The Virginia Arts Festival begins its 16th season on Monday, April 16, and the opening lineup of performers says a lot about where the festival has come and where it's heading.
The week ahead is bracketed by two events of international caliber, a recital by soprano Renee Fleming and the American Ballet Theatre's production of "Giselle." The signature events underscore the commitment to quality, classical events that the festival set for itself from the beginning and also recognize the reputation the festival has earned from major performing groups and artists around the country who want to appear here.
Fleming, considered by many to be the world's reigning soprano, will open the festival with a recital in Norfolk's Harrison Opera House. Her eclectic and fascinating program includes art songs by Erick Korngold and Alexander Zemlinsky, operas arias by Puccini and Leoncavallo, and a piece by composer Ricky Ian Gordon based on a monologue from Tony Kushner's play, "Angels in America." Gordon composed the music for the song cycle, "Rappahannock County," which the festival premiered last season.
Late last week, at Fleming's request, the festival was working to put together Supertitles for her program to make the evening more accessible for the audience.
Tickets for Fleming are selling briskly, and festival director Rob Cross predicted that the concert "is on track to selling out." Sales were helped by two recent events, Cross suggests, a "Live from Lincoln Center" concert Fleming gave that aired Friday, April 6, on public television, and the release this month of her latest recording. Fleming also is a frequent commentator and performer on the "Live in HD" series of Metropolitan Opera productions that air in area movie theaters.
On April 20-22, American Ballet Theatre will make its first appearance at the festival in the timeless ballet, "Giselle." For the past several years, Cross has been working to bring the company to Hampton Roads. in past seasons, the festival has presented the Birmingham Royal Ballet from England and major American companies such as Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
ABT's company includes dancer Melanie Hamrick, a former Williamsburg resident who trained under Sandra Balestracci at the Eastern Virginia School for the Performing Arts.
In between these two star-studded events are performances by ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro and the classical comic duo Igudesman & Joo. Both represent the festival's mission to expose local audiences to alternative artists.
Shimabukuro, a young master of the four-stringed ukulele, has gained a huge following from performances on YouTube. His Wednesday, April 18, performance in the Robin Hixon Theater in the festival's headquarters building sold out quickly. There's a currently a waiting list for tickets.
Igudesman & Joo, made up of violinist Aleksey Igudesman and pianist Hyung-ki Joo, will present their program, "A Little Nightmare Music," on Thursday, April 19, in the Chrysler Museum Theatre. The pair met at age 12 at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England and now tour the world with their comedy programs.
"Some of the lineup is pretty alternative," says Cross. "It's always gratifying to me when we hear from ticket-buyers who say they trust our programming."
The festival continues through June 6 in venues throughout Hampton Roads. Additional highlights include violinist Itzhak Perlman, trumpeter Chris Botti, Broadway star Jane Krakowski and a performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony by the Virginia Symphony.
In as past seasons, there are several excellent chamber music concerts. The Calmus Ensemble joins Quartet New Generation for an evening of early music on April 25, and the Daedalus Quartet teams with pianist Andre-Michel Schub for a May 16 concert of works by Beethoven, Joan Tower and Brahms.
Want to go?
Tickets to the Virginia Arts Festival are available at the festival box office, 440 Bank St., Norfolk; by calling 757-282-2822 or online at http://www.vafest.org.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times