MasterMinds One Year Later: Opera Vista

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Dave Nickerson
Misha Penton, Megan Hanson and Michael Walsh in Wake, by James Norman
Joe Carl White, executive director of Opera Vista, a 2010 MasterMinds Award winner, says Houston's arts community is a hotbed of innovation and ingenuity, making singling out just three art groups or individuals a year for special notice almost impossible. "There are a lot of great organizations in Houston right now," he tells us. "You could give out a hundred of these awards and every winner would deserve it."

Opera Vista has an unusual scope for an opera company. Instead of a season of performances, the group holds an annual competition festival for composers, with the winner being given a full-scale production the following year.

Opera Vista Founder and Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman says the group choose not to compete with other organizations such as Houston Grand Opera, which was already doing an excellent job of presenting traditional and new works as well as reaching out to schools and students. "Houston Grand Opera does such an incredible job, says Subbaraman. "They're an international level company doing great work...When we looked at that we thought it would be redundant to try to do something that they were already doing.

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Courtesy of Viswa Subbaraman
Opera Vista artistic director Viswa Subbaraman
"We're trying to create the next generation of opera goers," Subbaraman says. "We have young singers who get the opportunity to create roles for the first time; we have young composers who we work with. Opera Vista is a training ground for people who hopefully will [later] be involved with HGO. We're feeding people to HGO, as singers, composers and hopefully, audiences."

Through the festival, Opera Vista gives new composers a chance to have their works performed and recognized. While White says Houston has the perfect mix of great performers and composers, most of the competition's participants are from out of town. The upcoming festival will have composers from Sweden, Spain and the United States.

"It's exciting every year." Subbaraman says. "Partly because ... we don't know much about the composers until they get here. We evaluate the operas based on what's written. We don't know about their degrees, about their age, nothing. All we really know is what's written in the score."

As with other winners, Opera Vista saw a financial boost from the win. Besides the $2,000 cash prize the award carries, Opera Vista won new funding from the Texas Commission on the Arts and Houston Arts Alliance, both organizations which had not previously awarded OV grant monies. "We are definitely on the up-tick," says White.


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