In just days, Mobile Opera premieres its presentation of “Pagliacci” in a new setting. Has it cultivated General Director Scott Wright’s appreciation for facilities management?
“It has. A few grey hairs, too,” Wright quipped.
Rugerro Leoncavallo’s tale of a tragic clown is the company’s first offering in the confines of the old Scottish Rite Temple at N. Claiborne and St. Francis streets. The move from its longtime home in the Mobile Civic Center theater was announced this past summer when the former venue grew too costly.
The company has undertaken significant redesign of both its past setup and the current setting to ready for the late October run. The result is something less than a glance into a story and more like immersion within it.
“The proscenium that’s in there we’re only using for the escape, so we have a thrust stage that comes out, putting the actors in the same room as the audience,” Wright said. “We’re putting the orchestra on stage right so that they’re not between the actors and the patrons.”
Maestro Curtis Tucker is conductor, operating in cooperation with Mobile Symphony Orchestra. Wright will serve as stage director.
The new construction is courtesy of Showbiz Lighting. They’ll also hang lighting from existing ceiling rigging points and implement the company’s steel towers to the sides.
“It’s always been amazing how many details there are in producing a show but it is particularly amazing how many there are when you’re doing theater in a non-theater space, because there’s so many things you don’t consider,” Wright said.
They will need to create dressing rooms, move a make-up table and bring in lighted mirrors. Then there are perks afforded certain supporters.
“Our donating patrons are used to certain amenities but we don’t have a room separate for their VIP lounge like over at the Civic Center. So we’ve kind of made this into what we’re calling the Jackson Room experience to put those people close to the stage to give them something that’s a little in addition,” Wright said. “We’ve got cocktail tables like the Boston Pops does for their series with four chairs around them and regular seating behind those.”
The Temple floor plan is wide open. That means the audience seating will be brought in as well.
“The thought of even an hour and a half opera sitting on a rented wedding chair made me shudder, so I knew people didn’t want to do that. So we bought theater chairs that have five-inch padding and about a 17-and-a-half-degree decline so that they’re very comfortable [for] watching the show,” Wright said.
Each performance — a Thursday, Oct. 22, 10:30 a.m. performance for students, Friday evening, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 25 at 2:30 p.m. — will play to roughly 400 attendees. Wright said sales are brisk.
The stars of the show are a mix of the familiar and the new. Dr. Thomas Rowell is area coordinator for vocal studies and the director of opera theatre at the University of South Alabama.
Dr. Patrick Jacobs plays Silvio and is director of vocal studies and opera for the University of Mobile. He is also a two-time Metropolitan Opera regional finalist and winner of the Orpheus National Voice Competition.
New York’s Ron Lloyd plays Tonio, a role he performed with New Jersey Verismo. He was also in Mobile Opera’s 2011 production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Sunset Boulevard.”
“Ron is a spectacular not only singer, but actor, and he’s been to Mobile before so I met him through previous associations here in Mobile,” Wright said.
The character Canio will also be brought to life by Tyler Smith. He’s a veteran of both the Mobile stage and the role.
“He is in the voice department at Loyola and he’s done two of these before. His first Canio was for New Orleans Opera when he had to step in at the last minute for an ailing tenor and got boffo reviews,” Wright said.
Nedda will be played by Boston’s Amal El-Shrafi, a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music. Her resume is impressive, having performed with Opera Brittenica, Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston Opera Collective, Longwood Opera and Opera on Tap.
“I met her three years ago when she was the guest artist at the International Performing Arts Institute in Germany,” Wright said. “I really liked what I heard so that came back to me and I thought of her as Nedda. This will be her first time in that role.”
For more info about tickets, call 251-432-6772 or go to mobileopera.org.