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5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Madame Butterfly, Artopia 2015 and More

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The original Madame Butterfly was a two-act disaster that premiered in 1904. Composer Giacomo Puccini hauled it back in and rewrote extensively in time for another try later that year, and in the two years that followed, after another few revisions, came up with the three-hanky classic that audiences have appreciated ever since and that Houston Grand Opera has lined up to be its next production this season. Our choice for Friday, the story begins with the marriage of Cio-Cio-San (Madame Butterfly), a 15-year-old Japanese girl, to American Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton. He sees the marriage as a temporary stop on his worldwide travels; she thinks it's permanent. He splits and while she waits for his return, she has their baby. Baritone Scott Hendricks plays Sharpless, the American consul who presides over Pinkerton's marriage and tries to make the officer take responsibility for his actions.

Texas native Hendricks, who made his Metropolitan Opera debut a year ago in the role, says: "Sharpless is the moral conscience of the piece. He feels for Butterfly and warns Pinkerton not to take this lightly." And it only gets worse for the consul. He has to tell Butterfly her husband is not coming back to her and that Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate, want to take Butterfly's child. "He's been put in an awful position by Pinkerton's actions and his selfishness," Hendricks says. So why do people continue to turn out to see this opera, the most tragic one Puccini ever did? The music, Hendricks says, as well as the fact that the story remains relevant, with resentments con-tinuing to this day over the actions of U.S. servicemen overseas (in 2012, two U.S. sailors were accused of raping a Japanese woman on the island of Okinawa, he points out). Hendricks, who says, "It's nice not having to play a bad guy," sings a lot of Puccini and Verdi as well as new works. Houston favorite Ana Maria Martinez returns as Butterfly. Hendricks has a special reason to look forward to this HGO production. "My mom missed my Met debut, so she'll be coming from San Antonio to see this."

See Madame Butterfly at 7:30 p.m. January 23, 28, 31 and February 6; 2 p.m. January 25 and February 8. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713‑228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $15 to $354.

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It's with great humility that we say, "We throw the best freakin' party in town!" Houston Press Artopia® 2015, our annual celebration of culture, fashion, the arts, music and food, is set for Saturday. There's a curated art exhibit, live music, fashion shows, performances, and generous food and drink samplings. But Artopia 2015 is more than just a party -- it's the showcase during which we present this year's MasterMind Award winners -- Houston Arts and Media, Patrick Renner and Jefferson Davis High School Mariachi Pantera -- with a no-strings-attached $2,000 check. Sponsored by Stella Artois, the MasterMind Awards recognize groups (and sometimes individuals) that have significantly contributed to Houston's arts and culture scene.

HAM's tireless efforts to capture Houston history include The Birth of Texas, a series of feature-length documentaries; HAM Slices, two-minute videos; and the Houston Music History series, capturing H-town's varied musical past from spirituals to rap. Artist Patrick Renner, a.k.a. the Tunnel Guy, is taking public art in Houston in exciting new directions. His recent projects include Funnel Tunnel on Montrose and Conduit in Eastwood Park. And Northside's Jefferson Davis High School Mariachi Pantera is making giant strides in producing skilled student musicians and has become one of the school's most effective tools to prevent dropouts.

See more on our 2015 MasterMind Awards winners.

Get your tickets early; the event sells out every year (remember what we said about the best freakin' party in town?). VIP admission includes entry, valet, food, entertainment and access to the VIP Lounge (private bar, catered buffet and seating).

8 to 11 p.m. Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street. For information, visit houstonpress.com. $45 to $100.

Anibal de la Luna is a regular kind of guy who's moved to Los Angeles in part to leave his Puerto Rican culture behind. On a rainy night he meets up with a pregnant hitchhiker, Celestina del Sol, who claims to be 54 (but looks much younger) and who says she's been pregnant for two years. Her special ability? She can slow down time. Cloud Tectonics, a love story in one act written by Obie award-winning playwright, José Rivera, is making its Houston premiere courtesy of Mildred's Umbrella and one of our choices for Saturday.

Artistic Director Jennifer Decker says she's been wanting to do this production for ten years, but only now have the right actors (Patricia Duran and Greg Dean, founding members of Mildred's Umbrella) returned to Houston. A further plot twist is that Celestina is on a journey of discovery. "She's looking for the father of her baby, but she has no idea how old he is because it feels like a few days for her, but it could have been 40 years for him," Decker says. "When she hooks up with Anibal, they're in his apartment for one night but it's been two years for everyone else."

Decker, who also teaches college English, promises that the story should appeal to general audiences 12 and up and anyone who loves English literature. "It's just like fairy tales or anything else," she says. "It's sort of fascinating to think that a miracle can happen and everyone's hoping that it'll happen to them. And this is a love story between two people who are from different worlds. As far as the magic, it's fascinating to think that there could be someone who's on a different plane of existence than everyone else."

8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and February 2. Through February 7. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832‑463-0409 or visit mildredsumbrella.com. Pay-what-you-can to $20.

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A weathered broom leaning against a wall, an empty soda cup on the ground, a vase of slightly aged flowers. Rarely do we expect those objects to look back at us. Part pensive vanitas, part ready-made portraits, Chuck Ramirez's photographs of mundane objects are rendered with the respect and attention that allow his subjects to do just this: Look back. Thirteen portrait-like works from the recently deceased San Antonio artist have been assembled for "Prematurely Discarded: Photographs by Chuck Ramirez." Larger than life and dressed in bright, richly revealing lighting, works in "Prematurely Discarded" bear many of the trademark characteristics of Ramirez's visually minimalist yet conceptually complex style. The show is one of our choices for Saturday.

Although limited in number, the works featured in the show at Octavia Art Gallery represent five of Ramirez's celebrated series: the Candy Tray series, the Quarantine series, the Careyes series, the Brooms series and Euro Bags. Godiva 2, of the Candy Tray series, gleams a regal gold, despite the fact that its treasures have been consumed. The subjects in the Brooms series are particularly anthropomorphic. In Bleached Lilac, a purple broom stands erect, positioned in the photograph's frame as though standing for a mug shot or school picture. Although the tool's age shows in its discoloration, rust and wildly eroded bristles, its tilted head gives the broom a playful, even mischievous, look. In all, the broom exhibits a vibrant energy and is suggestive of the diligent work ethic of Mexico's labor force, which Ramirez specifically referenced with this series.

Patricia Ruiz-Healy, show collaborator and exclusive representative of Ramirez's estate, notes that while working in his own language of "south Texas aesthetic and the aesthetic of world travel," Ramirez was guided by the goal of "[emphasizing] the poetry of the work." Many of his photographs, such as the iconic Whatacup (a portrait of a Whataburger cup, which literally reads "When I am empty please dispose of me properly"), overtly reference the death of an object. However, it seems as if most of Ramirez's portraits may also make a firm case for continued or reimaged use.

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Through February 25. 3637 West Alabama, 713-877-1810, octaviaartgallery.com. Free.

The Come and Take It Comedy Takeover is a massive two-day event featuring 30 comedy acts, burlesque, live podcasts and more. Our choice for Sunday, Come and Take It's presented by Pabst Blue Ribbon. The show will commandeer the Warehouse Live space all weekend long. Headliners include Saturday Night Live alumnus Norm MacDonald, The Whitest Kids U' Know, Maria Bamford and Kevin McDonald.

Those are some serious hard-hitters in the world of comedy. MacDonald was on SNL for five years and for three of them anchored the "Weekend Update" segment. Bamford's résumé, in addition to her standup work that often boldly deals with issues such as depression and anxiety, includes a strong voice-acting career that includes characters for Cartoon Network's "Adventure Time" series.

Comedian Kevin McDonald has had his own notable voice-acting career, including Almighty Tallest Purple in the cult classic cartoon series Invader Zim and Pleakley in the Lilo & Stitch series. He may be best known for co-founding the Kids In The Hall comedy troupe with Dave Foley.

The Whitest Kids U' Know started in New York and eventually landed their own television show, which was shown first on the Fuse network before moving to IFC. They were also behind the impish, bizarre and hilarious "Sex Robot" video skit, one of the most widely viewed comedy videos in existence. (It now has more than three million views on You Tube.)

4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Warehouse Live, 813 Saint Emanuel. For information, visit comeandtakeitcomedy.com. $35 to $99.

Alexandra Irrera, Margaret Downing and Phaedra Cook contributed to this post.

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