Singers gotta sing, and that simple premise was the impetus for Capitol Opera.
That’s Capitol as in state capital, a nonprofit started in Sacramento, California, to provide performing opportunities for artists while bringing affordable opera to the cities they represent. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Albany, New York, all got Capitol Opera companies before Richmond.
Founded by Kathleen Torchia, the goal is to have a community-based opera company catering to local tastes and to serve as a voice resource center by providing an outlet to local performers, musicians, directors, conductors and artists. Torchia aims to eventually have a Capitol Opera in every capital city.
The president of the artistic staff at Capitol Opera Richmond is Karine Marshall. While singing for Capitol Opera Raleigh, she met Fran Ahern Coleman, a Richmonder who frequently drove several hours to perform. The two began discussing starting a Richmond location.
Soon after, Marshall suggested it to Torchia, who enthusiastically agreed, and they began assembling an artistic staff for the first season. Richmond took to low- and no-cost opera, and Capitol Opera Richmond now enters its fourth season.
“Putting together a production or event involves all of us wearing many hats,” Marshall says. “I personally have performed, directed, done costumes, props, lights — not to mention numerous other tasks involved in bringing a performance to fruition. I very much enjoy being involved creatively.”
The group welcomes anyone who wants to get involved. Annual auditions are held in early September for the coming season. Although the time commitment depends on the specific project, the group is mindful that people are donating their time and talents and have busy lives, so it aims to keep rehearsals to a minimum and be as flexible as possible with conflicts.
Pianist Dave Robbins appreciates how each of the opera’s vocalists brings something special to the table in terms of style, technical mastery and willingness to try new things. Offbeat juxtapositions, at least by opera standards, are another part of the allure.
Their production of “Sleepy Hollow” last Halloween featured an original text written and arranged by Capitol Opera Richmond member Jessica Wakelyn. It was set to music of the baroque period, performed at a rock venue, Gallery5, and featured an original set designed by Nick Wakelyn, Robbins recalls: “That’s what makes [the opera] fun and interesting and worth stepping off the beaten path to see and hear.”
While still an undergraduate voice student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Stephanie Auld auditioned for Capitol Opera Richmond, which provided opportunities for her to perform in “HMS Pinafore,” “The Tender Land” and “Noye’s Fludde.” Auld says it was exciting to perform fully staged operas with an orchestra in her hometown alongside seasoned professionals and community members.
The company’s first production this fall is a pairing of original works by local composer Richard Rose. Most productions are performed in English so the audience doesn’t have to worry about supertitles.
The broad appeal of Capitol Opera Richmond enhances the local art scene, Auld says: “These performances are perfect for lifelong opera lovers as well as newcomers like families looking for a hilarious comedy or dramatic tear-jerker set to beautiful music.” S
“The Missa Brevis” and “Opera La Rinuncia” run Sept. 20, at 2 p.m., at Church of the Holy Comforter, 4819 Monument Ave. Admission is donation-based. capitoloperarichmond.com.