Have You Heard About Opera Vista?
In a time where it seems like the only stories about arts organizations revolve around bankruptcy and declining audiences, we are excited to introduce you to Opera Vista. Opera Vista has focused on delivering high quality opera productions from a lean and efficient management perspective. Soon upon returning to Texas after three years in Paris, France on a Fulbright Grant and having served as Assistant Conductor with the Orchestre National de France and Kurt Masur, Opera Vista was founded in Houston, TX by Viswa Subbaraman who currently serves as Artistic Director and conductor.
Viswa envisioned a new, flexible opera company that would focus on bringing contemporary opera to Houston, with an emphasis on targeting demographics that traditional opera missed: “When I started Opera Vista, the goal was to give opportunities to living composers to have their music performed while also developing the next generation of opera goer – today’s young professionals. After four seasons, we have finally reached the point of accomplishing that on a large scale. This idea of giving opportunity to the next generation grew into the entire company. The average age of our board is around 30 with all of them contributing both financially and in volunteer time to the company. We also work with a number of up and coming singers who have the opportunity to create a role from scratch. It’s been highly rewarding to watch everyone grow with Opera Vista.”
Viswa founded OV with $1,500 of his own money in December 2006. In the last four years, Opera Vista has grown to a budget over $130,000 with the most recent season showing a 300% increase over the previous season. OV is also achieving its goal of reaching a young professional audience with approximately 45% of its audience between the ages of 20 and 40. This season has also shown a 67% increase in audience over last season.
Opera Vista reaches its goal of building a younger audience by seeking out non-stereotypical venues for its productions. To date, OV has performed everywhere from major proscenium theaters to a local dance club, Rich’s. OV also does a monthly “edutainment” event at Boheme Café and Wine Bar that helps teach bar goers the vocabulary of opera through creative ideas like improvised operas with the audience members actually taking part.
Opera Vista began its 2010-2011 season in September with its traditional annual performance at the Museum of Fine Art’s (MFAH) Bayou Bend, the former residence of noted Texas arts patroness Ima Hogg. As a change of pace from previous years, Opera Vista presented an evening of American opera and art song – ranging from Copland and Rorem to Bernstein and Weill.
September also saw a return of Opera Vista’s “Opera 101” program, an outreach and audience building program focused on young professionals. On every first Friday of the month, OV presents a different facet of the world of opera to an audience of mostly young professionals. These events mix singing, lecture and audience interaction. One popular 101 is “What makes an opera?” where Viswa and Opera Vista’s singers demonstrate the different building blocks of opera and have the audience help create an opera of their own.
October 2011 saw Opera Vista score a big hit with a sold out world premiere in Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center of our first-ever “Bollywood Opera,” The Silent Prince by Somtow Sucharitkul, Thailand’s leading author and composer. The Silent Prince music was an aesthetic fusion of east and west –a neo-romantic musical language with strong south-east Asian musical influences.
The opera tells the story of Buddhist tale of Temiya Jataka, a Buddha who has been reincarnated as a prince. When forced to choose between committing terrible karmic deeds and disobeying his father, Temiya withdraws from the world into silence, from which the king and court are desperate to reclaim him. The opera was performed in partnership with Rathna Kumar and Mahesh Mahbubani from Anjali Dance Center – a local Indian classical and Bollywood dance school.
The centerpiece of Opera Vista is the Vista Competition for New Opera, an American-Idol style competition for groundbreaking new works by composers from around the world. Each year in March the Vista Competition draws dozens of entrants, of which a preliminary selection committee selects six semi-finalists. These semi-finalists come to Houston, where seven minute excerpts of their operas are performed for the audience and a panel of distinguished judges. This year the judges included Daron Hagen, a leading American composer of opera, and Buck Ross, noted stage director and founder of the Moores Opera Center at the University of Houston. The composers participate in a Q and A session with the judges and audience, after which a vote is held. After two evenings, the winning opera gets a cash prize and a fully staged production at the following year’s festival.
“The Vista Competition is unique in that it gives composers the opportunity to have their works performed by professional singers and instrumentalists,” says Viswa Subbaraman, Artistic Director of Opera Vista. “They have a wonderful opportunity to interact with many well-known people from the world of opera and classical music, but I think more importantly, they get an insight into how their work is perceived by the audience.”
This year’s winner was Voir Dire by Matthew Peterson, a very talented young composer fresh from studying in Sweden on a Fulbright. Voir Dire, translated from old Anglo-Norman, means “to speak the truth,” or to give a true verdict. In the legal world it refers to a “trial within a trial,” a hearing to determine the competency of a witness or juror. Voir Dire’s libretto, co-written by Peterson and Jason Zencka is adapted from real-life trials Jason witnessed as a crime-reporter for the Stephen’s Point Journal, in Stephen’s Point, Wisconsin. The main narrative of the opera follows the trial of a brutal matricide committed by a sixteen-year-old boy, Jeffrey Schumacher. Between the scenes of his trial stand vignettes: a hilarious custody battle over a parrot, a
disturbing arrest, intense courtroom dramas, and plaintive jailhouse soliloquies. The opera’s four singers each play one unique, important character, as well as numerous small roles. The conductor plays a vital dramatic role as The Judge, and conducts the ensemble of eight musicians (fl, cl, perc, pno, vln, vla, vc, db). Through music, theater, and song, Voir Dire explores universal and existential themes of death, justice, and love-gone-wrong. This emotionally arresting and controversial opera will be presented at the 2011 Opera Vista Festival.
Opera Vista concluded its season in May with a revival of Daron Hagen and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon’s one-act “Nightmare Cabaret Opera” Vera of Las Vegas. Viswa Subbaraman says about the work, “I had wanted to perform Vera of Las Vegas since the very first season of Opera Vista, but until this season we as a company were not ready to do a credible and interesting production of it. In the past two years, Opera Vista has developed a strong relationship with Daron Hagen, and with the new relationship with Rich’s Club in midtown, it seemed like the perfect time to perform the work. It was always one of those works that I felt that our young professional audience would get behind. I was over the moon to see that actually happen!”
A “Nightmare Cabaret Opera” at the intersection of Las Vegas and The Crying Game, Vera of Las Vegas tells the story of two ex-IRA operatives on the run from more than the INS and two rogue MI-5 agents. Due to a flight mishap they are stuck in Las Vegas for a day, which leads them to encounter the embodiment of the “city of dreams” – the transvestite, Vera.
Vera of Las Vegas’s meditations on the nature of love and on self-awareness, as well as its eclectic music score which seamlessly merges highbrow 20th century techniques with jazz, doowop, Broadway and folk rock, was a big hit with the younger set.
Opera Vista looks forward to its 2011-2012 season, current plans for which include Stewart Copeland’s The Cask of Amontillado, Thomas Adès’s Powder Her Face, and Philip Glass’s Hydrogen Jukebox.