Thursday night the Two Gay Geeks were invited to a private reception held at the offices/rehearsal facility for Arizona Opera, with the purpose of showing how far Arizona Opera has come in the city of Phoenix, its dedication to the arts, as well as to introduce a new operetta to their repertoire, Arizona Lady.
AZ Opera had originally utilized a small office space for all of their administrative duties, which then meant they needed to use rehearsal space whenever it became necessary to stage an opera, of which there are 5 each season. The company knew in order to grow they needed their own facility so a new office and production complex became the company’s new home. Located directly across from the Phoenix Art Museum in mid-town Phoenix, they have the office space to conduct whatever business is required plus they have room for various departments, including wardrobe, wig, props, and even a huge music library which will make any lover of vinyl LPs absolutely drool. However, the biggest advantage AZ Opera has with this facility is the room to rehearse their opera productions, and that is how we were able to see this new production of Arizona Lady.
Emmerich Kálmán wrote this operetta in 1953 while visiting the US Southwest, with the libretto written by Alfred Grünwald and Gustav Beer. Kálmán left it unfinished at the time of his death, whereupon his son Charles completed the operetta. He had lived in Austria, but fled and eventually ended up in the US due to World War II. From what we learned he had love for the movies and the music that came out of Hollywood during that time, which would clearly have an influence on much of his work. It was while visiting the southwest that he felt inspired to write Arizona Lady as something of a love letter to the American Southwest. It was originally written in German, but was later translated to English and Spanish and is still performed in those three languages. However with this production AZ Opera received permission to redo the translation, so with a new English/Spanish Translation by Kathleen Kelly and Albert Rios, this production of Arizona Lady will receive its premiere performance here in Arizona. AZ Opera describes it as “the hopes & dreams of leading lady Lona Farrell ride on the back of one horse, “Arizona Lady”, winning the Kentucky Derby.”
While technically this is an operetta, I would go so far as to say that this is more “American opera” and I would gladly place it side by side with another famous state named stage musical, Oklahoma. We only had a chance to see the rehearsal of the final act of the operetta and it very much reminded me of the Golden Hollywood Musical Comedies from that era. Watching the rehearsal itself was truly fascinating as there were multiple directions going the entire time. While conductor Kathleen Kelly was busy coordinating the entire musical portion of the rehearsal, the cast and chorus were being given directions by the stage director, all at the same time. I had to admire, not just the talent that is required to be able to sing in a professional production such as this, but to be able to receive new directions on the spot, and to remember them during the next run through. It simply left me speechless.
In short, this was a night for the Two Gay Geeks to remember for a long time. What we saw gave us a sense of excitement for AZ Opera that we hadn’t felt for several years now. We could also see the sense of pride and excitement that the company as a whole has for what they are doing. They have accomplished much in the last few years financially and creatively, and this is a company that is clearly on the path to possibly becoming a major opera house in the future. As for our future, it’s a very safe bet that we will be attending a performance of Arizona Lady, as well as other productions, at Arizona Opera.