July 31, 2006

The Opera

Friday night we saw The Merry Widow, as performed by the Ash Lawn Opera Company. We had an excellent time. For those who don't know, our daughter Rachael is working as an Assistant Costumer for the summer season at Ash Lawn.

From the Albemarle County* website, here is a brief synopsis of the story:

In this delightful comic operetta, Anna, the Pontevedrian widow, finds herself in France surrounded by suitors interested in her impressive estate. Her native country, facing bankruptcy, is concerned that she will choose to marry a foreigner, and her money will be lost to the little country. Join us to find out who Anna marries.

The performance was excellent. One of the female leads had a beautiful voice, but not the projection needed for an outdoor venue, especially since no microphones are used. Other than that, the comedy was funny and the singing was wonderful.

As for the costumes, what Rachael (and the other assistant) did for the first act was mostly "dressing up" old prom dresses to turn them into ball gowns. They also made petticoats for the ladies and did alterations for the guy's tuxedos. Their most impressive work for the first act was the lead's ball gown, which they made from scratch. It was elegant and intricate and beautiful.

The second act was where that had all the fun. They created can-can dresses for all the ladies, and Rachael made frilly garters and, as she put it, "added lace to a bunch of granny underwear"

From the information page at the county website:

The Ash Lawn Opera Festival is recognized by Money Magazine as one of the top-20 international warm weather summer opera companies, boasting "first rank talent, full summer programs and lots of nearby culture". Established in 1978, the Festival, a member of Opera America Inc., presents opera and musical theater sung in English and performed in the beautiful Boxwood Gardens of Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe.

This area of Virginia is beautiful and full of history. Besides many vinyards and wineries, Monroe's Ash Lawn, Madison's Montpelier, and Jefferson's Montecello are all in the immediate vicinity. These three founders of the United States were neighbors and good friends.

Turning into Ash Lawn, you find yourself travelling a mile long drive underneath the overarching canopies of magnificent oak trees lining the road (I think they were oak). There are tours given of the grounds, and several of the original buildings have been restored. I must mention the gift shop, in that it's the most reasonably priced shop of its kind that I've ever encountered.

The theater grounds open early, and many folks show up early with picnic baskets. The stage is set in a natural amphitheater and is surrounded with tall hedges. I was surprised to learn that the area seats 300 or so, and since there are only eight rows, nobody is far from the stage. The seats themselves are comfortable, cushioned chairs. There is a smaller, emergency "rain stage" and covered pavilion where the show moves to if the weather doesn't cooperate.

Like I said, it was a very enjoyable evening.

*According to Rachael, Albemarle County was for a brief time the largest county in the United States. The original charter for Albemarle lay the western edge of the county at the "island of California". Presumably, someone who could read a map later amended the charter.

Posted by: Ted at 05:29 AM | category: Square Pegs
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