BLUE VIOLA workshop at Arena Stage


UrbanArias is pleased to be one of three companies selected to present a new work in a workshop setting on the Kogod Cradle Series at Arena Stage.

Join us for a sneak preview of our spring production, and a chance to help shape the final piece through your feedback.

Public performances are

January 31, 2015 at 8 p.m. and

February 1, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.


$10 General Admission

Click below to buy tickets on the Arena Stage website

Click here to buy tickets

The Viola is a Beautiful Liar

BLUE VIOLA tells the story of a priceless instrument that disappears after its owner, a player in the Chicago Symphony, accidentally leaves it on the street. It winds up in the hands of Vernon Addams, a junk dealer, who sees in it a lost treasure he is meant to rescue and care for. His girlfriend, Arnita Seward, is more practical. Growing up poor in Chicago has left her few options for a bright future; she has narrowly escaped the projects, but her job at a run-down Cookie and Hot Sandwich shop will never provide advancement, and she has to put up with the unwanted advances of her boss to boot. Arnita steals the viola from Vernon, and brings in her boss, Mikey Stearns, as an accomplice in order to get the instrument appraised, and hopefully fenced. Mikey concocts an unlikely story about a rich aunt who willed him the viola, while Arnita dreams of a cushy future “someplace warm”, financed by the proceeds of the instrument sale. Mikey’s story and Arnita’s flirting do not convince Fritz Humboldt, a finicky rare instrument dealer; he immediately recognizes that the instrument in his shop is stolen. He also reveals what everyone had missed, including the Chicago Symphony musician, and all the viola’s previous owners: it is a fake.

Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi, authors of UrbanArias’ 2012 hit comedy THE FILTHY HABIT, have written another delightful short opera. UrbanArias was pleased to commission BLUE VIOLA, and is grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for their support of this piece. Directed by Tazewell Thompson and with a fantastic cast, BLUE VIOLA promises to be a very entertaining hour at the opera!

The public readings at Arena Stage are not fully-staged performances, but rather presentations of the current draft of the opera. Both readings will be followed by an audience talk-back in which you can tell us what you think, and what edits you might suggest. This is a terrific and exciting way to be part of the process of opera creation!


Vernon Addams – Jorell Williams

Arnita Seward – Alicia Olatuja

Michael Stearns – Keith Phares

Fritz Humboldt – Benjamin Lurye


Tim McReynolds on piano

Watch below: Composer Peter Hilliard sings and plays the opening of BLUE VIOLA


We look forward to seeing you at the BLUE VIOLA workshop!

For tickets, please click the link below.

Click here to buy tickets



Mezzo-soprano Alicia Olatuja wowed everyone at the 2013 presidential inauguration with her solo during the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s performance of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” For that outing, she earned raves from the New York Daily News and on the View. The Choir’s album was released on iTunes, and a single “In The Dark” was released on March 5 from Alicia’s own forthcoming CD. The New York Times praised her performance with her husband, bassist Michael Olatuja, in their band The Olatuja Project, lauding her “strong, lustrous tone.” The Olatuja Project, where Alicia sings in various African dialects such as Yoruba and Shona, recently released their debut album, “The Promise”.

Alicia has sung with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir since 2007, often performs as a soloist with the Juilliard Jazz ensemble, and has sung with various recording artists such as Christian McBride, Chaka Khan and Bebe Winans. She has just completed her upcoming solo album, on which she is joined by such acclaimed jazz artists as 3-time Grammy©-Award winner McBride and husband Michael Olatuja (both on bass), Jon Cowherd and two-time Grammy ©-nominee Christian Sands (both on piano), Grégoire Maret on harmonica, Ulysses Owens, Jr., on drums and David Rosenthal on guitar. Her solo debut album, titled Timeless, is slated for an October 14th release this year. Alicia Olatuja is also a voice teacher, a vocal producer, and teaching artist for the Brooklyn Arts Council.

In the 2013-14 season, Keith Phares made his Florida Grand Opera debut as Orin Mannon in Mourning Becomes Electra, created the role of James Halligan in Eric Sawyer’s The Garden of Martyrs (based on the novel by Michael C. White), reprised the title role in Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry with Tulsa Opera, Marcello in La bohème with Manitoba Opera and the Father in Gregory Spears’s Paul’s Case with the PROTOTYPE festival.

Upcoming engagements include Maximilian/The Captain in Candide with São Paolo Symphony conducted by Marin Alsop, Maurice Bendrix in Heggie’s The End of the Affair with West Edge Opera, Dandini in La cenerentola with Tulsa Opera, Carmina burana with Tulsa Ballet, the Father in the première of Stefan Weisman’s The Scarlet Ibis with PROTOTYPE, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with New Orleans Opera, John Sorel in The Consul with Florida Grand Opera and Mercutio in Roméo et Juliette with Seattle Opera. Highlights from recent seasons include his Seattle Opera debut as Marcello in La bohème, the Father in the première of Paul’s Case with UrbanArias, the title role in Viktor Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis in a joint production with Central City Opera and Colorado Symphony, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro with Opera Colorado, baritone soloist in Carmina Burana with San Francisco Symphony, Charlie in Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers with Central City Opera (a role he created for its première with Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera), Figaro in Il barbière di Siviglia with Washington National Opera and Dandini in La cenerentola with Glimmerglass Opera. He created the title role in the première of Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry with Nashville Opera and in subsequent performances, prompting Opera News to write: “Keith Phares’s scrupulously rendered Elmer Gantry appears a strong contender for iconographic recognition…” He is featured in the title role on the Grammy-award winning recording produced by Florentine Opera on the Naxos label. Other notable appearances in previous seasons include performances with the New York City Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Arizona Opera, Utah Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Spoleto USA, Opera Theater of St. Louis, St. Louis Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic.

Winner of the Patricia and Heyward Gignilliat Silver Medal Award at the 2014 American Traditions Competition, Jorell Williams has been acclaimed by The New York Times for his “magnificent, rich toned” baritone and his “perfect” comic timing, and is gaining international success on both the opera and concert stages. In the 2014-15 season, Jorell will make his professional debuts in the premiere of composer/conductor Matt Aucoin’s Opera Crossing with the American Repertory Theater (Directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus), Jennifer Hidgon’s Dooryard Bloom with the Philharmonic of Southern New Jersey, The Orchestra Moves concert series with the Weill Institute of Music and Orchestra of St. Luke’s at Carnegie Hall, and Independence Eve, an Opera produced by American Opera Projects Composers and the Voice series. This summer, he will participate in the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Program.

Tenor Ben Lurye is proud to return to UrbanArias, having last appeared in The Good Friar. Ben most recently appeared in Sheryl Crow and Barry Levinson’s world premiere musical Diner at Signature Theatre, directed by Kathleen Marshall. Around DC, he has been seen at at Ford’s Theatre (Hello, Dolly! – Helen Hayes Award, Outstanding Ensemble), Olney Theatre (Forever Plaid, Joseph…), Rep Stage (The Fantasticks), Signature Theatre (Sweeney Todd), Adventure Theatre (Alexander…Bad Day, Frog and Toad, Five Little Monkeys), Keegan Theatre (Spelling Bee, Cabaret), 1st Stage (Parfumerie), Toby’s Dinner Theatre (Joseph…, Les Miserables), Washington Savoyards (Pirates of Penzance), and Bel Cantanti Opera (Amahl and the Night Visitors). He has music directed All Shook Up, Crazy for You, City of Angels, and The Tempest, and is currently preparing Mary Poppins with Wootton High School, his alma mater. Ben holds a BM in Voice Performance from The University of Maryland, where he studied with Francois Loup. Follow him at