Fall Teacher Workshops at HGOco

As the new Education Coordinator of HGOco, I am now in charge of the Teacher Workshops, offered on the night of each dress rehearsal of the main stage productions. We offered a questionnaire at the Cav/Pag to get a sense of what the teachers wanted to learn, and were pleased to find their thirst of knowledge exceeds our own!

The first Teacher Workshops were a hit. Cavalleria Rusticana/ Pagilacci was led by Colin Ure and Sandra Bernhard. The teachers began with a pasta meal (in honor of the Italian opera), followed by a presentation on the two operas. After the presentation, Ms. Bernhard led the teachers in a quick fine arts integration exercise. They were given three exercises based on Pagliacci, and were asked to come up with three for Cavalleria. Mary Neely Stevens, who teaches at Carter Academy for the Performing Arts, emailed me the following exercises.

1. "Intermezzo--What Comes Next?" An intermezzo is an orchestral movement performed between the acts of an opera. The music of the intermezzo reflects on the mood and the music of the previous act, as well as, foretells the action about to happen. Select a familiar story, such as "Cinderella," and add instrumental intermezzi between segments of the story. Use melodic and percussive instruments to create the appropriate mood.

2. There are five main characters in the opera "Cavalleria Rusticana"--a mother, her son, his wife, a woman and her husband. The conflict in this opera is one of jealousy. Develop five different characters for each of the following five words: anger, trust, family, rumor and love. Create a story with a conflict of jealousy. Unlike the opera, your conflict will have a resolution--a happy ending.

3. "Cavalleria Rusticana" is set in a small village during Eastertide. Select a familiar story that is also set in a small village, such as "Cinderella." Change the setting to a big city at the 4th of July. How would the scenery be altered? What changes would you make to the costumes? What type of music would reflect the sights and sounds of the city? Are there special events or customs on the 4th of July?

Thank you Ms. Stevens! What a wonderful way to bring opera into the classroom.

This week we hosted the Much Ado About Nothing (Beatrice & Benedict) Teacher Workshop, and Ms. Bernhard was joined by Rob Kimbro from the Alley Theatre. They held a wonderful conversation about directing Shakespeare, and the ties between the theatre and music in his works. After that, each table of teachers had to take a Shakespeare play and create a cast list for their Shakespeare-based opera. We had some serious sopranos and tricky tenors in Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice.

The next Teacher Workshops are in January for Chorus! and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Check our Teacher Workshop page on the HGO website for more information.

Thank you,


Opera to Go! at Miller Outdoor Theatre

This week an Opera to Go! cast member, Michael Walsh, shares his experience rehearsing Strega Nona, the fall touring show which opened last week at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

The rehearsal process for Strega Nona was as fun as it was intensive. Unfortunately, our very first rehearsal was canceled due to Hurricane Ike. We normally rehearse at the Central campus of Houston Community College, but for the first week of rehearsals, the power was still out there due to the storm. I was a little worried about the show coming together since we were already on a tight schedule, but fortunately everyone was prepared and we were able to stage and rehearse the show in just five days! Our first two rehearsals were held at HGO and focused solely on the music. I had a music coaching with our music director, Kade Smith, and with our pianist, Youngha Guk, where we just worked on my part. I always get nervous before my first music rehearsal for a show because I want to make a good impression. Luckily, things went smoothly. We just established tempos, worked on some diction issues, and made sure I was meticulously following what was on the printed page of the score. It was really fun to sing through Strega Nona for the first time with everyone in the cast, since I was unfamiliar with the other character’s music. There are some really tricky ensemble moments in this show, but with each rehearsal, the ensembles got better and better. After another full day of music rehearsals, we met with our stage director, Chuck Winkler, at HCC (which finally had power!). We were able to get the show staged in two days.

Staging is always like piecing together a puzzle. It’s fun, but it takes a lot of concentration. On our second day of staging, we ended the day by heading to the HGO costume warehouse and picking out our costumes for the show. Chuck had pulled several costumes for each of us to try on, and whatever fit and looked the best was the winner. On our last day of rehearsal everyone was excited and anxious. Our first run-through was pretty rough, but after notes from our director and talking through the more difficult stage traffic moments (like when the pasta takes over the town and ties us up in knots), we had a better handle on how things needed to go to make the show cleaner and clearer. Our final dress went much better, but there were still some issues that needed ironed out.

On opening day, we all arrived early and did a quick walk through of the show to refresh everyone’s minds. After our first performance at Miller Outdoor Theater, I was relieved because I think we pulled it off! I feel very proud to be a part of this production with Opera to Go! My fellow cast members are so talented and we had so much fun goofing around while putting this opera together. My favorite part of performing Strega Nona at Miller is that I can directly see the audience. I can see the smiles across their faces during the show. Seeing the audience and knowing that I’ve helped create that happiness and joy in their lives just makes all of my hard work worthwhile!