Solana Beach opera singer gives back through her living room concerts



By Diane Y. Welch


The living room in the Solana Beach home of Virginia and Robert Garland was filled to capacity with people last month as neighbors, family and fans enjoyed an afternoon of opera paired with piano and guitar music.

“The Mystery of Love” concert by Virginia Garland, a soprano opera singer, also spotlit pianist John Danke, guitarist, William Wilson and a self-composed piano piece by Reverend Tom Cook, chaplain from Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla.

The operatic excerpts performed by Garland included “El Nino Judio” by Pablo Luna, “La Tempranica” by G. Gimenez, and “El Barbarillo de Lavapies” by F. Barbieri and others.

Garland has been holding these intimate recitals in Solana Beach for over a decade. The first living room concert was at a the home of Estelle Walker, a nearby neighbor.

“It was December 1999 and I performed with Gregorio Gonzalez, a baritone whom Placido Domingo had taken interest in,” she said. This began an annual trend.

Garland has also performed for the Rancho Santa Fe Opera Guild, for local charities, churches and libraries, and in the mid ’80s organized the New Life Opera Ensemble, bringing together talented musicians to perform live.

A Boston University graduate who majored in Spanish and French, Garland said her former studies help her master the linguistic complexity of opera. “I sing in nine languages, including Vietnamese and Chinese but prefers Spanish and Italian,” she said.

Now in her 70s, she is still a passionate performer and keeps in vocal shape with her coach Anna Carson.

“We believe that any singer who wants to be on the winner’s edge should keep up with their vocal coaching and and I’m probably the best I’ll ever be right now,” she said. Garland initially studied with a local teacher Beverly Ogden, then studied in New York with Maestro Frank Basilece and also with Howard Fried of the New York Opera, which led to her first public performance in 1980.

In 1986 Garland was a soloist at the incorporation ceremony for the City of Solana Beach and said that she has a deep connection to her home community where she has lived since 1966 when her first husband brought the family from Massachusetts to the area. Garland was left widowed with six children when he died unexpectedly, five years after the move.

The kindness of a pastor from St. James Church helped her survive. “He knocked at the door and in his hand was a check for $5,000 for me,” she recalled. Then within a year Robert Garland, a bachelor, came into her life and the two married. “Events you just can’t plan,” said Garland. “And it strengthened my faith in God.”

Robert Garland, a retired Ph.D. physicist, now writes poetry. The two have been married for 38 years and have 12 grandchildren. They are members of the Solana Beach Civic and Historical Society, the Solana Beach Art Association, and are part of the Prayer Ministry at St. James Church.

For three decades Garland, who is also a composer and pianist, has given benefit shows for churches and charities. It’s her way to share her talent and to spread love, a theme that is prevalent in her concerts and her writings. She has recently self-published a book of her poems and a memoir. Garland currently plays piano in the lobby of the Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla and plans to continue performing as long as she is able to. “I’m so grateful and thankful to still have a voice,” she said.

To listen to samples of Virginia Garland’s music recorded on her two CDs, “A Sense of Wonder” (1999) and “The Whole World in His Hands” (2005), visit her online at