Opera in the Heights Embarks on an In-Person and Digital 2021-22 Season

Eki Isomura conducting
Photo by Pin Lim
Eki Isomura conducting
The unlikely friendship between U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia has inspired an opera by Derrick Wang that will be part of the 2021-22 season for Opera in the Heights.

In a hybrid season of live performance and continued digital content, OH! is partnering with the Holocaust Museum Houston to coproduce Scalia/Ginsburg — appropriate given the liberal Ginsburg and conservative Scalia's shared love of opera.

"This is a piece that has found a lot of success in the country in festivals and some regional companies," said Eiki Isomura, Artistic and Interim General Director of Opera in the Heights. "The libretto is inspired by the legal opinions from those justices."

The music used in it references the work of Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and more of the classical composers. "These opera conventions that have come about over the centuries, he treats them as operatic precedent just like Supreme Court justices make allusion to legal precedent. It's about an hour long comic opera. We sort of make a journey through the history of opera."  Ginsburg even attended the premiere and applauded the work, Isomura said. There will be two performances in June at the Holocaust Museum's auditorium.

OH! has also decided to continue its association with the Decameron Opera Coalition and its short firm series on opera.

The next series entitled HEROES, will include a segment from OH! about Eldrewey Stearns, the late Houston civil rights activist. Tenor/composer/lyricist Steve Wallace created the piece. The series will premiere online October 1.

Because OH! wants to maintain its connection with its audiences and recognizing that not everyone is yet comfortable about going out in public because of COVID-19, Isomura said, there will be some live streaming of the in-person performances, Opera in the Heights is still working on the exact protocols that will be in place when its performers return to the state in mid-November for Il Trovatore. Originally the Verdi opera was to be OH!'s season opener a year ago.

"What we expect is that masking and temperature checks at the door will be part of our protocols but we will be full capacity. Singers will be fully vaccinated and unmasked," Isomura said, adding that protocols could change at any time depending on advice from Houston's health authorities.

In the spring, OH! will have another go at presenting Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.

"We made a promise. It was Eugene Onegin that was about to go into rehearsals when the local pandemic was declared," Isomura said. "We shut down just two days before our first rehearsal just before our out of town artists were about to get on their planes. We made a promise then that we are going to bring back as many of the cast and crew as we possibly can. We just had to find the right opportunity."

As for the OH! orchestra that Isomura conducts, they had one concert cycle last spring. "Which was great. At that point it had been a whole year, a little more than a year that we had been together. It was a really crazy operation where we were rehearsing outdoors and our music was blowing off our stands and we had to keep an eye out on the rain all the time. That was our outdoor concert series at White Oak Music Hall. We haven’t had an OH! orchestra engagement since then, since April."

Some other opportunities did open up during the downtime, Isomura said.

"One of the first things we did when we shut down Eugene Onegin was to determine what do we do with this half-built set. What do we do with the labor hours remaining on the contract for our crew. And so we decided let’s make some improvements backstage. So we totally redid our back stage storage for our tools and our costumes and our props."

"I think the other big thing was just learning to create digital opera experiences and becoming inspired by other opera companies with the Decameron Opera Coalition. We found that to be really rewarding. That's why we're continuing. We thought it was important to continue making short film operas because it's a new medium that came out of this pandemic that we feel is maybe the one thing that we want to keep from the pandemic."

Opera In The Heights will be going back to is double-casting in the lead roles with alternating performances.

"Our performance calendar shifted. It was two years ago when we stopped offering Thursday night performances and we decided we wanted to do two Sunday matinees. Because of that, that meant our performances were closer together. We were doing more Saturdays and Sunday back to back and so   to give our artists a break for those that have the largest roles, we double cast the lead roles," he said, The shift to double Sundays was in response to audience surveys, he said, showing that "more and more folks want to get home earlier."

I think this is something we can all look forward to. It’s been so long for audiences and our artists. Their love and passion for the art form hasn’t gone away, if anythign it has grown fonder. With all of that built up energy we can expect something really special on opening night."

"The voice I want to hear is the voice that is just dying to sing again."

The OH 2021-22 Season:

Decameron Opera Coalition Heroes
Premieres October 1, 2021

Il Trovatore
November 13, 14, 19 and 21, 2021
Lambert Hall

Eugene Onegin
April 2, 3, 8 and 10, 2022
Lambert Hall

June 2 and 5, 2022
Holocaust Museum Houston