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Thursday, June 3, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bawdy Marionettes Spoof Opera With Topical Wit

Seattle Times Music Critic

------------------------------- Opera preview

"La Grandmere amoureuse," marionette opera, presented by the Early Music Guild; 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at On the Boards; 8 p.m. June 11-12 and 2 p.m. June 13 at Kirkland Performance Center ($14-$20; 206-325-7066). -------------------------------

This is one puppet show that isn't for little kids.

Sophisticated, witty and PG-13-rated, "La Grandmere amoureuse" ("The Lusty Grandma") is decidedly adult fare, as well as a big first for the Early Music Guild. It's the guild's first presentation of one of the wonderful 18th-century marionette operas that were hugely popular in their day, and well worth reviving in ours. So well, in fact, that the San Francisco Chronicle listed the same production we'll see in Seattle and Kirkland in the Top 10 Classical events of 1998, calling it "bawdy, tuneful and immensely entertaining."

"La Grandmere amoureuse" is a collaboration between the Carter Family Marionettes of Seattle and the Magificat Baroque Ensemble of San Francisco; the beautiful hand-carved puppets perform to live music by singers and period instrumentalists in this 1726 spoof of French opera.

"This is a special project for the Early Music Guild," says its director, Maria Coldwell, "and an example of what we're trying to do beyond the two regular series we present each year. We've never tried anything quite like this before, so in a way this is an experiment for us."

It's likely to be something most audiences haven't encountered before, either: Magnificat director Susan Harvey calls it "a Baroque Saturday Night Live approach to tragic opera." The goddess Cybele, played by a marionette, is the amorous grandmother who falls in love with a human, but he is in love with a shepherdess; the plot thickens from there, with English dialogue full of topical references relevant to our own time.

A four-member pit orchestra (Sand Dalton on flute, oboe, recorders and noisemakers; Rob Diggins, violin; Susan Harvey, harpsichord; and Warren Stewart, cello) performs alongside the three singers (Peter Becker, Judith Nelson and Randall Wong), as the Carter Family (Chris Carter, Stephen Carter and Bruce Chesse) animate the three-foot marionettes. The singers will perform in French, with projected English titles (all the spoken dialogues are in English). Don't be surprised if you catch a few references to . . . Monica Lewinsky??

THORNE CONCERTO PREMIERES

Don't forget: Tonight is the first of three highly promising Seattle Symphony performances that offer not only violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg playing Bruch, but also the world premiere of a clarinet concerto by Francis Thorne, played by the orchestra's principal clarinetist, Christopher Sereque. All this and the spectacular "Pines of Rome," too, with Gerard Schwarz conducting. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. tomorrow, and 2 p.m. Sunday ($10-$65; 206-215-4747).

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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