Press Room

Houston Grand Opera commissions two chamber operas for 2012


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 composerGregory 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 Arrivalscenters on Houston’s Cambodian community, with a libretto by playwrightCatherine 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. For biographical material on Yani Rose Keo, see her entry on the Prominent Refugees page of the UN Refugee Agency Web site.
Creative Collaborators
Farnoosh Moshiri, librettist
Farnoosh Moshiri was born into a literary family in Tehran, Iran. She holds a B.A. in dramatic literature from the College of Dramatic Arts in Tehran, an M.A. in drama from the University of Iowa, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Houston. Her plays, short stories, and poems were published in Iranian literary magazines before the 1979 revolution and in anthologies published outside Iran in the 1980s. She fled her country in 1983 after a massive arrest of secular intellectuals, feminists, and political activists. She settled in Houston in 1987. She currently teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Houston campuses. She has received several literary awards, including the Florida Review’s 2008 Editor’s Prize in Creative Non-Fiction; the 2006 Valiente Award of Voice Breaking Boundaries; the Black Heron Press Award for Social Fiction for The Crazy Dervish and the Pomegranate Tree (2003); the Black Heron Press Award for Social Fiction for The Bathhouse (2001); the Barbara Deming Award for Peace and Social Justice (1999); the Barthelme Memorial Fellowship for Non-Fiction (1997); and the Prose Award of the University of Houston, Clear Lake (1996).
Gregory Spears, composer
Gregory Spears’s music has been performed by the American Composers Orchestra, the NOW Ensemble, the New York Youth Symphony, Center City Opera Theater, Present Music, So Percussion, and eighth blackbird. The JACK Quartet recently commissioned him to write a string quartet based on his experience as composer-in-residence at the Buttonwood Psychiatric Unit in New Jersey. His opera Paul’s Case is in development at American Opera Projects. Spears is working on a new opera-dance collaboration with choreographer Christopher Williams, and New Amsterdam Records released his chamber Requiem in November 2011.
Catherine Filloux, librettist
Catherine Filloux, a French writer who resides in New York City, has been writing about human rights and social justice for the past 20 years. Among her honors are the Voice Award for Artistic Works, the New Generations-Future Collaborations Award, the PeaceWriting Award, and the Roger L. Stevens Award. Her plays have been produced in New York and around the world. They include: Dog and Wolf (59E59 Theaters, New York, 2010); Killing the Boss (Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, 2008); Lemkin’s House (Kamerni teatar 55, Sarajevo, Bosnia, 2005); The Beauty Inside (New Georges, New York, and InterAct, Philadelphia, 2005);Eyes of the Heart (National Asian-American Theatre Co., New York, 2004); Silence of God (Contemporary American Theater Festival, West Virginia, New Play Commission, 2002); Mary and Myra (CATF, 2000);Arthur’s War (commissioned by TheatreworksUSA, New York, 2002); and Photographs From S-21, a short play that has been produced throughout the world. The Beauty Inside was translated into Arabic for a workshop at ISADAC in Morocco, 2004. Filloux wrote the book and lyrics for Where Elephants Weep, a musical with a score by Him Sophy; it received its world premiere in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in 2008.
John Glover, composer
John Glover has composed scores for theater, opera, and the concert hall that distinguish him as an emerging voice in contemporary music. Organizations and musicians commissioning his work include the American Conservatory Theater (War Music), Baltimore Opera (Huck Finn: A Chi

ldren’s Opera), and violist Liuh-Wen Ting (Life-Cycles). John has received numerous awards, fellowships, and grants for his music from organizations such as Meet The Composer; the Foundation for Contemporary Arts; the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council; the American Music Center; and the Thornton School of Music at USC. Current projects include the one-act opera Our Basic Nature, being developed by American Opera Projects. He received his undergraduate training in composition with a focus in saxophone performance from Indiana University and his Masters degree in composition from the University of Southern California. He resides in New York City, where he co-curates the music/art series NYsoundCircuit at the Brecht Forum and is operations manager for the American Composers Orchestra.
Houston Grand Opera – led by artistic director Patrick Summers, one of the nation’s top opera conductors – opened its 2011-12 season in October with a new production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville starring Nathan Gunn, Ana Maria Martinez, and Lawrence Brownlee. Along with revivals of Fidelio (starring Karita Mattila), La traviata and Don Carlos this season, HGO will present new productions of Britten’s Rape of Lucretia and Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda (with Joyce DiDonato in the title role). Since its inception in 1955, Houston Grand Opera has grown from a small regional organization into an internationally renowned opera company. The company enjoys a reputation for commissioning and producing new works, including 42 world premieres and six American premieres since 1973. In addition to producing and performing world-class opera, HGO contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO has toured extensively, including trips to Europe and Asia, and it is the only opera company to have won a Tony, two Grammy awards and two Emmy awards. HGO’s performances are broadcast nationally and internationally over the WFMT Radio Network, New York City’s WQXR, the European Broadcasting Union, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Media Contacts
Houston Grand Opera: Claire Vince, senior publicist, [email protected], 713-546-0278 / 832-738-2611.
21C: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038.!/hougrandopera
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© 21C Media Group, December 2011



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