Come as you are, but remember to add at least a dash of red.
Red shoes, perhaps a red hat or tie. Or a complete red outfit if you like, because red is the appropriate color to celebrate Charles Gounod’s version of Dr. Faust, who makes a deal with the devil, exchanging his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures.
Red is, after all, a color that could be associated with devilish things. It connects, too, to divas and deities with its association to roses and blood.
Divas do love roses, don’t they? And deities have a thing for blood. The devil often is imagined with red skin, which is why Opera Louisiane is asking everyone to wear something red to its A Fete with Faust celebration.
The party will precede the company’s production of Gounod’s Faust on Sept. 8 in the Louisiana Old State Capitol. The production will open Opera Louisiane’s 2011-12 “Devils, Divas and Deities” season, which accounts for the previous mention of red’s association with - what else? - divas and deities.
“We decided to give this season a title to pull it all together,” Leanne Clement said.
Clement is Opera Louisiane’s newly appointed executive director. Kathryn Drake is the company’s associate director.
Though these are new titles, Clement and Drake aren’t new to Opera Louisiane. They’ve been working with the company since former executive director Robert Grayson founded it in 2007.
“Bob decided to step down as executive director to concentrate on the voice program at LSU,” Clement said.
“He felt he needed to devote his time to finding ways to get back some of the scholarships that were lost in the budget cuts.”
That doesn’t mean Grayson is going to be absent from the company’s activities.
“He’s going to remain closely with the group,” Clement said.
Grayson’s departure left some challenges. As the company’s assistant director and stage manager, Clement worked closely with Grayson in planning its performance seasons. As its executive director, she was in charge of pulling the season together.
She didn’t do this alone. Drake joined her, as well as Opera Louisiane’s new musical director, Michael Borowitz, and volunteer Kay Radlauer. They gather in the company’s office at First Baptist Church on this particular morning, when Faust takes the spotlight in their conversation.
Gounod originally wrote the opera in five acts. Pretty long, right?
“We’re going to present the opera in 90 minutes,” Borowitz said. “We’ll offer all of the opera’s best music and moments.”
This will make it more accessible to a varied audience.
“That’s our mission - to make opera accessible to everyone,” Clement said.
“There might be people out there who have never attended an opera, and we want them to see that opera isn’t something intimidating. It’s fun, and people respond to the human voice.”
This is especially true when a story is presented by way of the human voice in song.
“And the Old State Capitol is the perfect location for this,” Clement said.
“It’s like a castle. People can go to this performance and feel like they’ve been somewhere.”
Though Faust’s fate ultimately isn’t a happy one, audience members will feel as if they’ve left a party when leaving the castle, because the program will begin with just that - a party. Opera Louisiane will host a reception called A Fete with Faust preceding the performance. Party tickets cost extra, and there will be lots to eat and drink. It’s here where the company asks patrons to wear something red.
“People are always asking, 'What do I wear to an opera?’” Drake said.
“They want to know if they should dress up or if they can wear jeans. I always tell them either way is fine.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Clement said. “But we’re just asking everyone to add something red to whatever they’re wearing that night. It’s part of the party.”
Emphasis on formal concert attire has proven to be a deterrent to some potential opera audiences.
In Mozart’s time, opera was the place for everyone to meet, no matter the social class.
It could be compared to LSU football. True, the concert hall didn’t hold as many people as Tiger Stadium, but everyone was a fan. Everyone showed up, some dressed in their finest, some dressed in everyday clothing.
“Our fete celebrates the well-known French passion for fashion and food. Crabmeat Mornay, savory tarts, bite-sized bouchee, specialty drinks and more will be prepared by Heirloom Cuisine,” Clement said. “In addition, we encourage guests to participate in our Fete’s Passion for Fashion Contest. Wear your most unique and passionate red accessory.”
Borowitz already had at least one good experience since being named the company’s musical director. He moved to Baton Rouge in 2010 as artistic director for the LSU Opera. He also is artistic director for the Nevada Opera and the Ohio Light Opera.
But it was LSU that brought him to Baton Rouge, and he’d never visited the Old State Capitol until scouting it out as a possible performance venue.
“What a great surprise,” he said. “I love that building, and it’s perfect for what we want to do with Faust. We’ll be performing in the old House chamber, and it has a raised stage. It’s great.”
“It also looks very churchy with the stained glass,” Drake added.
“So, Faust will fit very well within the setting.”
Cast members are New York tenor Kirk Dougherty as Faust, Chicago bass Dan Richardson as the devil Mephistopheles, Drake as Marguerite and Mobile, Ala., baritone Kenneth Weber as Valentin.
“In the past, you have seen LSU Opera students in some of Opera Louisiane’s main roles,” Clement said. “One of our goals is to cast professional opera singers in these roles, which is what we’ve done this year. You’ll still see LSU students in some of the roles, but they’ll be smaller. With professional singers, Opera Louisiane will be known more as Baton Rouge’s professional opera company.”
So, bring out your best version of red and celebrate the new opera year with Opera Louisiane and watch the story of Faust unfold in a Baton Rouge castle.
2011-12 season schedule
6 p.m. Sept. 8: A Fete with Faust, followed by a performance of the opera Faust, Louisiana Old State Capitol, 100 North Blvd.
2 p.m. Nov. 12: The opera’s Young People’s Opera Program production of The Magic Flute, Christian Life Academy, 2037 Quail Drive.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 15: Amahl and the Night Visitors and Holiday Concert, Louisiana Old State Capitol, 100 North Blvd.
7:30 p.m. Feb. 14, 2012: Chanson d’Amour, Louisiana Old State Capitol, 100 North Blvd.
7:30 p.m. April 12, 2012: Chorus!, First Baptist Church, 529 Convention St.
Season subscriptions are $125. For season tickets or more information, call (225) 377-2029 or visit http://www.operalouisiane.com.