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From Gershwin to Gospel: Soprano Nicole Heaston in Concert for HGO

Soprano Nicole Heaston accompanied by HGO Director of Artistic Operations and Chorus Master Richard Bado on the piano.
Soprano Nicole Heaston accompanied by HGO Director of Artistic Operations and Chorus Master Richard Bado on the piano.
Photo by Bend Production, Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.
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Leaning into the comfort factor, soprano Nicole Heaston decided her concert recital recorded for Houston Grand Opera audiences would be all in English, with an emphasis on American and English composers.

"Usually when a person goes to a recital you'll have a list with all of the translations. So you can kind of read over them during the break and understand what the person's singing. And I thought since we already have the barrier of singing to someone digitally, I thought I wanted to take that one barrier away and just sing all in English, so they can just sit back and not have to put on that extra working hard of what are they saying. I wanted it crystal clear so they could really experience what I was giving them."

Beginning her program with that most American of composers, Aaron Copland, Heaston continues with works by Carlisle Floyd, George and Ira Gershwin and Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. She completes the program with three different spirituals with arrangements by John L. Cornelius II. (The only outlier is “Steal Me, Sweet Thief” from The Old Maid and the Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti.)

"I personally love spirituals and they are so unique to the African American experience," Heaston says. "It’s really a personal preference. I think they are just as valid an art song as songs by Schubert. I feel comfortable singing them. I grew up singing in the church so getting different arrangements of songs I grew up singing is always fun. The ones I’m doing by John Cornelius, and I think they have this really old school, church groove to them so they’re fun to me."

Heaston, who has been part of several video works undertaken by HGO Digital during the pandemic, says the recital recorded last September came about almost by happenstance, thanks to a hurricane supposedly headed this way.

It seems the soprano signed up to perform in a scheduled recital announced she might evacuate in the face of a Houston hurricane. HGO contacted Heaston and asked her if she'd be willing to fill in using a recital she and HGO Director of Artistic Operations and Chorus Master Richard Bado had already taped for another company. As it turned out, the other singer did not leave and was able to make her debut, but HGO decided to offer Heaston a chance to record her recital and saved it for later in the season.

Heaston picked songs that she liked, some of which she had done before and others she wanted to try. "One thing about COVID, it's giving you the chance to do things you hadn't done before," she says, laughing.

The program:

Selections from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson by Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Why do they shut me out of heaven?
The world feels dusty
Heart, we will forget him
Dear March, come in!

“Steal Me, Sweet Thief” from The Old Maid and the Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)

“Ain’t it a Pretty Night!” from Susannah by Carlisle Floyd (b. 1926)

“Embraceable You” from Girl Crazy by George Gershwin (1898-1937) / Ira Gershwin (1896-1983)

“Someone to Watch Over Me” from Oh, Kay! by George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin

“I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady by Frederick Loewe (1901-1988) / Alan Jay Lerner (1918-1986)

“Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?” Traditional Spiritual arr. by John L. Cornelius II

“Jesus Loves Me” by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868) arr. by John L. Cornelius II

“Plenty Good Room” Traditional Spiritual arr. by John L. Cornelius II

Nicole Heaston's concert recital will premiere at 7:30 p.m. April 9 and will be available on demand through May 9 through Marquee TV. For further information, visit the HGO website.

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