ARTS 1: It was good to see the orchestra. Usually, the Austin Opera orchestra is hidden in the pit. For the group’s first Concert Gala in a long time, they sat smiling on the stage of the Long Center. And, oh, did they sound sumptuous under the leadership of maestro Richard Buckley, playing two composers too rarely heard in Austin − Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss. Before the show, I thought the company’s leadership was tossing Wagner-Strauss lovers some concert crumbs. Then it occurred to me that these selections from “Rienzi,” “Tristan und Isolde,” “Der Rosenkavelier,” “Salome” and “Der Meistersinger” might be previews of things to come. Not these pieces specifically, but a signal that Austin Opera might be heading in a fresh direction. Could Britten and Janacek be far behind? In a bit of opera as opera, towering Seattle dramatic soprano Marcy Stonikas replaced another singer at the last minute and blew us away after only one rehearsal. The concert was followed by a long reception, then a dinner on the stage. A new and cherished tradition?
HISTORY: OK, now I get it. For years, I’ve been what you might call a MUNY skeptic. Why save an old golf course in the middle of a dynamic urban landscape? Yet one reason many are reluctant to take the city of Austin’s side against the University of Texas System, which owns the land for the Lions Municipal Golf Course and periodically considers developing it and the rest of the Brackenridge Tract, is, like me, they’d never seen it. Because we don’t golf. Well Inherit Austin, the young leaders club within Preservation Austin, staged another of its spectacular Somewhere in Time dinners there at dusk. We went on walking tours of historic structures of the stunningly gorgeous course, founded in 1924, including the 1930s caretakers cottage which is now on my list of Austin things to profile. More familiar to our readers is the story municipal course’s integration in 1950, making it the first of its kind in the Jim Crow South. Spent time, too, Consul General of Ireland Adrian Ferrell and parks patron saint Mary Arnold. Enlightening all around. As long as they keep adding activities like this for non-golfers, save MUNY!
ARTS 2: Stephen Sondheim is our Shakespeare. Of his many Broadway musicals, 12 are uncontested masterpieces. Which is why it makes sense for Austin Shakespeare to stage selections such as “Sunday in the Park with George” in concert versions, which skimp on costumes and sets, but not on nimble music or casting, both aspects front and center at the Long Center. I was amazed to see a nearly full house of young and old alike at a weekend matinee performance of this edgy show about painter Georges Seurat. I was not surprised when they cheered and cheered such numbers as “Everybody Loves Louis,” “Finishing the Hat,” “Putting It Together” and, of course, the choral thunderbolt, “Sunday.” Sondheim famously prefers full orchestras, casts, sets and costumes, but I’m beginning to think all his works work just as well in concert.