Song of Houston: East + West initiative: New Arrivals
June 16-June 23, 2012
As part of HGOco’s Song of Houston: East + West initiative, Houston Grand Opera presents its 47th world premiere, New Arrivals, June 16 – 23, 2012. Composed by American John Glover and written by award winning playwright Catherine Filloux, New Arrivals tells the real-life story of Houstonian Yani Rose Keo and her escape from...
As part of HGOco’s Song of Houston: East + West initiative, Houston Grand Opera presents its 47th world premiere, New Arrivals, June 16 – 23, 2012. Composed by American John Glover and written by award winning playwright Catherine Filloux, New Arrivals tells the real-life story of Houstonian Yani Rose Keo and her escape from the Khmer Rouge.
In 1975, Pol Pot, head of the guerrilla army Khmer Rouge, took over the cities and sealed off Cambodia from the rest of the world. Foisting his goal of a totally agrarian and communist society upon the people, he began by eliminating the “bourgeois elements” – people with an education, doctors, engineers, teachers, and anyone who wore glasses.
City inhabitants were sent to the countryside for re-education and more than 2 million people starved to death or were executed. The country disintegrated into civil war and Yani Rose Keo, the wife of a high-ranking official, became a volunteer with International Aid and Assistance for Refugees. She helped organize refugees who fled the fighting, before fleeing the country herself, with her four children and the clothes she was wearing.
New Arrivals reflects on Yani Rose Keo’s flight out of Cambodia–first to France and eventually to Houston. As she sits on the plane, she is haunted by the empty seats around her. “How will I survive?” she asks. When a Nepalese farmer, a Nigerian orphan, and a lost boy from the Sudan join Yani on the plane, her desire to help refugees like herself is launched, and they all soar toward a new life in Houston.
When she arrived in Houston in 1975, Yani Rose Keo began working with refugees, finding them housing and jobs, enrolling them in school and trying to help them overcome culture shock. In the early 1980s, she found a cluster of fifteen unoccupied homes in the north east end of town and managed to place fifteen families in them. "A little Cambodian village," she called it.
In 1985, Yani Rose Keo and a refugee from Ethiopia set up non profit agency, The Alliance for Multicultural Community Service. It employs forty-eight people to help refugees, immigrants, and low-income residents become self-sufficient and improve the quality of their lives.
A Houston Press article stated, “Yani Rose Keo flies under the radar of most Houstonians. But if you’re a refugee or an Asian-American leader, you know how important she is.”
New York based composer John Glover was drawn to work with Yani Rose Keo from their first conversation,“the musical evocation of her person was natural, easy, and immediate for me,” he said. “Her speech is fluid, lilting, almost sing-songy in its ease, but just below the surface is a strong current of energy that drives her tireless efforts for the refugee community of Houston.”
Award winning playwright Catherine Filloux also found Yani “full of infectious energy and passion for making a change–she does not take no for an answer!” Filloux described Yani as “a visionary, forward-thinking, funny, classy, and resilient.”
As an American with French citizenship, Filloux says she often writes from the point of view of the outsider. “I’m interested in the intersections I have felt personally between being an American and French citizen, and being part of a diaspora, and the child of immigrants,” she explains, adding, “Yani knows what it is like to be a refugee and she knows what loss means. There is nothing sentimental about her.”
In all the years Yani Keo cared for others, she had no news of the family she left behind in Cambodia-her mother, three brothers, a sister, nieces, and nephews. She later discovered they had all been killed. Yet she seems too busy for anger. “You only have one life to live,” she says, “Why do you need to hate each other?”
New Arrivals is part of HGOco’s Song of Houston: East + West Program, which celebrates the city as a meeting place for people from Eastern and Western cultures. Glover commented, “The East + West project provides a unique combination of creative freedoms and constraints. While the work had to be about the intersection between Cambodia and its immigrant community in Houston, HGO gave me the support and resources to create freely in regards to instrumentation and how the story was told.”
Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers says these works reflect the city’s diverse ethnic and cultural communities, using music as the common language. "As a leading American arts company, we desire to be a company that tells the story of our own city. In opera, music leads the dramatic pulse, and live performances, particularly of newly created works written for and about the community it is being performed in, are a wonderful way in which to accomplish this.”
Mihoko Kinoshita (soprano)—Yani Rose Keo
Carlton Ford (baritone)—John
Katherine Jolly (soprano)— Iris
Phoeun Srey Peou — Smot chanter
Timothy Myers— Music Director
Elise Sandell— Director
Jeremy Choate—Lighting Designer
Performances and Complementary Events:
Saturday, June 16, 2012 (world premiere) 1:00 p.m. Baker Ripley Neighborhood Center (6500 Rookin St.) Part of Houston’s World Refugee Day
Sunday, June 17, 2012 at 4:00 p.m. Rothko Chapel (3900 Yupon St.)
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. Baker Ripley Neighborhood Center (6500 Rookin St.)
Friday, June 22, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. Asia Society Texas Center (1370 Southmore Blvd.)
Saturday, June 23, 2012 2:00 p.m. Asia Society Texas Center (1370 Southmore Blvd.)
Directly following each performance at Asia Society, HGO will present to audiences about the intersection of Cambodian and American music and culture. On June 22, scholar Trent Walker will discuss Southeast Asian Buddhist music, including smot, which is incorporated into the score of New Arrivals. Houston musicologist Roger Wood will join Mr. Walker on June 23 to expand the conversation to include American music.
For more information, visit http://www.HoustonGrandOpera.org.
CATHERINE FILLOUX - LIBRETTIST
Filloux, is an award-winning playwright whose new play LUZ will premiere in September 2012 at La MaMa in New York City, where she is an Artist in Residence. More than twenty of her plays have been produced in New York City and around the world. She is the librettist for Where Elephants Weep (Composer Him Sophy), which premiered in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and The Floating Box: A Story in Chinatown (Composer Jason Kao Hwang), which opened at Asia Society New York, and is released by New World Records.
Filloux’s awards include: Voice Award for Artistic Works (Voices of Women), New Generations-Future Collaborations Award (Mellon Foundation/TCG), PeaceWriting Award (Omni Center for Peace), Critics Choice (Opera News) Roger L. Stevens Award (Kennedy Center), Eric Kocher Playwrights Award (O'Neill) and the Callaway Award (New Dramatists). She is a Fulbright Senior Specialist (Cambodia & Morocco), Asian Cultural Council Grant and MAP Fund recipient, as well as a Core Writer (The Playwrights’ Center) and New Dramatists alumna. Filloux’s plays are widely published and her play anthologies include Dog and Wolf & Killing the Boss, Two Plays, NoPassport Press, and Silence of God and Other Plays, published by (Seagull Books, London Limited.).
JOHN GLOVER – COMPOSER
John Glover has composed music for theater, opera, and the concert hall. Commissions from organizations and musicians
including the American Conservatory Theater (War Music), Baltimore Opera (Huck Finn: A Children's Opera) and violist Liuh-wen
Ting (Life-Cycles) have distinguished him as an emerging voice in contemporary music.
John has received numerous awards, fellowships and grants for his music from organizations including Meet The Composer, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the American Music Center, and the Thornton School of Music at USC. Current projects include a one-act opera, Our Basic Nature, being developed by American Opera Projects.
He received his undergraduate training in composition with a focus in saxophone performance from Indiana University and his Masters degree in composition from the University of Southern California. Glover also writes notes, articles and online courses for organizations such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Glimmerglass Opera, the Chicago Sinfonietta, Carnegie Hall, and OPERA America. He currently lives in New York City where he co-curates the music/art series NewYorksoundCircuit at the Brecht Forum and is operations manager for the American Composers Orchestra.