By George Basler
This weekend (Feb. 23-26) is shaping up as a big weekend for the arts at Binghamton University with a student-performed play, a student-performed opera and an appearance by a world-renowned gender-bending dance troupe.
Thrive, or What You Will, a new work by feminist playwright L M Feldman, tells the story of Jeanne Baret, an 18th century gender-nonconforming botanist who became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. It opens Thursday for a one-weekend run.
“It’s an epic adventure, really a hero’s journey story,” said Lisa Rothe, a New York City-based director and acting coach, who directing the BU production. The twist is that instead of featuring the man as “the hero,” it features a woman who disguised herself as man to make the voyage, because women weren’t allowed on government ships at that time, she added.
The 11-person cast is made up of male, female and non-binary students. The BU production in the Watters Theater of the Fine Arts Building marks only the second time the play has been performed. The first time was at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Va., after it was selected as the 2020 winner of the ASC’s Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project. The play was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Prize for LGBTQ Drama.
Thrive, or What You Will is “very theatrical” as it uses sets, lighting and sound to convey Baret’s journey, which took 11 years to complete, Rothe said. Baret is played by five different actors at various points in the play.
On one level, the play is a swashbuckling story with moments of humor, Rothe noted. At the same time, it touches on issues of feminism, misogyny and sexual identity.
“I’ve loved working with the students. They’re very passionate and curious and seem very excited to be telling this story,” Rothe said. While their rehearsal time has been limited, “they’ve all been focused to get it up and make it happen,” she added.
Rothe hopes the play spurs interest in Baret. “It gives her a voice. In fact, it gives her a multiplicity of voices,” the director said.
IF YOU GO: Thrive, or What You Will will be performed Thursday through Sunday (Feb. 23-26) in BU’s Watters Theater. Thursday and Fridays’ performances are at 8 p.m, Saturday’s performances are at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday’s performance is at 2 p.m. Tickets at $10 and $20 are available through the Anderson Center website, www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center (click on upcoming events), or by calling the box office at 607-777-2787.
Political intrigue, lust and malevolence will reign when Binghamton University students perform the opera The Coronation of Poppea this Friday and Sunday in the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall.
First performed in 1643, the opera is the work of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, who is considered a crucial transitional figure between the Renaissance and Baroque periods of music. The story focuses on the Roman emperor Nero’s efforts to depose his wife and have his mistress, Poppea, declared empress.
“Our tag line is that it’s a testament to the destructive power of love,” said David Carl Toulson, an instructor with Binghamton University’s opera workshop who is directing the production.
The student performers are voice and opera students at the university and are a mixture of graduate and undergraduate students, Toulson said. The production is double cast, meaning there will be separate casts for each performances.
Written in the early years of opera, The Coronation of Poppea broke new ground in matching music to stage action. Toulson said he wanted to stage the opera because of “the challenge it brings to the cast of really working to have to tell a story.”
Aside from the concluding ensemble and a few duets, the opera is mainly a series of solos. “The biggest challenge is that early opera is text-driven while newer operas are more melodically driven,” said baritone Matthew Merolla, who is playing one of the leads.
Monteverdi’s opera was largely forgotten until the late 1800s when it was rediscovered. Since the 1960s it has been staged and recorded many times. While it’s not in the top 10 of the most popular operas, it’s not obscure either, Toulson said.
“The idea of doing early music appealed to me. I want students to explore all eras of opera,” he noted.
The musical director for the production is Julius Abrahams, an adjunct lecturer in music at BU. The students will sing the opera in Italian, with English subtitles.
Spoiler alert: Goodness does not triumph in this opera.
IF YOU GO: Performances of The Coronation of Poppea will be 7:30 p.m. Friday(Feb. 24) and 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 26) in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall. Tickets at $10 ($5 for seniors, alumni, faculty and staff) are available through the Anderson Center website, www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center (click on upcoming events), or by calling the box office at 607-777-2787.
You’ve heard the expression “rock the house.” How about TROCKS the house?”
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (affectionately known as the TROCKS) were founded in 1974 by a group of ballet enthusiasts for the purpose of presenting a playful, entertaining view of traditional classical ballet in parody form.
The troupe will bring its skills and humor to Binghamton University Saturday (Feb. 25) for a 7:30 p.m. performance in the Anderson Center’s Osterhout Concert Theatre.
The all-male professional company will perform a full range of ballet and modern dance repertoire. The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents and underlying incongruities of serious dance, the group’s website states.
The TROCKS have performed all over the world and made numerous television appearances. Their motto: “Keep on Trockin’.”
IF YOU GO: Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 25) in the Osterhout Concert Theater. Tickets from $10 to $50 are available through the Anderson Center website, www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center (click on upcoming events), or by calling the box office at 607-777-2787.