Dear VOA Family

I am very excited about opening our 35th Anniversary Season this Saturday night. Last season was a very special one, and before we embark on our new one, I thought I would summarize the high points of both seasons for me here for our Opera family.

Last season started with my 100th production personally conducted for Virginia Opera (which surpassed 700 performances!!) -- TROVATORE to kick off our 34th Virginia Opera season with a stellar returning cast and some IOA favorites.....Eilana Lappalainen, Jeniece Golbourne, Gustavo Lopez Manzitti, and Nmon Ford. The fabulous celebration party honoring me was sold out on October 12 -- thank you all -- especially Dot (Doumar) and Dixie (Wolf) --- for a truly incredible party!!!

Please enjoy all the information and kudos from singers and professionals and special friends and community supporters on the links below my pictures at My personal favorite is Pete Decker's in the Special Friends Guestbook section I am sure you will see why. Pete is the best!

I was very proud to present members of our TROVATORE cast at the IOA HARMONIE CLUB OPERA GALA on October 29th. We followed that with 5 Masterclasses in NYC at the Lincoln Center Institute in November, and then I accompanied Thea on a whirlwind 2-week tour of her performances and premieres and honors in London, Newcastle (where I went on my first pheasant hunt on the Blagdon Estate where we stayed!), Glasgow and Edinburgh, where we also saw (and made) many friends. We stayed in (VOA donor) Carol Colburn Hogel's Carlton Terrace home in Edinburgh. Her DUNARD FUND also supports the Edinburgh International Festival.

Back in NYC we held our VOA annual auditions and coachings before the holidays as usual. Among the knock-out singers was Fikile Mvinjelwa, an extraordinary South African baritione -- already covering leading roles --Rigoletto and Amonasro -- at the MET.

Jane Redding, whom I had taken to China last season with Cristina Nassif, sang Adina (ELIXIR) in Virginia prior to the New Year. Our sensational debuting TOSCA Mary Elizabeth Williams came to Africa with me to sing in three concerts at the Maputo (Mozambique) International Music Festival in April along with tenor Daniel Snyder (our Hoffmann). But not before the glorious Manon Strauss Evrard closed our season with her first Rosina in one of the zaniest and most fast-paced BARBER OF SEVILLE's ever, where she demonstrated a unique and natural and outrageously funny affinity for comedy . The director of that BARBER was Greg Ganakas who is from the B'dway and musicals world (he had done OKLAHOMA and CAROUSEL for us in the past), and who brought a very special theatrical zaniness to this BARBER, his first directorial assignment in Italian (opens up some interesting possibilities for the future). Greg is preparing an intensely theatrical PORGY & BESS for us in Virginia to close this season. Manon of course is back after BOHEME to debut another title role with Virginia Opera, this time Donizett's DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT.

Moira Forjaz, the Director of the Maputo Festival -- introduced to me via my prior HARMONIE CLUB GALA and NYC MASTERCLASSES -- invited me to bring two of our best singers and our own Joe Walsh to Africa where he trained the Majescoral (local chorus) to join us for TRAVIATA and CARMEN ensembles, and where between the AIDA duets, CHENIER, WALKURE, TOSCA and TURANDOT arias, we were also treated to some music in the Xhosa tradition. The Festival was a huge success, and Moira has successfully shifted this year's MAPUTO INTERNATIONAL MUSIC FESTIVAL to later in May/June so that it would clear our PORGY dates in Virginia, and also so that Joe and I can accept her offers to return to Maputo for her 6th Festival, bringing some of our PORGY AND BESS singers to Mozambique after we close in Virginia.

Thea and I then flew to Cape Town where I met wonderful singers and key music people. Masterclasses at Cape Town Opera and at the University of Cape Town were very thrilling, and filled with operatic talent. Cape Town has a very well developed operatic environment thanks to one person, Dr. Angelo Gobbato who came to CT from Italy (at the age of 7), and realized how fabulous the Xhosa and Zulu voices, vowels and singing traditions were. He taught them opera right through the apartheid period In fact Fikile Mvinjelwa was one of his early students. We had a three hour breakfast with Angelo -- a fabulous person and pioneer of opera in SA --- the day before we left.

Then, in exchange for coaching him there in Cape Town, Fikile took Thea and me around to four of the townships which surround CT -- Langa, Kayelishia, Gaanga, and Guguletu. He had grown up in the oldest, Langa Township, and his mother-in-law still lives (very comfortably) there. His two young daughters tried to teach us both how to click in Xhosa, but we haven't yet mastered the variety and sheer technique of theirs yet. But we had no trouble devouring the lunch served at Mzoli's Meat -- a famous butcher/restaurant in Guguletu Township!

With the whole opera field reeling from the economic meltdown this year, we have delivered four extraordinary productions and artists, and have also extended the resonance and reputation of Virginia Opera now to a fifth continent, -- Africa, ---singing for Ambassadors and international and national audiences there.

I am also proud to announce that Virginia Opera has just hired Fikile Mvinjelwa to sing a title role to open our 2010-11 season. You will love him.

Moira then introduced us in Lisbon, where she lives, on the way back to NYC last May. We saw the famous Sao Carlo Opera House (the scene of Callas' famous Lisbon Traviata) and even got to hear some of their chorus and young artists.

After returning from Maputo, I judged the IRENE DALIS INTERNATIONAL VOCAL COMPETITION in San Jose and held a series of Masterclasses (August 5-9) again in the stunning Beverly Hills home of Jon and Lillian Lovelace whose previous support of VOA has been extraordinarily generous

[I have photos of all of the above uploaded via PICASA on my gmail account.]

As we look ahead to this BOHEME, I can't wait to unveil it in our opening Saturday Night this sweek. The entire cast is superb, as is our director, Julia Pevzner. Our lovely Tatiana Veronica Mitina is here singing a superlative Mimi, along with some sensational debuts in the cast.

Cristina Nassif who sang a season preview in the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk this summer for us, sings Donna Elvira in Jan/Feb's DON GIOVANNI; Manon has been singing in Europe where she sang in Pesaro last summer, and she arrives in VA in two weeks to begin rehearsals as our THE DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT

You are always encouraged to go to our web site for season, dates and casts. Invite all of your friends. This should be the most popular season for new friends and helping us make opera converts. Spread the word and help us grow.

Thank you for your support and encouragement. I believe in our artists and continue to be inspired by the importance of our mission to identify, train, and present them, and help them in every way we can.

See you at the Opera,


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