Houston Grand Opera has brought back the tried and true Tosca for its opener for the 2015-16 season at the Wortham Center. Audiences have been enthusiastic and critics kind. There are only two more performances of the tragic Tosca, including one on Friday, so if you intend on seeing the bloody spectacle, get your tickets already.
It's no spoiler when we tell you everybody dies. Like George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, this classic predecessor is full of intrigue, romance, violence and death. It’s set in Rome in 1800, and the city’s residents are waiting to see what will happen with Napoleon marching their way and whose political alliances will win out in the end.
“It’s one of the great tragic operas of all time. A combination of a very dramatic story and an absolutely ravishing musical score makes it what can be an unforgettable experience at the opera house,” says director John Caird. Last time he was in Houston, he had “a strange spectral figure” on the set, but this version will be different, he says. “I got slightly bored with that and sacked the shepherd girl. It’s always good to do something a bit different.”
Caird praised the lead role singers for this Tosca. Liudmyla Monastyrska sings the title role, while Alexey Dolgov sings Cavaradossi and Andrzej Dobber sings the evil Baron Scarpia role. “The thing is with these great popular warhorse operas that get done everywhere, there aren’t that many singers internationally who can sing these parts at the level required. So they tend to repeat the roles in many, many different performances,” Caird says.
The main roles have to be able to work well together, he adds. “They have to fall in love with each other, they have to caress each other, they have to murder each other. So it’s quite an intimate relationship these soloists have to have with each other for the piece to work. Not to just be singing out front all the time.”
Floria Tosca is a diva, a singer of great renown who had been raised in a convent. She loves painter Mario Cavaradossi, who tries to help the escaped political prisoner Angelotti get away from his pursuers, which in turn brings Cavaradossi to the attention of Chief of Police Scarpia. Scarpia, who’d like to have Tosca for himself, is able to prey upon her suspicions that Cavaradossi is being untrue to her, and we’re off to the races in a long and convoluted plot of lies and misunderstandings that ends in death for the three protagonists.
Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers conducts the production, which is sung in Italian with projected English translation. An alternate cast performs on November 14.
See Tosca at 7:30 p.m. November 6 and 14. Wortham Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org. $18 to $252.
You may think that you’ve seen the thriller Wait Until Dark (originally a 1966 Broadway play starring Lee Remick and later a movie starring Audrey Hepburn), but you haven’t seen the version Queensbury Theatre is presenting. This is the Houston premiere of the drama that centers on a blind woman being threatened by criminals, and it's one of our picks for Friday. In this version, the story has been pushed back a little in time.
“Wait Until Dark was a contemporary play,” Randal K. West, executive director of Queensbury Theatre, tells us. “It was written and performed in the 1960s; it was set in the 1960s.” When playwright Jeffrey Hatcher recently updated Frederick Knott’s original play, he set it in 1944. “There are a lot of interesting things about 1944 that add to the play.”
For one, the women’s lib movement made the idea of a capable, brave woman in the 1960s unsurprising. That same character in 1944 would be more unexpected.
“You have a handicapped woman in WWII. You would really, in that environment, expect her to roll over and play victim. She doesn’t. Instead, you’ve got a seemingly helpless female standing up to overwhelming odds.”
West credits director, cast and crew with finding new ways to tell the story. “They’re not just re-creating the movie. They’re finding new ways of interpreting a really suspenseful thriller. All of the ‘jump out of your seat’ moments are still there. All of the creepy, uneasy moments are still there.”
So is the extended scene at the play’s end that’s played in almost complete darkness.
“The way [the character] takes on the con men is she waits until dark and then breaks all of the lights in her apartment, putting the men in darkness.” The men and the audience. “The stage gets a little bit darker with every lamp that she takes out. It gets really scary for a little while. Unless we truly feel the theater isn’t safe…we’re going to make it as dark as we can possibly make it.”
7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through November 15. 12777 Queensbury Lane. For information, call 713-467-4497 or visit queensburytheatre.org. $36 to $48.
The Texas New Music Ensemble kicks off its 2015-16 season this Saturday on an odd note; An Evening of Piano with Makiko Hirata is a solo performance rather than an ensemble. Chad Robinson, the artistic director and founder of TNME, explains the change: “This year is the first time we are starting to offer a recital, which will feature one member of the ensemble on their own for a concert each year, and Makiko Hirata will be the first one.
“She is a wonderful player,” Robinson continues. “And it just made sense to have the pianist start off the recital. We decided it would be a good way to introduce our performers as soloists.”
As for the performance, its theme is strictly Texas-based. “It’s five pieces, and all of the pieces will be by living Texas composers. I tried to find pieces that were modern and contemporary, but also some traditional, and have them mirror each other before and after the intermission. I think the furthest we’re going back is the 1980s in this concert.”
7:30 p.m. Saturday. Fort Bend Music Center, 3133 Southwest Freeway. For information, call 832-703-3769 or visit tnme.org.$25.
Continuing our unintentional theme of strong women, for Saturday we suggest Main Street Theater's The Silent Sky.
Just after the turn of the century in 1900, women weren’t allowed to use telescopes. It was considered unfit for them to work late at night in the dark. But in the early days of the modern era of astronomy, nonetheless, women brought something special to the science: They were patient, they were careful and they could record detailed observations.
In The Silent Sky, playwright Lauren Gunderson tells the story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt and other women working in the Harvard Observatory who would study photographs on glass plates of the night sky and record everything they saw.
“They were called computers because they measured,” says Rebecca Greene Udden, who is directing the play and as Main Street Theater’s artistic director selected this work to begin the theater’s 40th-anniversary season, this time in a newly remodeled facility.
“It’s hard to comprehend the painstaking and detailed work that these women did. Originally men did this work, but the men didn’t have the patience for it.”
The women weren’t considered astronomers — although some had intense interest in the sciences — but were brought in by James Pickering, who ran the Harvard Observatory at this time — and who started by hiring his housekeeper, who ended up running the department for a while, Udden says.
“Pickering’s goal was not to make extraordinary discoveries; it was simply to catalog the stars in the sky and provide data that other people could work with. And the women did the cataloging,” she says. As it turned out, the women made discoveries of their own, and Leavitt (there really was a Henrietta Swan Leavitt who graduated from Radcliffe) made a very important one that made it possible for scientists to calculate the distance to the stars.
Udden says she was drawn by both Gunderson’s writing and the story she told. “I like the language. I think it has a very musical quality. I, of course, love the story of this unsung woman whose discovery made so much possible. Her finding actually allowed people using her finding to measure the distance to the stars. Somebody would have figured this out, but she did it. It was just an incredible advance for the field. But you never hear about her; she’s completely forgotten. She was respected in a very small circle, but she wasn’t an astronomer; she wasn’t one of the big boys. I love her story; I love the passion with which this character pursues her goals.”
7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and November 25; 3 p.m. Sundays. No performance on November 26. Through November 29. Main Street Theater, 2540 Times Boulevard. For information, call 713-524-6706 or visit mainstreettheater.com. $20 to $39.
For Sunday, we suggest The Menil Collection's "The Secret of the Hanging Egg: Salvador Dalí" at the Menil.
In exchange for lending a Menil Collection object to the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Houston-based institution could select anything from the Dalí collection to serve as the center of an exhibit at the Menil. The new exhibit is the result.
“I chose the painting specifically from the 1930s, from 1932; this was the period before he had broken from the Surrealist group,” says Clare Elliott, assistant curator at the Menil, referring to the pivotal moment when ideological differences caused Surrealist leader André Breton to officially excommunicate the Spanish painter.
She added other objects from his circles of influence: works by Ernst, Magritte, Man Ray, Joan Miró and Breton. She organized other foodcentric works by Magritte and Robert Gober; a fruit and vegetable painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldi, whom Dalí admired; as well as small stone objects.
“We have the little Miró one, and I actually had kind of liked that little Miró. It’s a small thing, gets overlooked maybe a little bit. And then I thought, oh, it looks like an egg,” says Elliott. “We were offered another little stone work from Victor Brauner; it’s new, so it hasn’t been shown.”
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Though the exhibition is small in scale — about 30 works including a group of postcards — the loan of the Dalí painting offers a rare opportunity to view the Menil’s Surrealist holdings in a new context.
“Dalí is one of these artists that everybody knows because they’ve all seen the posters, so I want to emphasize or bring about the awareness that seeing something in reproduction is great, but to see the actual painting itself is a different experience,” says Elliott.
There’s a public lecture 7 to 8 p.m. November 11. Regular viewing hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. Through June 19. 1533 Sul Ross. For information, call 713-525-9400 or visit menil.org. Free.
Susie Tommaney, Bill Simpson and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.