Middlemarch is considered one of the greatest English novels – an epic tale of life in a small, fictional town in the Midlands. Published as a series of eight overlapping stories, it has since been the basis for television programs, film and now an opera. This week, Virginia hosts the east coast debut of Middlemarch in Spring.
When Middlemarch in Spring had its world premiere two years ago in San Francisco, it won rave reviews, and four of the original cast members have come to Charlottesville for performances at the Paramount Thursday night and Friday afternoon. Michelle Krisel is artistic director for the newly named Charlottesville Opera. This production, she says, tells just part of the original Middlemarch tale.
“The novel is 700 pages. It’s many stories. This opera just focuses on the Dorothea-Casaubon relationship, which I suppose, spoiler alert, does not end well, but she gets a second chance, so the opera actually ends happy, and that’s the ‘in spring’ part.”
The opera is presented during the annual festival of the book, which is expected to bring about 20,000 people to town. Also arriving from elsewhere – the set:
“The set was being built in Chicago, and would you believe that after three months of spring, the three days the set had to travel here were the three terrible snow days!”
But it’s here, along with two speakers who will appear before the opera. The first, librettist and musician Claudia Stevens, who taught at William and Mary, produced another opera at the University of Richmond and a one-woman musical at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
“Claudia Stevens will speak at 6:30, and then on the 24th we’re bringing Rebecca Mead. She’s on the staff on the New Yorker. She wrote a wonderful book called My Life in Middlemarch about her growing up in a provincial town in England and about how her on-going reading of the book parallels her own development as a young woman and a writer herself.”
This is the first original production in 35 years for the company founded forty years ago as Ash Lawn Opera.