By Montague Gammon III
The Virginia Opera’s 8th annual, free and open admission, “Opera in the Park” concerts this year showcase the talents of the company’s chorus, whom VO Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor Adam Turner calls “the hardest working singers in the business,” of recent and current members of the Opera’s internationally recognized Emerging Artists program, and of a wife-and-husband pair of young VO featured vocalists, who now have a special connection to the company.
Soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird has just been appointed to the new position of Executive/Artistic Coordinator, an administrative position supporting and assisting Turner and the company’s President and CEO, Russell P. Allen and its various Boards, as well as coordinating the Artistic Department.
Bird comes to the VO with impressive credits as a singer, including 10 years at the Metropolitan Opera, and a host of well reviewed performances across the country.
The experience of literally going across the country from gig to gig for a full year, living in “a trailer” with husband bass-baritone Matthew Burns “and two children under 6 years old,” she said in a recent telephone interview, prompted her to “send out a wide net” for stable employment.
The more she thought about the Virginia Opera posting for the Executive/Artistic Coordinator position the more she realized it would be “a perfect fit” for her.
She’d worked her way through her undergrad years at the University of Georgia not as a waitress or in clothing retail sales, she explained, but as a secretary. She liked and apparently had a knack for organization and for “keeping track of things,” and she’d kept her computer skills up to date.
Virginia audiences saw Bird and Burns together in the 2013 production of The Marriage of Figaro, and Burns himself the year before in Orphee. He will sing in this season’s The Barber of Seville.
In the Norfolk Town Point Park 2016 Opera in the Park event the couple has two duets, one from Donizetti’s operatic rom-com, The Elixir of Love, and one called “If I Loved You,” from the belovedly sentimental Broadway classic, Carousel. Bird solos with “Glitter and be Gay,” from Leonard Bernstein’s Broadway hit, Candide.
Bird said that she had known since childhood that she wanted to be a performer, but that she came to opera relatively late, during those Georgia years. Training in theater, dance and other areas of vocal music prepared her for opera, but it was not until a perceptive voice teacher got her to try it that she realized that opera was neither “stuffy” nor elitist, but a rich blend of multiple theatrical, visual and musical arts.
That individual recognition of the accessibility of opera is much in line with what Turner says is a primary goal when he programs each Opera in the Park event.
Speaking by phone from California, where he was “going to operas and auditioning singers,” Turner listed three things he wants to accomplish with each open air program here, while giving audiences previews of upcoming productions or at least of their composers.
“To give something to our seasoned opera goers that they have not heard before, or often enough,”’ is one of Turner’s goals. For example, the concert will include the tenor aria, “Lonely House,” by Kurt Weill, from his 1946 opera Street Scene. (Weill’s 35 minute long one-act opera, The 7 Deadly Sins, in a double bill with Ruggero Leoncavallo’s very familiar Pagliacci, kicks off the Virginia Opera season, but Turner says it’s difficult to excerpt the short ‘through composed” piece effectively.)
“To get people exposed to opera for the first time [with] a lot of music that will attract newcomers” is another aim of the Opera in the Park, so there are two pieces by Bernstein and the Rodgers/Hammerstein piece from Carousel, as well as “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, and songs from such well regarded works as The Pearl Fishers, Rigoletto, Die Fledermaus, Cosi fan Tutti, and more.
Furthermore, Turner especially wants to show people how good the locally sourced Virginia Opera Chorus is, and to remind folks that these regular – and again, hardworking – Virginia Opera performers come from our community and then represent The Opera all over the state.
The Chorus is featured with Burns in a song from Gounod’s Faust, take the stage all by themselves for the “Bell Chorus” from Pagliacci and “Va Pensiero” from Verdi’s Nabucco, join in Bizet’s Carmen “Toreador Song” and in Candide’s “Make Our Garden Grow,” and wrap up the show in the company of Bird, Burns and the rest of the soloists in “Libiamo,” a promised encore from (arguably) the world’s most popular opera, La Traviata.
Opera in the Park
Virginia Opera Association
Town Point Park
Park Opens at 6:00 PM
Concert Begins at 7:30 PM
(Richmond performance Aug. 27, Dogwood Dell)
Food and Door Prizes Offered