The opera will run for two nights only, Mar. 5 and Mar. 6, at the Wortham Center
Houston – February 12, 2020 — Houston Grand Opera (HGO) presents its 68th world premiere Marian’s Song, composed by Damien Sneed to a libretto by Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton, Houston’s poet laureate emeritus. The opera will run for two nights only, March 5 and 6 in the Cullen Theater of the Wortham Theater Center, both at 7 p.m.
The opera is based on the life of Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated singers of the 20th century, who broke racial barriers throughout her storied career. The world premiere is an innovative fusion of opera, spoken word, and multimedia projections to bring to life the incredible story of Marian Anderson. The cast includes HGO Studio Alumna Zoie Reams as Marian Anderson, Tina B as Neveah, current Studio artist Nicholas Newton as Billy King, and Cynthia Clayton as Eleanor Roosevelt/Mrs. Roberts. Dennis Whitehead Darling is the director.
“Bringing Anderson’s story to the forefront of our minds was necessary for me. To see a singer of such grace and humility navigate the harsh world around her, gives hope, for our generation, that we can too be unstoppable and make change,” comments Mouton.
“It is an honor to be commissioned by Houston Grand Opera to compose an opera about the life of one of the greatest African American artists ever. And working with the librettist Deborah Mouton has been an exciting journey. My prayer is that this work would live on for many years to come,” said Sneed.
Born in 1897, Anderson was a singer of classical music and spirituals from an early age and was later deemed one of the finest contraltos of her time. She broke racial barriers for African American artists throughout her career,
becoming the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955. Her performance as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Met was the only time she sang an opera role on stage. Anderson was exceptionally popular in Europe, and among her myriad honors and awards were the National Medal of Arts in 1986 and the U.S. music industry’s Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991.
“Opera, like all art forms, has always been a product of its time and the beautiful way that Damien and Deborah bring contemporary relevance to this important story by weaving spoken word with traditional classical music and well-known spirituals is remarkable,” says Carleen Graham, director of HGOco, the company’s community and learning initiative. “We are thrilled to premiere this important work that will share Ms. Anderson’s story with a whole new generation.”
Houston Grand Opera is one of the largest, most innovative, and most highly acclaimed opera companies in the United States. In fulfilling its mission to advance the operatic art to serve an ever-evolving audience, HGO leads the field in commissioning new works (67 world premieres to date) and in training and nurturing promising young artists and administrators.
The company contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO’s pioneering community engagement initiative, HGOco, has served as a model for other arts organizations.
Tickets for Marian’s Song range from $15 – $50 and are on sale now at houstongrandopera.org/marian
About the Creative Team and Cast
Damien Sneed, Composer
Damien Sneed was previously part of HGOco as Music Director and Composer-in-Residence and served as cover conductor for HGO mainstage productions under Patrick Summers, HGO’s Artistic and Music Director, for the 2018 – 2019 season. He is also a multi-genre recording artist and a 2014 recipient of the prestigious Sphinx Medal of Excellence honor, which is presented annually to emerging Black and Latino leaders in classical music. Sneed has performed with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, the Minneapolis Symphony, Darin Atwater and Soulful Symphony, Opera Ebony and Opera Noire, and collaborated with award-winning opera singer Jessye Norman on several performances. He arranged three spirituals, chosen by Norman in honor of President Abraham Lincoln, and accompanied her in the performance of them at the Grand Reopening of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. on February 11, 2009. An arranger and conductor for several choral groups and orchestras, Sneed was featured during the February 2016 inaugural Black History Month Festival of Opera Noire at the National Opera Center as a composer, arranger and pianist.
Deborah D.E.E.P Mouton, Librettist
Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton an internationally known poet, singer, actress, and photographer, and the first Black Poet Laureate for the City of Houston. Heralded as a “Literary Genius” by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, this California native was formerly ranked the #2 Best female Poet in the World. D.E.E.P. has established herself as a notable force in the Performance and Literary World. She published her first collection of poetry at the tender age of 19. From there, she went onto compete at CUPSI as a member of the 2004 University of Michigan Slam Team while simultaneously touring with the WordWorks Poetry Troupe across the Midwest. After falling in love with the national poetry scene, she moved to Houston and became a member of the 2007 Houston Poetry Slam Team. After this experience, she, and a few friends, established a new voice for the city of Houston, forming the H-Town slam team (which now operates as the Houston VIP Slam Team). She released her first full-length album in 2009 titled “The Unfinished Work of a Genius”. It is a collection of original songs and poems that explore ideas around spirituality and personal growth. Her sophomore album, “Beautiful Rebellion” is available now.
Dennis Whitehead Darling, Director
San Antonio native Dennis Whitehead Darling is a stage director in both theater and opera. Directing credits include: Movin’ Up in the World (Opera Memphis), Sunset Baby (Hattiloo Theatre), James and the Giant Peach (Circuit Playhouse), Blue Viola (Opera Memphis), Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting (Hattiloo Theatre), Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet (Hattiloo Theatre). Upcoming projects include: Jack the Ripper (English National Opera – London), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Spazio-Teatro NO’HMA – Milan), The Parchment Hour (Hattiloo Theatre), Jelly’s Last Jam (Hattiloo Theatre). Associate/assistant directing credits: Skeleton Crew (Geffen Playhouse), Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole (People’s Light), Triumph of Honor (Opera Memphis). Dennis has been named Opera Memphis’ first McCleave Fellow in Directing. He received a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre and an M.A. in Theatre Arts from Texas State University and an M.F.A. in directing from the University of Memphis.
FA – Musical Theatre, Texas State University
Zoie Reams as Marian Anderson
Zoie Reams won second prize in HGO’s 2016 Eleanor McCollum Competition Concert of Arias. Her roles at HGO include Rosalia in West Side Story, Third Maidservant in Elektra, Flora Bervoix in La traviata, Third Secretary in Nixon in China, the alto Winged Angel in the world premiere of It’s a Wonderful Life, and Cece in the HGOco world premiere of Some Light Emerges. She won first place in the Emerging Artist category of the 2015 Classical Singer competition and second place in the Gulf Coast Region in the 2016 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Past roles include Béatrice in Béatrice et Bénédict, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and Katisha in The Mikado. She performed Tituba in The Crucible with Glimmerglass Festival Opera and Clarice in Rossini’s La pietra del paragone with Wolf Trap Opera.
Tina B as Neveah
A native of Brooklyn, New York, and a self-defined “street-kid,” Tina B began singing before she learned to walk. At age 11 she formed her first band. After college, Tina met producer Arthur Baker, and became involved in his projects, both as a vocalist and as a songwriter. Her recording debut was with Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy Five on “Jazzy Sensation.” Tina’s first big break came with Rockers Revenge, a Baker-produced dance group. Their first single, a remake of Eddy Grant’s “Walkin’ on Sunshine,” went to #1 on Billboard’s dance chart and went platinum in England. She was signed by Elektra Records and her first solo album, Tina B, produced the underground hip-hop classic “Honey to a Bee.” As a pop star, Tina worked with Tommy Mottola, Rick Newman and Russell Simmons, along with performers including Madonna, Steven Van Zandt, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, U2, Jeff Beck and more. She started her opera studies in New York City in the mid-90’s with Maestro Vincent La Selva of the New York Grand Opera Company, performing in workshop performances of Puccini’s La boheme (as both Mimi and Musetta) and Verdi’s La Traviata (as Violetta).
Nicholas Newton as Billy King
A San Diego native, Nicholas Newton has pursued his passion for singing through gospel, jazz, musical theater, and Opera. Notable performances include the roles of Count Ceprano in Rigoletto and Capulet (cover) in Roméo et Juliette
with Wolf Trap Opera, and L’arbre and Le fauteuil in L’enfant et les sortilèges at Aspen Music Festival under the baton of Robert Spano. Newton was a winner at the 2018 San Diego District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the first-place winner of the 2018 Virginia & Susan Hawk Competition; he has won top prize in voice three years in a row at the Musical Merit Foundation Scholarship Auditions. For HGO, he sang the role of Monterone in Rigoletto and will sing Second Soldier in Salome in April.
Cynthia Clayton as Eleanor Roosevelt/Mrs. Roberts
American soprano and University of Houston professor of voice, Cynthia Clayton is an audience favorite in opera houses throughout the United States and overseas for her critically acclaimed performances, including Puccini heroines Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Mimi, Musetta, Liù, and Madama Butterfly and Mozart heroines Donna Anna, Donna
Elvira, Pamina, Countess Almaviva, and Fiordiligi. She has bowed in leading roles at New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, San Diego Opera, Utah Opera, Cleveland Opera, Opéra en Plein Air (Belgium), Opera Santa Barbara, Intermountain Opera, Festival Opera of Walnut Creek, and Opera San José, where she was a Principal Artist in Residence for four seasons.
About Houston Grand Opera
Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is one of the largest, most innovative, and most highly acclaimed opera companies in the United States. HGO is the only American finalist for Opera Company of the Year in the 2019 International Opera Awards. In fulfilling its mission to advance the operatic art to serve an ever-evolving audience, HGO has led the field in commissioning new works (67 world premieres to date) and in training and nurturing promising young artists and administrators. The company contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO’s pioneering community engagement initiative, HGOco, has served as a model for other arts organizations.
The NEXUS Initiative is HGO’s multi-year ticket underwriting program that allows Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy opera without the barrier of price. Since 2007, NEXUS has enabled more than 250,000 Houstonians to experience superlative opera through discounted single tickets and subscriptions, subsidized student performances, and free productions.
HGO has toured extensively and has won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and three Emmy awards. It is the only opera company to win all three honors.