Opera is back in Wilmington. The latest show, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, opens Friday, Feb. 25, with an encore performance on Sunday, Feb. 27.
Soprano and Delaware native Julia Laird returns home for this performance as Berta.
“This is a great way to come home,” Laird says. “The first live opera I ever saw was at The Grand, and now this is my first time performing with OperaDelaware at The Grand.”
A bit of trivia: Laird’s great-uncle, Chick Laird, founded OperaDelaware in 1945 with a group of local artists.
“I think it was something I knew but it didn’t really connect with me until I was requesting an audition,” Laird says with a smile.
Laird is excited to perform in the opera this weekend. She has been in Delaware for about a month rehearsing for the show.
“This is my first Rossini opera, and I think the audiences are going to love it,” she says. “It has so much energy. When you see it, you quickly realize that it has a lot of quick Italian patter. That makes it very challenging.”
Laird says she expects audiences will be enthralled with the vibrant show while also laughing aloud at the antics of the cast.
“This is a great cast. Rossini’s operas leave plenty of room for improvisation, and this cast has done an incredible job. Each performance has been different,” she says.
According to OperaDelaware’s website, the opera is an “irresistible romp featuring everyone’s favorite matchmaking barber, Figaro, and some of the most iconic tunes in opera.”
Laird is joined by a cast of six, many who are also making their OperaDelaware debut. These include Brian James Myer as Figaro, Mary Beth Nelson as Rosina, Christopher Bozeka as Count Almaviva and Zachary Bryant as Fiorello. Others like Tim Mix as Dr. Bartolo and Kevin Short as Basilio are returning favorites at The Grand.
OperaDelaware went dark like many others during the pandemic. However, Laird said the organization was quick to see the need for music. It hosted many outdoor performances, allowing Laird to perform. In one, the cast performed from a fire escape and people in cars listened and honked their horns in approval.
Brendan Cooke, general director of OperaDelaware, says the organization picked the Rossini performance because of its humor and joy.
“From a musical perspective, it is curious and interesting. If you have never seen an opera, there is something for everyone,” he says.
The set was designed and created by Paper Moon Opera Productions. Everything from the scene design to the props to the costumes is made of paper. “You would never know it,” Cooke says.
This is the first indoor performance at The Grand for OperaDelaware after two years of outdoor performances. “We have had almost 100 outdoor performances over the past two years. This marks our return to a full production with all the bells and whistles,” he says.
Some interesting notes about the performances: The orchestra conductor is preeminent maestro and Rossini expert, Anthony Barrese. Also, OperaDelaware will welcome over 400 healthcare professionals and teachers to the two performances as a way to show its gratitude for frontline workers.
“Even those who have never been to an opera are ready to try something new,” Cooke says. “This opera is a laugh-riot. And we all need a laugh these days!”
Laird grew up in the Greenville area. She attended Tower Hill, Ursuline and Archmere. She moved to North Carolina with her family when she was 16 and still lives there today.
Her parents required their children to learn piano; however, once they reached a certain age, they could then pick the instrument of their choice.
“I remember thinking that voice would be easy,” Laird says with a laugh. “Then once I really got into it, I realized that this was not easy.”
Laird trained at The Music School of Delaware and later studied opera with Mary Ellen Schauber, an acclaimed soprano and voice teacher. “She really got my career started.”
Just before the pandemic, Laird was auditioning for everyone she could find. “It’s hard for a young opera singer already.” She applied for 30 positions, did 20 auditions and landed only two gigs.
“I was so excited because so many people don’t even get that,” she says.
The pandemic had other plans, and everything was canceled. “It was such a challenging time for everyone, but especially for performers because everything just went dark. I definitely spent a lot of time reflecting,” Laird says.
Artists are resilient and flexible. They must be. And Laird was able to perform one of the canceled gigs after all. She sang in Verdi’s Opera Rigoletto with the Tulsa Opera in 2020. They made it baseball-themed and performed it at a baseball stadium with a socially distanced cast, full orchestra and audience. “It was an incredible experience,” she says.
Purchase tickets for The Barber of Seville and other upcoming performances at operade.org. Performances are in Copeland Hall at The Grand in Wilmington.
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