NEW YORK, April 12, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Mark Walters will be seen at the Harrison Opera House this evening in Norfolk, VA in Rappahannock County, a new music theater piece by composer Ricky Ian Gordon.
Rappahannock County is a fictional song cycle inspired by diaries, letters, and personal accounts written during the period of the Civil War. The work explores the war's impact on a community of Virginians -- slaves, plantation owners, soldiers, nurses, widows and survivors. The five principal singers play 30 roles and are accompanied by an ensemble of 17 musicians.
Walters' journey in this piece began last summer, when he was invited by the Virginia Arts Festival and Virginia Opera to Norfolk, VA. There he met composer Ricky Ian Gordon, librettist Mark Campbell, conductor Rob Fisher and stage director Kevin Newbury and spent four intense days in musical preparation and staging in order to prepare a preview concert for the major backers of the new piece.
"Even in its preview state, the piece was intensely moving. You felt like you where in the middle of living snapshots of everyday people's lives during one of the most traumatic times in American history," said Walters.
As part of his preparation for tonight's premiere, Walters spent two days in the Rappahannock County area of northwestern Virginia visiting museums and historical sites and immersing himself in the terrain of the Shenandoah Valley. In the production, Walters plays the roles of topographer Jedediah Hotchkiss, the Reverend Zachariah Springer, a soldier dying of typhoid fever, a deserter facing his execution and a Virginia farmer returning to his destroyed home after the war.
On researching his roles, Walters said:
"Hotchkiss was a mapmaker for General Stonewall Jackson and is the best documented character that I am playing. I tried to use the information available on him to launch me into the mindset of Ricky's piece. Hotchkiss' maps were crucial in the placement of troops and the military tactics used by Jackson and I was able to find an exhibition of these maps at the Heritage Museum at Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society. Hotchkiss sketched out his maps in colored pencil while riding on horseback by swinging one leg over his saddle and creating a little work area. His most famous map is a beautifully drawn linen map of the Shenandoah Valley and there is also an extremely detailed map of the Rappahannock area featured in the exhibit. I also visited Hotchkiss' gravesite at Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton, VA and discovered that he is surrounded by his wife Sara and two daughters, Nellie and Anne. After my trip, I felt closer to the characters I was studying and was ready to dive into rehearsals the next day in Norfolk."
Performances of Rappahannock County will take place in Norfolk, VA this week and will continue in Richmond, VA and Austin, TX next fall.
Opera News has described Mark Walters as "a force to be reckoned with" in Lucia di Lammermoor and as "heroic" in Carmen. The Chicago Sun Times depicts Walters as "vocal fury" in La forza del destino. The Salt Lake Tribune says, "The tall, handsome singer possesses a magnificently resonant voice and unforced dramatic ability." Walters has sung over 50 roles in the baritone operatic repertoire and with this season's performances of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata, he is a singer to watch in the demanding Verdi arena.
Future engagements for Walters include the title role of Rigoletto with Florida Grand Opera and a company debut with Arizona Opera as Valentin in Faust. He was recently featured on a Richard Tucker Music Foundation concert and with Opera Tampa in "A Night of Stars" gala honoring the career of Placido Domingo. He will also be heard on the cast recording of Rappahannock County with the Naxos label and will appear this summer in another premiere -- Rockland by Finnish composer Jukka Linkola.
Photo: Rappahannock County Mark Walters, Photographer Rachel Greenberg
Video: Rappahannock County Trailer
SOURCE Mark Walters