Friday, 18 November 2011 14:56

New Orleans Entertainment: Opera, Red, Rumors, Nutcracker and South Pacific

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bloody-maryBy Dean M. Shapiro

Headlining this week’s cultural calendar is the second production of the New Orleans Opera Association’s 2011-2012 Season and the first this season in its traditional home at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (“A Masked Ball”) opens Friday night, November 18 for an 8:00 performance and reprises on Sunday for a 2:30 p.m. matinee.

Also on the boards for this week are the final performances of Red at Southern Repertory Theatre, a semi-biographical staged story of artist Mark Rothko, and the opening of Rumors, a Neil Simon comedy, at Rivertown Repertory Theatre in Kenner.

Here’s the 101 on the upcoming productions:

New Orleans Opera Association

Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball)
November 18 and 20


On March 16, 1792, King Gustav III of Sweden was shot in the back during a masked ball in the Royal Swedish Opera House in Stockholm that he founded. He died of his wounds thirteen days later. The assassin and his two co-conspirators were wearing masks and so was the king, but he was recognized by the royal medallion he was wearing at the time.

Although he ruled as an absolute monarch, Gustav was a generous patron of the arts and is generally considered to be one of the “enlightened despots” of 18th century Europe. The story of his assassination at a masked ball, simply titled Gustav III, became the subject of an 1833 opera written by French lyricist Eugene Scribe and set to music by Daniel Auber. In 1859 the story was brought to the attention of Giuseppe Verdi who already had a string of successful operas to his credit. Verdi and his librettist, Antonio Somma, kept the story’s basic premise but moved the venue to Italy. They also re-titled it Un Ballo in Maschera, Italian for “A Masked Ball.”

Because of censorship concerns in Italy, where a unification movement was underway, Verdi and Somma were compelled to take the regicidal political elements out of the story. Instead they transformed it into a love triangle, which was typical for many 19th and early 20th century operas, especially those in the Italian repertoire. A jealous husband misinterprets the relationship his wife has with their king. This is the version of the story that has come down to us today, bearing little resemblance to the actual events that took place in Stockholm in 1792.

The opera that local audiences will be seeing this Friday night and Sunday afternoon will undergo yet another interpretation of the basic story with the events taking place at a masked Mardi Gras ball in New Orleans. How that will resonate with opera traditionalists and purists who are sticklers for original scores remains to be seen. Un Ballo in Maschera has been performed here many times in the past but always in its original Verdian format.

What audiences can be certain of, however, are the typical Verdian earmarks, namely rousing choruses, powerful arias, thrilling ensembles and great musical drama. The production stars two Louisiana natives, Paul Groves (tenor) from Lake Charles in the lead role of Riccardo, and Angela Mannino (soprano) of New Orleans in the role of Oscar, the king’s page. Both singers have performed for New Orleans Opera in the past and both have appeared onstage at The Met, the New York Metropolitan Opera House, widely considered the most prestigious opera venue in the United States, if not the world.

The production will be sung in Italian with English supertitles (translations) projected above the stage. The performance takes place in the Mahalia Jackson Theater and tickets are available. For tickets and information call New Orleans Opera at 504-529-3000 or go online to

Southern Repertory Theatre

Through November 20


Red is a slice of life in the life of renowned abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko. The Broadway production of this show won the 2010 Tony Award and raves from the New York media.

Rothko, having just landed the biggest commission in the history of modern art – a series of murals for New York's famed Four Seasons Restaurant – now faces the biggest challenge of his career, making good on the commitment for which he had been so highly paid. In the two fascinating years that follow, Rothko works feverishly with his young assistant, Ken, in his studio in the Bowery.

However, when Ken gains the confidence to challenge him, Rothko faces the agonizing possibility that his crowning achievement could also become his undoing. Raw and provocative, Red is a searing portrait of an artist's ambition and vulnerability as he tries to create a definitive work for an extraordinary setting.

Show times and ticket prices vary. Go to for more information.

Rivertown Repertory Theatre

November 18-December 4


Four couples arrive at the townhouse of a deputy New York City mayor and his wife to attend a party celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary. However, the four couples soon discover that there are no servants, the hostess is missing and the deputy mayor has shot himself in the head (it's only a flesh wound).

Comic complications arise when, given everyone's upper class status, they decide they need to do everything possible to conceal the evening's events from the local police and the media. This Neil Simon comedy premiered on Broadway in November 1988 and featured a cast that was a virtual who’s who of film and theatre. Christine Baranski, one of the original stars, won the Tony Award for “Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play.”

Show times vary. Check the Rivertown Rep website for more details,


New Orleans Ballet Theatre

The Nutcracker

November 26-27


Getting a jump on the 2011 holiday season, the New Orleans Ballet Theatre is presenting the first of what will be several productions of The Nutcracker by various dance companies throughout the New Orleans area over the next month. NOBT, under the guidance of Artistic Director Gregory Schramel, will be staging three performances of Tchaikovsky’s holiday ballet classic at Loyola University’s Roussel Performance Hall on Saturday and Sunday November 26 and 27.

Come join Clara as she visits this marzipan land with its magical and exotic inhabitants including Spanish, Chinese, Arabian, Mother Ginger and the beautiful Flowers along with the Sugar Plum Fairy. Perhaps the best-known and most loved ballet of all time, The Nutcracker appeals to all ages and ethnic groups. The performance will include over 60 young local dancers in leading as well as supporting roles. NOBT dancers have performed as principal dancers with New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Miami City Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and other major companies.

Performances are at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and at 7 p.m. Saturday. For tickets to The Nutcracker and other information about NOBT, call 504-528-3800 or the box office at 504-210-0222 or visit them online at


Broadway Across America

South Pacific
November 29-December 4


"Simply Wonderful! Beguiling Theatrical Magic!" hails the New York Post for Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific. This breathtaking new production of the classic 1949 Broadway musical is based on the 2008 Tony Award-winning Lincoln Center Theater production, directed by Bartlett Sher. It is the third production of the 2011-2012 Broadway Across America season at the Mahalia Jackson Theater.

Set on a tropical island during World War II, the musical tells the sweeping romantic story of two couples and how their happiness is threatened by the realities of war and by their own prejudices. The beloved score's songs include "Some Enchanted Evening," "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair," "This Nearly Was Mine," "There is Nothin' Like a Dame," "Younger Than Springtime," "Bali Ha'i," and "A Wonderful Guy."

Based on James Michener's Pulitzer Prize-winning book Tales of the South Pacific, the musical adaptation has music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a book by Hammerstein and Joshua Logan.

Show times are at 8 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. on Sunday and matinees at 2:00 on Saturday and Sunday. For more information on the production, please visit or become a fan on Facebook (South Pacific on Tour). For tickets go to or visit the theater box office in Louis Armstrong Park.

(Photo above Bloody Mary from South Pacific)

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