Glenn Winters, in his position as outreach musical director for Virginia Opera, sees the amusing side of serious music
Embrace the Absurd!
Glenn Winters of Virginia Opera
Who would think to compare Puccini’s Tosca to Star Wars?—or equate the title role in Bizet’s Carmen to Angelina Jolie in lingerie? Glenn Winters would, and does, in his position as community outreach musical director for Virginia Opera. He’s the company’s resident funny man, and his quirky approach to music education has made Operation Opera—Virginia Opera’s innovative community education program—one of the country’s largest, reaching over 125,000 students and community members last year.
As the company continues its 36th season this month and next with performances of Wagner’s The Valkyrie and Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at its venues in Norfolk, Fairfax and Richmond, one of the highlights of Operation Opera will be the free, pre-opera discussions Winters leads before every performance—what he describes as “opera meets Dave Barry.” Winters’ discussions include a Q&A (here’s a hint, when Winters asks where the song “Old Man River” comes from, don’t say Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess), and a rousing sing-along to Verdi’s “La donna è mobile” from Rigoletto.
“My biggest pet peeve is when people speak about opera in an overly reverential way,” explains Winters. “We need to embrace the irrationality and absurdity in opera. We can’t treat it like a religious icon.” Describing himself as one-third each scholar, revivalist preacher and standup comedian, Winters says the goal of his pre-opera discussions is to help audiences “recognize a moment of music and say ‘I get it!’ because that’s when you create an opera fan.” And for Winters, an operatic baritone who received his Doctor of Music from Northwestern University and joined Virginia Opera in 2004, that’s the point.
Though Winters has sung over a dozen principal roles and appeared with the Operafestival di Roma in Rome, Italy, where he also served as Chorus Master and Stage Director, don’t let his operatic pedigree intimidate you. Take one look at his blog, aptly named Dr. Opera, and you will see this is a guy who loves opera, and wants you to love it too—even if you need subtitles to follow along.