Opera darling Renée Fleming, who has two Grammys under her belt, says her breakout performance came here in Houston in 1988. Houston Grand Opera had a last-minute cancellation for the role of the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, and, says Fleming, "that gave me a chance." Now the in-demand diva is returning to Houston to portray, for the first time, Violetta, the Parisian courtesan in La Traviata. In the opera, Fleming's character falls in love with Alfredo, but his dad sabotages the relationship because he thinks Violetta's trampy. The show opens at 7:30 p.m. today, with additional performances Sunday, April 20 (2 p.m.); Wednesday, April 23; Saturday, April 26; Tuesday, April 29; Friday, May 2; and Sunday, May 4 (2 p.m.). Wortham Theater Center, 550 Prairie. For information, call 713-228-OPERA or visit www.houstongrandopera.org. $20 to $275.
Friday, April 18
The referees at today's Extreme Fighting match won't have too much to do. They'll look on as guys punch, kick and knee each other, only stepping in if there's an eye-poke, a hair-grab or a bite (in other words, a sissy move). Several local fighters will be taking part in the ten-bout match, including Carlo Prater, Edwin Allsites, Chad Cook and Jose Luis Nuñoz. The fight to watch will be between Cook and Nuñoz, violent fellows who are one-and-one (each has beaten the shit out of the other once) and looking for a rematch. 8 p.m., doors open at 6 p.m. Verizon Wireless Theater, 520 Texas Avenue. For information, call 713-794-0053. $25 to $100.
Saturday, April 19
Each year, Tony Award-winning playwright Edward Albee picks six plays by fledgling local writers for his New Playwrights Workshop. This weekend, see Peter Wittenberg's Engagements & Ornaments, a farce about a 19th-century Southern family. Or, if you're feeling ambitious, check out Donna Perkins's Touching Leaves, an esoteric-sounding work about "falling through the surface layer of life," which will be paired with Elizabeth Ann Earle's Blueness/Grayness, a play about how friends and family react to a trauma victim. Hell, admission is free, so see them all. Next week brings Thomas LeVrier's Rapture Among the Oysters, a dark comedy about an East Texas high school romance; Michael Crawford's God's Own Cartoon Anvil, about a man who's falling apart; and Crystal Jackson's We Need to Talk, about a couple fighting over dinner. Touching Leaves and Blueness/Grayness: 2 p.m. today and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 18. Engagements & Ornaments: 7:30 p.m. today and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 20. God's Own Cartoon Anvil: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 25, and 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26. We Need to Talk and Rapture Among the Oysters: 8 p.m. Saturday, April 26, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-743-2929. Free.
If you wouldn't think of seeing a play that hasn't gotten the New York stamp of approval, well, you're a fool, but luckily, you're a fool with options. The New York Daily News calls Nicky Silver's The Altruists, now running at Theatre New West, "hysterical." The play pokes fun at "radicals," with characters including a gay social worker who finds the poor annoying, a lesbian who seems to hump only men and a Brit who goes to rallies to meet women. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through May 24, with 2 p.m. matinees May 10 and May 24. 1415 California. For reservations, call 713-522-2204. $10 to $20.
Sunday, April 20
In Uzumaki, the 2001 Japanese film directed by Higuchinsky, a character spends his days and nights videotaping snails. It's the spiral shape that so fascinates him, and it turns out he's not alone. The whole damn town of Kurozu-cho is obsessed with snails. The draw of the spiral is never explained, but it's clearly powerful, compelling one man to crawl into a washing machine and spin around until he croaks. The only character who seems to avoid falling under the spell is Kirie, a schoolgirl who gives viewers a tour of the town as its inhabitants descend into complete insanity and the bodies begin to pile up. 8 p.m. today, Friday, April 18, and Saturday, April 19. Rice Media Center, entrance no. 8 (off University at Stockton Drive). For information, call 713-238-4882 or visit www.ricecinema.rice.edu. $5 to $6.
Monday, April 21
If you're still hungover from the weekend, the Continental Club's Bingo Night is the best cure around. Begin with a bit of the hair of the dog: Martinis are only $3, and the El Orbits will be playing the Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin classics that go down so well with that cocktail. Of course, to avoid starting the vicious day-after cycle all over again, you've Fisher dishes up a free soul food buffet. Best of all, between songs, the band's "bingo girls" call numbers, so you might not even go home empty-handed. Happy Monday. 9 p.m. 3700 Main. For information, call 713-529-9899. Free.
Tuesday, April 22
Broke? Blame your own traitorous subconscious. At least, that's the premise behind Suzanne Rothschild's "Remove the Obstacles to Prosperity" lecture at CenterPoint for the Body, Mind & Spirit. At the talk, you can learn how to discard your self-defeating beliefs about money. If you think you'll never make any dough, Rothschild will hypnotize you into a more positive outlook. But let's hope your subconscious doesn't take the concept and run with it -- you could walk out believing you're on the cusp of acquiring a Bentley and a butler. 7:30 p.m. 1920 Hollister. For information, call 713-932-7224. $15.
Wednesday, April 23
Walter Latham, the man who brought us Original Kings of Comedy and Queens of Comedy and discovered Chris Rock, Bernie Mac and Cedric the Entertainer, is searching the United States for a fresh crop of comedic talent for his reality TV show. Called Kings & Queens of Comedy Search, the show is described as American Idol meets Road Rules, and features 12 comedians taking part in televised competitions in clubs around the country. Each week, the lowest-scoring contestant will be dropped. The series will culminate in a laugh-off at Madison Square Garden Theater, and the winner gets a network television deal. Auditions take place at 8:30 p.m. today at the H-Town Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway, 281-489-7048. Spectators are encouraged to come and watch hopefuls try to squeeze a few laughs out of Latham. For information, visit www.lathamentertainment.com.