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Albany: The Opera

A dirty Pittsburgh junkyard was the humble setting of the first Squonk opera 12 years ago. Since then, Squonk Opera’s artists, designers, performers and musicians, led by artistic directors Jackie Dempsey and Steve O’ Hearn, have taken an unlikely premise and turned it into a set of wildly successful projects.

The “[Your Town]: The Opera” series is an innovative blend of dance, props, comedy, video and puppetry: a live performance tailored to a specific town. The group wanted to avoid the usual mainstream targets with the tour, choosing to focus on small cities without much hype—so they asked their agent to avoid marketing the series to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

“When people think of America they think of New York City and L.A. We think it’s great to showcase smaller places that are still beautiful and livable,” said Dempsey.

After a run of shows in late 2006 spotlighting College Park, Md., the Squonk troupe set its sights on Albany.

To capture the spirit of a city, Squonk spends several months absorbing the area’s culture. For their upcoming show on Albany, that meant filming scenes, visiting landmarks, and getting to know the locals. The Squonk interpretation of what it means to live in Albany will be a multimedia show. Albany: The Opera will include an original score, dancers, musicians, vocalists, visual art, video footage of the city, and interviews.

“Every place we go to is interesting,” she said, adding, “People are really enthusiastic about our shows. It instills pride in your community, especially when you see people that are not very different from you.”

When everyone else seems to be obsessed with the activities of wealthy losers like Paris Hilton, Squonk Opera is refreshing in that it glorifies the lives of normal people in non-lavish settings. Although Albany does have its share of quirks.

“Our videographer made a special trip to the giant dog,” said Dempsey, casually referring to Nipper, the lonely canine who guards the former RCA building on Broadway.

“The Egg is also a very interesting structure,” but the weirdest thing they found, she said, was the “U-Haul truck on a stick.”

Interviews with local celebrities are also included. Albany author William Ken nedy will be making an appearance, as will Yvonne Perry, the Voorheesville native who in the ’90s starred as “Rosanna Cabot” on As the World Turns.

In spite of its weirdness, or maybe as a result of it, Squonk Opera has become a runaway hit. Critics love them; words like “hypnotic,” “ingenious” and “surreal” are routinely thrown about in reviews. Beyond critical acclaim, O’ Hearn and Dempsey’s vision as artistic directors has helped Squonk Opera earn recognition from places that many only dream of: Dempsey has been awarded grants from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Map Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Jim Henson Foundation. In addition, O’ Hearn has received two NEA Creativity Awards, three International Design Awards, and an American Theater Wing’s Hewes Design Award.

Be prepared to experience what one critic called “a flood of contraptions, visual jokes, and gloriously eccentric music that would stretch even Tim Burton’s imagination.”

Albany: The Opera will premiere Saturday (April 21) at 8 PM in the University at Albany Performing Arts Center’s Main Theater (1400 Washington Ave., Albany). Tickets are $18 for the general public and $12 for students. For reservations and info contact the box office at 442-3997, or visit the Performing Arts Center website at www.albany.edu/pac.

—Jeannielle Ramirez

Albany Symphony Orchestra

A monthlong series of events honoring Pulitzer Prize-winning Albany novelist William Kennedy culminates tomorrow (Friday) with the Albany Symphony Orchestra’s world premiere of Kevin Beavers’ Roscoe, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. Inspired by Ken nedy’s novel, which is set in the world of Albany politics mid-20th century, the concerto will feature violinist Colin Jacobsen and the author himself, who will provide the narration.

Also on the program: Bruckner’s Sym phony No. 4.

You can check out a noon preview of the concert today (Thursday, April 19) at the Albany Public Library’s Main Branch (161 Washington Ave., Albany).

The Albany Symphony Orchestra, with maestro David Alan Miller, will perform Friday (April 20) at 7:30 PM at the Palace Theatre (19 Clinton Ave., Albany). Tickets are $42-$21. For reservations and information, call 465-4663.

Martina McBride

You probably wouldn’t guess that four-time Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year winner Martina McBride got her start in the business on tour with Garth Brooks, selling T-shirts. That was almost 20 years ago, though, and since then McBride has been in the country-music spotlight, selling millions of albums for her label, RCA, and scoring No. 1 hits with practically every album she releases. This week, McBride took some time off from touring to serve as the featured vocal coach on the über-popular guilty-pleasure talent show American Idol.

The Grammy-nominated country superstar will hit the Capital Region this weekend on her current tour to support her newest disc, Waking Up Laughing, which was released at the beginning of April. Special guests Little Big Town and Rodney Atkins will open the show.

Martina McBride will perform at the Times Union Center (51 S. Pearl St., Albany) on Sunday (April 22) at 7 PM. Tickets are $54.75 and $44.75. For more information or to order tickets, call the Times Union Center box office at 487-2000 or visit timesunioncenter albany.com.


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