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Posted at 2:04 PM ET, 01/ 9/2011

The Virginia Opera: the sequel

By Anne Midgette

Edited to add: In Monday's Washington Post: Ousted opera head forms new Virginia opera, by Anne Midgette.

Peter Mark, whose contract as artistic director of the Virginia Opera was terminated in November by unanimous vote of the board’s executive committee, is taking his revenge. At a press conference this afternoon, before an audience of people who expressed their support for him by e-mail after his ouster, he is announcing the creation of a new Lyric Opera of Virginia.

The company will perform at the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts in Virginia Beach, the Center for the Arts at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, the Landmark and Carpenter Theaters in Richmond, and at an as-yet-unspecified location in Northern Virginia. The press release outlines a 2011-12 season that will include Verdi’s “La traviata,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” and a so-called “Jewel Box” production, meaning an abridged version, of “Carmen.” 2012-13 will include Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West,” “South Pacific,” and an abridged version of Wagner’s monumental “Ring;” 2013-14 advertises Verdi’s “Forza del Destino,” “Les Misérables” and an abridged “Lakmé” by Delibes.

No dates have yet been set with the theaters, according to Maggie George, who is working on the launch as a volunteer. No staff has yet been hired, either, although Mark has several people in mind, according to Edythe Harrison, the founder of the orginal Virginia Opera, who is a supporter of this new venture. “We’re not going to have a huge staff,” she said.

The projected budget of this new company is $2.5 million; neither George nor Harrison could comment on how much of that money is already in hand, though both said they expected a good part of that to derive from ticket sales. (Most companies derive between 15 and 30% of their revenues from ticket sales, though some get more.) The press release announced a website and phone number, but neither is yet operative; Harrison estimated that the website,, might be operational on Monday.

As covered here in recent months, Mark’s 36 years at the Virginia Opera were not without controversy. He presided over the company’s growth into a significant regional force, but the end of his tenure was also marked by charges of artistic stagnation and the notion that his difficult personality led to a challenging working environment for many artists and staff. This year, he was able to turn the board’s decision not to renew his contract into a rallying cry for some vocal supporters, leading to a public brouhaha that contributed to his contract being terminated a year ahead of schedule.

The new company, according to Harrison, will emulate the success of the old company during its first 25 years. (Mark’s supporters paint the company’s decline as having stemmed from the board’s decision to remove Mark from sole control and bring in a professional administration.)

“When you have your model and your business end functioning properly,” she sad, “and you don’t have any debt, which a new company doesn’t, you’re free to spend a lot of time developing this model and being sure that you’re doing it right.”

The obvious risk is that the new company will divide support and audiences from the existing Virginia Opera, but neither company is officially worried about that. “There’s 365 days in a year, Harrison said. “If you’re thinking that the other company does four operas and we do three, that’s seven times a year.”

The Virginia Opera struck the same note. “We don’t look at the arts as a competition,” said Alan Albert, the incoming board president. “Those of us at the Virginia Opera support opera because we love opera. We wish the best to anyone who seeks to advance the art form in Virginia, or anywhere else in the country.”

By Anne Midgette  | January 9, 2011; 2:04 PM ET
Categories:  national, news, opera  
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Next: In performance: Yale Glee Club 150th


At this point in time when resources for all of the arts are stretched extremely thin, the actions of Mark and Harrison could not be more short-sighted and selfish. Yes, it's only seven nights a year. And $2.5 million may not seem like a great deal of money, but when all arts orgs are struggling to meet payroll, any new competition for the limited contributed income could be deadly.

Typical self-centered thinking by artistic leaders.

Posted by: kaysosay | January 10, 2011 6:22 AM | Report abuse

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