In the News 2014-2015

Art Valet: La clemenza di Tito

By Mitch Cohen

January 29, 2015 

Opera. Sit back down and read, I know most people are a yes or no with opera, and probably aren’t sure why if they’re a no. Me, I’ve been a maybe. However, if you hadn’t noticed by now, I love everything about the Heights, and the Heights just happens to have, a small, very famous opera house, and that got my attention.

Opera in the Heights (OH) is the name, and they also want to pay for half your ticket if you’ve never been to an opera before. How cool is that?

My very talented friend Mariam Khalili has just been promoted to Executive Director of OH, and she invited me to the dress rehearsal for Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito this past Monday evening. My reaction? Awesome! Mariam straightened me out on opera and in particular, what OH is all about.

“Opera in the Heights lives and breathes inside tiny Lambert Hall, a beautiful old church building that sits on Heights Boulevard,” Khalili said. “I would say that 9 out of 10 Heights Boulevard joggers, dog walkers, and bicyclists, have no idea what treasures are produced inside this building they move past daily. OH is one of the best kept secrets around; a secret that should be shared. On the other side of the coin, Opera in the Heights is known nationally and even internationally in the opera world thanks to two different Maestros who gave their artistic gifts to grow the organization over the years, as well as hundreds of artists, staff, and volunteers.”

An internationally recognized organization goes unnoticed in its own backyard? I continued asking questions:


“OH is a non-profit organization that was founded with the idea that Opera should be shared with everyone,” Khalili said. “Imagine delighted children experiencing a live, fully staged opera complete with an orchestra for the very first time. OH provides this experience and so much more for our blossoming Heights community. Over the years Opera in the Heights created a second name for itself by declaring the desire to promote emerging artists and giving them a place to not only build a resume, but to SHINE. OH now serves two major purposes: Making opera accessible and supporting and nurturing emerging artists.”

Watching the performance in the 300 seat theater, is an experience like nothing else. Opera is very emotional and dramatic, so being able to see the singer’s expressions and body language is a major bonus here. Halfway through the performance, and I’m hooked. I ask Mariam if she gets to interact with these amazing singers and musicians.

“I love engaging with our singers and musicians,” Khalili said. “They are all so gifted and such a pleasure to be around! It is always so interesting to me to see their alter egos on stage. I have been completely blown away by their ability to transform into the person that their character embodies.” Khalili continues about the orchestra too, “I have to say that OH is incredibly lucky to have the orchestra we have. These guys and gals don’t get but a few rehearsals in as a group, with the conductor and the singers, and they produce a phenomenal show.”

“Once you fall in love with opera, it is hard to get away from it, and once you experience it in our very intimate theater, you really can’t get it out of your system.” Khalili said of her experience with opera. I have to agree, I’m falling hard for it now.

La clemenza di Tito is one of Mozart’s rarest operas, written during the final year of his life in 1791. I am told that it is also one of the most difficult to perform both for the orchestra and to sing. This was not lost on my inexperience as an opera goer either. An amazing performance by all.

Presuming that you are newbie to opera like me, I left out the details that would have opera fans oohing and aahing. As Khalili pointed out, OH is known nationally and internationally.

La clemenza di Tito runs for two weekends (and a Thursday show) with performance dates of Jan. 30 and 31 and Feb. 5, 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. and matinees on Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 at 2 p.m., all at historic Lambert Hall in the Houston Heights.

For new initiates requesting half-price tickets, please call the OH box office at 713-861-5303 or go online at www.operaintheights.org to order, using the code OPERANEWBIE. Regular single ticket prices for the production run from $35-$67, senior tickets are $32-$58, and student tickets are $15-$17 in designated areas.

All operas are fully staged with orchestra and presented in the original language with English surtitles projected above the stage.

Opera in the Heights is located at 1703 Heights Boulevard, Houston, TX 77008. Be sure to visit the website www.operaintheheights.org.


See the Original Story HERE

BEST OF 2014 The Top 5 Operas of 2014

By Sydney Boyd

Dec 4, 2014

HOUSTON IS AN OPERA-LOVER’S CITY. For world premieres and big showstoppers like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, we have the prestigious Houston Grand Opera; for something with less pomp and more personality, we have Opera in the Heights. Between the two companies, I’ve seen some remarkable opera this year. But there’s even more opera in Houston than you might imagine. While they didn’t make my list this year, keep an eye (and an ear) on the Asia Society Texas Center, University of Houston Moores Opera Center, and Rice University Shepherd School of Music, all of which are producing unique and often adventurous work that other companies skip. And don’t forget the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Houston. That said, here are the top five operas I’m still reveling in:

1. DAS RHEINGOLD, HOUSTON GRAND OPERA

Image: Courtesy the Houston Grand Opera

The first installment of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, this opera blew everything else in 2014 out of the water. A co-production by Houston Grand Opera, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, and Maggio Musicale, Florence, this was an astounding example of the WagnerianGesamtkünstwerk, or total work of art. Breathtaking acrobatics, 800-pound cranes, golden embryos, suspended water tanks, and a Segway merged contemporary biopolitical themes with mythic folklore of old. HGO gambled and won big here. And this is only the first of four! If you see any opera next year, make it the second installment of the Ring, Die Walküre.

2. HÄNSEL UND GRETEL, OPERA IN THE HEIGHTS

Image: Courtesy Opera in the Heights

I almost didn’t make it to this opera, but fortuitously caught the second-to-last performance. Seeing an opera later in the run means that the ensemble has had time to marinate and work out some kinks. And this production was a real gem. Great singing—the best, actually, I’ve heard from the small company—lightly seasoned with humor and gleeful acting against an aesthetically charming set. It was a true delight, and with such serious singing, no trifle either.

3. A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, HOUSTON GRAND OPERA

We always care what an opera looks like, but rarely does it radiate like Isaac Mizrahi’s design for Sondheim’s A Little Night Music at HGO. Bold azure blue, creamy ivory, hazy orange, and brilliant green and purple seemed to promise enchantment. And the singing was superb, too. Soprano Andrea Carroll has a voice made for the virginal role of Anne—sweet, bell-like, and memorably charming.

4. OTELLO, HOUSTON GRAND OPERA

Image: Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

As with A Little Night Music, I’m still thinking about how this set brought the opera to life. Nothing was level; everything felt unstable, whether it was the stage jutting out at an angle or an enormous lantern swinging wildly. In an opera about psychological warfare, the topsy-turvy staging was appropriate, and quite frankly, really clever. Finally, Ailyn Pérez’s “Willow Song” and “Ave Maria”—fragile, ardent, and pure—set the bar very high for the rest of HGO’s season.

5. LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, OPERA IN THE HEIGHTS

Image: Courtesy Opera in the Heights

A bel canto opera can be hard on the ears. It’s an older tradition, and it usually calls for a soprano of steel. Opera in the Heights may play up its community, small-town-opera-in-a-big-city side, but it brought in some serious talent for one of the most iconic moments in opera—the so-called mad scene. Jessica Jones trilled and soared her way into a perfect storm of maniacal derangement. As far as absurd drama in opera goes, does it get much better than an unhinged Scottish soprano in a wedding dress on a killing spree? No it does not.

See full article HERE

Opera In The Heights Presents Hänsel And Gretel

The Houston company mounts Humperdinck’s fairy tale opera.

By: St.John Flynn

November 19th, 2014

Mezzo-soprano Hilary Ginther (l) and soprano Katie Dixon (r) from Opera in the Heights’ Hänsel und Gretel. Photo by St. John Flynn

Written in 1892, Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel is based on the Grimm brothers’ fairy tale of the same name about the brother and sister who, lured by the gingerbread house they come across in the woods, are captured by a wicked witch and face being turned into gingerbread children.

Hänsel und Gretel is currently on stage at Opera in the Heights. Two of the principals, mezzo-soprano Hilary Ginther who sings Hänsel and soprano Katie Dixon who’s his sister Gretel, talk to Houston Public Media’s St.John Flynn about the fairy tale opera.

Opera in the Heights presents Hänsel und Gretelthrough November 23rd in Lambert Hall on Heights Boulevard.

[Musical excerpts used in this interview are taken from a 1979 CBS Masterworks release featuring John Pritchard conducting the Gürzenich Orchestra and Children’s Chorus of Cologne Opera with Frederica von Stade singing Hänsel and Ileana Cotrubas singing Gretel (CBS M2K 79217)]

Listen to the interview HERE

BWW Interviews: Dena Scheh Talks OH’s HANSEL UND GRETEL

By Katricia Lang

November 17, 2014

Today I talk with Dena Scheh, well-respected Houston costume designer and frequent collaborator with Opera in the Heights, about her work on Opera in the Height’s currently running production HANSEL UND GRETEL. Despite the German title, it is the story of Hansel and Gretel you know and love. There is a witch, and candy house, and a clever, resourceful brother and sister duo.

The making of HANSEL UND GRETEL

BWW: Tell me how you saw the story of HANSEL UND GRETEL from a costume designer’s point of view.

Dena Scheh: This is a very iconic, archetypal story. To me, the show is so elegant and timeless. It’s a classic. It’s not only a coming of age story, but it could possibly be the original good triumphs over evil. Both of the characters, Hansel and Gretel, are cunning and clever, and they get justice in the end. It’s a real story of loyalty as well. Each one, in their own time, gets their time to shine. At first, Hansel is the strong one. When he gets locked up, it’s an opportunity for Gretel to really shine and show her strength.

BWW: How did this play into your decisions in the costuming department?

Dena Scheh: I definitely wanted to give them strong details with my color choices, and fabric.

BWW: What did you decide on?

Dena Scheh: This era is so rich with jewel tones. It’s old worldly. So, I was very realistic and historically accurate.

BWW: Can you tell me a little about the era you drew from?

Dena Scheh: It’s the traditional Nordic. I have friends from the area, and they still grew up wearing these costumes that were passed down to them from their grandmothers on traditional holidays. Like the dirndl dress with lots of lacing and outlining and greens, browns, and reds. They’re not afraid of black and strong colors. It’s very much like the movie Frozen.

BWW: Recently, I was talking to another theatre artist, and I found it interesting how practical his approach was to a production. Do you approach your projects in that way as well?

Dena Scheh: I’m very practical. Everything has to be really user friendly. Opera singers are particular about how things fall on their neck, their waist, even down to their shoes. They’re particular about their hair and makeup, and jewelry – anything that touches their face and neck.

BWW: How do you meld that with your artistic or aesthetic vision?

Dena Scheh: It can sometimes be challenging, but it’s also a nice opportunity for me to grow.

BWW: What is your general process? And what has been your process for this project?

Dena Scheh: It’s the same every time. When I’m researching, I see what’s been done and which way I want to go. I like to see the faces of the actors that have been assigned to the roles – the artists – as I’m researching. So, I print out their faces. For me, as a costumer, this is my whole life. I do have a family too [I Laugh] but the show gets my entire heart. I sleep, I dream, and I breathe each show. I like to really get enthralled by and involved in the character.

I also talk to the director and set designer to see what their feeling is on the production. With Opera in the Heights, since I’ve been there so long, I feel I’ve established myself as an artist. So they’ve given me so much freedom and respect. They never question. They rely on my quality, timeliness and aesthetic. The costumes are always going to show up on time and be great for every person! [Laughs]

For the characters in this particular show, I think about what happened in the witch’s life that has led her to this point. And what would have been the steps that it took to result in her personal collection or wardrobe, because we collect our wardrobe over a lifetime. “I got this coat from my mom.” Or, “I picked this skirt up at a thrift shop.”

BWW: How did you work with the director to create this production?

Dena Scheh: The director was pretty determined in her ideas and what she wanted. She suggested that the parents are over-exaggerated in their size and patterns juxtaposed with the children. We talked about the Sandman and the Dew Fairy who are reminiscent of Gustav Klimt with geometric shapes and metallics. We agreed that the Dew Fairy should be otherworldly and glamorous.

I really felt like we agreed on the rich jewel tones and archetypes of each character. The one thing she added that I might not have come to the conclusion is she wanted all the plaids on the witch. You’ll see. The way that the plaid came together for her is amazing.

BWW: My final question: What is the draw of the show? Why should audiences come to see it?

Dena Scheh: There’s so much in the world, and this production is just a sweet escape of family, bonding, loyalty and triumph.

Dena Scheh

The making of Dena Scheh

BWW: Do you do costume design full time?

Dena Scheh: Yes, I am a full-time costume designer at Performing Arts Supply Co., Inc.

BWW: What is Performing Arts Supply Co., Inc.?

Dena Scheh: We are a costume rental warehouse, and we ship out all over the U.S. To Grand Rapids, Michigan, St. Petersburg (in Florida), and Pace University – even Lyric Opera in Alaska! – and everything in between.

BWW: I’m jealous. How did you get there?

Dena Scheh: I studied costume design in college, and Houston is a great place for performing arts.

BWW: Do you think that attending a university to study theatre is necessary? Do you think it was instrumental in making your career?

Dena Scheh: Absolutely. The history I studied, and then my minor was business management, which helps out in this business. I do know other costumers that have great grasp on fashion history without having been through schooling. But I really love the costume history, art history, and theatrical classes I took.

BWW: How did you decide on costume design as a career?

Dena Scheh: I always thought it looked really fun. My father, granddad and uncle were fine jewelers and my mom is an educated artist and costumer so I grew up entrenched in exquisite colors and fine quality art. Craftsmanship and artistry are in my blood.

BWW: Do you have any wisdom to pass on to those aspiring costume designers?

Dena Scheh: I know a lot of costumers and the one thing I can definitely say about costume designers is that we’re constantly evolving in our craft. And we just always get better. There’s always something you can learn and someone you can learn from – a technique or a different way to visualize and execute – professionally and in life.

A note about the artist: Interestingly enough, I found that, once the piece was finished, “the making of Dena Scheh” section was much shorter than “the making of HANSEL UND GRETEL section. This is a very telling fact about the artist herself. The art before the artist always. Scheh said during our conversation that she wants her art to speak for itself. It seems like she has done just that.

Dena Scheh has worked with Opera in the Heights on several productions including RIGOLETTO, MACBETH, and OTELLO. Her work has also been seen in several productions around Houston including Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s THE SORCERER. To get a look at her most recent work, OH’s HANSEL UND GRETEL, pay a visit to http://operaintheheights.org/ and get your tickets fast! The show runs until Nov. 23.

HANSEL UND GRETEL photo credit: Deji Osinulu Photography
HANSEL UND GRETEL logo courtesy of Opera in the Heights
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I by Gustav Klimt
Photo of Dena Scheh courtesy of Dena Scheh

 See the full interview HERE

Hansel und Gretel: A Folk Tale Spun Into Operatic Gold at Opera in the Heights

By D.L. Groover

Nov. 15 2014

When Opera in the Heights announced it would perform Englebert Humperdinck’s gargantuan fairy tale – gargantuan in size of its orchestra – I immediately thought, what a boneheaded mistake, this’ll never work. This late Romantic behemoth (1893), progeny of Wagner and stepchild of soon-to-be Richard Strauss, requires orchestral forces that intimate Lambert Hall doesn’t possibly have space for, nor can maestro Enrique Carreon-Robledo’s small-scale ensemble do justice to the shimmering textures and tone painting that Humperdinck’s most famous score calls for. This is epic musical theater; little Opera in the Heights can never pull this off.

Look who’s the bonehead! Perfect for the kids and immensely satisfying for any grownup operaphile, Hansel und Gretel is a stunner, perhaps OH’s most perfect realization.

 

In a splendid orchestral reduction by Derek Clark, head of the music staff at Scottish Opera, Humperdinck’s grand work only gains in clarity by this talented abridgment, losing none of its sparkle and mysterious youthfulness. The score sounds lush and ever-fresh, awhirl with witty counterpoint and intriguing instrumental details which emphasize its soaring singing line and folklore-like melodies. Listen for the resounding trumpets, the effervescent harp, the deep swoon of the strings. The opera is ripe and certainly juicy. If Wagner would have possessed personal charm, this work might have been his.

Although the plot’s much too simple for the titan of Bayreuth, Humperdinck dances right through it, much like his characters. Maestro Carreon-Robledo dances, too, and his superb orchestra follows like Ginger Rogers.

To stave off hunger, siblings Hansel and Gretel (mezzo Megan Berti and soprano Allison Pohl) goof off instead of doing their chores. Mom (soprano Cassandra Black) loses her patience and sends them to pick berries in the forest. When Dad (Brian Shircliffe) returns from a successful day at the market selling brooms, bringing a needed basket of food with him, he’s horrified to learn that the children are in the woods. That’s where the evil witch lives, he cries! Dad and Mom rush into the forest to find them. Lost and frightened, the children fall asleep through the intervention of the Sandman (soprano Amanda Kingston) . In the morning, awakened by the Dew Fairy (Kingston), they discover a tempting house made of gingerbread. As they nibble at it, they rouse the wicked witch (mezzo Claudia Chapa). I think you know the rest.

Following the Brothers Grimm classic, librettist Adelheid Wette, the composer’s sister, wrote the play for her young relatives to perform as a puppet show. She asked her prize-winning musical brother to supply incidental tunes, and his four songs were such a hit that he was prodded to turn the whole affair into an opera. In Wette’s version, Mom is overworked and careless in her punishment, not the grim ogre in the original tale (a doppelganger of the witch), and somewhere along the way a Sandman, Dew Fairy, and chorus of gingerbread children enlarged the cast.

In a lovely touch, when the witch is dispatched, the gingerbread cookies transform back into their real selves. The tyke chorus comes from HITS Theatre, and they are delectable.

This is all pretty simple stuff, but Humperdinck spins folksy straw into operatic gold. The work is awash in an almost Italianate lyricism, ironic since this opera was hailed as the most Germanic of all works since Wagner. You can hear that, for certain, but there’s a sunny disposition in the music, an almost heady atmosphere of mist and moonlight, forest murmurs, bird calls, good times, and simple faith. The duets between Hansel and Gretel (mezzo and soprano) are as musically sophisticated and sublimely blended as what Strauss would later pen for Der Rosenkavalier. Herr Strauss conducted Hansel’s world premiere and couldn’t stop praising it for its freshness and originality. (Humperdinck’s distinct musical voice had more of an effect on the great Strauss than he realized or ever acknowledged.)

OH has found a director of real quality in Mary Birnbaum, whose eye for the telling gesture, the perfect comic effect, or visual snap brings the fairy tale into our laps. Hansel falls asleep in the aisle; the witch’s claw-like hands appear from behind the house before she emerges; during the “Evening Prayer,” Mom and Dad, as if in the children’s dream, spread out a spangly black cloth, like a starry night, and cloak their children under it; as Mom leaves, she quietly gestures to the heavens, and twinkly stars descend like night lights to watch over her sleeping son and daughter. Humperdinck supplies the softest of lullabies for punctuation.

With its moveable trees, rustic house, and simple stage effects, the production, designed by Robert Rolden and Joshua Slisz, has the feel of a picturebook come to life. Jim Elliot’s colorful, subtle lighting is particularly effective, as is Dena Scheh’s Bavarian-inspired look of lederhosen and dirndls.

The future of opera is in mighty secure hands when the young cast is this assured. Full of charm and exceptional technique, these fine pros sail through Humperdinck’s Wagnerian tessitura as if laughing.

Opera in the Heights’ production has it all: exceptionally vivid singing; a startlingly effective staging that’s smart and witty; and an outstanding orchestral performance. Everything works.

Although Humperdinck had only modest success with his next opera, Königskinder (The King’s Children), whose world premiere at the Metropolitan Opera boasted superstar Geraldine Farrar leading a flock of geese (1910), he never had another international blockbuster. Verismo was on the rise, and Wagner idolatry was waning. A lauded teacher of composition (Kurt Weill was one of his pupils), Humperdinck remains a one-opera guy. But he hit the heights with Hansel und Gretel. So does Opera in the Heights.

See full article HERE

This Hänsel und Gretel Isn’t Just For Kids

Opera in the Heights takes on the challenge of staging the great German Romantic opera.

By Michael Hardy

Published Nov 14, 2014, 10:17am

Image: Deji Osinulu Photography

Katie Dixon as Gretel and Hilary Ginther as Hänsel (Emerald Cast)

After one of Opera in the Heights’s performances ofRigoletto in October, one of the audience members came up to Enrique Carreón-Robledo, the company’s Mexican-born artistic director. The man announced that he’d probably skip the company’s next production, Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel. “I’m a serious opera fan,” he informed the maestro. Carreón-Robledo tried to explain that although Humperdinck’s opera may have been written as a “Märch-enoper,” or fairy tale opera, it wasn’t just for children. In fact, it’s considered one of the masterpieces of 19th-century German Romantic opera.

“I understand that principle, but you have to give it a try, because there are points in the opera that are just magical,” Carreón-Robledo told me. “Yes, it will make you laugh as hard as you’ve ever laughed, but it will also make you cry, believe it or not.”

Carreón-Robledo has always loved German Romanticism—think Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Johann Strauss. The problem is that those composers’ works are typically characterized by an almost megalomanical maximalism, featuring jumbo-size orchestras, large casts, and ambitious staging that puts most of them out of reach for regional opera companies like OH.

Carreón-Robledo knew that the only canonical Romantic opera the company might conceivably be able to mount was Hänsel und Gretel, which premiered in Weimar, Germany in 1893 under the baton of Richard Strauss himself. But the maestro also knew that doing so would require the right director, a director capable of bringing the fantastical opera to life on the cramped stage of Lambert Hall, the OH’s home on Heights Blvd. He finally found that director in Mary Birnbaum, a Julliard professor and well-respected figure in the opera world, who was willing to design a production to meet OH’s strict requirements. Next, he needed an orchestration of the score for the company’s 24-member orchestra. Humperdinck originally scored the opera for anywhere from 75 to 90 musicians, including a massive string section.

Image: Deji Osinulu Photography

Katie Dixon as Gretel, Hilary Ginther as Hänsel, with chorus (children from HITS Theatre)

“This is a very ambitious score,” he said. “It was written at the end of the 19th century, when Romanticism was at its pinnacle, so any composer putting out a new piece wanted to use all the orchestral resources, all the colors, everything the tradition had developed. So it was a big challenge to adjust it to a smaller space and a smaller orchestra.” When Carreón-Robledo stumbled upon Derek Clark’s orchestration for the Scottish Opera, another small company, he couldn’t believe his luck—with a few tweaks, the score was perfect for OH.

The maestro’s luck continued with the cast. He was able to find enough talented singers to double-cast the three principal parts, Hänsel, Gretel, and the Witch. “I think as the company gets more of the good word spread around in the operatic field in the United Sates, the level of talent that wants to come and sing in the company gets higher and higher,” he said. To top everything off, he recruited the children’s chorus from the HITS Theatre, located just a few blocks from Lambert Hall in the Heights.

After four exhausting weeks of rehearsal—the most demanding of any OH production Carreón-Robledo­ has overseen—the maestro said he couldn’t wait to share the opera’s magic with Houston. “It touches an emotional fiber within the musical realm that you will not get when you perform Italian or French opera. It’s very special.”

When Carreón-Robledo first proposed the opera, many doubted that it was possible for a small company like OH to stage such a complex work. But he said he never doubted that they were up to it. “I really felt like we could adapt this opera to work with our resources,” he said. “And I feel that I’ll be proven right with our performance.”

Opera in the Heights delivers effective “Rigoletto”

By Steven Brown

September 29, 2014

Baritone Octavio Moreno captured the fury of the title role and soprano Erin Kenneavy’s voice came into its own as the music grew dramatic in Opera in the Heights’ production of Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”

“Rigoletto,” Giuseppe Verdi’s story of a court jester and his skirt-chasing master, opens with a rowdy palace party. Yet only a handful of revelers can fit on Lambert Hall’s little stage.

So much for grand opera.

The same scene, however, illustrates the converted church’s strength. When Rigoletto spots a target for his acid tongue, the glint in baritone Octavio Moreno’s eye conveys the jester’s excitement before his wisecrack emerges, a detail that might go to waste in a larger theater.

Those touches help give Opera in the Heights’ “Rigoletto” impact.

Violently split

Verdi’s drama depicts the tragedy that befalls a man violently split between his outer and inner personas. The courtiers around Rigoletto see him only as a hunchbacked dispenser of insults. At home, though, he is the loving father of Gilda, able to take refuge from the hardships life has dealt him.

But when Rigoletto’s master seduces his daughter, the jester’s scheme for revenge veers beyond his control.

The music’s explosiveness and lyricism makes the role a popular one for baritones. At Friday’s opening, Moreno captured Rigoletto’s fury by singing with vitality and fullness rather than raw power. During Rigoletto’s scenes with Gilda, Moreno infused the melodies with breadth and warmth that exuded fatherly affection. Because Moreno’s voice sounded round and resonant – rather than thunderously forceful – nearly all the time, it helped unite the disparate sides of Rigoletto’s personality.

Soprano Erin Kenneavy, as Gilda, and tenor Dane Suarez, as her seducer the Duke of Mantua, handled the music less assuredly. Kenneavy’s voice sounded dry in the lyrical moments but came into its own as the music grew dramatic, ringing with fervor as Gilda’s courage emerged. Though Suarez delivered the gentlest part of the love duet tenderly, he emphasized the swagger of the Duke’s famous arias, where his singing was lusty but sometimes labored.

Bass Nathan Stark cut a chilling figure as the assassin Sparafucile, not only because of his voice’s ominous black sound, but also because of the cold-bloodedness conveyed in his face: the pride as he discussed his skill with a knife, the fake courtliness as he greeted a victim, and the stoniness as he demanded payment.

Mezzo-soprano Alissa Anderson brought an earthy voice and bearing to Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister and accomplice. Bass-baritone Kyle Albertson sang sonorously as the nobleman Monterone, who issues a curse that terrorizes Rigoletto. Playing Marullo, a courtier who relishes taunting Rigoletto, baritone Jared Guest’s robust voice made him a worthy foil to Moreno.

Heightened vigor

The orchestra, led by Enrique Carréon-Robledo, played raggedly at times, but when it pulled together, it heightened the work’s vigor. Director Susan Stone Li squeezed the action into the small space by taking advantage of the whole theater, sometimes having performers enter from the lobby.

The bare-bones set, designed by Striker Services, established only the basics of the locales. But when the performers brought the music to life, “Rigoletto” had all that it needed.

‘Rigoletto’

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

The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Rigoletto, Detroit and More

By Olivia Flores Alvarez

Fri., Sep. 26 2014

The role of Rigoletto is shared by Octavio Moreno and Daniel Scofield.It’s hard to know who to root for in Rigoletto, Verdi’s tragedy being presented by Opera in the Heights and our choice for Friday. There’s the Duke. An indulgent tyrant, he beds women — from young, innocent virgins to manipulating women of the court — as casual entertainment. There’s the title character, Rigoletto. He’s an ugly, hunchbacked court jester who mocks the put-upon husbands who have to stand by and watch as the Duke openly seduces their wives. There’s Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter. Shut away by her father in an effort to protect her from the Duke, Gilda falls in love with a man she sees in church. The man is, of course, the rakish Duke. The three are on a collision course that will leave one of them dead and one of them brokenhearted.

Profiled in our 100 Creatives series earlier this year, Moreno is a Houston Theater Awards finalist for his performance in the OH! production of Lucia di Lammermoor last season. Scofield, who is making his company debut. Dane Suarez and Bernard Holcomb share the role of the Duke, while Gilda is played by Erin Kenneavy. At the podium, as always, is OH! Artistic Director Enrique Carreón-Robledo.

See Rigoletto at 7:30 p.m. September 26 and 27, October 2, 3 and 4; 2 p.m. September 28 and October 5. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visitoperaintheheights.org. $35 to $67.

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