Sondheim's A Little Night Music: So Smart, Comic & Heartbreaking at the Same Time

It's a weekend in the Swedish countryside in 1900 and hostess and actress Desiree Armfeldt is entertaining an old flame and his young wife as well as her former lover's son who is a divinity student.

A current lover and his wife pop in and, of course, everyone is mismatched and out of sorts with one another. As with much of Stephen Sondheim's work, A Little Night Music blends comedy with heartbreaking moments.

The role of Desire Armfeldt, doesn't call on well known coloratura soprano Elizabeth Futral to draw upon all of her famous tricks - the trills and runs -- but does give her the chance to act in a role both poignant and comic.

And she gets to sing "Send in the Clowns, "which she hopes audience members won't sing along to no matter how many times they've heard it before. She admits to feeling that song has been overdone, but says she gained a whole new understanding of it in the context of the show. "It comes at a moment in the musical when you suddenly see these two characters are quite vulnerable. "

Describing her character, Futral says "She's more complex than might be apparent at first. She's very strong and independent and in control and yet she is searching and wishing for something she doesn't have."

Futral is known for originating a number of roles (Stella in Andre Previn's A Streecar Named Desire, Laura Jesson in Previn's Brief Encounter) and says taking on something that's a modern day classic isn't that different except "The composer is not going to be there by my side saying 'Oh, this is what I intended.' I guess I could have called up Stephen Sondheim, 'Can we do this an octave higher please?'"

Still, although she listened to the original Broadway recording, Futral didn't study previous efforts. "It's really about finding my way. It's not been my method to ever try to imitate someone else."

Next up for Futral is a world premiere in June of a new Ricky Ian Gordon (he's also responsible for the shortly upcoming premiere of A Coffin in Egypt at HGO) piece at Opera Theater St. Louis called 27. It's based on Gertrude Stein and her life partner Alice B. Toklas. Futral plays Alice and Stephanie Blythe is Gertrude. Futral says "27 rue de Fleurus was the address of their Paris apartment where they entertained on Saturday nights so many artists, writers, critics and art collectors."

Performances of A Little Night Music are scheduled for March 7 through 23. 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue. For information call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $30 -$115

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