How Austin Opera got its groove back


Austin Opera — in the midst of producing Straus’ tour-de-force “Ariadne auf Naxos” — unveiled its most inspired and innovative season in a long, long time on Jan. 25 at the Long Center.

Take the Opera ATX project, which reaches out to new audiences with fresh material in unexpected venues. The first effort, planned for next year, will be “Soldier Songs” by David T. Little. This multimedia experience mixes video, rock, opera and theater to tell the stories of veterans of five wars. It is produced by Beth Morrison Projects, a leader in contemporary opera, and it will appear at the Paramount Theatre.

Not content with this edgy endeavor, General Manager and CEO Annie Burridge also announced that the Austin company would produce the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” based on the 2005 film “Joyeux Noël,” which reimagines the famous Christmas Eve truce during World War I. Hometown hero Kevin Puts wrote the music, Mark Campbell the libretto; they’re the same team that created “The Manchurian Candidate,” which won multiple prizes from the Austin Critics Table last season.

In addition to these two new pieces, Austin Opera has committed ever more resources to the more traditional repertoire. First up, in November this year, is Giuseppe Verdi‘s tumultuous Shakespearean tragedy, “Otello,” which hasn’t been seen in Austin in decades. The sets come from Cincinnati Opera and the costumes from Portland Opera, while the lead roles will be taken by Issachah Savage, Marina Costa-Jackson and Michael Chliodi.

Late in the season, we’ll be treated to Giacomo Puccini‘s “La Boheme” in a lavish production from San Francisco Opera by way of Michigan Opera Theatre, starring Kang Wang, Elizabeth Caballero, Noel Bouley and Susannah Biller.

Another way that Austin Opera has regained momentum is by staging magnificent, rarely produced material such as “Ariadne auf Naxos.” Playing for one more day Sunday at the Long Center, it borrows from a Glimmerglass Festival version that puts the opera-within-an-opera on a Texas ranch.

Suddenly, the whole chaotic first act, set backstage while two performance companies, one operatic, the other comic, square off, all makes perfect sense, especially with Austin Chronicle critic Robert Faires in the role of the Texan event manager.

The second act blends the two styles, but clearly Richard Strauss was not going to spoof serious post-Wagnerian opera for too long. “Ariadne” ends in waves of celestial music dedicated to the power of love. Singers Alexandria LoBianco, Jonathan Burton, Aleks Romano and the slightly under-projected Jeni Houser accentuated conductor Richard Buckley‘s sublime sound.

This is how Austin opera got its groove back.



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