Composer with Salem ties debuts opera in Romania next week

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Aaron Garber composed the chamber opera “Romania: Revolution 1989” that makes its debut in Romania on Dec. 13.

A Virginia composer with ties to Salem will conduct his opera about the Romanian revolution when it makes its premiere in Romania next week.

Aaron Garber, the former music director of College Lutheran Church in Salem and founder of the Salem Choral Society, composed the chamber opera “Romania: Revolution 1989.” He and a group of Virginians are traveling to Timisoara, Romania, where the opera will be performed by the Romanian National Opera on Dec. 13.

The performance will also feature tenor Scott Williamson, artistic director of Opera Roanoke, and pianist Melia Garber, Aaron Garber’s wife, who teaches piano at Hollins University. She was born in Romania and remembers the uprising that overthrew tyrannical Romanian President Nicolae Ceauseascue on Dec. 15, 1989, and ended with the execution of Ceauseascu and his wife Elena that Christmas Day.

Additional musicians will be from the cast of the Romanian National Opera. Opera Rotary Timisoara and the Romanian National Opera have asked Aaron Garber to expand the chamber opera to a full-length opera for the 30th anniversary of the Romanian uprising in 2019.

Also accompanying the Garbers and Williamson on the trip is Salem resident Joseph Ferguson, former president of the Salem Rotary Club and a past governor for this Rotary district, as well as Amherst Rotarian Fr. James Hubbard.

Virginia Rotary Clubs, Opera Roanoke and Aaron Garber will be discussing possibilities for joint activities. Amherst Glebe Arts Response (AGAR) is paying for air travel and honoraria for the US musicians, while the Romanian groups will cover American artists’ hotel and food, and will pay artist fees for additional musicians, as well as the costs associated with the Opera House.

Tenor Scott Williamson, artistic director of Opera Roanoke, will sing the lead in the opera in Romania.

The Romanians are also trying to establish an academy for talented young musicians. AGAR’s Lynn and Ned Kable are among the Virginians meeting with the Romanians.

This summer, Rotary Opera Club Timisoara and Romanian National Opera invited Garber and the Virginia nonprofit sponsoring composition of the opera, AGAR to co-present the project with the Romanian groups. AGAR commissioned Garber’s chamber opera in 2014, and it premiered at tiny St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Clifford, Va., on April 26, 2015. The program was repeated in 2015 at Lynchburg College, Trinity Ecumenical Parish Moneta, and Heights Community Church Roanoke.

Garber is now director of music ministry at Trinity Ecumenical Parish in Moneta. He is also conductor and music director for Jefferson Choral Society in Lynchburg.

The original production was supported in part by Virginia Commission for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts as well as Greater Lynchburg Community Trust.