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Waters explained that the Guild was founded by Henry as a choral group in 1989, but his great love for opera caused him to begin steering his company toward operatic performances five years ago. Since then, the troupe has performed several full-scale operas and sees itself as a place where budding classical singers can develop their craft. "We have a lot of local singers who do solo work," Waters said. "I like to put them in front of audiences. I'm developing them, to build them up professionally." He also plans to expand the company beyond Houston by bringing in more outside vocalists like McMillian and Gregoire. Currently, the Guild is grooming three apprentices in their twenties, all of whom sang in Sunday afternoon's concert.
Local Guild members are also committed to fostering a love for classical music and opera in local schoolchildren. For many in the chorus, the Guild is a second career. April Sloan Hubert, who sang the popular "Vissi d'arte" from Tosca, by Giacomo Puccini, wants her Woodson Middle School music students to love Puccini as much as she does. "It's like pulling teeth at first. You have to start them off with a story to get them interested. Once they understand the story, they start to like it," Hubert says. When she can get them to come watch her, she makes it a point to take them backstage to meet the whole cast.
Right now, the Guild relies heavily on volunteers to make the community aware of its programs. Advisory board member Ellena Stone Huckaby is pleased that the Guild regularly attracts audiences as ethnically diverse as the one that turned out last Sunday. "We're trying to raise community awareness of the talent in this group as well as the contribution of African-Americans to a variety of music genres -- not only jazz, but opera, spirituals, rhythm and blues and even the controversial rap," Huckaby says. Apparently, the board has been successful in spreading the word. Two Guild fans, pointing out the diversity of the crowd, said you could count the number of whites in the audience on one hand, five years ago.
Unequipped to perform a full season of opera, the Guild plans to take a fall break after finishing its summer opera program and before its regular choral season next February. Next week it presents Puccini's Suor Angelica and William Grant Still's Highway One, USA in a double bill at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Houston Ebony Opera Guild will perform Suor Angelica and Highway One, USA at 8:30 p.m. on August 28 and 29, at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive, Hermann Park. For more information, call the theater at 284-8352.