge, appreciation for and understanding of the artists and their works. Congratulations to the Taubman's Cindy Petersen for presenting this most innovative and exhilarating melding of music and art. We look to this important Roanoke Valley artistic resource for more programs of this kind in the future. Sage Bassett, Daleville [commenting on "Listening to Paintings"].
MORE REVIEWS & NEWS
March 13, 2011
Opera Roanoke performance of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" to be steeped in passion, star power
Amid the chaos in rehearsals for Opera Roanoke's "Madama Butterfly," the artists never fail to impress
By Mike Allen
Read the full article at roanoke.com
To fully understand how good professional opera singers have to be, perhaps you have to see them in rehearsal.
Opera Roanoke Executive Director Scott Williamson calls opera "the most expensive form of art." He's overseeing a new production of Giacomo Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" that happens to be the financially beleaguered nonprofit's first fully staged opera in more than two years.
It comes at a steep price, $150,000 to $200,000, according to Williamson -- with expenses trimmed to the bare bones.
What does that money buy? Elaborate rented sets and costumes. And cast members in key roles who already know their parts, backward, forward and sideways.
Before you assume that's just a figure of speech, picture this.
The afternoon of March 2 in Jefferson Center's rehearsal hall, yellow tape on the floor outlines the dimensions of a set that hasn't yet arrived. The cast is working through the opening scene, in which U.S. Navy officer B.F. Pinkerton inspects a house he has purchased in Japan. The man who arranged the deal, Goro, has also arranged a marriage for the American, with 15-year-old Cio-Cio San, known as "Butterfly."
Virginia Chorale member Scott Crissman plays the conniving Goro, while New York tenor Christian Reinert, tall and square-jawed, brings enigmatic, narcissistic Pinkerton to life.
On the second day of rehearsals -- less than three weeks before the first show -- the singers are starting to work with blocking. They move inside a taped-off rectangle that simulates the approximate dimensions of the paper-walled Japanese house, occasionally walking down smaller rectangles that represent front steps. Symmetrically arranged music stands represent the walls and doors.
Just a few minutes of rehearsal provide evidence of the singers' remarkable powers of concentration. As they practice their parts and Williamson accompanies by either playing the music on piano or singing the notes, director Cynthia Oxberry interrupts constantly.
Oxberry, who holds assistant director positions with both the Washington National Opera and the LA Opera, has arrived with strong ideas as to how these characters should behave, and what that means in terms of what they do where on the set.
Every change in the music cues actions onstage. Oxberry stops the actors, shows them what she wants them to do, has them start over from just seconds earlier. Time and again, stopped after intervals of minutes or even a few seconds, the players are able to start singing perfectly from whatever place they're told to begin, and quickly memorize Oxberry's instructions while they're doing it.
Many of the players aren't just veterans of "Madama Butterfly," but veterans of Opera Roanoke's 2002 performance of the Puccini favorite. Yunah Lee played Butterfly in that production, too, and mezzo soprano Eunjoo Lee (no relation) is reprising her role as the maid servant Suzuki. Williamson himself played Goro.