Long Center: Opening was, in a word, grand
In artistry and style, the gala opening for the Long Center was an evening worthy of a facility 16 years in the making
The sense of occasion was clear the second you set foot on the premises. At the arrival plaza, gala attendees were greeted by actors garbed as figures from theatre and opera – Hamlet, the Phantom of the Opera, Cabaret's Sally Bowles – and what felt like a dozen photographers with shutters on rapid fire. (Whether or not there was film in any of those cameras, the effect was red-carpet electric.) Enhancing the theatrical air on the City Terrace were roaming stilt walkers in elongated formal wear (was that a 60-inch inseam on those tuxedo trousers?) and three dancers in scarlet dresses rolling a giant transparent ball with rose petals inside. In the building, beaming townies in their nattiest fashions jostled to congratulate and offer their thanks to driving forces Joe and Teresa Long, who could hardly have looked prouder. The current of elation and astonishment running through the crowd was such that it took some time to get the celebrants into their seats in Dell Hall. But eventually, Redd made his welcome, which included bringing onstage the Longs, who in turn introduced gala Chair Bobbi Topfer, all of whom were received rapturously by the hundreds in the house. The foursome left the stage to Tommy Tune, who handled his ceremonial duties with characteristic grace and warmth. (Choicest moment: Recalling his days at the University of Texas, he told of seeing Imogene Coca in a touring production of Once Upon a Mattress at cavernous old Palmer Auditorium and being unable to make out a word anyone said.)
The concert program made it abundantly clear that that would not be an issue in Palmer's successor. As Peter Bay led the Austin Symphony on a nimble caper through Bernstein's "Overture to Candide," the violins' silky smoothness caressed the ear, and the percussion sounded noticeably brighter than usual. And as Ballet Austin and Austin Lyric Opera served appetizers for their first productions in the Long Center (Don Quixote and Carmen, respectively), the intimacy of Dell Hall was striking: the performers feeling so near, every syllable and footfall sharp. That was even more apparent when ALO conductor Richard Buckley and tenor Roger Honeywell fired up "Nessun dorma" one more time, wringing every ounce of emotion from the familiar aria, and when pianist Anton Nel gave a stunning rendition of Granados' "Allegro de Concierto," the notes seeming to crystallize and hang in the air before melting away. The hall's ambience added punch to Graham Reynolds' propulsive "Treasure Hunt," played under a video history of Palmer and the Long Center, and when the program reached the finale – an awesome assemblage of the Conspirare Symphonic Choir, ALO chorus, and Wesley United Methodist Choir – it drenched the hall in vocal power and feeling. The moving sound of those hundreds of voices joined on Bernstein's "Make Our Garden Grow" – a tender, beautifully apt choice for this long-fought-for and treasured community venture – will echo within me for many years.
And it sent those hundreds of people present on to the lavishly catered dinners around the facility and into the night with a sense of accomplishment, gratitude, and anticipation. We did it. It's ours. It's open. And we marked the occasion in grand style.