The Virginia Opera will present Sanctuary Road in late January, a production that brings to life the harrowing and inspiring tales of enslaved Blacks who escaped bondage through the Underground Railroad. Local audiences can embrace this tribute on stage January 26 and January 28. Other performances are planned for Richmond and Fairfax in February, with Harrison Opera special tickets starting at “Pay As You Wish.” (See Sanctuary Road ad, page 6A)
Harriet Tubman is 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 Africans in America escape to freedom.
The writings of Henry Still form the basis for Sanctuary Road which was composed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Moravex. Still’s 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.
Sanctuary Road 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.
“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,” said Virginia Opera’s Artistic Director Adam Turner.
He continued, “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.’”
The production will be conducted by Dr. Everett McCorvey, 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. PBS has produced six documentaries featuring Dr. McCorvey’s work. This appearance marks Dr. McCorvey’s conducting debut at Virginia Opera.
Kimille Howard is at the helm of this visionary landmark production in her Virginia Opera directorial debut. The New York-based director, deviser, writer, and filmmaker has earned recognition at the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington National Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, and the Glimmerglass Festival.
Sanctuary Road presents 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.
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 and to purchase tickets, please visit Virginia Opera’s website at https://vaopera.org/sanctuary-road.