The Chapel Hill NewsAdvocate Classifieds


Published: Mar 14, 2006

Long Leaf branches out

Photos by Jim Kenny

Richard Cray rehearses his performance for 'Kismet.' Long Leaf Opera Company.

"Kismet, A Musical Arabian Night," an exotic tale of passion, magic and intrigue set in 11th-century Baghdad, is not, strictly speaking, an opera.

It's a musical, which opened on Broadway in 1953, ran for 365 performances and has seen many incarnations since. With songs by Robert Wright and George Forrest, based on works by the Russian composer Alexander Borodin, the performance abounds with rich, exuberant music.

Loads of music, yes. Opera, no.

Which dissuaded Chapel Hill's Long Leaf Opera Company not at all. Long Leaf, which moved its base of operations here from Durham late last year,
will present "Kismet" this weekend in Chapel Hill.


Long Leaf Opera Company will present "Kismet, A Musical Arabian Night" this weekend in the East Chapel Hill.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. A fund-raising silent auction will precede Friday's show, starting at 7 p.m.

Admission is $16 for the public and $10 for students. There is a 10 percent discount for groups of 10 or more.

For information or to purchase tickets, call 338-2642 or visit the Web site at

"This is our first Broadway show," said Benjamin Keaton, Long Leaf's co-founder and music director. "Up until now, we've done nothing but operas. And, really, this show is so full of wonderful numbers, based on classical music, that in a lot of ways it's almost an opera. It's just so good we wanted to do it."

Long Leaf will present "Kismet" Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. A silent auction will precede Friday's performance.

"Kismet" is not a small production; in addition to the main roles, there's a chorus of 15, a dance group of 16 and a 16-piece orchestra.

Rick Piersall plays the Poet, the enigmatic character whose arrival sets the story's chain of events in motion, and veteran vocalist Elizabeth Grayson, who has appeared in three Long Leaf operas, holds the female lead. The brilliant costumes -- all jewels, baubles and flowing fabrics -- are by Long Leaf''s designer Maria Savitsky. All in all, Keaton said, it's a sumptuous show to look at and to listen to.

"It's a big show," he said. "The music is great, and we have terrific people performing it. It's beautifully costumed, and the story is a lot of fun."

In "Kismet," the Poet, who passes himself off as the possessor of magical arts, comes to town and begins casting spells and hexes. Unusual things seem to occur when he does this, and presently the people begin to believe that he holds the keys to magic and fate.

For this show, Long Leaf partnered with students from East Chapel Hill High, who built and painted sets.

"It's good experience for them, they get to watch professional performers at work, and they do a wonderful job," Keaton said.

Long Leaf Opera did its first show at East last fall, presenting "Amahl and the Night Visitors." James Schaeffer, the company's executive director, said that show proved the wisdom of Long Leaf's move to Orange County.

"We had a very nice turnout and an outstanding reception," Schaeffer said. "It went very well. It really validated our decision to move our base to Chapel Hill."

Long Leaf received another bit of good news recently, when Opera America, the nation's association of leading opera companies, accepted Long Leaf's "Twelfth Night" for inclusion in the Opera America convention in Seattle.

Given that Long Leaf was accepted into full professional company membership by Opera America just last year, Schaeffer said scoring a spot in the national convention was a coup.

"This is a big deal for us," he said. "We are brand new to Opera America. It is very competitive to have a work accepted."


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