American composer Carlisle Floyd is about to launch a bold world premiere at Houston Grand Opera. Regaling the radical turn theater took in the 17th century when Charles II decreed women could take the stage, Prince of Players is a chamber opera that tells both sides of the gender-riddled story.
Based on play, Compleat Female Stage Beauty, and directed here by Michael Gieleta, the Jeffrey Hatcher’s story opens with renowned English actor Edward Kynaston bringing down the house as Shakespeare’s Desdemona. Kynaston was perhaps the most famous of the last “boy players” from the Restoration-era, so adept at slipping through genders that characters doubt whether he is a man at all.
But there is one woman who counts on his masculinity. His dresser Margaret Hughes, otherwise known as Peg, is in love with Kynaston—a turn in the richly androgynous tale of fluctuating gender. Gender aside, it’s complicated: Kynaston is about to get banned from playing women’s roles, and Peg is secretly gunning to take his place.
Armenian soprano Mane Galoyan, who sings the role of Margaret, says her character faces a problem women still come up against today.
“All those feelings of ambition and love are fighting in her, and I think she wants to have both,” Galoyan says. “I think it’s very common for now too—all artists want love and a big career.”
Prince of Players is a story about love as much as it is about theater drama and gender politics, and Galoyan feels that Floyd’s score reflects that.
“The music is very romantic, and I think Carlisle expresses all the emotion,” Galoyan notes. “Even the small anxiousness or nervousness, you can listen [to] it in the music.”
It’s a significant role for Galoyan, who is a burgeoning HGO studio artist. This marks her first world premiere and her first leading role with the company.
“When you prepare a piece that everybody knows, it is easy to go with tradition,” Galoyan says. “But when you prepare a new piece, there are no traditions…and you are wondering whether or not the composer will like the way you sing it or how you interpret the part.
New work means being flexible and Galoyan describes the editing process as words flying in and out depending on how they fit into the music and the drama. Floyd has been working with the singers closely and Galoyan thinks he is happy with the results.
“Everyone is working to make it better, but it is hard…because everything changes a lot. Sometimes it becomes confusing,” Galoyan says. “[Floyd] is helping us a lot with the stories, how the music came and why.”
And Prince of Players promises to look as romantic as it will sound. Galoyan admires her period-piece costume, designed by the talented Gregory Gale, will complement the temper in the work.
“I have six different looks, and every look is amazing and amazingly different,” Galoyan says. “It is all in the spirit.”
As a historic figure, Margaret Hughes is generally known as the first female actor to ever grace the English stage. She’s an icon for many today, and for Galoyan’s first leading part at HGO, it’s hard to think of a better role.
“Margaret Hughes at that time—I’m very proud of her,” Galoyan says. “She brought women on the stage!”
March 5 & 11 at 8; March 13 at 2:30. $25–80. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas St. 713-228-6737. houstongrandopera.org