A Christmas Carol Becomes an Opera Thanks to a Houston Grand Opera Commission

Until eight months ago, British composer Iain Bell was writing in his bedroom in London. That's where he did most of his work on the world premiere we're about to see of the operatic version of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. (He's since moved to a larger place with two rooms, one of which is an office)

Two and a half years ago, Bell was about a third of the way through his first opera A Harlot's Progress, a dark work with a less than happy ending, when he met with Houston Grand Opera's Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers and they began talking about something lighter.

"[Summers] said he had a long time dream of a series of holiday operas," recalls Bell who says the idea of working on something "with some redemptive quality" was very appealing.

A commissioned work was quickly agreed upon and this December the world premiere of the opera A Christmas Carol, based on, of course, the famous Charles Dickens work, will be unveiled in Houston.

Simon Callow (who among other things played Charles Dickens in Doctor Who) wrote the libretto and will direct the 90-minute, one-singer (Jay Hunter Morris) performance.

Dickens himself performed as a one-man show in a condensed version he had created and modern day actor Patrick Stewart did an acclaimed one-man version, so Bell thought a one-man opera was more than feasible.

Bell, who has composed a number of song cycles, said the role calls for a tenor who sings with range and with dramatic instincts to enable him to move quickly and clearly among the 20 characters, including Ebenezer Scrooge and all his ghosts.

A Christmas Carol runs December 5-21. 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas Avenue, For information , call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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