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  • Writer's picturePress Release

Family Drama Runs High with Virginia Opera’sThree Decembers

Words and Images Courtesy of the Virginia Opera

Dive into the dysfunctional family life of a Tony Award-winning actor

played by real-life Tony Award-winning actor Karen Ziemba

Norfolk, Richmond, Fairfax VA (December 20, 2021)— Join Virginia Opera in an exploration of family drama over three decades with Three Decembers. Centered around the annual Christmas letters scribed by Broadway diva Madeline “Maddy” Mitchell (Karen Ziemba), the story traverses the real-life issues of AIDS, addiction, and deceit. Directed by Lawrence Edelson, this newly conceived production will be performed in VO’s three mainstage venues: the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, the Carpenter Theater at the Dominion Energy Center in Richmond, and the Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax.

Virgnia Opera, "Three Decembers"
Karen Ziemba

Three Decembers is proof that opera is not all about powdered wigs and ball gowns. Opera, at its core, tells a story, and this story is both modern and relevant.” says Peggy Kriha Dye, General Director and CEO of Virginia Opera.

Three Decembers visits Maddy (Karen Ziemba) and her children Charlie (Efraín Solís), and Beatrice (Cecilia Violetta López) in 1986, 1996, and 2006. Mother and children struggle with the reality of their relationship while seeking the connection of family. Often brutally honest, and equally witty, thoroughly modern problems are exposed in the shadows created by the bright lights of Broadway. Composed by Jake Heggie with libretto by Gene Scheer this modern masterpiece is based on the unpublished play, Some Christmas Letters, by Terrence McNally.

Virgnia Opera, "Three Decembers"
Efrain Solis

“Adding this work to our repertoire continues a longstanding tradition of bringing our audiences a variety of fresh and compelling operatic experiences” comments Adam Turner, Artistic Director of Virginia Opera. "Jake Heggie is one of this generation's leading American composers, with critically-acclaimed works like Dead Man Walking and Moby-Dick regularly programmed by opera companies all over the world." Virginia Opera's very own Artistic Director has previous experience, having conducted productions of Three Decembers with Hawaii Opera Theatre and San Diego Opera, both alongside the legendary mezzo-soprano Frederica "Flicka" von Stade. "Having the opportunity to introduce our audiences to the musically rich and dramatically compelling world of Jake Heggie's voice is something I've been looking forward to for many seasons. I know our audiences will fall in love with this score!"

Virginia Opera, "Three Decembers"
Violetta López

Leading up to the production audiences will have a chance to hear directly from the composer as Jake Heggie joins “Let’s Talk Opera with Josh Borths” on January 10, 2022 at 7 PM. “Let’s Talk Opera” is Virginia Opera’s newly launched digital opera preview program hosted live on Facebook and YouTube and available on demand anytime.

Tickets are on sale for Three Decembers which can be purchased at or by calling 866.673.7282. For tickets at the Center for the Arts at George Mason University, please call 703.993.2787. Patrons attending Three Decembers will be required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before the performance or negative Rapid Antigen test within 48 hours. Patrons will be asked to show proof of vaccination, or the negative test, with a photo ID prior to entering the theater. Masks will be required while in the theater. For more information please visit

Harrison Opera House, Norfolk, Virginia

Friday, January 28, 2022, at 8:00 pm

Saturday, January 29, 2022, at 7:30 pm

Sunday, January 30, 2022, at 2:30 pm

Center for the Arts at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia

Saturday, February 5, 2022, at 8:00 pm

Sunday, February 6, 2022, at 2:00 pm

Carpenter Theater at the Dominion Energy Center, Richmond, Virginia

Friday, February 11, 2022, at 8:00 pm

Sunday, February 13, 2022, at 2:30 pm

Three Decembers Production Notes

Music by Jake Heggie Libretto by Gene Scheer Based on an original play by Terrence McNally Commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera

Sung in English with English Surtitles

Orchestra provided by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra

Three Decembers Cast and Creative


Adam Turner

Stage Director

Lawrence Edelson *

Scenic & Costume Design

Court Watson

Lighting Design

Josh Epstein *

Wig and Make Up Designer

James P. McGough


Karen Ziemba * (Madeline Mitchell) Virginia Opera debut, received the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer critics Circle Award for her performance in CONTACT at Lincoln Center Theatre. For some of her other performances she’s garnered three Tony Award nominations, the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Bay Area Theatre Critics, Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson, and New York City Opera’s Princess Grace Foundation award.

Select theatre credits include: Prince of Broadway, Steel Pier, Curtains, Chicago, Crazy for You, Bullets Over Broadway, Never Gonna Dance, And the World Goes ‘Round, 110 in the Shade, Do I Hear a Waltz, Gypsy, A Little Night Music, and Sweeney Todd w/ Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Michigan Opera Theatre. She’s appeared on The Kennedy Center Honors and PBS Great Performances from Carnegie Hall.

Cecilia Violetta López

Soprano: Bea

Last Virginia Opera Appearance: Adina, L’elisir d’amore (2019); Violetta, La traviata (2015)

Recent Highlights: Hanna Glawari, The Merry Widow, Opera Idaho; Violetta, La traviata, Opera Orlando; Nedda, I pagliacci, Opera Colorado

Upcoming: Cio-Cio San, Madama Butterfly, Zomeropera (Belgium); Violetta, La traviata, Houston Grand Opera; Rusalka, Rusalka, Opera Idaho

Efraín Solís

Baritone: Charlie

Last Virginia Opera Appearance: DiCosimo, Il Postino, 2019

Recent Highlights: Aeneas, Dido & Aeneas, Opera San José; Charlie, Three Decembers, Florida Grand Opera; Mark, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, Opera Santa Barbara

Upcoming: Figaro, Le nozze di Figaro, Opera San José; Golaud, Pelléas et Melisande, Opera Southwest

*denotes VA Opera Debut


Virginia Opera, the official opera company of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is one of the finest regional opera companies in the nation and is the only company to perform regularly in three separate main stage venues: the Harrison Opera House in Norfolk, the Carpenter Theatre at the Dominion Energy Center in Richmond, and Center for the Arts at George Mason University in Fairfax. Organized in 1974, Virginia Opera is respected nationwide for the identification and presentation of the finest young artists, for the musical and dramatic integrity of its productions, and for the ingenuity and variety of its education and outreach programs.

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