Opera in the Heights to Host BRAVISSIMO! 2016 - AN EMERALD EVENING Fundraiser

By Opera News Desk
April 25, 2016 

Opera in the Heights (Oh!) announces "Bravissimo! 2016 - An Emerald Evening," the nonprofit organization's major fundraiser of the year, to be held on May 21 at La Colombe d'Or.

 

This year's event celebrates Oh!'s 20th season and honors the extensive contributions of Josie and Fred Nevill to Opera in the Heights over the past nine years. The emcee for the event is St. John Flynn, who serves as Houston Public Media's Arts & Culture Director, and is an ardent supporter of classical music and opera.

"Josie and Fred are passionate supporters of Oh! and could not be more deserving of this recognition," says Tony Tripodo, "Bravissimo!" co-chair with his wife Heather Tripodo. "Fred is a long-time board member who has taken a hands-on approach to improving and growing our organization. Both he and Josie have generously donated time, energy and money to Opera in the Heights. We are also thrilled to welcome St. John Flynn as our special guest emcee."

Oh!'s Director of Development, Becky Buturovic, has assembled a team of capable young professionals to serve on the gala committee with the Tripodos, also Oh! supporters for many years. These include Carli Baker, Lauren Bryan, Leah Hanson, Alexis Hester, Brittany Koger, Kari Schultz, Dr. Emily Moers and Elizabeth Yarotsky.

"We are excited to introduce a younger crowd to Opera in the Heights through 'Bravissimo!,' " says Buturovic. "I know several of these committee members personally, and they will take our 20th anniversary gala to a new level with their talents and expertise. These young professionals are the future leaders and supporters of Oh!."

Other Oh! board members planning "Bravissimo!" include Josh Agrons, Bo Eagles, Marianne Terrell, Dan Mathena and Will Speer. In addition to an elegant seated dinner and the presentation of the honorees, the evening will include special performances from some of Oh!'s most talented emerging artists. Some of the exciting live auction items for the gala include trips to a fully-staffed villa in Acapulco, Mexico; La Posada Resort in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Red Willow Lodge in Big Fork, Montana; in addition to a gourmet dinner for six with Maestro Eiki Isomura and a collection of fine wines to stock a wine cellar.

Underwriting opportunities are available for the gala. Sponsorships begin at $5000 and include a table of 10 for the event, as well as several other benefits. Individual tickets begin at $375 each. Proceeds from "Bravissimo!" help Opera in the Heights to enhance the careers of young professional artists and enable those of all ages to enjoy opera at affordable prices. For more details about "Bravissimo!" or to order tickets call 713-861-5303 or email info@operaintheheights.org.

Opera in the Heights is a professional opera company that exists to provide a stage for emerging performers and to bring affordable opera to the Greater Houston Area. All operas are fully staged with an orchestra and presented in the original language with English translation (when applicable) projected above the stage.

Pictured: "Bravissimo!" co-chairs Tony and Heather Tripodo with gala honorees Fred and Josie Nevill. Photo by Deji Osinulu Photography.

For Full Article, Click HERE.

 

Orfeo at Opera in the Heights a Great Way to Finish the Season

By D.L. Groover
April 12, 2016

Laura Coale as Orfeo, Yunnie Park as Eurydice and Julia Fox as Amore in Opera in the Heights'  Orfeo ed Euridice.  Photos by Deji Osinulu Photography.

Laura Coale as Orfeo, Yunnie Park as Eurydice and Julia Fox as Amore in Opera in the Heights' Orfeo ed Euridice. Photos by Deji Osinulu Photography.

The set-up:
In the bizarre and fascinating history of opera, composers unexpectedly appear who completely change the course of the art. It doesn't happens overnight, and the musical trailblazer may not even know what he's doing or where he's going, but Christoph Willibald Gluck changed opera forever. He started a revolution.

The execution:
Orfeo (1762) didn't completely transform the royal entertainment after its Vienna premiere, but the work solidified certain ideas Gluck had been tossing around for years. A successful composer of fashionable opera seria, he had grown tired of the demands of the superstar castrati, who only wanted firework showcases for their prodigious vocal talents. Who cared what the vehicles were, the audience was there to see them. They were rock stars, they were Kardashians, only with a lot more talent.

Gluck had written some 35 previous works for the stage, was the Kapellmeister at the Austrian court, had taught Marie Antoinette to play the harpsichord, had traveled to London and Italy. But he was unhappy with the state of the art. Florid singing was one thing, but couldn't it serve the story? And dancing, which he loved, couldn't it, too, be an integral part? An opera didn't have to exist solely for the singers to preen, did it? Why couldn't the orchestra play continuously? Let's make the work a complete whole; where everything works together. What a novel idea! Richard Wagner would later blare forth in numerous pamphlets and treatises to call this a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total melding of everything that makes a stage drama – music, book, sets, lighting, dance, performance.

In 1760 Paris, this idea was absolutely alien and cause for alarm, especially espoused by a German. Opera patrons rebelled. There were fist fights in the audience during Gluck's Iphigenia (1774), much like the pandemonium caused by Diaghilev for his Paris production of Stravinsky's Firebird in 1910. Keep everything how we've always done it, the old guard shouted. What do you mean there's no repeat or another flashy song or more ornamentation? We go to the opera to applaud our favorites and be seen. Who cares about the story, or if the music expresses anything? Do you like my waistcoat?

Gluck would have none of this. Somehow he knew what the moribund art form needed. With his librettist Ranieri Calzabigi (a best bro of Casanova), without whom he wouldn't have dared this audacious step, Gluck forged ahead with his ideas of the perfect opera. Eventually, the audience came around. Unfortunately, it wasn't in his lifetime, but that's the fate of explorers and dare devils.

Stately and austere, Orfeo ed Euridice, by all scholarly accounts the oldest standard in the opera rep, has everything Herr Gluck wanted. What luscious melodies! What drama personified! Even two ballets! Sure, it's based on Greek legend – the bane of opera seria – but this time the music really does express what's going on in the characters' inner minds. It sounds like what they're feeling. How refreshing. Not one to completely buck the system, Gluck used an alto castrati in the role of Orfeo in Vienna, but for the Paris version in 1774 he changed Orfeo to a tenor (the Paris audience didn't like their males altered). In the famous 1859 revival, composer Hector Berlioz transposed Orfeo to a contralto (or mezzo), and that's the way it's been sung ever since.

Gluck's Orfeo is a blast of fresh air. It will always be. It's a classic of its kind, albeit an early exemplar, but a classic nonetheless. It is simple and pure, ravishing in its simplicity, pure melody and pure expression. Opera in the Heights produces a lovely rendition, formal and clean, updating the antique but not making it too cluttered to harm the old opera's impact. OH, under Leslie Swackhamer's compressed direction, turns Gluck into gold.

Under maestro Eiki Isomura, the orchestra has never sounded so focused. The woodwinds, especially flutist Wendy Bergin, who has that iconic solo in the famous “Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” are clean and immaculate. And the lovely passage that introduces the “Elysian Fields” interlude is especially striking in its delicate shimmer of bird calls and rushing water. Down the line, this is ensemble playing of fine caliber. Choreographer Krissy Richmond overlays the opera with an ease of movement that befits Gluck's refined classical style.

But the evening belongs to mezzo Laura Coale, a former OH chorus member, who sings Orfeo with stunning clarity and emotional heft. Holy Gluck, where have you been, Ms. Coale? If this isn't a star turn, I don't know what is! She's phenomenal – with a powerful, expressive, radiant, and unfettered voice. There's not a falter, waver, quaver, quiver to her. A lovely actor to boot, she looks great in a tuxedo. Her Euridice, soprano Yunnie Park, while no Oscar winner, has a rich, smooth finish to her voice, like delicious hollandaise. She makes the most of her glorious Act II temper tantrum, when she chides Orfeo for not looking at her. Little does she know that Orfeo, under Love's command, may not glance at her as he leads her out of the Underworld or else she will go back from whence she came. Amore, the only other leading role in the opera, is slyly portrayed by soprano Julia Fox. Foxy she is, as she vocally winks at us as she expounds Love's deepest meaning while looking at us askance. Dressed to the nines in spectacular wings and Grecian bling (thank you, costumer Barry Doss), Fox seems to know more about the sexy mysteries of love than anyone else on stage. What word would the Greeks have for her?

The verdict:
The OH chorus is ultra-fine, too, smooth and lustrous, which is saying something because they've been so consistently good all season. Maestro Isomura deserves our thanks. OH ends its 20th anniversary season (!) on a particularly high note. Bravo to all!

Orfeo ed Euridice continues on April 14 and 16 at Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Boulevard. For more information call 713-861-5303 or visit operaintheheights.org. $13-$63.

For Full Review, Click HERE.

Opera in the Heights Takes on the Greek

By Sarah Douglass
4/7/2016 

IN ITS LATEST PRODUCTION, Opera in the Heights puts its own twist on the 1889 opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Stage director Leslie Swackhamer opted to forgo Grecian influences and traded togas for tuxedos.

“[My costume] is vaguely inspired from 1930 films and pictures of Marlene Dietrich in male drag in a tuxedo, and that’s the look they’re going for,” says lead opera singer, Laura Coale.

The monochromatic set uses black, white and greys to add to the Art Deco–like atmosphere. Playing with strong shadow effects and rolling staircases, Opera in the Heights adds visual depth to one of the oldest Greek myths about death.

“We’re using lighting to give off the different areas and emotion and the set. We’ve never done this at Opera in the Heights, so it’s really cool,” explains Coale. “There’s rigging where we can hang big pieces of fabric that will move and can detach, so you can do lighting on them and have big shadow effects.”

The venue that seats about 300 is connected to a church and once served as a sanctuary. The intimate space gives each audience member a seat directly in all the action.

“You could literally be sitting right underneath the stairs, you know. So there are no bad seats in the house. We have a balcony and that’s great too because you get kind of a bigger picture, but the sound is still the same,” Coale says.

Unlike traditional opera houses, the orchestra is not hidden in a pit. Instead, the audience members get a full look at the production. “They are off to the side, so you get full view of them as well, which is kind of cool,” Coale says.

Keeping true to the original script, the opera is preformed in Italian. Playing Orfeo, Coale began preparations in late August by translating every word with the intent of knowing exactly what is being sung at every moment.

“I kind of talk it through in my own language what I’m saying and then I talk it through again in Italian, so it becomes almost second nature. The music also helps to connect it to the text, so I have a deeper meaning and it’s easier to memorize,” adds Coal, an alum of University of Houston’s Vocal Performance program.

April 8, 14 & 16 at 7:30. April 10 at 2. $13–63. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. 

 

For Full Article, Click HERE.

'Orfeo ed Euridice' is a 'visceral experience,' says opera director

By Don Maines
April 6, 2016

Orfeo ed Euridice" is an opera that "puts the pedal to the metal," says its dynamic director, Leslie Swackhamer.

"It is straight-ahead storytelling," said Swackhamer, a Lynn Park resident, who directs the show's April 8-16 performances as the final offering of the 20th anniversary season of Opera in the Heights (Oh!).

The group's venue, Lambert Hall, said Swackhamer, "is so intimate the music literally vibrates in your body. The music is fantastic, and it's a visceral experience you can't get in a bigger opera house."

"Orfeo ed Euridice (Orpheus and Eurydice)" is based on an ancient Greek myth in which a man, refusing to accept that his beloved is dead, strikes a bargain with the gods to allow him to journey through the underworld to retrieve her. The catch is that he can't look at her until they are both safely back among the living.

More Information

Want to go?

What: "Orfeo ed Euridice"

Where: Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Blvd.

When: 7:30 p.m. April 8, 14 and 16; 2 p.m. April 10

Details: 713-861-5303,www.operaintheheights.org

"Somebody being so obsessed that he would go to Hell and back is very romantic," said Swackhamer.

The director's own husband, Ten Eyck Swackhamer, squired her across country when she decided to leave her career as a high-powered Washington, D.C. trial lawyer to study directing in Seattle, Washington.

"Practicing law made me money but it didn't make me happy," said the director. "We cut ties to stability and packed up and moved."

Swackhamer had grown up in Bradenton, Florida, as "a nerdy redhead" with dreams of becoming a brain surgeon.

However, when she arrived at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, she "fell in love with the study of history" while also pursuing theater as a hobby.

Swackhamer was playing the mayor's daughter in a production of "The Music Man" when its choreographer fell ill and Swackhamer was asked to replace her.

"Afterward, the director took me aside and said, 'You really have the directing gene.'"

When she moved to Houston 10 years ago, where her husband is general manager of the Alley Theatre, Swackhamer "pretty quickly" gravitated toward Stages Repertory Theatre.

"It is my artistic home," she said.

However, to Houston fans, Swackhamer's hits shows at Stages, such as "The Great American Trailer Park Musical," might have eclipsed her national reputation as a director of operas.

Following "Orfeo ed Euridice," for example, Swackhamer is inked to direct "Madame Butterfly" at both the San Francisco Opera House and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the nation's capital.

"About 30 or 40 percent of my work is opera," she said.

"Travel is tricky," she added, explaining that she and her husband have a daughter, Sarah, who is a sophomore at Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in Houston.

"Her interests are debate and robotics," said her mother.

Swackhamer previously directed "Don Giovanni" and "Macbeth" at Opera in the Heights, which she said "has reconnected with our mission" by casting "young talent" in major roles in "Orfeo ed Euridice."

Swackhamer also enjoys new play development and theater administration, including her work the past five years as executive director of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, the Houston-based international competition for female playwrights.

In press material, Oh! principal conductor Eiki Isomura said that Christoph W. Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice was "a game-changer" for opera.

"At a time when the art form had become a vehicle for vocal display, Gluck sought to integrate all the aspects of the medium, stripping away anything he considered superfluous, in service of authentic storytelling," said Isomura. "It proved a powerful model for opera as a total art form, influencing generations of progressive composers ranging from Mozart to Wagner."

Swackhamer said "one whole section takes place in Hell. It is breathtaking."

"I'm excited to have (veteran Houston choreographer) Krissy Richmond work on movement and dance, which is so pivotal in this opera," said Swackhamer. "She is a consummate artist, having been a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, and going on to enjoy an international career. A Houston treasure, she brings elegance and creativity to everything she touches."

 

For Full Article, Click HERE.

BWW Blog: Mezzo Soprano Laura Coale on ORFEO ED EURIDICE

By Guest Blogger, Laura Coale
March 30, 2016

I started singing with Opera in the Heights (Oh!) in 2011, shortly after graduating from the University of Houston with my Master's in vocal performance. Over the past five years I have appeared in nine productions, singing in the chorus as well as supporting roles. How thrilling that in my 10th Oh! production I will be singing the title role of Orfeo in Christoph Willibald Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE.

This is a beautiful story and a fantastic score. You can feel Orfeo's determination and passion, or more appropriately, obsession, for finding Euridice within the text and music. This piece is very important in the context of opera history as it begins the transition from the late Baroque to early Classical period. Gluck was adamant that the music more directly reflect the text and that superfluous ornamentation be eliminated. This opera provides some of the most beautiful music of the period that may at first appear to be just a simple tune, but underneath displays a wide range of emotion.

I've had a great deal of fun getting to know Orfeo. What does he want in each moment? What does he go through to achieve his goals? Sometimes these were not easy questions to answer because quite often the libretto might be talking about his sorrow at losing Euridice, while the music would be a lovely tune in a major key.

After reading a translation of the myth and discussing the character with my coach, Katherine Ciscon, the director, Leslie Swackhamer, and the conductor, Eiki Isomura, I decided that Orfeo uses his superpower of music to get what he wants. He can charm the rocks and trees with his singing; therefore, he should be able to persuade the gods to return his wife.

The rehearsal process has been, and continues to be, an absolute joy! Opera in the Heights has become my artistic home, and I am so thankful for the support and encouragement the members of the staff and artistic team have given me. This production is a true collaboration among all parties. During one rehearsal, Maestro Isomura said he "wanted to tell the best story possible." I truly believe that we are telling a story that not only serves the work, but is also deeply moving.

For Full Post, Click HERE.

Theater, opera director on a ‘role’

Thu Mar 17, 2016.

By Cynthia Lescalleet
Special to The Examiner

As a stage director, Leslie Swackhamer considers creating a piece of theater “a work of hope.”

Her productions also reflect a lifetime love of storytelling, which she achieves and enriches by drawing upon history, music, law, literature, the visual arts and cultural touchstones--plus her observations and life itself.

Swackhamer’s garden, however, could be the root of her directorial philosophy. A meditative pursuit, her hobby also reinforces the importance of building soil for seeds to flourish, she says. “You have to have faith and belief that what you are planting is going to grow into something wonderful.

“A play is like that.”

Known to go all-in on a theater or opera production, Swackhamer as director provides strong ideas on context and vision. But she also leaves the door open for collaboration by performers: “It’s theirs. It’s ours.” She thinks of the directorial process as “working wet clay.”

NATURE AND NURTURE

Swackhamer’s path to director was indirect but inevitable. Theater pursuits defined her early years and gave her the tools for today, what with skits in the living room building to roles in high school, community and summer stock theater programs and later stints of set design and choreography.

In college, history drew her, though she kept up her theater involvement. An advisor told her she “had the directing gene.”

Instead, she went to law school and on to trial work, where putting the same background and spin of storytelling on legal cases served her well. (A judge and jury can be a tough audience, she quips.)

Theater soon won out, however, and she changed course, first by pursuing an MFA in directing from University of Washington’s School of Drama.

Swackhamer says all her earlier experiences easily crossed over into her directorial career, which has a national following. From history came her use of research, which enhances productions in terms of what was going on and how people behaved when it was written. From law, she took the cause and effect of situations. Theater takes that rich background and relates it to today.

While there have been occasional circumstances that had her briefly fill-in for a performer, the director says she prefers to “stand back and see everything,” including the sensory input.” Still, she admits, “By the time I open a show, I know everyone’s part.

SHOWTIME

The award-winning director’s next project is with Opera in the Heights: Christoph W. Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” based on the myth of Orpheus. The production will “embrace the mythic, the mysterious and the miraculous,” she says in its marketing materials.

Swackhamer, a Lynn Park resident, hopes the audience will not go silently into the night after the show, which explores the depth of being human and what it means to love. “This piece goes to the core,” she says. It’s a perfect story for opera, because opera is the language of emotion, expressed best through music.

Eiki Isomura, OH!’s principal conductor, says Swackhamer “has a keen ear that gets to the heart of the score.” He appreciates her involvement in the early stages of music rehearsals, something not common for directors. “It’s refreshing,” he says. Plus, she works tirelessly, often without a break. “It’s quite inspiring.”

Swackhamer’s viewpoint on that involvement is that the more she understands about the vocal demands on the performers, the more apt the staging can be while supporting their “instruments.” As an example, someone’s singing a high ‘C’ shouldn’t have to do so while climbing a set piece, she says.

Among Swackhamer’s recent productions, in Houston, were “Straight White Men” at Stages Repertory Theatre, where last fall, her “Marie Antoinette” earned her Best Director for 2015 by Houston Press. Next season, she will be directing at the San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center.

Having already directed the Verdi ‘s opera “Macbeth” for OH!, she hopes to direct all three of his Shakespearean productions. Experiencing one of the stories as opera has forever changed her dialog with the bard, and she believes the same is true for audiences and actors who see one.

She’s currently “workshopping” a new work opera by Sheila Silver that’s based on Khaled Hosseini’s book,“A Thousand Splendid Suns.” That project is the recipient of an Opera America grant for female composers from The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.

In addition to an in-demand directorial career, Swackhamer shares her expertise as a guest faculty member at Rice University, University of Houston, University of Texas at Austin and others around the country.

She also is the executive director of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, which recognizes women who have written outstanding written works for English-speaking theater. Houston-based, the prize has major international impact, she says, and it was founded here, where local support continues.

As one involved the local theater scene, Swackhamer is pleased that Houston’s offerings are expanding as new performing groups find their audiences and offer challenging works to get the dialog going.

For Full Article, Click HERE.

Opera In The Heights Presents Orfeo Ed Euridice, Gluck’s Groundbreaking Opera

Houston, TX (March 9, 2016) – Opera in the Heights (Oh!) presents Christoph W. Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, based on the myth of Orpheus, as the final offering of the 20th anniversary season, running April 8 – 16.Orfeo ed Euridice is the first of Gluck’s “reform” operas, in which he attempted to replace the arcane plots and ornate vocalism of 18th century opera seria with a more direct and naturalistic expression in the music and drama.

Opera in the Heights’ Principal Conductor Eiki Isomura is shown here during a rehearsal for La tragedie de Carmen in 2015. Photo by Mariam Khalili

Opera in the Heights’ Principal Conductor Eiki Isomura is shown here during a rehearsal for La tragedie de Carmen in 2015. Photo by Mariam Khalili

Sung in Italian, this production uses an edition created for the opera’s 1889 Milan revival, which brings together some of Gluck’s most beloved tunes including “The Dance of the Blessed Spirits,” and the iconic aria, “Che farò senza Euridice.” Opera in the Heights offers a unique opportunity for both opera buffs and newcomers alike to see a magnificent and rarely-staged opera.

A whirlwind of tragedy, adventure and love, the opera is based on one of the oldest Greek myths about death, and the obsessive power of love which propels an unforgettable journey. Refusing to accept that his beloved is dead, Orpheus (Orfeo) strikes a bargain with the Gods to allow him to journey through the underworld, and retrieve her.  The catch?  He can’t look at her until they are both safely back on earth.

What happens next? Come and see Opera in the Heights’ production with stage director Leslie Swackhamer and principal conductor Eiki Isomura leading the artistic charge, and you can find the answer.

“Our production will embrace the mythic, the mysterious and the miraculous, as we reconnect with what made Gluck’s opera revolutionary from the beginning,” says Swackhamer. “I’m excited to have Krissy Richmond work on movement and dance, which is so pivotal in this opera. She is a consummate artist, having been a Principal Dancer with the Houston Ballet, and going on to enjoy an international career.  A Houston treasure, she brings elegance and creativity to everything she touches.”

Swackhamer was named Best Director for 2015 by the Houston Press for Marie Antoinette at Stages Repertory Theatre, while Barry Doss won for Best Costume Design. Next season, Swackhamer will be directing at the San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center. She represents the high caliber of Oh!’s stage directors.

“Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice was a game-changer for opera,” explains Isomura. “At a time when the art form had become a vehicle for vocal display, Gluck sought to integrate all the aspects of the medium, stripping away anything he considered superfluous, in service of authentic storytelling. It proved a powerful model for opera as a total art form, influencing generations of progressive composers ranging from Mozart to Wagner.”

Isomura noted that the production demands the highest level of artistry in every area, and that fully-staged productions like Oh!’s are exceedingly rare. He believes an outstanding team of artists has come together to breathe new life into this classic.

Performance dates are April 8, 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. and April 10 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale online now atoperaintheheights.org. Single tickets prices are $35 – $67 for regular tickets, $32 – $58 for seniors and $15 – $17 for student tickets in limited seating areas. Parents of children 16 and under can purchase premier seats with a special ticket price just for kids during checkout. All performances take place at Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Boulevard.

Opera in the Heights is a professional opera company that exists to provide a stage for emerging performers and to bring affordable opera to the Greater Houston Area.  All operas are fully staged with orchestra and presented in the original language with English translation (where applicable) projected above the stage.

For additional information on performance dates, press material, or information on scheduling an interview, please contact: Carol Brejot, 713-503-3885; 

 

For Full Article, Click HERE!

La Cenerentola at Opera in the Heights Proves Rossini Could Do More Than Just Barber

By D. L. Groover
February 9, 2016

The Cast of La Cenerentola Photographed by Deji Osinulu Photograph

The Cast of La Cenerentola
Photographed by Deji Osinulu Photograph

The setup:
Librettist Ferretti removed the magical elements from the tale of Cinderella, La Cenerentola, to allow opera composer Gioachino Rossini to soften his opera buffa, but there's more than enough fairy dust to go around. Opera in the Heights literally sparkles with it, and its gem-like production of this 1817 Italian comic coloratura classic radiates its own type of magic in staging and, most impressive, singing.

The execution:
This is the intimate company at its most beguiling in seasons. It is witty and bright, casting a spell that befits Rossini's distinct marvels in melody and texture. If the fairy tale is simplified – no godmother with wand, no pumpkin coach, no mice horsemen, not even a glass slipper – the age-old story is made anew in sweetness, goodness, forgiveness and charity.

Tongue-twisting patter songs, lightning flashes of scales and breathless vocal control, ardent love declamations, and daffy situations with a universal happy ending make this opera unique in the rep, and one of the most demanding to pull off without veering into cartoon. OH overlays the stylish opera with stylized silliness in keeping with the stupid and vain stepdaughters, Clorinda and Tisbe (soprano Kyla Knox and mezzo Monica Isomura, both scene-stealers deluxe), their pompous father out for money (bass Nathan Milholin, a true Rossinian comic actor with gleeful glint in his eye), and the 11-member male chorus, who act as the Prince's retinue when not changing scenery or dusting up the place before he arrives.

The candy-colored storybook sets by Jodi Brobrovsky and the couture-gone-mad costumes by Macy Lyne, abetted by Jim Elliott's warm lighting, bring to this tale a timeless comedy grace, swathed in director David Ward's silky touches that are both right and funny. A large hassock gets quite a workout during the denouement, but there are deft little moments of stage bits throughout that deepen the comedy and gladden the heart. The candy box hearts at the conclusion are a special treat. Everything is aglow, and nothing is overdone.

But you can't put across Rossini with stagecraft alone. When asked why he didn't write any more operas, the famous composer, living an unparalleled lavish retired life in Paris, quipped, “They can't sing what I've already written!” OH certainly can. Maestro Eiki Isomura has assembled a young, nigh-perfect cast, amazingly assured in technique and can-do attitude. Tenor Eric Bowden, as the besotted Prince, tosses off his high tessitura, and many high Cs, without visible strain, which is high compliment when one is singing anything by Rossini; baritone Thom Gunther, as Dandini, the Prince's valet, who doubles for him when the Prince goes shopping incognito for a bride, warms up nicely in the court scene; and bass baritone Christopher Besch, as the Prince's tutor Alidoro, who doubles as quasi-godmother to Cinderella, rings out in chasm-deep tone and lively stage presence. Knox and Isomura are perfectly gauche, except when singing, when they are angels; and Mr. Milholin is a true star-in-the-making as a Rossini specialist. He's certainly got the character of Don Magnifico down to a science. He's a delight to watch as much as to hear.

Ahh, but what's a Cenerentola without a Cinderella? A revelation two seasons ago at OH as a feisty Hansel in Humperdinck's Wagnerian Hansel and Gretel, who knew Megan Berti could conquer – and triumph – in the dazzling fireworks of Rossini? She exudes that fairy dust I mentioned earlier; she glistens with it, tosses it in the air and envelops us. She holds us spellbound with flawless technique, perfect diction, absolute pitch and fearless attack. Even in her drab scullery uniform, she's an eyeful. Wearing haute couture at the ball, she's a knockout. What a diva! And I mean that in all sincerity. She knocks this role out of the park. After she meets the prince in disguise, she explodes in fiery roulades and filigree, each one more precise, each more ornamented. Her heart's aflame, and she sounds it, happy in love, ecstatic in joy. So are we, pulled warmly into her vocal embrace. This is a defining performance. (This March Berti appears in the world premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players at Houston Grand Opera. I pray they have given her a showstopping role. It's what she deserves. If not, this consummate artist will make it so.)

The verdict:
La Cenerentola was one of Rossini's biggest hits, beloved even after Barber of Seville stunned the world. But opera changed, coloratura got the boot, and the earthy, thicker dramas of Verdi and Wagner replaced stratospheric old-fashioned buffa. This old girl from the early 19th century's still got it, though. She's retro and fun, smart and sexy, the life of the party. OH sees to that.

For Full Article, Click HERE.

Guest Blog: Oh!'s Mariam Khalili On Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA

By Guest Blogger, Mariam Khalili

I'm currently sitting at my desk, the sun is setting beautifully out of my window to the west, and downstairs in our theater space here at Lambert Hall, are some out-of-this-world singers having a one-on-one rehearsal with our Maestro, Eiki Isomura. Their occasional chatter and banter is mixed with song and accompanied by piano. What a dream it is to hear such rich voices singing in Italian, perfecting line by line, as we all prepare for opening night. I couldn't ask for a better way to end the work day.

Mariam Khalili, Executive Director at Oh! Photograph by Carl Cramer

Mariam Khalili, Executive Director at Oh!
Photograph by Carl Cramer

LA CENERENTOLA is an opera Oh! has been waiting for. It's our 20th anniversary season, and we chose to present a diverse selection of works. We wanted past and present, comedy, tragedy, traditional, contemporary. And works that would inspire all age groups.

For me, especially, after witnessing the joy of HANSEL UND GRETEL in our 2014-2015 season, I knew it was paramount that we presented another opera that spoke to young audiences.

As we all know, opera can be downright tragic and even violent; not necessarily appropriate for tender eyes and ears. Yet with Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA, our third opera of the season, the story is family-friendly and uplifting. Pair this sweet and treasured tale with the comedic genius of our stage director David Ward, and our dream team designers Jodi Bobrovski and Macy Lyne, and you've got a visually stunning art deco-inspired set, colorful costumes, and eye candy scene after scene.

Our cast and chorus fill the space beautifully, and their voices touch more than just your ears. Our chorus has never sounded better - they are absolutely sensational. Of course, nothing would be complete without my favorite part of this operation - the Opera in the Heights orchestra. Have you heard Maiko Sasaki play the clarinet? Being a former bassoonist, I'm partial to the bassoon, so naturally my heart sings when James Roberson gets a solo in any of our operas.

To encourage audience engagement, our female office staff agreed that we should invite our youngest (and young-at-heart) patrons to wear their favorite princess dresses or prince attire to the performances. Mezzo-Soprano Megan Berti, our CENERENTOLA readily agreed to pose for portraits with costumed guests after performances. I predict our social media will be flooded with adorable photos, and I can't wait to see them.


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Opera in the Heights offers activities tying in with La Cenerentola

By Carol Brejot
Special to the Examiner

Deji Osinulu  Megan Berti (right) is seen here as Hänsel in Oh!’s Hänsel und Gretel in 2014. (Allison Pohl is Gretel.) Berti sings the role of Cenerentola in Rossini’s La Cenerentola at Opera in the Heights Feb. 5–13.

Deji Osinulu

Megan Berti (right) is seen here as Hänsel in Oh!’s Hänsel und Gretel in 2014. (Allison Pohl is Gretel.) Berti sings the role of Cenerentola in Rossini’s La Cenerentola at Opera in the Heights Feb. 5–13.

Opera in the Heights (Oh!) offers something for everyone surrounding the third production of its 20th anniversary season, Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Whether you’re a child, a young professional or a seasoned opera-goer, you can participate in one of Oh!’s exciting activities tying in with the beloved opera.

This highly entertaining and hilarious comedy, directed by David Ward, is perfect for children of all ages, and parents are encouraged to bring children and teens. As an added treat, any children who attend wearing princess dresses/costumes for La Cenerentola can have their photographs taken after the performance with Oh!’s lead, Megan Berti, who portrays Cenerentola (The One in Cinders.) Many people will remember Berti from Oh!’s 2014 production of Hänsel und Gretel, where she sang the role of Hänsel.

After Oh!’s 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 7, audience members are encouraged to participate in the popular “Sunday Talk Back” series at Lambert Hall with Principal Conductor Eiki Isomura, the artistic staff and cast members. “You never know what the cast and conductor will offer up about their experiences putting the show together or what creative questions patrons will ask,” says Mariam Khalili, Executive Director. “It makes for a truly dynamic exchange of ideas. Plus, everyone likes to meet the stars of the show!"

Opera in the Heights’ third special event is the Young Opera Lovers Organization (YOLO) Happy Hour for young professionals after the show on Feb. 11. (Location details will be on the website soon.) The YOLO group has taken off and exposed many people in their 20s and 30s to great opera at Lambert Hall. To participate in the Happy Hour and to take advantage of other networking activities by joining YOLO, visitoperaintheheights.org, and check out the YOLO portion of the website.

La Cenerentola promises to be a late-winter treat. "Oh! has once again assembled some of the finest emerging artists in the country to bring this wonderful work to life,” says Isomura. “Our dynamic cast is sure to dazzle with its vocal pyrotechnics. Rossini's score is like musical caffeine; it pumps through your veins and lifts you up."

Performance dates are Feb. 5, 11 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale online now atoperaintheheights.org. Single tickets prices are $35 - $67 for regular tickets, $32 - $58 for seniors and $15 - $17 for student tickets in limited seating areas. Parents of children 16 and under can purchase premier seats with a special ticket price just for kids during checkout.

Opera in the Heights is a professional opera company that exists to provide a stage for emerging performers and to bring affordable opera to the Greater Houston Area. All operas are fully staged with orchestra and presented in the original language with English translation (where applicable) projected above the stage.

 

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