The accolades have kept on piling up for the University of Houston’s Moores Opera Center since winning a 2016 MasterMind Award from the Houston Press .
In April, the center’s rendition of Anna Karenina scored kudos from the National Opera Association. “It was a big milestone for us,” says Moores Opera Center director Buck Ross about the production that won second prize in the association’s top category, the 2016 Opera Production Competition.
Additionally, the night prior to our conversation with Ross, who’s the longtime director and producer of UH’s operatic productions, Moores graduate Kirsten Chambers had made her title-role debut with the New York Metropolitan Opera in a production of Salome.
As part of its 2016-2017 season, Moores is currently preparing two operas that will perform in the tail end of January: The Secret Marriage and The Inspector. What’s it like producing two operas at once? “My hair is very gray now,” says Ross.
“Both are comedies set in Italy. It’s sort of an Italian comic opera festival, which is a nice change because the last two were very serious,” says Ross. In addition to Anna Karenina, the company recently staged Arthur Miller’s The Crucible at its stunning 800-seat opera house, located inside the Moores School of Music building, on UH’s Third Ward campus.
The Inspector, written six years ago by John Musto and featuring a libretto by Mark Campbell, follows corrupt bureaucrats, via a satirical vibe, as they do shady business during Mussolini’s 1930s fascist Italy. “Some of it was in response to politics during the [George Walker] Bush administration, but some of it sounds like, shall we say current events,” says Ross about the opera. “People might think we picked it due to what’s currently going on, but we chose it way back in April."
The Secret Marriage, the only one of the four operas in the 2016-2017 season that Moores had produced before – and that was about 20 years ago, says Ross – “is the most successful comedy of the 18th century,” explains Ross. “The way we’re producing it is like Alice in Wonderland meets the 18th century. It’s pure farce.”
The MasterMind Award recipient said he spent the $2,000 no-strings-attached money to pay for costumes, which may not sound like an astronomical expense, but it actually is.
“That amount of money pays for costume rentals for a small show – The Secret Marriage, for instance – and that’s not a small thing. That’s always a big chunk of the expenditures,” says Ross, who adds, “We still have the giant check in the lobby, partly to shame others into giving us money.”
Moving forward, Ross hopes that Moores Opera Center continues to catch on with the local crowd.
“The biggest thing for us is that people don’t realize the quality that goes on here,” says Ross. “We have a very strong national reputation, this is the most beautiful theater in Houston and the ticket prices are so low.”
See who wins the 2017 MasterMind Awards at the Houston Press Artopia party starting at 8 p.m. Saturday, January 28, 2017. Winter Street Studios, 2101 Winter Street. For more information, visit houstonpressartopia.com. General admission tickets range from $45 to $60. VIP admission tickets range from $75 to $100.
MasterMind Award winners 2009 Patrick Medrano and Katy Anderson, Hightower High School's Broadcast Academy, Nova Arts Project
MasterMind Award winners 2010 Reginald Adams and the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston, Opera Vista, SoReal Cru
MasterMind Award winners 2011 Foodways Texas, Catastrophic Theatre, Nameless Sound
MasterMind Award winners 2012 The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Alex "Pr!mo" Luster, The Pilot Light Restaurant Group
MasterMind Award winners 2013 Opera in the Heights, Karen Stokes Dance, Stark Naked Theatre
MasterMind Award winners 2014 Chuy Benitez, jhon r. stronks, Apollo Chamber Players
MasterMind Award winners 2015 Patrick Renner, Jefferson Davis High School Mariachi Pantera, Houston Arts and Media founder Mike Vance
MasterMind Award winners 2016 University of Houston's Moores Opera Center, Horse Head Theatre Co., Houston Independent School District’s EMERGE program