Review: Lardo Weeping by Local Opera Local Artists - LOLA
by David Glen Robinson
LOLA is a collective of opera artists stretching its limbs and starting to create impressive new work. Lardo Weeping is a laudable effort in that direction. The show is up now at Ground Floor Theatre on Springdale Road, playing until March 16. Opera fans and postmodernists will love it immensely.
Playwright Terry Galloway has created a world-class eccentric in the character of Dinah Lafarge. We know the type, and we touch the fringes of her garment whenever we don’t get out of our bathrobes all day. Composer Peter Stopschinski acknowledged this by making his entrance wearing his bathrobe.
Lafarge, enacted by mezzo soloist Liz Cass, is full out with her inner strange, garbed in PJs, robe, and various wisps as she sings stories and diatribes to the unpaid bills and piles of junk mail building up in her apartment. Dinah opens her door and retrieves the mail only while blowing a police whistle and wielding a .45 automatic. That drives off the flocking rapists, you see. She charts every bite of food she eats, “one potato chip only,” and “that’s my potassium for the day” (after two bites of a banana). She hurls imprecations at the ceiling, aimed against media for rejecting her teleplay. In all, Dinah Lafarge is a living, breathing set of New Yorker magazine cartoons.
As if this book were not sufficiently extreme, Composer Peter Stopschinski’s music picks it up and makes it fly. Drawing on his typical sources in classical music, show music, TV, and cartoon theme music, Stopschinski creates a musical whole with his keyboards, violin (Sonja Larson), cello (Nora Karakousoglou), and voices (Bethany Ammon, Lindsey Pino, and Veronica Williams and, of course, mezzo soloist Liz Cass). The results are a satisfying absurdist opera (half of one, anyway), well produced by LOLA.
Lardo Weeping is not a new work but rather one in long-term development. The program notes describe it as a “world workshop premiere,” with the full work to be staged in 2020. The artists made this clear during the talkback at the end of the show. They revealed the fact that some of the material of Lardo Weeping was presented at Chicago House, a venue that closed down at least ten years ago. During the informal discussion they outlined plans for a part II of the show. This made sense, considering that the evening’s performance was about 45 minutes long, about one act in an opera. The second act is projected to include a stripper (Lardo Stripping?) who removes body parts along the way. It seems that this trope also has been workshopped elsewhere in some form.
As opera, the show is too much recitative and not enough aria. Cass’s native skills are such that she could sing pages out of the phonebook (I especially like the Ws). She has displayed such talent by improvisationally singing complete redactions of Austin's periodic variety show Industry Night, in which she is clearly one of the leading lights. In Lardo Weeping Cass seems to be singing monologues written for theatre rather than songs written for opera.
The stories sung by Dinah do not quite form a complete mosaic. Still, we gain the strong impression that she is a female counterpart to Ignatius J. Reilly of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, though she's resident on Manhattan's west side rather than in New Orleans. The incomplete nature of Lardo Weeping is palpable; it is difficult to overcome centrifugal forces when deconstruction of a character is thematic. Perhaps that's why Galloway wrote in The Dance of the Dodo, a theatrical gem toward the end of the performance performed exquisitely by Alexa Capareda. The meaning is clear: rara aves such as Dinah are to be cherished for their very uniqueness.
Lardo Weeping runs until March 16, 2019 at Ground Floor Theatre, on Austin's east side. It should appeal highly to those who love to explore the inner workings of opera.
(perfomance photo of musicians, Alex Capareda, Liz Cass by Bret Brookshire)
Video: Liz Cass, Peter Stopchinski and director Rebecca Herman discuss Lardo Weeping, February, 2019
March 09 - March 16, 2019
979 Springdale Rd
Austin, TX, 78702
Saturday, March 9th 2019 at 7 pm
Sunday, March 10th at 2 pm and 7 pm
Wednesday - Friday, March 13th, 14th, and 15th at 7 pm
Saturday, March 16th at 2 pm
Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale Rd, Suite 122, Austin, TX 78702
Tickets are $15-$50 on a sliding scale for most performances. March 10th 2019 at 2 pm and March 13th 2019 at 7 pm offer sliding scale tickets for all from free - $50. Approximate running time is 40 minutes with one intermission followed by an in depth talk back.
Tickets available online https://www.artful.ly/store/events/17267