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!).