Houston Grand Opera debuts ‘O Columbia’ chamber opera celebrating space exploration

This week the Houston Grand Opera presented the new chamber opera O Columbia, which has a space theme:

Don’t miss the world premiere of O Columbia, a new chamber opera that celebrates the wonder of exploration and reflects upon the necessary risks of discovering new frontiers. Inspired by interviews with Houstonbased NASA astronauts, scientists, and engineers, O Columbia traces a history of dreamers and explorers–from Sir Walter Raleigh journeying to the New World, to a Houston teenager experiencing communion, and later, heartbreak, with a Columbia space shuttle astronaut, to future astronauts venturing to the far reaches of the solar system-in an ode to America’s pioneering spirit.

Created by and featuring a constellation of rising operatic talents, O Columbia comes to life in an inventive and surprising production in an unexpected venue–just across the street from the Wortham Theater Center. Space is limited, so purchase your tickets early!

Join us at the lobby bar before each performance to meet and mingle with members of the creative team-and stay after the performance for a talkback with the artists. The Revention Music Center invites you to bring your refreshments into the theater during the performance.

 “O Columbia captures the intrinsic need to explore and discover that humans have felt since the beginning of time, as well as the sense of wonder that led so many of us to pursue careers in space exploration. It’s exciting to see our story portrayed in this important context and to see how deeply it resonated with the HGO team through our interviews with them.”  – David Rose, Shuttle Program Engineer

The opera was created by composer Gregory Spears with librettist Royce Vavrek, and stage director Kevin Newbury. Here is a Q&A (pdf) with the creative team.

… what began with a focus on the 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy became a broader meditation on America’s history of exploration, loss, and perseverance. The Columbia astronauts’ story is set at the center of a long tradition extending back to the days of sailing ships and moving forward into the unknown future. Our hope is that the piece will be both an elegy for the Columbia crew and a reflection about the heavens as a frontier to be explored at all costs.

More about the work and the reaction to the debut:

Update: A Wall Street Journal reviewer was very positive about the work: ‘O Columbia’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’ Reviews – WSJ –

Exploration, risk and loss are elegantly balanced in the opera’s first two sections. In the first, Becca conjures up Sir Walter Raleigh and the lost colony of Roanoke; in the second, she communicates with an astronaut on the Columbia and then watches in horror as the disaster unfolds. Mr. Spears works this contrast between excitement and elegy through rhythmic variation and texture, switching from contrapuntal energy into homophonic keening. The “loss” sections—as when the ensemble repeats the words “Washed away” in the Raleigh section and Becca’s aching cry of “Columbia, do you read me?” in the second part—are piercingly moving. The third section, which imagines space travel centuries in the future and introduces Lady Columbia as the personification of exploration, pushes the optimistic conclusion hard, but the writing remains strong and compelling, especially the interweaving vocal lines of the two principal women.