I’ll just put this out there right away: I’ve never been what you’d call a huge opera fan.
Not that I haven’t indulged occasionally in the world of singers wearing hats with horns (that’s a JOKE!). But almost all of my forays have been at Houston’s Miller Outdoor Theatre, where it’s perhaps less daunting to take in a full-blown opera while sitting on the hill under the stars.
This weekend, though, I had the chance to hear some first-rate performers, and at a perhaps more fitting venue — the Rienzi house museum for European decorative arts in River Oaks, a place I’ve somehow never before managed to visit since it opened to the public in 1999.
The occasion was a recital performance by artists of the Houston Grand Opera Studio, the young artists program of one of the most renowned opera companies in the U.S., if not the world. And this recital wasn’t strictly speaking an opera performance — the program was comprised of songs written by Franz Schubert and Maurice Ravel (whom I can definitively state I’d heard of before) and Hugo Wolf and Carlisle Floyd (whom I can’t).
The setting for the performance, in the large, beautifully appointed parlor of the house, provided a perfect and intimate venue for the songs, which dealt with themes ranging from epic poetry and love to faded youth and fear of death to religious devotion.
At times, the setting was perhaps too intimate, particularly when baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. sang Floyd’s Pilgrimage (based on excerpts from the Book of Job and the Psalms) so forcefully the woman seated ahead of me put her hands over her ears.
But I’m not one to complain about the decibel level. The overall effect of the performance was wonderful, even for an untutored listener like myself.
And as Bradley Moore, who performed on piano as well as acted as emcee, pointed out, the multicultural nature of Houston was borne out by the performances. He noted in particular that Shéhérazade, about the wife of an Arabian king and including a song called “Asie,” was written by a French composer — and performed by an Iranian-born pianist and a South Korean-born singer.
And, of course, I took the occasion to look around a bit at Rienzi, a place I hope to return to soon for a more extensive visit.
Copyright © 2015 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.