'Bambino' explores Red Sox curse in opera form

  • Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 4:52 p.m.
    UPDATED: Thursday, May 2, 2013 4:53 p.m.
Submitted photo
Kevin Eckard posing as his “Bambino” character Babe Ruth at USC baseball field.
Submitted photo Kevin Eckard posing as his “Bambino” character Babe Ruth at USC baseball field.

Seven-year-old George Herman Ruth Jr. drank, chewed tobacco and taunted local police for fun.

His parents, not knowing what else to do, sent him to the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.

But George didn't break. Instead, during his 12 years at the Catholic reformatory and orphanage, he found his way to becoming the legend the world knows today – the masterful icon Babe Ruth.

Babe Ruth, throughout his career, broke records instead of rules. Any team he was with strived.

So, when the Boston Red Sox sold him to the New York Yankees in 1919, it probably should have been no surprise a string of bad luck would follow the Red Sox.

Without Ruth, the Red Sox didn't see another World Series win until 2004. This dry spell for the Red Sox was deemed the “Curse of the Bambino.”

It was this “curse” that sparked the idea of “Bambino,” an opera composed by Dr. Richard Maltz, a music professor at USC Aiken.

“Bambino” will be performed at USCA today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., as well as at USC on May 10-11 at 7:30 p.m. and May 12 at 3 p.m.

The curse plays as a backdrop for “Bambino.”

But for this tale, Maltz created another great player, a man named Buck George. George falls prey to a couple of criminals, Mr. Garble and Mr. Kratz, who offer him money if he throws the 2004 World Series for the Red Sox.

Babe Ruth has a few things to say in this matter and comes in as a Jiminy Cricket archetype for George, a spirit to try talk George into doing the right thing.

George is played by John Dooley, “a warm, supple baritone” from Pittsburgh with a strong musical theater and opera background, according to a release on USC's website. South Carolina native Kevin Eckard, now a vocal teacher and the opera director at University of Central Oklahoma's School of Music, will play Ruth. Dustin Ousley and David Culp will perform as bad guys Garble and Kratz, respectivefully.

All baseball teams need the support of fans, even fictional ones. So, Maltz created some – five named ones to be exact.

Molly, played by Kelsey Harrison, is not only a Red Sox fan but also George's girlfriend. The other fans that sing are Bess, played by Lee Ousley, and Sam, played by Josh Wentz.

Wentz revealed that Bess, Molly and his character meet at a Red Sox game.

“They all have an unique personality, but their love for the Sox tie them together so nicely. It's been a fun role to learn and work on. I love that the music is so catchy and very tonal. … I find myself singing (it) all day,” he said.

In real life, Wentz has never been to a Red Sox game; he grew up in Ohio, loyal to the Cincinnati Reds.

The other fans will be portrayed by Lauren Norton and Shaquile Hester, while the manager is played by Ian Prichard.

The show is a combined effort of USCA, USC, the opera program at USC and FBN Productions Inc.

From USC is Dr. Scott Weiss, the show's conductor; Ellen Douglas Schlaefer, director and producer; Dr. Lynn Kompass, musical director; and Michael LaRoche, technical director.

From USCA is Chet Longley, the set and lighting designer. Linda Lee Harper, a former professor at USCA, is the librettist.

“Directing is like a managing a baseball team,” said Schlafer, a baseball fan. “So far, the process has been fun.”

Also helping is Alexis Doktor, the costume designer, and Kaley Smith, the stage manager.

At first, it was just Maltz batting around with the idea of a Bambino curse-themed opera. But it wasn't until he approached Harper that the ball truly got rolling.

With her, the story of Buck George was born.

Maltz's own past also played a part in the story sculpting. The professor grew up outside of Boston, donning Red Sox pride.

“As a kid, I use to go to the Red Sox games quite often in Fenway Park,” he said. “My favorite sport to play when I was younger was baseball. I just love baseball. I just grew up a Boston fan, whether it was the Red Sox, the Patriots, the Celtics … whatever it was.”

That love and pride was then combined with another interest of his – opera: “Opera is just an amazing musical form. It contains singing. It contains music of the orchestra; it contains the vocalists, the instrumentalists. It's dramatic. It has costumes. It has staging and theatrical scenery and lighting. It's drama but told through music. And it's such a complex musical form that I've always wanted to compose.”

And the idea of his baseball opera was born.

Now, after years of work and patience, Maltz has completed his full, two-act baseball opera. But audiences will be seeing an one-act version this and next weekend.

“Ultimately, I would love to have a professional opera company produce the full version. This is just a step along the way but an exciting, enjoyable step.”

Before the debut show today, Maltz will discuss the production in room 125 of the Etherredge Center. Before and after Sunday's show, free ballpark food will be served, and USC and USCA's mascots, Cocky and Ace the Pacer, will be present.

The USCA performances will be held in the Etherredge Center, while the USC performances will be in Drayton Hall.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for USC and USCA faculty and staff, seniors and military and $5 for students.

To order tickets, call 803-641-3305 for the Aiken shows or 803-777-5369 for the Columbia ones.

Babe Ruth's biographical information was provided by www.biography.com.

Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and layout pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University and lives with her family in Evans, Ga.

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