Houston opera in the heights still relies heavily on online performances

Dane Suarez and Natalie Polito in Opera in the Heights “Il Trovatore”

Photo: Opera on the heights

This holiday gift comes on a screen, not under the tree: Houston opera fans can now enjoy the recent Opera in the Heights production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”, streaming free through December 30 on the company’s website.

Of course, this idea did not come out of the blue. Like many other small businesses, Opera in the Heights has tried outdoor concerts and online programming during the pandemic to stay in touch with its audiences and help its artists keep pace. At the same time, the members of the company were eager to feel the excitement of performing a fully staged opera in front of new people.

But putting the work online also opened a door that the artistic director and general Eiki Isomura was not necessarily sure should be closed. “I kept realizing that it served our mission very well, which is to be a platform for emerging artists who are building their careers,” he explains.

“Our artists are established – I have to say this – but they could play a special role for the first time”, adds Isomura. “Having more of an eye on these performances is something that interests us: expanding our platform beyond our simple live audience. “

Opera in the heights: ‘Il Trovatore’

When: Broadcast until December 30

Details: To free; operaintheights.org

As the company’s first performance at Lambert Hall since the New Works Festival in early 2020, Opera in the Heights made a wise choice with “Trovatore”. Completed in 1853, between “Rigoletto” and “La Traviata”, the opera’s bubbling and rising score far eclipses its somewhat confused plot, which involves a vengeful mother, hidden identities, unwitting twins and cursed lovers.

Viewers looking for maximum musical drama will be well rewarded with what Isomura calls “a real super cast”.

“During the first few rehearsals, we were just like, ‘Wow, we’ve got something really special,’ he says. “It was just a joy the whole process, and everything went really well. Everyone gave incredible, courageous and magnificent performances. I am very, very proud of it.

“Trovatore” features meaty roles across the vocal spectrum, leading to a particularly high concentration of memorable moments. The “Anvil Chorus”, as well as the arias “Stride la vampa” and “Di quella pira”, remain among the most famous passages in opera history.

“They come in smaller, more digestible pieces,” Isomura explains. “And so you’re blown away by those really powerful four minutes, and then the next moment you have another.” It’s like a successful factory.

In addition, “everyone has a lot of heavy vocals to do, and being able to line up this kind of casting is a rare thing,” he continues. “Small businesses are even rarer to launch (as) effectively than we have. That way it was a real rare treat.

Since last month’s performances alternated romantic roles, Opera in the Heights has actually released two versions: “Ruby,” with tenor Brian Vu and soprano Chabrelle D. Williams as Manrico and Leonora; and “Emerald”, with Dane Suarez and Natalie Polito. The cast also includes Nathan Matticks, Mikhail Smigelski and Anne Maguire as Azucena, whom Isomura calls “probably the most exciting and robust mezzo (soprano) role in the repertoire”.

According to Isomura, the additional costs of bringing “Trovatore” online – the additional costs for the orchestra musicians, the video production team and the sound engineers – took a considerable slice of the production budget. , but the results “are totally worth it.” “Considering high-caliber streaming productions, such as the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series, he once wondered if Opera in the Heights could find a comfortable online niche, but this experience has helped him to change of scenery.

Today, Isomura is considering a similar approach with Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” in April.

“I realized that we always stand out, because we strive to hire artists who are either making their debut in a role or their debut in business,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for people to see a rising star play a major role, maybe for the first or second time, and to bring a lot of energy, hunger and ambition to their performance. “

“I’ve always maintained that this is something that sets Opera in the Heights apart,” adds Isomura. “(It’s) this hunger that artists bring to their performance. They are more than excited to take on these roles for the first time. “

Chris Gray is a writer based in Galveston.

About Madeline J. Carter

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