For the seventh year in a row, the National Opera Association (NOA) recognized the University of Houston’s Moores Opera Center with awards for outstanding opera productions. This year, UH won two awards: one for “The Inspector,” a quirky, high-spirited opera, and the other for the beloved tale of star-crossed lovers, “Romeo and Juliet.”
“The Inspector,” created by American composer John Musto and librettist Mark Campbell, is set in a small, Mussolini-era Italian village full of shady characters, including an illiterate director of education, sadistic chief of police and corrupt director of health. When the Mayor gets word that a mysterious inspector will be visiting their town incognito, the townspeople are thrown into a frenzy trying to clean up their acts. Inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s political satire “The Government Inspector,” Musto and Campbell’s opera premiered at Wolf Trap in 2011 to glowing acclaim.
Andrew Gilstrap (M.M. vocal performance ’18), who played the lead role of Mayor Fazzobaldi, describes the opera as a laugh-out-loud breath of fresh air. “For those who think opera is just a fat lady with horns warbling until a glass breaks, this show [is] a delightful shock.”
Charles Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet,” sung in French with libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, offered an elegant counterbalance to the season. Despite the tragic ending, the UH production offered moments of levity with sparkling sets and high-energy scenes. For example, the production opens with the ball where Romeo and Juliet first meet. “There’s so much excitement [at the ball],” says Amanda Levy (M.M. vocal performance ’18), who played the coveted role of Juliet. “The chorus is giving so much energy and a lot of characters get to introduce themselves in this exciting environment. It’s a big spectacle.”
Each season, the Moores Opera Center produces four operas — a staggering number compared to other universities, which typically produce one per academic year. Though a full season in a massive undertaking, Moores Opera Center Director Buck Ross and Associate Producer Alan E. Hicks are ready to do the hard work.
“We are always looking for ways to get more students involved and to provide more hands-on experience,” says Hicks. He and Ross also make a point to balance traditional operas with cutting-edge new works, so their students can build a well-rounded repertoire.
UH will be presented with the awards at the 2018 NOA Convention in New Orleans, Louisiana from January 3 – 7.