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Laughs in the libretto

New Wolf Trap-commissioned opera ‘The Inspector’ debuts next week

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‘The Inspector’
A world-premiere opera based on Gogol’s play ‘The Inspector General.’ Music by John Musto, book and libretto by Mark Campbell. April 29 at 8 p.m. and May 1at 3 p.m.
Free one-hour talk at the Center for Education, next door to The Barns, an hour prior to each two-hour show.
The Barns at Wolf Trap
1645 Trap Rd., Vienna, VA
Tickets: $32-$72
877-965-3872/wolftrap.org

Mark Campbell (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Comedy is a different animal when it comes to opera.

That’s the experience of Mark Campbell, author of a new comic opera, “The Inspector,” that features his laugh-out-loud, incisive libretto matched perfectly to the expressive melodies in composer John Musto’s sophisticated-yet-fun style. It comes to the stage in its world premiere at The Barns at Wolf Trap on three nights beginning Wednesday.

Based on all advance indications, it will be another triumph for the veteran collaborators, Campbell and Musto, whose comic operas “Volpone” won major plaudits at Wolf Trap in 2004 and returned there for a successful reprise in 2007.

“We were their matchmakers,” Kim Witman, Wolf Trap Opera’s director, rightly boasts, about bringing the two together for “Volpone,” and she admits that “anytime you do that, you just don’t know at the beginning what’s going to work or not.”

This combo worked so well, says Witman, “that we’ll take the credit” for making it happen. About “The Inspector,” she says, “They both have an approach to this work that is modern in feeling, not as in avant-garde” — which in opera can be cold and remote — “but that hits the sweet spot.”

“The Inspector,” an update of the 1836 classic tongue-in-cheek satirical play by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol,  “intersects as music and words,” she says, “with its own spin on our contemporary world, because this is not about high art, but they each set out to entertain.”

What’s great about the two, she adds, is that “they use actual English words and the same syntax you would use if you spoke to someone on the street, so it doesn’t feel theatrical, it just sounds familiar,” in Campbell’s way with words and Musto’s melodic punctuation.

Witman, an old hand at making opera come alive for new audiences, admits that “We’re hampered by the fact that we are called opera,” but she stresses, “in many ways ‘The Inspector’ is really musical theater. It’s simply that it’s sung by people with operatically trained and expressive voices, without microphones.” She points out that on Broadway, singers’ voices are amplified, but not in opera. “That’s what makes it opera,” but with “The Inspector,” she says, “in everything else it could just as easily be musical theater.”

Opera is alienating to some, she says.

“Many people won’t come out to anything called opera, because they think they’ll feel stupid or that it’s stupid because they can’t understand it. It’s because of the trappings of opera, the exaggerated posturing, that people stay away, and because it’s in another language, so people think ‘I won’t understand it,’ and because they think it’s going to be five hours long.”

But “The Inspector” is sung in English, with constant wisecracks, and she says, “is very fast,” clocking in at just two hours long.

Campbell — who is gay, and openly declares, “I’m single and available for marriage, unfortunately not yet in New York (he lives in New York City), but in D.C.” — says that he and Musto “were told to write a comedy because they (Wolf Trap) loved ‘Volpone,'” which was based on the English play of that name (in Italian it means “sly fox”) written by Ben Jonson and first produced in 1606.

Musto is Italian — half Sicilian and half Neapolitan — so Campbell says that when they put their heads together they soon decided to revamp and relocate the classic Gogol comedy, set in Tsarist Russia, to Mussolini-era Italy, and instead of Russian-flavored music, Campbell says it is very Italian in flavor, with tarantellas, those Italian folk dances with fast upbeat tempos, not cossack-style dances.

“The composer must help make the opera funny,” and all of Musto’s music, says Campbell, is created to make sure that the comedy of the libretto — the words — lands with flair and funny impact.

This is their fourth opera together. Three are comedies, and the fourth, says Campbell, has comic elements — “Later The Same Evening,” based on the paintings of American artist Edward Hopper.

“When it comes to comedy, we know how to do this,” he says.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

“It’s harder to do than drama, because it must do the same thing that drama does, create clear characters who want something, the same thing as when you tell any story, but it must also be funny.”

Campbell says that “you’d have to ask my friends if I’m funny” but that he thinks that he’s “actually a pretty miserable person, as are most people who have a comic bent, because at the core of their heart is something that’s pretty dark.”

Soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird, who sings the role of the mayor’s daughter, Beatrice, in “The Inspector,” agrees.   She has worked with Campbell before, in the 2007 revival of “Volpone,” when she also sang on the cast recording of it which was nominated for a Grammy.

“He’s very friendly,” she says, “but at the same time he’s very private, and a lot of artists are like that.”

“We know how to bond with people, but we save ourselves for a few people and put the rest into our art,” so she says that “you get to know more about Mark by reading his work than by spending time with him in a casual setting.”

And “The Inspector” is funny, albeit set in a dark time, in late 1920s Sicily, when the new Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader, or “Il Duce,” decided to try to clean up the inbred corruption on the island with its Mafia-style gangs that ruled in politics and society with a heavy hand of thuggery and thievery.

“His ego had been hurt,” says Campbell, who spent a long time researching the history of the period, “so he sent in his own inspectors — called “prefetti,” or prefects — to clean up the corruption in local power centers on the island. So the scene is set for the village (imaginary but based on his research) of Santa Schifezza, whose local mayor’s rule is both criminal and unchallenged, until someone the mayor (Fazzobaldi) believes to be Mussolini’s inspector arrives.

Tancredi, this mysterious stranger, traveling with his manservant Cosimo — exceedingly smart, acerbic even, and definitely more pragmatic than his “master” — arrive just as the citizens of Santa Schifezza have gathered to rehearse the town’s new anthem — which is so bad it’s utterly funny — for the next day, Municipal Mayor Day, a day Mayor Fazzobaldi has instituted in honor of himself.

But the mayor has been informed that an inspector from Rome will soon arrive, incognito, and put at risk the entire way of life, based on corruption, he has worked so hard to keep going. When the goofy twins, Bobachina and Bobachino, who run the post office, stumble in with the news that they have spotted a new arrival at the inn, and that he is tall, eloquent, elegant — and blond — the mayor immediately jumps to the conclusion that he must be the anticipated inspector.

“Comedy as a form of theater is different from humor,” says Campbell, born in D.C. and a Maryland resident until age 12. “In opera it’s usually found,” he says, “when characters are so obsessed with something — with greed or in the case also with abuse of power — that audiences don’t find it sad but funny.”

But he says his own favorite moments in comic operas are the sad or tragic moments, such as in the character of Figaro from the Beaumarchais play which formed the basis for Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro” and Rossini’s opera “The Barber of Seville.”

“I have done my job,” Campbell says, “if I have first seduced people with the jokes and then pull a 180-degree turn and stop them dead in their tracks, surprising them with an incredibly sad moment. Opera allows you to do that, and in many other art forms you just can’t do this so efficiently, because it has music which allows you to cut to the chase faster than with mere language.”

Campbell, who wrote the funny lyrics to the musical “And The Curtain Rises,” which just closed its world-premiere run at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, has also just come from Norfolk, Va., where the Virginia Opera premiered this month his musical theater piece based on a Civil War theme, “Rappahanock County,” in collaboration with the composer Ricky Ian Gordon, who is also gay and whose own musical “Sycamores” premiered last year at Signature Theatre.

Campbell is philosophical about being single, having been, he says, “in several long-term relationships, which were fairly happy ones, but I am not someone who believes in love forever, because people change and can evolve into a relationship and then evolve out of it.”

Three of his former partners “are now among my best friends,” he says. “If you love someone, you want them to be happy, and if you’re truly invested with someone it’s just a matter of reformatting the relationship.” But he’s also realistic — because first “you must get past the awkwardness of the first couple of years and the first new boyfriends.”

Could a comic opera on the subject be far behind?

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. -dareck-

    May 2, 2011 at 6:02 am

    mr campbell is my hero :-)

    -dareck- from krakow, pl

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Real Estate

Investing in real estate: What you need to know

From REITs to flips, tips for getting started

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In many cases, buying or selling a home is a very personal experience. Many people buy a home with the intention of living there – making memories, building a family, becoming part of a community. The same is true of sellers. Selling a home, in many cases, is simultaneously difficult and exciting – it means the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. While the majority of buying and selling experiences may be personal – increasingly, others in the market are interested in real estate not just to find a home, but also to make a great investment.

In our current market, it’s easy to see why real estate can often end up being quite a profitable investment. In 2021, sellers often saw huge profits on the sale of real estate – but even in years where profits aren’t quite as significant as this year, real estate has often proven to be a sound and reliable long-term investment strategy. Real estate investments can add diversification to your portfolio, and a very successful venture, particularly if you buy and sell when the circumstances are right.

Over the last several years, many gay neighborhoods around the country have shown steady appreciation, leading investors, and particularly LGBTQ investors, to consider whether the time is right to consider adding real estate to their investment portfolio. For those considering real estate as an investment strategy, here are a few helpful tips:

• Consider REITs: For those just getting started with real estate investment, Real Estate Investment Trusts, or “REITs” for short, might be a good option. These provide the opportunity to invest in real estate without owning the physical real estate yourself. They are often compared to mutual funds, and you invest in a company, a REIT, which owns commercial real estate like office buildings, apartments, hotels, and retail spaces. Generally, REITs pay high dividends, which make them a popular investment in retirement, as well as for investors not wanting to own one particular piece of property.

• Consider investing in rental properties: Rental income can often be a steady, reliable source of income if you do your due diligence researching the property itself, the surrounding neighborhood, and the potential community of renters. While maintaining a rental property will certainly require some investment of time and energy on your part, it can be a profitable long-term investment and one that is appealing to many people.

• Put your skills to work: If you have a skill set that includes being able to renovate and upgrade homes – or if you know a trusted person or team of people who does, flipping a home that could use some renovation can be quite a profitable investment indeed. Getting a home that could use some extra TLC at a good price and updating it can result in a sales price that is significantly higher than the purchase price. This can certainly be a very good investment – and a fulfilling project too.

• Be willing to listen and learn: When trying something new, it is almost always helpful to talk to those with experience in that area. Investing in real estate is no different. Having a mentor who can give you some tips and advice from their own experience is invaluable.

• Get to know the neighborhood: When making any real estate decision, whether you’re going to live in a home yourself or purchase property for investment purposes, knowing the neighborhood and community you’re interested in is important. A key part of that will be finding a real estate agent who knows and loves the community that you’re interested in, and who understands the market in that area. This can make all the difference between a smooth and successful process, and a stressful one.

(At GayRealEstate.com, we are dedicated to our mission of connecting LGBTQ home buyers and sellers with talented, knowledgeable, and experienced real estate agents across the country who can help them to achieve their real estate goals. Whether you’re interested in buying or selling a home that you live in personally, or buying and selling for investment purposes, we can connect you with an agent who knows and loves the community, and who can help you achieve your goals. Contact us at any time. We look forward to helping you soon.)

Jeff Hammerberg is founding CEO of Hammerberg & Associates, Inc. Reach him at
303-378-5526 or [email protected].

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Dining

Bistro du Jour transports you from Wharf to Seine

New casually sophisticated restaurant a welcoming, inclusive space

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The owners of Bistro du Jour say, ‘Our restaurants are intended to be welcoming to all guests of all backgrounds, beliefs and demographics.’ (Photo by Rey Lopez courtesy Bistro du Jour)

Delights run morning to night at The Wharf’s new Bistro du Jour, a casually sophisticated French outpost sliding into a prime waterfront space.

Courtesy of gay-owned KNEAD Hospitality + Design, this new restaurant flaunts a menu born from a Seine-side bistro, serving coffee in the morning hours to Champagne in the evening. Its all-day culinary oeuvre begins with coffee (from La Colombe) and omelettes, and ends with items like a towering and meaty bi-patty cheeseburger L’Americain.

Taking over the sweet spot vacated by Dolcezza, Bistro du Jour is a sister to Mi Vida and The Grill, KNEAD group’s two other Southwest waterfront locales. The group also runs several other formal and large-format restaurants they have populated across the city.

Why bring French to the Wharf?

“We have been here for almost four years and we knew what the area was missing and acted on it,” says one of the co-owners, Jason Berry. “We wanted something where people could come in at all hours of the day and find something they wanted, from coffee and pastry to a full-on sit down at night.”

The Bistro opens at 7:30 a.m. serving that local La Colombe coffee, plus flaky, buttery pastries from KNEAD’s partner Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery. Breakfast service starts at 8 a.m. with brioche doughnuts, quiches, a “massive” Belgian waffle, and French toast topped with a blueberry compote and sweetened whipped cream.

Executive Chef Treveen Dove – transferred after three years at another KNEAD spot, Succotash Prime) – oversees the offerings, a tour of the “greatest hits” of a typical Parisian bistro.

“Oeufs Sur Le Plat is to die for, with the griddled buttered bread topped with a sunny side up egg, sautéed mushrooms and a Mornay sauce… It’s so rich and delicious.”

By 11 a.m., the Bistro transitions to other traditional French fare, like French onion soup, tuna Niçoise salad, steak frites, mussels in a white wine and garlic butter, and a croque madame sandwich dripping with gruyere and creamy Bechamel. One unique offering is whipped brown butter with radishes and crostinis. There are also gougeres, warm cheese puffs shot through with gruyere.

Come 4 p.m., the dinner menu fills out even more, with additional dinner items confit de canard (duck leg with green lentils and red wine shallots); and a robust, earthy coq au vin (braised chicken with bacon, mushrooms and mashed potatoes); and a lamb shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes that would be at home on a French Alps farm.

Due to space limitations, the Bistro lacks a sit-down bar. Yet beverage director Darlin Kulla, who has been a part of the KNEAD family for more than four years, has put together a focused menu of six craft cocktails. You’ll find not only a French 75 (gin, lemon verbena, lemon, bubbles), but also a Manhattan and a “Champs Elysees” with cognac, chartreuse, lemon, and bitters.

The bar itself carries only one brand of each liquor: one gin, rum, and vodka. “ If you want vodka, you’re having Grey Goose,” notes Reg with a smile.

Given the cuisine, there is a considerable French wine list topping 60 bottles, leaning heavily on Champagne and sparkling wine. There are almost 20 red, white, rose, and Champagne options by the glass and carafe, as well. The bar rounds out its stock with French aperitifs and bottled beer.

Notably, the majority of the restaurant’s seating is situated on the building’s exterior, in a newly constructed all-season patio enclosure with almost 70 seats. The owners designed the space to maximize waterfront views, capacity, and flexibility. During warmer days, the Potomac breeze is welcome to flutter around coffee-sippers; in the colder months, the windows roll down for a fully enclosed and conditioned space. The patio’s banquettes arrived directly from France, and twinkling strung lights sway from the ceiling.

The interior is done up in Mediterranean greens, pinks, and creams. Big windows welcome in daytime natural light, but allow for a dim, mood-lit atmosphere in the evening. Traditional bentwood bistro chairs dot the space and antique-style tin tiles reflect a classic Parisian flair. Over at the bar, the glassware display was created from a single panel of antiqued brass. At the rear, a daytime counter offers coffee, pastries, and drinks.

As Bistro du Jour’s owners are both gay men, they note that, “Our restaurants are intended to be welcoming to all guests of all backgrounds, beliefs and demographics. We cater to everyone, which is the only way to lead a hospitality organization.”

“When you’re part of a minority group in society,” they say, “the only way to lead your restaurants is as inclusive, welcoming, and hospitable leaders.”

Though smaller than their other ventures, a French bistro right on the teeming, pedestrian-heavy Wharf “was the perfect fit,” they say. 

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Real Estate

Dining without a dining room

Today’s hosts are likely more casual than in the past

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The large formal dining room is a thing of the past. Here are some tips for a more modest Thanksgiving set up.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, you may be thinking about gathering your loved ones and kindred spirits to celebrate the positive things in your life, praise your higher power, pay homage to indigenous people, or just stuff your face and fall asleep in front of the television at the traditional Thanksgiving after-party: the football game.

Thinking back to my childhood, I remember the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen. The elegant table in the formal dining room was adorned with a crisp, white tablecloth, “the good china,” sterling silver place settings, a variety of serving dishes for the forthcoming bounty, and a cornucopia centerpiece containing dried fruits and vegetables.

My dad, Ozzie, would carve the turkey and my mom, Harriet, would bring out the pecan and mincemeat pies for dessert…wait a minute…did I really grow up in a 1950s sitcom? Yup, I did, although Ozzie was Don and Harriet was Grayce.

Sometimes we would visit my maternal grandparents in Maine, whose formal dining room was less so – an extended part of the living room in the 1940s version of an open floor plan in their three-bedroom apartment over the general store and gas station that my grandfather owned.

On occasion, we would go to Massachusetts to spend a day or two with my paternal grandmother and her extended clan. There was nothing “formal” about the dining room there. Dinner took place on a litany of card tables set up on the jalousied porch off the kitchen.

When dinner was over, my grandmother would rise from the head of the table and declare, “I made the dinner. Now you do the dishes.” My father and his sisters would scurry like baby chicks to adhere to her demand.

As I grew older, I rarely lived near family. Every so often, I would be invited to dinner as the obligatory guest – the girlfriend of whatever young man I was seeing at the time. Later, I would become part of the restaurant holiday dining crowd.

For several years, I had a standing date with a good friend for dinner and a movie on Thanksgiving Day. We would choose restaurants that advertised dishes like Lobster Thermador, Champagne Ravioli, or Boeuf Bourguignon, but would invariably select the traditional turkey dinner with dressing and all the trimmings from the prix fixe menu.

Fast-forward to 2020 and we may not have gathered at all, content to have Whole Foods or Door Dash deliver Thanksgiving dinner to be eaten in front of the television while watching Hallmark movies.

Now here we are. The formal dining room has gone the way of the good china and the sterling silver. For most of us, they are simply not necessities in our lives any longer. So how do you host a dinner party when there is no room specifically designated for dining?

First, you don’t need to purchase things you have no room to store later. Although “rent” can be a four-letter word to a real estate agent, a party rental company’s website allows you to select items online and have them delivered and removed at a fraction of the cost.

Are you trying to seat a large group for dinner? Let’s start with the premise that all your guests do not need to be at a banquet table. Consider having several tables for two or four placed around the room. It will give you the ambiance of your favorite bistro and still allow for conversation among your guests.

You can also rent folding chairs, linens, place settings, and stemware. Once your order arrives, just set the tables and add candles or your favorite centerpieces to complete a festive look.

If you have no room for a seated event, you can order standing cocktail tables. Your breakfast bar or kitchen counter will make a perfect buffet line.

Better yet, have an open house, inviting guests at slightly different times so you see everyone without feeling like you’re in the middle of a crowded concert.

Is your style even more casual? Rather than worrying about recycling plastic cups and sporks, pick up a bunch of Oftast dinner or dessert plates for 79 cents each at Ikea. Add a 6-pack of Svalka wine glasses and cutlery service for four from the Mopsig collection for $5 each. Pull out some pillows and eat while sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by family and friends.

Some of us may have trouble getting back up, but we’ll be in perfect position to fall asleep during the football game.

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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