A Landmark Production Inspired by the Underground Railroad
Virginia Premiere is the third production of the opera in the US
Words and Image Courtesy of Virginia Opera.
Virginia Opera is proud to present Sanctuary Road, the third production of its highly anticipated 2023-2024 season. This compelling and historically resonant opera, composed by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, with a libretto by Pulitzer Prize-winner Mark Campbell, brings to life the harrowing and inspiring tales of those who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad.
Initially composed as an oratorio, called “lyrical and historically vibrant” by NPR, the opera was first premiered in 2022 by North Carolina Opera. Virginia Opera’s performances of Sanctuary Road mark not only the Commonwealth of Virginia Premiere, but also only the third production of the opera in the United States, with previous performances at North Carolina Opera in Raleigh, NC and the Penn Square Music Festival in Lancaster, PA.
Sanctuary Road is a profound tribute to the indomitable spirit of freedom and resistance, drawing its inspiration from the writings of William Still, a conductor for the Underground Railroad. His 1871 book, The Underground Railroad Records, documented a staggering 745 accounts, with approximately thirty percent, or 242, provided by escapees from Virginia, including Clarissa Davis, who fled Portsmouth, VA, Henry “Box” Brown, who fled Richmond, VA, and many more.
Virginia Opera’s Artistic Director, Adam Turner, expressed his enthusiasm for Sanctuary Road stating, “At Virginia Opera, we are committed to bringing stories that resonate with the heart and soul of our community. Sanctuary Road is not only a tribute to our region’s rich history, but a testament to the enduring power of opera to connect us to our shared past and inspire our future. With Paul Moravec’s beautifully accessible score and Mark Campbell’s richly evocative text, these performances promise a transcendent experience for our audiences. The final words of the opera could not be more powerful and resonant, evoking such a jubilant expression of freedom – ‘Shout from every rooftop. Loud as can be: free.’”
This extraordinary production will be conducted by the renowned Dr. Everett McCorvey, a multifaceted talent known for his tenor prowess, conducting expertise, and professorial acumen in voice. Dr. McCorvey is the founder and music director of the American Spiritual Ensemble, the director and executive producer of University of Kentucky Opera Theatre, and the president of Global Creative Connections. He also serves as the artistic director of the National Chorale, adding an exceptional dimension to this performance. PBS has produced six documentaries featuring Dr. McCorvey’s work. This appearance marks Dr. McCorvey’s conducting debut at Virginia Opera.
In her Virginia Opera directorial debut, Kimille Howard is at the helm of this visionary landmark production. Winner of the prestigious 2023 Opera America’s Robert L. B. Tobin Director-Designer Prize, Ms. Howard, a New York-based director, deviser, writer, and filmmaker, has earned recognition as an Assistant Stage Director at the Metropolitan Opera, in addition to directing productions at Washington National Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, and the Glimmerglass Festival.
Sanctuary Road offers audiences a unique experience as it eschews the traditional through-story structure, instead presenting a collection of songs that artfully weave together the themes and stories of the Underground Railroad. The production is a moving mosaic of narratives, paying homage to the countless brave individuals who sought freedom through this clandestine network.
Dr. Everett McCorvey, the esteemed conductor, remarked on the significance of Sanctuary Road in the opera repertoire, stating, "This production serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It reminds us of the enduring relevance of the Underground Railroad's legacy and the importance of using music to share these stories. With a compelling cast and chorus, we aim to evoke the collective strength of those who sought sanctuary, making this work an unforgettable addition to the opera world."
The production features a stellar cast all making their Virginia Opera mainstage debuts, including Virginia native Damien Geter as William Still, Laquita Mitchell as soprano soloist, Terrence Chin-Loy as tenor soloist, Virginia native Adam Richardson as baritone soloist, and Tesia Kwarteng, graduate of Virginia Opera’s Herndon Foundation Emerging Artists Program, as mezzo-soprano soloist. Commenting on and participating in the dramatic action, the Virginia Opera Chorus of over 40 performers promises to provide a powerfully dynamic contribution.
This poignant production, just over an hour in duration, is produced in partnership with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, promising an unforgettable and deeply moving experience for all who attend.
For more information, please visit Virginia Opera's website at https://vaopera.org/sanctuary-road.
Music by Paul Moravec
Libretto by Mark Campbell
Harrison Opera House, Norfolk | January 26 & 28, 2024
Center for the Arts at George Mason University, Fairfax | February 3 & 4**, 2024 | Sponsored by The Mather
Dominion Energy Center, Richmond | February 9 & 11, 2024
Sung in English with English surtitles.
Featuring the Virginia Symphony Orchestra
Harriet Tubman may be the best-known conductor of the Underground Railroad, but there were others including William Still. An abolitionist and historian, as well as a conductor for the Underground Railroad, he is credited with helping nearly 800 enslaved African Americans escape to freedom. Sanctuary Road, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec, is based on the remarkable writings of William Still.
Dr. Everett McCorvey, Conductor
Kimille Howard, Director
Damien Geter*, William Still
Laquita Mitchell*, Soprano Soloist
Tesia Kwarteng±*, Mezzo-Soprano Soloist
Terrence Chin-Loy*, Tenor Soloist
Adam Richardson*, Baritone Soloist
* denotes VOA Mainstage Debut
± denotes former Herndon Foundation Emerging Artist
About Virginia Opera
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.