In a battle between beauty and a bug, the former will prevail. That’s Scott Wright’s aim anyway.
The Mobile Opera general and artistic director has to get past an unwelcome visitor that has made the rounds this winter: the flu. It wasted no time settling in.
“Thursday night, I was conducting rehearsals at the University of Mobile for the ‘Marriage of Figaro’ up there. We started at 6:30 and 7:30 or 8 o’clock we took a little break, and coming back from the break I was feeling dizzy, really bad, and told them ‘I think I need to excuse myself and get home while I can still drive,’ and got in the bed and shook like an aspen leaf,” Wright said.
He’s in good company this year — including this writer, whose own flu encounter resulted in four days at Mobile Infirmary — but it doesn’t ease Wright’s sense of urgency. That’s because the clock is ticking through his recuperation in preparation for the third incarnation of Mobile Opera’s annual Winter Gala Concert on Feb. 17.
“[Mobile Opera] has frequently had some kind of winter feature as a placeholder between our regular operas six months apart. For several years we used to do the American musical theater, a semi-stage version, and we had several shows like ‘Sweeney Todd’ and one that was a variety show kind of thing, another that highlighted Southern performers,” Wright explained.
They wanted to change it up, to utilize choruses during a dormant period. That first Winter Gala in February 2016 featured the Mobile Opera chorus with four soloists performing Morten Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” and Antonín Dvorák’s Mass in D Major. Staged in Midtown’s Trinity Episcopal Church, they were able to implement the restored facility’s new pipe organ.
“That was just packed and we really couldn’t fit all the people in for that one,” Wright recalled.
Last winter found them in The Steeple for a pair of performances. As the chorus ran through the songs, a pair of screens above the stage flashed photos from regular-season performances.
When attendees file into Murphy High School Auditorium on Feb. 17 at 8 p.m., they’ll witness the latest in this shifting production. This time around, they will hit all high notes by skimming from a pair of operas, “Carmen” and “Rigoletto.”
“They’re two of the most popular operas in the world. There are other operas that are great operas but don’t have the number of highlights. There’s so much that’s known from them that everybody, including Elmer Fudd, has some connection with it,” Wright said.
“Rigoletto” features soprano Kathryn Hedlund, tenor Myles Garver, baritone Andre Chiang and mezzo-soprano Rachel Gibson. “Carmen” features Hedlund, Chiang, Gibson and tenor Peter James Lake. Pianist Eric Andries will accompany.
Seating is open and all seats are only $25. Students pay $10 with an ID.
For ticket information call Mobile Opera at 251-432-6772.
“I’m doing narration along with Stacy Driskell to accompany the opera, if I don’t lose my voice,” Wright said. He’s also scheduled for a short musical number that would likewise be changed if his flu-wracked larynx doesn’t cooperate.
Wright feels opera is more entwined in our lives than many of us realize. Numbers we’ve heard all our lives in snippets have a chance to fully manifest if witnessed live.
“I think so many people, like even when you hear the beginnings of, like, ‘La donna e mobilé’ or the beginning of the habañera from ‘Carmen,’ just that little musical figure, people know it even if they can’t name it. People have to latch onto it emotionally, because that’s what these operas are doing. That’s why they’re two of the most famous operas in the world,” Wright said.
This is the second Winter Gala in a venue linked by the 2012 Christmas Day tornado that raked through Midtown. Trinity Episcopal Church sits just a quarter mile north of Murphy’s auditorium, and both structures were ravaged by the disaster, then restored.
It’s also a return to origins for Mobile Opera. The opera utilized the 1,000-plus auditorium after its 1946 inception until the Mobile Civic Center Theater was completed in the 1960s.
As far as future Winter Galas, Wright has various ideas and the flexibility to mull it over. Though full operas can take years to iron out and stage, the footprint for the midwinter showcase is far smaller.
“There’s a friend of mine who does a show that is all these famous women of opera, and another lady that has a one-woman show about becoming an opera singer. Those things interest me, so I think next year maybe something different, I just don’t know what it is,” Wright said.