Madama Butterfly – Part 1 Synopsis.

Well, it’s opera time in Asheville and there is a stunning performance waiting for you. This time around that Asheville Lyric Opera presents an ambitious and well-omened version of Giacomo Puccini’s classic Madama Butterfly.  This tragedy in three acts is the story of an American soldier (Lt. B.F. Pinkerton-tenor)  who buys himself a Japanese bride (Madama Butterfly[Cio-Cio San] – soprano) only to discover that all is not for the best in this never quite possible world.

Madama Butterfly is a truly beautiful and intricate opera with several intertwining plot lines, there is Pinkerton’s “girl in every port” attitude versus the staunch monogamy of Butterfly’s expectations, there is the culture clash between the American and the  Japan of 1904, there is the conflict between Butterfly and her family as she renounced her native Buddhism for Christianity in order to marry Pinkerton – a high irony that in that his behavior is far from Christian!, and there is the interpersonal conflict between Butterfly and her friend/bridesmaid Suzuki (mezzo-soprano) who knows that Pinkerton is not coming back to Butterfly.

And then we discover that Butterfly and Pinkerton have a son, one that Pinkerton did not know about. After that things really get messy.

I will not reveal the ending here as my first viewing of Madam Butterfly in St. Louis was shall we say a virginal inauguration to the show. I did not know how it would end and so I followed the story in open mouthed anticipation and felt the full impact of climax and closure. If you want to know how it ends Wiki or Google it…

and if you already know, well, the story is an eternal, perennial favorite in the operatic genre and I’m sure you’ll want to come see it again anyway.

Especially as the Asheville Lyric production features some truly wonderful singers and interesting innovations in dress and staging. All in all, a triumph for a small production opera company.

I’ll see you there!

Diana Wortham Theater, Asheville, NC     Friday 7 and Saturday 8  at 8pm.

 

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Red Roof Inn – West Asheville – Thumbs Up

For the business traveler or the non-swimming tourist this hotel is more than satisfactory. I have a large, nicely proportioned ground floor, king sized room with free unlimited wifi, TV, an actual work desk (that does not take up too much of the room), fridge and microwave. My only complaint is that the room is perhaps a tiny bit chilly…the heater thermostat might be for show. I’ll let you know shortly.If not I’ll revise that information here in italics.

The location is also very good, just off the 1-40 exit ramp and in walking distance of many types of food, including fast and decent slow. And so far driving and traffic have been a breeze.

I want to commend Alyssa (hope I’m spelling that right) of “Middle Earth” for her speedy and friendly check in, and Criss – the night auditor, who handled room reservations, room location, and emergency coffee with absolute ease. She is also a cool person just to talk with. If you talk to either one of these two, you will be in excellent hands. I post a few pictures closer to dawn when I can take them…and a few more to my Facebook link for those of you who are almost totally visual.

 

La Bohème at the Asheville Lyric Opera – GO SEE IT!

The Asheville Lyric Opera Presents La Bohème

This weekend, the Asheville Lyric Opera is offering us something special in their second ever performance of the classic opera, La Bohème.La Bohème is a beautifully interwoven series of character sketches about four young people that follows the arts and the whims of cupid across a background of 1830’s Paris at it’s liveliest.

And while it is not strictly speaking a true drama but rather a flowing train of consciousness through these peoples’ lives set to some truly fine music by Giacomo Puccini [1858-1924] it is none the less breathtaking and easily followed.

The opera itself is largely drawn from the Scenes de la Vie Boheme, a book by Henry Merger [1822-1861] which was itself a series of largely autobiographical cameo vignettes without any real literary sequence. That makes both the book and the opera somewhat unusual from the first. When you add that there was a good deal of liberties taken over the years by stagers and librettists (Mimi’s muff originally belonged to Merger’s Francine for instance), it is interesting that this opera ever came into existence in a final, highly polished form. Far from any sense of authenticity, as is often misnoted, it is this intriguing distillation from multiple sources that makes the story noteworthy. Only a few of the stories are even vaguely true according to Merger himself and also according to the real life Schaunard, one Alexandre Schanne who wrote his own book of Bohemian memoirs under the title, Souvenirs de Schaunard. And next to none of it was based off the life of one G. Puccini as one popular myth suggests.

But both book and opera do catch the overall flavor and flow of the people and the period very well indeed. The opera perhaps even more so in that in addition to the experiences of the principals, there is the enriching flow of the colors, backgrounds, and especially the music of the times.

There is no one who will argue that Puccini’s La Bohème is not the definitive statement on the theme, either. It is packed full of many of Puccini’s famous arias, and some of his best music. That alone makes it worth the ticket price.

Interestingly enough, this production will also see something of an operatic reunion. The ALO’s Principal Guest Conductor, Robert Hart Baker, will meet again with Jason Baldwin who made a small-role appearance in the millennial debut production of La Bohème. In this offing, Baldwin will be singing the tenor lead as Rudolfo, as Maestro Baker returns to the podium.

Maestro Robert Hart Baker, acting Principal Guest Conductor for ALO, has returned to his Asheville stomping grounds from his new home in York, PA in order to aid his own incredible flair to this performance. (Welcome back, Maestro!)

In addition to his position with ALO, he is Music Director of the Harrisburg Choral Society, conductor of the York (PA) Symphony Orchestra, and the St. Louis (MO) Philharmonic Orchestra.

This version of Bohème will be directed by David Toulson, an ALO veteran and acclaimed opera director who has received many kudos for his works within the LA Opera, Washington National Opera, Tulsa Opera, and Central City Opera.

David Craig Starkey, Artistic and General Director of ALO, had this to say about this weekend’s performance. “Our La Bohème will be traditional in a lot of ways, yes, but it will also have elements that are contemporary. Take our cozy hall, for instance. This hall will create a uniquely intimate quality that will make our production different from others already. This is our interpretation, our specially-designed set—a set that no one has seen before. All that combined, it will be a performance that no one has seen before—a show completely unique to Asheville. We’re so excited to share it with the community!”

Ticket sales for this performance will begin at $16 and I suggest you call soon as a show insider assures me this is going to be a sold out house.

To purchase YOUR tickets, call the Diana Wortham Theatre Box Office at 828-257-4530, or visit their spiffy site at http://www.ashevillelyric.org.

I’ll be there and I hope to see you there!

Cast (as released on official website):

Jason Baldwin as Rudolpho

Angela Amidei (leading opera singer in Denver, CO, and Rome, Italy) as Mimì,

Christina Villaverde (of Florida Grand Opera, and Opera Nova in Costa Rica) as Musetta.

Dominic Aquilino as Marcello

Ardean Landhuis as Colline

Brent Davis as Schaunard.

(pictures to follow)

A Penniless Traveler goes to the Opera – Asheville, NC

I’ve had people tell me they were penniless when they had a hundred dollars in the bank. If I had a hundred dollars in the bank, I’d be thrilled! When I say “penniless” I mean just that. That I do not have any negotiable currency, paper, coins, or plastic.

This week I find myself in hyped up, hipped out Asheville, North Carolina to see the opera and while not penniless, I am going to be working with less than forty dollars. So here are some tips and tricks for that. (If you want to know how to travel with no money, see my previous blog “https://twiztedtails.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/hotel-cheats-from-waystation/ ”)

I should also note that my lodgings are being paid for by my current employer, or this would be impossible. I also got my tickets in advance when money was more freely available.

First off, Asheville is actually easier without a car. Parking downtown and in most of the outlying areas is hard to find, competitive and expensive. Parking garages run in the $2 an hour range, with some rare instances of $5 “special event parking”. Daily parking adds up quickly. Almost all street parking is parallel and tight. A Smartcar is doable but a Ford F350 or any mid to large SUV or truck is a real stretch.

If at all possible, I recommend leaving your car or rental in the hotel lot, or even better catching the airport shuttle, taxi, or some friend going into town.

Asheville actually has a very good public transportation system with buses going to most destinations either every fifteen minutes, every hour, or every half hour, or every hour. Payment is in cash – but make sure you have change – or by bus pass which can be purchased at the bus station on Richland Avenue.

And most of the city is actually in walking distance from most of the hotels (West Asheville being the exception unless you can do a three mile walk.)

Secondly, Asheville restaurants range fall into just a few categories – cheap and fast, cheap and slow, expensive and fast, expensive and slow, and bars. These are all pretty well distributed around the city but the cheap stuff is mostly on the two major strips, Tunnel Road off downtown east and Patton Avenue across the Patton avenue River Bridge on Patton Avenue in what is technically West Asheville.

I got a hotel in West Asheville as I have a car and a gas per diem on this trip (WOW!) and mainly frequent McDonald’s and Burger King because of their dollar menus. $5 bucks is four sandwichs which is two meals. Hotel water and ice are the beverages.

To keep that from getting too monotonous I also went to a dollar store and purchased a box of tea, a bottled water (for the bottle), and a few packets of instant drink mix. I also got a package of cookies, a bag of chips, a box of oatmeal, a box of grits, a box of six Ramen noodles, and a package of eight slim jims. Total cost: $10 after tax.

I use the coffee machine in my room to make hot water for the tea, grits, noodles, and oatmeal. I also hit the free continental breakfast and make a show of getting breakfast for me and “my fiancee” (I have one but he’s not present.) which fills in any remaining mealtime holes.

I packed one bag which contains two shirts, two pants, undies, and one set of formal wear as well as three books, two DVDs, and my laptop. I wash my clothes in the sink with the provided shampoo, wash my body and hair with the provided soap bar, and then hang my clothes off the shower rail to dry. I will steam the wrinkles out of my formal wear by hanging them in the bathroom while I shower.

Instead of going out and spending money I do not have, I watch TV, use the room’s free wifi connection, and watch the DVDs I brought on my laptop.

I will be required to dine out twice this opera week and so I will be sticking to very small meals, salad and water and not drinking any alcohol and then coming back to my room for noodles in private.

And I will go see La Boheme looking like I stayed the night in the Downtown Radisson hotel rather than a cheap room off I-40. Manners and clothing make the man in public after all.

I may even land a gig doing further write ups and then I will be able to review Asheville from the money end. Til then, good journeys and “toi, toi”!

 

Day Trip Idea: The Lost Playwrights of Western NC

While not strictly a travel destination, I felt that this interesting group deserved at least an honorable mention as a cause of travel and as an interesting way to spend a day. 

Why “The Lost Playwrights”? Ask founder, Ludy Wilkie of Shelby to hear the truth, but the tongue in cheek reason is that like a strange nomadic tribe of word processing scribes, they never seem to meet in the same place for very long. The meetings are largely in the Hendersonville, NC area but have also been held in Shelby, NC and may be in other cities in the future. 

This is largely because the LPs are a nonprofit group of talented poets, novelists and, of course, playwrights and because there are no membership dues or any fees required. Attendance is open to all interested in the theater and written arts and people are encouraged to bring along something to be read. 

In a world where the arts are largely managed and dominated by production companies and where bake sales, ticket sales, and other fund raisers take up more time than the arts themselves, this is a very refreshing occurrence. 

The usual meetings include readings of the original works of the various members, commentary on the arts in general, and a good deal of socializing and storytellings on plays past or current. 

It’s a great place to hear a ghost story, to listen to a comedy, to hear a tragedy, and to meet the authors and actors that bring these works to the stage. 

Most of the members have a good deal of street cred as well with several published authors and produced playwrights in the group as well as actors, poets, and a few preforming musicians. 

Membership is large (over 250 according to the mailing list although usual only between twenty or thirty are physically present at any one time) and I can’t name everyone here but some of the regulars include playwrights Ludy Wilkie, Judy Carson Sloan, Jane Jones, and Tom Bennett, published authors D. Elaine “Dante” Calderin and Ned Condini, polished actor Gordon Pendarvis, and actor/technician/writer couple, Clyde and Debbie Keller. 

Other notable members include author Frank Talley, television and movie writer Ken Fitch, singer Holly Hamrick, and producer/technician Sam Stone. 

The last meeting included playwright and former Shelby Mayor, Les Roark and a reading from his play “Go West Old Man” a comedy about a classic con job gone wrong when east coast meets cowboy and which includes a side order of romance. 

Also present was female novelist, Brendan Legrand who is working on the novel, Sunday’s Child. 

Produced playwright, Tom Bennett presented one act from one of his slightly perverse and highly enjoyable plays, A Peculiar Party, about a bachelor party for the geriatric set complete with 70+ year old cake dancers and malodorous bridegrooms. There was quite a bit of scattered laughter and applause. 

Published horror and cyberpunk author, and youngest member, D. Elaine Calderin offered up the first chapter of her latest novel “It’s in the Blood” and actor, technician and baritone Clyde Keller did a remarkable cold reading of it for the group. Several people described it as “descriptive”. The author said more critique would have been welcome but acknowledges as the self-proclaimed dark side of the group she may have offended some of the writer/actor audience with the material. She adds she needs a shirt that reads “ I am not my characters”. 

And audience tested and approved playwright Judy Carson Sloan gave the LPs a funny scene set in an unlikely place as mother and daughter discuss life and death and moth holes in heavenly vestments. This play was well received and critics noted that it “flowed well” and “really seemed both natural and funny.” Mrs. Sloan also requested further input. 

Ludy Wilkie had a treat for his fellow members in the form of a theatrical adaptation of O’Henry’s classic Ransom of Red Chief. This was a fun little skit that has actually been produced once already and which was first introduced by the characters actually being led onstage by Rutherford County NC Sheriff Damon Huskey. 

Also present at this meeting were R.S. Haulk; Gordon Pendarvis; Brian Legrand; Deborah Keller.and newcomers Bob Scoggins; Janet Sims; Gary Kulas; and Dot Roark, all of whom either helped with the readings or offered news of productions and members not currently present.

This was also the meeting that included the tour of the Roger’s Theater – see the last blog for more on that one.

All in all an entertaining evening and a worthwhile day trip for the aspiring writer or culture lover. So if you are in Western North Carolina and would be interested in learning more or wish to get on the mailing list, please contact Mr. Ludy Wilkie at ludy@shelby.net

FEATURE: Shelby, NC, the Roger’s Theater, and why it’s worth the traffic hassles.

Today was spent in Shelby, North Carolina, a small to medium city located in WNC. What can I say about Shelby?

Well if you have an appointment there leave two hours early. The road system there is among the strangest in the ‘verse. Roads will oftimes run literally parallel with a four lane running next to a two line so that down the same path so that those in the four lane northbound pass literally inches from those on the southbound of the two lane. Imminent collision seems inevitable until you realize what’s going on. 

Road signs are not popular in Shelby, and neither are street numbers or formal place names. In fact, during my quest today the only place everyone could agree on as being in a geographically set location was the only one I knew how to get to…the hospital. 

The main strip – a four lane drag is 74/74 business/74 bypass/108 S all at the same time. Locals call it the drag, the strip, th main road, and the big road. After that forget it. I asked ten people for directions today to a street in downtown Shelby and received three blank stares (Uh…Washington St?) one set of very complex directions full of rights, lefts, churches, and water towers, and six responses to the effect of “ Well, you could go [directions] but maybe you best go [different directions]. What do you think, Shirl?” at which point the process repeats.

I finally bought a map in the Walgreen’s across from the hospital where a handsome and intelligent black gentleman gave me pinpoint precise directions. He was not from Shelby. He asked me not to tell where he was from. Thanks again, guy. 

But what else can I say about the region? Because once you get there it’s delightful.

It has one of the best hospitals in the state – I spent a lot of time there so I know first hand. Excellent mental health care network. Good employment rate. Lot of factories and mills…and some truly glorious architecture. I saw house ranging from New England Salt box to gingerbreaded Victorian as well as some nice Georgian and Edwardian pieces. Eve a few unusual twists on early Pyramidal and Mediterranean. 

But surprisingly, the coolest thing to me is that there is a thriving Arts and Music Scene and that there is also a hugely successful historic preservation group. As a writer and as an architecture buff, I found many things worth my while in Shelby. Houses, churches, and even private residences but for now I will focus on just one of them, tho, with more later for my fellow architectural tour buffs. 

At the confluence of high art and high historical ideals, I actually met one of the interesting people who feels that culture is an invaluable gift to children, students and to the people of his community instead of an onerous task best left to mouldering textbooks.

This individual in the person of a handsome younger man in suit coat and highly polished leather buckle boots was a Mr. Gary Kulas, a very interesting and possibly slightly eccentric (in a good way) man who dreams are large enough for outsiders to come and visit. 

Mr. Kulas’s latest project is the restoration of the intriguing Roger’s Theater in downtown Shelby.

This is a brave move and definitely an intriguing one in this day when the arts are near decease. 

The Rogers Theater, currently being restored to it’s former 1936 art deco grandeur, is located at 213 East Marion Street across from a goodly sized church. Mr. Kulas and crew are usually to be found there and are willing to offer tours and explanations to the curious and the socially conscious alike. 

I did a brief tour today in the company of the Lost Playwrights Society of WNC – all of which are just drooling to see one of their plays preformed in this soon to be available venue. 

The space is a large and interesting one and will in futurity harbor a luxurious and unique three hundred plus seating performance art center and banquet room of an elegance rarely seen in the more modern age. 

The main downstairs room is slated to see performances of live theater, dinner theater, cabaret, comedy, live music and other samplings of the local and international Arts community whereas the upstairs area is to become a full service one hundred and ten seat fine dining venue in what was once the playhouse’s balcony.

I can see that these are indeed not impossible goals. The building is spacious, live and airy and still quite full of the original late thirties energies that made it pop. It is a comfortably shaped hall with high ceilings and nice proportions and once fully modernized (soon to be handicap-equipped) it will be a luxurious one in an Ayn Rand-ish Art Deco Style. 

I will be posting some pictures of the current stage in restorations at my Facebook link and you can read all about the process and the dream of Mr. Kulas at their website www.rogerstheatershelby.com.

You will also find ways that you can help out on their page, and lend your name to the increasingly important Shelby arts scene and to the community at large.