By HOLLY BERETTO
Houston opera lovers have a treat to look forward to this week as the Houston Grand Opera Studio presents Studio Showcase, an evening of opera scenes sung by the members of HGO’s highly acclaimed young artist program.
“This year’s Showcase is all about wanting what you can’t have,” says HGO Head of Music Staff and Music Director for the HGO Studio Kathy Kelly. “We explore thwarted desire in ways both comic and tragic, grand and intimate. Nothing gives expression to this particular human experience as well as a beautiful, skilled operatic voice and the outpouring of contained emotion it provides.”
So audiences can expect an evening of emotion, with scenes from seven operas including Turandot, Wozzeck, Of Mice and Men, Cosi Fan Tutti and Lucia di Lammermoor.“The scenes have been carefully selected to showcase each artist’s voice,” says Showcase director Sam Helfrich. All of the 11 young artists in HGO’s Studio will be singing during the evening, and Helfrich says a program like this is designed to both expose the audience to the operas – some of which are not often performed – and to help the artists grow in respective repertoires and learn new roles.
Bass baritone Andrew Cioffari, a second-year Studio singer, says that approach is helpful. “Last season, I sang more in my comfort zone,” he admits. “But this year, I am being challenging a bit more.” He’ll be singing Wozzeck in the Showcase. “And Wozzeck is challenging for anyone,” he emphasizes. “It’s got a completely different structure than other pieces in my repertoire. But this is absolutely something I should be singing.”
“This is an opportunity for audiences to hear what we pianists at the opera house when we work with our singers,” says HGO Studio pianist and coach Stephen Hopkins, who’s in his second year with the HGO Studio and will be playing in the Showcase. He spends his days helping singers learn their roles and also serves as pianist for rehearsals.
He’ll be accompanying some of the singers in the Showcase.“I think people will be surprised to hear how fleshed out the piano sound can be,” he says.
All the scenes are also fully staged, and director Helfrich says he’s enjoyed working with the Studio singers. “Working with them is great fun,” he says. “They’re so eager to learn new things.”
Houston audiences have always embraced the Studio singers, following them from their first roles on HGO’s main stage and on into their careers as opera singers. This year as in every other, Showcase is an excellent way to see tomorrow’s opera stars today.
University of St. Thomas, Jones Theater, $35 tickets; available at www.houstongrandopera.org
Photo of HGO Studio artists by Felix Sanchez.