HGO's home, the Wortham (for those of you not familiar with H-town), sits right on Buffalo Bayou. This was a matter of considerable interest to me when I came here from New York last year. I thought I had come across all manner of remarkable creature in Manhattan (including one memorable and intensely brave rat on the 168th Street A train platform), but nothing prepared me for the alligators. Seriously. After a good rain, you can sometimes enjoy the antics of a gator or two in the temporarily flooded park across the street from the opera house, all within sight of the freeway. Gators one moment, Verdi the next: not a combination I had ever expected.
I've thought about this a lot. We in classical music are used to being able to expect things. We traffic in known styles, known traditions. Many of us, and many of our fans, treasure this dearly. One colleague of mine, attending a punk jazz show with me several years ago, turned to me at one point and asked, "But how do they know if what they're playing is RIGHT?" Being right is important to us, and indeed every virtuoso builds a technique that will enable them to be both fearless and unerring.
Enter THE REFUGE. Have I mentioned THE REFUGE?
As we entered the week of our opening night, we also started to rehearse with some of the community musicians who will be taking part in THE REFUGE, and we found ourselves increasingly more overwhelmed at the scope and meaning of this work. Pictured above is Vadim, our bayan player. Along with Ryan McKinny, Liam Bonner, and Beau Gibson, he was rehearsing his movement of the piece for the first time. That movement tells the story of several refugees from Soviet Russia, all of whom encountered prejudice and violence as Jews.
Our soloists had been talking a lot about the daunting task of delivering the text of this piece. What is the greater meaning to us or to our audience of our young, white, mostly American soloists delivering the stories and words of people who have been oppressed, disadvantaged, disenfranchised? There are many operas that deal with individual, societal, or political violence, but it's very different to deliver the words of people who are living, who are right in your audience. Or onstage with you.
As it turns out, one of those stories is Vadim's. It all comes home.
Trying to be right, an opera house in a swamp, combinations we never expected.