Tag Archives: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

On Stage: The Trial


It’s not a word one usually associates with opera. “Pompous,” yes. “Overblown,” certainly. “Pretentious,” often. But – weird? Opera is usually anything but that.

But weird is probably the best one-word description one could give for “The Trial.” I mean, that’s exactly what The Wife said to me when she turned my way at intermission. And she’s the expert.

1478829066_pvmjf_1478548478_qoyzt_1471542607_vklhv_blogposttrialWhile one usually thinks of operas as musical theater written during the Renaissance, they are still being written in the 21st century. And every year Opera Theatre Saint Louis puts at least one modern show in their program. “The Trial,” a comic (their word, not mine) opera in two acts, was written by Christopher Hampton and Phillip Glass and opened on a London stage in 2014. These performances marked its American premiere.

“The Trial” is based on a story by Franz Kafka, which should’ve been a red flag right there. I haven’t read any Kafka, but I’m culturally aware enough to know what kafkaesque means. And “The Trial” is very kafkaesque.

We arrived early enough for me to wade through the two-page plot synopsis in the program.

“Uh, have you read this?” I says to The Wife.

“No. Should I?”

“I can’t tell.”

“The Trial” is the story of Josef K (Theo Hoffman) a nondescript fellow who wakes one morning to discover he’s being arrested. He’s allowed to go on with his life and the charges against him are never spelled out.  But the rest of his life pretty much revolves around his legal troubles. He goes to court and gets the run-around, he meets with a lawyer who is no help, he has sex with the lawyer’s maid, there’s an odd bit with the Court Usher’s wife, he gets legal advice from a painter, it all ends badly for K.

Now, when I say “The Trial” is weird, I’m not saying it’s bad. It was actually strangely compelling and it seemed to move much quicker than most operas. The music was not Mozart. It had a quirky, haunting quality that nicely fit the show. The staging was stark and relied heavily on shadows and lighting — very effective. The cast performed admirably.

It was just so freaking weird. But then, maybe opera needs more weird.



On Stage: Titus (La Clemenza Di Tito)

So I’m sitting on the couch watching “Parks and Recreation” when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess where we’re going?”

“Uh…tell me.”

“The opera!”

“Oh, thank God. I thought you were going to say a Cardinals baseball game.”

“See. There are fates worse than opera.”

And so it was that we made yet another trek to the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of “Titus La clemenza di Tito,” the final opera written by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I am familiar with the works of Mozart (I’m not totally culturally illiterate — I have seen “Amadeus.”) so I figured this would be decent. Even if I’d never heard of it.


The story is a complex one, evidenced by the six-paragraph synopsis in the program. Do you know why they provide you with the entire plot of the show before you watch an opera or Shakespeare play? It’s because you would never understand otherwise. I have learned that the key to understanding opera and Shakespeare is to commit the synopsis to memory as best you can, and then let the show just wash over you. Reread the synopsis during intermission. Maybe you’ll understand it, maybe you won’t – but at least you’ll be able to follow along. Somewhat.

“Titus” takes place in ancient Rome. Vitellla (Laura Wilde) is the daughter of the deposed emperor. She hopes to maintain her status by marrying the new emperor — the too-nice-to-truly-be-an-emperor Tito (Rene Barbera). Tito wants to marry someone else so Vitella figures the only logical thing to do is have him killed.

To do the dirty deed, she enlists the aid of her lover Sesto (Cecelia Hall), who is also best friend to Tito. The plot fails, Sesto is imprisoned, and Vitella has to decide if she should reveal her role in the incident and possibly save her cohort from a fate equal to death.

There’s more to it but you get the gist. “Titus” is one of Mozart’s lesser works but still entertaining. The music is lovely and the musicians are very good. The songs (do they call them songs in opera? Liberettos, then. Or whatever) were challenging but the cast was up to the challenge.

The costumes were lavish. The set design was sparse, in large part because they blew the whole budget on a giant Eagle statue. It hung over the stage, fell to earth at the appropriate time, then rose like a phoenix when required. It was pretty cool.

Remaining performances for “Titus” run June 18, 22 and 24.  https://www.opera-stl.org/



On Stage: Madame Butterfly

So I’m sitting on the couch watching the end of civilization as we know it, aka the Nightly News, when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess what time it is!”

“Time to move to Canada?”

“Maybe. But it’s also our first night of Opera Season! Go shave off that stubble, put on a shirt that doesn’t have superheroes on it, and let’s go have a great time.”

“I can do two of those things, but I can’t guarantee the third.”

And so it was that last night we once again made our way to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis production of Giacomo Puccini’s classic tale of love, betrayal and delusion — “Madame Butterfly.”

1475271314_eyomx_butterflyslide (2)

Written in 1904, the show feels both dated and yet contemporary. The latter part largely because it reminded me of “Miss Saigon,” which shouldn’t be surprising since “Saigon” rips off the story line almost completely.

Cio-Cio-San (Rena Harms), aka M. Butterfly, is a 15-year-old Japanese geisha from a once wealthy family whose future now rests in a marriage with American Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Michael Brandenburg). She’s ecstatic over the union, he’s excited that he’s going to get some underage sex before he goes off to sea – never to be seen again.

The American Consul (Christopher Magiera) warns Pinkerton that this is a bad idea, but the lieutenant doesn’t listen. Cio-Cio’s uncle (Dominik Belavy) throws a big stink at the wedding and her family disowns her. Finally alone, the couple sing for a bit and then go off to engage in coitus while everyone else goes out for intermission.

When we return, two years have passed and Cio-Cio is now penniless and living with her 2-year-old child (coincidence?) and her faithful servant Suzuki (Renee Rapier). Despite their dire circumstances, Cio-Cio is certain that her husband will return.

And he does return eventually. With his new American wife Kate (Anush Avetisyan).

As operas go, “Madame Butterfly” is pretty entertaining. There’s not a lot of story but there is a lot of singing and music. It’s very good music, and that’s the key — I think I even recognized some of the music, which always makes me feel a little less culturally illiterate.

The cast is very talented, as are the musicians. Nice costumes and the staging was clever, although at times the Japanese house set did obstruct one’s view, even with a rotating stage.

“Madame Butterfly” runs through June 24. http://www.opera-stl.org 






On Stage: Ariadne On Naxos

We wrap up opera month at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis with “Ariadne on Naxos,” referred to as “a prologue and an opera in one act,” by Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. I’m not sure how you can call something ” one act” when there’s an intermission, but I don’t write what’s in the program I just report it.

I found this to be an odd duck, even for opera. It starts off as your typical backstage comedy of errors. Some rich dude has hired an opera troupe and a comedy team to entertain at the end of one of his grand dinners. The opera people are disgusted that they have to share a stage with those lowbrow comedians and the comedians aren’t happy that they will have to wake up the audience after it sits through some boring-ass opera.


Things only get worse when the dinner runs long and the host demands that both the opera and the vaudeville show take place on the same stage at the same time. Thus ends the prologue of the show, which I found pretty entertaining.

I come back from intermission assuming that there’s going to be more craziness as the opera people and the comics try to upstage each other and generally get in each other’s way. Instead, it plays out like your typical boring-ass opera with the comedians just joining into the opera’s story line to sing a song or two as if they had always been written into it.

All the conflict of the prologue has disappeared as well as characters, like the composer, who play a key role in the prologue but are never seen again.

The Wife thought the show was ‘terribly romantic’ but I found it strange and unsatisfying. The music was fine and the actors were all talented and there were some nicely elaborate costumes. But I found the second act — excuse me, the opera — to be everything the comedians were warning about in the prologue. I did indeed have trouble staying awake.

On Stage: Shalimar The Clown

So I’m sitting on the couch lamenting that “The Daily Show” isn’t as good as it used to be when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“It’s opera time. Get dressed.”

“Again? I feel like we just saw two last week. What’s this one?”

“Shalimar the Clown.”

“Didn’t we just see a clown opera last year?”

“That was Pagliacci, and it was a few years ago. I’m impressed that you kind-of remember.”

“What’s the deal with opera and clowns? I have a friend who’s a clown and he’s never had an opera written about him.”

“Well, maybe you should work on that. Now get moving.”

And so it was that we once again made our way to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the world premiere run of “Shalimar The Clown,” commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Since The Son had already been spending the day with his man-sitter, we thought it would be a nice change to pack a picnic and eat there on the grounds of the LHC. You can buy a box dinner there in advance, but Lar said the food was probably too fru-fru for me, so she got sandwiches and Culinaria. The weather was pleasant for a change and we had a good time.

otsl_shalimar_the_clown600“Shalimar the Clown” is a new opera based on the book by Salman Rushdie. It’s a star-crossed lovers tale (She’s Hindu, he’s Muslim) reminiscent of “Romeo and Juliet.” In fact, it would be just like “Romeo and Juliet” if R&J had been forced into marriage and Juliet ran off with the American ambassador to India and Romeo joined a terrorist group and became a top assassin and Juliet had a baby with the American ambassador but then the ambassador’s wife stole the baby so Juliet went home where she encounters Romeo (it doesn’t end well) and then Romeo goes to America to kill the ambassador.

Say, when you put it like that, “Shalimar the Clown” is a much better story than “Romeo and Juliet.” Who knew Salman Rushdie was a better writer than Shakespeare?

Remember last week when I was complaining that “MacBeth” and “La Boheme” didn’t have much plot? Well, that’s not a problem here. There is a lot going on in “Shalimar the Clown.” It was pretty easy to follow even though I never got around to reading A History of the Kashmir Conflict in the program.

You may be wondering, where’s ‘the clown’ part in all of this? Well, Shalimar (Sean Panikkar) was indeed in the local folk theater troupe before becoming a bloodthirsty assassin. It is back in his home village that he meets and falls in love with Boonyi (Andriana Churchman), a dancer. When their love affair is made public, the village leaders declare they must marry. Shali is all in favor of this but Boonyi feels she’s being rushed.

Even though she loves Shali, Boonyi feels trapped and so gladly crawls into bed with the lecherous American ambassador (Gregory Dahl). And now you know the rest of the story, assuming you read up four paragraphs.

I was impressed by the story and on-stage talent of “Shalimar the Clown.” The staging was also well-done. I wasn’t as impressed by the music. It was fine and it suited the story but it wasn’t anything memorable.

But hey, any opera that ends with a showdown between a guy with a big knife and a woman with a bow-and-arrow is aces in my book.

Remaining show dates for “Shalimar the Clown” are June 19, , 23 and 25. https://www.opera-stl.org/

Our Opera-’80s-Opera Weekend

So I’m sitting on the couch watching the final episodes of “Person of Interest” when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“You remember when we had opera tickets a few weeks ago and you wanted to go home because it was Memorial Day weekend and so we went home instead of going to the opera?”

“Yes. Really dodged a bullet there, eh?”

“Well, good news. I was able to exchange our tickets for Sunday. Oh, and we also have our regularly scheduled opera for Friday. So you know what that means?”

“Opera double-header?”

“Go put on some decent clothes.”

Now if you’re wondering what an opera double-header is, it’s like a baseball double-header but with opera instead of baseball. In other words, about 100 times better.

And so it was that we once again made our way to the Loretto-Hilton Center for dual performances by the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. First up: Macbeth!

macbeth-325pxYou may be saying, “I didn’t know ‘Macbeth’ was an opera.” Neither did I. Neither did The Bard, no doubt, as he wrote it as a play. It was Giuseppe Verdi who came along later and turned it into an opera. Because, I guess, Shakespeare in play form just wasn’t highfalutin enough for Verdi.

Watching the show I was struck by how thin the story was, yet still managed to take almost 3 hours to tell. Basically, witches tell Mac he’s going to be king, Mac kills the king so he can be king, he then kills his buddy Banquo because the witches said his kids would be kings after Mac, Mac and Lady Mac sing and plot and sing and plot, Macduff kills him.

Did Verdi cut out a bunch of stuff? Seems pretty simple for such a classic tale. You’d think I’d remember the story better as many times as I’ve been forced, I mean, enjoyed seeing it.

I just thought there was a lot of padding, especially where the witches scenes were concerned. Other than that the music wasn’t bad but not particularly memorable. The staging was fine except for a few times when it obstructed your view if you sit stage left as we do.

The real selling point here is the on-stage talent. The leads — Roland Wood (Macbeth), Banquo (Robert Pomakov), Lady MacBeth (Julie Makerov) and Matthew Plenk (Macduff) all have tremendous voices. There were a couple of really nice chorus bits as well.

NewWaveSaturday night we took a break from opera to enjoy the musical sound stylings of The New Wave, a local band that performs the hits of the ’80s. Mostly 1-hit-wonder hits as well as the Go-Gos, B-52s and whatnot. The Wife noted that they didn’t perform any U2 and then listed several other bands that were big in the ’80s. I pointed out that there’s only so much of a decade’s worth of music you can cover in three hours with one half-hour break and a couple of stops for technical problems.

This was the first in a series of free concerts taking place this summer at New Town in St. Charles. We love going to these shows because (a) they’re free (b) they’re close to home (c) they’re free  (d) sometimes we see people we know there. We didn’t this time. I’m sure Yellow had an excuse. And everyone else I invited via Facebook. Why does everyone hate me? It can’t be that they hate ’80s rock. It’s not like they played “Come On, Eileen” (Thank God).

A few hours rest and then back to the Loretto-Hilton for Giacomo Puccini’s classic “La Boheme.” If you’ve never seen “La Boheme,” it’s a lot like “Rent” but with half the cast and fewer AIDS references.

la-boheme-325pxFour bohemians — Rodolfo the writer (Andre Haji), Marcello the painter (Anthony Clark Evans), Colline the philosopher (Bradley Smoak) and Schaunard the musician (Sean Michael Plumb) — live in an attic apartment in Paris. It’s winter and they’re freezing so they start to burn Rodolfo’s play but then Schaunard has scored a gig so he has money so they go out for dinner. Rodolfo stays behind to write and meets his neighbor Mimi (Hae Ji Chang), who needs someone to light her candle.

Rodo and Mimi talk and sing and fall in love and go to meet the gang at the cafe. There they have an encounter with Musetta (Lauren Michelle), a former love of Marcello. Intermission.

Rodo and Mimi are still together after intermission but his jealousy threatens their relationship. That and the fact that Mimi is slowly dying of consumption. After much singing they break up and by the beginning of Act 4 everyone is back where they started. But then Musetta breaks in with word that Mimi is down on the street near death. They bring her up to the room, sing a bit, and she dies.

Did I say “Macbeth” had a thin plot? There is practically no story here and yet it’s one of the best known and most beloved operas in the world. Of course, it’s not about the story it’s about the music and Puccini’s well-known work is moving and captivating. It’s always good to experience a work of art in its intended setting.

The cast was fine and the staging wasn’t as obtrusive this time. I survived opera double-header (still better than baseball double-header) and can take a much-deserved break from opera. Until Friday.

Remaining show dates for “Macbeth” are June 16, 18, 22 and 26. “La Boheme” runs June 15 and 25. https://www.opera-stl.org/

Learn more about The New Wave on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/The-NeW-WaVe-210850908987055/

On Stage: La Rondine

So I’m sitting on the couch watching Dating Naked (that’s the name of the show – “Dating Naked”- I was not watching a show called “Dating” while naked) when The Wife comes to me and she says,

“Guess what we’re doing tonight?”

“Going to see ‘Jurassic World’?”

“No. You had your chance to see that. We’re going to the opera.”

“But you said I could go this weekend.”

“You can. Tomorrow. Or Sunday. But tonight you have a date with Puccini.”

“You know who’d love to go to the opera with you? Susan.”

“Susan is busy being a published author while you’re sitting on the couch watching — WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU WATCHING???!!!”

And so it was that we made our way once again to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Rondine” a.k.a. “The Swallow.”

It’s a romance in three acts, which means two intermissions. You can imagine how I felt about that. It’s not a long show but imagine how much shorter it would’ve been without two intermissions. Is it a crime to want to get home at a decent hour? Adult-sitters ain’t cheap.

rondinemain-imageCorinne Winters stars a Magda, a young woman who gave up a life with love for a life with money thanks to stuffy old Rambaldo (Matthew Burns). One night after a dinner party (Act 1)  she decides to sneak out and enjoy the Parisian nightlife (Act 2). She hooks  up with Ruggero (Anthony Kalil), the son of one of Rambaldo’s old friends. When Magda is confronted by Rambaldo, she decides to run off with her new love.

Now the first two acts are pretty much the stuff of standard love stories. With the third act things turn more tragic and bittersweet. Magda and Ruggero are still in love but things are getting in the way — like lack of money. Ruggero wants to marry but to do so Magda must come clean about her past.

“La Rondine”  isn’t one of your big, bombastic operas but its decent enough. The music is lovely and Winters has an amazing voice. Kalil complements her nicely. Sydney Mancasola and John McVeigh also entertain as Magda’s maid and the poet Prunier.

La Rodine continues June 18, 20, 24 and 28 at Opera Theatre St. Louis. http://www.opera-stl.org/