100 Creatives 2014: Pureum Jo, Opera Singer

Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
Pureum Jo
Pureum Jo, a soprano from South Korea, came to the United States while still in high school and all by herself. "I am quite independent and brave," she says. She was determined to be a global singer and to do so she believed she needed to speak English.

"English is like the international language. So I wanted to get it as soon as possible. I wanted to learn the American or Western culture when I was younger. I auditioned for Julliard pre college. I got in."

She was at Julliard for pre-college, undergrad and master's and is now in her first year as one of Houston Grand Opera's Studio Artists. "I heard about many young artists programs. I heard from friends. I realized HGO was the best thing. This was my dream," she says. .

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100 Creatives 2014: Christopher Turbessi, Pianist

Photo courtesy of HGO
Christopher Turbessi
Early on, Christopher Turbessi played percussion but quit after a couple years. ("I hated it; not for me.") Then he went on to the French horn and stayed with that for a while.

He finally found his way to piano when he was 12; he calls that a late start. He discovered he didn't just like playing the piano. He liked performing his music along with a number of musicians, which could be anything from several pianists playing together to a sonata for violin and piano or with singers. "I really like working with other people. I really prefer that."

In his senior year in college at the University of Michigan (where he went on to get a master's degree in collaborative piano), he was asked to play for an opera. That led to his being part of the young artists program in Syracuse, New York, for two years and another in Norfolk, Virginia, before arriving in Houston -- where he is a second-year member of the Houston Grand Opera's Studio Artists.

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A Christmas Carol Becomes an Opera Thanks to a Houston Grand Opera Commission

Categories: Opera

Photo courtesy Houston Grand Opera
Ghosts have always been good source material for operas
Until eight months ago, British composer Iain Bell was writing in his bedroom in London. That's where he did most of his work on the world premiere we're about to see of the operatic version of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. (He's since moved to a larger place with two rooms, one of which is an office)

Two and a half years ago, Bell was about a third of the way through his first opera A Harlot's Progress, a dark work with a less than happy ending, when he met with Houston Grand Opera's Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers and they began talking about something lighter.

"[Summers] said he had a long time dream of a series of holiday operas," recalls Bell who says the idea of working on something "with some redemptive quality" was very appealing.

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Hansel und Gretel: A Folk Tale Spun Into Operatic Gold at Opera in the Heights

Categories: Opera

Photo by Deji Osinulu Photography
Allison Pohl as Gretel and Megan Berti as Hansel
When Opera in the Heights announced it would perform Englebert Humperdinck's gargantuan fairy tale - gargantuan in size of its orchestra - I immediately thought, what a boneheaded mistake, this'll never work. This late Romantic behemoth (1893), progeny of Wagner and stepchild of soon-to-be Richard Strauss, requires orchestral forces that intimate Lambert Hall doesn't possibly have space for, nor can maestro Enrique Carreon-Robledo's small-scale ensemble do justice to the shimmering textures and tone painting that Humperdinck's most famous score calls for. This is epic musical theater; little Opera in the Heights can never pull this off.

Look who's the bonehead! Perfect for the kids and immensely satisfying for any grownup operaphile, Hansel und Gretel is a stunner, perhaps OH's most perfect realization.

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Così fan tutte Proves the Battle of the Sexes Is Nothing New

Categories: Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane
Jacques Imbrailo as Guglielmo and Melody Moore as Dorabella

The set-up:
If you want to know all about sex, why read Masters and Johnson when you can go to the opera and hear Mozart. What better primer than Così fan tutte (1790), the third collaboration between Mozart and urbane librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. The masterpieces Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni preceded this classic.

The execution:
Loosely translated as "All women are like this," if you change tutte's "e" to an "i" you get "all men are like this." That title would be just as appropriate, for the opera skewers the male point of view with an equally jaundiced eye. Suffice it to say, the battle of the sexes has been raging long before and far after this work from the late 18th-century, but there hasn't been anything new. It's comforting to know that some things remain the same.

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HGO's Otello Great Sound and Fury Signifying Very Much Indeed

Categories: Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane
A pretty significant failure to communicate
The set-up:
Giuseppe Verdi certainly knew how to start an opera. A tumultuous dissonant chord blasts forth fortissimo, followed by rushing strings and woodwinds. It's a cacophony of nature, as the curtain rises on an aural storm that can only be called Shakespearean - elemental and terrifying. Wind, rain, and waves batter the island. Arrayed on the Cyprian wharf, the entire chorus prays for victory in the ongoing naval battle against the Turks while this ferocious storm adds unexpected dread. Will their vaunted naval commander and governor succeed? Will the Venetians rule the sea once more? Or will the storm sweep all asunder?

Through the mists, Otello's ship appears. In perhaps the most stirring entrance in opera, the commanding figure of the Moor appears on the foredeck. "Esultate!" he exclaims in triumph. "Rejoice, the Muslim foes are defeated. The glory is ours!"

What a way to begin Otello (1887). As if a prelude to the rawness yet to come, the thunderstorm and jubilation begin the opera on a high that never deflates. With a libretto superbly adapted from Shakespeare's tragedy by Arrigo Boito (an avant-garde writer and composer who had scored a minor theatrical success in 1875 with his revised Mefistofele; wrote Ponchielli's La Gioconda; and would later give Verdi his final masterpiece, Falstaff), Verdi climbed to heights even he might never have anticipated. These two were in perfect sync.

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Così fan tutte Considers Just How Faithful Are We After All

Categories: Opera

Photo courtesy of HGO
Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Donna Anna in HGO's Don Giovanni in 2013
Don Alfonso, an old bachelor and some would say meddler, tells two young soldiers Ferrando and Guglielmo that women cannot be faithful. The soldiers argue that the women to whom they are betrothed, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella are indeed trustworthy.

A bet is made and the soldiers enter into a bargain in which they'll tell the sisters they're off to war, but will return in disguise to test their true loves to see if they remain steadfast.

In Houston Grand Opera's upcoming production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, one of the women proves more faithful than the other but even she succumbs in the end. So, is this a diatribe against women?

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Ailyn Perez Debuts as Desdemona in HGO's Otello

Categories: Opera

Photo courtesy of HGO
Ailyn Perez
Otello is a Muslim and several years senior to Desdemona, a Christian who defies her father and family to run away and marry the man she believes is her true love. Perhaps he should have known better but he falls in love with the idea of her being in love with him.

And then there's Iago, the creature so unhappy in his own right that he spreads lies and dissension among those around him. As anyone who has read William Shakespeare's Othello knows, this is not a happily-ever-after fairy tale. Brought to life with gorgeous music by Giuseppe Verdi, the opera Otello remains a classic because of its strong themes and the opportunity it gives singers to shine.

Soprano Ailyn Perez, who has won both the Tucker and the Domingo awards, is making her role and Houston Grand Opera debut in the role of Desdemona, playing opposite tenor Simon O'Neill.

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

Categories: Opera

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.

OH!'s Erin Kenneavy Explains Rigoletto's Gilda

Categories: Opera

Courtesy of Erin Kenneavy
Verdi's tragedy Rigoletto, being presented by Opera in the Heights, is filled with contrary characters. There's the Duke. An indulgent tyrant, he beds women -- from young, innocent virgins to manipulating women of the court -- as casual entertainment. (The role of the Duke is shared by Dane Suarez and Bernard Holcomb.)

There's the title character, Rigoletto. He's an ugly, hunchbacked court jester who mocks the put-upon husbands who have to stand by and watch as the Duke openly seduces their wives. (Octavio Moreno and Daniel Scofield share the role of Rigoletto.)

There's Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter (played by soprano Erin Kenneavy). Shut away by her father in an effort to protect her from the Duke, Gilda falls in love with a man she sees in church. The man is, of course, the rakish Duke.

The three are on a collision course that will leave one of them dead and one of them brokenhearted. And honestly, we're at a loss as to who to root for.

"That's half the fun - who do I root for? And why am rooting for them?" Kenneavy laughingly tells us.

This story continues on the next page.

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