What better way to open Houston Grand Opera’s digital season than with a Covid concert? That’s exactly what soprano Tamara Wilson calls her Live from the Cullen recital, which leads off the company’s reimagined slate of virtual programming this Friday.
Not only does the concert, filmed earlier this month, include works that are personal to Wilson, but the soprano says they are also appropriate for this time of isolation when people are especially in need of hopeful, uplifting music. Take “Music for a While,” a da capo aria by English composer Henry Purcell. “It’s about music easing people’s pain,” says the HGO Studio alumna, who was last in HGO’s production of Aida earlier this year. “It was the first song I learned as a junior in high school and was the song that made me want to become a classical musician.”
The thematic choices don’t end there. Wilson’s recital also features a selection of songs by Aaron Copland* and André Previn that are based on the poems of Emily Dickinson. "I thought, For a Covid recital, let’s sing some songs about a woman who knew what being in solitude meant," she says. "That seemed appropriate." There’re also some rarely performed works by Amy Beach, the first successful American female composer, and Richard Strauss’s “Morgen!,” a number about meeting a loved one who has passed away, which she calls “one of the most gorgeous songs on the planet.” Of course, it’s not all heavy material. Wilson promises some happy songs too.
Recording the upcoming recital was a rather odd experience, Wilson tells us. It was filmed on an empty stage with only a few stagehands and makeup artists as her audience. “There was silence after each piece," she laughs. "I felt like I was playing to a ghost town." Still, performing for anyone feels special these days. The soprano was slated to perform the role of Isolde in the Santa Fe Opera’s production of Tristan and Isolde earlier this year, but that production, like so many others, became a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
Watching the role—her staged Wagner, which had been two years in the making—evaporate was very painful, Wilson laments. But the loss, she adds, has also made her appreciate her gifts and passion in a way she never has before. “I had a very visceral reaction to performing this recital. On the way home, I cried the whole way. It was such a release to make music again.”
Thru Oct 10. Free. Online. More info at houstongrandopera.org.
*A previous version of this story misspelled Copland's name. It has been corrected.