High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Monday, February 17, 2003

Insert clever Verdi-Based pun here

I'm feeling so funked that I don't even really want to write about the Opera, although I liked it a lot. It was Verdi's "A Masked Ball" (way to funked to look up the original Italian), which has quite the peppy orchestration for something with your typical doom, nonsmut, gloom operatic theme. Mark Elder, whom I saw a few weeks ago conducting the CSO, was the guest conductor. He has a style quite different from Sir Andrew and one that was entirely appropriate to this.

The set design was quite lovely, although not as strong as that for Thais, I thought. The costuming, on the other hand, tended toward the goofy. The "player king" as the first act opened was decked out in full King Vitamin drag, which at first seemd to just be a device to denote the age-old "Play within a play." However, Riccardo not only climbs into beddy bye on the divan, using the ermine-trimmed cloak as a blankey, he spends a good deal of the next two acts carrying around and wearing the tall Burger King crown.

The conspirators represented another odd choice, as they were decked out in vibrant "my dress is radioactive" green. Some of them were wearing full suits in this color, whereas others merely had green tophats and or greatcoats with green piping. It certainly kept the cast of characters straight, but it was a thematic choice that never went anywhere and was totally abandoned for yet another color scheme in Act III. At the ball, everyone,. was dressed in the King Vitamin drag with the addition of gold masks, and the two main conspirators and Renato had purple cloaks, rather than the red everyone else wore.

I was a bit unsure about Renato's dining room at the end of the universe in Act III, Scene I, if only because it opens with the child sitting in cheery pajamas, clutching a rag doll. He's at one end of the longest, blackest table in history with a gold-trimmed black cloth tossed over half of it and a gold urn and a candelabra on his end of the table. Things never go well when you have a funerary receptacle at the table. That was truly my only set design complaint, however.

The gallows scene worked remarkably well with the crumbling brick column and the black open space in the center of the stage. I did, however, worry that someone was going to slip on whatever they were using for snow as the drifts had really piled up by the end of the act.

The ballroom was remarkably well done. Act III, scene II opens with Riccardo in his room and the red curtain from the play at the beginning masks the rear 2/3 of the stage. When he finally leaves his room, the two halves fall and are whisked off stage. A bit overly dramatic, and they got some unwanted indoor snow for their trouble, but the reveal was worth it. The hidden part of the stage was made up of tall, dark charcoal columns that were as depressing as Renato's dining room, with a curved back wall. Just a moment after the curtain drops, gilded doors as tall as the columns start opening in an arc to reveal the dancers in, unfortunately, their King Vitamin get up. Nonetheless, the effect was pretty groovy.

Vocal performances were all strong, especially the trouser role, which was surprising. Trouser roles gang aft aglay. The soprano singing Amelia had gorgeous color and tone in her lower register, but often seemed afraid of some of the lighter work in her upper register. I'm more a baritone woman, but the tenor singing Ricardo was fabulous. Renato had some dynamics issues in Act I, but certainly warmed up and his work in Act III was tremendous.

And now for the shallow part . . . At second intermission, L. and I tried, unsuccessfully, to hunt down some coffee. We were grabbing a drink from the water fountain when an extremely effeminate man in mauve linen harem pants (Yes! Harem pants!) and a black velvet vest declared, "That designer should be SHOT!" I was agog. Let he among you who is not clad in something at which the artist formerly known as prince would sneer cast the first stone. The real pisser is that when the design team was brought on at curtain call, someone actually booed vocally and persistently, and I'm reasonably sure it was him. Feh! King Vitamin and radioactive leprechauns aside, this doesn't even score in the top 10 design disasters I've seen. Nothing has the flower maidens rolling around on their electric pink exoskeletons beat, in my mind.

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