An Assessment by Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman
It’s been a crazy few years since we started Opera Vista. The Inaugural Opera Vista Festival (2007) lasted all of about 4 days. We did one full production plus the inaugural competition. This year, a mere two years later, the festival spanned ten days, had two full productions of operas, two nights of competition, and two chamber orchestra concerts.
For both Opera Vista and NOVA Arts, this has been an incredible learning experience since it was the biggest event that either of our organizations has ever undertaken. I think both organizations are stronger for having thrived through such an involved process. Every day was a different show, a different lighting set-up, different music and musicians. It involved 2 conductors, 3 stage directors, over 50 singers, a huge stage crew, and a mass of volunteers. There is no way that this festival could have happened without the incredible work ethic of so many wonderful people.
The crown jewel of the Opera Vista Festival is the Vista Competition – an American-Idol style competition for opera composers. We had an incredible jury made up of Huang Ruo, a internationally recognized Chinese composer; Leslie B. Dunner, Music Director of the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago; Rebecca Greene Udden of Main Street Theater; and Chris Johnson from KUHF. A short excerpt of each opera was performed, and the composers then responded to questions from the jury (our own Randy, Paula and Simon). The audience then had the opportunity to vote for their favorite opera, which is one of the operas that will be performed during the 2010 Opera Vista Festival.
Drumroll please…. The winner of the competition this year was Line Tørnhøj of Denmark and her opera, Anorexia Sacra. The second prize went to Camilo Santostefano of Argentina and his opera El Fin de Narciso. The audience had an incredibly difficult task since I would have been happy to perform any of the six semi-finalists in next year’s festival.
This year’s festival was also marked by the first threatening letter that we have ever received… about an opera! In the 2007 Vista competition, the audience chose both David T. Little’s Soldier Songs and R. Timothy Brady’s Edalat Square as the co-winners of the competition. Edalat Square tells the story of two teenagers in Iran who were hanged for being homosexual. The fact that we were performing this work evidently angered someone who sent our friends at NOVA a letter saying (in stencil), “You are pigs to mix Islam with gays. You must stop! We will not let you do it!” Having taken the correct security precautions, the performances of Edalat went off without a hitch, and Chuck Winkler’s stage direction was truly monumental.
I was also quite proud of our performances of David T. Little’s Soldier Songs. This was probably one of the more difficult operas that Opera Vista has ever attempted. The work involves distortion pedals for a violin and a cello along with mic-ing every single member of the orchestra and the singer. As Clinton Hopper of NOVA Arts, who directed Soldier Songs told me, “Even the tiniest change in production values – electronics, lighting, timing – hugely affects the performance.” Thankfully, there were no tiny changes, and Clinton’s brilliant vision of this piece came to life.
Both Nova Arts Project and Opera Vista are immensely proud of this year’s festival. We had a number of international visitors for this competition, and they left Houston ready to make a trip back, so we are excited that Houston is becoming an international destination for new and interesting opera! – Viswa Subbaraman