The evening was crisp. Chairs and blankets were spread out as feasts appeared from baskets. On one hill, Juggling Jeff escaped from a straightjacket. On another, young players trod literal boards previewing what was to come. And in the second act was a tribute to a heroine and the performing arts in St. Louis in the summer: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety.”
Ah, Cleopatra! Ah, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis!
It should be impossible for anyone to have experienced “Antony and Cleopatra” on its opening Friday and “The Barber of Seville” at its on Saturday and not rejoice in the quality and variety of the performing arts here.
Circus Flora gets underway next weekend. Festivals and summer concert series have begun. The Muny will kick off June 15 with “My Fair Lady.” When will it end? Perhaps with the high energy of the Avett Brothers at Loufest or the tradition of Hermann Heritage Festival.
The point is that, from free to fabulous, the arts in St. Louis are a feast to be enjoyed.
Less or more?
The two kickoff events this weekend took material with some similarity and treated them differently.
At its heart, “Antony and Cleopatra” is a love story: powerful Mark Antony, one of the triumvirate governing the Roman empire, comes under the thrall of Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. But it is also a sprawling story across time and continents with wars and political intrigue.
The Shakespeare Festival went minimal. Columns rise from a tilted stage. Simple elements move the action from Egypt to Rome and back. Fuss and bother do not exist; enough of that is in the story, conveyed by strong performances throughout. Even the sea battle is evoked with elegance.
Rossini's “The Barber of Seville,” on the other hand, may be opera’s most loved farce. And Opera Theatre of St. Louis took a story filled with action and disguises and added on. It’s plopped into the Seville April Fair with an acknowledged nod to Pedro Almodovar. Look, there’s a stilt walker. Over there, merry nuns. And roosters. Wait, have you seen a bass-baritone produce a lustrous aria as an Elvis impersonator?
If, at times, the visual cacophony becomes overwhelming, an easy remedy can be found. Close your eyes. Let the glorious music waft over you. The exuberance of the music will uplift you. And then open your eyes and give in to the joy.
Why do two so very different productions both work? Each draws the viewer in so that the rest of the world gives way. Whether the stage is almost bare or filled with color, the actors and the singers (and make no mistake, these singers are very good actors) provide the power that blacks out the rest. Surely, the lights didn’t quit flashing atop the medical complex. People had to have coughed during a three-hour production. But while these performances were taking place, other stimuli faded.
Antony and Cleopatra
When: 8 p.m. every night but Tuesdays through June 14
Green show begins at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Shakespeare Glen, between the St. Louis Art Museum and the Zoo
Note: Ticketed, reserved seating is available $10-$20.
Weather: In the event of inclement weather, performances may be delayed up to one hour, and can be cancelled if conditions persist. A weather hotline is updated hourly between 5 and 8 p.m. on performance nights: 314.531.9800 x7.
The Barber of Seville
When: 8 p.m. May 27, 29, June 4, 10, 27; 7 p.m. June 14, 1 p.m. June 6 & 17
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Rd. on the campus of Webster University
Cost: tickets start at $50
Rest of the festival season:
LA RONDINE (Puccini ) 8 p.m. May 30, June 3, 12 & 18; 7 p.m. June 28; 1 p.m. June 20 & 24
RICHARD THE LIONHEART (Handel) 8 p.m. June 11, 20, 24 & 26; 7 p.m. June 7, 1 p.m. June 13
EMMELINE (Picker) 8 p.m. June 13, 17, 19 & 25, 7 p.m. June 21; 1 p.m. June 27