Tenor Stephen Costello Withdraws From Cosi, Norman Reinhardt Will Do Double Duty in Two Operas

Categories: Breaking News

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Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
Norman Reinhardt
Proving that real-life opera can be as dramatic as the tumultuous scenes and lives it portrays, Houston Grand Opera has just announced it is making a last-minute switch of one of its lead singers in its upcoming production of Cosi fan tutte.

Stephen Costello, last seen here as the duke in last season's HGO production of Rigoletto, has had to withdraw due to illness, HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers announced. "We wish Stephen Costello a speedy recovery."

Instead, tenor Norman Reinhardt will sing the role of Ferrando. He happened to be in town because he's singing the role of Cassio in Giuseppe Verdi's Otello which starts next week.

Now he'll be singing both roles -- a pretty daunting proposition and one that has HGO officials saying that there will be no advance interviews with him while he takes special care of his voice.

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American Horror Story: Freak Show: Greatest Show on Earth

Categories: Film and TV

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Without delving too far into hyperbole, this is without a doubt the best season of American Horror Story yet. Though it's the one I was the most worried about liking, it's managed to capture the perfect mixture of horror and regular dramatic television.

Let's start with Twisty the Clown (John Carroll Lynch), our strange, homicidal masked killer. Somehow this show has taken a one-dimensional killer trope and turned it into the potent mix of slapstick and spine-tingling awfulness that made the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre the unique film that it was. He gets a profound amount of screen time this episode, and he uses every inch of it to amaze and disturb.

He's onto at least his fourth murder now, the latest taking place in a toy shop in a scene that will definitely haunt your nightmares. However, it's coming from that killing where things really get going. Oblivious to the fact that he looks like Hell's fast-food mascot, Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) stops him on the side of the road and invites him home to entertain her crazed, spoiled son Dandy (Finn Wittrock).

What follows is a duel of insanity that may never, ever be topped. How weird is it that you are actually looking at a guy in a rotting clown outfit that you know for a fact has murdered and kidnapped with brutal glee and you're feeling bad for the guy because he clearly regrets having accepted a gig with an obvious nutter butter. At times, this season takes the "real monsters are inside" metaphor a little wide on the turns, but there's no denying that Dandy is far more stomach-churning than any human oddity on display.

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America's Next Top Model's Chris Hernandez's Take on Reality TV

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America's Next Top Model: Season 20
I'll admit it... I'm a little embarrassed that I watch America's Next Top Model, but I love it and I'm not big into watching reality TV shows. For me, ANTM is the exception because it captures the reality of the modeling world... or at least I think it does. Models sometimes get a bad rap, but anyone who watches this show knows that it's not an easy industry to deal with...So that got me wondering what life is really like for one of these ANTM models.

I got together with Chris Hernandez, one of ANTM's top male model contestants from its 20th cycle, and grilled him about the modeling/fashion industry and his opinions on reality TV.

Q: What's your take on the fashion industry?

"The fashion industry has changed with the emergence of social media. It used to be about your book, looks and modeling skills, the ability to sell whatever it is you are modeling. Now it's more about how many followers you have following you on social media."

Q: What was your experience like on America's Next Top Model?

"It was a great experience and I learned a lot and got to meet some great people. It was definitively stressful, but what competition isn't? I am very glad that I was given the opportunity to be part of ANTM."

Hernandez said the only bad part was that he learned that reality TV isn't always reality television.


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When Parents Say, "How Can You Have a Meaningful Life Without Kids?"

Categories: Parenting

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Photos by Jef With One F
If you've reached a stable adulthood but have not yet had any children, you've probably had people who have ask you when the hell you're going to get off your bottom and shoot your own half-clone into the world. This goes double if you're married. And depending on the tact of the people asking, you might get asked fairly rudely.

"One person even told me that I would wake up sad and alone, hating my life, if I decide not to have kids," said a friend of mine on an informal Facebook poll.

"I've been told it's unnatural for a woman to not want kids and that I should 'get help' for it," said another. "I've been told I'm selfish. I've been guilt-tripped for not giving my dad grandkids before he died."

"No matter what reason I give, people always lecture me about having babies," added a third. "I wish that it was not so socially acceptable to be so intrusive in the lives and decisions of others."

The consensus I get is that a lot of parents simply don't understand how a person's life can have any meaning without reproduction. Well, this weekend I had something of an epiphany on the subject.

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When Wood Met Design: LeeAnn Gorman and Paula Haymond

Categories: Visual Arts

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Photo courtesy of Archway Gallery
Wooden sculptures by Paula Haymond are shown in front of an acrylic painting by LeeAnn Gorman
Painter LeeAnn Gorman met sculptor Paula Haymond at the Archway Gallery, and they formed a friendship which has now led to a collaboration.

In the current show, each artist has solo pieces, but also shown are works where their efforts are collaborative.

The artists exchanged ideas as well as efforts, and Gorman's use of mapping as a theme has been incorporated by Haymond, even in her solo pieces. Gorman's paintings use acrylic on canvas, and resemble is some ways the kind of map one might see of an underground subway system in London or New York.


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10 Most Controversial Houston Billboards

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We still do a remarkable amount of advertising on billboards because frankly there's not much else to do while the city apparently tries to better 290 by smashing it with hammers. Most of these are amusing and simple. Cows misspell words so you'll eat at Chick Fil A and Jim Adler will glare at you until you sue someone for something just to get that stare out of your head.

Then there are ads that were more or less like trying to sell your point with a wasps' nest.

SnoreStop
Green Pharmaceuticals is a company that makes sleep aids called SnoreStop, and in 2013 it started a campaign called #betogether designed to show rarer forms of loving couples in America embracing and presumably living more harmonic lives now the that ear-shattering mouth rattles of their partner had been silenced. The campaign ran in Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Salt Lake City, New York City, and more. One of the billboards in the campaign showed a young American soldier cuddling with a Muslim woman wearing a wedding ring. They were based on a real-life veteran named Jamie Sutton and his wife, Aleah.

If you've been on Facebook these last several months then you know that depicting Muslims as anything other than wild-eyed beheading maniacs will unleash the Kraken. As one commenter on a KTRH story about the billboard put it, "Like a military man is ever going to love a woman who's own people kill him in their own country. What liberal lala land do the people that made this live in?"


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Adrien Brody Shines in Houdini, the History Channel's Television Mini-series Now on DVD

Categories: Film and TV

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Courtesy of Lionsgate
Harry Houdini, the 19th century illusionist and escape artist, has been the subject of various biographies. Tony Curtis starred in a popular bio-flick in the early 1950s and for many contemporary viewers, that film remains the benchmark performance. Academy Award winner Adrien Brody stared in a two-part television mini-series, Houdini for the History Channel. (The production is now making its way to DVD.) Though it's more than 60 years later, the new Houdini doesn't rely on camera tricks to wow its audience, but on Brody's talent.

The set-up: Based on Bernard C. Meyer's book Houdini: A Mind in Chains : A Psychoanalytic Portrait, this is a look at not only what he did but why he did it. His drive to excel, we're alternately told, comes from his desire to escape the poverty he knew as a child, to win his overly strict father's approval, to outdistance the doubt and fear that plagued him throughout his adult life. Which is true? All of them, none of them. For the purpose of the mini-series, those reasons are as good as any others.

The two-part series follows Houdini as he moves from small time sideshows to bigger stages and better tricks, eventually becoming the most famed illusionist in the world . Along the way, we're shown the the physical workings of his marvelous escapes and illusions (the ingenious hiding places for keys to the handcuffs and locks, the fake floor that lets him pass "through" a brick wall). It satisfies our need to know, but also leaves us a bit disillusioned.

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Steampunk, the Supernatural and Decadence in The Tales of Hoffmann at UH

Categories: Opera

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Photos courtesy of the University of Houston
One of the projections that will be on screen during The Tales of Hoffmann
There's a mechanical doll. Also a singer, a seductress and a woman protected by her father. And Hoffman loves them all. Billed as a mixture of "steampunk, the supernatural and romantic decadence,"

Jacques Offenbach's opera fantasy The Tales of Hoffmann is coming back to the University of Houston Moores Opera House for the third time and grad student and teacher Tyler Beck is singing one of the four Hoffman roles.

"This opera has a lot to offer the audience. There's a lot of drama, there's a lot of melodrama but there's also so much comedy and each act is based on a different story by E.T.A.Hoffman," Beck said.

Performed in French with English surtitles, the music can be tricky, particularly for college students. So Buck Ross, the director of Moores Opera Center decided to exploit his "bumper crop of tenors" and switch out the leads not between shows but between acts.

"They'll be dressed exactly the same all the way through," he added. "Thematically it works really well too because we're seeing Hoffman at different stages in his life from innocent to one that's frankly rather drunk and depraved at the end."

The point of a UH college production, unlike professional operas, is to give as many students a chance to shine as possible, Ross said. "The show is a terrific showcase for virtually every singer we've got." So in addition to all the Hoffmans, there's a huge cast, Ross said. "We've probably got 80 singers on stage. It's quite an extravaganza."

Adding in steampunk elements was a natural Ross said. The piece was written in 1881, the show Offenbach did right before that was an adaptation of Jules Verne's A Voyage to the Moon. "Jules Verne is sort of cited as a foundation of the steampunk movement," Ross said. Besides the mechanized doll, "the show is framed in a tavern. We've made it into a giant brewery so we have lots of big tanks and steam and bubblers going all throughout to create that kind of atmosphere. The show is done in three parts with two intermissions and clocks in at about three hours.

The Tales of Hoffman runs October 24-27 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday and 2 p.m. Sunday. The University of Houston's Moores Opera House (Entrance 16 off Cullen Boulevard).  .Call 713-743-3313 or visit www.vendini.com/ticket. $20. Students and seniors $12.

Anything Goes Dances and Sings Up a Storm

Categories: Stage

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Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Reno Sweeney (Emma Stratton) and the rest of the crew show off their serious dancing talents
The set-up:
Move over, Sondheim, there's a new kid on the block. Name's Porter, Cole Porter. He writes lyrics that'll make your head spin. And fresh tunes with catchy rhythmic hooks to them. Nothing standard about these songs.

Except, of course, that five of his songs from Anything Goes (1934), playing only through this weekend in a gleefully sunny production from Broadway at the Hobby, are indeed standards, classic examples of the Great American Songbook. Choose one, I dare you, as a favorite: "I Get a Kick Out of You;" "You're the Top;" "Easy to Love;" "Blow, Gabriel, Blow;" and "Anything Goes." Or maybe, you'd prefer one of the interpolated Porter songs that were added to the first off-Broadway revival (1962): "It's De-Lovely" (from Red Hot and Blue) or "Friendship" (from DuBarry Was a Lady). Winner's all.

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Bayou City Haunts: The 2014 Houston Halloween Guide

Categories: Festivals

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There's nothing quite like All Hallows' Eve falling on a weekend night, and this year, the costumed chaos will be especially rowdy, since that lucky Friday date will give party-goers plenty of time to recover from the revelry. And with Halloween falling on prime calendar pickings, there's quite a bit of trouble to be had. From the naughty parties to the nerdy museum celebrations and the family-friendly festivals, this year's holiday will have it all. There's even a horror convention thrown in for good measure.


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