If you snuck a look over the shoulder of Opera in the Heights’ new Principal Conductor Eiki Isomura, you would see scribbles of English text all over the score, front to back. Preparing for Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, which opens OH’s 20th anniversary season on Friday, Sept. 18, Isomura wanted to understand what drives each character over the course of the story—a savvy method for an opera with such a famously playful mise-en-abyme structure.
In the weeks before opening night, Isomura sits at the piano, playing and singing everything by himself. Next, he works with one singer at a time. “The singer will come with his or her own idea of how it will go, and I have my ideas, and without too much struggle you find a way that becomes intuitive for everybody,” Isomura says.
After stepping in halfway through last season as interim conductor for Clemenza di Tito, Isomura begins this season in the position of Principal Conductor. While he contributes to the artistic direction of the company as part of an artistic board, his primary responsibilities are limited to the music direction of a particular production.
“In the past OH has really focused on the top twenty hits, and I’m glad to see that for the first time we’re expanding the range to pre-Mozart and post-Puccini,” Isomura says. With Menotti’s chamber operas The Medium and The Telephone as well as Rossini’s hefty La Cenerentola slated for later this season, the lineup is ambitiously diverse.
After rumors that OH would be producing glorified student productions and chopped up chamber operas, Isomura hopes this season puts the gossip to rest. “We wanted to make a statement with the first production in that we are doing heavy-duty works,” Isomura says. “I wanted a really balanced season with something for everyone.”
Traditionally, Pagliacci begins with Tonio peaking his head around the curtain, breaking the barrier and whispering to the audience that the story they are about to see is true, with real rage and real tears.
“Our entire season revolves around what we consider to be the best thing about OH, and that’s the intimate setting of our venue,” Isomura says. The production uses the entire theatre to ensure a truly immersive experience for the audience. “We wanted to showcase the theater, especially in a piece that is the quintessential play-within-a-play, and Pagliacci was perfect for that.”
I Pagliacci, Sep 18, 24 & 26 at 7:30; Sep. 20 at 2. $15-67. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd., 713-861-5303, operaintheheights.org