Houston COLD SASSY TREE Houston Grand Opera, April 14-30; 713/227-2787. Carlisle Floyd's opera, based on the best-selling book, is this composer's third work to draw on an American novel. Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) directs Dean Peterson as the aging widower whose marriage to the young Patricia Racette sets tongues wagging in a Southern town. CLEOPATRA Houston Ballet, March 9-19; 713/227-2787. Choreographer Ben Stevenson fashions a new, full-length ballet based on the amorous tribulations of the legendary Egyptian queen and her Roman suitors, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony.
Paris WAR AND PEACE National Opéra de Paris, Bastille, Feb. 18-March 11; 33-1/43-43-96-96. Prokofiev's adaptation of Tolstoy's epic tale gets the opulent staging it deserves, with a cast of more than 50, not including the choruses. The new production is directed by American Francesca Zambello, known for her unorthodox takes on the classics.
Munich FAUST Bayerische Staatsoper, Feb. 28-March 17; 49-89/2185-1920. Seductive tenor Marcelo Alvarez assumes the title role in Gounod's operatic treatment of Goethe's masterpiece. Australian Simone Young, who made her debut at the Met in 1996, conducts.
London THE GREEK PASSION Royal Opera, April 25-May 8; 44-207/403-4000. A group of refugees takes shelter in a Greek village, and the results are tragic. This rarely produced 1959 opera by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu is certainly bleak, but also surprisingly transcendent. British director David Poutney brings to life one of Martinu's most searing scores.
South Australia WRITING TO VERMEER Telstra Adelaide Festival, March 2-7; 61-8/8216-4444. The Australian premiere of the latest opera by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and filmmaker Peter Greenaway focuses on Vermeer's masterly depictions of women home alone. —Mario R. Mercado
Led by the director of New York's Whitney Museum, Maxwell Anderson, a team of six curators from across the country assembled the museum's first 21st-century biennial (March 23-June 4). This version of America's most watched — and most maligned — show dedicated to the state of contemporary art will present the work of everyone from seventies activist Dennis Adams to nineties portraitist Lisa Yuskavage. Perhaps, as the museum hopes, it really will be a meeting of minds. —K.L.
One of the 20th century's most radical buildings, the Pompidou Center in Paris reopened last month after a two-year, $90 million renovation. When the museum was unveiled in 1977, some hailed it as a breathtaking architectural achievement; others likened its façade of exposed steel trusses, painted pipes, and glass tubing to an oil refinery. But after two decades of wear and tear, everyone agreed that this futuristic cultural pantheon, which houses France's top collection of modern art as well as research facilities, had become a decrepit hulk. Now on view at the refurbished Pompidou is a retrospective dedicated to architect Renzo Piano, who, together with Richard Rogers, designed the building. —Michael Z. Wise
As part of the transformation of London's Somerset House into an art emporium, the two-story vaults that once held the country's birth and death certificates have been reconfigured as a series of galleries. They will house some of the 800 objects amassed by British-born Arthur Gilbert, including such rare items as gold snuffboxes that belonged to Frederick the Great. Gilbert, who made his fortune in California real estate, acquired these treasures from Britain's historic houses when the Crown couldn't afford to do so. Now they return home. Opens May 25; The Strand; 44-207/240-5782. —M.R.M.
New York WHO'S ON TOP Playwrights Horizons, through march 26; 212/279-4200. James Lapine's latest comedy begins when a man and a woman meet at a Manhattan party. As they share a joint and divulge their lives to each other, they contemplate the travails of art and marriage.
Chicago VALPARAISO Steppenwolf Theatre, Feb. 3-March 26; 312/335-1650. In novelist Don DeLillo's fourth play, a businessman heads to Valparaiso, Indiana. Along the way he encounters a chorus and a TV talk-show-host-cum-oracle, who force him to account for his past.
Los Angeles RICHARD FEYNMAN Mark Taper Forum, March 26-May 14; 213/628-2772. Alan Alda plays the eccentric Nobel Prize-winning physicist (who solved the mystery of the Challenger disaster) in this new work by Peter Parnell.
San Francisco THE INVENTION OF LOVE American Conservatory Theater, through Feb. 13; 415/749-2228. London's Evening Standard called Tom Stoppard's portrait of English poet A. E. Housman the best play of 1997. James Cromwell (The Green Mile) stars in the American premiere.
Seattle KING HEDLEY II Seattle Repertory Theatre, March 6-April 8; 206/443-2222. Threats of gang violence permeate the third play in August Wilson's series about the lives of African-Americans over several decades. —Elizabeth Garnsey