19 April 2013

The Haushofmeister’s Diary, Part 8

Costume design for Doña Primera.

It was bound to happen. Our director, David Gately, staged the entirety of Ariadne auf Naxos so quickly that he’s already gotten bored. Our first performance in the 2013 Fort Worth Opera Festival isn’t until May 4 — two weeks from now — and poor David just couldn’t stand the thought of going over the same material, again and again and again.

So he’s come up with a completely new directorial concept. Inspired by our authentic Texan surroundings, and also by Wednesday’s barbecue lunch (celebrating Darren Woods’ birthday), David’s take on Strauss’ classic commedia seria is truly original. Now we’re all scurrying to learn the changes, the costume department is working overtime to build our new outfits, and conductor Joe Illick is reorchestrating the entire score, start to finish, with a special emphasis on steel guitars and maracas. Fortunately, we will be performing in English — more or less!

David has asked me to write the plot synopsis, which will be inserted into the Festival programs for the benefit of those audience members who are unfamiliar with this piece — which, this time, means everybody.

As a special service to my readers, I’m sharing that synopsis with you now. Ladies and gentlemen, I hereby present



Part I: Prologue
The scene is the patio at the ranch house of Big Tex, who recently made a fortune in the oil business. And as the sun slowly sets in the west, there’s a whoopin’ an’ a hollerin’ an’ all kinds of commotion goin’ on at the ranch.

An idealistic young Bandleader (Cecelia Hall, mezzo-soprano) has been hired to play a concert following Big Tex’s barbecue, and with tonight’s performance, he’s hoping to break new ground in conjunto music. His act will feature two top-name headliners from Laredo, Doña Primera de la Ariadne (Marjorie Owens, soprano) and Don Heroico del Ruidoso (Corey Bix, tenor). But the Bandleader is horrified when his Accordion Teacher (Steven Lusmann, baritone) breaks the news: Big Tex has hired a rodeo act to follow the concert.

Costume design for Etta Zerbin.

And so we meet the cowgirl queen Etta Zerbin (Audrey Luna, soprano), a specialist in rope tricks and bronco-busting, and her troupe of rodeo clowns (Steven Eddy, Zac Engle, Michael Porter, and Anthony Reed). They are a high-spirited bunch, and FWO Producing Director Kurt Howard (who is himself a former rodeo rider) has been working overtime to teach our cast a number of astonishing stunts.

Everybody is ready for the show when Big Tex’s butler, Rhett (William V. Madison), arrives. The barbecue dinner has run long, Rhett announces, and Big Tex is in a hurry to get to the fireworks display that’s scheduled for nine o’clock on the dot — so the conjunto concert and the rodeo must be performed simultaneously.*

Consternation ensues. A Field Hand on Big Tex’s ranch (Ian McEuen, tenor) gleefully insists that rope tricks are more fun than a mariachi band anyway, while the Bandleader tries to explain to Etta why conjunto music is so important to Texan culture (Aria: “Do y’all ’lectric guitar?”), and Etta in turn teaches him how to spit tobacco juice instead of swallowing.

At last, the Bandleader loses patience, smashes his guitar against the stage, and storms off. As you know, storms in Texas tend to get pretty big, so we need to have an intermission at this point.

Part II: The Opera
Etta and Doña Primera share a giant plate of nachos, but they refuse to give so much as a jalapeño to Doña Primera’s backup singers, Las Ninfas Supremas (Corrie Donovan, Jeni Houser, and Amanda Robie). The rodeo clowns offer to take the Ninfas to Joe T. Garcia’s, where the margaritas are better.

Doña Primera sings about the spread she’d like to own some day (Aria: “Es gibt ein Ranch”), and Etta complains about the quality of retro Western fashions (Aria: “Gross! Makin’ Trigger-print dresses!”) — for 11 minutes while riding a mechanical bull.

Just then, Don Heroico enters with a bottle of tequila, and he and Doña Primera drive off in a pickup truck. We can tell that the tequila is really, really strong, because just then, the fireworks start goin’ off.


Set design.

NOTE: Other characters in our production include the Texas Ranger who is Etta’s current boyfriend (David Miller); the Hairdresser who, as a Texan, believes in very Big Hair (Aaron Sorenson); and one of Big Tex’s most sophisticated servants, a state-of-the-art high-tech Robot (Michael Adams).

* This is where David’s concept stretches things a bit, I think. After all, we know perfectly well that no nouveau riche Texan would ever do anything quite so crass as this.

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