Opera-sized (or bigger!) Headdresses

While the Quetzal Ollin Chicahua (see the blog posting "Traditional Aztec Dancers and a Surprise" for more info) were in the Houston area, I was privileged to attend a special ceremony at Peckerwood Gardens, northwest of the city.

The Gardens are a remarkable setting and include a collection of arare plants native to a wide region of the southern United States and to Mexico, mingled with their Asian counterparts.

For the better part of an hour, the dancers performed dances that connected the audience with Mother Earth and various animals.  Like the performances they provided for our school partners, Neff and Twain Elementary, it was interactive.  Audience members were invited to join in on many of the dances.

You can see from the photos at right that their clothing is extremely ornate, and the headdresses are beyond compare.

We're very much looking forward to their return!

From Houston to Bogotá, Colombia

Connection is one of HGOco's fundamental philosophies, especially in our Song of Houston series.  Today's post highlights the work of 4th Grade students at Neff Elementary, who have chosen to become pen pals with schoolchildren from Bogotá, Colombia.

These enterprising young Neff students have planned a year's worth of various forms of communication, including an introductory letter, a holiday card, a postcard (hand-drawn) of Houston, a February friendship card, an acrostic poem and a goodbye letter.  This fun-filled work involves curricular goals from the social studies TEKS and will help students improve their fluency and literacy (two of their Smart Goals), resulting in better classroom participation and improved test scores.

We sent the first batch of correspondence a week or so ago - 154 letters in total for students and staff alike.  Some of the students agreed to share copies of their first letters with us.  You can see a few samples on the Neff Fridge on our website.  Enjoy!

This work is part of our Song of Houston project celebrating Mexico 2010.  For more info on the entire project, visit our Mexico 2010 webpage.

Traditional Aztec dance and a surprise!

Unique opportunities keep cropping up in our Song of Houston project celebrating Mexico 2010. Through our collaboration with the US Forest Service, we've been introduced to a force of nature! No, really, a force of nature.

On Nov. 4th, HGOco presented two performances of traditional Aztec dance by Mexico City-based Quetzal Ollin Chicahua. The first performance took place in the Pershing Middle School Auditorium for an audience of 3rd - 5th grade students from neighboring Mark Twain Elementary School and a few classes from Pershing. A full house of 425 enthusiastic fans was all that Chicahua needed.  And their surprise...snakes!

The second performance of the day took place at Neff Elementary School for approx. 500 students from 1st, 3rd and 4th grades.  Lots of interactivity - teachers dancing, students playing instruments, and favorite animal dances.  Take a look at the fun, but don't despair if you missed out - we hope to host Chicahua again, on their next trip to Houston:

Special thanks - AND BUTTERFLY APPLAUSE - to Tamberly Conway, the Conservation Education Coordinator with National Forests and Grasslands in Texas and HGOco's local US Forest Service partner, for all of her help in arranging Chicahua's visit to Houston!

A Great Challenge

Students designing what and how they'd like to learn about issues of the day?

Yesterday, we met with teachers and 16 students at Challenge Early College High School. If you haven't heard of this school, you will. Last year Challenge made its debut at #8 on Children At Risk's list of Houston's top high schools.

They're one of our partner schools for Song of Houston's Mexico 2010 project, and as we've been working with a few of their lead teachers to develop curriculum-based lessons and projects, it became clear that we needed to work in a new way.

So the teachers invited students to a meeting to discuss the project, its goals, and what kind of work they'd like to do. In our meeting yesterday with everyone, we heard a poignant personal essay by one student about his father's love and journey to live in the US. We heard what kinds of things the students think of, when they think of "home." And we talked about those objects or materials in our lives that we can't live without.

It was a real brainstorming session of the best kind. So the students and teachers are now thinking a bit more about ways in which to structure projects within the themes of our Mexico 2010 curriculum (exploration of home; how journeys, traditions and stories connect generations; and the impact of transformation and migration on our lives).

I invite any students, teachers, parents to comment about ways in which they might explore these themes. Onward!

Opera in Outer Space?

If the weather and various technological factors permit, at approximately 1:28 PM CST today NASA's space shuttle Atlantis blasts off on a mission to deliver spare parts to the International Space Station.

How on earth (or in space!) is the opera involved? Through our Song of Houston project celebrating Mexico 2010 and the Monarch butterfly.

I mentioned a few posts ago that we're working with several local schools on projects inspired by the Monarch butterfly. Well, we got word a week or so ago that NASA's space shuttle Atlantis will carry a monarch butterfly experiment to the International Space Station. Through HGOco's collaboration with the US Forest Service and Monarch Watch, two of our partner schools - Neff and Twain Elementary Schools - have been selected to participate in this experiment.

Students at Neff and Twain Elementary schools will compare the growth and development of butterfly larvae in the weightless environment (technically it's microgravity) of the International Space Station with butterfly larvae being raised simultaneously in their classrooms on Earth. In order to participate, teachers and students had to create rearing chambers that are similar to the cases going up on the shuttle.

The larvae arrived at our schools on Friday and have spent the weekend getting used to their new "homes." We'll keep you posted with progress and the results of the experiment to compare and contrast the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly in microgravity and on Earth. The students and teachers can barely contain their excitement - neither can we!

Sadie interviews a Studio alum

Sadie, one of our guest bloggers, recently interviewed Liam Bonner, who returns to HGO as Sergeant Belcore in The Elixir of Love. Liam is a recent graduate of our very own Studio program, now making his way in the wide world of opera.

My first question for Liam was about his favorite operas. He said that one of his most favorite was Basil Twist's production of Hansel and Gretel because it was such an interesting experience. He played the witch and he was inside because it was a giant puppet on wheels. He also liked Billy Budd because it had a great cast, it was a great opera, it had great music, and it was a cast of all men so that was cool. He is also really enjoying Elixir because it has great music, it has a great cast, and it’s a great opera.

Liam says that at first, before he gets on stage, he is a little nervous but he thinks it’s just the adreline, and once he’s on stage, he’s not nervous at all. Liam says that he is extremely glad he has never had to cancel a show or performance. (Just a cool fact you might want to know.)

He says that so far, Elixir is going great because the audience seems very responsive, people seem to like it, the reviews are very positive, and everyone he’s talked to really enjoyed it. Liam says the opening was a huge success. They had a big fancy dinner after the opera on the plaza and Anthony Freud introduced them to the opera patrons.

Liam decided that he wanted to be a singer in high school because a man named Lorenzo Malffati who was a retired opera singer heard him sing in a musical and told him he should sing opera instead. He also chose to become a singer because he loves to act, sing, perform, be on stage, dress up, and entertain people. Liam says it’s definitely different to be working at HGO but not being in the studio any more because there isn’t any extra work, so he can be more focused on the opera and performing, and he’s not as busy.

And to wrap it all up, Liam’s favorite part in Elixir is in Act 2 when he performs a duet with Nemorino, played by John Osborn. He likes it because he likes the interaction with John, the music, the staging, and he and John get along well. Also, he and John sing well together and it’s a fun duet to sing.


Elixir Rocks the Wortham

Maybe you saw dozens of buses encircling the Wortham Theater Center on your way into work? Maybe you were on one of the buses?

Over the past week, thousands of area students visited HGO to delight in Donizetti's The Elixir of Love at a Student Matinee or High School Night show. For many of us at the opera, they're our favorite performances of the year. If you attended, leave us a comment with your thoughts!

Loud cheering, long lines for autographs, and a majority of students who are experiencing opera for the first time - definitely the ingredients for a night many won't soon forget. We must extend our deepest appreciation to the teachers who put in extra effort to organize tickets, buses and chaperones, all to give their students a taste of the best that HGO has to offer.

The students that come to our weekday performances get a special treat not many adults ever see. At intermission, we change the scenery without a curtain, so everyone sees how we make magic happen onstage! While the students are watching the scene change from Act I to Act II, our Education Coordinator Kade Smith interviews some of the folks who are usually behind the scenes. This year, he spoke with stage manager Kristen Burke (think air traffic controller) and Octavio Moreno, who performed the role of Belcore.

We're also fortunate to partner with Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and a group of their opera enthusiasts called Camerata. For the past three seasons, Camerata has conducted interviews of students before, during and after our High School Night performances. They'll soon post a video compilation of these interviews. Once it's up, we'll link to it from our Facebook page.

Some more photos:


HGOco, Song of Houston and Butterflies

These days, HGOco isn't focused on Puccini's exquisite Madame Butterfly, we're celebrating the migration of the magnificent Monarch butterfly. Right about now you might be wondering - what does the Monarch have to do with opera?

You may be familiar with our Song of Houston series, which was unveiled in 2007 with performances of The Refuge. This piece celebrated Houstonians who made extraordinary journeys from other countries to settle here. Alongside this world premiere, we collaborated with schools, other local non-profits, and many community centers and organizations to explore themes of cultural identity. More info about The Refuge HERE. We followed The Refuge with two Song of Houston projects, one exploring Houston's blues music and, the other, a celebration of Neff Elementary School and its Sharpstown community.

The latest installment in our Song of Houston series was created in conjunction with Mexico's anniversaries of Independence and Revolution in 2010. We've commissioned two new works as part of 2009/10: a Mariachi opera that tells the story of a family in two countries and a work for middle and high school students in collaboration with HGOco's Opera to Go! touring ensemble. In both of these new works, the migration of the Monarch butterfly - from Mexico, through the US and Canada, and back again to Mexico - figures prominently. More details about Mexico 2010 HERE.

When our librettists included the story of this insect's remarkable journey as part of their storylines, we thought that the Monarch was a great inspiration for a large-scale collaboration with several schools in the greater Houston area. So stay tuned for postings from students and staff at some of our partner schools - Neff Elementary, Mark Twain Elementary, Lanier Middle School, and a few others. Tomorrow, we'll post more details about the kind of work we're doing in collaboration with these great schools, including a visit of some traditional Aztec dancers from Mexico (and their special surprise!).

My Audition for Children's Chorus

[Editor: Introducing Sadie, an on-the-go reporter for HGOco this year. Sadie is an elementary school student in the Houston area, a veteran HGO supernumerary and opera camp participant. We thought you might be interested in hearing about opera and our programs from her perspective. Enjoy periodic updates about the operatic adventures of Sadie!]

As I walked into the hallway tension filled the air. All the other kids were off in their own worlds humming their songs and smiling and laughing nervously. Some were wishing each other good luck. My heart thumped loudly, and I wasn’t even that close to auditioning. I’m sure that everyone else was feeling the same as I was. It’s my very first audition at Houston Grand Opera and I can’t say whether it made me more or less nervous.

After my audition I talked to Sam whom also auditioned.

Sam said that “I felt really nervous and scared” as he walked into his audition. “When I got there they asked me to stand on the red x by the piano, I gave my music to the pianist first, then I sang my song and left. It was really simple.” Sam replied an enthusiastic “YES!” to my question about whether he wanted to audition for another opera later. When I asked Sam if he would do his Tosca audition over again and change something about it he said, “I would start over, and do it a little louder.” When I asked how he felt before the audition compared to afterward Sam said, “A lot more scared before.” Sam says that he’s never done an audition before but he did know one person and it made it no less hard. “I sang ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’, and I don’t think I did well.” “Why? Because I think I sang less louder because I was nervous.”

Auditions were fun but nerve racking. I saw some of my friends from previous operas and opera camps. I had a lot of fun and I hope I get in! Auditions for the Children's Chorus happen again in early 2010, for spots in HGO's production of The Queen of Spades.

The Ultimate Field Trip - The Elixir of Love

Calling all teachers!

Beginning at 9am this Friday, August 28, HGOco is taking online ticket orders for student performances of Donizetti's The Elixir of Love this fall. We have a new process for ordering tickets - no more faxes - so be sure to read below.

First, though, the nitty gritty details:

Student Matinees (Grades 4 - 8)

November 4 and 6, 2009 at 10 AM
All tickets $10
Beginning 9 AM on Friday, August 28th find a link to Student Matinee tickets here: www.houstongrandopera.org/studentmatinees

High School Night (Grades 9+)

November 9, 2009 at 7 PM

Tickets from $15 - $26
Beginning at 9 AM on Friday, August 28th, find a link to High School Night tickets here:

You need a promotion code in order to purchase tickets to student performances.If you haven't received an email from us that includes a promotion code, please call us at 713-546-0230 or email us at students@houstongrandopera.org to receive the appropriate code.

We're looking forward to seeing you and your students at the opera this fall!


Tosca Children's Chorus Auditions - sign up starting Aug. 31

We had a call today from a mother who wanted information about opportunities for her daughter to sing. And the good news is, we have a great program in which budding young vocalists can shine!

We're hosting auditions on Sunday, September 20 for the children's chorus and a solo treble role in Puccini's Tosca. Boys (with unchanged voices) and girls aged 7 - 17 are invited to audition at the Wortham Theater Center. You need to sign up in advance, read on for more information or visit us online at www.houstongrandopera.org/childrenschorus.

The opera is sung in Italian and conducted by Patrick Summers. Rehearsals start in November 2009; performances begin January 22, 2010 and run through February 7, 2010.

Children’s Chorus director for the production is Karen Reeves.
Audition Date: Sunday, September 20, 2009 from 1:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Audition Location: Wortham Theater Center
510 Preston Avenue, 6th floor
Houston, TX 77002

For this audition, the child should be prepared to sing from memory a song of his/her choice, in a non-belt style. Each child should bring a copy of their music for the pianist, whom the Opera will provide. Taped accompaniment will not be used. Individuals who wish to arrange an audition time or who want further information should contact the Opera's Rehearsal Department at 713-980-8679, beginning Monday, August 31, 2009.

How much drama can YOU create in 3 minutes?

HGO wants to put you in the director's chair!

Now this sounds cool - if only I was adept at video editing...

Choose an opera from HGO's 09/10 season and create a video that tells the story in three minutes or less. The only limit is your imagination -- and the laws of the land. Upload your video to HGO's Facebook page by September 15, 2009. Winners will receive opera tickets, fabulous prizes and at least fifteen seconds of fame.

The opera plots from which you may choose include: Donizetti's Elixir of Love; Wagner's Lohengrin; Puccini's Tosca; Britten's The Turn of the Screw; Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades; and Handel's Xerxes. So, let's see what you can do!

Click on "Read More" for more information about how to enter, or visit us online at: http://www.houstongrandopera.org/videocontest.

Upload your video to Houston Grand Opera’s Facebook Event Page at http://www.facebook.com/events.php?ref=sb (“Web site”) between 12:01 a.m. CST 8/11/09 and 11:59 p.m. CST 9/15/09.

Log into your Facebook account or register with Facebook. You must be a member of the Facebook Web site and comply with its terms and conditions to enter the contest. Membership to the Facebook Web site is free.

Once you have successfully logged in to Facebook and view HGO’s Video Contest Event Page, select “Attending” in the Your RSVP box on the right-hand side of the screen. Click the “Add Videos” button in the Videos section and follow the onscreen instructions to enter and upload your video submission. You may need to refresh your browser after selecting “Attending” in the RSVP box to see the Videos section.

By submitting an entry, a winner agrees to allow use of his or her entry, name and/or likeness for advertising this or similar promotions without compensation, unless prohibited by law. All entries and all rights of ownership and publication of same will become the property of Houston Grand Opera and will not be returned.

For more details, a list of rules and all applicable regulations visit us online at: http://www.houstongrandopera.org/videocontest.


Opera to Go! delivers, starting Oct. 5

One of HGOco's most visible programs is Opera to Go!, which brings 45-minutes of fully-staged, high-energy opera to classrooms and community centers all over Texas. We've had lots of blog posts in the past about OTG (the short form that we often use here in the office) so I won't go into it too much. Suffice it to say, we've got two GREAT operas lined up for the fall.

Hansel and Gretel, the perennial favorite for people of all ages, begins touring on October 5. The cast is full of entertaining characters, one of which is an allergy-prone fairy godmother. Luckily it's not hard to find a singer who has allergies in Houston in the fall! Just kidding, it's all part of our singer's exceptional acting ability.

We're also presenting an opera that's new to Houston, it's called How Nanita Learned to Make Flan. This one is performed in a combination of English and Spanish, and it involves a pair of magic shoes, a talking parrot and the secret behind delicious flan. Know any places in Houston where we can get some good-tasting flan? Let us know! Want to share your grandmother's "secret" recipe? Post it to comments.

If you want to schedule a performance of either Hansel and Gretel or Nanita at your school or community center, visit the Opera to Go! page at www.houstongrandopera.org/hgoco

To schedule an Opera to Go! performance, download an ORDER FORM, and email or fax it back to us!

1 performance $450 / 2 performances of same opera back-to-back $700
Maximum audience capacity is 300. Mileage charge for sites 35+ miles outside downtown Houston.

INFORMATION: ksmith@houstongrandopera.org or call 713-546-0230

Fall Tours: October 5 - December 18, 2009

Hansel and Gretel

Composer: Engelbert Humperdinck Adaptation: Kate Pogue

For Elementary and Middle Schools. This beloved fairy tale, full of magic and musical mischief, takes us to a world with gingerbread houses and not-so-nice little old ladies. In English.

How Nanita Learned to Make Flan

Composer: Enrique Gonzalez-Medina Libretto: Campbell Geeslin

For Elementary and Middle Schools. Nanita makes a pair of shoes that magically transport her far away from home. With the help of an Old Woman and parrot, she returns home and learns the secret of making delicious flan.

How Nanita Learned to Make Flan will also be at the Miller Outdoor Theatre Sept. 28 through Oct. 2 at 11 AM daily.

Spring Tours begin January 25, 2010

Cinderella in Spain / Cenicienta en España

Composer: Mary Carol Warwick Libretto:Kate Pogue

For Elementary and Middle Schools. Available Jan 25 - May 28, 2010.
Glass slippers, pumpkins and magical transformations...don't miss the allergy-prone fairy godmother and an unusual pair of evil stepsisters! In English and Spanish.

WORLD PREMIERE: an opera in conjunction with Song of Houston's Mexico 2010

For Middle and High Schools. Available mid February 2010 - May 7, 2010.
A 3,000-mile journey begins following a magical transformation. How does a butterfly find the home it has never seen, but one that its ancestors have inhabited for thousands of years? In English and Spanish.


A New Season - Our New Look

HGOco is back in the blogosphere after a busy summer. Since the HGO mainstage season finished last May, we've hosted or co-hosted 6 summer camps, squeezed in a bit of vacation, and spent lots of time planning some great programs that begin shortly.

This is a new look for our blog, with some new functionality. Let us know what you think by posting a comment or two!

Over the next month or so, several new bloggers will begin posting - we have program participants reporting from the front lines as "embedded" bloggers and a young mobile journalist (MoJo) who will tell it like she sees it. We're still getting our facebook in order but in the meantime you can always follow us on twitter at HouGrandOpera.

So...what do we have in store? Check back tomorrow for more details...


HSVS and College Preparation

Thomas Goedecke writes this week's blog. Thomas is a member of the Houston Grand Opera High School Voice Studio, and plans to major in music next year when he heads off to college.

I have been blessed to be apart of the Houston Grand Opera High School Voice Studio program, and to be a student at a performing arts school, and a student to some of the best musicians in the city. But even with these resources college preparation is a difficult task. The first and foremost thing that high school students need to find out is who they are.

It is not necessary to have the next 15 years planned out, but find out what excites you, what makes you happy: will it be something you want to make a career out of, or avoid it in fear of your passion becoming nothing more than work. Or if your undecided thats ok too, but you will know what kind of experience you want to have for the next four years. The second thing is applying for the colleges that match your needs. For me, it was a school with excellent composition and vocal programs. And finish with applications as soon as you possibly can. This is essential if you would like to keep your sanity.
Thirdly is to keep a detailed agenda, down to the last minute. Rehearsals, recitals, auditions, application due dates, scholarship dates, college visits, concerts, and performances are just a fraction of the things that are going to be bombarding you during senior year, and to have when and where these things are at your finger tips is really important.
Finally, forget about having too much of a social life. Keeping up with your studies is important and when your applying for colleges, you simply run out of time. Though keep in mind a night out is important, but just don't allow more improtant things, more urgent things to fall apart because of it.

Two Non-profits at Once

This week's blog is from Jessica Ford, the HGOco Assistant, who writes about her experiences working for two non-profits of different sizes at the same time.

Since I have started my journey toward a career in arts management, I have often been advised to gain as much real-life experience as possible, because what I need to be successful “can’t be learned in some book”. Taking this idea to heart, I decided to spend the past six months as an intern for two non-profit companies: Houston Grand Opera (HGO) and Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (FWCRC). As the months have rolled on, I have come to realize how invaluable the opportunity to work simultaneously at two very distinct non-profits has been. Each job has taught me different things about myself and my abilities, and about the non-profit sector.
FWCRC is a non-profit concerned with home-buying assistance for low-income families in Fifth Ward and other areas of Houston. One of the major projects that has been blooming for 10 years is the development of a small community theatre and library complex in Fifth Ward. My job at FWCRC is to help with the realization of that dream. There are several differences between the two companies, but I have noticed similarities in the environment and some of the procedures in the two companies. For example, while HGO is a large non-profit company with 100+ employees, FWCRC only has 10 employees including the CEO. However, the HGOco department works like a small nonprofit company. The camaraderie shared among my coworkers and me is very similar in each company. There is so much work to be done that every employee helps carry the burden, especially if one particular employee seems overwhelmed. I have noticed within both companies that coworkers regularly advise each other on different projects because it helps achieve the overall goals. However, at HGOco, the work is more specifically delegated to particular positions. At FWCRC, I have helped with marketing a major project, dabbled in a little development work, researched random facts pertaining to anything dealing with building theaters, and other things. Because FWCRC is so small, I have also had the opportunity to participate in board meetings, help prepare for the annual audit, and participate in various planning meetings. I do recognize that even though I am an only an intern in both companies, my opinion matters. I am never given menial busy work in either job, and I am often asked my advice on certain projects that we are doing. This fact surprised me more so in HGO because it is such a large company. But, there seems to be a mutual respect among all departments. There are so many people from various departments who come to my immediate boss for advice pertaining to their work. It is truly a collaborative effort.
Of course, the clientele that each company serves is different as well. Although FWCRC is focused on assisting low income families, a group that I am really determined to work with, I am really impressed with all of the programs and initiatives that HGO has to reach out to all communities, particularly families and communities who have never been exposed to opera. I also enjoy the direct community interaction that I have had with the elementary school project and the Blues Project at HGO. At FWCRC, I have not yet been able to go out into the community. I know that I will be able to become really involved with the community once the Deluxe Theatre is open in Fifth Ward. It’s just nice to be able to connect with the people that will benefit from the hard work that we do.

Opera to Go! Tour to Midland

Friday Feb. 20- Day 6

Today was our last day of our Midland tour. We woke up early today for our 8:30 am show at St. Mary’s school in San Antonio. We had performed “Magic Flute” at this school last year and had fond memories of the packed room of over 200 kids. This year was like last in that they were very receptive and fun to perform for. I have a feeling this will become a tradition to sing here as the last show of our annual tour.

Opera to Go! can never perform the last show of any run without some added flavor. This final performance of Little Mermaid was no exception. Everything was running smoothly until Cecilia unexpectedly fell on her way off stage after an expected push from Dennis. I wasn’t able to see it, but evidently she fell pretty hard and will most likely have a bruise. She unfortunately had to immediately run back on stage and as the giggles tempted her, she stopped them with a bit of Sprechstimme in an evil “witch tone.” The show continued on without a problem and during the final scene where Princess Agatha (I) throw everything from the basket into the ocean, the Sea King (Dennis) surprised me by throwing everything back at me. That last show prank was a new fun “twist” in our plot, but we quickly got back on track and we triumphantly completed our last show of Little Mermaid.

The kids loved the show and asked us many questions as usual. My favorite was the one that said “Did you know that the octopus was peeking out from behind the set at the end of the show? AND the clam was too!” I said, “WHAT?!!! I HAD NO IDEA!” I love when the kids think that we don’t know what’s going on. They are so cute.

After our show, we loaded the vans and headed back home. We HAD to stop at the infamous Buc Ee’s on our way home because I still had some treats I wanted to get. We continued on a bit farther and ate at Frank’s restaurant where evidently “Those who know eat here.” It was good food and 80 minutes later we were home.

This tour of Little Mermaid was a joy for all of us to be in. It was well received by everyone and I know that each of us in the cast will miss it. Now our cast breaks into 2 groups for the rest of the season. Cecilia, Alex, and Erin will begin working on Romeo & Juliet, and Dennis, Michael, and I will work on Daughter of the Regiment. We will miss this group but we know it will not be the last time we sing together. There is always next season.

Hannah Lu, Princess Agatha in Opera to Go!'s Little Mermaid

Opera to Go! Tour to Midland

Thursday, Feb. 19- Day 5

Our last day in Midland started early in the morning after checking out of our nice and cozy lair, the Midland Hilton. We weigh anchor at 8:00 am, and after being lost for a few minutes, our very own Michael Walsh, OTG's baritone and co-pilot on this mission, gave a demonstration of why we call him "Señor G.P.S."

Thanks to a keen sense of ubiquity, Michael guided us to our next destination aided by the daring navigation of our fearless captain, (and music director), Kade Smith. We anchored at Parker Elementary School safe and and on schedule! at 8:29, keeping thus, a flawless record of on-time arrivals.
The performance started smoothly, but at the climax of the show a little boy covered his eyes and loudly mumbled with a locked jaw, "I can't see this!!" while the evil witch Jezhibaba with a wicked laugh tenebrously emerged from the abysmal depths.
After having a successful show on a full-house (or full-cafeteria to be precise), we parted to our next and last destination, the "De Zavala Elementary School", this time performing at the school's gym. Taking a little time to check out sound, distances and proportions, textures and density of the surface on which we would perform is always important. Given the staging for this show, there's pretty much crawling, and sometimes, (not in the script), sliding and bouncing off the floor, (exempli gratia, soprano Hannah Lu, or mezzo Cecy Duarte). This time it was cement, pretty different from the usual semi-soft wooden floors or even softer materials we perform on. Fortunately with no such incidents this time, the only thing we had to worry about was to give our audience a great time and the best show they have ever witnessed!!!

Alex Magallon, Prince Jonathan in Opera to Go!'s Little Mermaid

Opera to Go! Tour to Midland

Wednesday, Feb. 18- Day 3

Our second morning in Midland got off to a rocky start. We woke up to find our passenger van with a new accessory – a parking boot. We had children to edu-tain (educate + entertain), so all the singers loaded into the back of the cargo van among the sets and costumes and took off for our first of three performances.

Midland was kind to us however and we got the boot removed with no charge. Our first elementary school of the day presented one of the smallest stages yet. Performing with Opera to Go! definitely teaches us to be malleable to our surroundings.

Back to the Carver Center for our second show and during load in an honest to goodness tumbleweed rolled through the playground. The building itself (much like a good portion of Midland) seems frozen in time with old-fashioned lockers and a muted color pallet of yellows and dark jewel tone tiles. These huge levers, reminiscent of a Frankenstein flick, controlled the lights for the theater. This time around we figured out just how to use them to our advantage. Over the course of the show our stage manager Derek deftly coordinated a blue lit opening (we are under the sea after all) fading into red for the sea witch’s entrance. We had a slightly older crowd of 4th-6th graders and some of the lovely ladies from the party last night.

We had a brief period between shows to catch a bite so we looked for some hot eats and cool treats. Lured by the Texas stop sign for some not-so-healthy grub at Dairy Queen, we couldn’t escape without tasty Blizzards. Since the time between shows was so short a bunch of us decided not to completely change out of our costumes, so I had the distinct pleasure of wearing the top half for the whole restaurant to see… glittery sash and all. My jeans covered my green thorned tights, but still nobody seemed to care. Just another day at the DQ, I guess. Our third school brought us a younger audience who were very energetic and eager to participate in the short song we teach them at the beginning of the show. At one particularly hilarious moment when the sea witch is offering the mermaid the magic potion to transform her into a human, a young boy shouted out ‘I can not watch!’ Like Michael said, sometimes it’s a challenge to keep it together on stage and keep ourselves from laughing! At the end the kids gave us an unusual but endearing token of their appreciation. Their mascot is the tigers so we got ‘the tiger paw,’ which was two leg pats, two claps and a big ‘grrrrrr!’ It was awesome.

The evening brought some alone time which was mostly filled with some much needed napping. The cast descended on a quaint local trattoria called Luigi’s for some good Italian food. We had hoped to indulge in some bowling but all the lanes were full and we couldn’t agree on a movie choice at the local drive-in. Instead we piled into a hotel room for some rowdy games of Scatergories before drifting off to bed – resting up for our last day in Midland.

-Dennis Arrowsmith, Ocean King in Opera to Go!'s production of Little Mermaid


Opera to Go! Tour to Midland

Tuesday, Feb. 17- Day 3

Today was our first day of performing in Midland. The day began bright and early with an 8:00am departure for our first school of the day. We all knew today would be challenging since we had three performances scheduled during the day and a concert and dinner reception on the books for tonight.

It was really interesting to see how each of the schools responded to Little Mermaid. The first school laughed a lot and was very vocal during the performance of their satisfaction. The second school of the day seemed very serious and quiet while watching the show. Backstage, we all wondered if they even liked the performance, but after the show was over they gave us a standing ovation and had many wonderful questions during our Q & A session. It showed us once again that you can never assume what your audience is thinking!

The final show of the day was marked with several humorous moments. During the very opening of the opera, the stage curtain knocked over one of the coral ornaments that decorate the set. Hannah did her best to get it upright while singing, but to no avail. It was hard to keep composure while watching Hannah struggle with the coral. I don't know why things are funnier while on stage, but it was a very humorous moment and took much concentration to not break down laughing. Seeing her frustration while trying to sing beautifully was hysterical! Later on, during the party scene, there was a slight mishap in staging. While I was bowing my head down in a moment of staged self-congratulation, Hannah's hand made a bee line towards my face and made direct contact. Luckily, she didn't take out my eye! We had a great lunch at La Bodega (special thanks to Sue Solari!), a Mexican restaurant here in Midland. Great salsa and the quesadillas were tasty. I highly recommend it next time you're in Midland. The day ended with a concert and dinner at the Garay home. We each sang an aria and ended the concert with the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann. I was so proud of my colleagues; I'm so thrilled to be a member of this talented ensemble. I thought we did a first rate job. The potluck dinner was delightful and I got to meet some wonderful patrons of the arts. Whoever made the sweet potatoes did a killer job. They were perfection! Everyone was so complimentary and kind to us. It was awesome to end the day with great food, wine, and conversation. I definitely enjoyed myself today knowing that the community was so responsive and grateful for what we're doing. It made all of the stresses of the day worth it!

-Michael Walsh, Smedrich in Opera to Go!'s production of Little Mermaid

Opera to Go! Tour to Midland

Monday, Feb. 16- Day 2

Little Mermaid is on the road! Yesterday we left Houston and drove to San Marcos, TX. Our first order of business on Monday was a fun one: outlet mall shopping! None of us could resist the temptation of those great discounts.
However, we also had to make it all the way to Midland, TX that same day - about a 7 hour drive - so it was an intense power shop! We had two hours, and we definitely took advantage of it. There were many deals to be had!

After our quick shop, we had lunch and then hit the road. There isn't a whole lot to see in between San Marcos and Midland, so most of us took advantage of the quiet van ride to read, listen to music, and learn our new Opera to Go! scores. Within our group of 6 singers in Little Mermaid, there are three people singing Daughter of the Regiment in the spring (Michael Walsh, Dennis Arrowsmith and Hannah Lu) and three people singing Romeo & Juliet (Cecilia Duarte, Alejandro Magallon and myself, Erin Bales). We each studied our scores to prepare for our new shows, which will start rehearsing as soon as we're back in Houston, on Monday, February 23rd.

But the drive wasn't all work - we took time to play some games, too! One we played was called picnic - it's an alphabet memory game, where each person has to say what they're bringing to the picnic, while remembering what everyone else is bringing, too!

-Erin Bales, Rusalka in Opera to Go!'s production of Little Mermaid

A Midsummer Night's Dream at HGO

This blog entry is from Samantha Smith, a seventh-grader who sings in both HGO Children's Chorus and Girls Chorus. Sam recently performed in Houston Grand Opera's mainstage production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Benjamin Britten.

A Midsummer Night's Dream was by far the most exciting opera I have been in so far. I was part of the children’s chorus, otherwise known as the fairies. I got the chance to be the cover for the solo fairy Cobweb, meaning that if the real Cobweb couldn’t do the part, I would step in.

I was also a part of the fairy Banda (bahn-duh), the operatic term for band. In the Banda I played the finger cymbals. There was also someone playing the wood blocks, and two people playing recorders. At first, the music for the Banda looked really hard, but eventually we all got it memorized and felt comfortable doing it. The music was really cool to learn for the singing parts. In our schedule of learning things, it was music and Banda for about 1 to 1 ½ months, and about ½ a month to 1 month learning staging (learning where to move on the stage). On opening night, the only thing running through my mind was, 'Oh my gosh, I’m going to mess up I know it'. Of course everything went fine and now I look back on it as a success. One performance the real Cobweb actually couldn’t sing the solo parts! So of course I had to sing the part, finding this out approximately an hour before the show. I was incredibly nervous but I did really well considering that I heard the news so close to the performance starting. I think that was by far the most exciting thing for me during the run. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an incredible show and I am very glad that I didn’t miss out on being a part of the magic.

Opera to Go! Tour to Midland

Sunday, Feb. 15: Day 1

We left HGO Sunday at 4:30, headed toward San Marcos, our first stop on the tour. Chuck and Derek were in the cargo van, while the singers and I were in the passenger van.

Along the way we saw an interesting motorcycle, and stopped at Buc Ee's for some jerkey and other snacks. Once we arrived at the hotel and put our things in our rooms, we all went across the street to Chili's to enjoy our first of many meals together.

-Kade Smith, Opera to Go! music director

Opera to Go! at the Heinen Theatre

Alejandro Magallon is the author of this week's blog. Hailing from Mexico, he is currently starring as Prince Jonathon in Opera to Go!'s touring production of Little Mermaid.

Performing at the Heinen Theatre, should be a real treat for every performer, at least it has been for me. Located at the Houston Community College, the Heinen is a true jewel, and not just because of its architectural design.

It has everything Opera to Go! could ask for: 1) a great space that is the perfect size for our productions, which allows for an intimate communication with the audience, 2) a wonderful and professional crew, 3) spacious and fully equipped dressing rooms from which you can keep track of your calls through the sound system while you spend the last effervescent minutes warming up, waiting for the "PLACES" call.
We did The Magic Flute there a year ago. It was my first show with OTG. This year we presented The Little Mermaid, based on Dvorak's Rusalka with a wonderful adaptation and English text by OTG's director Chuck Winkler. We had two daily performances for five days in a row, Jan. 20th - 25th.
One of my favorite things about the performance, besides all the fun I have on stage with the rest of the cast, is what we get back from the audience. We get lots of different reactions from them, which varies depending mostly on their age (They are usually kids in elementary school). Some of the reactions might be the typical crowd giggle, a loud and isolated laugh, or a shy sobbing. I find these, and all kinds of feedback that reflects the audiences' emotions, really interesting, but most of all, deeply rewarding.
*photo by Laura Sponaugle


For the first time in many years, Houston Grand Opera will offer a free live simulcast of its newest production, Chorus! from the stage of the Wortham Theater Center in downtown. We're calling this event CityCast.

It represents the return of the popular and much-missed HGO event “Plazacasts.” These free live transmissions to Fish Plaza, directly in front of the Wortham Theater Center , were very popular events which would bring thousands of people downtown to enjoy a performance at HGO in a casual, family-friendly outdoor setting.

This year we're streaming to Discovery Green and five Houston area schools, where people can enjoy watching the performance for free!

We think CityCast is a great idea! What do you think? Got any fun memories from Plazacast days? Please share!

Little Mermaid at the Heinen Theatre

This week's blog is by Erin Bales, who recently played the lead in the Heinen Theatre Matinee performances of Dvorak's Little Mermaid.

The Little Mermaid has always been one of my favorite stories. I used to watch the Disney movie constantly as a little girl, read mermaid stories, and I always pretended to be a mermaid when I was in the swimming pool during the summer. So when I learned I was going to play Rusalka, the little mermaid herself, in this winter's Opera to Go! show, I was very excited!
But before all the fun of performing and touring could happen, there had to be some work.

We all had to get together and learn the music and staging for the show at Houston Community College. We only had two weeks to learn everything – so we had better work fast!

First, each singer met individually with our musical director Kade Smith and our wonderful pianist Youngha Guk. We worked on learning all the correct pitches and rhythms. Since opera is storytelling through song, it was very important that we get all of that right! After each of us knew our parts, we began staging – learning our acting parts and choreography. It was a lot of fun for all of us to be together learning our dance moves and really getting into our characters. And after two weeks of intense concentration and memorization, it was very rewarding to be able to perform at HCC's Heinen Theatre for one week.

The set and costumes were amazing – they really made us feel like we were under the sea. And now the show was no longer work, it was pure fun. It's hard to believe that only two weeks ago we were all just learning these parts.

Thanks to Houston Community College and Heinen Theatre, the Little Mermaid is now ready to tour!

High School Voice Studio Winter Recital

This week's blog is from Krystal Hargrove, a member of the Houston Grand Opera High School Voice Studio. She writes about her experiences during the HSVS Winter Recital.

Performing for the first time in front of an unbiased audience was an absolutely amazing experience! It opened my eyes to the possibilities I have as a performer and just how the High School Voice Studio is helping me to attain them. Though nervous beyond anything I've ever felt, I was comforted by the other members of the studio as well as Mr. Smith, Ms. Gianni, and my wonderful accompanist Yungha. I finally grasped the "it takes a village to raise a child" concept that evening.

Everyone who helped me reach this vocal milestone was there showing their support. As I began singing, the whole environment instantly felt warm and affable. I knew then no one was out to tell me I missed a note or rhythm. The only regret was that I didn't get to hear my peers perform. Part of being in the HSVS is hearing and adapting to your growth vocally. Individually I believe we noticed our growth, but just didn't have a chance to share it with each other. My favorite part of the evening was meeting everyone afterwards. It was such a blast to meet everyoneʼs families, hear feedback on myself, and of course eat cookies! Yet the one moment that I'll never forget is when two adorable girls approached me for an autograph. I realized that I wasn't just a performer, but that I could also be an inspiration. This is why music is my passion. The HSVS gave me a night I'll never forget!