AU opera lively with singing, costuming

Fri, 2013-02-15 07:00 -- univcomm
February 15, 2013

Some operas set out to be silly.

“L’Etoile,” which is translated as “The Lucky Star,” accomplishes that goal while adding a visually alluring costuming at Anderson University. [Photo: Actresses Chelsea Leis, left, and Carron Van Gronigen try to awaken a peddler, played by Kelsi Johnson, with a tickle in the Anderson University production of the opera “L’Etoile.” Performances are at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Byrum Hall.]

Written in 1877 by Emmanuel Chabrier, the opera bouffe takes light jabs at French royalty and class. But under guidance of guest director Jennifer Blackmer, associate professor of theatre at Ball State University, audiences may be bowled over.

A fan of Belgian artist Rene Magritte (1898-1967), Blackmer has the AU performers wear a black bowler and red necktie a la Magritte’s surreal paintings of faceless men in black bowlers. The stunningly simple costumes (also thanks to Natalie Maenhout and Cindra Venturella) emphasize the sometimes nonchalant sometimes passionate nature of the characters.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Byrum Hall.

In one of the simplest operetta plots, King Ouf (a multi-talented Mitchell Bowen) has a double mission: have a subject killed as a birthday present to himself, and find a wife. Passing through town, separately, are Princess Laoula (a rich-voiced Carron Van Groningen) and wandering peddler Lazuli (Kelsi Johnson, ably handling the role of a male).

Lazuli’s solo dreams, wishing on a lucky star, form the theme.

There are other characters, of course. Everybody starts out in disguises but the real trick is making the parts flow so well and letting the students discover their own pacing.

Of the highlights, Bowen and student Andrew Rohrabaugh, as astrologer Sirocco, are wicked funny as they imbibe a bit much.

And Johnson, Van Groningen (besides their own excellent pairing) and Chelsea Leis (with her magnificent smiles of glee) seem to enjoy tickling a bit much. But if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have such a good time watching them.

The music is often challenging but director Fritz Robertson’s crew keeps a tantalizing cadence throughout (watch for a hand in acting by Robertson).

In its two hours, the AU production of “L’Etoile” is a charming, fast-paced, English-language operetta that stays lively through quality performances and innovative costuming.

What: “L’Etoile” (“The Lucky Star”) comic opera, sung in English with English surtitles above stage, with Jennifer Blackmer, guest director, and Fritz Robertson, music director.
When: 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Byrum Hall, Anderson University
Admission: Tickets available are box office; $15 for adults, $12 for senior and military, and $10 for students. Call the box office at (765) 641-4351.

—Scott L. Miley is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.

Anderson University is a private Christian university of about 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.