Lysistrata Brings Sexy Back to the Opera House

Memorial day weekend marked the third installment of Fort Worth Opera's four-weekend long opera festival, as well as the company's regional premiere of Mark Adamo's Lysistrata. This year's festival draws from a wide range of old and new, light and dark, serious and comedic in its offerings, and the four operas presented last weekend (previewed here) brought hefty servings of solid acting and touching musicality to the table.

Saturday night's production of Lysistrata was the first professional showing of the work since its world premiere in 2005/2006 by the Houston Grand and New York City Operas. Hopefully it won't be six more years before this thoroughly entertaining and well-written modern English opera is staged again. The piece is loosely based on Aristophanes' 5th-century Greek play in which Spartan and Athenian women, weary of the seemingly endless war between their cities, join forces to withhold sex from their husbands until peace is negotiated. At its core, the opera asks a simple question: "why can't we all just get along?" But as anyone who has ever quarreled with a lover knows, making love/not war is easier said than done. Especially when, as Adamo's Greek gods point out, the genders often seem irreconcilably at odds.

Mark Adamo wrote the libretto (the text of the opera) and composed the music. The libretto is sharp, lyrical, witty and seems to have been conceived with melodies already in mind. One of the strong suits of Lysistrata is the seamless way the words and music intertwine. Throughout the opera, catchy phrases and repeated musical motives are laced with plenty of double entendres, shifting the audience's perception of the script.

Adamo fleshes out Aristophanes' story by focusing on the character's relationships with one another - in particular Lysia, the Athenian woman responsible for the idea of a sex-ban, and her lover, Nico, general of the Athenian army. Sung exquisitely by Ava Pine, Lysia is sometimes tender and vulnerable, sometimes sassy and strong, and always sexy and endearing. Pine's high notes soar without strain and her tone is a beautiful combination of lightness and warmth. Nico, played by Scott Scully, made an impressive counterpart to Pine's Lysia; the two had fantastic chemistry.

Throughout the evening, the women of Athens and Sparta ruled the stage. When they sang as a chorus, I couldn't get enough of them and the way they resonated in the Bass Performance Hall. Ashley Kerr, in the role of Myrrhine, provided some touching tender moments and Alissa Anderson's Lampito was a hit, pulling off a bizarre Elmer Fudd-like accent. Rich, gorgeous costumes enhanced the drama and the set, which was somewhat historically vague, and worked with the humor and mood of the piece. The orchestra seemed choppy at times and there were some over-used percussive effects, but all in all, Lysistrata nailed it musically, thematically, and theatrically.

Lysistrata will be performed once more, this Sunday, June 3 at 2:00pm in Bass Performance Hall. Tickets and more information here.

Looking ahead: In 2013, the Fort Worth Opera festival will be moved up to April/May and will include productions of Puccini's La Boheme, Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment, a company premier of Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, and Glory Denied, by American composer Tom Cipullo.

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