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OPERA: Virginia Opera stages work that resonates with today’s headlines

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In an era where we can't get through a single news cycle without some sort of crisis breaking, the Virginia Opera is staging two scandal-filled works this fall, "Street Scene" (Oct. 12 and 14) and "Don Giovanni" (Nov. 16 and 18).

The former, an American opera with music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Langston Hughes, is something of a cross between "West Side Story" and Weill's own "Threepenny Opera." Set on the doorstep of a tenement of Manhattan in 1946, the opera focuses on the relationships and tensions in an immigrant community. The two plotlines involve young love and an extramarital affair. Circumstances eventually build to a violent resolution.

"It's got everything in it," says Adam Turner, Virginia Opera's artistic director and conductor for this season's shows. "[It] tackles all the universal themes of life. In one 24-hour period of this tenement house in New York, the audience witnesses birth, death, love, hate, xenophobia, bigotry, racism, all kinds of things."

With a book by Elmer Rice — who won the Pulitzer Prize for his play version of the show — "Street Scene" beat out both "Finian's Rainbow" and Lerner and Loewe's "Brigadoon" to win the first Tony Award for best original score in 1947.

"It's a story that still resonates today," Turner says. "I think our audience is going to go crazy for it."

The performance marks the return of sopranos Jill Gardner and Maureen McKay. Both made their Virginia Opera debuts last season. Portraying the violent patriarch Frank Maurrant is bass Zachary James, who played Lurch in the Broadway staging of "The Addams Family" musical. Both McKay and James will make their Metropolitan Opera debuts later this season.

In November, Virginia Opera will bring Wolfgang Mozart's "Don Giovanni" to town. Based on the story of Don Juan, the opera tells the tale of a promiscuous nobleman of dubious morals. By the end of the show, he encounters a force that even his cunning can't outmaneuver.

"It's an interesting story, especially in the age of the Me Too movement that's taken the world by storm in the last year or two," Turner says. "He leaves a lot of lives torn apart along the way."

Virginia Opera's production will include the main-stage debuts of at least four singers, including three singers who are new to their roles. Blending elements of comedy, melodrama and the supernatural, "Don Giovanni" is a staple of the operatic repertoire.

"Truly, the music is breathtaking," Turner says. "It feels like it comes from another place, so to speak."

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