Virginia Opera kicks off 2016-17 season at Dogwood Dell

Illustration by Gareth Bentall
Illustration by Gareth Bentall
Illustration by Gareth Bentall
Illustration by Gareth Bentall

The personal drone circling overhead Dogwood Dell was sighted a third and final time before the conductor took the stage without even a glance at the crowd.

Suddenly, the entire amphitheater was filled with sound.

People toting funnel cakes and gyros from food trucks stationed around the perimeter of the park made their way hurriedly back to seats they had secured an hour ago.

Latecomers laid beach towels on the lawn overlooking the Dell. Others set up camping chairs beneath a nearby tree grove to shield themselves from the late summer sun.

Upwards of 5,000 people attended the fifth-annual Opera in the Park concert, a free event held at the Dell in Byrd Park on Aug. 27. According to the Richmond Department of Parks, Recreation & Community Facilities. That’s more than twice the capacity of the 2,400-seat amphitheater.

“This is our best-attended event, behind the 4th of July,” said Philip Milone, Technical Director at Dogwood Dell.

Opera in the Park concluded the Dell’s 60th annual Festival of Arts, which featured performances by local artists Kings of Swing and Plunky & Oneness, as well as the 7th Annual Gospel Music Fest and an in-house production of Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”

Opera in the Park is also the informal kickoff to the Virginia Opera 2016-17 season, which runs from mid-October through early April of next year and will feature Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins,” Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci,” Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischutz” (The Magic Marksman) and Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot”.

Howard Bender, vice president of Central/Northern Virginia operations for VA Opera, said Opera in the Park is a good entry-level show for anyone interested in the art form, “because it’s lighter operatic selections plus Broadway selections that people are familiar with.”

Bender said the Dell also draws crowds who wouldn’t otherwise feel comfortable at the opera house. Newcomers are often intimidated by venues such as the Carpenter Theater, which houses VA Opera.

“It’s like a temple of holy, ossified art and you have to act a certain way and it’s in a language that maybe you don’t speak,” Bender said.

Bender prides himself on his company’s ability to make opera more accessible. “Seven Deadly Sins” and “Der Freischutz” feature lyrics in English, rather than Italian and the remaining season’s productions are augmented by English supertitles displayed above the stage.

VA Opera is also hosting a free live concert and DJ set with local hard-rock station 102.1 after the season premiere double-bill “Seven Deadly Sins,” and “Pagliacci” called Opera After Hours.

But while Bender said you don’t have to come to the Carpenter Theatre in a white tie and tails anymore, the Dell is still the more approachable option for beginners. Bender said that’s important, because

as much as  Opera in the Park is a “thank-you” to the Richmond community, it’s also a great opportunity to fill seats.

Jim Thomma, Contributing Writer


Gareth Bentall. Photo by Julie TrippGareth Bentall
Gareth is a cartoonist and illustrator currently in his senior year as a communication arts student. He specializes in political cartoons, humorous illustration, underground comic trivia, bird watching, hoarding, forwarding, boogie boarding and Parcheesi. Gareth currently resides inside of his inkpot. Last year, Gareth won the National Society of Professional Journalists award for Editorial Cartooning.
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