If you’re like many residents of the Cape Fear area, you know camellias as colorful, dependable fall and winter bloomers. You may have strolled past the showy camellia plantings at the New Hanover County Arboretum or at Airlie Gardens. But you may not know the rich history these beautiful flowers have in literature and the performing arts.
One intersection of camellias and the arts inspires an event taking place Feb. 12 at the arboretum’s education center. "Hearts & Flowers," presented by Opera Wilmington in partnership with the Tidewater Camellia Club, combines a program of love songs (just in time for Valentine’s Day) and an insider’s look at camellias in general and the arboretum’s camellia gardens in particular.
Why the collaboration? This Opera Wilmington production will be Verdi's "La Traviata," the beloved work that tells the story of Violetta, a warmhearted but doomed courtesan and the man who wants to win her love. Verdi was inspired by the novel, "The Lady of the Camellias," by Alexandre Dumas the younger, and by the play Dumas created from his novel.
While in Western culture the rose is often a symbol of love, don’t count the camellia out! Cultivated for more than two millennia in China and Japan, these many-petalled flowers have special meanings in Eastern culture. Members of the Tidewater Camellia Club will elaborate on the flower’s significance, especially as it made its way into Western culture and was Violetta’s way of messaging her lovers.
Trivia note: In a famous scene in 1990's "Pretty Woman," starring Julia Roberts as a modern-day courtesan and Richard Gere as her would-be lover, the pair attend a performance of "La Traviata," in which the soprano singing the role of Violetta wears white camellias in her hair.
Speaking of singing, Opera Wilmington’s concert portion of the program features Valentine's-themed standards as well as classic love songs and arias. Performing will be Maria Beery, Michael Rallis, Carl Samet and Beth Stovall, all accompanied by Elizabeth Loparits. Tea-time treats and beverages will be available.
Weather permitting, Tidewater members will conduct tours of the arboretum’s camellia gardens, where the winter-blooming camellia japonica plants should be at their peak. New Hanover County Arboretum is home to approximately 155 unique cultivars of camellia comprising more than 10 species and their hybrids. Visit ‘High Fragrance’ for an unusual but pleasantly fragrant variety, ‘Aztec Warrior’ for a harmonious clash of rich red against gold, ‘Apollo 14’ for a beautifully arranged splashing of pink and white, or ‘Frank Houser Variegated’ for a colossal bloom.
Tickets to Hearts & Flowers are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/hearts-flowers-tickets-518290961217. The concert and camellia celebration will be held 3-5 p.m., leaving attendees plenty of time to get in front of the TV for the 6:30 p.m. Super Bowl kickoff.
Jenny Callison serves on the board of directors for Opera Wilmington, 910-821-3315 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The arboretum grounds is located at 6206 Oleander Drive in Wilmington, free and open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; 910-798-7660.