Opera Lyric
By Montage Gammon III

The local librarian who made good as Virginia Opera’s Queen of the Night returns to the stage in Lyric Opera Virginia’s season opening Viva Verdi! this weekend.

Sorta.

That perception of coloratura soprano Elizabeth Madeiros Hogue as the star-who-rose-from- nowhere is a significant oversimplification.

Yes, Mrs. Hogue does work full time as the Music and English Reference Librarian at Old Dominion University.

Yes, she is one of a very few local performers ever cast in a principal role by the Virginia Opera Association.

There’s more to her story than fits in a sound-bite sized fable.

Anyone who looks at her resume and reads her press clippings knows, for sure, what everyone who hears her sing suspects: She’s an opera singer who also works as a librarian, not a librarian who just happens to sing opera.

Before she got her Masters in Library Science, she earned a B.A. in Theatre Arts from San Jose State University, with vocal studies there and at the New England Conservatory of Music, and later the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Portland Opera Repertory Theatre.

Mrs. Hogue performed professionally, and nationally, well before VOA’s 2003 production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute focused Hampton Roads’ attention on her artistry and talent. She had been a regular member of the VOA chorus, and repeatedly an understudy to VOA’s star performers. The Opera felt comfortable enough with her, she says, and was sufficiently aware of her abilities, to cast her as Mozart’s Queen of the Night.

Peter Mark, founder of Lyric Opera Virginia, who was the long-time head of Virginia Opera, wrote in an email, “Elizabeth sang for us at VOA first as a mezzo in the chorus if I recall correctly, and then — once we discovered the incredible range she had — all with the same distinctively rich vocal color — we hired her for a variety of roles — from the contralto Madelon in Andrea Chenier to the highest and most challenging lyric coloratura role — The Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, where she brought the much needed mature rich tone into all of the high vocal fireworks up to the top F above high C … Elizabeth’s range and diligence, together with her warm and distinctive voice and vibrant stage characterizations have made her an invaluable resource …”

Mark goes on to rate Hogue the equal of better known singers with long and successful national and wider than national careers.

Anything you read about the Queen of the Night mentions that F above high C.

Even to the non-musical, that sounds daunting.

Say “Queen of the Night,” or “F above high C” to the musically trained, and you will get verbal and the non-verbal reactions confirming the lay-person’s intuitive impression: that’s one impressive bit of vocalization, the sort that most singers need a Sherpa guide to scale. (To paraphrase something Walt Kelly wrote in another context.)

“The Olympic high jump for coloratura sopranos,” and “vocal acrobatics so high up that oxygen is required,” read one published description.

Hogue’s appearance in The Magic Flute, F above high C and the rest, earned both show-stopping ovations and critical plaudits such as “electrifying” and “chilling,” which latter adjective is a good one to have applied to the performance of a character (punningly) termed by one reviewer, “wicked, and highly strung.”

“Hogue sings the role not only with accuracy but with panache,” wrote Lucia Anderson in the Free-Lance Star, leaving implicit the understanding that accuracy and panache don’t always go together. It was Ms. Anderson who applied the term “electrifying” to Mrs. Hogue’s total performance, and made the comments about oxygen requirements and Olympian achievement.

“Elizabeth Hogue shook the rafters with her chilling rendition as the Queen of the Night,” wrote David Nicholson, in the Newport News Daily Press, adding that she “nailed the perilously high notes that the Queen of the Night character is famous for.”

(There’s a link to one of the Magic Flute arias on her website, www.elizabethhogue.com.)

Viva Verdi! does not give Hogue the chance for such vocal pyrotechnics. In her only solo, as Mistress Quickly, from Verdi’s last opera, Falstaff, she’s just one of the girls – well, housewives – gossiping about how the title character has sent identical love letters to two different women. “A chatter scene,” she calls it, one which brings a lighter touch to a production heavy on the heavy stuff. After all, Verdi only composed two comic operas among a lifetime output of 30-some, so dramas like Rigoletto, Macbeth and Il Trovatore dominate the evening. (Before Falstaff, 1893, his other comedy was a rarely heard youthful work, Un giorno di regno – translated as “A One Day Reign,” or “King for a Day” – 1840.)

This LOV production is something of a comeback for Hogue. Until week before last, when she did 3 arias in a Lyric Opera appearance for the Bel Canto Society of Richmond, she had been off the stage since before her husband David passed away two years ago.

Elizabeth Madeiros Hogue, to use her full name again, is talking about a return to her Portuguese musical roots. She grew up in a musical household; her father and his brothers played guitar, and her mother sang fado, which Hogue likens to “Portuguese blues.” Hogue’s one CD so far, “Singing Arias with Passion,” mixes three traditional Portuguese songs with pieces by Verdi, Bellini, Puccini and the like. She speaks of being an ambassador for classical music within the Portuguese community and of merging her life experiences with her formal vocal training as she further “explores the world of Portuguese music.”

But next, she’s off to Baltimore for the Oct. 27 world premiere the one act, one woman, one hour opera Katie Luther: The Opera, at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. That new work, by Virginia Opera’s Dr. Glenn Winters, is about the former nun who became Martin Luther’s wife, helpmeet, and the mother of his children.

Viva Verdi!
Lyric Opera Virginia
8 p.m. Fri., Sept. 20, Oates Theater, Collegiate School, Richmond
8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 21, The Kimball Theatre, Williamsburg
5 p.m. Sun., Sept. 22, Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, Virginia Beach
757-446-6666

http://www.lyricoperavirginia.org