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March 2020


Double Agents and Spies: Aida as a Tale of Espionage By GLENN WINTERS


Aida is a drama built on the standard plot device of a romantic triangle (two women in love with the same man), adding the wrinkle of a Romeo-and-Juliet forbidden love as well. But there is another aspect that ups the ante of dramatic tension to a considerable degree: espionage. Aida is a tale of espionage. Think of the television series Homeland, a drama about CIA agents trying to protect America from terrorists. The show is characterized by the plot twists associated with counter-intelligence operations and the wavering loyalties of its characters. In other words, it has a LOT in common with Aida. If you are a Homeland devotee, you will doubtless see where I'm headed; if not, here are examples from the first couple of seasons. Season 1 stars Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent, and Damian Lewis as Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody. Brody is rescued after enduring eight years of captivity and torture in Afghanistan. He returns to America a hero, but Carrie harbors concerns. One of her Afghan contacts confided that an American soldier has been brainwashed by an Islamic terrorist. Carrie's suspicions are dismissed by her Continued on page 2

The Editor’s Notes


Letter from the Chair


A Soprano’s Many Challenges

New Guild Members



Behind the Scenes


At The Harrison


Guild Volunteers


The Virginia Opera Gala


Merchant of Venice


VOG Calendar


The Met Live in HD



Laquita Mitchell Photo credit Matthu Placek

Soprano Laquita Mitchell says that performing the unquestionably difficult role of Aida in the opera of the same name will be a “trial by fire.” Not only is the role a test of an artist’s stamina — Aida is on stage in almost every scene — but the singer is also “competing against the ghosts of the past.” That includes Maria Callas, Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, and Anna Netrebko, among others. “Whether for better or worse, recordings aren’t going away, so there will always be vocal comparisons.” Given all that, what is it that Mitchell’s looking forward to about singing Aida? Mitchell wants to “see where the role can take me. What challenges will I face? How will I handle all of those duets, especially the Nile scene? What will this role show me about myself, my strengths and weaknesses?” This role is a real test of any voice. “I’ve sung arias from Aida in concert, but this will be Continued on page 4

March 2020


From the Cover colleagues even as she becomes more convinced that he is a "sleeper agent" working for the enemy. As Season 1 draws to a close, Brody's role in a failed assassination attempt is revealed. The drama intensifies in Season 2: With Brody now in custody, CIA agents, led by Carrie, manage to restore his loyalty to his American homeland, setting him to work against the terrorists. But of course, by now no one can be entirely sure of where Brody's true loyalties lie, including Brody himself. It all leads to a tragic conclusion. Compare these situations to those of Aida, particularly the Nile scene of Act 3. Aida, remember, is an Ethiopian princess held prisoner in Egypt. Even if she has been "turned" against her homeland, she's at least experiencing a degree of Stockholm syndrome owing to her love for Radamès. She is extremely conflicted and torn. As she awaits a final rendezvous with Radamès in Act 3 hours before his wedding to the king’s daughter Amneris, Aida is approached by her father, the captured Ethiopian king

Production Shot from VO 2011 Aida Photo credit David Polston

Amonasro. In a searingly emotional duet, he appeals to her identity as an Ethiopian, just as Carrie appealed to Brody’s American identity. By means of threats and guilt trips, Amonasro “recruits” her to a risky espionage assignment: gather military intelligence from her lover. Radamès appears, unaware that Aida has been turned. And she proves to be a highly effective Ethiopian field agent! Whereas Amonasro employed the “bad cop, good cop” technique, expressing fatherly love only after attacking her, Aida does the opposite. At first she plays the seductress, tempting Radamès to run away with her. When that ruse fails, she turns on him in fury, accusing him of never having loved her. Now it is Radamès who is turned! He becomes a traitor to Egypt, agreeing to run away with her and revealing the military secret Amonasro sought. When his Egyptian countrymen learn of his treason, he becomes a pariah in their sight, just as Brody was. The real tragedy is the futility of all of it. Egypt and Ethiopia, far from resolving their mutual antagonism, have continued sparring through the ensuing three thousand years, right up through current events. And, as Carrie comes to believe, America’s own antiterror efforts continue with no resolution of Western and Mid-East tensions in sight. Additionally, Aida is a tale with much untold with regard to the espionage. Remember the Old Testament tale of God’s

instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac? It's in Chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis. I'm always struck by this portion of verse 3: "...he (Abraham) set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance." This is a typical example of the "bare-bones" style of Old Testament writing. Three days? Maybe I'm crazy, but I would really like to know what those three days were like! That's a really long time to travel on a mission to make a burnt offering of your own child. Details, please! Did little Isaac keep asking "Are we there yet?" Did Abraham have second thoughts and consider just going back home? What did he tell Isaac? But we get nothing. Just that it took three days. Now let's consider Aida. There's a similar missing story in the opera, one that fills me with curiosity. It's the Untold Saga of The Messenger. In Act 1, the King of Egypt announces that "a messenger has arrived from Ethiopia with grave tidings." The Messenger sounds the alarm that Ethiopia, led by Amonasro, is on the march, headed north to lay waste to Egypt. I have questions. Who is this Messenger? How long did his mission take? Ethiopia is not "just down the road" from Egypt - it's 1,375 miles! Even pushing his horse to its limits, this would require at least ten days to make the one-way journey. How did the Messenger accomplish his surveillance? OR: was he a native of Ethiopia who was "turned" by Egypt to work against his homeland? And just like the characters in Homeland, his life must have been in danger. What did he experience? What were the close calls; the attempts on his life? Was he perhaps being caught and tortured before making a daring escape? In other words, WHAT HAPPENED!?! I’m dying to know!! What’s needed here is a decent piece of Aida fan-fiction. Some imaginative opera-loving writer needs to turn out a historical novel filling in all the blanks and answering all my questions. Like many novels, it could alternate the Messenger's story with that of Aida's early days in captivity, thus allowing us to see her first glimpses of Radamès. I have questions on that front as well. How long had she been in captivity when the curtain rises on Act 1? Is there any chance that she was just a child when taken prisoner, and that she, Radamès, and Amneris have grown up together? Who's to say otherwise? Hey - maybe all THIS could make for an opera! A prequel! Or not....

Glenn Winters

March 2020

Chairperson’s Corner

Another season is coming to an end, and we say a last goodbye to Russell Allen, the President and CEO of Virginia Opera. We wish him all the best on his next journey in life. On a personal note, Russell, I would like to say thank you for your support and guidance and especially for your knowledge of the arts. Opening night of Cinderella was over-thetop successful. We had three young ladies from the Ambassador Girl Scouts assisting the Guild in the gift shop and with distributing copies of Coloratura to those in attendance. Thank you. We end this season with 153 Guild members. We look forward to welcoming more new members in the upcoming season. VO closes the season with director Lillian Groag’s interpretation of Aida. This will be surely be a “must see” performance. It’s Ms. Groag’s 26th production for VO, and her creativity remains formidable. Please consider joining us on May 16, 2020, for our Annual Meeting and End of the Year Party. It will be held at the Harrison Opera House from 1 - 4 p.m. The


3 Guild will elect the officers for next season and the new board members. The Guild’s mission is to support Virginia Opera. One way to do just that is by donating gently used items to the upcoming Merchant of Venice Rummage sale. And also by attending the event on April 4 at HOH. For further information, see page 8 of this issue of Coloratura. There are many other ways to help the Guild and show your support for Virginia Opera. Consider joining one of our committees or contributing food for the artists’ dinners. Or, call me at 757-354-5658 or email me at amberlaru@gmail.com. I’ll be pleased to provide you a list of opportunities to consider or answer any questions. SEE YOU AT THE OPERA!

The Editor’s Notes By POWERS PETERSON

Aida was the first opera I ever saw. Talk about memorable! I attended a performance at the outdoor amphitheater in Atlanta’s Chastain Park when I was a sophomore in college. To this day I can hear the Triumphal March playing as three humongous elephants from the Atlanta Zoo paraded across the stage. The Harrison Opera House stage won’t accommodate anything as large as an elephant, so I’m looking forward to seeing the Triumphal March in a much smaller setting. Director Lillian Groag will mastermind something creative, I’m sure. Speaking of heavyweights, did you know that Aida will not be performed at George Washington University in Fairfax? The reason: the set itself is so heavy, that stage cannot accommodate the weight. The Guild is holding its biennial Merchant of Venice rummage sale on April 4 at HOH. Popular with both Guild members and the general public, it’s a great way to support the opera. And perhaps to find something you can’t live without. Who knows what you’ll find? Guild members will be supporting VO by attending the Gala on April 18, 2020, at HOH. Why not join us? The event honors longtime President and CEO of Virginia Opera Russell Allen who retires at the end of the season. It seems appropriate to end this season with a photo of myself enjoying a favorite activity -- opera at the Mertropolitan Opera in New York! On a personal note — Russell, thank you for your support of Coloratura these five years. I’ve enjoyed our discussions, especially those in which you agreed with me. Good luck and Godspeed.

Photo by DRA

March 2020


From the Cover the first time I sing the full opera.” Mitchell credits her mentor Jessye Norman with helping her understand that the voice is an instrument, but a very human one. It has its own vagaries. While living in Augusta, GA, for three years, Mitchell had the opportunity to work closely with Norman on Norman’s benefit recitals. (Augusta was Jessye Norman’s home town.) Though the opportunity will never come, Mitchell’s dream would be to sing

would have it, her high school music teacher also knew her church choir director. Both recommended she attend college at their alma mater, Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ. After graduating, she completed her Master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music. She is an alumna of both the San Francisco Merola Program and the Houston Grand Opera Studio. In concert performances, she has performed with

xxxxxxxxxx Laquita Mitchell as Bess (SFO Opera, 2009) Photo Cory Weaver

hill. The chorus had to enter at the peak, then navigate down the raked stage. She recalls, “I could handle singing in Czech, but that descent was really tough on my ankles.”

Laquita Mitchell as Violetta (NYC Opera, 2012) Photo Carol Rosegg

spirituals on stage with Norman, especially “Amazing Grace.” Mitchell grew up in Brooklyn, hearing music in the house and in church. Her godmother “played Haydn and Bach on the piano all the time.” The church choir director suggested she had the talent to attend NYC’s famed High School of the Performing Arts near Lincoln Center, which she did. She commuted to Manhattan one hour each way on the subway every day. One benefit was seeing students from “different artistic disciplines and of differing backgrounds creating art.” As fate

the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and others. Early in her opera career, while singing in the chorus at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC, Mitchell relished observing other talent up close. Just as she had at the NYC High School of Performing Arts. She also learned to handle challenging staging. For Janácek’s Janûfa (1998) the set was ”appropriately grim with gray building walls of splintered wood, closed shutters and a precipitous dirt hill.” (WSJ, 6/1/98) The director placed the chorus at the top of that

Mitchell has sung the roles of Micaela in Carmen, Violetta in Traviata, Bess in Porgy and Bess, Musetta in La bohème, and Leonora in Il trovatore. Regardless of how many other operas she’s sung in, performing Aida at Virginia Opera will be unique. Some years ago her mother and grandmother left NYC for Chesapeake, VA. And they plan to attend her performances. “I’m going to be navigating both personal and professional roles. Just another challenge.”

New Guild Members We welcome our first-time Guild Members Benjamin J. Rubinstein, MD, Norfolk John T. Sinacori, MD, Norfolk Derek and Anne Sledge, Norfolk

March 2020



Twice a Would-Be Princess By POWERS PETERSON

Like many other singers, soprano Symone Harcum grew up singing in her church choir. In addition, Symone spent every summer for ten years in Houston, visiting her grandparents. Her grandmother managed to secure Symone an audition for the Ensemble Theater of Houston, a musical theater company dedicated to preserving African-American artistic expression. Although the company usually did not accept students under seven, Symone joined at age six. She met the company’s first criterion for children: she could read.

Symone Harcum Photo Matt Mendelsohn

Symone became “very comfortable” at VO, largely because of the support of Maestro Adam Turner and vocal coach Shelby Rhoades. They encouraged her to attend graduate school. As she recalls it, “That’s farfetched. For opera, of all things.” She earned a Master’s degree from the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Studying with mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves there convinced her that opera was her career. She returned to VO in 2019 for a Black History month production and subsequently was offered a contract to join VO’s Herndon Foundation Emerging Artists Program. Symone Harcum as stepsister Clorinda in Cinderella (Virginia Opera, 2020) Photo Ben Schill

Norfolk State University (NSU) recruited Symone from her Baltimore high school choir. At NSU she studied to become a choral music teacher. In her last semester, voice professor Bridgid Eversole suggested she audition for the Virginia Opera chorus. Because of her choir training, her diction was impeccable and she was familiar with foreign languages, both qualities desirable in an opera singer. Still, she had never seen an opera. “That particular mix of elements was new to me.” After auditioning, she first sang in the chorus in Pearl Fishers (2012). After that she sang in the chorus for three years.

Symone will sing the role of the High Priestess in Aida and she will also cover the role of Aida. (Opera has covers; theater and ballet have understudies.) How does one prepare to be a cover in an opera one has never seen? Clearly, one first has to learn to sing the role. After all, the music is in some sense generic. After that it’s both different and similar. Symone explains, “One of the advantages is that a cover has so much access to the creative process. A cover gets to be in the room while the creative team works through the process. Observing rehearsals you learn how they work through challenges and develop relationships. It can be entertaining, like watching a really good documentary.” What are the challenges for a cover? According to Symone, “Because every singer sings a role differently, a cover

has to be prepared to be in place of that singer on that stage. Figuring out how to do that can be tricky. I don’t want to imitate the singer I’m covering. But I do need to ‘stand in’ for that performer.” In addition, there is learning the blocking, the precise staging of actors to facilitate a performance. A cover does not get the same amount of time to learn the blocking. Symone says, “You go on, but you haven’t really blocked the stage. Everyone else already on stage has their rhythms and their nuances. It can be frightening.” One muscle-activating technique Symone learned from a coach facilitates “learning without doing.” While watching the rehearsal, the cover sits in a chair offstage. The cover activates muscles in time with the music to develop muscle memory. For instance, the cover presses the foot to the floor whenever the singer on stage walks. “The theory is that when the cover arises, her body will rely on that muscle memory to know that it should move.” Covering Aida presents another challenge for Symone: learning a role that, in her words, “May be a few years out for me.” Then why is she doing it? “I feel very much taken care of here at VO. I trust the people here and I felt this would be a good place to explore this role. My personal team agrees. Since I started to train at a later age than most opera singers, my experience is behind my years. I won’t take my voice into a place it cannot sustain.” If singing Clorinda in the recent production of Cinderella was an example of what Symone’s voice can sustain, then should she step in to sing Aida, it will be memorable.

Whitney Robinson and Symone Harcum as the stepsisters in Cinderella (Virginia Opera, 2020) Photo Ben Schill

March 2020




The Production Conducted by Adam Turner Richmond Symphony Orchestra Director( ( ( Choreographer( ( Scenic Designer( ( Costume Designer(( Lighting Designer( (

( ( ( ( (

Lillian Groag Malcom Burn Erhard Rom Martha Hally Otto Driscoll

The Cast Aida( ( Amneris( ( Radamès(( Amonasro( Ramfis( ( High Priestess(

( ( ( ( ( (

Soprano( ( Mezzo-soprano( Tenor( ( Baritone( ( Bass-baritone( Soprano( (

( ( ( ( ( (

Laquita Mitchell Leah Heater Brian Cheney Joshua Jeremiah Ashraf Sewailam Symone Harcum Set design by Philippe Chaperon for the Cairo première (1871)

Dancers provided by Richmond Ballet

VOG Vounteers: 2019-2020 Season Dan Alonso

Renate Foxwell

Marisa Marsey

Martha Lee Shaw

Allen Anderson

Ralph Grove

Steve Marsey

Ruth Schepper

Patricia Blue

Bryan Hardman

Melanie Mitchell

Rick Shepard

Mark Board

Carlton Hardy

Marianne Nicholson

Nick Smith

Barbara Boslego

Janita Hess

Terren Niedrauer

Helmut Speckheuer

Gwendolyn Brown

Tom Horsch

Donna Noonan

Mary Lou Speckheuer

Barbara Buchmann

Richard Hudgins

Eric Peterson

George Skena

Jennie Calhoun

Angela Hurst

Powers Peterson

Elena Stevens

Diane Cobb

Stacy Keith-Reibell

Neil Quesnel

Dora Lee Taylor

Nicole DeJesus

Terry Kelly

Amber Taylor Reeves

Holly Tracy

Jim Deming

Bob Kuhlo

Chad Reeves

Kittie Whitaker

Linda Edge

Adele Levesque

Allan Reynolds

John Field

Beverly Mack

Harriet Reynolds

March 2020



Rock the Night Away By LISA SANDS

The Virginia Opera Gala roars into the new decade with an exciting theme: Rock the Night Away. Beginning at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, 2020, The Harrison Opera House will become The Rock Zone. For that one night only the Harrison Opera House venue will be the scene of a night filled with music, cocktails, dining, and dancing. There will be Rock, Opera, and Rock Opera! You’ll have to see it to believe it — classic rock at an opera house! Tickets are $250 per person and include a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar followed by a seated dinner on the stage with wine. The night concludes backstage with dancing until midnight. Gala Chair Christie Nicholson and her committee have been diligently working to create a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Proceeds from this event support Virginia Opera’s award-winning Education and Outreach Program. The outreach program brings opera performance to more than 150,000 students each year throughout the Commonwealth. For more information, please contact Lisa Sands at 757-213-4554 or at lisa.sands@vaopera.org.

Save the Date! Event


Merchant of Venice Rummage Sale

April 4

Harrison Opera House

Virginia Opera Gala

April 18

Harrison Opera House

Richmond Gala 2020

Members’ Annual Meeting

April 22

May 16



The Country Club of Virginia in Richmond Harrison Opera House

Contact Information Join us to support the Virginia Opera Association. Volunteer for a committee or for one of our activities. And don’t forget to check us out on the Virginia Opera website. Here’s how to contact us: Write us

Virginia Opera Guild P.O. Box 11572, Norfolk VA 23517

Call us

RSVP: 757-627-9545, ext. 3584

Email us


Like us

on Facebook: Virginia Opera Guild

March 2020



Merchant of Venice Rummage Sale It’s almost here! The Virginia Opera Guild’s biennial rummage sale is on Saturday, April 4, 2020, at The Harrison Opera House from 8 a.m. till 1 p.m. All proceeds support the Guild in its mission to support the Virginia Opera. In terms of your tax-deductible donations, we’re looking for just about anything in good condition. Previously we’ve sold furniture, housewares, silverware, jewelry, bikes of all kinds, toys, sporting goods, artworks, rugs, handbags, briefcases, luggage, working electronics and small appliances, lamps, books, CD’s, DVD’s, knickknacks, Halloween costumes, and holiday and decorative items. We’ve sold a working loom, a complete set of gold-plated flatware for twelve, and a Nikon DX-40 camera with an accompanying telephoto lens. Consider assisting Guild members in accepting donations. You don’t have to be a Guild member to help out. We’ll welcome volunteers to help on: ( Monday, March 30, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. ( Tuesday, March 31, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4 - 7 p.m. ( Wednesday, April 1, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 - 7 p.m. If you would like to donate large items such as furniture in advance, contact Barbara Buchmann at barbarab4700@gmail.com. We also need volunteers to help sort and arrange items prior to the sale. Can you help on any of the following days? ( Wednesday, April 1, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 - 7 p.m. ( Thursday, April 2, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ( Friday, April 3, 2020, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lastly, we need volunteers on Saturday, April 4, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. to monitor departments, assist buyers, and clean up afterwards. If you can help on any of the above days, contact Barbara at barbarab4700@gmail.com.

The Met Live in HD

Virginia Opera Guild Calendar Date


Mar 14

5:00 p.m.

Event Artists’ Dinner for Aida - HOH

Mar 20

8:00 p.m.


Mar 22

2:30 p.m.


Mar 23

7:30 p.m.


Apr 1

4:30 p.m.

Board Meeting - HOH

Apr 4

8:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Merchant of Venice Rummage Sale HOH

May 16

1:00 - 4:00 p.m.

Member’s Annual Meeting - HOH

Jun 3

9:30 a.m.


Board Meeting - HOH

Time Opera / Composer

Conductor / Singers

Mar 14

12:55 p.m.

Der Fliegende Holländer / Wagner

Gergiev / Kampe, Fujimura, Skorokhodov, Portillo, Nikitin, Selig

Apr 11

12:55 p.m.

Tosca / Puccini

de Billy/ Netrebko, Jagde, Volle, Carfizzi

May 9

12:55 p.m.

Maria Stuarda / Donizetti

Benini / Damrau, Barton, Costello, Filonczyk, Pertusi

Oct 10

12:55 p.m.

Aida / Verdi

Nézet-Séguin / Netrebko, Rachvelishvili, Beczala, Tézier, Belosselskiy, Baczyk

Nov 7

12:55 p.m.

Il Trovatore / Verdi

Mariotti / Yoncheva, Semenchuk, Aronica, Kelsey, Youn

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