As part of HGOco’s Song of Houston: East + West initiative, Houston Grand Opera presents its 46th world premiere, The Bricklayer, March 15 – 21, 2012. Based on a short story by renowned Iranian-American author Farnoosh Moshiri (The Bathhouse, Against Gravity), The Bricklayer tells the real-life story of a family torn apart by the Iranian revolution. The score is composed by Gregory Spears, whose work has been called “astonishingly beautiful”(The New York Times) and “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker).
This personal and epic odyssey emerges from the 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran by Islamic revolutionaries. With the new leadership established and any pretense of democracy abolished, a massive purge and assault on politicians, writers, artists, and feminists began.
The opera is set in Houston and begins at Bush Intercontinental Airport, where Bita and her daughter, Shahrzad, are awaiting the arrival of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Parvin. Coming to Houston from Tehran, they tell of their torturous experiences – the execution of their son as well as the arrest and beating of Mr. Parvin. Leaving behind their old life, they begin to heal and find hope in their new life with their daughter here in Houston.
Echoing a chapter in her own story, Moshiri was awaiting her parents’ arrival at the airport. “When I saw [my father], I was shocked. I couldn’t recognize him. My handsome father resembled King Lear in the last act. He was crushed because of all that injustice.”
Moshiri tells of her own experience of escaping after refusing to sign an agreement to obey the new regime. “In February 1983, at a reading of my play, my director and actors were arrested. I went underground and escaped the country on foot with my husband and two-year-old son.”
Reflecting on how art can unify communities, HGOco Director Sandra Bernhard says, “Music is a universal language, and a personal story creates a path to understanding. Sharing stories set to music allows communities to share journeys, passions, home, and place that, in turn, become the fabric of our community.”
Composer Gregory Spears incorporates both western and Iranian music using traditional instruments such as the ney, an end-blown Persian bamboo flute. “My approach has been to expose myself to Persian music and then listen closely for the sympathetic resonances between my other vocal writing and this music.”
Spears comments “It’s a shame that so much of our understanding of the Middle East is colored by the lens of politics and the media rather than history and art. I wanted the chance to explore Persian culture through the lens of art and opera. Much of the European music I love – medieval troubadour music, Russian music – explores the intersections of Persian and western sonic sensibilities.”
The chamber ensemble, led by Music Director David Hanlon, combines classical western instruments such as clarinet, violin, cello and harp alongside Persian instruments such as the Ney which will be played by Kamran Thunder from the Austin based band, Tehranosaurus.
Formed in 2008 the six member band Tehranosaurus is led by Fared Shafinury. Born on the Gulf of Mexico, Shafinury absorbed the rhythms of jazz, blues and indie rock. Primarily self-taught in the setar (Persian lute) and santur (strings) he also studied under some of Iran’s most prominent Masters. His music reflects what opera, and HGOco, at its heart is about – bringing people and traditions together to build common ground artistically. Shafinury will share his knowledge and experience of Persian culture and music by presenting a pre-performance talk as well as performing a 30minute set before the opera.
This collaboration underscores Spears’ admiration of East + West. “What I like about this project,” he says, “is that the east/west-ness of the [opera] is reflected and incorporated at all levels, from the conception, creation, and casting down to the selection of venues. It is not a superficial blend.”
Cultural Partner: Iranian Cultural Foundation.
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