Virginia Opera brings Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” to Richmond Oct. 24 and 26. Virginia Opera has always been an innovator: It is the nation’s only regional opera company that regularly performs in three separate main stage venues. Under the Artistic Direction of Peter Mark, it is widely respected as a place that identifies future stars early in their rise to international acclaim. And this production of “Il Trovatore” is particularly culturally diverse, featuring the talents of several African Americans, and of artists from around the world. “Il Trovatore” also stars Georgia native and current Norfolk resident Johnny Lee Green as “Messenger.”
Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 2:30, Landmark Theatre, 6 N. Laurel St. Tickets available at the Landmark’s Box Office and online at www.VAOpera.org, 646-4213
Nmon Ford, “Count di Luna”
Hometown: Born in Panama, today Nmon lives in Los Angeles.
A Landmark Show: “Let’s just keep it real. We’ve got some black people on stage,” Nmon deadpans. “It’s a very multi-cultural cast, actually. Everybody can link together for this Italian opera. It’s basically the whole world coming together to put this on. This is a good opera to see for the first time.”
Red Carpet Regular: Nmon is a two time Grammy Award Winner. In 2006, he won in the Classical Music category for his participation in William Bolcom’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” (2006).
Action Hero: Nmon battles in several sword fights as Count di Luna in “Il Trovatore.” Although the physical action might compromise a less powerful voice, Nmon doesn’t waver and delivers his massive baritone with the power he’s known for. “I’m not the world’s happiest stage-combat participant,” Nmon admits. “It was a challenge at first. There were lots of difficult phrases and it took some time. It really makes it. If anyone is familiar with the opera, they’ve never seen this before.”
Chilling Out: “As a baritone, we always play the bad guy. We’re always brandishing a sword or hurting somebody,” he jokes. “It’s all about the drama. Offstage, I’m just the opposite. I watch some stuff on TeVo, maybe do a little reading. I like to keep things as calm as possible.”
Bio Brief: Nmon most recently performed with the Phoenix Symphony in Brahms’ “Requiem” and just this season he sang in “Tosca” as Scarpia, and with the Hamburg Opera as Billy Budd in the production of the same name.
Ashraf Sewailam, “Ferrando”
Hometown: Cairo, Egypt; “Cairo has only one of two opera houses on the entire continent of Africa,” says Ashraf. Ashraf received his degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and still lives there. He made his debut with Opera Colorado in 2003.
If he weren’t an opera singer: Ashraf has a degree in engineering and trained as an architect.
Career Change: He first considered singing opera at age 19 while watching “Aida” at the Pyramids. “I started pursuing it a year later,” he says. “My family was not happy, of course. Abandoning architecture is not a small thing in any culture, least of all in a conservative and conventional culture like Egypt.” Although she comes to his performances in Egypt, Ashraf admits, “My mother, she’s still pining about my career choice. Now my family are very proud of my opera career.”
World of Disney: Ashraf has dubbed Disney productions into Arabic, and has even performed Mickey Mouse and Ursula the sea witch.
The U.S.: “This country has been so good to me,” Ashraf says. “After 9-11, so many people have complained, but I have nothing but glowing reports. Immigration has been very good to me. I’m just having a great time here.”
Chilling Out: “I’m a swimmer. I was on a swim team in Egypt until I got into opera. I like hiking. I’m a reader. I read both Arabic and English literature. I’m a cook.”
The Cast: “This is a very nice, exceptional group of people. We’ve been having an incredible time together. We’ve been cooking and just hanging out.”
Landmark Show: “This ‘Il Trovatore’ is one of a lifetime,” Ashraf makes clear. “I’ve been in ‘Il Trovatore’ before and I’ve seen many others. This one is thrilling because the drama is real. Visually, it’s stunning, even though it’s not a very expensive production. You won’t believe your eyes and definitely you won’t believe your ears.”
Jeniece Golbourne, “Azucena”
Hometown: Rochester, New York; Today she travels between South Carolina and New York City.
If not an opera singer: “I was a Music Ed major, K though 3. If it wasn’t for getting accepted into Manhattan School of Music, I would probably be teaching.”
How she relaxes: “I’m a nature girl, so I’m all about going hiking, walking the park. The water, boating, sailing.”
Azucena: “I like that it is a character that is a little bit out there, but not so much that a person can’t relate to it. It’s all about being wronged and feeling that someone ought to have righted that. She’s the person who has been living with that sort of [regret.] It consumes her. I think that’s something we can all relate to – being wronged and wanting to right it for justice.”
Bio Brief: Jeniece has performed with the New Jersey Opera, the American Singers Opera Project, Westminster Opera Theater, Würzburg Philharmonic; Opera Santa Barbara. and more.
Committed to Community: Jeneice has sung in “African American Spirituals” with the Collegiate Chorale and the New York Repertory Orchestra. She’s also worked with Opera Noire, a performing arts organization led by professional African American artists to nurture aspiring performers of color. www.OperaNoireNewYork.org
Graduated: Jeniece recently received her Master of Music in Voice Performance from the Manhattan School of Music.
Upcoming engagements: Jeniece will sing with the Mississippi Opera as Santuzza in “Cavalleria Rusticana” and the Principessa in “Suor Angelica.”
Favorite Role: “Amneris in Aida. She’s again, someone who’s used to receiving a certain amount of attention and she’s not getting it. Everybody has had that experience in high school or college or among your girlfriends. It’s the ‘Mean Girls’ of opera. It’s nothing but pure fun to play that role, and the music is thrilling. Opera is just like the movies. It’s often not in a language that you’re familiar with, but at the end of the day, it is like going to the movies.”
by Cesca Janece Waterfield