In the News 2013-2014

Opera in the Heights gearing up for 19th season

By Martin Hajovsky

June 30, 2014

Opera in the Heights held its annual Bravissimo gala last month at the Petroleum Club downtown. The gala has been become a large fundraiser for the company, celebrating another successful season, while at the same time generating buzz for the next season.

And what a season the group has lined up, beginning in September. First up will be Verdi’s  “Rigoletto” Sept. 26 – Oct. 5. Next will be Humperdinck’s sublime “Hänsel und Gretel” from Nov. 14-23. (Personally, I’m thrilled with this one because I’ve never actually attended a production of “Hänsel”, and since I’ll be turning 50 right about that time, it’s like they were doing this just for me!)

After the turn at the end of the year, OH is really bringing the goods. Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito” will be staged Jan. 30 to Feb. 8. And then, for the finale, Bizet’s “Carmen” will cap the season Mar. 20-29 .

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Lucia di Lammermoor: Complete With a Glorious Mad Scene & Stunning Coloratura

By D.L. Groover Mon., Mar. 31 2014 at 9:00 AM

The set-up:
The heavens opened up Friday night during Opera in the Heights’ galloping performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s operatic masterpieceLucia di Lammermoor (1835), appropriate for this Gothic romance full of ghosts, family dysfunction, vengeance, and omens foretelling disaster. But there was already lightning on stage. Full of dazzling radiance, soprano Jessica E. Jones lit up the intimate space as virginal Lucia driven mad by unrequited love. She supplied her own thunder and sparks to Donizetti’s vocal fireworks.

The execution:
Lithe, with a full mane of auburn curls, Jones looked splendid in Dena Scheh’s Restoration gowns and equally fetching in Lucia’s bridal negligee, now spotted with the blood of her husband, whom she has just stabbed after her arranged marriage. You see, Lucia, heroine of Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 “The Bride of Lammermoor.” from which Donizetti’s opera is loosely adapted, is the prototypical romantic heroine, buffeted by fate and the opportunistic maneuvering of her brother Enrico.

Although in love with her family rival, Edgardo, Lucia is browbeaten into marriage with the financially secure and much more socially prominent Arturo. She’s unsteady at best during the opera’s first two acts, seeing ghosts of her mother rise from the castle fountain, but Edgardo’s sham betrayal (through a forged letter) sets her reeling in earnest.In one of opera’s most glorious “mad scenes,” of which there are plenty on stage during the early 19th century, Lucia goes unhinged in the most aurally stunning way, running riot through scales and roulades of incomparable difficulty. Listen and watch how Jones dances through the flute arpeggios, played as in love by Wendy Bergin. Entranced, Jones smiles with the tunes, then matches them flawlessly, her coloratura always bright and shining clear. It’s a wondrous duet, the epitome of bel canto technique of which this opera is a prime example.Although baritone Octavio Moreno supplies a Mephistophelean overlay to mean brother Enrico with his plangent voice and solid acting, and Rubin Casas dives deeply into his stentorian bass to enliven the role of chaplain Raimondo, the rest of the cast didn’t approach Jones in technique or stage presence.

Edgardo’s role lies high and is treacherously difficult to pull off smoothly even with the best of singers, so we’ll give an A for effort to tenor Anthony Webb. His voice is light and tightly wound with vibrato, and while he squarely hit all the notes, some were faint and just too lightweight for the fervency the role required. Big and burly, he sounded as if he were in another room just off stage. He wasn’t the most ardent of suitors.

But perhaps the fault lies with director Carlos Conde, who seemed to be giving directions from another room, too. No one seemed to know what to do on stage, sitting down when they should stand, or haphazardly going up the stairs just to come down the other side, without dramatic rhyme or reason.

Sounding glorious, the chorus is clueless dramatically. What motivates these crazy, vengeful characters? Set within a church – supposedly, according to the program notes, to suggest the Anglican and Puritan divide which brought Oliver Cromwell to power in 1653 – well, this doesn’t work at all.

This type of stage managing is much too fussy, and who the hell knows the intricacies of English history well enough to understand any of this? Donizetti certainly didn’t, that’s for sure. Where’s the gloomy Ravenswood castle? There’s no atmosphere here. Of course, Donizetti doesn’t help either, especially at first, with his bouncy waltzes and rather peppy atmosphere that’s supposed to conjure Scottish mist and long dead ancestors. He gets it together during Act II, and effectively brings it home in Act III with Lucia’s mad scene and Edgardo’s plaintive tomb scene. Finally, he moves into Verdi territory. You can actually hear where opera’s future great master got his inspiration.

Donizetti knew all about madness. Ten years after Lucia, and after further international successes La fille du régiment and Don Pasquale, Donizetti would be ravaged by the effects of syphilis, dying in his beloved hometown Bergamo, Italy, in 1848. He had worn the mantle of Italy’s greatest composer for a brief but shining time. Lucia, inventively melodic – the second act “Sextet” is one of the wonders of the world – is Donizetti in his most evocative and emotionally affecting mode.

The verdict:
Maestro Enrique Carreón-Robledo keeps Donizetti hopping. Lucia sounds most alive, though, when Ms. Jones in on stage, singing her heart out, going mad and looking fabulous while she does.

Lucia di Lammermoor. April 3, 4, 5, 6m. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Boulevard. Purchase tickets online or call 713-861-5303. $28-$55.

To view the article in its entirety, please visit the Houston Press page, HERE

100 Creatives 2014: Jessica E. Jones, Opera Singer

By Olivia Flores Alvarez Fri., Mar. 21 2014 at 7:00 AM

Soprano Jessica E. Jones was just 15 years old when she landed her first opera role. It was less than a year after she had started voice lessons. Her teacher encouraged her to audition for a small role in The Marriage of Figaro at a local opera company. “So, I went and sang for them and they hired me,” Jones tells us. The role was Barbarina, a peasant girl who gets caught in an amorous situation with a young man. “I got paid a little cash and it was the most unbelievable thing to me to get paid to sing! It was great.”Not only that, I was amazed at what was happening on stage. I had done musical theater but I had never seen anyone really sing opera live. I remember being mesmerized by the soprano. I just couldn’t believe how wonderful it was. I remember watching the adults interact and it was a really wonderful environment to be in. All of it was just unreal. I immediately thought, ‘I really want to do this for a living.’”First she had to continue her training and for that she came to Texas. Jones got both a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance from the Moores School of Music at the University of Houston. Two years ago she was a finalist in the Northwest region Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.What She Does: “I enjoy other types of singing, too, but I consider opera the main focus of my work. When I tell people I’m an opera singer they usually say, ‘But you’re not fat.’ And no, I’m not. Once they get over the fact that I’m not a 300-pound woman [wearing a helmet with horns on it], then they say, ‘Oh great, sing something for us.’ I don’t think they mean any harm by it. It’s just people don’t always understand the commitment and training this career requires. Yes, I’m a real opera singer. And maybe if I’m in a really good, generous mood, I’ll sing for you but probably not.”

Why She Likes It: “I always feel I am most myself when I’m on stage and singing. My most honest version of myself is when I’m singing. If I’m not in an opera production, I tend to find myself songwriting or doing other musical things. That energy just gets bottled up inside me and it has to find a way out.”

During a production, Jones most enjoys the final rehearsals and the first few performances. “There’s a real excitement in the air then. The moment that I step on stage in a costume, that’s when it really changes for me. That’s when I feel that I start to lose myself and find the character. I learn music pretty quickly but it takes a little while for me to feel that everything is converging, everything is coming together. When it does, that’s a pivotal moment.”

What Inspires Her: “I consider myself a singing actress. I try to let the music and the composer speak to me. I work through the score and find the emotion that’s there for a guide. Luckily, I’m in a technical place now where I’m able to do much more with my voice.”

Jones admits working from a score with zero chance for improvisation might seem a bit daunting, but in actuality, she finds lots of freedom to make a role her own. “As long as you are reflecting what the composer has written on the page, you have a lot of liberty about how you move from point a to point b. Performing is more than just hitting the right note at the right time in the same exact way that everybody before you did. You have to find a way to make the role your own. You have to find those little places in the score where you can bring something new to your particular portrayal. That’s what makes opera so exciting. Even though it’s the same score, each singer is going to do it just a little bit differently; each singer brings something new to the role.

If Not This, Then What: “There are so many things that I would love to do. I would love to be a [fashion] designer. I would love to be a chef. I would love to travel around the country in an RV and be like a traveling minstrel. I would love to do all those things as hobbies, but if I couldn’t sing, I would those something like that. I don’t know that there’s a lot of money in those career choices, but those are the things I’d like to do.”

If Not Here, Then Where: “I would really love to spend some time in Germany or Italy. To be abroad and be surrounded by all of that art and culture, in the places where it originated, I think that would be a great experience. If I were to stay in the United States, I would love to live in California.”

What’s Next: Jones is currently appearing in the title role of the Opera in the Heights production of Lucia di Lammermoor. She shares the role with friend Amanda Kingston. In May, she performs as a young artist with Opera Saratoga. “I’ll be workshopping a new opera that a composer has just finished with them. I sing a lot of belcanto opera but I also sing a lot of American opera. I’ll be singing in The Magic Flute with them. I’m not sure what happens after that. Hopefully something will pop up for the fall.”

Jones has some long term goals, especially in the area of roles. “I would love to eventually play Violetta in La Traviata. That’s probably my top role choice. And I would also like to sing Mimi from Bohème one day. I don’t know if my career will take me down that path, but if I could sing a Mimi in my life, I would be very, very happy.”

Opera in the Heights presents Lucia di Lammermoor at 7:30 p.m. March 28 and 29, April 3, 4 and 5, 2 p.m. March 30 and April 6. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights.

To view the article in its entirety, please visit the Houston Press page, HERE

Opera in the Heights to Present LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Begin. 3/28

by Opera News Desk, March 10 2014

Opera in the Heights presents Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, the final production of the 2013-2014 season, beginning Mar. 28 at Lambert Hall. This dramma tragico (tragic opera) in three acts was created by Donizetti in 1835. Salvatore Cammarano wrote the Italian language libretto loosely based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor.
Lucia di Lammermoor tells a gripping story of a young woman forced to marry a man she doesn’t love in order to bring wealth back to the family. In a feud between the Scottish families of Ravenswood and Lammermoor, Enrico (Lord Henry Ashton of Lammermoor) has gained the upper hand over Edgardo (Edgar of Ravenswood), killing his kinsmen and taking over his estates.

To read more of this article, visit, HERE

Don Pasquale en Houston (Opera in the Heights)

Fotos: Gwen Turner Juarez

By: Carlos Rosas T.

La compañía Opera in the Heights, cuya sede es el antiguo teatro Lambert Hall construido en 1927, ofreció como segunda producción de su temporada 2013-2014, compuesta en total de cuatro títulos, Don Pasquale, la conocida ópera bufa de Donizetti.  La función transcurrió cargada de alegría y jovialidad gracias a la puntal dirección escénica de Keturah Stickann.  La única variación de esta sencilla propuesta de pocos elementos en escena, fue que la historia se situó a inicios del siglo XX,  a decir por los vestuarios de los personajes. Mezclando experiencia con juventud, el elenco estuvo encabezado por el bajo barítono Stefano de Peppo, quien demostró su experiencia interpretando papeles bufos como Pasquale, y aunque actuó con seguridad, su caracterización carece del  Physique du rôle que lo haría más creíble. En su canto mostró una voz profunda de adecuada emisión, aunque su timbre se escuchó por momentos áspero y seco. El tenor Eric Bowden, dio vida a un joven e impulsivo Ernesto, que complació con su grato timbre lirico y tuvo la agilidad vocal necesaria para cubrir correctamente las exigencias vocales del papel. El barítono mexicano Octavio Moreno, fue un astuto y manipulador Malatesta, que divirtió con su comicidad y cantó con calidez y expresividad. La soprano Katie Dixon, desbordó carisma y presencia en escena interpretando a la caprichosa Norina. Con su voz de brillante y homogénea emisión, timbre claro y precisa dicción, sobresalió ampliamente. El bajo Maxim Bidner personifico al personaje del Notario.  Correctos estuvieron el coro y la orquesta, esta ultima bajo la conducción de Enrique Carreón-Robledo, quien supo acompañar a los cantantes, imprimiendo adecuada dinámica en sus tiempos, con los que mantuvo encendida la chispa y la animación del espectáculo.

See original review HERE.