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Ben Folds

‘There’s a lot of value in the rock world in just being Rock Guy, the loose cannon, the fuck-off, that kind of stuff. But you get to a certain point where you go, ‘Well, I’m just me and I’m on my own island, and everyone else—including the rock people—can get fucked.’ ”

If this seems a perfectly fitting quote from Ben Folds (who plays the Egg on Friday), the onetime standard bearer for arch and ironic indie-rock cool, you should know that it was spoken, well, kind of gently. In a slight Carolinian drawl, Folds proclaims that—as evidenced by his newest studio album, Rockin’ the Suburbs—he’s not the same knee-jerk wiseass who once humped his piano through clubland, performing barn-burning sets of highly melodic sarcasm for the pleasure of collegiate slackers in Chuck Taylors and kitschy Salvation Army T-shirts.

“The rock & roll in it is much more subtle, probably partially because I just don’t care to push that button as much anymore,” Folds says of the new album. “I remember seeing the 60 Minutes with Frank Lloyd Wright on it, and he was talking about how as he got older he was much more rebellious—he just didn’t care to advertise it anymore. I can understand that completely.

“It’s easy for me to step out and stick out my tongue at people and be silly, ’cause that’s what’s expected, that’s what I make my money doing. So, to take a song like ‘Luckiest’ and try to be sincere about it, is oddly enough a little more rebellious and scary a thing for me to do.”

“Luckiest,” the album’s closer, is an achingly—and surprisingly—personal love song for Folds’ wife of three years, Frally Hynes, with whom Folds is raising twins in her native Australia.

“It’s kind of my version of David Bowie going into space and doing Ziggy Stardust,” Folds jokes. “I don’t go out that far, but I’ll try to be honest every once in a while and that’s just as scary as going into outer space for me.”

The album is a departure for him in other ways as well: In the name of experimentation, Folds enlisted producer Ben Grosse (Filter, Sevendust) and between them they, frankly, produced the living shit out of Rockin’ the Suburbs: overdubs, computers, ProTools—the works.

“When the decision was made to record that way, that was the only five minutes I would have been open to that—like when Luke Skywalker shot that thing into the Death Star. There was only one fucking little bitty moment when I could have thought that was the best way to record the record, and I decided to do it. I wanted to hear the music put through that filter, and that’s experimentation to a certain extent too.”

Longtime fans needn’t worry that Folds has gone all N’Sync on you, though. If he’s mellowed some, he hasn’t lost his satirical instinct. The high-tech, big-biz approach served both Folds’ need to push boundaries and to check egos—not least among them his own. On the title song, Folds sings “I’m rocking the suburbs, just like Quiet Riot did/I’m rocking the suburbs, except they were talented/I take the checks and I face the facts/that a producer with computers fixes all my shitty tracks.”

“We overcomputered as a kind of personal, private joke, making fun of the bands that do that,” Folds says. “But I’m also talking about myself: ‘I’m kind of selling out. So let’s admit it, and write about it.’ ”

After a beat, Folds laughs: “That’s how I keep myself real. I’m like J. Lo—I’m real.”

Ben Folds will play the Hart Theater at the Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) on Friday (July 5). Tickets for the 8 PM show are $23.50. For tickets, 473-1845.

—John Rodat

Lake George Opera 40th Anniversary Season

‘I’ve been here for three seasons as general director,” says William Florescu, “but this is my first year also serving as artistic director. Which can be antagonistic positions, but doing it this way you find that you have arguments with yourself. Maybe it’s crazy, but I like doing both.”

He sits in the office in downtown Saratoga, where the Lake George Opera is now based. This is only fitting, because performances since 1998 have been in the Spa Little Theatre on the grounds of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. And it’s a very comfortable home for the opera, which has been somewhat nomadic during its 40 years of existence.

Florescu himself has the imposing presence of an opera star, which isn’t surprising: He has studied and worked as a singer, in which capacity he freelanced for many years. But, he says, “I’ve put the singing aside for the most part right now as I concentrate on doing this”—which also includes work as a director. He helmed last season’s production of H.M.S. Pinafore, and recently directed Home Made Theatre’s production of The Fantasticks, for which he had to step in to play a leading role at the last minute when an actor became ill. His connection with Gilbert and Sullivan extends through several years as artistic director with the Columbus Light Opera Company in Ohio.

This season features two works: Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment and Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. “They’re both great operas,” says Florescu, “and the casts are spectacular. We’ve tried to showcase something of the opera company’s history by using people who have been associated with us over the years, especially in the apprentice program. Steven Rainbolt, our Hortensius in Daughter, was an apprentice, as was Brian Downen, who plays Belmonte in Abduction. And Maryanne Telese, who is directing Daughter, was an apprentice and has worked with us before as an artist.”

Recent productions in the 500-seat Little Theatre have proven very successful despite some size limitations. “The orchestra is on a loft above the stage, for instance, but the acoustics are splendid and I think the intimacy allows the audience much more involvement with the dramatics of a piece.

“We don’t have a lot of bells and whistles to offer. It’s not a large, fancy house. But the caliber of the singers we hire, the quality of the orchestra, the excitement our directors have to offer—that’s been bringing the audience back.”

Although more and more fully staged opera productions are available each summer at the end of a not-too-distant drive from the Capital Region, Florescu sees these productions as complementary, not competitive: “We’re filling our own niche. People who love opera want to see opera.”

Eight of this year’s participants come from the apprentice program, a time-honored tradition with the company. “We have over 600 applications, and I spent three days in New York listening to singers, two days in Baltimore and two days in Kansas City. The eight who are chosen participate in master classes, sing in the chorus and do some other programs while they’re here. Our most famous apprentice program alumnus probably is tenor Jerry Hadley.”

One of the original missions of the Lake George Opera was a commitment to American works, and Florescu plans to revive that next season with a production of Carlyle Floyd’s Susannah. “We’d like to do more American opera—we’d love to do Candide—and we’re hoping that by, say, 2005, we’ll be able to present the premiere of a piece.”

Daughter of the Regiment opens with a performance at 6 PM Saturday (July 6), followed by a 40th anniversary celebration at the National Museum of Dance (the party is an extra $75; call 584-6018 for those reservations). Subsequent performances are at 7:30 PM on July 9 and 11, and 2 PM on July 13.

The Abduction from the Seraglio will be performed at 2 PM on July 7 and 14 and at 7:30 PM on July 10 and 12. Tickets are priced from $28-$58, and you can reserve them by calling the SPAC box office at 587-3330.

—B.A. Nilsson


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