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Announcing the 2013 MasterMind Winners

This year's winners danced, sang or delivered their lines in spectaculer fashion. For which we give each entity out thanks, admiration and a check for $2,000.

Each Oh! production has only seven performances split between two casts, but Carreón-Robledo insists that despite the fact that one cast performs four shows to the other's three, there is no first and second lineup. "Absolutely, there is no A and B cast. The level of the singers that want to come to work with the company allows me to do that, to have, if you will, two first casts. That is not to say that they give identical performances; they don't. But neither is better; they are just different.

"I wish we could have an even number of performances so that there will be a mathematical evenness for everyone. But from an artistic standpoint, from a philosophical standpoint, the two casts are very equal. People will have their favorites, so someone will say, 'Opening-night cast was best.' Someone else will say, 'No, closing-night cast was best.' That tells me that I'm getting it right, that I'm getting that balance between the two casts."

Carreón-Robledo's programming has been adventurous, but he's inclined to be much less daring when it comes to launching a campaign to find the company, which currently performs in Lambert Hall, a new home. "Would we love to have our own theater? Yes, of course. But with that comes a lot of responsibility. Let's say we found the financial means to build a theater. What would happen next? We would have to make the operating budget grow so that we can operate within that theater. You have to have a vision about a project like that. I think I have it, but it's a question of being patient, being careful and being realistic of what you're getting into.

Actors/directors/teachers Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin want to increase not just the quality of theater in Houston but the level of pay for stage artists as well.
Photo by Jeff Myers
Actors/directors/teachers Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin want to increase not just the quality of theater in Houston but the level of pay for stage artists as well.

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"It's like a child who is growing and has to get new clothes. There is only so much that you can stretch and add on before you have to buy new clothes. I think eventually we have to look at some sort of transition into our own space. But I don't think — and I think the board of directors and sponsors agree with me — that we have reached the point where we can make a definite plan for that yet. It is in everybody's mind for our future, yes, but we will see when and how we can make it a reality. You have to be cautious. There was good momentum to our start; now is the time to be mindful. All the practical aspects of running a company have to be in place. Our own theater would mean more shows, more staff, more everything, in order to make it right."

Lambert Hall, a converted church on Heights Boulevard, has been a good home to the company since 1996, Carreón-Robledo says. But with no orchestra pit (the musicians squeeze into a small area on the side of the stage), only 300 seats and a minuscule lobby, the building has its limitations. According to Carreón-Robledo, any new or improved theater would resemble a small house in keeping everyone in the audience close to the action onstage. "The intimacy with which we perform is well known to our patrons. Opera is a spectacle that in the 20th and 21st century has become a big event, with 3,000-seat houses. That's not how it started. And there's still a way to do it in a very intimate scale. I don't want to say small scale, because I do consider what we do to be grand, but it's grand because it has an immediate reach, an immediate effect. It's not grand because of the size of the stage or the number of people in the cast. That's an element of the company I hope we can keep."

Another element audiences hope the company can keep is Carreón-Robledo himself. The Mexico City-born conductor is internationally known as a gifted interpreter of opera, ballet and symphonic repertoire. He's been at the helm of orchestras in Nice, London, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv and Düsseldorf, to name just a few, and is in demand as a guest conductor.

He explains that his relationship with Opera in the Heights is like a marriage. He didn't come in thinking about his next wife (or, in this case, job). He's committed to this relationship, and while he's aware there's the possibility it may not last forever, he's hoping it does.

"Let the record reflect that I am knocking on wood; I want to be here in ten years," he tells us, laughing. "We don't know what's around the corner, so I can't account for that. All I can give you is my intentions, and I have every intention of being here and growing this company. Now, will all of the cosmic forces stay aligned? I can't account for that, but I certainly hope so."

Carreón-Robledo admits that both he and the company face challenges, but he's careful to point out that so far the rewards have been worth the efforts. "The artistic work I'm able to do, balancing that with the practical aspects of running a company is very hard. It gives me nightmares every once in a while. But once we turn down the lights and the music starts, we forget about all the hard work that it took us to get there.

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