Posts Tagged ‘Austin Lyric Opera’

Don Carlo: a grand opera indeed

Verdi's Don Carlo: Austin Lyric OperaHere for our enjoyment is a lush sonic treat in every respect, and a visual feast as well, with a fine orchestra, a lively chorus, and a uniformly excellent cast of singers in the leading roles, plus a production that fills the stage: Austin Lyric Opera has outdone itself with the current production of Verdi’s Don Carlo.

Don Carlo was staged as one of the musical events inaugurating the Performing Arts Center on the UT campus, but has not been performed here since.

At the Long Center on Friday, the temperature became chillier as the evening went on, so it’s best to dress for all conditions. Another reason to dress for comfort is that the performance lasts for three and one-half hours.

Tickets are still available for the two remaining performances (Thursday, November 21, at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, November 24, at 3 pm).

Anyone not able to attend in person may hear a live broadcast via KMFA 89.5-fm radio, beginning at 2:50 pm on Sunday, November 24.

This ambitious undertaking is also a strongly successful one and should not be missed! Anyone who loves music and theater is in for a great treat.

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.

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.

Lucia di Lammermoor: operatic wonder

“Enthralling” is the one-word description for the current Austin Lyric Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor. We all know that this is a peak allergy season, but there was seldom even a half-suppressed cough or sneeze to be heard; through most of the evening there was not a sound except from the stage and the orchestra pit. Once the performance was under way, the audience was all but mesmerized.

Lucia di Lammermoor from start to finish offered beautiful music. It would be worth the price of admission to hear only the overture. The singing is a high-wire act for the principal singers in the cast and we heard some spectacular vocal fireworks. We were fortunate indeed to hear not just a fine Lucia, but also fine performances from all the men, Edgardo in particular. Physical agility was demanded and it was not lacking.

It’s not a favorite practice for there to be action while the overture is playing (as there is here). The chorus attacked its first number in a way that sounded a bit muddy. Thereafter, though, there was no reason at all to quibble about anything.

Staging, costumes, lighting, and sets matched the superlative singing and playing. Our orchestra just sounds better and better and better.

We’ll probably never have the opportunity to attend a finer Lucia here in Austin. Tickets are still available for the remaining performances (Friday, February 2, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, February 5, at 3 pm). There are no bad seats in the house and there’s an affordable ticket for everyone, starting from $19. Lucia di Lammermoor is for everyone who loves any type of music, and this production embodies excellence in every aspect.

Rossini rouser

The Italian Girl in Algiers is a complete delight: orchestra, singers, costumes, set, lighting, direction, everything. We expected to enjoy the music and we expected to have fun, but this production exceeds all expectations.

The singers enunciate clearly and there’s not a weak voice among them. The acting and direction are so good that people really do laugh when they’re supposed to. The set is very ingenious, in part a platform that opens up like a pop-up book to reveal a versatile and more elaborate set. In fact, this happened before the overture was done, and some of the audience applauded the set, drowning out the overture’s finale.

A bold and clever young woman outwits everyone, including the comical yet determined Bey of Algiers, who has resolved to bring her into his seraglio. All elements of the plot are aspects of this story, which is farcical, yet developed by means of very beautiful music, orchestral and vocal.

One performance remains: February 6 (Sunday, 3 pm). There’s really not a bad seat in the house, so the least expensive tickets are just as good as the rest. We are very fortunate that this wonderful production is in town. I attended the Saturday show last weekend. Don’t let the weather keep you away. If there were ever an inducement to venture forth, this is it.

Traviata for everyone

La Traviata is one of the world’s best-loved operas for a reason, and the current Austin Lyric Opera production shows why.

Although some recommend Carmen, Tosca, Elixir of Love, Madama Butterfly or even La Boheme, I always recommend La Traviata as the first opera for those who have never been to one. Even the most threadbare and meager performance of this opera will always give pleasure because it has everything: a compelling story and music that cannot be forgotten, along with momentum that only seems to grow as the audience is carried along.

Last night brought us a beautiful performance. We were especially lucky in our Alfredo, who can really sing and who actually has a youthful appearance. Violetta and Giorgio acquitted themselves very well. There’s nothing quite like those times when the singers are out there unaccompanied by musical instruments; it’s like seeing someone walk on a high wire without a balance pole or net.

The two party scenes were the best ever, with dancers truly waltzing in the initial scenes. It could have been my imagination, but I thought I spotted a party-goer intended to be George Sand. At Flora’s party, the choreography was wonderful as was every aspect of the divertissement. I loved the use of ribbons on the tambourines and streaming from the ballerina’s fillet headdress as she danced, and great advantage was taken of the varied linings of the capes worn by those in matador costume. Every part of the stage was used to best advantage.

The orchestra and chorus sound better and better. Although I thought that the tempo for the overture was a bit on the slow side, immediately preceding that was a very snappy rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, with great use of snare rolls and clashing cymbal. There’s nothing like a fine orchestra as accompaniment when you sing this anthem.

At the end, there was scarcely a dry eye in the house. There were sniffles and even sobs to be heard, and many were the handkerchiefs to be seen. The curtain call elicited sustained and sincere applause.

Austin can be very proud of this very fine theatrical and musical production, one that should not be missed by anyone who loves the stage or vocal performance.

Last night the house seemed to be full, despite the competing allure of football (scores were checked by phone out on the terrace during intermissions). Tickets for the remaining performances remain available. Those performances are: Wednesday, November 10, at 7:30 pm; Friday, November 12 at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, November 14, at 3:00 pm.

Hansel and Gretel: not just for children

There were a lot of children at the first-night performance of Hansel and Gretel on Saturday, and they did stay right through to the end, not taking advantage of the intermission to leave, which is a good thing, because the last act was very much the best one.

The orchestra in the pit was illuminated by a spotlight for the entire overture (the opening was at too slow a tempo, a lot of us thought), before the curtain rose on the first stage vignette of the evening. The sets and lighting were wonderful throughout, and voices were strong and musicianly.

We all know some version of this story. In this one, there’s no woodcutter, no forest, and not a single breadcrumb. For the purpose of this production, Central Park in New York is the woodsy location, and the witch is a creature of the late nineteenth century.

The stage busines and choreography were a treat; theatrically and musically all was a pleasure to see and hear. I don’t believe that Austin Lyric Opera has ever performed this opera.

I found the English translation to be facetious and distracting, perhaps because as a child I was in a choir that sang the dance, the “little man” song, and the song of guardian angels (“when at night I go to sleep”) in a different translation. The little bits of German that are heard seem to suit the music best. It is certainly true, though, that the English text does go well in the last act, which is wonderful. I don’t want to spoil any part of that, and no part of it should be missed.

Three performances remain: Wednesday, 28 April, at 7:30 pm; Friday, 30 April, at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, 2 May, at 3 pm (call 472-5992 for more information). As always, there are supertitles displayed above the stage in order to assist in understanding what is being sung. Although every part was performed well, I consider the witch to have the star turn. Austin is fortunate indeed to enjoy a live performance of this classic.

The Star / L’Etoile: don’t miss it!

The Star (Austin Lyric Opera)This Chabrier operetta is seldom performed, for reasons difficult to understand. The weather was on the chilly side last night, but not a single seat was vacant after the intermission, quite unusual. I heard a man say, “I didn’t want to come to this, but it’s really, really funny!” and it is.

The laughter began as soon as the curtain rose following the spritely overture. This production is absurdist and witty. It employs a small orchestra, a large chorus, a starring cast of fine singers and actors (I’d single out the king, plus his astrologer), costumes to which photos do no justice, and a wonderful set and lighting design. The choreography is truly outstanding. Everyone participates in these clever movements and dances, and performs very well. The choreographic elements are a true enhancement and are integral to the success of the show.

We in Austin are fortunate indeed to have an opportunity to see and hear The Star and in this first-rate production. The Austin Lyric Opera production has three performances remaining: on February 3, 5 (Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 pm), and 7 (Sunday at 3:30 pm).

Montmartre for a night

faux arc de triomphe

faux arc de triomphe

This is a prop from the pre-show party at last night’s performance of La Bohème. We were also greeted by phony Parsian street-lamps, the spectacular and ever-changing view of downtown from the terrace, and a pianist and saxophonist playing jazzy music outdoors for all before the show and at intermission time.

For once, Musetta did not steal the show from Mimi. For once, the pink bonnet that figures in the plot was not a ridiculous-appearing and completely unbecoming item. The orchestra and chorus continue to sound better and better. The chorus of children was delightfully costumed and sang most professionally. The lighting was unremarkable. Alcindoro and Perpignol (Holton Johnson, who has been the juvenile star of so many Gilbert & Sullivan productions) were as fine as it’s possible to be.

Among the surprises of the evening was a return to singing the national anthem, but in a much snappier and expeditious arrangement, without lagging and grandiosity. For those who love singing in large groups (and I do), it was inspiriting, especially because words were not projected on the supertitle screens and the verse was over before the slower-witted even caught on. Another surprise was that our mayor, Lee Leffingwell, was unmasked as a uniformed bandsman during the Momus scene.

This is a excellent standard production of the opera, with singers who are agile and who sound fine. For me, the first scene is always tedious, and I always love the Cafe Momus scene entertaining no matter how it’s staged and am much more moved by the scenes preceding it than by the final scene itself. That was true last night, as well.

I don’t want to spoil the performance for those attending a performance of La Bohème for the first time, lured by the promotional allusions to Rent. It’s obvious that there were many in the audience who may not even be accustomed to going to the movies, let along a live theatrical performance. Evidence included late arrivals by people who expected to be seated at that time anyhow rather than wait, talking after the lights went down, kicking of seatbacks, applause in odd places, and a considerable exodus between the first scene and the second even though the hall was dark and there was no intermission listed in the program (they were kindly set straight by the ushers and returned to their seats).

This production is an excellent introduction to a stage standard. As always, there’s nothing to beat a performance that incorporates, acting, full costuming and staging, singing, and a complete orchestra, delighting the ears and right before your very eyes, in a hall that seems to have no bad sightlines. Remaining performances are this coming Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Friday, Novemer 13, at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, November 15, at 3 pm. There was valet parking available for $16 and people were actually using it.

A rare opportunity

Dialogues of the Carmelites has three performances remaining (tomorrow evening at 7:30; Friday, April 24, at 7:30; and Sunday, April 26, at 3). Although this opera premiered in 1957 and is therefore “modern,” it’s not the sort of modern that should keep anyone from attending and enjoying this production. On Saturday, the orchestra was at its finest, having never sounded better, and it was a delight to hear the singing, especially the chorus of nuns. The staging was clear and fast-flowing, and the lighting was excellent.

The stage was raked, and I think that all action was visible from every seat. I’ve seen a performance of this work only once, and I had completely forgotten the first scene. The production’s sung in French, for the most part with a clarity of diction that allows every word to be distinguished. There was a time or two when the projected English translation fell a bit behind. It’s probably just something about the perspective, but to me the prop wood-range appeared to be miniature to the point of laughability.

The reggae fest was gearing up for the evening and had been in session all afternoon. The opera people sent special e-mails and recorded telephone messages to ticketholders, where possible, disseminating parking information and asking people to arrive early. I think that we were among the few who did arrive well before curtain time. It was beginning to look as though there’d be a lot of empty seats, but last-minute arrivals filled them.

The program, which I always read after the performance and never before or during (I like as much as possible to be a surprise), contained an insert informing us that several of those who performed in Dialogues will be on stage for the Gilbert & Sullivan Society performances of Iolanthe in June.

There’s seldom a chance to hear this work performed, and so well. I’m very glad that I was there and would advise any lover of excellent music to look into the availability of tickets. Thank you, Austin Lyric Opera!

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