The Bricklayer Opera Tells an Iranian-American Story in Houston

Imagine -- an English-language opera set in Houston that begins with the reunification of an Iranian family at Bush Intercontinental Airport. That's the starting point for The Bricklayer, which will premiere in Houston on March 15.

Evan Wildstein, producer of Houston Grand Opera's HGOco's Song of Houston: East + West initiative, was charged with pulling together all the pieces of this effort: story, music, writers and performers. It is based on a short story by Iranian-American author Farnoosh Moshiri, whose own life served as a basis for much of the plot line, Wildstein said.

The characters Mr. and Mrs. Parvin join their daughter and her daughter in Houston after the 1979 Iranian revolution, in which the Shah was overthrown and their son was executed. The music for the piece is a blend of western and Persian.

"These pieces, when they work well, I think it's because the stories are individual and accessible. These intergenerational stories, I think it's just kind of universal. There's a scene in this opera where they're sitting around the dinner table; there's that awkward silence, a family that hasn't seen each other in several years.

"You're going to see a 30-minute piece that talks about the kind of stuff that everyone goes through," Wildstein said. "There's a little bit more of intense injustice."

He said in discussions with members of the Iranian-American community, "They didn't want us to tell a sob tale. But the intensity behind the experience of Persian Americans is just tremendous. This is a story that really celebrates the strides that they've made in coming here."

"Composer Greg Spears -- he's really interested in older Russian troubadour music -- so he set himself the challenge of either doing the Eastern tonalities in the singers or in the instrumentation," Wildstein said. Spears settled on the Persian ney, an inblown sort of bamboo flute, which plays throughout the opera. "When you hear the ney, it's a very sort of Eastern, relaxing tone," Wildstein said.

Wildstein said HGO hopes that a wide range of audience members will come to hear this opera, as has been the case in the other Song of Houston productions. Last May it presented Your Name Means the Sea, written by Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Alizadeh, and before that, To Cross the Face of the Moon/Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, a Mariachi opera that it premiered here last November and took on to Paris.

"We're not just presenting a piece for Iranian audiences, but we're presenting it with them," Wildstein said.

The world premiere of The Bricklayer, along with anxillary performances, is scheduled for 8 p.m. March 15 at Cullen Theater in the Wortham Center. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. March 16 at the Arab American Cultural & Community Center, 10555 Stancliff Road, 4 p.m. March 18 at the Persian Nowruz Festival at Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney, and 6 p.m. March 20 at the Baker Ripley Neighborhood Center, 6500 Rookin Street. For tickets and information, go to www.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.
Contact: Margaret Downing