March is Women’s History Month—a time when we celebrate the accomplishments of amazing women who have inspired us to do great things. Locally, you will be able to see talented women come together at Opera Roanoke for a fantastic performance of Handel’s Julius Caesar. Amy Cofield Williamson, Teresa Buchholz, Carla Dirlikov, and Toby Newman will be joined by a female cast to tell the story of Caesar’s campaign in Egypt. It features dramatic scenes for each of the principal characters performed by artists who are not only gifted, but also passionate about our community.
Buchholz will play the role of Julius Caesar—something that many men would likely find challenging. “There is really no room for anything remotely feminine in his character,” she explains. “That has to be conveyed both physically and through my singing.” It is a challenge that she looks forward to undertaking, but she realizes her masculine portrayal will require strength and creativity. “Acting comes from within. It’s not something you should layer on externally. It comes out of the music,” she says, “[Great] singers act with their voices, not just their bodies.”
Much like her colleagues, she is dedicated to giving her best to this production. Their admiration for Handel and each other, as artists, will likely be evident in their performance. For some of them it will be the first time they have crossed paths. Others have been with Opera Roanoke for many years. Regardless, they have spent months preparing for their roles and learning about their characters. They do not make light of their responsibility to tell a story to the audience.
Newman also believes that her voice will be one of her strongest assets. She describes it as a viable connection to those watching, and adds, “You have to sing and convey emotions that [they] can feel. Your voice is an actor.” The production will give the cast ample opportunity to make those connections.
Playing the role of Cleopatra, Williamson is excited to share Handel’s work with the Roanoke audience because she feels as though she has already connected with her character. “I have so enjoyed preparing for this role,” she says, “mostly because of the beautiful music [he] wrote. Of course, who wouldn’t love having the opportunity to perform the role of Cleopatra? I can’t wait for Opera Roanoke to bring this beautiful music and history to life!” Her respect for the production is contagious, and every cast member is committed to making the experience both enjoyable and educational.
Phenomenal talent and passion for the stage is not all that makes these women unique. Each one took a different path that led them to Opera Roanoke, and all of them display inspiring strength. They stress the importance of having a mentor that brings out the best in you. Many of them found mentors when they were very young, and almost all of them were inspired by strong women. Dirlikov’s was her teacher and a famous African American opera singer, Shirley Verrett. “She insisted that I strive for excellence,” she recalls. “She faced so much adversity in her career and never gave up. I was fortunate to have her guidance.”
We, as a community and an audience, will be the fortunate ones to see these ladies in action on stage. Bella encourages everyone to celebrate Women’s History month by supporting the women you know who are doing great things in our community. Don’t forget to visit the Jefferson Center on March 21st or March 23rd to support this talented cast in their performance of Handel’s Julius Caesar. For more information, go to Opera Roanoke’s website, www.operaroanoke.org.