The Herald Bulletin

February 14, 2013

AU opera lively with singing, costuming

Thank lucky stars for ‘L’Etoile’

By Scott L. Miley
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Some operas set out to be silly.

“L’Etoile,” which is translated as “The Lucky Star,” accomplishes that goal while adding a visually alluring costuming at Anderson University.

Written in 1877 by Emmanuel Chabrier, the opera bouffe takes light jabs at French royalty and class. But under guidance of guest director Jennifer Blackmer, associate professor of theatre at Ball State University, audiences may be bowled over.

A fan of Belgian artist Rene Magritte (1898-1967), Blackmer has the AU performers wear a black bowler and red necktie a la Magritte’s surreal paintings of faceless men in black bowlers. The stunningly simple costumes (also thanks to Natalie Maenhout and Cindra Venturella) emphasize the sometimes nonchalant sometimes passionate nature of the characters.

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Byrum Hall.

In one of the simplest  operetta plots, King Ouf (a multi-talented Mitchell Bowen) has a double mission: have a subject killed as a birthday present to himself, and find a wife. Passing through town, separately, are Princess Laoula (a rich-voiced Carron Van Groningen) and wandering peddler Lazuli (Kelsi Johnson, ably handling the role of a male).

Lazuli’s solo dreams, wishing on a lucky star, form the theme.

There are other characters, of course. Everybody starts out in disguises but the real trick is making the parts flow so well and letting the students discover their own pacing.

Of the highlights, Bowen  and student Andrew Rohrabaugh, as astrologer Sirocco, are wicked funny as they imbibe a bit much.

And Johnson, Van Groningen (besides their own excellent pairing) and Chelsea Leis (with her magnificent smiles of glee) seem to enjoy tickling a bit much. But if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have such a good time watching them.

The music is often challenging but director Fritz Robertson’s crew keeps a tantalizing cadence throughout (watch for a hand in acting by Robertson).

In its two hours, the AU production of “L’Etoile” is a charming, fast-paced, English-language operetta that stays lively through quality performances and innovative costuming.