Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Gounod’s Faust: the Devil’s in the details

Gounod's Faust: Austin Lyric OperaThe Austin Lyric Opera orchestra sounds better and better and the cast of singers is outstanding. We are privileged to enjoy a memorable production of Gounod’s Faust.

All begins well. Faust has the opening of the opera to himself, and Jonathan Boyd sings beautifully and compels attention. The scene-stealer throughout is Mephistopheles, and Jamie Offenbach commands the audience from his very first entrance. The silent-screen-villain business is made for him. Once the soul-selling bargain is complete, we first meet the soldier Valentin and then his sister, Marguerite, soon to be the object of the attentions of the rejuvenated Faust. The character of Valentin is essential to the plot and Hyung Yun is an example of the excellent casting of this production. Jan Cornelius, our Marguerite, is a fine physical actress and has a beautiful voice, employed to full effect. From Siebel (Claire Shackleton) and Marthe (Cindy Sadler) to every member of the chorus, the singing is delightful.

The music never loses its enchantment, but the embodiment of the plot on stage becomes a bit peculiar, even ludicrous at times. Satan and the three devilettes in red wigs, the tableau vivant in which the figures become animated, the insane asylum, and more just cannot be properly described, but must be experienced in person. Several members of the audience near us really couldn’t completely stifle their laughter, and that’s understandable. In addition, what began seeming to be a sensible utilitarian set and production design required two quite lengthy scene changes behind a closed curtain in the final act. The projection of various words in bad typefaces added nothing praiseworthy, either.

At any rate, there’s one remaining performance, today at 3 pm at the Long Center, and tickets are still available. KMFA radio, at 89.5-fm, will broadcast it live, with commentary beginning at 2:30 pm. The music is sung in French and supertitle translations are shown above the stage proscenium. There are excellent reasons for the immediate and continuing popularity of this opera. It’s always a treat to hear it played and sung so beautifully.

Circo Hermanos Vazquez: just two more shows

Learned pigs were new to us. All the acts were fast-paced and expert and some were quite novel. There were feats of strength and balance by two acrobats without props of any kind. A rapid roller-skating act within a very small circumference was astonishing, and so was a high trapeze act that was more about balance than about swinging; the audience scarcely dared to breathe during these. Liberty horses with a high quotient of Arabians were very pretty, and so were Bactrian camels and zebras. A woman on a braced pole was graceful in her strength. The little boys in the audience were especially mesmerized by a dual wheel-of-death act. A pair of bad-boy clowns and a Martian clown new to Earth were both really funny, both for children and adults, although the “undocumented” Martian undergoing an interrogation was for the grown-ups.

The tent is air-conditioned and there are molded-plastic seats affixed to the bleachers, all really very comfortable. There was an ATM machine for those who didn’t bring enough money for souvenirs. Refreshments included Coca-Cola, bottled water, palomitas/popcorn, nachos, algodones/cotton candy, alitas/chicken wings, and more. Little boys couldn’t resist the light swords, and little girls loved their lighted butterfly wands.

A live band of at least six accompanied almost all of the acts, at a volume that was sufficient but not too loud. Initial safety announcements were delivered in both Spanish and English; thereafter, all was in Spanish except for the act of the trained pigs, whose accompanying people spoke English followed by an announcer’s translation into Spanish.

The Web site for Circo Hermanos Vazquez does not appear to have been updated for this season’s new performers. It does announce performances for today at 6 pm and at 9 pm. The location is in the Highland Mall parking lot, with ample parking. Call 1-877-829-7839 to confirm current information.

More pictures are available; the audience is permitted to make videos and take still photographs so long as there’s no flash. And there’s a wonderful opportunity for souvenir pictures of children attending; during the brief intermission, the smallest children may be photographed atop a very small saddled pony and one of the learned pigs is available to be included in a photograph.

This is a circus for all ages and there’s no need to understand Spanish to love it, although that does help with some of the jokes!

Zoppe Italian Family Circus





In one ring was an entire entertainment, as close as could be. The tent seating five hundred, in folding chairs and on bleachers, was set up on the grass just west of the Long Performing Arts Center, with handsome views in all directions, including downtown.

A little pre-show entertainment offered a foretaste of the delights awaiting. To the accompaniment of an accordion and a guitar and incorporating audience participation, we were especially entertained by the very youngest member of the family and the circus, performing with his father and others.

Once inside, in the aroma of sawdust, there were high wires, springboards, caparisoned horses, a unicycle, a continuing clown narrative, further appearances by the tiny and charming little boy working with his father, and a commedia dell’arte figure armed with a straight pin, who also seems to be the ringmaster, rigging supervisor, and all-round straight man.

Not to be forgotten are the aerial ballet on a rope high above the tanbark or the delightful performing dogs, who took a brief rest while two chickens did a trick.

There was an opportunity to pose with the pony for souvenir photographs. Those pulled from the audience to participate in the ring were all good sports, and one young boy who came into the ring definitely displayed the talent of a future performer himself.

The most popular souvenirs were toy conga-type drums, embellished twirling batons, and juggling pins (or clubs) and flat rings.

We did not see one bored or sulky child in the audience, which was rapt from start to finish, all ages enchanted by the performances.

Let us hope that the Zoppe Family Circus returns to Austin.

Honk!Tx parade 2013: a thrill for the third year

Thank you, Honk!TX for parading again this year. Portable music that lifts the spirits and does not require protection for the ears is in scant supply and for that reason very, very welcome.

Even the many dogs along the parade route looked happy. Children appeared to be happier still.

Every group in the parade was a delight, and there was some wonderful musicianship. Among the extensive list of those in the parade, there’s no way to pick favorites, really, but we truly did love the Biohazard Brass Band, a super-sharp military aggregation, here all the way from Fort Sam in San Antonio.

We were so busy listening, marching, and watching that we took few pictures with the toy camera and not many unedited videos, either, but they are souvenirs of a wonderful day.

Texas Independence Day on the Avenue

Spirits were high, ‘though the day was chilly. Celebrate Texas organized a fine parade. There were veterans’ contingents, a Shiner Beer van distributing Shiner lapel buttons, Lone Star flags for the little children, two contingents of lions and dragons, and much, much more, including two wonderful bands from Austin high schools: the Eastside Memorial Panthers and the Bowie High School marching band.

James and Annetta White of the Broken Spoke were the parade honorees. Spirits were lifted by the singing of an a capella choir, from the Cowboy Church. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas passed by on horseback. The Texas Cowboys startled a dog or two.

The Plungettes, with their plumbing gear, and the Beachers, with their lawn chairs, turned out as they do for almost every parade.

The Eastside Panthers marched with pride in t-shirts and shorts, despite the chill. The Bowie band turned out in full uniform, complete with plumes; the band seemed to be 150 strong. We loved them both.

Congress Avenue was intended as to be a processional way. See some unedited videos and recall the fun or see and hear some of what you missed. We love a parade!

Chuy’s parade 2012: for a good cause

Chuy’s Children Giving to Children parade is one of the best shows in town every year, and the price of admission is low: a toy or other contribution to Blue Santa.

If you missed the parade, you missed large balloons, costumed greyhounds, jugglers, unicyclists, Star Wars characters, Police Chief Acevedo, Fred Cantu, the Travis High School rebel band, the 36th Infantry Division band from Camp Mabry, Los Texas Wranglers, the Summitt Lion and Dragon dance team, the Biscuit Brothers, and many, many more dancing, marching, playing, and singing groups. Watch for toy-camera images from the parade.

It’s not too late to give to Blue Santa and brighten the holiday season.

Pagliacci

Pagliacci has come and gone now, but all lovers of music should mark their calendars for the next two Austin Lyric Opera productions: The Marriage of Figaro (January 31; February 2, 3, 2013) and Gounod’s Faust (April 25, 27, 28, 2013). These promise to be the giant crowd-pleasers that Pagliacci was. The orchestra just gets better and better and all was most pleasing about this production. We saw the Friday performance, and then confirmed our appreciation by listening to the Sunday live performance on KMFA 89.5-fm. The audience loved the surprise encore concert after the performance, when, accompanied by the orchestra, leading singers were joined by the chorus (also excellent) in song.

Veterans’ Day: patriotic concert

The jazz band performed first, and then the 36th Infantry Division concert band, which appeared to be the jazz band plus many additional musicians. Another configuration of the band marched in the Congress Avenue parade earlier in the day. These are musicians of the highest ability. There can be no finer setting for music than the outdoor terrace at the Long Center for the performing arts, with its spectacular view of the downtown Austin skyline. The capacity audience was delighted from start to finish by the spirited and stirring music. Also heard was a traditional recitation piece called “A Toast to the Flag.” The jazz program included the best performance of “In the Mood” that I’ve ever heard. We were treated to a Filmore march (“Americans We”) and two Sousa gems, complete with piccolo embellishments (“Washington Post” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”). Musician and vocalist SPC Bonnie Wellington sang a moving “America the Beautiful.” Austin is indeed the live music capital of the world. The toy-camera images and unedited videos do not come close to doing justice to this occasion.

Veterans’ Day: parade with flying colors

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it was a glorious day for a parade to observe Veterans’ Day. As always the valiant Cardinal band from Del Valle marched and played, and all welcomed the returned 36th Infantry Division Band. The image here shows the flag flying from a crane near the start of the parade, which began on the bridge and proceeded up Congress to the Capitol. Other diversion was provided by a picturesque person on a bicycle who did a good bit of shouting and told a police officer (at a rather high volume and close to the officer’s face), “It’s not against the law to yell.” Pictures of the parade taken by a toy camera and unedited videos convey only a bit of this spirited event.

Welcome home!

Congress Avenue was made for parades; the Welcome Home, Iraq Veterans parade was made for Congress Avenue. On July 7, we marched up Congress Avenue to the Capitol grounds and then we returned on foot all the way back to the downtown side of the bridge. Many of us followed the wonderful band of the 36th Infantry Division of Camp Mabry, which sounds better than ever. It’s been a long time since we were privileged to hear this outfit. What spirit the band brought to the occasion! Five brass Sousaphones! Trombones out front! Mere pictures and videos cannot capture the event, but they’re souvenirs to remind us of the day and all the volunteers who created the tribute. Thank you!

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