Favorite

'Billy Blythe' 

Nov. 19, Women's City Club

LOVE DUET: Montgomery and Jones at White Water.
  • LOVE DUET: Montgomery and Jones at White Water.

"Billy Blythe" represents an "opportunity to bring opera back to the people," director Jeremy Franklin told a near-capacity crowd at its premiere Friday night at the Women's City Club. The production, Franklin reminded the audience, is "by, for and about Arkansans" —  by natives Bonnie Montgomery and Brit Barber, composer and librettist, respectively; for Arkansans but also, implicitly, regular folks who don't know Verdi from verismo and about the man who, more than anyone else, has come to represent what Arkansas means to the world abroad, Bill Clinton.

Of course, as the title suggests, "Billy Blythe" is not a familiar Bill Clinton story. Rather, Montgomery and Barber look to Clinton's childhood, specifically to 1959, the last year kept his birth surname Blythe.

But those on Friday hoping for a story that captures that pivotal time in the future president's life only got a tease. Because that's all the performance was — not a true premiere, but rather a costumed workshop production of four scenes, only about half of the full opera.

Still, one got the gist. And it was promising. Montgomery successfully managed to weave ragtime and folk traditions into opera structure. Her rollicking opening instrumental theme, which she played on the keyboard herself (Giovanni Antipolo otherwise provided the accompaniment), especially evoked the era. And while the scenes staged Friday were sometimes hard to follow — they were mostly non-consecutive —  Barber's libretto teased drama out of a day in the life of the Blythe/Clinton household: In the opening scene, she finds passion amidst Virginia (Kelly Ponder) and Roger Clinton (Evan Jones) sleepily recalling their idyllic life in New Orleans. In the closing scene, the couple reunite rambunctiously, while young Billy (Christopher McKim) works up the courage to stand up to his drunken stepfather.

But the night's most resonant piece focused on the relationship of the opera's central characters, Billy and his mother. It begins a touch purple, with Virginia complimenting her son on the coffee he's made for her. "Thick and syrupy — oh, how this coffee oozes of your father's zest of life," Ponder sings, before she and McKim launch into a beautifully elegiac duet about William Jefferson Blythe, who died in a car crash before his son was born.

The cast for the workshop was roundly excellent. McKim managed a Bubba accent without laying it on too thick. Jones conveyed Roger Clinton Sr.'s combustible nature with gusto. And mezzo-soprano Ponder soared as Virginia Clinton; her second scene aria was a showstopper.

The crowd agreed, rewarding cast and crew with an enthusiastic standing ovation. Later, at the late night after party at White Water Tavern, another crowd with Montgomery, herself a mezzo-soprano, thrillingly taking on the Virginia Clinton role. Like at the earlier showing, the crowd stayed quiet during the performance. At midnight at White Water Tavern, that may've been a first.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Lindsey Millar

  • The Tom Cotton's Bright Idea Edition

    The downfall of Jeff Long, Tom Cotton’s terrible contribution to the Republican tax plan, a no-bid consulting contract in state government and #metoo in Arkansas — all covered on this week's podcast.
    • Nov 17, 2017
  • Arkansas Times seeks to measure sexual assault in Arkansas

    With the growing revelations of sexual assault of women by movie stars and media moguls, and the national #metoo movement that has allowed women to say they, too, have suffered abuse, the Arkansas Times is seeking to learn what sort of inappropriate behavior Arkansans — of both sexes — have been subjected to, through what we have named The Cassandra Project.
    • Nov 16, 2017
  • The Jeff Long's Cloudy Future Edition

    Jeff Long's future at the University of Arkansas, UAMS' grim outlook, the Highway Department vs. Metroplan, the state Supreme Court's decision to stay the execution of Jack Gordon Green and whether Democrat's big wins on Tuesday are a harbinger of things to come — all discussed on this week's podcast.
    • Nov 10, 2017
  • More »

Most Shared

Latest in Theater Reviews

Event Calendar

« »

November

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30  

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation