opera in the heights

With ‘I Pagliacci,’ Opera in the Heights starts third decade

September 18, 2015
By Martin Hajovsky 

Soprano Donata Cucinotta performed from “I Pagliacci” during Opera in the Heights’ Overture! event at Tommie Vaughn Ford in the Heights, accompanied by Bethany Self. Photo by Carl Cramer

Soprano Donata Cucinotta performed from “I Pagliacci” during Opera in the Heights’ Overture! event at Tommie Vaughn Ford in the Heights, accompanied by Bethany Self.
Photo by Carl Cramer

There’s a clown show in the Heights this week and next, but probably not the kind you’re imagining.

As has been noted here and hereOpera in the Heights is kicking off its 20th anniversary season, and this weekend opens with the classic “I Pagliacci” by Ruggero Leoncavallo at Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights Boulevard.

Last week the company marked the beginning of the season with “Overture,” a party at Tommy Vaughn Ford on South Shepherd, featuring “I Pagliacci” cast members Donata Cuccinotta, James Chamberlain, James Rodriguez, Dash Waterbury and Jeremiah Johnson.

There will be four productions of “I Pagliacci,” tonight, Sept. 18, at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 20, at 2 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 24, at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 26, at 7:30 p.m.

The Sunday performances will have a special feature this year. The company will host a “Talk-Back” event following each performance, allowing opera-goers the chance to speak with the cast, stage director Susan Stone Li and conductor Dr. Eiki Isomura. The Talk-Back feature is a great extension of Opera in the Heights’ opera-outreach mission, extending opportunities both to up-and-coming singers and musicians as well teaching the public about this beautiful, beautiful art form.

To that end, the company has expanded its support and outreach programs. From the Young Opera Lovers Organization to the Oh! Guild and educational initiatives, the company is in investing mode. To be completely frank, this company has already lasted 20 years longer than I thought it would when it formed. I was wonderfully wrong about that. And with these initiatives building a foundation for the future, it looks like Opera in the Heights will be around for some time longer.

To get tickets for “I Pagliacci” or one of the other three shows this season — Menotti’s “The Medium and The Telephone” beginning Oct. 30; Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” in February; and Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” in April — check out operaintheheights.com or call 713-861-5303.

Opera in the Heights to Open New Season with I PAGLIACCI

By Opera News Desk
August 27, 2015

Opera in the Heights (Oh!) kicks off its 20th anniversary season with Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci (The Clowns) on Sept. 18, one of several inspired works in the company's 2015 -2016 repertoire. I Pagliacci runs Sept. 18, 24 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. and is an enduring tale of jealousy and rage between lovers in a comedy troupe. Art imitates life with fatal results in this iconic tragedy, featuring the famous tenor aria, Vesti la giubba ("Put on the costume").

To create additional excitement for the new season, on Sept. 10 Oh! will host Overture!, a fund raiser/cocktail reception from 6 - 8 p.m. at Tommie Vaughn Ford, 1201 N. Shepherd Dr., which is open to members of the community, with tickets starting at $40. (Funds will help support Opera in the Heights community programs.) Guests will mingle with Oh! conductor Eiki Isomura, take in performances by some of the company's rising stars and enjoy beverages and appetizers.

"I am giddy with excitement, as we have assembled an absolute dream cast for I Pagliacci," says Oh! conductor Eiki Isomura. "It's a remarkable privilege working with such fine artists, and especially with stage director Susan Stone Li, whom I consider to be a visionary."

"Audiences will also be pleased to find how prominently the piece features our extraordinary orchestra and chorus," Isomura continues. "This promises to be something truly special, a powerhouse production worthy of opening the company's 20th anniversary season."

"We hope our subscribers, YOLO (Young Opera Lovers Organization) members and the public will join us for Overture! to experience a taste of what's in store for this season," says Mariam Khalili, Opera in the Heights' Executive Director. "Oh! is known for supporting the careers of emerging artists, such as the ones you will see at our event. Even those who are not familiar with opera should come away with an appreciation for great art and a feel for what we do. It's also a chance to meet other opera lovers."

For Full Article, click HERE

'I Pagliacci' opens Opera in Heights season

Wednesday, August 26, 2015
By Don Maines

Soprano Julia Engel and Tenor James Chamberlain, Photo by Carl Cramer. 

Soprano Julia Engel and Tenor James Chamberlain, Photo by Carl Cramer. 

A single cast was announced Aug. 24 for "I Pagliacci (The Clowns)," which opens the 20th season of Opera in the Heights Sept. 18 at Lambert Hall.

The 1892 "comic thriller" by Ruggero Leoncavallo will be performed four times, in contrast to the usual seven performances, with double-casting, of each opera in recent seasons, said Mariam Khalili, the group's executive director since January.

"The change will allow Opera in the Heights to better focus its financial resources, while enhancing the artistic quality of each of the four productions," said Khalili.

"I Pagliacci" will star James Chamberlain as Canio, which was a signature role of opera great Enrico Caruso. Canio leads a commedia dell'arte troupe that includes his wife, Nedda. Her adultery is revealed in the opera's comic play-within-a-play.

Joining Chamberlain will be Donata Cucinotta as Nedda, James Rodriguez as Tonio, Jeremiah Johnson as Silvio and Dashiell Waterbury as Beppe.

For Full Article, click HERE.

Up-and-coming opera singers transform young professionals party into a tuneful time

By Shelby Hodge
Aug. 11, 2015

Megan and Jake Stroudand, Boran and Becky Buturovic.    Photo by Carl Cramer

Megan and Jake Stroudand, Boran and Becky Buturovic. Photo by Carl Cramer

Opera in the Heights (Oh!) took center stage at Silver Street Studios"Second Saturday" event, transforming the happening from a visual arts party into a performing arts fete. There were multiple aria presentations, costumes on display and chats about the regional opera company that performs in Lambert Hall in the Heights. 

In a special welcome, Flashback FilmsMichael Raak hosted the event for Oh! and held a VIP reception in his Silver Street studio for the Young Opera Lovers Organization or YOLO, the young professional group affiliated with Oh! Adding to the colorful afternoon were FotoFest's I Am a Cameraexhibition and artists studios open for touring.

Young rising opera talents tenor James Chamberlain and soprano Julia Engel, accompanied by pianist Keith Weber, wowed guests throughout the day with their talents while violist Faith Jonesadded to the musical entertainment.

With Oh! approaching the start of its 20th season, the afternoon outing was the perfect vehicle for introducing the company to a broader audience.

Music lovers on the scene included Oh! executive director Mariam Khalili, Tony Tripodo, Marcia and Michael Feldman, Dan Mathena, Corey Powell, Marianne and Kenny Terrell, Patricia Bernstein, Becky and Boran Buturovic, Samuel Chavez, Barbara Henley and Jordan Mathews.


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.


Flashback Films presents:

Our friends over at Flashback Films created this great video, compiling interviews with Maestro Eiki Isomura, Oh! stars Jared Guest and Lisa Borik, along with our Executive Director, Mariam Khalili. Discover Peter Brook’s La tragédie de Carmen through the eyes and ears of the performers, with clips from the show!

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 operaintheheights.org 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


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                           

Contact: Carol Brejot, pr@operaintheheights.org or 713-503-3885


Peter Brook’s Interpretation Puts a New Spin on Bizet’s Carmen


Sishel Claverie (Carmen, Ruby Cast) Photography by Mariam Khalili

HOUSTON (March 3, 2015) – Tickets are now on sale for Opera in the Heights’ (OH) production of La tragédie de Carmen, the Peter Brook interpretation of Carmen by Georges Bizet. This is the final opera presented by the company in the 2014 – 2015 season, which kicked off in September with Rigoletto, followed by Hänsel und Gretel in November and La clemenza di Tito in January and February.

La tragédie de Carmen is not an abridged version of Carmen; it is a wildly imaginative retelling of the story that stands on its own as a theatrical tour de force,” says Eiki Isomura, OH’s conductor for the production. “The familiar tunes are there but thoroughly re-scored and re-contextualized to highlight the opera’s darkest themes. The visceral impact of this piece is truly extraordinary, and I cannot imagine a better venue in which to experience it than Lambert Hall.”

The story line of La tragédie de Carmen is summed up as the “tragic tale of the ultimate femme fatale, the naïve soldier she seduces, and his rival, the glamorous toreador.”  Brook has noted that “everything is trimmed away to focus on the intense interactions, the tragedy of four people.” The production received two prestigious awards in 1984, including the Drama Desk Award for “Unique Theatre Experience” and a Tony Award titled “Special Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre.”

“Opera in the Heights is honored to be debuting La tragédie de Carmen to Houston audiences for the very first time,” says Mariam Khalili, OH executive director.  “Our patrons will experience stunning visual art, passionate romance, thrilling fight scenes, and of course, Georges Bizet’s brilliant musical score. Opera in the Heights has brought together an inspired team of artists to bring this opera to life – gifted young singers, exceptional visual artists, the finest of orchestras, and even a stage combat specialist.”

This Opera in the Heights production will be guided by Lynda Keith McKnight, veteran OH stage director and UH professor, along with Isomura, who will conduct OH’s highly-touted orchestra. Appearing in the double-cast La Tragedie de Carmen are Sishel Claverie and Briana Hunter as Carmen; Brent Turner and José Daniel Mojica as Don José; Lisa Borik as Micaela and Jared Guest in the role of Escamillo. Joining the four main characters are actors Aidan Smerud (Pastia/Garcia) and Andrew Gilstrap (Zuniga/Gitane.)

La tragédie de Carmen runs for two weekends (and a Thursday show) with performance dates of Mar. 20, 21, 26, 27, 28 at 7:30 p.m. and matinees on Mar. 22 and Mar. 29 at 2 p.m., all at historic Lambert Hall in the Houston Heights. Thursday, Mar. 26, is “Student Night,” and anyone with a valid student ID or students age 18 and under are invited to sit anywhere in the theater for the regular student ticket price of $15, regardless of seat level.

Regular single ticket prices for the production are $35-$67, senior tickets are $32-$58 and student tickets are $15-$17 anytime in designated areas. If you have not experienced the magic of Opera in the Heights, now is your opportunity. You can order tickets online at operaintheights.org  or call the box office at 713-861-5303. Use code: STUDENTNIGHT to take advantage of the Thursday night promotion.

Opera in the Heights, a professional regional performing arts company, provides a stage for emerging artists and brings affordable opera to the greater Houston area. All operas are fully staged with orchestra and presented in the original language with English surtitles projected above the stage.