|Soprano Teresa Stolz. (Wash your hands, Teresa!)
No, I'm not here to announce further developments; I have no information on the prospects for rescheduling. Like our patrons, artists and staff, I'm in limbo, as you probably are with your normal routine.
But there's an ironic coincidence at play here.
One of the casualties of the Aida situation is a live radio broadcast I was booked to deliver on March 25. Virginia Public Media (VPM), the NPR affiliate in Richmond Virginia, brings me on the air four times each season to talk about whatever opera is about to open. I emailed Shawn Evans, the station announcer who is my host, to cancel the broadcast. He replied with a comment that stirred my memory, asking if it was true that a similar situation resulted in Verdi composing his String Quartet.
Here's what happened.
Verdi traveled to Naples to oversee that city's premiere of Aida in March, 1873. The title role was to be performed by Teresa Stolz, who had starred in all previous Italian performances. Stolz fell ill, however, and the production was postponed - not for a day or a week, but for several weeks. Verdi was holed up in his hotel room, suddenly with time on his hands. With no assurance of how long Stolz might be indisposed, there was little point in returning to his home.
Netflix not yet having been invented, Verdi passed his enforced Naples vacation by working on his string quartet. It was written with no particular plans for public performance, an attitude that more or less applied to his attitude when creating his final masterpiece Falstaff. Naturally, a new opera by Verdi (no matter how atypical in style) would immediately be snatched up by opera impressarios, but it remains true that the composer's chief motivation was his own enjoyment.
The quartet's first performance was in that hotel in Naples, with a small audience of Verdi's friends and colleagues. They must have been intrigued by the novelty of the great man's project. Consider: if you learned that Stephen Sondheim had just written a piano sonata, wouldn't you be intrigued to hear it?
The quartet's intrinsic craftsmanship and merit launched it into a permanent niche in chamber music literature.
ONE FINAL IRONY. Several months ago, when Virginia Opera had committed to staging Aida, the Center for the Arts of George Mason University in Fairfax informed the company that they would be unable to present the opera at that venue. (GMU is one of three venues in which we perform, in addition to Norfolk and Richmond.) The reason involved insufficient technical specs of that theater which came to light during a previous run of Aida in 2011.
This, of course, was a blow to a regional opera company highly dependent on ticket sales for the health of the bottom line. Plans were hastily made to organize excursions to Richmond for interested parties in Northern Virginia.
Now comes the irony.
Last week GMU announced that, due to the pandemic, all performances at the Center for the Arts were cancelled through May 1. So Aida would not have been performed there in any event.
Opera: a tough way to make a living even in good times, and full of risks during tough times. But Virginia Opera will persevere!
As, we hope, you will as well.