Mobile Opera has announced its 2015/2016 schedule, and there are many changes in store. The new program meets with the expectations formed when former musical director Andy Anderson resigned in late April, including a shift in venue from the Mobile Civic Center Theater to The Temple at the corner of Claiborne and St. Francis streets.

The first show, Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci,” is set for Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 25 at 2:30 p.m. The story of betrayal, murder and the titular tragic clown is one of history’s most famous operatic works.

On Feb. 13, Mobile Opera will stage a Winter Gala Concert just four days after an early Mardi Gras. The show reportedly will feature the Mobile Opera Chorus in addition to “area artists of renown.”

The company will feature Puccini’s comic work “Gianni Schicchi” in the spring. The fourth installment in Mobile Opera’s Puccini Project — an effort to produce all of the composer’s works — will take place April 1 at 8 p.m. and April 3 at 2:30 p.m.

Mobile Opera insists it was forced to redline a permanent artistic director due to shrinking funds, which prompted Anderson to resign along with some board members. General Director Scott Wright said future directors would be hired on a per-performance basis.

Wright said changes in funding received from the city, shrinking ticket sales and increased fees combined to make trimming necessary. He pointed to the cascade’s origin as August 2014, when a number of arts groups saw city of Mobile performance contracts either diminished or zeroed out.

According to Wright, Mobile Opera was also affected by removal of the fee waiver it employed for a portion of the rent for the Mobile Civic Center Theater. He claimed the company spent $60,000 on the theater last season as a result.   

A few months after the performance contracts were altered, the mayor’s office divulged plans to demolish the 50-year-old Mobile Civic Center complex. The news sent alarm through Mobile Opera and Mobile Ballet, as both entities cited the Civic Center facilities as irreplaceable for their needs.

Wright claimed worries about the possible eradication of its traditional venue inhibited Mobile Opera contributions. Ideas for saving the theater portion of the complex while razing the remainder made the rounds.

Now with Mobile Opera’s move to the former Scottish Rite Temple, Mobile Ballet stands alone as an arts institution with a stake in the Civic Center Theater. While the 88-year-old Saenger Theatre has been used for occasional ballets, constraints and facilities don’t match the Civic Center.

Mobile Opera’s plans for the 10,000-square-foot main hall of The Temple promise “live opera in a radical way, up close and accessible” with “a stage and a side orchestra arrangement.” It is billed as a more intimate setting.

Also new are pricing plans. One is a VIP offer with season tickets for a cocktail table for four for both operas. Those attendees would have “their choice of a bottle of wine or sparkling juice, treats for the table and tickets to the Winter Gala Concert.” That is $900 per table and available until Oct. 2.

Season tickets with traditional floor seating are available for $80 per person. Those are available until Oct. 5.

Single-performance tickets will also be available at “dynamic pricing according to availability.” Those go on sale Oct. 5.


History Museum attendance still on upswing
There’s good news from Royal Street. More people are walking through the doors at the History Museum of Mobile than in previous years.

During the second and third quarters of the 2014-2015 fiscal year, attendance has risen roughly 60 percent. During the first quarter of FY 2014-2015, it rose 40 percent. This gives the museum some of its highest attendance numbers in nearly five years.

Museum staff say March 2015 alone boasted almost 10,000 visitors, lured by events like the annual Colonial Day at Fort Conde, the Holi Festival of Colors (also at Fort Conde) and the opening reception for an artistic exhibition commemorating the fifth anniversary of the BP oil spill. In April, the museum hosted the annual meeting of the Alabama Historical Association.

Much of the increased traffic can be attributed to the museum’s impressive Roderick D. MacKenzie exhibit covering the artist’s time in India a century ago. It’s also aided by the mayor’s October 2014 decision to waive entrance fees.

So when you make something free, people will indulge? Who’da thunk it?


Last will and laughter at Midtown theater
As the life of addled patriarch Buford Turnover winds down, his disparate children gather at the family’s Texas homestead to await the inevitable. What is most unavoidable, though, is the clash of their personalities and the humor it stirs.

More than just greed and bickering, this play is fraught with the honky-tonkin’, hanky panky and substance abuse expected from a classic Del Shores comedy. Mobile Theatre Guild has turned to Shores for many of its productions over the years and this is sure to produce results just as delightful.
Performances at the 14 N. Lafayette St. playhouse run June 12 through 28. Friday and Saturday curtain is at 8 p.m. Sunday matinee is at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors, active military and students. Reservations are available at 251-433-7513, by emailing mtg.boxoffice@gmail.com or by visiting mobiletheatreguild.org/box.html.