One Focusing on City's Vibrant Iranian Community, Another on Its Cambodian Community
As part of HGOco's cross-cultural East + West initiative, Houston Grand Opera has commissioned two chamber operas to be premiered in spring and summer 2012. The first, The Bricklayer, focuses on Houston's vibrant Iranian community, with a libretto by Iranian-American writer Farnoosh Moshiri and music by composer Gregory Spears. This piece will debut March 15, 2012, with a run of three to five performances at the Wortham Center's Cullen Theater. The second East + West commission, New Arrivals, centers on Houston's Cambodian community, with a libretto by playwright Catherine Filloux and music by composer John Glover. HGO plans to perform this work four times in June 2012.
For its East + West programs, HGOco spotlights communities and cultures having vital, active presences in Houston. The Iranian community is just such a community, with Persian culture in Houston widely celebrated. Librettist Farnoosh Moshiri is a renowned author of award-winning novels, short stories, and anthologies. Moshiri's personal journey from Iran to the United States – and particularly, Houston – makes her voice a prime mover of The Bricklayer. The opera tells the story of an aging couple who choose exile following the execution of their son by the theocratic regime in Iran. Shattered by grief, they begin to heal and find hope in a new life with their daughter and granddaughter in Houston. Composer Gregory Spears, an innovative young composer whose catalog includes several works relevant to the scope of East + West, will draw on both Western and Iranian styles of music for the score.
Spears says that "the dramatic juxtaposition of ‘East + West’ is a theme that dominates my favorite 20th-century operas. Madama Butterfly and Nixon in China immediately come to mind... I love that our idea is both a response to Houston's Asian community and yet rooted in operatic tradition. I find articulating a sensibility of cultural ‘in-between-ness’ or ‘both-ness’ (i.e., Iranian-American) musically and intellectually inspiring – it’s both operatic and intrinsically American. In a sense, our collaborative process itself models how people from different cultures work together to build common ground artistically. And the East + West project seems to underline the fact that opera, at its heart, is about bringing people together – artists, audiences, traditions."
The subject of HGOco's Cambodian-themed chamber opera, New Arrivals, by Catherine Filloux and John Glover will be Houston’s own Yani Rose Keo, a Cambodian refugee who heads the Alliance for Multicultural Community Services. The Alliance helps refugees, immigrants, and low-income residents become self-sufficient and improve the quality of their lives. A 2000 Houston Press article stated: “Yani [Rose] Keo flies under the radar of most Houstonians. But if you’re a refugee or an Asian-American leader, you know how important she is.” The libretto tells of Yani Rose Keo sitting on a plane, haunted by the empty seats around her. “How will I survive?” she asks. When a Nepalese farmer, a Nigerian orphan, and a lost boy from Sudan join Yani on the plane, her desire to help refugees like herself catalyzes, and they all soar toward a new life in Houston.