A hot-blooded opera marks debut of opera’s new director

“Romeo and Juliet” has it all — lavish parties, sword fights, devoted friendships, and the most tragic teenage romance ever told

An opera that has it all — lavish parties, sword fights, devoted friendships, and the most tragic teenage romance ever told — will come to life when Charles Gounod’s 1867 opera, “Romeo and Juliet,” is presented later this month by Vashon Opera at Vashon Center for the Arts.

The star-studded cast of singers includes a current young artist at The Metropolitan Opera, others fresh from debuts at major opera houses across the country, and other celebrated voices of the Pacific Northwest.

The company’s new artistic director, Allison Pohl, promises an unforgettable presentation filled with memorable, sweeping melodies.

“The energy in the room at our first rehearsal could only be described as electric,” said Pohl.

Leading the cast is Daniel O’Hearn in the role of Roméo. He returns to Vashon Opera after his local debut as The Duke in “Rigoletto” last season. His recent engagements include roles at The Metropolitan Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and The Glimmerglass Festival.

The production’s leading lady, singing the role of Juliette, is audience favorite Ksenia Popova. She returns to the island after singing the roles of Gilda in “Rigoletto” and Adele in “Die Fledermaus” with Vashon Opera. She performs regularly with Tacoma Opera, Pacific Northwest Opera, and Opera Coeur d’Alene, amongst others.

Michael Colman is also returning to Vashon Opera to sing the role of Friar Laurence, after performances as Vashon Opera’s Figaro in “Le Nozze di Figaro” and Sparafucile in “Rigoletto.” Colman’s season includes performances with the Fort Worth Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Chautauqua Opera, Opera Ithaca, and Winter Opera St. Louis.

Other returning artists include Grace Skinner as Stéphano, Soon Cho as Gertrude, Barry Johnson as Lord Capulet, and Alexander Adams as The Duke.

Singers making Vashon Opera debuts include Zachary Lenox as Mercutio, Martin Bakari as Tybalt, Jack Burrows as Pâris, Julian Schrenzel as Benvolio, and Darrell J. Jordan as Grégorio.

Pohl stepped into her role as artistic director of the opera company last year, building on a history of singing roles with the company.

Vashon Opera — now in its 14th season — was founded by beloved and accomplished local soprano Jennifer Krikawa in 2008.

“We’re thrilled to have Allison leading our company as artistic director,” said Krikawa, who has now assumed the title of general director of the opera company. “‘Romeo and Juliet” is a milestone production for Vashon Opera and I know our audience will see the love, attention, and expert touch that has gone into it.”

Pohl, a noted soprano who has performed with Vashon Opera in three previous productions, brings to her role extensive experience as an opera singer, recitalist, and chamber musician. She has appeared with Opera Providence, New Opera Renaissance, Tacoma Opera, Opera in the Heights, Virginian Opera, Opera New Jersey, and Atlantic Coast Opera Festival, among others.

“I aim to take the best parts of all the companies I’ve worked for and implement them on Vashon to produce opera of the absolute finest quality,” she said, adding that she will continue to keep a very active performing schedule in both opera and recital and teach voice as well.

In an email, Pohl said she believed her most recent Vashon Opera role, as the ever-capable and charming Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro” in September of 2023, had perhaps helped the opera company see her in a new light.

Describing the character in a way that seemed to also describe desirable traits for a leader of an artistic enterprise, Pohl said that Susanna is famously the longest role in the soprano repertoire when performed without cuts.

“It requires the singer to be extremely clever, quick, nimble, funny, and compelling because that’s who Susanna is,” Pohl said. “She is always one step ahead of everyone else in the story. She doesn’t suffer fools, and yet, the audience needs to root for her and fall in love with her for the opera to be successful.”

As soon as “Le Nozze di Figaro” closed on Vashon, Krikawa asked her to become the artistic director of the company.

“I always dreamt of having my own artistic vision come to life at an opera company,” Pohl said. “I’ve kept many lists of ideas from repertoire to casting to concert themes over the years.”

Pohl also noted that she has long been impressed by the Vashon community’s embrace of its local opera company — something that struck her in her first engagement with the company, performing the role of Blanche de la Force in “Dialogues of the Carmelites.”

“I remember thinking, ‘What a beautiful thing to see people so dedicated to their island’s artistic pursuits — not even a somewhat obscure piece and very difficult, heavy plot scared them off,’” she said. “It was, in fact, the opposite — the audience was positively enthralled by ‘Dialogues.’ We could all feel it onstage and in conversations with patrons after the performances.”

Pohl said she is eager to continue to build and grow the company — “all while maintaining the highest standards of excellence down to the small details.”

“The reputation Vashon Opera has amongst singers — and I am one — is that here, artists are treated with respect,” she said. “That aspect will certainly never go away.”

Vashon Opera’s production of Gounod’s opera, with a French libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, will be sung in French with English supertitles, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 24, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 26, at Vashon Center for the Arts.

Find out more and purchase tickets at vashonopera.org.