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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Passion for Opera: Fans Travel to See Performances

Thirteen-year-old Torey Bates Samuel of Bristol, Tenn., attends opera performances with family and friends.
Thirteen-year-old Torey Bates Samuel of Bristol, Tenn., attends opera performances with family and friends.
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Opera Appeals to All Ages, Backgrounds


Enthusiastic opera fans travel great distances to see productions in both the U.S. and Europe, reveling in the glitz and glamour of dressing up and going out on the town. And many will tell you "there's nothing like a live performance."

These same fans also like to "stay at home" — dress comfortably and munch on popcorn — to watch simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera at a movie theater in Bristol. And there's no need to learn a foreign language with the singers' words translated in subtitles.

A! Magazine recently talked to local opera lovers from pre-teens to seniors about their passion for this all-encompassing art form.

Dennis and Cindy Samuel Introduce Young Daughter to Opera

Dennis Samuel, a gynecologist in Bristol, Tenn., says, "My wife and I first became attracted to opera at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. while living in Rich-mond, Va. in the early '90s." Now Dennis and his wife Cindy share their passion for opera with their 13-year-old daughter, Torey Bates.

Dennis says, "Our daughter attended her first live opera at The Kennedy Center nearly four years ago. It was the Washington National Opera production of Jenůfa, a Czech tragic opera by composer Leos Janácek. Winner of the Olivier Award for Best Opera Production, Jenůfa was promoted as the 'must-see' opera of the season. The Kennedy Center website described the opera as 'the unsentimental and realistic portrait of ordinary people; a grim story of infanticide and redemption, yet the strength of the human spirit and the power of forgiveness triumph in the end.' Our daughter actually cried during the performance!"

He adds, "We were very excited when the Met began their HD simulcasts here in Bristol. My family and I try to attend all the broadcasts at Tinseltown and have been doing so for the last two years. We have even brought some of our daughter's friends to performances; one of them has come with us several times."

Dennis concludes, "We still travel to D.C. two to three times a year to see the opera live. Watching opera through an HD simulcast has benefits, but in my opinion there is nothing like seeing it in person."

John and Jana Dreyzehner's Sons Convert Them to Opera Lovers

John is a Preventive and Occupational Medicine specialist living in Abingdon. His wife Jana is a psychiatrist practicing in Bristol, Va. Jana says, "We became opera lovers — converted by our sons, Johnny and Jason."

As President of Venture Crew 71 (a Boy Scout program), Jason arranged for the Crew, as well as friends and family, to attend the 2009 Met Opera simulcast of La Sonnambula at Tinseltown, calling it an "Opera-tunity." Eighteen youth and eight adults attended — all but five for the first time. Jana says, "The comments after-wards were positive from people who never thought they would go to an op-era. Scoutmaster Barry Proctor was one of the first-timers; at the next scout meeting, he joked that there are some things you just assume you are not going to like (for example, brussel sprouts), but he was pleasantly surprised."

The Dreyzehners also traveled to North Carolina to see local baritone Mark Davis star in the Asheville Lyric Opera production of Rigoletto in 2009. Jana remembers, "It was a tremendous performance."

Most recently, they attended the Opera Viva production of The Magic Flute at the University of Virginia (UVA). The student-run opera company had a 20-piece student orchestra, a student-painted backdrop, and costumes created by third-year student Martha Eason, who is on the executive committee of Opera Viva and played one of the Three Ladies. [Martha, the daughter of Beverly and Mark Eason, Abingdon, Va., was a Bristol Music Club scholarship winner in Voice in 2004, 2006 and 2007.]

Jana notes, "Our son Johnny, a first-year student at UVA, was the lead baritone in the role of Papageno. He was definitely the comic relief and added his own humor to the role."

Johnny says, "It was easy to get into the character of a happy man wanting the simple pleasures of fine food and drink and a female companion." He admits that learning seven arias and all the lines took the better part of any free time a first year might have, but "it was a fantastic experience. I hope to be in other productions in future years."


— Mary Jane Miller, Herb & Barbara Dittmar, and Jack and Sylvia White Share a Passion for Opera

Topics: Family, Music, Opera

Earlier this year, Johnny Dreyzehner and Martha Eason, both from Abingdon, Va., performed in the opera The Magic Flute at the University of Virginia. Both are Bristol Music Club scholarship winners.

Opera-tunity: Jason Dreyzehner (kneeling on left side in white T-shirt) organized a group trip to see a Metropolitan Opera broadcast at Tinseltown theatres in Bristol, Va. Behind Jason are his father John and brother Johnny. Also on the back row are DeeDee Goldsmith, Bill Campbell, Ruth Grunstra, Beth McCoy, Anne Proctor, Sarah Hawsey, Shelley Goldsmith, Grace Grunstra, Annie Forrest, Adrian Carico, and Solonia Thorn. Kneeling in the middle are, from left, Bea Dietzen and Julia Buechting (German Exchange students), Luke Quigley, Rachel Grunstra, Tim Grunstra, Scott Roblee, and Brandon Holmes. Reclining in front of the crowd are John and James Salyer. Not pictured are Barry Proctor (getting tickets) and Jana Dreyzehner (taking the picture).