OITH Does Well by Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito

Categories: Opera

Photo by Deji Osinulu Photography
Emerald Cast: Celeste Fraser as Vitellia and Theodora Cottarel as Servilia
The set-up:
Mozart's penultimate opera, La Clemenza di Tito, is music fit for a king, which is certainly appropriate since it was commissioned to celebrate the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II's coronation as King of Bohemia in September, 1791. The celebrations were hastily planned, leaving only about two months to ready Prague for the royal treatment.

An opera seria was required, but when approached to compose it on such short notice, imperial kapellmeister Salieri turned down the offer. The producer of the festivities then turned to the only composer in Vienna who could do justice to such a project, W.A. Mozart.

Offered double the salary he could command in the capital, the young composer eagerly accepted the assignment. Working from an already written libretto by the grand master of opera seria, Pietro Metastasio, Mozart and his adapter Mazzola quickly churned out an opera worthy to honor the "enlightened emperor."

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Soprano Kathryn Lewek Soars as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute

Categories: Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane
Kathryn Lewek as the Queen of the Night
The set-up:
Mozart's final opera, a grand fairy tale filled with lofty philosophy and low-brow vaudeville, is the work that gave him the most pleasure. Not only was The Magic Flute his most profitable hit, running daily sold-out performances at the suburban, middle class Theater auf der Wieden, but the Viennese had finally warmed up to his incomparable stylish music. He never lived to see Flute conquer the world, for he died two months after the premiere, described at the time in the city's leading newspaper, Wiener Zeitung, as an "irreplaceable loss."

The last few months had been replete with renewed hope and financial security. Although passed over for the prestigious job of imperial kapellmeister, he nonetheless was appointed head of music at St. Steven's, Vienna's foremost cathedral, a cushy post indeed. He had been invited to London for a series of concerts; received two hefty commissions from subscribers in Amsterdam and Hungary; his other operas were fast becoming staples of the repertory throughout Germany. He was busy writing a clarinet concerto, some cantatas for his Masonic lodge, feverishly working on his Requiem; and had a success of sorts in Prague in September with his opera seria La clamenza di Tito. To top off his happiness, wife Constanze had given birth in July to a new son. Things were looking up.

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Houston Grand Opera Announces Its 2015-16 Season

Categories: Opera

Photo by Bill Cooper
Ana Maria Martinez in Rusalka
It's a season designed to portray the journeys people take, says Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers in describing the upcoming 2015-16 HGO offerings ranging from the Siegfried (and Summers' favorite part of Wagner's Ring Cycle) to the return of Carlisle Floyd now in his 88th year who's written a new opera Prince of Players that takes him far from his usual Americana.

There's a mixture of classic (and classic in new productions) and new with another special holiday offering - this time The Little Prince - and one from musical theater - Carousel. "Of all of the pieces of American musical theater, Carousel is the most profound. It is the piece of musical theater that sits between opera and commercial theater most obviously. But more than that, the themes of Carousel, the idea of a life that didn't get to be finished, having an opportunity to redeem itself I think that Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers finding that tale and getting to write it just as the war was ending, just as as all kinds of households in the United States were facing a future that had lives that did not get to be completed. They took an extraordinary story in which a man on his own journey gets one day to return to his life to try to redeem himself," Summers says.

Audiences will also be able to see Dvorak's fairy tale Rusalka, a new version of The Marriage of Figaro, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Puccini's Tosca, as well as world premiere's of chamber pieces O Columbia and another yet untitled one about the effects of Hurricane Ike on Galveston.

Summers calls Floyd's world premiere "the centerpiece" of the coming season. "We're in a golden moment at Houston Grand Opera concerning Carlisle because there's no opera company in history that has had such a long and close association with a living composer and with a living composer of Carlisle's talent and reknown. He has been associated with Houston Grand Opera for more than half its history both as a composer as an influence as a co-founder of the Houston Grand Opera Studio."

"It's an opera about the theater of life itself and how acting is for many people how they discover who they are," Summers says. It's told through the life story of an actual person, Sir Edward Kynaston, who was the most renowned Shakespearean actor of the day., but he was renowned for female roles. Sir Edward Kynaston was the last of that generation of actors before a decree came that women should be able to play female roles which of course was a great advance for women but very bad news for Kynaston."

A lot of regular opera-goers are looking forward to the return of Christine Goerke, who last year achieved so much acclaim in New York City when she sang Strauss. Goerke will be singing the Brunnhilde role in Siegfried and has a long association with HGO.

"It is certainly not an overnight sensation. Christine Goerke has been working diligently for 20 years," says Summers, who added he's known her 20 years. "Yes, HGO invested very early on in Christine, casting her in Lohengrin. It was a very controversial decision at the time, which says more about the art form than Christine Goerke. Christine and I had a plan together to lead her into the Wagnerian roles. So the idea to me that she's an overnight sensation is rather hilarious. Voices take time to mature. She is an extraordinary artist."

For more details on the upcoming season, see the next page.

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UH Launches the Opera Winter Season With Frau Margot and The Elixir of Love

Categories: Opera

Photos courtesy of the University of Houston
Nicole Woodward (left) as Kara; Emily Louise R obinson as Frau Margot
Unrequited love is a mainstay of opera. The heroines in Frau Margot and The Elixir of Love, presented by the University of Houston Moores School of Music experience potions, séances and more as each attempts to keep her suitors, romantic and intellectual, at bay.

Thomas Pasatieri's Frau Margot is a local premiere and the first performance of the work since its initial production in 2007 at the Fort Worth Opera. It tells the mysterious tale of a wealthy widow, Frau Margot, whose late husband was in the process of composing an opera when he died. Many musicians try to get permission to complete the work, but the scornful widow goes so far as to hold a séance to show them that her husband disapproves of the completion of his opera. Pasatieri's work is loosely based on the story of Austrian composer Alban Berg whose opera Lulu was unfinished at the time of his death. His wife did, in fact, hold séances to seek his counsel, just as Frau Margot does.

"The music, like the libretto, is reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock movie of the 1940's. It has a lush, lyric sound that we associate with scores by the great film composers of that era," said the Moores Opera Center's Artistic Director Buck Ross. "It's very accessible to a traditional opera audience."

This story continues on the next page.

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HGO's The Magic Flute: Features Mozart's Beautiful Music and an Exotic Egyptian Quest

Categories: Opera

Photo courtesy of HGO
Nicole Heaston
When Nicole Heaston, the daughter of a Chicago music teacher, was a child taking piano lessons she was, well, not very good. But her instructor urged her mother to listen to her daughter as Heaston sang along with her playing.

In short order Heaston became a member of the Chicago Children's Choir, sang in high school where her teacher pushed her to transition from alto to soprano and after an undergraduate degree and a master's and a stint with HGO Studio Artists, became a professional opera singer.

When Lisette Oropesa had to withdraw from Houston Grand Opera's upcoming production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, Heaston, who has sung the role of Pamina at the Met and other opera stages including Houston and who now lives in Katy, stepped in - although she had just 20 days to learn a different English version than the one she'd performed before.

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Ana Maria Martinez Soars in HGO's Madame Butterfly

Categories: Opera

Photo by Lynn Lane
Ana Maria Martinez in HGO's Madame Butterfly

The set-up:
The girl in the chrysanthemum kimono never stays too far away too long.

Depicted through Puccini's most rhapsodic melodies that use a subtle pentatonic framework for its swirling overlay of Japanesque atmosphere, Madame Butterfly, a universally beloved opera, is continually on the annual top-ten list of most performed operas.

Written after Tosca, this beautiful and disturbing work (1907, then revised four more times until its present form) Madame Butterfly never fails to wring the audience's appropriate sympathetic response. It's bold and modern in theme, lush in score, and fairly wrenching in emotion.

Houston Grand Opera's production is blessed by Ana Maria Martinez in the title role, who conveys a feisty stubbornness in Cio-Cio-San, as well as bringing her patented shimmering sound, and by tenor Alexey Dolgov, as bounder Pinkerton. His bright tenor trumpets through Puccini's hothouse music. His music is so triumphant and Italianate, you'd think he was some sort of hero. Puccini never clues you in on his wickedness. Pinkerton fools us like he fools Butterfly. Puccini fools everyone.

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Baritone Scott Hendricks on Sharpless, the Moral Conscience of Madame Butterfly

Categories: Opera

Photo by Felix Sanchez

The original Madame Butterfly was a two-act disaster that premiered in 1904.

Composer Giacomo Puccini hauled it back in and rewrote extensively in time for another try later that year and in the two years that followed after another few revisions, came up with the three-hanky classic that audiences have appreciated ever since and Houston Grand Opera has lined up to be its next production this season.

The story begins with the marriage of Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly), a 15-year-old Japanese girl to American Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. He sees the marriage as a temporary stop on his worldwide travels; she thinks it's permanent. He splits and while she waits for his return, she has their baby.

Baritone Scott Hendricks plays Sharpless, the American consul who presides over Pinkerton's marriage and tries to make the officer take responsibility for his actions.

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Opera in the Heights Changes More than Artistic Directors

Categories: Opera

Illustration by Robin Kachatones
From Rigoletto by Opera in the Heights
We spoke with David Douglas, chairman of the board of directors for Opera in the Heights, last week regarding the termination of artistic director Enrique Carreón-Robledo. One of the questions we asked Douglas was about the group's finances. Was the decision to terminate Carreón-Robledo in any way based on finances, was it a cost-cutting move? Douglas told us it was not and went on to say, "We are current with all vendors."

Scenic painter Erin Pruetz, who worked with the company for the past four years, says otherwise. According to Pruetz, she's still owed money for her work on the season's second production, Hänsel und Gretel.

And she says she's not the only one.

This story continues on the next page.

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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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