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Soprano brings opera to Gilbert & Sullivan musical

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Michelle Haché took a break at Mozart's Coffee Roasters from 'The Yeoman of the Guard.'

Soprano Michelle Haché might have lived and performed in just about every corner of the nation, from the Pacific Northwest to Florida, from New York City to Oklahoma City. But if you had asked her a few years ago if Austin might provide her the opportunity to exercise not just her singing talents, but her aptitude for dancing and acting, too, she might have been surprised.

"I feel incredibly lucky to be here," the lively Haché says over coffee recently at Mozart's Coffee Roasters. "And yet I feel like even though I've been here a year, I'm still getting to know everything."

Everyone will have the chance to get to know Haché beginning this weekend when she takes on the female lead in "The Yeoman of the Guard," in the annual production of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Austin.

Set in the Tower of London during the 16th century, "Yeoman" is considered one of the darkest of Gilbert & Sullivan's Victorian comic operettas, and the one more close in style to a traditional grand opera.

Yes, it has the same topsy-turvy story line and witty one-liners that make the 14 works of the 19th-century British collaborators a theatrical genre all their own. As Haché points out, "there's only a little of the 'wink-winking' going on, but there's a lot of grand, operatic singing. I've so fallen in love with this show — it has all the elements I adore."

And that includes plenty of dancing and acting, which for Haché — whose career, interests and training straddle both musical theater and opera — make "Yeoman" a perfect fit. (So do her luscious jet black locks with their natural corkscrews curls? A Victorian-esque hair style for the show? "No," she confesses. "The hair is natural. I'm half Persian, half French Canadian.")

The worlds of musical theater and opera aren't always the most companionable, as Haché can attest. Musicals supposedly aren't serious enough for many opera purists.

Haché knows the debate all too well. She's spent her career caught in the middle of it. She loves both operas and musical and sings both. And several years ago, though she has a bachelor's and a master's degree in music theater, she thought she'd be the last considered for the Juilliard School's prestigious post-graduate diploma.

Not. Haché won one of only three spots in the program. "I just had a month to get ready for auditions," she says, her expressive brown eyes flashing. "Then, suddenly, my husband and I had a month to move from Portland, Oregon, to New York City. It all happened so fast."

Haché reveled in the Big Apple and all the musical offerings it had. But after her program was finished, it was time for her husband's career path to take precedence. "We're a team," says Haché. "We make decisions together."

Together, they chose Austin, where Haché's husband could start a graduate degree in English at the University of Texas and Haché would have an arts-rich town with the possibility of continuing her performing career. And Austin would be a good place for the couple to juggle their professional lives while raising their 3-year-old son.

Earlier this year, Haché played one of the can-can dancing chorus members in Austin Lyric Opera's surreal production of "The Star."

Now, it's time for a less-surreal production, but one on which she can't wait to unleash her triple-threat talent of singing, dancing and acting.

"You want it all when you go to the theater," says Haché. "And I want to do it all."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

'The Yeoman of the Guard'

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through June 19; 3 p.m. Sunday, 3 p.m. June 19-20

Where:Travis High School Performing Arts Center. 1211 E. Oltorf St.

Cost: $5-$20

Information: 494-7497, www.gilbert sullivan.org