HGO Commissions a Special 9/11 Work for, and of, Houston

Last fall and winter, librettist Gene Scheer interviewed Texas firefighters who'd gone to New York City ten years ago to help in human recovery efforts after 9/11.

"About a week later, they were sent there as part of the national response at the time," Scheer said in an interview with Art Attack. "It was still a rescue effort. What it really turned out to be, all of them said, they were looking for survivors and finding body parts."

Scheer said the research he did before writing the words to go with a song cycle commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera entitled Pieces of 9/11, Memories from Houston wasn't just the retelling of a tragic tale, but "uplifting as well" in how the relatives of 9/11 victims and the responders figured out how to go on with their lives.

Scheer also interviewed Muslims living in Houston to find out what happened to them after the terrorist attacks and spent time with the husband, sister and other relatives and friends of Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas, formerly of Houston.

Grandcolas had gone to New Jersey for her grandmother's funeral and ended up boarding United Flight 93, which was hijacked by terrorists and crashed in a Pennsylvania field, killing all aboard.

"Lauren was pregnant with her first child. She was 38 years old; they'd been trying for a number of years to have a child," Scheer said. She had stayed a few days after the funeral to give the family the good news, then caught an earlier flight than planned to go home to her husband Jack Grandcolas in San Francisco, he said. She called him from the plane, saying something was wrong and that she loved him, but he was asleep and only got the message after her death.

Scheer said Grandcolas is the centerpiece for the production, whose music was composed by Jake Heggie, the famed composer of Dead Man Walking, Moby Dick and Three Decembers. (Scheer was also the librettist for Moby Dick, commissioned by the Dallas Opera). A soprano, a baritone and a girl soprano will sing all the parts in the 25-minute piece.

The reason to include the younger singer, Scheer said, was their way of acknowledging the lives that would never happen -- like Lauren Catuzzi Grandcolas's child -- because of all the lives lost that day.

"Our agenda was to tell the story or part of the story from Houston's perspective," Scheer said. Yes, it happened in the Northeast, "but everywhere in the country was part of the story; Houston was part of the response," he said.

Scheer said he's done other work with Heggie, other historical recountings, such as the Holocaust, but there was a real difference this time.

"This is the first time for me that I've had access to survivors like this," he said. "It's an amazing sense of responsibility to do right by these people. I think what we've done will have a lot of resonance for folks."

The Houston Grand Opera will present Pieces of 9/11, Memories from Houston on Friday, September 9, at the Houston City Hall Reflection Pond, 901 Bagby Street, Friday September 9 at Discovery Green at 7 p.m. (followed by the 9/11 documentary Rebirth and Sunday, September 11, at the Rothko Chapel, 1409 Sul Ross.

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