Best of Houstonia

Fall Arts Preview 2013

Featuring a musical about an axe murderer, an opera about a golden ring, and a play about an imagined dialogue between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.

With Catherine Matusow, Kerry H., and Katharine Shilcutt By Michael Hardy September 30, 2013 Published in the October 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

A musical about an axe murderer, an opera about a golden ring, a play featuring an imagined dialogue between Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis, and the return of Beyoncé—if you have any lingering doubts about the vibrancy of the Houston arts scene, prepare to shed them in the 2013-2014 season. This is a town where the cultural opportunities are almost as unlimited as the options for enjoying them, and where an evening out can be as enjoyable as the art that occasions it. As long as you have the proper guide, of course. 

Choose a category below, or begin with our Opera preview, the beginning of the Ring cycle, and a few thoughts on standing ovations »

Opera Theater Classical Dance Concerts Reading & Books Visual Arts

{page break}




Tato Baeza / Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

The Ring Cycle

Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen—better known as the Ring Cycle—is arguably the most ambitious work of art ever created. Written over the course of 26 years, from 1848 to 1874, the work (Wagner called it a “music drama”) is composed of four separate operas, each roughly four hours in length, that together tell the story of the downfall of the gods and the rise of men. The Houston Grand Opera’s first-ever production of the epic will begin in the spring with Das Rheingold, the first opera in the cycle, and continue until the unveiling of Götterdämmerung in spring 2017. “It’s the most gigantic work of art for our medium ever written,” says HGO music director Patrick Summers. “The Ring is the artistic Super Bowl.” Houston Grand Opera, April 11–26

Opera Picks

Don Pasquale, Nov 15–24
Opera in the Heights
In Donizetti’s classic opera buffa, an elderly bachelor tries to cut his nephew out of his will by marrying and fathering an heir.

The Consul, Jan 23–26
Moores Opera Center
This operatic drama, with music and libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti, concerns a woman pursued by spies and bureaucrats. The work won the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award when it premiered on Broadway in 1950.

Don Giovanni, Jan 31–Feb 9
Opera in the Heights
Mozart’s great comic opera features the eponymous satyr engaging in sundry amatory hijinks before finally receiving the ultimate comeuppance. This masterpiece contains some of the greatest arias in the repertoire.

A Coffin in Egypt, March 14–21
Houston Grand Opera
Based on a play by Horton Foote and with music by Ricky Ian Gordon, this world premiere opera—commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and Opera Philadelphia—tells the story of Myrtle Bledsoe, the 90-year-old doyenne of Egypt, Texas.

Carmen, April 25–May 10
Houston Grand Opera
During his revolt against Wagner, Nietzsche controversially declared Bizet’s Carmen superior to the Ring Cycle. Decide for yourself this spring, when the HGO will be producing both.

How Do They Make the Singers Look So Old?

In the comic opera Patience, a Gilbert & Sullivan satire of 19th-century artistic affectation, Lady Jane is an aging, passed-over spinster who can’t stop talking about how ugly she is: “Silvered is the raven hair,” she sings in her big aria of the same name, “mottled the complexion fair.” What this means for Jules Wagener, the makeup artist charged with transforming a young mezzo-soprano named Sarah Lee into the haggard Jane, was basically: take everything you know as an artist, and do the opposite.

“You make their nostrils bigger; the nose tends to get broader. Oh, and red underneath the lash line just looks godawful.” Over the 30 minutes it took to transform Lee for a 2010 production at The Wortham Center, Wagener also added silver to her brows, and used highlights and shadows to create the illusion of a drape of skin over the eye. “Whenever you age people, they’re laughing and cursing you the whole time.” —K.H.

Next page: Theater previews, Freud’s Last Session and more »

{page break}




Freud’s Last Session

On September 3, 1939, following Hitler’s invasion of Poland, England and France declared war on Germany, triggering World War II. On that fateful day, a young professor walked into Sigmund Freud’s office in London—Freud had been forced to flee his native Vienna after the Anschluss—and struck up a conversation about God. That young professor was C.S. Lewis, future author of the Narnia series, and his conversation with Freud is the subject of a hit off-Broadway play by Mark St. Germain, based on a book by Harvard Medical School professor Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. Of course, the dialogue is entirely imagined—in real life Freud and Lewis never met—but the idea of a famous atheist (Freud) debating a famous Christian apologist (Lewis) has won over audiences across the country. Alley Theatre, Jan 29–Feb 23

Theater Picks

Marie and Bruce, Nov 22–Dec 14
Catastrophic Theatre
In celebration of their 20-year collaboration, Catastrophic Theatre’s Jason Nodler and Tamarie Cooper reprise their roles in Wallace Shawn’s 1978 comedy about a failed marriage.

Other Desert Cities, Jan 15–Feb 2
Alley Theatre
In Jon Robin Baitz’s critically acclaimed 2011 Broadway hit, a family’s attempt to reconcile with an estranged daughter collapses when the daughter reveals that she’s writing a memoir about her childhood.

The Meeting, Jan 30–Feb 23
Ensemble Theatre
What if Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had met for more than a brief moment? An imagined conversation between the two men is the subject of this drama by playwright Jeff Stetson.

Gidion’s Knot, March 12–April 6
Stages Repertory Theatre
Like God of Carnage, Johnna Adams’s intense drama examines the fallout from a childhood infraction, with the mother of the offending boy staging a fiery confrontation with his teacher.

Time Stands Still, March 27–April 19
Main Street Theater
In this Tony-nominated play by Donald Margulies, a photojournalist who has been wounded in the Iraq War struggles to resume life with her husband in present-day Brooklyn.

Notes from Underground

When it was founded in 1968, Theatre Under the Stars was an innovative experiment in bringing cutting-edge musicals to Houston. Since then, TUTS has made sure Houston sees some of the biggest Broadway productions—this year’s lineup includes Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Elf, and Evita—but its cutting edge is a little dull. That’s where TUTS Underground comes in. Announced earlier this year, the program aims to revitalize Houston’s musical theater scene by bringing in edgier productions that appeal to a younger audience. Kicking off its first season is the musical Lizzie, based on notorious 19th-century axe murderer Lizzie Borden (Oct 10–20). Then comes 50 Shade$! The Musical, a spoof of the 50 Shades of Grey books (Dec 17–22), and Hands on a Hardbody, which had a brief Broadway run earlier this year and is based on a 1997 documentary film about a contest to win a hardbody pick-up truck (June 12–24). All performances will be held in the Hobby Center’s 500-seat Zilkha Hall, and ticket prices will range from $24 to 49. After the show, audiences can relax at a wine and beer garden set up in the Hobby Center lobby. In case, that is, they need a drink to take the edge off. 

Next page: Classical music, including appearances by Yo-Yo Ma and John Williams »

{page break}




Courtesy of Mercury

Napoleon and the Battle of Nations

On October 1806, Napoleon marched into the German city of Leipzig at the head of the French army, beginning a seven-year occupation that finally ended with Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle of Nations. To mark the battle’s 200th anniversary, Mercury has programed a concert of pieces that were actually performed in occupied Leipzig. The music reflects the city’s changing attitudes toward the protracted occupation, from initial euphoria at Napoleon’s arrival (captured in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture) to eventual anger (as heard in little-known Italian composer Ferdinando Paer’s opera Leonora). “At first, when Napoleon got to Leipzig, the people were quite excited about it,” says Mercury musical director Antoine Plante. “As times go on, you can see that things get a little darker in the concert hall.” Mercury, Nov 21 & 23

Classical Picks

Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble, Nov 7
Houston Friends of Chamber Music
Founded by Sir Neville Marriner, London’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields is one of the world’s top orchestras; its chamber ensemble specializes in performing octets, sextets, and other large ensemble pieces.

Requiem for a President, Nov 9
Houston Chamber Choir
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the Houston Chamber Choir performs three mournful works, including Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma, Dec 5
Houston Symphony
Longtime friends John Williams and Yo-Yo Ma join forces to perform Williams’s Cello Concerto, as well as selections from some of his famous film scores.

Adams Conducts Adams, Jan 31–Feb 2
Houston Symphony
American composer John Adams may be best known for his operas (Nixon in China, Doctor Atomic), but he’s also written much orchestral music. Here, he conducts selections from his own works, as well as pieces by Copland and Korngold.

Handel’s Susanna, March 29 & 30
Ars Lyrica
Astonishingly, this Handel oratorio, based on the Old Testament story of Susanna and the Elders, has never been performed in Texas.

The Best Seat in the House

Mark Hanson, executive director/CEO of the Houston Symphony:

“My favorite row in Jones Hall is row M on the orchestra floor. It’s the row immediately behind the cross aisle. I love it because there’s maximum legroom—I’m six-foot-three—and it has very easy access to and from the lobby, because you never know when something’s going to come up that might require my attention.”

Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of the Houston Grand Opera:

“One of the anomalies of lots of opera houses is that the greatest sound is not where you can see the best. When I listen to productions at HGO when I’m not conducting, I will often go up to the back of [the Wortham Theater Center’s Brown Theater]—all the way to the top—because the sound is so beautiful. The sound is better the higher up you go, because sound travels up. 

Charles Ward, former Houston Chronicle classical music critic

“There’s only one acoustically problematic hall in Houston, and that’s Jones Hall. Back in the ’60s, acousticians thought they understood sound, and experimented with different shapes for the halls. In the 1990s major renovations were done, so it’s much better than it was. Most of the new concert halls—the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall, the U. H. Moores Opera House, and Rice’s Stude Concert Hall—have learned from the acoustical mistakes of the past.”

Next page: upcoming Dance performances, plus where to eat or drink after the show »

{page break}




Dancers A. Gonzalez & Currey Duffy; Courtesy of Houston Ballet

The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra

Benjamin Britten wrote The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in 1946 for an educational film. Much to the English composer’s surprise, the piece became one of his most famous works, initiating countless listeners into the joys of classical music. (It was even featured in Wes Anderson’s recent film Moonrise Kingdom.) Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch, who remembers listening to the piece as a child growing up in Australia, relished the opportunity to choreograph a dance to it. “It’s actually similar to how we structure a ballet, in that we also have groups, like woodwinds and brass and string and percussion. I love the idea that when you see the groups dance together, they’re like an orchestra.” Houston Ballet, March 6–16

Dance Picks

Shanghai Ballet, Nov 5
Society for the Performing Arts
Founded in 1966, the Shanghai Ballet performs its signature work, The Butterfly Lovers, a four-act ballet that combines Chinese- and Western-style dancing.

Mark Morris Dance Group, Jan 31–Feb 1
Society for the Performing Arts
Called “one of the greatest living choreographers” by The New Yorker, Mark Morris and his company have been presenting cutting-edge dance for over 30 years. Their Houston show features work from the company’s extensive repertoire.

Aladdin, Feb 20–March 2
Houston Ballet
This is the American premiere of English choreographer David Bintley’s full-length ballet, which was created for the New National Ballet of Japan and features an original score by Carl Davis.

Swan Lake, June 5–15
Houston Ballet
The story and the Tchaikovsky score are familiar to ballet lovers (and viewers of Black Swan), but artistic director Stanton Welch adds his signature choreography to make everything old new again.

Dancing For All Ages

Founded in 1997 by Jane Weiner, Hope Stone, Inc. is a pillar of the Houston cultural scene. Although best known as a dance company, it offers classes in theater, music, photography, yoga, and, of course, dance. For children whose families can’t afford tuition, Hope Stone offers generous scholarships. “Dance belongs in every child’s life,” Weiner says. “It makes children grow up better, faster, stronger, and more aware.” Hope Stone’s professional dance company presents five productions this year, including a season finale featuring the Hope Stone Kids Ensemble.

Next page: Concerts—this fall’s hottest shows, from Drake to Dwight Yoakum »

{page break}




Westbrook / Courtesy of Neutral Milk Hotel

Neutral Milk Hotel

Jeff Mangum is the J.D. Salinger of indie music. Born in the small town of Ruston, Louisiana, Mangum was one of the members of the experimental Elephant 6 music collective, later founding the band Neutral Milk Hotel with several other members of the group. In 1998, the band released In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, a gorgeous psychedelic concept album that ranges in tone from confessional ballads to lush, orchestrated power jams. named it the fourth greatest album of the 1990s. But just as the band was poised to break out, Mangum disappeared amid rumors of a nervous breakdown. He finally returned to solo performing over the last decade, but Neutral Milk Hotel seemed dead—until now. Fifteen years after their last show, the band is reuniting for a fall tour, including a can’t-miss date in Houston. Warehouse Live, Feb 19

Concert Picks

Drake, Nov 13
Toyota Center
Despite an inauspicious start as a child actor on the Canadian television show Degrassi: The Next Generation, Drake has clawed his way to the top of the rap game with a laid-back flow and easy charisma.

Justin Timberlake, Dec 5
Toyota Center
Grab your suit and tie: Timberlake is on his first world tour in six years, this one to promote his latest album, The 20/20 Experience.

James McMurtry, Dec 6
McGonigel’s Mucky Duck
Although he’ll always be known to some people as Larry McMurtry’s son, James has long since carved out an identity for himself as one of the country’s greatest singer-songwriters.

Beyoncé, Dec 10
Toyota Center
Coming on the heels of her sold-out performance this summer, Beyoncé returns to her native city. We just can’t get enough of you, Bey.

Dwight Yoakam, Dec 20
Arena Theater
Yoakam has the greatest voice in contemporary country music, a drawling Kentucky twang that makes you pay attention to just about anything he sings. His brilliant songwriting is just a bonus.

How Do I Book a Band For My Private Party?

Back in the 1970s, when Rockefeller’s was one of Houston’s hottest music clubs, owner Susan Criner and her husband Sanford hosted acts like Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Ray Charles, and Bonnie Raitt. One night at the club, a man approached Criner and asked whether he could book The Four Tops for his daughter’s debutante party. Criner thought about it for a minute. “Sure,” she said. Rockefeller’s is now a banquet hall that can be rented out for special occasions, but Criner is still in the music business. For the past 40 years, her company, Gulf Coast Entertainment, has been the premier booking agent for private parties in Houston—weddings, bar mitzvahs, corporate events, or any other occasion calling for musical entertainment. 

Gulf Coast Entertainment provides the music for about 10 events each week. In addition to pretty much every band that has ever called Houston home, Criner has booked national touring acts from Al Green to the Village People. Prices range from $150/hour for a solo performer, to tens of thousands for big orchestras, to high-six-figure fees for entertainers like Jerry Seinfeld. If you want somebody that famous for your private event, Criner recommends booking at least nine months in advance (even earlier if you need a specific date). As for local acts, Criner says the most requested at the moment are Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters, Eclipse, and Commercial Art. 

Some bands refuse to play private events. “They recognize that in a situation like that people are often present who aren’t expecting to see the entertainment, and don’t care about it that much,” Criner says. “But that’s a slim minority—most are only too happy to accept the money.” —M.H.

{page break}

Next page: See which authors are coming to town in our Readings & Books preview »


Readings & Books


Peter Smith / Courtesy of Anne Carson


Anne Carson

Anne Carson is a nonpareil in the Republic of Letters. A poet, essayist, translator, classicist, and scholar, Carson made her reputation in the 1990s with two volumes of achingly sharp verse: Plainwater and Glass, Irony, and God. Since then, she has published translations of Sappho, Euripides, and other ancient Greek poets, burnishing her reputation as one of the most erudite writers of her generation, as well as one of the most inventive—Carson enjoys breathing life into dead genres like the verse essay and the verse novel. She comes to Houston as part of Inprint’s Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. April 28

Readings & Books Picks

Lester Brown, Oct 6
Progressive Forum
In the 1960s, Brown began publishing studies warning of world food shortages, quickly establishing a reputation as one of the world’s foremost environmentalists. He will read from his new autobiography, Breaking New Ground: A Personal History.

Terry McMillan, Oct 9
Brazos Bookstore
McMillan grabbed national attention with her third novel, Waiting to Exhale, then followed it up with 1996’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back (both were later made into films). She’ll read from her new novel Who Asked You?

Stephen Jimenez, Nov 14
Brazos Bookstore
The product of a 13-year investigation into the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, Jimenez’s The Book of Matt argues that Shepard wasn’t killed for being gay.

Barry Scheck, Nov 18
Progressive Forum
Although he became famous for serving on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, Scheck has since made a name for himself as a co-founder of the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to exonerate wrongly convicted death row inmates. Co-presented by the Texas Innocence Network.

George Saunders, Jan 27
A satirist, a humorist, and an acute social critic, short story writer George Saunders is the closest thing today’s literary world has to a Donald Barthelme.

Confessions of an Ex–Book Clubber

Many years ago, when I started a book club with a teacher friend, I believed there were two reasons it would be worthwhile. One, we’d come together with likeminded women to discuss literature, honing our intellects and keeping up with the best of the New York Times bestseller list. Two, we’d have the monthly opportunity to eat great quantities of chips and dips, washed down by great gulps of Chardonnay. 

So it happened that several teachers, a librarian, a surgeon, a scientist, some stay-at-home moms, and I would get together at someone’s house each month to discuss a book—sometimes for more than a few minutes—and catch up. For a few years, this setup worked beautifully. 

Then, one day, the club imploded. Bizarrely, two factions simultaneously decided to break away and form their own groups. One camp fancied themselves the intellectuals—they wanted more serious discussion and, presumably, less wine. The other’s guiding principle was not to judge members who hadn’t read the book (this was the one I was invited to join). 

It was at that moment that I realized something about myself. For me—no longer in school, working a full-time job—the time I spent reading was intensely personal. Wanting to read whatever struck my fancy and whenever I felt like it, I’d come to resent feeling obligated to my book club. I decided not to join the fun faction.

I went back to reading for my own private pleasure and never regretted it. As for snacks and wine—those are still better enjoyed with a friend. —Catherine Matusow

{page break}

Next page: our Visual Arts picks, gallery shows and exhibits »




John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark, oil paint, 1778, National Gallery of Art

American Adversaries: West and Copley in a Transatlantic World

Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley were born in colonial America in the same year, 1738, and both became acclaimed painters, but that’s where their similarities end. West moved to London in his twenties and never returned, eventually becoming an official painter at the court of King George III and later the second president of the Royal Academy. Copley, on the other hand, grew up on Boston’s Long Wharf and rose to become New England’s most successful portrait painter. This exhibition is the first to examine West and Copley side by side, and includes one of Copley’s best-known works, “Watson and the Shark,” together with a version of West’s magnum opus, “The Death of General Wolfe.” MFAH, Oct 6–Jan 20

Visual Arts Picks

Nice. Luc Tuymans, Sep 27–Jan 5
Menil Collection
Belgian artist and provocateur Luc Tuyman paints seemingly banal scenes that often have subtle political undertones. This exhibition features around 30 works spanning the painter’s career, from 1978 to 2011.

Art in the Park, Jan–March 2014
Hermann Park
To celebrate its centennial, Hermann Park is commissioning and hosting a series of art installations throughout the year, with works on view including pieces by Patrick Dougherty, Trenton Doyle Hancock, and Orly Genger.

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938, Feb 14–June 1
Memories of a Voyage: The Late Work of René Magritte, Feb 14–July 13
Menil Collection
The Menil Collection holds the world’s largest privately assembled Magritte collection, so it makes sense that it would host these simultaneous exhibitions, the first focusing on the beginning of the French painter’s career, the second on Magritte’s late works.

RedBall Project, March 2014
A giant red rubber ball suddenly begins to appear in various locations around major urban areas. That’s the premise of New York artist Kurt Perschke’s RedBall Project, which has already travelled to Abu Dhabi, England, and Taiwan, and comes to Houston this March.

FotoFest 2014 Biennial, March 15–April 27
Multiple locations
The 15th FotoFest Biennial will focus on Contemporary Arab Photographic Art, featuring the work of 40 Arab photographers and video and multimedia artists.

What Else Is Going on in Texas?

Texas Biennial, Thru Nov 9
Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum (San Antonio)

México Inside Out: Themes in Art Since 1990, Thru Jan 5
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, Noguchi, and Picasso, 1943–1963, Thru Jan 19
Nasher Sculpture Center (Dallas)

Imperial Augsburg: Renaissance Prints and Drawings, 1475–1540, Oct 5–Jan 5
Blanton Museum of Art (Austin)

The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from the Art Institute of Chicago, Oct 6–Feb 16
Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth)

Robert Smithson in Texas, Nov 24–April 27
Dallas Museum of Art