The Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts (KGMCA) proudly welcomes Alan E. Hicks to the Moores School of Music (MSM) this fall. Hicks is a musical Jack-of-all-trades with over two decades of professional opera experience — both onstage and backstage. Originally from Mississippi, he’s worked with performing arts companies in major cities across the U.S., including the New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, Minnesota Opera and, most recently, Lyric Opera of Chicago. He joins the Moores Opera Center (MOC) as the associate producer, stage director and instructional assistant professor, working alongside MOC director Buck Ross to bring innovative opera to life at the University of Houston.
Hicks is gearing up for the premiere of his first UH production, “L’amico Fritz,” which opens January 26 and runs in repertory with “The School for Scandal.” Learn about the shows, his teaching philosophy and why he’s thrilled to be back in Houston below!
As the Moores Opera Center’s associate producer and stage director, what does a typical day look like?
I typically arrive early, make myself an espresso, sit down at my desk and put on my producer hat for a few hours — ordering costumes and wigs, ordering scores, dealing with programs and organizing student tech hours. I’ll also spend time working on my shows — studying the score, working on projections, looking over set and costume designs and making props lists. On Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, I go into rehearsal around 2 p.m. and spend a few hours working with the singers on staging. Next semester, I’ll add teaching an advanced acting class to that list on Mondays and Wednesdays.
I also manage our social media accounts and keep our website up-to-date. (Follow the Moores Opera Center on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!) We are trying to improve our social media presence in order to promote the Moores Opera Center and get the word out about what we do here. For example, right now, I’m working on a video web series about “The School for Scandal,” combining student-shot rehearsal footage with composer and librettist interviews. We will begin publishing these on social media in the coming weeks leading up to the world premiere in January.
What’s your vision for the Moores School of Music opera program?
When I arrived at UH, one of the first things I talked to Buck about was making sure our students have an audience. Getting roles and being onstage is important, of course, but so too is a full and lively audience for each performance. One of the most important changes we made this semester was a renewed focus on social media and the content we publish on those accounts. We’re now using it to promote performances and show the public some of what goes on behind the scenes.
Many opera companies and university programs are suffering from an aging audience — as the audience gets older, younger patrons are not replacing them. So we want to make sure that we’re connecting with a new generation of operagoers as well as our traditional audience. We have to offer the audience a unique experience, one that they can’t get staring at their phones. Don’t get me wrong, I love my phone as much as the next guy, but there is nothing like live theatre and we want more people to experience that.
Next month, the Moores Opera Center is producing both “The School for Scandal” — with libretto by our opera director Buck Ross — and “L’amico Fritz.” What should the audience expect from these two pieces?
“The School for Scandal” is a world premiere written by Buck and Professor Emeritus Robert Nelson, so our students are creating their roles, which is a somewhat rare opportunity for an opera singer. It’s a high-octane comedy set in the 18th century (replete with powdered wigs). “L’amico Fritz,” on the other hand, is set in the 1890s in the French countryside with a love story that is both romantic and dramatic. If you’re a fan of Puccini, Leoncavallo or any of the verismo composers, you’ll find the music irresistible and the story utterly charming.
They’re a really nice counterbalance to one another. One’s a big, bold, funny farce and one’s a traditional love story, so if you come to both nights, you’ll get to have two totally different experiences.
Now that you’ve been here for a full semester, what do you think is special about what the Moores School of Music offers to students?
This school should be on every singer’s list for many reasons. One, there are a lot of performance opportunities here. We are always looking for ways to get more students involved and to provide more hands-on experience. We do four shows every [academic] year, plus a sort of “cabaret” at The Mucky Duck to kick off the season. We even added a fifth show this year to get more people involved. There are very few university programs that provide this much opportunity. Two, the faculty is extraordinary. Students get good instruction, time on stage, acting classes and hands-on experience with technical theatre. And three, Houston is a great arts town with a world-class ballet, a world-class symphony and a world-class opera. This comes as a surprise to a lot of non-Houstonians.
What are you looking forward to next semester?
I’m really looking forward to teaching the advanced acting class. Acting has reemerged in the past few decades as an important skill for singers and productions are more and more theatrically demanding. As a teacher, I try to take what I’ve learned in the profession and bring it into the classroom. I was fortunate enough to sing professionally, work as a stage director and run my own young artist program. My hope is that I can share my experiences with my students and give them practical insight into the performance world. I want to be able to offer sound advice based on real-world knowledge when someone comes to me and says, “‘I’m thinking of becoming a director (or a professional singer, or a voice teacher at a university). What do you think my next step should be?”“The School of Scandal” runs from January 25 – 29 and “L’amico Fritz” runs January 26 – 28. See all the showtimes and get tickets at http://www.uh.edu/kgmca/music/opera/.