Billy Budd Heralded director Francesca Zambello, who unveiled her new version of the repertory staple Madame Butterfly at the Houston Grand Opera last week, now takes the road less traveled with her rendition of Benjamin Britten's adaptation of the Herman Melville story about injustice on the high seas. Budd, featuring a libretto by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, visits Houston (courtesy of the HGO and England's Royal Opera, the co-producing entities) after stints at London's Covent Garden and Paris's Opera Bastille; the original incarnation of the work premiered at Covent Garden in 1951. Danish baritone Bo Skovhus sings the role of Billy, a young sailor aboard the British warship HMS Indomitable who's faced with a trumped-up charge of treason and accidentally kills his accuser, master-at-arms Claggart (bass-baritone Jeffrey Wells); tenor Peter Kazaras enacts the role of worthy Captain Edward Fairfax Vere. The production's performed in English, and features surtitles. Robert Spano of the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra conducts the Houston Symphony. Opening performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; the run continues through February 14. The Brown Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $20-$175 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Elton John Any true E.J. connoisseur knows that the former Reg Dwight recorded his last must-own album, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, in 1975, and that Elton's been skating by on reputation (or is it name recognition?) and the occasional insipid MOR hit since. So why is it still considered such a big deal when he tours, and who the heck's snapping up all of these tickets, anyhow? Elton doesn't even model his sublimely silly line of spectacles or do Jerry Lee Lewisstyle somersaults over the keyboard anymore -- and all of this "Candle in the Wind 1997" tomfoolery, well, we're not going there. One final grouse: The press release accompanying E.J.'s latest album, The Big Picture, asserts that the three-decade-old John/Bernie Taupin songwriting partnership is "rivaled only by Lennon/McCartney." In fairness, the context of the comment was commercial in nature, but the artistic hubris underlying it rubs us the wrong way, as does the thought of suffering through a Bic-flicking rendition of "Candle in the ... " -- we weren't going there. The show, which starts at 8 p.m., is officially sold out; if you must go, consult your neighborhood ticket broker. Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 961-9003.
"Chaplin: Between Laughter and Tears" The serial homage to the greatest filmmaker of all time continues tonight with screenings of two of the Little Tramp's finest: Modern Times (1936) at 7:30, followed by City Lights (1931) at 9:15. The Chaplin Revue, featuring the early shorts A Dog's Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918) and The Pilgrim (1923), starts at 1 p.m. Saturday. The series runs through February 6. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $6 for tonight's double feature or $5 individually; $4 for Saturday's matinee.
Charlie Haden Quartet West See Critic's Choice on page 69. Showtime is 8 p.m. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $21$41 (DaCamera Music Center: 524-5500; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
African Delight Express Theatre's appropriately titled annual production, in its fifth year, is a charming journey into the cultural heart of Africa; though targeted at tykes, it's recommended for kids of all ages. E.T.'s executive director, Y.A. Bagersh, wrote the show; this year's version centers on the songs, stories and rhythms of Kenya, Botswana, South Africa and Egypt. Opening performances are at 7 tonight, 2 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; the run continues through February 22. The Children's Museum, 1500 Binz, 522-1138. $5; $4 for museum members (tix: 759-1314).
"Local Spin: Independent Houston Filmmakers" The series of recent "low- and no-budget" videos and films by local auteurs, a sequel to 1995's similar "First Look" showcase, continues with numerous entries this weekend. Robert Ziebell's Stop Evil is a surrealistic, film noir-style compendium of spliced-together clips from the filmmaker's visits to the 1994 Republican National Convention, Joshua Tree National Monument and an Ohio artist-in-residence program. Its companion film is Peter Lucas's unorthodox coming-of-age tale Now Here. The double feature starts at 7:30 tonight. Following at 8:30 is Kyle Henry's American Cowboy, a filmic portrait of gay rodeo cowpoke Gene Mikulenka that promises a "revisionist perspective on cowboy culture." Greg Carter's Fifth Ward screens at 7 p.m. Sunday; see the story on page 41. "Local Spin" concludes February 7. The Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $6 tonight; $5 Sunday.
"Steppin' Out!" with the Houston Symphony Guest conductor Michael Krajewski of the Long Beach and Jacksonville (Florida) symphonies wields the baton in this informal pops program featuring our hometown orchestra and light-heeled hoofer Fred Strickler (PBS's Tap Dance in America). The bill of fare includes Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld overture, Tchaikovsky's waltz from Sleeping Beauty, Gould's Tap Dance Concerto, Anderson's Sandpaper Ballet and Irving Berlin's "Steppin' Out." The performance inaugurates the "Symphony Cabaret" series. Showtime is 8 p.m. Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 230-1600. $15-$180 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
"Sacred Places" tour Galveston, the elegantly faded "Queen of the Gulf," is perhaps best known for its tan beaches, hurricanes, oil slicks and Portuguese man-of-war armadas, but we Texans also treasure it as a showplace for Victorian architecture. Sponsored by the Galveston Historical Foundation, this annual, self-guided tour of 19th-century churches includes stops at nine of the city's most venerable sites, including the Nicholas Clayton-designed First Presbyterian Church, 1903 Church; Trinity Episcopal Church, 22nd and Winnie; and St. Augustine's Episcopal Church, 1410 41st. Hours are 1 to 5 p.m. today and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Related events: a concert by the Macedonia Baptist Church choir at 6 this evening at First Presby and guided tours of the Hebrew Benevolent Society Cemetery, 43rd and Avenue L, from 2 to 5 Sunday afternoon. Info: (409) 765-7834, (281) 280-3907. $8; $7 for GHF members.
Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme Along with just about everything else from the Rat Pack era, these long-unhep cats have acquired a new cachet in the waning days of the millennium. Some -- Sinatra, for instance -- have never wavered in their insistence that Steve and Eydie swing, baby; admittedly, we've wavered countless times re: the merits of these Pepsodent swingers, but given the correct dosage of martinis, crafted with care and applied liberally.... Lawrence and Gorme, backed by a 31-piece orchestra, headline a fundraiser for the Houston chapter of Hadassah, an organization supporting various Jewish causes, at 8 p.m. Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway, 988-1020. $50 (tix: 728-5553).
The Daughter of the Regiment The New York City Opera National Company, which specializes in touring interpretations of repertory classics, presents Donizetti's broadly comic concoction about the "darling of Napoleon's 21st Regiment" -- a poor orphan girl who's really of royal lineage. The show is sung in French with English surtitles; it starts at 8 p.m. The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Road in Galveston, (800) 821-1894 or (409) 765-1894. $14.50-$53.
Oasis Every now and then, an act emerges that pushes the outside of rock's envelope -- think Led Zeppelin, Iggy's Stooges, golden-era Stones, Talking Heads, the Smiths at their short-lived but shining summit. The fraternal order of acts displaying such defining/redefining otherness -- the right stuff -- is exclusive, but Oasis might well be invited to join one day if the band can keep from imploding amid the screaming emotional shrapnel and acidic acrimony of the relationship between brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher (lead vocals and guitar, respectively). On the other hand, some of the best rock has come to us as a byproduct of such conflict -- this is one of the qualities that sets the form apart from most other styles of music -- and Oasis has, in its brief tenure, produced some of the best envelope-pushing, return-to-form stuff of the past two decades. Touring behind its third album, Be Here Now, the group performs a rare Houston concert tonight. The opener is Cornershop (see the story on page 63). The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and it's officially sold out. Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 230-1600.
Eswari Raja The choreographer/instructor/ performer, who studied under Houston's Rathna Kumar before pursuing a higher level of training in India, performs the Bhagavata Mela Natakam of Andhra Pradesh -- more informally known as the Kuchipudi -- this afternoon. The Sanskrit dance drama is billed as a combination of "fast rhythms and fluid movements [blending] control and abandon, strength and delicacy." The show starts at 4. The Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts (MECA) Auditorium, 1900 Kane, 802-9370. Free.
Luis Miguel Speaking of hubris and Sinatra, as we were elsewhere in this week's column, this Latino megastar takes the cake: Addressing the topic of Miguel's 1996 awarding of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an entry on the crooner's World Wide Web site (www.luismiguel.org -- a pretty telling techno-suffix) crows, " ... the event places him on the same level of stars such as Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley." While that's true in a technical sense -- they share the level of the cement in front of Grauman's Chinese -- it's an artistic reach if ever there was one. Still, Miguel is a multiplatinum stallion of long standing; sort of a younger, slicker Julio Iglesias, Luis began his highly profitable career at the age of 12 back in '82, and his numerous credits include three Grammys (as ever, more a barometer of sales than skills), numerous ballads for numerous movie soundtracks (including the Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz tune "Suena (Dream)" for Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and, certainly not least, a version of "Come Fly with Me" with Ol' Blue Eyes himself that was included on the 1994 compilation Duets II. Showtime is 8 p.m. Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 961-9003. $25-$75 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
"Microcosm: Views of Microscopic Forms" This exhibit of color and black-and-white photos -- actually, photomicrographs, the proper term for images taken with a scanning electron microscope -- includes extreme close-ups of itsy-bitsy stuff like liquid crystalline DNA, human blood cells, mosquito antennae, hormones, vitamin crystals and the various faunas that lurk in the subworlds beyond our senses. Curated by the University of Hawaii's Dr. Dennis Kunkel and held in conjunction with the upcoming FotoFest '98, "Microcosm" includes 60 works by 19 photomicrographers; the pieces were selected by a jury of scientists and artists based on "artistic composition, originality, tonal balance and photographic quality." The exhibit opens today -- viewing hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- and continues through April 26 (see Thrills for more info). The Museum of Health & Medical Science, 1515 Hermann Drive, 521-1515. $4; $3 for students, seniors and kids ages four to 12.
Houston Symphony Chamber Players Pianist Robert Spano, who's also guest-conducting the Houston Symphony in conjunction with the Houston Grand Opera's presentation of Billy Budd (see Friday), joins the Chamber Players for a program that includes Dvorak's String Quintet in G major; Poulenc's Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon; and Shostakovich's Trio No. 2 for Violin, Cello and Piano. Showtime is 8 p.m. Stude Concert Hall at Rice University (entrance number 8, off University Boulevard). $15-$25 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS).
"A Little Day Music" Air Mail Special, a quartet made up of members of the Houston Symphony, performs pieces ranging from Mozart chamber works to Duke Ellington tunes at noon as part of DaCamera's brown-bag concert series, which continues the first Wednesday of each month, through May. The Grand Foyer at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. More info: 524-7601. Free.