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Opera soars at JMU

jamesmadisonlogopurplepcWhile regional and state opera houses have been shutting their doors across the country, the opera program at James Madison University is standing strong. “The academic world will need to take on more responsibility for keeping those traditions going,” says Don Rierson, director of JMU Opera Theater.

Rierson has been the director of the opera program at JMU for the past 10 years. In that time, he has seen the level of preparation for incoming students rise, particularly among graduate students who are entering the program with international performing experience.

While the quality of singers continues to increase, so does the quality of productions. With the opening of the Forbes Center in 2010, the opera has dedicated professionals responsible for set design, lighting and acoustics. New staff has allowed the Center to up its number of offerings to meet community demand.

In addition to the fall opera, two productions have been added to the spring schedule. The Gilbert and Sullivan productions have sold out for the past two seasons, and last year required an additional show to be added. An annual gala celebration gives patrons the opportunity to attend the featured opera plus enjoy a talk by a noted opera scholar.

This year’s Autumn Opera Gala takes place on Saturday, November 9 at 6 pm and features a performance of The Magic Flute and a “backstory chat” with Nancie Roop Kennedy. One of the most popular operas of all time, The Magic Flute runs Friday-Saturday, November 8-9 at 8 pm and Sunday, November 10 at 2 pm. at the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

The production, featuring an international cast of students and nationally recognized guest conductor Frank Graffeo, is “good entertainment for the whole family,” exclaims Rierson. With soaring melodies, lush sets and charming yet elusive characters, Mozart’s mesmerizing classic The Magic Flute will cast its spell and transport audiences of all ages to a mythical land of enchantment.

When the Queen of the Night’s daughter Pamina is kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Sarastro, it’s up to the heroic prince Tamino and his outspoken sidekick Papageno to come to her rescue. Aided by a magic flute, Tamino and Papageno endure death-defying adventures to save her. Wisdom and true love ultimately triumph in the end in this magnificent opera that is a testament to Mozart’s musical genius.

The JMU Opera Theater provides main stage and workshop opportunities for performance majors enrolled in B.M., M.M. and D.M.A. programs at the university. The program has attracted outstanding graduates and undergraduates from prominent national and international arts high schools, universities and conservatories.

In recent years, JMU Opera Theater has presented critically acclaimed productions of The Merry Widow, Cosi fan Tutte and Carmen. In Spring 2009, they presented Jeremy Beck and Patricia Marx’s Review at the National Arts Club in Manhattan under the tutelage of the Center for Contemporary Opera. The singers perform regularly in international venues in Germany, Italy, Wales and England, and have been quite successful in university Concerto-Aria, National Association of Teachers of Singing and other national competitions. JMU annually hosts the first round of the Classical Singer competition and maintains an active and enthusiastic Opera Guild.

Tickets are $18-$20.  For tickets, visit or call the Forbes Center Box Office at (540) 568-7000.