Posts Tagged ‘Austin Lyric Opera’

Not in jest

There’s not one wasted second in Rigoletto, and people do leave humming the tunes. The remaining three performances of this Austin Lyric Opera production will be on Februrary 4, 6, and 8. It’s not to be missed.

There are minor aspects that do not attain the general high standards of excellence of the rest, but this is a wonderful show. I could tell that there were many first-time opera-goers. I think that Rigoletto makes a good introduction, because the plot of the libretto takes some unexpected turns and the music is by turns rousing and lyrically beautiful. The costumes were rich, and I love the sets, lighting, and staging generally up until the last act. Others will disagree, but I didn’t think that laser flashes of lightning added a thing to the production, and those not familiar with the plot found some of that act a bit confusing. The play with rapiers was not witty. Perhaps an expert from the H-E-B checkout line should have been called in to give tips about wrestling odd-shaped contents into a sack.

The orchestra was at its very finest. The chorus continues to become better and better. Rigoletto is often sung by someone who’s really too old and occasionally by someone who’s a bit inexperienced; Todd Thomas was just right, and an excellent physical presence as well. Lyubov Petrova as Gilda held the house in dead silence when she sang Caro Nome and may have been the audience favorite. Her voice and that of Chad Shelton as the Duke of Mantua seemed for some reason not to be well matched. That says nothing about the quality of their singing, just that the duets and other ensemble pieces would somehow have been improved had either voice been partnered with another. Maddalena often walks away with her part, but that didn’t happen, perhaps because of the staging of the last act. Sparafucile the assassin (Peter Volpe) won the crowd. Occasionally, the sound was a bit muddy, but to me it sounded as if, although I haven’t seen any writing or commentary on this subject, it was being mixed and balanced artificially at times and that the results were not always an improvement over “unenhanced” music. Perhaps it was just the location of our seats, but I don’t think so.

Nearby parking was going at a flat rate of seven dollars. The City lots had in the past been free. Better lighting is needed at nearby pedestrian crosswalks or else APD should be on hand to direct traffic. An improved lighting design could keep people in the lobbies waiting for the hall to be opened from looking so unwell and the same might improve the safety of those challenging steep stairs with narrow treads.

This Rigoletto joins my other favorite productions: an ALO performance in the old Coliseum and a performance at the Paramount by a young touring company sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera that employed old-fashioned flat sets and starred Erie Mills before she was famous. Again, anyone who has the opportunity to attend one of these performances really should do so. Opera unites all the theatrical arts and this is a fine example.

Cinderella charming

La Cenerentola will star the same cast for all performances (scroll down the linked page to read a little about the people who have made this production the wonderful experience that it is). See a show if you can: remaining performances are on Wednesday, November 12, at 7:30 pm; Friday, November 14, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, November 16, at 3 pm. All the singers are young and talented, and the staging is also a work of art. I hope that this conductor, Robert Tweten, will return for future productions. He and all the singers have a way with Rossini.

The conceit of the show keeps the music, sung in Italian and with projected supertitles in English, but changes the era and the place, to twentieth-century Hollywood. To aid in this, the translations in the supertitles take some liberties, but in truth the plot is the same as it has always been. We all know that story and this is just another variant.

Program notes place the setting in the ‘Thirties. It’s an eye-candy pastiche that doesn’t follow a fashion timeline terribly closely. We see everything from stepsisters wearing clothes that could have come straight from Mary Pickford’s wardrobe during the silent era, to flapper dresses accessorized with cloche hats, to a smart little tailored suit with a peplum jacket of the sort that many women wore as their best civvies during WWII and up to the introduction of The New Look. Some of the men are costumed in plus-fours, argyle sweaters, and other hallmarks of a gone-by era. Everyone, male and female, gets to sport entertaining headgear at one time or another.

There’s so much to praise that I’ll just report that the show was wonderful: musicianship with clear enunciation, a small but clear orchestra ably conducted, and everything about the staging itself, including sets, costumes, use of the chorus, lighting, and the wonderful choreography, which on a small but heroic scale was a tribute to Busby Berkeley

The Long Center commands one of the finest views of downtown. This photograph makes it look a bit like a set from a German Expressionist movie, but there’s more to it than that. We noticed a light sculpture meant to be walked on, and some kids were having a fine time trying to be the best predictor of the next color of the panel under foot.

Gone batty

Fledermaus at the Long CenterI went as a doubter and left as a believer. I hope that the Austin-centric production of Die Fledermaus or The Bat is revived. By all appearances, every performance was sold out, and for good reason.

The music is delightful; the costumes were witty and so were the lyrics in English from the fine people of Esther’s Follies; the singers were in fine form and were wonderful comic actors as well. Each performance had cameo appearances: ours included one B. McCracken (who was roundly booed), B. Dunkerley, Moser the Style Avatar, the Biscuit Brothers, and Wammo (Asylum Street Spankers) doing his Batman riff.

The Long Center acoustics, experienced for the second time, were still disconcerting. Some of the percussion was heard as though coming from the back of the hall and not at all from the orchestra pit. It was easy to tell which female members of the audience had been to the Long Center before: they were the ones wearing flat shoes and not heels. The view toward downtown, changing almost daily, remains spectacular in all lights.

The audience did laugh and would laugh to see it again, I’d bet. Photos of many of the production’s costumes for Austin landmarks and people (Peter Pan, the tower, the capitol, Hyde Park french fries, Lance Armstrong, Willie Nelson, and more) may be seen at the opera’s site. And we all sounded loud, in tune, and rousing as we joined the Biscuit Brothers in singing You Are My Sunshine.

Opera obstacle course

Austin Lyric OperaIt’s tough to get there these days, according to the local daily (“Weekend events overwhelm Palmer Events Center parking,” byline Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, April 22), tougher than it used to be to reach the Bass Concert Hall on campus, even though this location is closer for many. We used to eat downtown, ride the bus up the hill part of the way and walk part of the way, and then take the bus home. The only bad thing that could happen would be that a performance would run long, so that buses were off the streets, but then it was easy to walk to a downtown cab stand and catch a ride the rest of the way.

Last week, charter buses and vehicles of all sorts were delayed in reaching the new Long Center or could find no nearby parking and were very late to the Sunday matinee performance of Carmen.

ALO’s general manager fired off an e-mail blast today, declaring to ticketholders that this weekend it will be different:

I would like to assure our Thursday and Saturday night Carmen ticket holders that they will not encounter such parking difficulties. On Thursday evening there is a performance at Rollins Theater which holds 250. On Saturday there is a City Wide Garage Sale from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. and the University of Phoenix Graduation Ceremony from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. in the Palmer Events Center but both will be finished well before our 7:30 curtains.

I confess, though, that I’m suspicious, since in that same e-mail people are advised to arrive an hour early. If gridlock occurs, cabs won’t help, and it’s frightening crossing the streets around there on foot. It’s so near, and yet so far. We’re still considering the logistics.

Carmen is one of the operas most often suggested for beginners (La Traviata, Tosca, and The Elixir of Love are some others; people will argue for hours over this question). The last performance of Carmen that I attended was the wonderful event staged in the Austin Coliseum, now demolished. Even sitting on bleachers didn’t diminish the pleasure. Last-minute tickets are often available at the box office. Like it or not, the melodies from Carmen are unforgettable and you will hear people humming them as they leave the show.

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