The Road to “Oklahoma!” with Charlottesville Opera

CB Co-Director Emily Hartka first met Michelle Krisel (Artistic Director, Charlottesville Opera) back in 2010…and they’ve been plotting for the two organizations to collaborate ever since!  Both the Ballet and the Opera have had enormous growth over the past 8 years, and Oklahoma! will mark the first official collaboration between the two Charlottesville institutions. “The Ballet and Opera are a natural fit,” says Co-Director Emily Hartka, “and there’s so much history of collaboration within this production.” 

Oklahoma! was the first collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, and was a smash hit when it premiered on Broadway in 1943. Set in the Wild West at the turn of the century, the charming musical portrays the rivalry between small town farmers and cowboys, which is brought to a head by the romance between an earnest farm girl named Laurey and a rugged cowboy named Curly. 
The original musical featured choreography by Agnes De Mille (who had just finished the highly-acclaimed Rodeo).  De Mille was commissioned by Rodgers and Hammerstein to create a Dream Ballet, which would enhance and develop the show’s story between the first and second acts; this feature became the benchmark for many a future musical.
“It was really a new way to show character development,” says Hartka “without any dialogue, and in a very visceral way. The dream helps Laurey make up her mind about her love for Curly and sets the tone for the rest of the production.”

For this show, former Charlottesville Ballet dancer Mary Hein has been commissioned to return to Charlottesville and choreograph an updated version of the Dream Ballet using three professional dancers. Emily Hartka (Laurey), Shady Mohamed (Curly), and Toma Mori (Jud) will who serve as “body doubles” for the opera stars at the end of Act 1. “We’ll be referencing the original staging [of Agnes De Mille],” says Hein, “but modernizing the choreography and bringing the feeling of a real community with the singers and dancers together.”

Emily HartkaShady MohamedToma Mori

Hein will choreograph multiple dancing scenes throughout Oklahoma!, which include a children’s cast of twelve student dancers from Charlottesville Ballet Academy.  “Some of our young dancers have never even seen an opera,” says Hartka, “and they’ll be working alongside the opera stars, the ballet principals, the ensemble, and the full orchestra.” Oh what a beautiful day for Charlottesville!

Charlottesville Opera presents Oklahoma! in collaboration with the Charlottesville Ballet with performances at The Paramount Theater July 29 – August 5.  More information and tickets at

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