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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Life + Arts

Small sensation: Student patrons get involved in local opera through volunteer roles, classes

Closing out its 13th season, the Opera in the Heights’ grassroots productions appeal to theatergoers who love quality performances and casual atmosphere.

Since 1996, the organization has eschewed the more formal settings of traditional opera houses by keeping its venue, style and arrangements casual and comfortable.

‘The great thing about this opera is it’s much more informal,’ Bill Haase, chairman and acting/managing director of Oh! (Opera in the Heights’ less-formal moniker), said. ‘You’re very close to the action, and you feel the emotion.’

The shows put on by Oh! are usually performed in their original foreign languages, but English subtitles accompany the action to facilitate understanding for those who may be new to opera.

According to Oh!’s Web site, ‘Lambert Hall, seating 316 (people), is both intimate and welcoming. The small hall is also not formal or stuffy or threatening.’ We’re truly proud of the ‘thank you’ letters we receive from students.’

As a show of gratitude to its student patrons, Oh! makes several programs available that coincide with its other shows.’

The Opera hosts Boeing Student Nights, which allow people to attend dress rehearsals free of charge with reservations. Those who attend the rehearsals receive a more hands-on interaction with the show, the orchestra and all the work behind its final presentation.

Those partaking in Boeing Student Nights are encouraged to spread the word, ‘come see (the) opera being made, Tweet the opera, take photos and add them to (the) flickr page,’ according to the Oh! Web site.

Haase said there are volunteer opportunities at Oh! including roles as dressers, ushers, concessions workers, office help and more.

‘(Students) can even register for a walk-on part for an opera (at the rehearsals). They’re welcome to take photographs, which you can’t do during the shows,’ Haase said.

Oh! also holds master classes geared toward curious students who will get the opportunity to learn directly from the opera singers.

‘The singers are all what we call ’emerging artists’ – they’re young and closer in age to students, which makes it easier to relate, we think,’ Haase said.

Operas such as Giacomo Puccini’s La Boh’egrave;me and Jules Massenet’s Manon, which Oh! is currently running, are performed for both theater gurus and fledgling opera-goers alike. According to the Oh! Web site, the venue has been operating at 95 percent capacity with the current bill of productions.

‘In terms of ticket sales, Carmen (was the most successful) a few years back,’ Haase said.

As the person in charge of business decisions for the organization, Haase said it’s important to keep selling tickets to preserve the future of Oh!

‘For the future, the No. 1 thing is to keep on going and selling tickets, and in this economy that’s difficult,’ Haase said. ‘The best way to explain the funding is a third comes from ticket revenue, a third is from foundations (and) a third is from individual donations and fundraising galas.’

Haase said the motive has always been to provide a stage for upcoming artists at an affordable cost while using sets and props designed by local talent.

‘(We) started in 1996, and since then we expanded the number of shows and number of productions,’ Haase said. ‘Five or six years ago, we started auditioning in New York City and Houston.’

By keeping updated Facebook and Flickr pages, Oh! is able to drum up publicity among younger patrons. Haase stressed the importance of not altering the Opera’s original vision of an intimate venue for both experienced and inexperienced opera guests, no matter what.

‘We’re not looking to hire fancier singers, not looking to move to a larger venue,’ Haase said. ‘We’re not looking to compete with Houston Grand Opera, for example.’

The four operas on this season’s bill are Giacomo Puccini and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Il Tabarro/Pagliacci, Manon, Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera and La Boh’egrave;me. Each title warrants six regular shows, eight special performances and eight Boeing Student Night dress rehearsals.

‘The No. 2 thing (to focus on in the future) is to build an audience and keep building (on the number of) productions,’ Haase said.

Manon, showing at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday, boasts a graceful love story relative to people in all walks of life.

‘(Manon) transport(s) the audience from the suburbs of Paris to the elegant salons of the city of lights. Desire, lust and yearning portrayed in the French manner (in the play),’ artistic director William Weibel said.

Rehearsals for Boeing Student Nights begin at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays prior to opening nights.

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