Opera: Bright Bottles' World Premiere Spotlights Vulnerability, Materialism

Bright Bottles will debut part one of three as an operatic look at vulnerability and materialism.
Bright Bottles will debut part one of three as an operatic look at vulnerability and materialism. Photo by Sheel Radia

Opera leans toward the dramatic, doesn’t it? Picture it: a group of homeless women, barely scraping by, who wear plastic bags on their head to shield them from the elements, yet the grocery sacks almost symbolize a crown of pride. By doing so, they demonstrate the strength within vulnerability. But what happens when they give into temptation, which brings about their cruel and weak sides?

This is the setting of Bright Bottles, an opera told in three tableaux, which offers its world premiere for part one of the troika this weekend. Through the show, Composer and Director Rashaan Allwood will address that exact topic: vulnerability. The show takes place 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Rice University’s Edyth Bates Old Organ and Recital Hall, 6100 Main.

Our main characters, non-domiciled women from Mexico who are living in Houston, have had their dignity and power stripped from them by society, but in this state of extreme vulnerability they find meaning and beauty in each other and in life.

The composer is billing this as a new type of opera. “I call it a new kind of opera, because rather than being about a specific story line, it’s the development of certain concepts and their redevelopment in different characters. I do it from vulnerability,” said Allwood, who is listed as one of CBC’s 30 under 30 classical musicians.

Line up, Brené Brown fans, because this vulnerability theme sticks around for the duration of the performance.

“For me, the idea of being vulnerable is good. I would talk to a lot of people, and they would say you have to be strong. [Vulnerability and strength] are opposites, but that was a question for me. I found vulnerability beautiful and empowering. You know who you are,” Allwood said. “It was an ongoing question, and it would manifest itself in different ways. That’s where I got the idea of writing it into an opera. You see beauty in the vulnerability.”

Allwood’s inspiration came from when he was moving through undergraduate and graduate school in Canada.

“Driving to and from school, there were these homeless people, and they covered their heads with garbage bags. That image stuck with me, and it made me think about vulnerability and materialism,” he said. “As a Canadian, we don’t have 1-dollar bills, and I didn’t know what to do with the [dollar coins]. So I started giving them away to homeless peoples when my wallet was filled with dollars I don’t use. Seeing them so close and hearing them talk, I saw them as people who were super vulnerable and had their power stripped form them by society.”

click to enlarge What good is one more dollar when you're homeless and proud? - PHOTO BY RASHAAN ALLWOOD
What good is one more dollar when you're homeless and proud?
Photo by Rashaan Allwood
Currently, Allwood is an associate organist at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, located in the Texas Medical Center, and just across the street, he participates in the Young Artist Diploma program at Rice University. He plans to blend these elements into Bright Bottles.

The performance is scored for organ, strings and bass, and will also feature singers from Rice University's opera program, Moores School of Music at the University of Houston and the University of North Texas in Dallas.

As for what happens to our characters and their story lines, Allwood will debut the second and third editions of the tableaux in Montreal and Toronto. But be sure to stick around the Houston debut to catch a glimpse of the ending.

Rice University's Artist Diploma students will come in at the end of the first tableau to perform an epilogue for the second and third tableaux.

“I composed an instrumental piece, and it has all the students from Rice. It’s an exclusive program, and there are only six of them. There are only 2-3 spots per year across the instruments,” he said. “I wanted to write a piece that featured these students as an epilogue to the tableau, and I will be staging the ending to the tableau. You won’t see that elsewhere, but you’ll see if here in Houston.”

Bright Bottles debuts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Rice University’s Edyth Bates Old Organ and Recital Hall, 6100 Main. For information, visit rashaanallwood.com/bright-bottles.html. Free.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd