40 years, numerous operas, 1 Bellevue maestro
By Gabrielle Nomura | Photos by Chad Coleman
There’s much one can learn about Penny Vrachopoulos, artistic director of Bellevue’s Eastside Lyric Theatre, simply by looking in her living room.
From the props and sets left over from various Gilbert and Sullivan productions she’s directed – an over-sized brass tea kettle for “The Sorcerer,” “The Mikado” shoji screens near her front door, to her daughter’s (well-known San Francisco musician Penelope Houston) punk rock records on the mantle, to the weathered piano in the corner, one thing is clear.
Music lives here.
“Over the years, I’ve shared my home with various productions,” says Vrachopoulous, her sea-blue eyes twinkling at memories collected over 40 years of producing and conducting local Gilbert and Sullivan opera productions, including at the Theatre at Meydenbauer before it had lights or rigging.
Vrachopoulos favors Gilbert and Sullivan – almost a Victorian England version of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who created 14 comic operas in the late 1800s, such as “The Pirates of Penzance.”
The shows have spoken dialogue like in musical theater, but with operatic singing, and distinct humor that Vrachopoulos describes as “pre-‘Monty Phyton.’”
For the past 40 years, she’s committed to doing all 14 shows in the G. and S. canon, producing at least one of them annually.
Now, Vrachopoulos is rehearsing her company for her next production, “The Sorcerer” or “The Flim-Flam Man,” a tale of mixed-up romance and love elixirs, to be presented Sept. 24, 30 and Oct. 1-2 at Bellevue Youth Theatre.
Ten or 15 years ago, she would have been creating all the costumes and getting a whole orchestra together, says her daughter, Houston. While today Vrachopoulos uses recorded music and relies on the help of her associate producer and director, she’s still the driving force and the heart of Eastside Lyric Theatre.
“I love working with singers, people who love music – they’re my special people,” Vrachopoulos says.
She’s always felt this way, since her first after-school piano lesson to receiving her Ph.D. in music from Stanford University.
“Rhythm is a part of my body,” she says. “It’s always catching me.”
While big companies like Seattle Opera are locally available, it’s community leaders such as Vrachopoulos who have the ability to make the arts affordable and accessible to audiences of varying income and age. While other organizations have risen, and then disbanded throughout the years, Vrachopoulos has survived.
“I would credit her with having a personal inner strength to be tenacious and move forward no matter what,” says Houston, who was inspired to create her own band, in part, because of her mother. “She’s done that throughout her life.”
or “The Flim-Flam Man” music by Arthur Sullivan, libretto by W. S. Gilbert.
Sept. 24, 30, Oct 2, 3
8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m., Sunday
Tickets Adults $15 Children $12.
The Ivanhoe Theatre is located at
16661 Northup Way in Bellevue, WA 98008.
For more information, go to www.eastsidelyrictheatre.org.