In the News 2014-2015

Get your opera on at Houston’s Opera in the Heights

June 14, 2015

By Peggie Miller / performing arts columnist

Let’s face it. The most obvious entertainment limitation on the local scene is classical music, particularly opera.

Without the Young Texas Artists Competition and Contest once a year in the Crighton Theatre, and performances by the Conroe Symphony Orchestra, classical music lovers would face an absence of choices.

Yet even these opportunities present limited opera selections with the robust, rafter-shaking, sometimes whispery soft arias, that opera enthusiasts love.

On the other hand, Houston’s Opera in the Heights taps into that nectar for the thirsty for those who won’t balk at the hassle of getting there. All performances are in Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Blvd., 77008.

The new season, just announced, presents four beloved operatic works, beginning Sept. 18.

That first one is Leoncavallo’s comedic I Pagliacci, where a commedia/arts troupe quickly learns how life can imitate art. Performances are September 18, 19 at 7:30, with a 2 p.m. matinee September 20.

Next is Menotti’s The Medium The Telephone at the end of October.

When a medium is visited “from the other side” during a fake séance, her life begins to unravel.

The Telephone part is about a device that makes putting love on hold a breeze (among other things, one might add).

Experience it Oct. 30, 31, Nov.5–7 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 1 and 7 at 2 p.m. Rossini’s La Cenerentola becomes the focus during the month of flowers and valentines playing Feb 5–6, and 11—13 at 7:30 p.m. with matinees on Feb. 7 and Valentine’s Day.

Rossini tells in arias and words how a humble girl and a disguised prince connect in the ultimate ashes to riches story.

Gluck’s Orfeo Ed Euridice, that ends the season, illustrates the belief that even the gods cannot break the bonds of true love.

It runs April 8-9 and 14-16 at 7:30, with 2 p.m. matinees April 10 and 17.

So there you have it. A nice assortment, maybe even better than Forest Gump’s chocolates.

The upcoming season marks 20 years for OH! successes.

It’s filled with diversity, showcasing operatic genius from past to present, from as early as 1762. Another appealing aspect of OH! productions is that the size of its hall fosters an intimate ambiance and comfortable seating. One of its goals is promoting emerging young singers while bringing affordable opera to the Greater Houston area.

Three price levels exist, based on seat choices. Season subscriptions range from $223 all the way to a frugal $49 for students, including fees. However, no student charges are available for the most desired gold locations, and the special pricing is only for those under age 17 with ID.

Seats are reserved and tickets can be exchanged for different performances, with no extra charges applying in most cases. Subscribers also receive invitations for private events reserved only for them.

Deadline for renewal for current subscribers is June 25, and of course unforeseen production changes may become unavoidable.

For more information or to subscribe, go to www.OPERAINTHEHEIGHTS.ORG, call 713-861-5303, or mail check to P. O. box 7887, Houston 77270-7887.

During this 20th anniversary celebration, comes the exclusive Overture! festivity in September, with tickets on sale July 1. There also are some young professional events where rising stars mix and mingle with those of similar ambitions.


For the Full Article, click HERE

Opera group plans to honor co-founder

By Carissa D. Lamkahouan

April 21, 2015

At its upcoming yearly fundraiser, nonprofit organization Opera in the Heights (OH!) will honor Lois Alba, its co-founding member and former artistic director and celebrate 19 years.

The “Bravissimo 2015 – An Evening in the Magnolia City” will be held on Friday, May 8, at the Petroleum Club, 1201 Louisiana St.

“As Opera in the Heights heads into its 20th season Bravissimo! offers the perfect opportunity to celebrate our amazing history, as well as look to the future of this company, which remains committed to young, emerging artists,” said Marianne Terrell, board member and co-chair of Bravissimo! with her husband, Kenny Terrell. “Our honoree fits perfectly with this mission. She is a visionary who has made a lasting impact on Opera in the Heights.”

Over her career as an author, teacher and soprano opera singer, Alba, a Memorial-area resident, spent 11 years performing in Europe and the United States with leading roles in several well-known operas. Alba has remained current in her field by teaching master classes around the world and serving as an advocate for young singers.

Gala underwriting opportunities are available with sponsorships beginning at $5,000 and include a table of 10 for the event as well as other benefits. Individual tickets begin at $500 each. For more details or to order tickets call 713-861-5303 or

For the FULL ARTICLE, click HERE.

BWW Reviews: Oh!’s LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN Not Bizet But Far From A Tragedy

By Katricia Lang
March 31, 2015

Emerald Cast: Carmen and Don José
(Briana Hunter and José Daniel Mojica)
Photography by Deji Osinulu

Clearly, love is a rebellious bird. Or at least it is in LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN, an adaptation of Georges Bizet‘s CARMEN, spearheaded by director Peter Brook who collaborated with composer Marius Constant and writer Jean-Claude Carriere.

The sweet and noble Micaëla visits childhood sweetheart José in Seville. (In the Opera in the Heights’ production, we are in 1930s Spain). Corporal José has murdered a man and is in hiding. As José and Micaëla reminisce, chronic flirter Carmen attempts to lure José with “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera).” The girl can’t help it. Jealous, Micaëla picks a fight with Carmen. The rumble ends with José carting Carmen off to jail. At the jailhouse, Carmen beguiles José with “Seguidilla” and he releases her. For falling prey to Carmen’s wiles, José’s is jailed and stripped of his rank. But the girl isn’t heartless. Moved by José’s sacrifice, Carmen takes José as a lover. That is until Escamillo, a famous bullfighter, enters.

The pared down plot of Peter Brook‘s LA TRAGEDIE … is perfect for Opera in the Heights’ Lambert Hall. Since the opera focuses exclusively on the love rectangle of Don José, Micaëla, Carmen, and Escamillo, it sets the stage for in-depth character exploration. The production demands are modest. LA TRAGEDIE requires minimal orchestra and has only four principles. And thanks to Brook’s zen-like focus, it has the advantage of brevity. But it still lacks the magic and richness of Georges Bizet‘s CARMEN. At times the music is messy and discordant and, amazingly, the 82 minute opera felt just as long as any two to three hour production.

However, if you combine all that is good about Brook’s LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN with the talented cast (I was audience to the Emerald cast) and crew of the Opera in the Heights production (the Picasso-inspired set by Jodi Bobrovsky is as bewitching as the opera’s title character), you have a good time on your hands. OH’s production is guided by Lynda Keith McKnight and conducted by Dr. Eiki Isomura.

Soprano Lisa Borik’s performance as chin up, nose in the air Micaëla is powerful and penetrating. She meets and exceeds expectations in “Je dis, que rien ne m’epouvante (I am not afraid),” and she is a sight for sore eyes for both the audience and Don José each time she appears.

Tenor José Daniel Mojica has noteworthy acting chops, which are exemplified throughout the opera and especially in the famous “Flower Song.” His note-perfect acting is only in addition to his noteworthy vocals. Emotive singing and acting create a moving and persuasive moment for, if not Carmen, the audience. Truly, Mojica is a capstone of the production, but he has a leg up. He was blessed with the wonderfully maniacal, possessive and somewhat psychotic character Don José. Don José is where Brook succeeds. José is not a man at the mercy of fate. He is at the mercy of his own actions and psychosis.

Baritone Jared Guest is swoon-worthy as Escamillo during “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre (Toreador Song).” He and Mezzo-Soprano Briana Hunter (Carmen) create beautiful music together. And Bass-Baritone Aidan Smerud provides just the right amount of comic relief as bar owner Lilas Pastia.

While Hunter has plenty of chemistry with Guest, she has almost none with Mojica. Her interpretation of “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle (Habanera)” is not nearly as hot as its masculinized namesake. Her movements are wooden and unconvincing. Albeit, these issues can be laid at Brook’s feet. It is difficult for Hunter to be a seductress when she is seducing one man with very little character motivation. In Bizet’s CARMEN, there are several men for Carmen to engage with, which allows her to show the range of her seduction techniques. Hunter does not have the luxury here.

This speculation holds more water as the opera progresses. Hunter is convincing as a seductress in “Seguidilla.” You can see how a weak-willed man could ruin his life obsessing over her, and her scenes with Jared Guest’s Escamillo possess the heat and sultriness necessary for any iteration of CARMEN.

However, Hunter micromanages her voice. By this I mean she seems to be overly concerned with the placement of the sound when she sings. This leaves her sitting and sounding pretty, but it also puts a wall between her and the audience. Her best moments are when she must relinquish control. For example, when she has difficult movement, such as the skipping in “Chanson Bohème,” her voice cuts through the orchestra and resounds. It is marvelous to witness, but I wanted more. This does not overshadow the beauty of her voice or her considerable range and flexibility, for she is carefree, fluid and, well, bohemian in “Chanson Bohème.”

I’d meet her at Lilas Pastia’s.

To see the original review, click HERE.

BWW Interviews: Briana Hunter of LA TRAGEDIE DE CARMEN at Opera In The Heights

By Bryan-Keyth Wilson

March 27, 2015

When doing an interview with an artist I am in awe of their love and dedication for their craft. This month I had the pleasure to meet American mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter and our conversation went from traditional interview to old friends talking about their love for the classics. Our mutual love for Bizet’s masterpiece CARMEN and love forAudra McDonald made this interview go very quickly.

BWW: So tell our readers a little about yourself. Where are you from?

BH: I was born outside of Baltimore, Maryland and grew up largely in Pennsylvania right outside of Philadelphia. I then headed to Davidson, North Carolina where I attended Davidson College and then I went to New York and got my music degree from the Manhattan School of Music.

BWW: Tell us about the New York experience.

BH: I was pretty hesitant about pursuing a performance career. I wasn’t ready to commit to a conservatory atmosphere. Music and theatre were always been a part of my life. It was around my last year at Davidson I realized this was what I wanted to do. A voice teacher there got me hooked on opera. I didn’t grow up listening to opera. I saw my first opera when I was in high school and it didn’t grab me right away.

BWW: Why conservatory vs. university?

BH: I was told to always go with the teacher. A good teacher matchup is number 1. Also, make sure that you get stage time because performing is the best experience. In being at MSM I was able to do a ton of networking as well.

BWW: In our preliminary research on you I saw you singing musical theatre rep, and doing plays. Would you like to have a dual career in opera and Theatre?

BH: My heart will always be with the theatre that is where I started. Music and theatre have always been a part of my life. Going back and forward can only help each art form. Now I am focusing on my opera career and I hope in the future there will be opportunities in the theatre for me.

BWW: Who are your musical influences?

BH: Diana Damrau a German soprano I saw her at the Met as Lucia in Lucia di Lamermoor, she was vocally wonderful and captivating and of course there is Audra McDonald and Joyce DiDonato. I admire the career ofMarilyn HorneNina Simone and the vocal licks of Rachelle Ferrell.

BWW: What was the first opera role?

BH: Oh gosh my first opera was SUMMER AND SMOKE by Lee Hoiby and I played the role of Rosa Gonzalez. The strange thing about this is, I performed the play at Davidson and it was so interesting seeing the narrative translate into an opera. I think the music really enhances the story. This moment was very memorable for me because I met Lee Hoiby during production and later that year he passed away.

BWW: Who is your favorite Carmen?

BH: Oh my! This is a tough one. In my research I have watched a ton of different performances but I would have to say that Marilyn Horne‘s Carmen is wonderful. I think from the acting perspective Anna Caterina Antonacci she is riveting to watch super sexy and scary at the same time, vocally I am obsessed with Risë Stevens. I have a bunch of favorites.


La Tragédie de Carmen Overcomes Its Shortcomings at Opera in the Heights

By D. L. Groover

March 23, 2015

Photo by Deji Osinulu Photography

Sishel Claverie as Carmen and Jared Guest as Escamillo in the Ruby Cast of Carmen

The set-up:
Do you hear that whirring deep underground? It’s composer Georges Bizet spinning in his grave after the beating his immortal opera masterwork Carmen gets under ham-fisted director/auteur Peter Brook in his adaptation La Tragédie de Carmen. Tragedy, indeed.

Poor Bizet. First he had to die prematurely during the opera’s premiere run at Paris’s Opera-Comique, never knowing what a smash hit he had created; now, he has to endure this.

The execution:
This one-act Reader’s Digest version from 1981, closing out Opera in the Heights’ season, is an unholy mash-up of the opera, Prosper Merimee’s 1845 novella, and tons of directorial flourishes from the radical director who caused a theater stir with such Royal Shakespeare Company productions as the inmates-run-the-asylum Marat/Sade (1964) and the white box, acrobatic A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970). Along with contemporary Robert Wilson, Brook’s visual flair is always striking, but his hot-house ideas tend to shock more than illuminate.

Tragédie doesn’t shock, so much as stupefy. Needless to say, this 80-minute intimate piece dispenses with the opera’s colorful mise-en-scene, paring the sumptuous Spanish tapestry down to a threadbare quartet and two speaking roles.

There are no Seville townspeople, no soldiers, no kids chorus, no brawling cigar factory girls, no gypsy smugglers, no bullfight parade. Though cut, rearranged, and re-orchestrated by Marius Constant, the opera’s famous numbers are somewhat intact (Carmen’s “Habanera” and “Seguidilla,”Jose’s “Flower Song,” Escamillo’s “Toreador Song,” Micaela’s “I am not afraid”). They drift in and out, functioning less as character motivation as in Bizet, than used as background score to Brook’s condensed, simplified expressionism. I suppose this type of treatment is OK as a Greatest Hits compilation, or as a pale substitute when a full stage mounting isn’t feasible. But what’s the point? Why mess with something that’s perfect as it is? Why redoCarmen at all?

This Brook recension adds no great insight to Bizet. If anything, the distillation makes the whole affair more comic when every incident gets piled on top of one another. There’s no breathing room for the characters to develop or interact within the world that the opera so fulsomely creates.

Fortunately, OH’s presentation has a fiery Carmen in mezzo Sishel Claverie. (Briana Hunter sings the role in the alternate Emerald cast.) Exuding erotic stage presence as if trailing cigar smoke, she steams up intimate Lambert Hall. In her red laced corset and swirling skirts, which never stay down for long, she cuts quite a figure. Feisty and free, she’s no man’s possession. Enter at your own risk. In a lovely touch, she rolls a cigar on her bare thigh. Claverie’s voice is smoky and seductive, too. Stand back, or get burned.

No one can touch her, although soprano Lisa Borik, as Micaela, who loves Jose from afar, is a good match. Her rich, soaring voice gives this wimpy good girl more intensity than usual, but she still doesn’t have much to do in this pocket-sized version except stand aside and witness Jose’s degradation. Tenor Brent Turner, as love-mad Jose, had a more difficult time of it opening night, but came into his own after his lyric voice opened up. His “Flower Song” wasn’t ideal, slipping out of key on those treacherous high notes, but as his character grew more jealous and unhinged his voice found the right niche, full and dramatic. (Jose Daniel Mojica sings hapless Jose in the Emerald cast.)

Baritone Jared Guest was a pumped-up bullfighter, although in Brook’s version, he enters Pastia’s tavern hideout without entourage or cheering throngs, slipping in quietly as if he’s about to order tapas and a sangria. Guest’s big and burly, a bit rough around the edges, but his celebrated “Toreador Song” was nicely phrased, replete with matador’s ego and roving eye.

We’re in ’30s Spain under Brook, a time shift that’s almost de rigeur these days wheneverCarmen is produced. Designer Jodi Bobrovsky’s Picasso-inspired cubist look fits admirably. Every scene has a fight in it, so it seems, be it knife or fist, and the cast commits wholehearted to Josh Morrison’s staged mayhem. Director Lynda McKnight keeps the show freighted with “fateful” poses, while young maestro Eiki Isomura leads his chamber orchestra through Bizet’s beguiling, if truncated, melodies with seductive ease.

The verdict:
Bizet’s white-hot opera sizzles and smolders. One of opera’s first down-and-dirty works, the Parisians didn’t know how to respond to such wild carrying-on, especially at the Comique, known for its lighter fare so different from the oh-so-grand Operá. In only a few months, the ferocious gypsy girl would seduce Europe, soon to conquer the known world. She’s never been out of the Top 10 in any list of the most popular operas. Brook does her no favors by stripping away background and motivation and rejiggering the music, but there’s nothing he can really do to damage our favorite Lady of Spain. She’s much more enduring than he is. Carmen’s always had great bones, legs, and voice. At Opera in the Heights, Claverie possesses all three to enchant, lure, and seduce us anew.

La Tragédie de Carmen. March 26, 27, 28, 29m at Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Boulevard. For information visit or call 713-861-5303. $13-$63.

For original article, click HERE

Opera in the Heights on 104.1 KRBE-FM

Sunday, March 15, 2015, KRBE’s Mary Kennedy welcomed Mariam Khalili, executive director, and Keith Chapman, director of artistic administration, into the studio to discuss La tragédie de Carmen on “Around H Town.”  Check out the podcast from this morning’s interview by clicking the link below.

Opera in the Heights on 104.1 KRBE-FM

Opera in the Heights Wins with the Rare LA CLEMENZA DI TITO

By Nyderah Williams
February 8, 2015

Justin Hopkins is excellent as Publio. His presentation is very much the unfaltering, righteous Roman and he sings most attractively with his dark baritone voice.

Great performances aren’t just limited to the named characters. The chorus is also a delight. Nicely balanced with good blend and easy amplitude, they help create an intense and striking atmosphere. In addition, Dr. Eiki Isomura conducts with finesse and the orchestra radiantly delivers sound of the highest quality.

The staging and set of LA CLEMENZA all blends together with simplicity and intrigue. The set, comprised of a few very versatile box set pieces, is entirely covered in a decoupage of newspapers articles. The effect is a welcome one and goes well with the modern costumes of the cast. Keturah Stickann and Jeremiah Minh Grünblatt respectively, as stage director and production designer, have succeeded in showing how themes of this piece traverse into modern times.

Mozart’s infrequently performed LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is well-done by Opera in the Heights. From start to finish, their LA CLEMENZA DI TITO is a marvelous work, filled with beautiful, emotive singing, accompanied by an orchestral performance that is sumptuous and dynamic, all working together to bring forth every possible nuance in Mozart’s music. The entire performance including intermission is 2 hours and 35 minutes long. It is well-worth every second of it.

L-R: Vera Savage (Sesto) and Jennifer Crippen (Annio)

To view the article in its original form, please visit the Broadway World page, HERE

Opera In The Heights Presents Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito

First production for new interim conductor of the small opera company.

By: St.John Flynn

February 6, 2015

(L-R) Mezzo soprano Deborah Domanski, tenor Eric Barry and conductor Eiki Isomura. Photo by St.John Flynn.

Mozart wrote La Clemenza di Tito in 1791, the year he died. This was the year that also saw the creation ofThe Magic Flute and the unfinished Requiem.

Based on the life of the Roman emperor Titus, the opera is seen by many as harkening back to the style of earlier opera seria (serious rather than comic works) which Mozart had transcended.

Opera in the Heights’ new interim conductor Eiki Isomura, tenor Eric Barry (Tito) and mezzo sopranoDeborah Domanski (Sesto) talk with Houston Public Media’s St.John Flynn about La Clemenza di Tito which has its final performances this weekend.

Listen to the full interview HERE

OITH Does Well by Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito

By D.L. Groover

February 3, 2015

Emerald Cast: Vitellia and 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 kapellmeisterSalieri 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.”

Mozart couldn’t have been more pleased when he got to Prague. His music was played everywhere, a veritable Mozart festival. The Czech capital always loved him more than his adopted Vienna. The new opera, though, didn’t quite inflame the stuffy aristocrats, who found this melodic paean to an ancient Caesar a trifle boring. Those who knew their music and could hear what Mozart accomplished in this stylish work raved about the piece, but it was too little too late. One perceptive Czech did comment that after hearing Tito, it should have been Mozart who got the crown, not Leopold.

The opera found early favor, but got swamped by his other masterworks that swept the international scene. Almost two centuries would pass before the intrinsic beauties of the score were fully appreciated.

The execution:
In Opera in the Heights’ first production without maestro Enrique Carreon-Robledo, who was unceremoniously booted by the board last December in what was hazily reported as a “change of direction,” interim music director Eiki Isomura led a thrilling performance of this Mozart rarity. The OH orchestra sounded splendid. Two and a half hours, which includes intermission, flew by as we were presented with a modern-dress rendition, plain, simple, elegant, of this old tale made totally fresh by Mozart’s evanescent imagination.

Emperor Tito (tenor Zach Avery) is the sweetest man in Rome, beloved and honored by his citizens for his truthfulness and unimpeachable sense of justice. But when he chooses a wife, he rebuffs his predecessor’s daughter, vain and ambitious Vitellia (soprano Celeste Fraser). Bad idea. She goes ballistic and wants blood – his. Seducing Tito’s best friend Sesto (mezzo Vera Savage), Vitellia convinces the hapless man to assassinate Tito.

There’s a subplot about adviser Annio (mezzo Jennifer Crippen) and his love Servilia (soprano Theadora Cottarel), a bump in the plot which inspires Mozart to pen some ravishing love duets and goodbye arias, but is basically filler. Publio (bass baritone Justin Hopkins), head of the Praetorian Guard, is there whenever someone needs to be arrested.

In the end, all is forgiven through the magnanimous clemency of Tito, a.k.a. Leopold. The people rejoice in a triumphal chorale. “May the gods strike me down if ever I cease working for the good of Rome,” Tito exclaims. Prophetic words, for Leopold would be dead six months after Tito’s premiere.

The emerald cast is one finely tuned ensemble. They mesh together, really listen to each other, and play off all the seria’s high drama and melodramatics. Each brought something special to the work. Tito’s a rather thankless role, too good to be true, but Act II has him questioning loyalty and tormented by betrayal in some of the most transparent continuo sections alternating with full orchestra. (Throughout, the harpsichord playing by Catherine Schaefer was always elegant.) Avery’s crisp tenor shone best when his character had something juicy to sing.

Vitellia is certainly akin to Magic Flute‘s Queen of the Night, just not as floridly virtuosic. But she’s someone new to opera, a force to be reckoned with: elemental, powerful, dangerous. Her successors will become Verdi mezzos and Wagner villains: Azucena, Amneris, Ortrud. Vitellia breathes fire into the opera. Her “Non piu di fiori” (“No more wedding wreaths for me”) augmented by sweet clarinet (thanks to Maiko Sasaki) stands alone as a concert aria, as this wicked woman debates her fate, almost going mad with indecision. Should she confess and end her happiness, or let Sesto be killed for her sin? Frasar commands a large voice which rides over the orchestra during her fiery outbursts, and she made a perfect vamp, teasing poor Sesto in lacy black lingerie. Crippen and Cottarel were lovingly matched in ardor and warmth, and Hopkins’s Publio held our attention with impeccable phrasing and honeyed tone.

But this was Savage’s show. What a subtle powerhouse she is. As misguided Sesto, a pant’s role originally sung by castrato, she’s tall and blond and makes a very handsome man in black suit and tie. When director Keturah Stickman has her strip to her BVDs to keep Vitellia satisfied, the startling effect, somewhat ill-conceived, still manages to make dramatic sense since Savage plays it so well and looks the part. And her singing is a dream: supple and powerful, with a deep velvet shimmer. Whatever she sings, we believe.

Designed by Jeremiah Minh Grünblatt, the entire set is plastered with newspaper pages, like decoupage gone wild. The look’s supposed to suggest political relevancy, I guess. It just looks like newspaper glued all over the set. But the updating, using Secret Service men and a chorus in black suits, works a lot better at getting this idea across. If nothing else, the contempo references don’t trip up Mozart.

The verdict
Although I miss maestro Carreon-Robledo’s fire and passion in the pit and wish he were still leading OH, I will show clemency. Thank Mozart and some really fine interpreters for this stay of judgment.

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


By Sydney Boyd

Celeste Fraser as Vitelia and Zach Averyt as Tito. Deji Osinulu Photography

“I must win the loyalty of my people through love,” sings the beneficent Tito in Act Two of Mozart’s rarely performed opera La Clemenza di Tito. Opera in the Heights bravely took on this neglected late opera and performed it with heart, reminding me that it had been one of Mozart’s most popular operas until about 1830, and perhaps it should be again.

It is another rarity when a sovereign rewards honesty with amnesty, even when a subject confesses to plotting his assassination. And as such, La Clemenza is a plot that relies on the ensemble numbers that are so celebrated in Mozart’s other operas. Watching the Emerald cast—a passionate collection of talented young singers—it was clear they had taken great care of the trios, the quartets, and the chorus numbers.

The early chorus march “Serbate, o dei custodi” led by tenor Zach Averyt in the role of Tito, was full and lively. The fiery trio “Vengo! Aspettate!” between Justin Hopkins, Jennifer Crippen, and Celeste Fraser (which comes when Publio and Annio tell a shocked Vitellia that Tito wants her as a consort) rang together with attention to the harmonic subtleties while also communicating Vitellia’s veiled despair.

Hopkins, a bass-baritone whose full, light timbre as Leporello stole the show in OH’s production of Don Giovanni last season, was a stand out again. Making her OH debut as Sesto, mezzo soprano Vera Savage left an impression vocally and otherwise. The victim of Vittellia’s seduction, Sesto is a desperate man. Sure, we’ve seen trouser roles before—when a female singer dons the character of a man—but have we seen a woman in a trouser role slowly strip off her suit and tie in an act of frustrated passion to stand confidently in only underwear? Savage pulled it off with panache.

Stage director Keturah Stickann has done exceptional work with the Lambert Hall stage. The blocking was smart, never feeling overcrowded, and the window cut-out at center stage proved a visual treat. The stage, papered from floor to ceiling with newspapers and charcoal pitchforks, bespoke a timely present-day obsession with gossip and misconceptions. The costumes designed by Dena Scheh—sharp suits set against decadent gowns—were tasteful and divinely popped against the newspaper background.

The orchestra, under the new direction of interim conductor Eiki Isomura, was reliably solid. Even so, there were a handful of unfortunate moments when the singers lagged behind the orchestra. Isomura notes in the program that initially he felt intimidated byLa Clemenza. While he seems in many ways to have conquered this (a triumphant downbeat to the overture surely testified as such), overall he directed with a slight awkwardness, as though he were still getting to know the score and his musicians.

It’s not often that opera celebrates the deep virtues of forgiveness, generosity, and love, where the opera ends with a chorus of loyal subjects asking the gods to grant their sovereign a long life. More regularly, audiences are confronted with prolonged death, lingering deceptions, and questionable moral codes that no doubt delight us (Don Giovanni, for example), but are nevertheless commonplace in the genre. Here, we are left with a uniquely comforitng blanket absolution thanks to the zeal of OH’s cast and the warm familiarity of Lambert Hall.

See full review HERE