show on the road

By Dennis Arrowsmith, HGOco Touring and Ensembles Manager

I recently heard that the two least popular music styles are rap and opera. I’d say it’s because each requires active listening. At an opera performance, there is a hefty amount of information coming at you from the stage. So how do we make opera less intimidating? I think part of the answer is, you have to get ‘em when they are young. We are fortunate at HGO to have one of the country’s best opera programs for young audiences. Opera to Go! tours 45-minute performances with full sets and costumes to schools, libraries, and community centers. We travel throughout the Houston area and beyond, reaching over 60,000 people annually. Often it is an audience’s first time to see an opera.

This season marks my 11th year of involvement with Opera to Go!, aka OTG. I’ve been privileged to perform in nine seasons, to direct three productions, and now to manage the ensemble. One thing the “co” in HGOco stands for is collaboration. As opera combines all the art forms, it is the essence of collaboration, which is also my favorite part of performing on stage. I'm always happiest when I am in an ensemble, a duet, etc. It's more fun to act with a person than a rock or a tree.  In my role as OTG manager, I get to collaborate with directors, designers, and the HGO production staff.

We work quite quickly in OTG, with a three-week rehearsal period followed by a 17-week tour consisting of more than 100 performances. This production schedule is nearly the converse of a main-stage opera at HGO, where they rehearse for two months and then perform five times. The timeless mantra “the show must go on” applies daily to OTG as the performers adjust to new venues and any number of calamities that beset live theater. Recently our bass suffered from appendicitis, so I stepped back into my performer shoes (and dress—one of the bass’s characters in the show is an unattractive princess) and subbed for two weeks of performances. Fortunately, I directed the show so I knew the part! If the soprano had fallen ill, it would have been a different story.

Often the kids send us adorable fan mail and drawings like the ones pictured from a recent performance of The Princess and the Pea at Black Elementary. We’re gearing up for our spring OTG tour, an exciting new bilingual production of The Barber of Seville. This adaptation transports the world-famous Figaro to 1840s Texas, where he helps translate for Almaviva the American and Rosina, newly arrived from Spain, as their love blossoms. The music scores are in the singers’ hands and the sets are under construction. Rehearsals start in January! We hope this Barber will really resonate with Houston kids and—who knows? We just might inspire the next batch of opera lovers.