When Yani Rose Keo fled Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge with her youngest child and husband in 1975, she flew out on a private plane with almost no one else aboard. For playwright Catherine Filloux, that haunting image underlines the fact that so many people wanted to flee Pol Pot’s mad regime but didn’t have the resources the more affluent Keo did. Instead, more than two million of them would die in the years to come. Keo’s story and her work as a leader in the Cambodian refugee community in Houston had a huge impact on the making of New Arrivals, the next installment in the Song of Houston East + West series by Houston Grand Opera’s HGOCo.
“That metaphor of so many empty seats on the plane was so theatrical – her being able to transform her pain and anger and all her feelings into helping other people, which has been the grand story of her life,” Filloux says. With a score by American composer John Glover, the operetta is set in the mid-1970s, when Pol Pot became the head of the Cambodian government, looking to destroy anyone who opposed him. The resulting operetta is not a bio of Keo, but a “poetic” rendering of her experience, says Filloux, who came to Houston last year to meet refugees firsthand.
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4 p.m. June 17. Rothko Chapel, 3900 Yupon. Other performances run June 16 to June 23 at various locations. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit www.houstongrandopera.org.
Sun., June 17, 4 p.m., 2012