Houston, November 7, 2017 — Houston Grand Opera (HGO) continues its series of holiday operas with the world premiere presentation of The House without a Christmas Tree by the widely admired composer/librettist team of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek, in the HGO Resilience Theater at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The opera is based on the uplifting story by Gail Rock and the beloved 1972 television film of the same name about a family that is healed by the holiday spirit. A precocious daughter struggles to understand her father’s resentment of the holidays and longs for a beautiful Christmas tree like other families have, to “make her house look happy.” The opera includes a new setting of the carol “Gather Around the Christmas Tree,” sung by a juvenile chorus. Tickets for the new venue are available at HGO.org. Group discounts are available. Parking for HGO’s performances will be available at the Avenida North garage located at 1815 Rusk Street, across from HGO’s new venue. A sky bridge connects the parking garage to the GRB, and there is clear signage directing patrons to the theater. More information about parking can be found here.
Several HGO Studio alumni lead the cast: soprano Lauren Snouffer stars as young Addie Mills, baritone Daniel Belcher plays her father, and soprano Heidi Stober (now singing Cleopatra in Julius Caesar) takes the roles of the adult Adelaide Mills, her mother, Helen, and Addie’s teacher, Miss Thompson. Soprano Patricia Schuman sings Grandma Mills, and the role of Carla Mae will be taken by HGO Studio alumna Megan Mikailovna Samarin (now playing Sextus in Julius Caesar). Young tenor Maximillian Macias will sing Billy Wild, and soprano Elisabeth Leone will sing Gloria Cott. James Robinson, whose long collaboration with HGO includes the current production of Julius Caesar, will direct and HGO Associate Music Director Bradley Moore will conduct. Sung in English with projected text.
The House without a Christmas Tree is the third opera for HGO by Ricky Ian Gordon and the second by Royce Vavrek. This is their first collaboration after their critically acclaimed opera 27, premiered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2014.
Ricky Ian Gordon’s two previous operas for HGO are A Coffin in Egypt, written for Frederica von Stade (2014, with libretto by Leonard Foglia, also performed at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Opera Philadelphia, Chicago Opera Theatre, and Lincoln Center), and The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1996, with Jean Claude van Itallie). Gordon’s catalog also includes Morning Star (libretto by William Hoffman) for the Cincinnati Opera, with a new version set to premiere in March 2018 for On Site Opera; 27 (libretto by Royce Vavrek) for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and also performed in a new choral version commissioned by Master Voices at City Center in New York; Rappahannock County (libretto by Mark Campbell), for the Harrison Opera House; Sycamore Trees (libretto by composer) for The Signature Theatre; The Grapes of Wrath (libretto by Michael Korie), premiered by the Minnesota Opera in 2007 and a new version premiered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2017; Green Sneakers: for Baritone, String Quartet, and Empty Chair (libretto by the composer), a theatrical song cycle premiered by the Miami String Quartet; the song cycle Orpheus and Euridice for Lincoln Center; My Life with Albertine (with Richard Nelson), for Playwright’s Horizons; Night Flight to San Francisco and Antarctica (for Renée Fleming), both set to text from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; Dream True (with Tina Landau) for the Vineyard Theatre; States of Independence (also with Landau) for the American Music Theatre Festival; and Only Heaven for Encompass Opera.
Royce Vavrek is a Grande Prairie, Canada–born, Brooklyn-based librettist and lyricist whose opera Angel’s Bone with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He made his HGO debut in 2015 with HGOco’s world premiere of O Columbia (composer Gregory Spears). He is also known for his diverse collaborations with composers Ricky Ian Gordon (27), David T. Little (Dog Days, Am I Born, JFK);Missy Mazzoli (Song from the Uproar, Breaking the Waves); Joshua Schmidt (Midwestern Gothic); Paola Prestini (Yoani, The Hubble Cantata); Matt Marks (A Song for Wade [This is Not That Song]); Strip Mall), Ellen Reid (Knoxville: Summer of 2015); Mikael Karlsson (Diana Vreeland); and Marisa Michelson (Naamah’s Ark). Vavrek is co-artistic director of The Coterie, an opera-theater company founded with Tony-nominated soprano Lauren Worsham. The company is currently developing a series of short films that will operatically adapt Aaron Teel’s novella-in-flash Shampoo Horns into six installments, each composed by a different composer, a project supported by the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. He holds a BFA in filmmaking and creative writing from Concordia University, Montreal, and an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at New York University. He is an alumnus of American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program.
HGO has transformed an exhibit hall in the convention center into an intimate theater after being displaced from its creative home at the Wortham Theater Center by Hurricane Harvey. Every seat is less than 100 feet from the stage and the productions give audiences insight into and connection to the theatrical process, in what HGO is calling “unconventional opera.”
Critics have been impressed with the results. Of the opening performance of La traviata, the New York Times noted, “Albina Shagimuratova, as Violetta, sounded very fine indeed, with alluring tone and admirable clarity and accuracy.” The Houston Press wrote, about Julius Caesar, “HGO knocked it out of the park.”