Final Battle at the Virginia Arts Festival

Mandy Spivak sang the role of Darling Donnis in The Final Battle for Love (photo: Rachel Greenberg)

WATCH VIDEO of Virginia Arts Festival’s presentation of Final Battle for Love.

On June 6, two scenes from The Final Battle for Love were premiered at the Virginia Arts Festival in conjunction with the John Duffy Composers Institute. It’s hard to begin to describe what a positive experience it was to work with the remarkable John Duffy, director Rhoda Levine, conductor Alan Johnson, vocal coach Patrick Mason, and all the amazing singers and accompanists. I had excellent interactions with the other Composer Fellows and guest faculty Libby Larsen, Fred Ho, and Ricky Ian Gordon.

Nothing compares to the real world experience of seeing what a director, conductor, cast and accompanists have to do to put even a small production together. Final Battle was one of five operas introduced at the Virginia Arts Festival’s Masterworks in the Making performance. The performers had to change characters, styles—and mindsets—every ten minutes or so, and they did a remarkable job!

The two scenes presented from Final Battle were Starla and Darling Donnis. Mezzo Robynne Redmon and baritone Jeffrey Wienand played the roles of Starla and the Narrator. both singers brought huge amounts of energy their characters, and despite the necessarily stripped down nature of the production, it was an entirely believable lovers’ quarrel.

Jeffrey Wienand and Robynne Redmon perform as the Narrator and Starla (photo: Whitney George).

Kijai Riddick-Tuipelehake, Signe Mortensen, and David Tayloe provided excellent backing vocals during this scene.

Soprano Mandy Spivak (pictured at the top of the page) performed the role of Darling Donnis, cutting loose powerful high E flats as Darling Donnis spirals into a panic. Baritone Jeff Williams sang the role of Rockin’ Robbie Frazier and Jeff Wienand changed gears to sing the role of Big Bill Boscoe the Ringside Announcer. Robynne Redmon continued her role as Starla. Baritone Brent Hartigan joined the rest of the cast at the rope as one of the fans.

Rhoda Levine shares her ideas with the company.

The staging of this scene shows the rich imagination of director Rhoda Levine. The use of a rope to represent the ringside and the idea of seeing the action through the eyes of Darling Donnis and the fans was a very effective way to evoke energy and tension. Alan Johnson conducted from the back of the auditorium, and stage manager Topher Jones stood next to him indicating which way the fans should be looking as they followed the imaginary action. Baritone Brent Hartigan joined the rest of the cast at “ringside” as one of the fans.

I’m grateful to everyone involved in the performance at the Virginia Arts Festival, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give  kudos to our tireless accompanists David Hahn and Amanda Halstead. This presentation was a very important step in the life of this opera, and the work as a whole will benefit from all the constructive feedback.

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