Inside move: Ash Lawn Opera moves to Paramount
After 30 years under the stars at Ash Lawn-Highland, the Ash Lawn Opera Festival is finally moving inside. Today, the opera company announced that its 2009 summer productions of Camelot and The Marriage of Figaro will be presented at the Paramount Theater beginning on July 3.
So will Ash Lawn Opera take root at the Paramount?
"We don't know if it will be a permanent home," says opera company director Judy Walker.
Last August, the company announced with great excitement that it was partnering with music mogul Coran Capshaw in the renovation of the Jefferson Theater, and embarking on a $4.5 million capital campaign to fund an orchestra pit, dressing rooms, and advanced acoustics (which included a silent-running HVAC system) for the building. But six months later the deal fell through.
"We were so sorry that we couldn't make it work," says Walker of the Jefferson deal. "It was a dream of mine for many years. Coran Capshaw is such a gracious man, but the renovation would have been too complicated and too expensive for what we needed."
If the Company remains homeless, officials remain excited about the prospect of moving indoors.
"It was an artistic move," says opera company board member Martha Redinger. "Rain will no longer fall on our instruments, and the sound will be better inside." As Redinger points out, singer Tony Bennett, who opened the newly renovated Paramount in 2004, did not have to use a microphone.
Still, times are tough in the opera business. Just two weeks ago, the Baltimore Opera Company, a cultural institution for 58-years, began auctioning off everything that wasn't bolted down at the famed Lyric Opera House, as mounting debt and a sharp drop in ticket sales last year forced a bankruptcy.
Redinger, however, sees no repeat in Charlottesville and thinks that the indoor venue will actually attract more serious opera-goers, as the Company will be able to put on more high-level performances.
"People have been coming to the Ash Lawn-Highland's performances consistently for years, and we expect that to continue," says Redinger, who hopes Paramount shows will attract more young people, especially with a new offering of Sunday matinees
Ticket prices, Redinger reports, which had been available for $28, will climb to $30 and $35 in the new venue, but tickets for those under 18 will be only $15.
After 30 years in the same place, however, some regular fans of Ash Lawn Opera could be disappointed, and perhaps confused, about the sudden move away from its namesake–- as well as missing picnics on the grass and seeing opera under the stars.
"We're looking for a permanent home," says Walker, "but right now we're just taking it day-by-day."