In 1978, a group of Charlottesville musicians, led by Priscilla Little, began to present chamber performances at the home of President James Monroe, Ash Lawn-Highland. These performances became the Ash Lawn-Highland Opera Festival, which grew dramatically after Judy Walker became the General Director in 1987. At that time, the festival began performing full-length operas and musical theater productions in the historic home’s boxwood gardens. Over the years, with the support of Ash Lawn-Highland’s owner, the College of William & Mary, the festival grew and flourished. In 2002, the Ash Lawn Opera Festival Foundation was incorporated, independent from the College, with the mission of performing opera and musical theater, developing young artists and administrators for professional careers in opera, and providing educational programs in opera.
In the summer of 2009, Ash Lawn Opera relocated its performances to The Paramount Theater on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, allowing the company to grow even further artistically and professionally. With the hiring of Michelle Krisel as General Director in 2010, complete with over thirty years of experience in the national and international world of opera, including 14 years as the Special Assistant to Plácido Domingo at Washington National Opera, the Board of Directors set a goal to become one of the finest small opera companies and summer opera festivals in the United States. In recent years, the company has partnered with a number of other local arts groups, including the Oratorio Society of Virginia, the Wilson School of Dance, the Virginia Consort, the Virginia Festival of the Book, and Charlottesville Ballet. It has also expanded its season to include occasional winter and spring performances.
In January, 2017, in honor of its 40th anniversary as the area’s premier opera company, Ash Lawn Opera became Charlottesville Opera, and embarked on its most ambitious season yet. Our new name reflects the remarkable artistic transformation our company has experienced in recent years, as well as our continued dedication to the Charlottesville community.