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The Breasts of Tiresias and Tears of a Knife

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Surrealism is arguably one of the most significant and influential artistic movements of the 20th Century. Combining, as it does, Freudian theories of the unconscious, free association, and dreams with a disarmingly prankish and anarchic spirit. But, except for animation, Surrealism never captured the practical imagination of Americans. The movement’s capitol was Paris, where both of Long Beach Opera’s surreal pairing of TEARS OF A KNIFE (Les Larmes de couteau) and THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS (Les mamelles de Tiresias) were conceived.

While Paris was the epicenter of the movement, its adherents were decidedly multi-cultural. From the famous Spaniards: Picasso, Dali, Bunuel and Lorca (subject of LBO’s next opera) to ex-pat Americans like Stein, Hemingway, Man Ray, Dos Passos and Pound, as well as British subjects like Joyce and Lawrence, most of these were not true Surrealist Artists, but they were undoubtedly influenced by those who were.

One of the musicians who chose to perfect his craft in Paris was the Czech composer, Bohuslav Martinu. For his second operatic composition, Martinu chose a short play by a respected Dadaist (the precursor to Surrealism), Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes. TEARS OF A KNIFE tells the heartwarming story of Eleonore who, despite her mother’s pleas, falls in love with a hanged man. Frustrated by her husband’s understandably distracted state, she tries making him jealous with a passing cyclist and, when that fails, kills herself. In the afterlife, she discovers that all the men in her life were actually Satan.

Like his contemporary, Kurt Weill, Martinu playfully imbues his classical sound with jazz and dance band influences. These both humanize and slyly comment on the outrageous situations they describe. Unlike Weill’s popular works, Martinu’s 1928 adaptation of TEARS only achieved its posthumous premiere in 1969.

The opera, while very much a work of its time, is not a rediscovered masterpiece. Crowded with incident, but running less than a half hour, there is little time to do more than suggest any dramatic or musical themes. It is, however, an interesting curiosity and an insight into the development of one of the 20th Century’s lesser-known composers.

THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS traces its close association with Surrealism to the fact that the author, Guillaume Apollonaire, coined the word in his preface to the play. Francis Poulenc chose the play as the basis for his first opera during the bleak years following WWII, and he graced the script with a tuneful and wittily varied score. The unapologetically feminist story concerns itself with Therese, who finds herself frustrated with her mundane chores, her unnamed Husband, and her general place in life. Miraculously, her breasts fly away, and she takes up life as her male alter ego, Tiresias. The Husband slips into a frock and neatly reverses his role as well--even discovering a way to give birth to 40,000-plus babies in a single day. After some adventures, Therese, once more female, returns home to general rejoicing.

Ken Roht’s direction stressed the farcical elements in both operas which brought an appealing energy to the production. While KNIFE’s staging was appropriately stark, moments in BREASTS, which added a pair of dancers and a mute Actor, felt unnecessarily busy. If Lake Sharp’s costumes were occasionally less than flattering, they certainly echoed the homespun carnival atmosphere.

The Principal performers were all veterans of LBO productions who, once again, displayed their willingness to explore uncharted territory. Ani Maldjian has proved her singing and acting abilities for the company in a broad range of roles. As Eleonore/Tiresias, she ably anchored both operas and sang with style, precision, and fearless confidence. Robin Buck was a suave Satan in the Martinu and a hilariously befuddled husband in the Poulenc.

Roberto Perlas Gomez was mute and dead as the Hanged Man in KNIFE, but BREASTS found him marvelously vibrant in the dual roles of the Director and the Gendarme, both of which he sang with panache. Suzan Hanson’s Mother/Newspaper Vendor had little to sing in either piece, but she made her presence known, while Doug Jones and Benito Galindo made comic hay as Lacouf and Presto, who fight a ludicrous duel in the Poulenc.

The operas were sung in an English translation and the diction proved, in most instances, clear enough to ignore the supertitles. Music Director, Andreas Mitisek’s musical intelligence was clearly displayed with this pairing of operas. There are enough musical similarities between them that a less meticulous musician would have settled for a general wash of sound. Mitisek chose to accentuate the stylistic differences which brought an added depth to the production.

Center Theatre, Long Beach  March 11 & March 17



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.