National Opera’s Young Artist Program finds a pop-up audience in Vienna parking lot

Normally, the members of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists Program might be performing the work of Mozart, one of Vienna, Austria’s most famous residents, at the Kennedy Center. Instead, on Saturday afternoon, the up-and-coming opera singers were performing at a Vienna, Virginia, parking lot.

With most performances at the Kennedy Center dark due to the pandemic, the singers found the sunshine as their spotlight, and socially distanced music lovers at the Vienna Shopping Center.

The fans, wearing masks, sat on the asphalt of the parking lot, lawn chairs brought from home, or stayed in their cars with the windows open. Some children climbed out of sunroofs to see the performers and hear the dramatic, lilting and evocative sounds of classical music and opera.

“We can’t perform in the Kennedy Center Opera House, so we’re getting out into the community and continuing to bring opera to our supporters,” said Rob Ainsley, director of the Cafritz Young Artists Program.

The group surprised Northern Virginians going about their Saturday afternoon errands by performing shows at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., in the parking lot of Vienna Shopping Center.

Members of the Cafritz Young Artist program performed in a Vienna, Va. parking lot on Saturday. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

Samuel Weiser of the Cafritz Young Artists program performed on Saturday in Vienna, Va. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

Susan Zheng and Nick Luby brought their concert truck to the parking lot in Vienna for the performance. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

The Concert Truck is a mobile concert venue that has come in handy for socially distanced concerts during the coronavirus pandemic. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

The audience on Saturday included pleasantly surprised shoppers, and those who brought their own lawn chairs to a parking lot in Vienna. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)


The entire endeavor couldn’t happen without an old truck converted into a mobile stage, complete with concert piano, lighting, sound system and retractable awning — in case of rain.

“When COVID struck, we found ourselves in a unique position to work with arts organizations like the Kennedy Center to help them continue their programming,” said Susan Zheng, who co-founded the Baltimore-based “The Concert Truck” with Nick Luby. The two will take the truck later this fall to the University of South Carolina for a piano series.

“We’re trying to bring opera and music to the communities,” said Baritone Samuel Weiser, one of the Cafritz program’s young artists.

Weiser said the truck’s stage can accommodate two singers and the pianist, socially distanced.

Weiser sang several numbers from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore, (The Elixir of Love). “There are a lot of great roles in it, a lot of ear worms,” he said.

The opera singers plan a few more pop-up performances before the cold weather sets in, and then they expect to conduct performances in the spring in all of D.C.’s eight wards.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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