We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, January 27, 2020


Justine Aronson as Gutrune in On Site Opera's Das Barbecü (photo by B A von Sise)

We have seen more than our fair share of Ring Cycles and we have spent quite a bit of time in The Lone Star State; both of these experiences contributed to our enjoyment of On Site Opera's current expression of their mission to present opera in venues relevant to the material.  Only this time it wasn't an opera but a wildly inventive musical called Das Barbecü, starring trained opera singers.

Do you need to have seen Wagner's Ring Cycle to appreciate this original production?  Not really, although a basic familiarity with the story might add to your enjoyment of the parody.  Do you need to have been to Texas to appreciate the Texas tropes? Not really, since you have probably been exposed to Texas stereotypes by film or television. Who wouldn't appreciate the emphasis on barbecue and guacamole, our favorite song being "Makin' Guacamole". And of course, there was a chart in front of the musicians to explain the plot for you.

What we are trying to say is "Go see it!". Your intrepid reviewer was there for opening night and urges you to get tickets to one of the several remaining performances, if there are indeed any left. You will have a swell time and you will enjoy a fine family-style dinner of Texas brisket, barbecued chicken, mashed sweet potatoes, and mac 'n cheese (which Texans consider a vegetable)--all included in the ticket price.

It would be unfair to say that the show condensed 15 hours of Wagner's epic into 2 plus hours; the emphasis is mainly on Götterdammerung and much of the plot from the preceding three operas is revealed in flashbacks. Of course, that is also a feature of Wagner's epic narrative with characters often bringing other characters up to date on what had previously happened.

The show was commissioned in 1991 by General Director of the Seattle Opera Speight Jenkins who offered it as a light-hearted accompaniment to the Seattle Ring Cycle for subscribers to enjoy. The book and lyrics by Jim Luigs are clever and the music by Scott Warrender offers a variety of music from faux Country Western to sincere ballads--all of it tuneful.

We are reluctant to give away too much of the plot or any of the hilarious one-liners. Let us just say that Valhalla is now a ranch with Fricka (Zuri Washington) keeping house and resenting the philandering of her husband Wotan (Robert Wesley Mason). Alberich (David Hughey) is still vying with Wotan for the "Ring of Gold" and the pair reach a surprise reconciliation. Siegfried (also Mr. Hughey) is an earnest but not-too-smart cowpoke who is given a spiked drink at a honky-tonk bar, causing him to forget his bride Brünnhilde (a spunky Jessica Fishenfeld) who gets carried off by the not-too-smart Gunther (Mr. Mason) who arranges for Siegfried to wed his sister Gutrune (Justine Aronson).

One of the best numbers in the score has the two abandoned brides devouring the wedding dinner all by themselves and making friends in the process. 

If all this sounds confusing, rest assured that rapid costume changes and acting skill serve to identify each character. Seeing a cast of five accomplish all this complex storytelling is impressive in and of itself. We haven't even mentioned the hilarious scene with the three Norns and the even funnier scene in which the adorable Ms. Aronson in the role of Freia gets taken by the two giant carpenters and... oh, we will stop here. You will want to see that for yourself!

Direction by Eric Einhorn and Katherine M. Carter kept up a frenetic pace. Whitney Locher's costumes were just right with Brünnhilde's wedding dress taking the cake and evoking one of the bitchiest one-liners in the show.  No, we will not divulge it here!

Music Director Emily Senturia played keyboard with a second keyboard played by Riko Higuma. Liz Faure was swell on guitar and Victoria Paterson fiddled away in true Country and Western style. Clara Warnaar was in charge of the drums. We particularly enjoyed the Texas two-step which they really do dance in Texas!

Looking around at the audience, we have never seen so many grinning faces. We could not tell whether they were simply enjoying the show or were also enjoying witnessing Wagner's complex plot being transmogrified and parodied.

If we were to find one fault with this entertaining evening, it would have to do with the staging and sound. Although it was kind of fun to have the cast moving around the room and between the long picnic tables, it also required quite a bit of rubber-necking. 

Complicating this was the amplification. Fortunately, it was certainly not ear-splitting but it was impossible to tell where the voices were coming from, making the rubbernecking even worse.

We know nothing about sound design so we are unable to say how that problem could be surmounted. Nonetheless, we had a great time and left happy.  And so will you!

© meche kroop

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