June 13th, 2011

"Cogs and Roses" Steampunk Picnic

Saturday afternoon, June 11th, we went to the residence of Chuck Tritt and Julianne Hunter (a.k.a. "Commander Charles S. Tritt" and "Lady Julianne", to go by their Steampunk Empire personae) for their "Cogs and Roses" steampunk-themed picnic, for which their 1880's vintage farmhouse with its spacious veranda and broad lawns was a perfect venue.

Of course, we dressed appropriately. Georgie wore a dark red bodice with gold-tone gearwheel "sequins" and a coordinating print bustle skirt with sensible boots and a flower-adorned sun hat with attached goggles. I wore a cream silk blazer with beige linen trousers, accessorized with an Italian straw boater hat and brown-and-tan spectator Oxfords. I got a number of compliments on my vintage Ralph Marlin "butterfly" bow tie, and on the resin-cast gear pin I used to hold a red rose buttonierre in place (which matched the corsage I had gotten for Georgie).

Despite the cloudy and rather chilly day, the event was well attended with over thirty people showing up. In a way, the cool temperature was not bad, since it made the Neo-Victorian garb easier to carry off than it would have been had the temperature remained in the 90's as earlier in the week. There was a wide variety of very interesting and clever outfits on display and we were quite impressed.

Lady Julianne had comissioned a cake from Georgie, who succeeded in producing a beautiful large cake with an elaborate gear design augmented with coordinating rose details. The cutting of the cake was one of the main events of the afternoon, and was accompanied by champagne toasts (sparking fruit juice for the non-imbibers).

Another discrete event was the pinata. Commander Tritt had converted a football shaped pinata into a dirigible by adding gray paint, fins, and a gondola decorated with pictures of Victorian people. Knocking the pinata down was quite an undertaking. Stick-wielders started with the youngest people present, and worked up well into those age 30 and above before the gasbag finally split open and spilled out its candy cargo. Much hilarity was had, as when the gondola separated from the gasbag and fell to earth, prompting Georgie to cry, "Oh, the humanity!" which was echoed by the other spectators.

The croquet challenge was ongoing. This was one of our cross-country layouts, going up,down, and around the rolling grounds. Lee Schneider laid out the course, plus built the steampunk inspired wickets out of piping and gears, some of which were mechanically interactive.

From what we were able to see, a good time was had by all. We certainly did.

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Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices, "A Night In Vienna"

Although the Steampunk Picnic ran until well into the evening, we excused ourselves a bit earlier in order to get to another event, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices "A Night in Vienna" concert, which was held at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove that night.

We were interested in this performance because two of our friends, Tori Campenni and Emory Churness, belong to the chorus, and because we particularly like operetta, which was the theme of this evening's performance.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices is oriented a bit differently than some other choral groups in that it seems to emphasize showcasing soloists, who are mainly voice students or aspiring professionals, with the chorus chiefly as backup. At least, that's how this performance worked out.

The performance was divided into two 'acts', each one commenced with a solo by veteran artist Geraint Wilkes, who was also a co-producer of the show. He began with "Vienna, City of My Dreams," by Rudolf Sieczyński, which well set the theme for the evening.

The first segment was pieces from Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "A Night in Venice", a piece we've never seen performed. However, the tune to "When You're In Love" was very familiar and I suspect it has been exerpted as a stand-alone waltz as well. The chorus opened the segment with "There Is Gaiety in Venice," and did very nicely, as they did with the closing piece, "The Party of the Year."

The second segment was excerpts from Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld," with which we are very familiar. Eurydice's song, "A Nymph in Love" was a rather curious choice since it isn't a very exciting song, but soloist Angela Lombardi delivered it very prettily. The chorus was appropriately rousing on "To Arms!". The "Fly Duet," wherein Jove is seducing Eurydice, was one of the highlights of the evening, being not oly very well sung, but engagingly acted by Susan Weidmeyer and and Bryan Elsesser. the chorus took back over for the "Hades Chorus" and the whole company got involved for "Infernal Galop" (the famous "Can-Can") with some pretty good dancing on display.

After the intermission, Mr. Wilkes lead off again with "Goodbye" from "The White Horse Inn". The next segment was from Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow," and included very nice renditions of "So Many Men Admire Me," "You'll Find Me at Maxim's," "Vilia", and the "Merry Widow Waltz."

Next up was a more rarely done piece, "The Land of Smiles", also by Lehar, with its unusual setting partly in China. The chorus got a workout on "One More Ball," and "Waltz While You May," while a number of different soloists took parts on "That's When the Nightingales Sing," "You Are My Heart's Delight," (the most familiar tune from this show), and "Love, What Has Given You This Magic Power?"

The concert was rounded out by going back to Strauss for selections from "Die Fledermaus," with the cast giving nice renditions of "Chacon a Son Gout," "Mein Herr Marquis (Adele's Laughing Song)" and "What a Feast/Champagne is an Inspiration," which became the evening's grand finale.

I must admit that the finale and curtain call disappointed me a bit: the soloists got their appropriate bows, but then the chorus members got almost half-way through their one exclusive bow before the director/conductor, Trefor Williams, waved the soloists back on stage for additional bows, which I thought rather shabby. Also, although in my book getting the audience to clap along with your exit music does not constitute an ovation justifying an additional curtain call, that's how it was treated, which seemed to me to be excessively self-congratulatory. However, it was all done with good humor and obvious enjoyment and the audience played along.

Overall, a nicely done concert of music we enjoy. There were a lot of young voices among the soloists who did not quite have the full power the material requires (operetta is a lot harder than most people think--), but very creditable and tuneful singing all around. The chorus supported the soloists enthusiastically, sang well, and did little bits of acting to underscore the action.

The Sunset Playhouse is a nice little venue, and it is likely we would consider attending another performance by this group depending on the program.

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