Carmen: fast, furious, and fiery

Austin Opera continues to be an outstanding asset to Austin. The number of children in the audience at the opening performance of Carmen was astonishing; even more astonishing is that they stayed to the end and were not restless. These were elementary-school students. Perhaps they were in attendance to see and hear siblings perform in the children’s chorus, which was excellent, as was the large adult chorus.

The orchestra grows better and better and better. Under the baton of Richard Buckley, it rendered true justice to the beautiful score.

The principal singers embodied their characters well, and they sang exceptionally, solo and with other members of the cast. Austin Opera is especially fortunate to have such strong singers in the roles of Don Jose and Escamillo. It sometimes seems that the male members of a cast do not rise to the level of the female singers, but such is not at all the case in this production.

Set in Spain, the four-act opera by Georges Bizet is sung in French. Above the stage, there are supertitles in English. The translation is good and the coordination of the titles with the action on stage was always precise.

Although there was perhaps an element of almost silent-screen action in the last act, with somewhat overwrought physical action and dramatic movement, the direction of the large cast was otherwise supremely managed throughout, taking every advantage of the versatile and handsome set.

In some performance of this work, professional dancers take the stage in certain scenes, in this one the singers appeared to execute the inventive choreography themselves, and very well.

On line there’s a synopsis of the plot. Those who do not know the opera should ignore it and be drawn in by the momentum of the unfolding action.

Acts I and II last 90 minutes. A 25-minute admission is followed by acts III and IV, running 60 minutes, so that the total performance time is about three hours.

Advance tickets are available for the remaining shows: 7:30 PM, Thursday, November 16; and 2:30 PM, Sunday, November 19.

Performances are at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 West Riverside Drive. Early arrival allows enjoyment of the scenic terrace looking toward downtown.

Be warned: parking at One Texas Center that was once free, with designated spaces for Car2Go vehicles, is now behind a barrier and costs $5; a credit card must be used. Opera-goers did not know how to get in to the lot (there are bollards and drop barriers), and they did not know how to exit.

The parking annoyance, however, is no reason at all to miss this memorable production of Carmen.

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A day of observance: honoring our veterans

Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders passed by in review, a nearby tourist said, in apparent amazement, “Look! They’re all girls!” And so they were. And they were wonderful, and so were the marchers from Del Valle, as always.

It was a fine day, and the Austin Veterans’ Day parade was splendid.

There had been murmurings of controversy over what flags or banners might be displayed. The mayor did not seem to be in evidence; nor did there seem to be any display of the types of flags or banners that had inspired discussion.

View some visual souvenirs in the form of still Veterans’ Day parade, Austin, 2017 and videos. Many were the poppies; many were the Stars and Stripes. Happy were the faces.

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Austin City Limits Taping – Run the Jewels

I can’t remember exactly where I first heard about Run The Jewels or “RTJ” as they and their fans refer to them. I’m pretty sure it was somewhere on the Internet. The oldest e-mail I have from their mailing list is September of 2014 prior to their release of their second album RTJ2. I decided to try out the first album because they made it available to download for free (well, in return for your e-mail address) and they’ve done that with their follow up albums. You can get all three at their web site.

Run The Jewels

Killer Mike of RTJ is an activist and has made the rounds on many talk shows like Stephen Colbert. He was outspoken during the 2016 election, campaigning for Bernie Sanders. He did several interviews about the violence in Ferguson.

Interestingly, Jaime Meline, the other half of RTJ, used his real first name in the e-mails from their mailing list until the beginning of 2106 when he started to use EL-P. And then there’s Meow The Jewels, which I somehow totally missed and am still not sure I get.

I happened to see their show on Sunday of Weekend One of Austin City Limits festival. In addition to both weekends of ACL Festival, they played to a packed house at Stubb’s the first Friday night and then did the taping this past Saturday. Both the festival show with its massive crowd and the smaller taping audience were very energetic. The taping audience was fairly sparse, probably due to Weekend Two of the festival along with OU weekend.

You can find ACLs review of the taping on their blog. It will air later this season (locally on KLRU). As she usually does, ACL producer Leslie Nichols shared the set list from her Twitter account. You can keep tabs on the schedule and upcoming tapings on their site as well.

You can find my previous taping posts going back to 2008 here.

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Pesky pirates, pusillanimous police, pretty poppets!

Pirates of PenzanceThe Pirates of Penzance brings you all these, and more, thanks to the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin.

Look forward to an accomplished chorus, an expert 19-piece orchestra, and vocal music of distinguished quality from each of the lead and featured singers. Every comedic bit is carried out so well that it elicits outright laughter from the entranced audience.

If you don’t know the story, it won’t be spoiled for you here. Just remember, though, that “pilot” and “pirate” can sound very much alike. Thanks to the wonderful acoustics of the venue and also to the assistance of the supertitles above the stage (to aid in understanding when the tempo is breakneck), there’s not the least difficulty in hearing all and following every little twist and turn of the plot (there is one and it’s complicated).

The Father’s Day Sunday performance was attended by many, many children, who sat rapt and thoroughly engaged. Not one family departed during the intermission; all remained for the entire performance, which is quite a testimonial to the delight afforded to all ages.

In the Worley Barton Theater every seat is a good seat; there are no bad ones. Every seat enjoys an excellent view. Every member of the audience hears every note well, enjoying to the fullest not only the clever comic songs, but the rousing pieces and the sweetly sentimental numbers as well. This production is theater at its finest and music so wonderful that a person listening only and not seeing a bit of the spectacle would nonetheless be privileged beyond compare.

There’s a lively printed program. The cast bios are most entertaining, and so are the candid images of cast rehearsals.

The house was full. All advance tickets appeared to have been sold, and additional seats were brought in for those who arrived planning to buy tickets at the door.

Five performances remain. You owe it to yourself to attend at least one. You will smile, you will laugh, you will be thoroughly happy during the show, and for many, many days afterward.

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Joyous Juneteenth

Austin All Star Band

Austin’s Juneteenth Emancipation Day Parade brought joy to the participants and joy to the spectators.

A highlight of the parade was Austin’s own Austin All Star Band.

See a sample of unedited still images and a little unedited video. If you were there, relive the event; if you weren’t on the scene, make plans now to be there next year, for a uniquely Austin occasion.

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The Gondoliers: not to be missed

The summer production of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin is a delight for all ages. Elementary-school students enjoyed the entire Father’s Day Sunday matinee performance with complete attention from start to finish. A large orchestra, a cast that sings, dances, and acts at the highest level, and a fully theatrical production presented to the audience in an intimate theater with excellent acoustics are a credit to all who have had a hand in bringing this wonder of live theater to Austin. So stellar is the cast that it’s not possible to single out any particular singers, old favorites or new ones, but the combination of earnest sincerity and comic exaggeration cannot be surpassed, bringing the clever lyrics and spritely music to brilliant life. As the audience headed home, hearts were light and smiles were omnipresent. Remaining performances at the Brentwood Christian School are: Friday (today), June 24, 7:30pm; Saturday (tomorrow), June 25, 2 pm, and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, June 26, 2 pm, Everyone sings with the utmost clarity; all performances are supertitled so that not one nuance fails to be appreciated. This show is guaranteed enjoyment. Don’t fail to treat yourself and your friends and family to a very special event.

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Austin City Limits Taping – Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop with Josh HommeThe start of a new season for Austin City Limits usually coincides with SXSW which means it’s a great opportunity to get some pretty big names into the studio. Season 42 of Austin City Limits is no different with rock icons like Iggy Pop and Robert Plant doing a taping over the next week or so. I attended Iggy Pop’s taping this past Tuesday night. It’s my third time seeing Iggy. The first time was at Texas Stadium with INXS and Guns N Roses for the Calling All Nations tour. GNR was at the pinnacle of their popularity and INXS was riding pretty high as well. Iggy was earlier in the day along with Ziggy Marley, a bit of a footnote, but I remember it being a good show. The second time was actually a free show at SXSW 1996 when the stage was at 6th and Brazos next to the Driskill. That was pretty amazing. He could still get pretty crazy twenty years ago.

As you can see from the photo, the program is pretty amusing this time around. Iggy and Josh clearly have a sense of humor. It also pretty quickly highlights how huge Josh Homme is and how tiny Iggy is. This is probably my favorite ACL program since I’ve been regularly attending shows. Oddly enough, my seat for Iggy was not too far from my seat for the Queens of the Stone Age taping a couple of years ago. Pop contacted Homme a little over a year ago asking if he’d like to collaborate. They hit it off and the new album, Post Pop Depression, will be released tomorrow, March 18th. They did a showcase show encore last night at the Moody Theater. The Post Pop Depression tour appears to have limited US dates, so if you want to catch him, you might have to travel. I had already heard “Gardenia” a few times on Underground Garage and liked it. I can definitely hear Homme’s influence on the music. There are similarities to the most recent QOTSA album. The backing band for this tour is pretty much QOTSA. They’re all wearing matching red silk jackets to Iggy’s black one.

I wonder how Iggy is feeling about things with the recent passing of David Bowie. The did a respectable cover of “China Girl” at the midpoint of the set. Pop probably needs to stop going bare chested at shows at this point. He abandoned his black blazer about three songs into the set. He could pull it off really well at 50, but at 68, it’s starting to be a little much. I’m guessing he doesn’t know any other way to do it though. He has a noticeable limp going. He, like my parents, probably needs hip or knee surgery. Still, his voice hasn’t gotten worse with age. I’ve noticed several singers lose their range as they got older. Iggy still has his, which admittedly isn’t super wide, but what he does have is still intact. He had no qualms about getting out into the audience during the show.

My guess is that the episode will air in the fall and, of course, locally on KLRU. You can keep tabs on the schedule here.

Most of my previous ACL taping reviews are here.

Set list:

  1. Lust for Life
  2. Sister
  3. American Valhalla (PPD)
  4. Sixteen
  5. In The Lobby (PPD)
  6. Some Weird
  7. Fun Time
  8. Tonight
  9. Sunday (PPD)
  10. German Days (PPD)
  11. Mass Production
  12. Nightclubbing
  13. Passenger
  14. China Girl (David Bowie Cover)
  15. Fall In Love
  16. Repo Man
  17. Gardenia (PPD)
  18. Baby
  19. Chocolate Drops (PPD)
  20. Paraguay (PPD)
  21. Success

 

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The Sorcerer enthralls

The Sorcerer: Gilbert & Sullivan Society of AustinYes, it’s silly; yes, it will make you laugh. The Sorcerer is the current production of the Gilbert & Sulllivan Society of Austin.

A mysterious potion in a teapot causes upheaval in a country village. Love is everywhere but perhaps not always where it should be.

Not least among the pleasures is a full accompaniment for the excellent vocalists provided by the Gillman Light Opera Orchestra under the expert direction of Jeffrey Jones-Ragona: nineteen instrumentalists!

There’s no stinting on the fine chorus: ten men and ten women! The principal parts are sung by old favorites and new. Each is wonderful in his or her individual fashion, and there’s no justice in singling out anyone.

All are easily understood, thanks to the small auditorium with its excellent acoustics. There are, nevertheless, supertitles for all dialogue and lyrics. The libretto is available on line, but why spoil the story in advance if it’s unfamiliar? Keep the suspense. Read it after the performance.

Direction, costumes, lighting, set and sound design, stage business, and choreography are all just as they should be. We attended a performance preceded by an hour-long children’s program. Little children attended that and then stayed for the two-act show afterwards. The Sorcerer is truly a delight for audiences of all ages.

There are no bad seats in the house at the Worley Barton Theater, Brentwood Christian School, 11908 North Lamar. Remaining performances are:

Thursday, June 25; 7:30 pm
Friday, June 26; 7:30 pm
Saturday, June 27; 2 pm and 7:30 pm
Sunday, June 28; 2 pm

Ticket prices are most reasonable, from $7 to $25. The Sorcerer is a sparkling jewel, one not to be missed.

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Juneteenth parade 2015: a beautiful day!

Juneteenth 2015This was Year 150 for Juneteenth, and Austin turned out in great numbers to observe the occasion.

The Austin All Star Band is larger and sharper than ever. The Spirit of the Drum and Murchison Middle School were among the aggregations that provided music for the day. It was good to see children riding in the Wells Fargo stagecoach; some years it runs the course empty.

Politicos turned out in force, and volunteers were encouraging registration to vote. The weather, although threatening, cooperated; the downpour did not arrive until there’d been time to picnic.

See pictures and unedited videos for a hint of Juneteenth in Austin.

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Austin conjunto festival: 25 years of bringing happiness

conjunto t-shirtsHappy music makes for happy people and happy feet. The Austin conjunto festival marked its 25th anniversary on Sunday, May 3, established by Johnny Degollado all those years ago, when people first gathered in July in the heat, but in the shade of Parque Zaragoza, to hear and dance to the many rhythms of the accordion, bajo sexto, and other customary members of a traditional conjunto, so complex yet simple enough to set up in about five minutes.

The festival and dance contest were a happy component of the tenth Fiestas Patrias of Austin celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The weather was more than cooperative under the shade of the trees and the pavilion at Fiesta Gardens, with a beautiful breeze playing as children scampered and people of all ages danced and danced. Seven conjuntos were on the bill; we could be present for the first two only: Conjunto Aztlan and Santiago Jimenez, Jr.

This event is always perfect for music-lovers of all ages. See still images and unedited videos from this year’s festival and resolve to attend next year.

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Don Giovanni: a disguished production

Don Giovanni: Austin Opera 2015If you miss the Austin Opera production of Don Giovanni (the May 3 Sunday matinee at 3 pm is the last live performance, with a KMFA live broadcast Don Giovanni beginning at the same time), you’ll miss a highlight of 2015 music and theater in Austin.

The music is always a delight to hear whether or not the opera is staged in such a fashion as to awake emotions and promote deep engagement with the plot. So many times, for example, Donna Elvira is almost a figure of ridicule; not so in this staging. The entire cast sings beautifully, alone and with other members; the sets and lighting are evocative and speedily set up for each succeeding scene so that no virtually no time is expended in waiting and so that the momentum never flags. All stage business is inventive, but never to the extent that outpourings of song are hindered. The singers are not just vocally agile; they are physically agile, to the extent that they appear able to enjoy second careers as acrobats and dancers. It would be unfair to single out any individual member of the cast for particular distinction: everyone sounded wonderful, as did the orchestra and chorus.

The Friday night audience was attentive from beginning to end; no departures were observed during the sole, brief intermission; enthusiastic applause lasted and lasted. Check on line for available remaining tickets for Don Giovanni (as low as $15 and there are no bad seats), and don’t forget the live broadcast. What a triumph!

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The circus is in town!

Circo Hermanos Vazquez 2015Circo Hermanos Vazquez+ is smartly paced and choreographed and very beautiful as a spectacle. The costumes are not extravagant, but they are fresh and very becoming to the artists, who are of the first class. The band is live. The clowns are laugh-out-loud funny.

Circo Hermanos Vazquez is set up at Highland Mall through this coming Sunday, April 12, when there will be shows at 2, 5, and 8 pm. Monday through Thursday weekday shows are at 7:30 pm. On Friday and Saturday, the shows begin at 6 and at 9 pm. Tickets may be purchased on line; the box office is open every day beginning at 10 am. Discount coupons admitting a child under 10 accompanied by an adult with a paid-for ticket are to be found around town; there was a plentiful supply at Chango’s on the Drag. Doors open a half hour before the spectacle begins.

The popcorn (palomitas) was fresh; the beverage was Coca-Cola. Opportunities for souvenir photographs with the members of the circus are numerous.

Photographs and unedited videos give only the merest notion of what a very fine show this is, definitely a treat for all ages.

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Honk!Tx 2015: joyous sights and sounds

dancing in the streets

dancing in the streets

HONK!TX festival of community street bands brings life to the streets of Austin. For the fifth year, music and dance were to be found all over town, all free to those enjoying the event.

This is Austin as we know and love it. Some contingent (Wheatsville Co-op?) was offering kazoos to the onlookers during Sunday’s free parade to the park. They were put into immediate use.

View still images and unedited videos to see an acquaintance or to realize what you missed, if you did miss it. And if you did, resolve to listen for it next year and let your ears lead you to some of the best fun Austin offers.

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Austin City Limits Taping – TV On The Radio

Season 41 of Austin City Limits kicked off this week during SXSW with a performance that streamed live on YouTube from TV On The Radio (henceforth referred to as TVOTR) on Monday.

TV on the Radio - Austin City LimitsI first became familiar with TVOTR around the time their song “DLZ” was featured in an episode of Breaking Bad near the end of its second season. The series was known for its clever and fitting use of songs as a part of the plot and “DLZ” arguably marks the first sign of Walter White becoming Heisenberg. This was also around the time of the release of their third album, Dear Science which included the song. The single, “Dancing Choose”, got a fairb amount of radio play that year and seems to me to be their breakthrough and biggest selling album. I honestly didn’t fact check that so feel free to let me know if I’ve got that wrong.

They performed as a six piece. This was their first appearance on Austin City Limits. The set list is included below and, like most bands, included a significant amount of their new album, Seeds. They did not play “DLZ” but did play “Dancing Choose” and two other songs from Dear Science. They seemed genuinely appreciative of the audience and to be on the show. I’d characterize their songs as a mix of electronic and punk. They had a good energy and the crowd seemed more raucous than usual, probably attributable to SXSW attendees. Either I got on a bad row this time or the entire audience, while energetic, seemed antsy and I had to deal with more than the usual amount of people leaving their seats for the bathroom or drinks or who knows what. I found it distracting and disrespectful. As a note to those who haven’t attended a taping, this isn’t a typical show. You should really try to pace the bathroom and drink trips. In fact, you really shouldn’t leave your seat at all if possible. If you do, try to do it between songs.

TVOTR had other appearances during SXSW including the NPR music showcase on Wednesday at Stubb’s.

Set List:

  1. Young Liars (Young Liars)
  2. Lazzeray (Seeds)
  3. Golden Age (Dear Science)
  4. Happy Idiot (Seeds)
  5. Seeds (Seeds)
  6. Could You Love (Seeds)
  7. Wolf Like Me (Return to Cookie Mountain)
  8. Careful You (Seeds)
  9. Blues From Down Here (Return to Cookie Mountain)
  10. Winter (Seeds)
  11. Love Dog (Dear Science)
  12. Dancing Choose (Dear Science)
  13. Trouble (Seeds)
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Texas Independence Day parade

Texas Independence Day 2015Today’s parade was brief but spirited. There was precipitation and there was wind; temperatures were barely above freezing. There was a loud salute. The Del Valle color guard and cadets, so often a sharp presence at Austin parades, stepped out smartly. Krispy Kreme, assorted pirates, and legacy Texians passed by, looking chilly but jolly. The Texas Cowboys were visible on a trailer somewhere on the bridge but were not seen along the parade route on the Avenue. Construction workers paused. Some members of the police security staff were dancing to keep warm. Small in numbers as the marchers were, they certainly seemed to outnumber the spectators. See a couple of unedited videos and a few photographs.


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