Mid-Summer Update

After a long silence I thought it would be good to give you all a mid-summer artistic report.
First of all, the Virginia Opera season (http://www.vaopera.org/) just past.

I was very proud of the season we were able to present, especially given the budget cuts forcing reductions to the normal requirements of the repertoire we presented. In fact many people said that our DON GIOVANNI and PORGY AND BESS productions were among the best they had seen ever, ANYWHERE. And that is a real achievement given that we were budgeted more for a concert version of PORGY AND BESS than as an opera! Kudos to all of our behind-the-scenes talent and teamwork that pulled that off! And I was particularly pleased that we had given the ground-breaking title PORGY role to our fabulous young Schaunard from BOHEME, Michael Redding, who turned out to be singularly moving and brilliant in the role. We will hear more from and about him I’m sure.

In fact I brought Michael and our Serena (the extraordinary young Aundi Marie Moore) with me to the 6th Maputo International Music Festival (www.maputomusic.com) and presented both of them in a fluid 90-minute version of PORGY AND BESS in Jewel Box production along with a pre-selected group of Mozambican choristers and dancers who were trained by Joe Walsh and our Broadway director Greg Ganakas. It was a phenomenal and even a transformational experience for all involved (which you can almost see in the photos). Moira Forjaz, the head of the Festival, also brought Manon Strauss Evrard to sing two orchestral concerts with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra (South Africa's top orchestra) in both Durban and Maputo, and she was a big success.

Immediately after that I was able to catch up with dozens of colleagues and friends at the Opera America conference in Los Angeles and introduce our VOA President to LA Opera President Carol Henry (who had attended our TRISTAN in the Harrison Opera House), Impresaria Irene Dalis, the MET International Mezzo and Isolde (who has run Opera San Jose so successfully in the decades since she retired from her singing career), Marilyn Shapiro (friend, and chief fund-raiser for the MET Centenniel Campaign and in recent years for LA Opera), and several other opera luminaries. And attend the Iturbi International Voice Competition where our own Serena -- Aundi Marie Moore walked off with the Audience Favorite Award in LA this June, and Thea and I were there to support her!

Shortly after that I traveled to the Greek Island of Syros to help founder/soprano Eilana Lappalainen create the Greek Opera Studio there this past June/July -- where singers and coaches from Europe and the Americas came to join my Masterclasses. It is a beautiful island, a major port, and has the most beautiful small horse-shoe opera house (Apollo Theater). Photos of the hall and the classes there are posted; just click on the Masterclasses. Eilana herself is transitioning from a more lyric soprano into a more dramatic soprano. After she sang Micaela, Liu, and Violetta for us a decade ago in Virginia, I brought and conducted her BUTTERFLY at Bellas Artes in Mexico City -- before she expanded her repertoire and career to Germany, where she is known for her SALOME. She returned to VOA for TROVATORE the season before last, and is now singing TURANDOT and preparing the Wagner roles.

I have been preparing our new Virginia Opera season for well over a year now – having worked in NYC this Winter vacation and Spring weekly with the magnificent South African baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa as our RIGOLETTO, who is already covering this and other leading roles at the MET. Fikile has a truly world-class voice and he is a very special and charismatic person -- who came up from the townships of Cape Town under apartheid to arrive at the MET, -- and I look forward to guiding and presenting him first in Virginia in this important career-defining title role.

However the big news of the summer is that I will oversee the first Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival in the Poconos -- where I have been invited as Founding Artistic Director to create a unique Festival starting this August 6-14. The Festival is located in two affluent Pocono communities -- Buck Hill Falls, a community of 300 'cottages' and Skytop, 100 'cottages' and with its major Lodge and leisure activities.

I have put together an unusual mix of opera (PORGY AND BESS on Aug 7, 5 days of MASTERCLASSES Aug 9-13, and a closing night OPERA GALA Aug 14 co-hosted by MET mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood: Vicky sang Mercedes with Renee Fleming as Frasquita in our CARMEN back in 1988!), chamber music (with a resident FESTIVAL PIANO QUARTET) and Broadway and Jazz (headed by our NYC friend Jimmy Roberts - composer of I Love You...You're Perfect...Now Change!). Do look at our website http://www.buckhillskytopfest.org/ and artists and consider a visit this August between August 6 and 14. We present a similarly abbreviated PORGY AND BESS Jewel Box production (like in Maputo) in a single "free" performance is August 7. Tickets to that event are moving rapidly, so please reserve immediately if you plan to come. It is only an hour and a half drive from either NYC or Philly, and there are many very nice places to stay (also on the website). I am attaching the daily schedule so you can see just how many sessions are taking place during the Festival. We have a fabulous management team in place there with President David Mazza and our young but brilliant Chinese-American General Manager Phil Chan. I am very proud of this summer's program, and I know anyone who enjoys singing will especially appreciate this Festival.

The real work for singers is usually accomplished through closed working/coaching sessions, but the Festival is sponsoring a 5-day open series of Masterclasses "From the Conductor's Perspective" which I think could interest you very much.

As Artistic Director of the Festival I have been able to invite many much more advanced mid-career artists to take part in what will be a very high level series of Masterclasses Aug 9-13 -- in exchange for a week in the Poconos and their appearance in our final closing night Opera Gala August 14. Although we have recruited some good less-experienced paying participants as well, I have managed to attract all the artists listed below to be in these first Buck Hill-Skytop Festival Masterclasses, and I think you will be thrilled to hear them. Many of them have or will sing with Virginia Opera.


Eilana Lappalainen, now singing heavier rep

Sang Eun Lee, upcoming VOA Gilda (RIGOLETTO)

Kenneithia Mitchell, musical high laser lyric, former VOA SPECtrum artist

Aundi-Marie Moore, our recent Serena (PORGY)

Lynne Morse, full lyric with spinto drive, former SPEC

Mary Ann Stewart, up from mezzo, former VOA Brangaene (TRISTAN)

3-Mezzo –

Nina Lorcini, our upcoming VOA Fricka (VALKYRIE)

Carla Dirkilov, Carmen in Syros and Merida

[**Victoria Livengood co-host of Gala and Master teacher]


Aurelio Dominquez, our upcoming VOA Duke (RIGOLETTO)

Dan Snyder, former VOA Alfredo (TRAVIATA) & HOFFMANN, and Tristan cover

Eric Nelson Werner, our upcoming VOA Siegmund (VALKYRIE)

3-Baritone –

Lawrence Craig, our recent VOA Sportin’Life (PORGY)

Bryan Davis, our upcoming VOA Wotan (VALKYRIE)

Mark Walters, terrific full baritone w/kernel (RAPPAHANNOCK COUNTY)


Ashley Howard Wilkinson, former Ferrando (VOA TROVATORE before last one) and Crown in Washington National Opera's PORGY


Craig Ketter

Wilson Southerland

So please seriously consider dropping by or even catching the whole Festival in the cool Poconos this August.

I look forward to returning to Virginia early in September to begin finally the full RIGOLETTO with the magnificent Fikile Mvinjelwa in the title role. He will be surrounded by the Venezuelan tenor Aurelio Dominquez and the Korean soprano debuting as the Duke and Gilda -- both of whom will be in the Buck Hill-Skytop Masterclasses this August 9-14 to work in advance with me. This is followed by a delicious cast for COSI directed by Lillian Groag and conducted by Joe (like this past DON GIOVANNI), then by our 3-hour (!) WALKURE (Siegmund, Wotan, and Fricka will also be refining and performing in Buck Hill-Skytop), and finally a BUTTERFLY which Joe Walsh conducts to close our season starring Sandra Perez in the title role.


Peter Mark

Founding General Director and Artistic Director

Virginia Opera, www.vaopera.org

Box 2580, Norfolk, VA 23501



757 627 9545 x3337

General Director and Artistic Director

International Opera Alliance



Artistic Director

Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival



August 6-14, 2010

Not so easy to conduct VERDI

I think the following two articles give one a great vision into the difference between conducting (as well as playing) symphonic works -- where the orchestra and conductor have total control of the music between them -- and opera -- where the element of drama and the scope and capacity of the human voice to express more physically grounded emotions, both complicate and enrichen the experience. With all its inherent vulnerabilities, its intimacies as well as its passions, opera continues to tie its music-making to the human story in palpable and visceral ways -- both subtle and grand.

Read here how even a distinquished symphonic conductor such as Leonard Slatkin comes a cropper in TRAVIATA at the Met and has to withdraw.

And read here the same reviewer's analysis of the sensitive issues which define the limits of the VERDI style.

The High Cost of WAGNER's RING:L.A. Opera and its $32-million Ring

Read about the standard enormous costs of producing any of Wagner's music-dramas for opera companies around the country, especially his RING operas, and marvel that we here at Virginia Opera will be treating our audiences again next season to the glories of THE VALKYRIE in January/February 2011.

Read it here.

Happy New Year

With the New Year upon us, I want to let you know that we begin DON GIOVANNI rehearsals with our extraordinary director and cast (click here) momentarily.

December was a very full month, what with the final performances of DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT, our French Embassy Concert at Washington's Maison Francaise, our NYC Annual auditions, and my International Opera Alliance (IOA) Masterclasses.

And we wish you all a Happy and Healthy New Year!


Videos and Articles of particular interest that I recommend to you follow directly below:

Silent Monks Singing Halleluia where you can learn the basics of music enjoyably!

Be sure to watch the MET AUDITION PBS special January 20th at 9PM

This is a real lesson in vocal technique by one of the greatest recent Wagnerian singers Birgit Nilsson, singing Isolde's Liebestod in concert version with orchestra early in her stupendous career..Notice the calm, accurate way she negotiates the heavy demands of this final Love-Death aria of Isolde which closes TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. All her physical support is internally controlled without excessive heaving or huffing and puffing physically. You can see all of her accurate vocal placement adjustments for each note very clearly from the side view from about 5 minutes into the video. I recommend this to all of you who are interested in the very real skills that go into opera singing. No wonder she stayed strong while three Tristans bit the dust in that famous performance at the MET years ago (Dec 1959)!

Seriously, someone has to do that.

Did you ever wonder how the parts get prepared for all orchestral and opera performances?

Well someone has to do that. And he or she is called a Music Librarian.

Even before the first rehearsal, parts have to be ordered, marked with cuts, bowings, expression marks, etc., so that the chorus and orchestra can follow the same guidelines. The person who does that job, is called a 'music librarian.'

This job is often split in an opera company such as ours, between the Music Department -- in our case headed by Associate Artistic Director and Conductor Joe Walsh, who orders the edition and the parts and then discusses and identifies and distributes the cuts, and also in his case prepares all the preliminary chorus parts with diction and translation markings for the first rehearsal, --- and the Symphony librarian, who is hired to place the cuts, bowings, and important markings into the orchestral parts which will be rehearsed and performed by our two orchestras depending upon the opera -- the Virginia Symphony or the Richmond Symphony.

I think this article by the Seattle Opera Music Librarian will give you a good view of what needs to happen before even the first rehearsal.

Click here to read it.

Ever wonder what a Music Librarian does?


Between Acts of BOHEME Dress rehearsals in Virginia

Here I am caught by the camera in an impromptu interview between acts of our LA BOHEME Dress rehearsal (Young People's Night at the Opera) at the Harrison Opera House, with a hall packed with school children, anticipating the continuing thrills they are about to experience when we resume.

Click here to watch..

Birgit Nilsson and her amazing vocal technique, and Manon and hers

You really have to hear and watch the young Birgit Nilsson negotiate the difficulties of Wagner's Liebestod in concert with orchestra to appreciate the enormous control she has technically. It has many close-ups of her face, which demonstrate the accurate techical adjustments to maximize the inner height and flow of air behind her "mask" -- which keep the continuity of the air stream in the right place for continued resonance without engaging other unnecessary muscles. Watch particularly the physical calm of her body, the changing facial muscles and mouth position as the pitches and words flow in a continuous vocal line; each note perfectly supported and positioned. And the side view at the final phrases -- at around 4:50 -- is most instructive. Definitely the LEXUS of vocal techniques.

We are about to open Donizett's DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT with Manon Strauss Evrard in the title role. Although both the voice and the repertoire are bel canto rather than Wagnerian I think there are many similarities of technical prowess -- Manon's moving much faster and in a much more varied way as the repertoire demands of course. But here we have an equally prodigious vocal talent and technique in its early stages, but one driven by a totally engaged and fast-paced physical and musical vocal personality. Very interesting. Don't miss it! Starting Nov 14 in Virginia.

Click here for dates in our three cities.

Behind the scenes at Virginia Opera

He's the master of disguise behind the scenes at Virginia Opera. Read about and see our Wig and Make-up Master James McGough.


BOHEME opens in Fairfax-DC at GMU

Terrific opening last night! Thrilling orchestral mix with voices in the Center for the Arts. Looking forward to Sunday.

Click on this for info.