English with English Surtitles
West Coast Premiere. Original Premiere, 30 November 2017, Houston Grand Opera
No Refreshment Service Available
From Dressy Casual to Come as You Are
Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s The House Without a Christmas Tree, is based on Gail Rock’s popular story and the beloved 1972 TV movie of the same name.
This heartwarming, family-friendly tale follows a precocious daughter, Addie, who struggles to understand her father’s resentment about the holidays and longs at last for a beautiful Christmas tree like other families have, to “make her house look happy.”
In this touching coming-of-age story, Addie learns empathy for her father, which is a key part of her growing up. Although she loves her father, all she seems to understand is his disapproval of her. Her grandmother helps her get a glimpse of her dad’s painful memory of the profound loss of Addie’s mother. Once Addie sees it, she takes positive action that changes all their lives for the better. Her father demonstrably feels her empathy, and they all change.
In short, everyone is healed by the transformative power of the Christmas season. This West Coast Premiere of The House Without a Christmas Tree stars soprano Cadie Jordan, baritone Gabriel Preisser, and mezzo-soprano Ashley Stone. Joshua Horsch conducts.
Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956 in Oceanside, NY) studied piano, composition and acting, at Carnegie Mellon University. After moving to New York City, he quickly emerged as a leading writer of vocal music that spans art song, opera, and musical theater. Mr. Gordon’s songs have been performed and or recorded by such internationally renowned singers as Renee Fleming, Dawn Upshaw, Nathan Gunn, Nadine Sierra, Stephanie Blythe, Denyce Graves, Judy Collins, Kelli O’Hara, Audra MacDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Nicole Cabell, Frederica Von Stade, Andrea Marcovicci, Harolyn Blackwell, Betty Buckley, and the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, among many others. Ricky Ian Gordon’s most recent premieres include:
Ellen West (2019, libretto by Frank Bidart, commissioned and premiered by Opera Saratoga and Beth Morrison Projects for Prototype 2020) an opera based on a case study by a Dr. Ludwig Binswanger, about a woman in a Swiss hospital with an eating disorder, which The Wall Street Journal described as a “Riveting one-act opera,” and Opera News called “a fine haunting score by the chameleonic Ricky Ian Gordon.”
The House Without A Christmas Tree (2017, libretto by Royce Vavrek, commissioned and premiered by Houston Grand Opera) a holiday opera for young audiences that The Wall Street Journal describes as “a charming, family-friendly piece,” “Houston Grand Opera offers a charming, family-friendly piece, in an alternative performance space, that manages to be heartwarming without being sappy … Mr. Gordon’s score employs accessible, Coplandesque tonality, which has its apex in Addie’s arias … they capture a young girl’s imagination and optimism….The text is clearly set, and well crafted ensembles vary the texture as do bigger choruses.”– Wall Street Journal
“Not only does this opera have to find its place among the “Nutcrackers,” “Christmas Carols” and “Messiahs,” as a world premiere, it also has to bid for a permanent spot in the operatic canon. Gordon’s melodic, tonal score makes a strong bid for that spot, falling easily on the ears, often bringing to mind the late operas of Richard Strauss in its naturalistic setting of Vavrek’s dialogue to melodically compelling music. The pleasing score, congenial vocal demands and modest scale of “The House Without a Christmas Tree” give it a good shot at achieving staying power, attractive to professional opera companies of all sizes and to conservatories and universities. It was warmly received by the opening-night audience, some granting it a standing ovation.” – Houston Chronicle
The Grapes of Wrath (2017 two-act version commissioned and premiered by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, consequently done in Detroit, and Aspen (summer 2020); “This is a great American opera to stand alongside earlier evocations of specifically American periods and subjects by George Gershwin, Carlisle Floyd, Robert Ward, John Adams and others.”- Chicago Tribune
Royce Vavrek is a Canada-born, Brooklyn-based librettist and lyricist who has been called “the indie Hofmannsthal” (The New Yorker) a “Metastasio of the downtown opera scene” (The Washington Post), “an exemplary creator of operatic prose” (The New York Times), and “one of the most celebrated and sought after librettists in the world” (CBC Radio). His opera “Angel’s Bone” with composer Du Yun was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
With composer Missy Mazzoli he wrote “Song from the Uproar,” premiered by Beth Morrison Projects in 2012, and subsequently seen in multiple presentations around the country. Their second opera, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s “Breaking the Waves,” premiered at Opera Philadelphia, co-commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, and directed by James Darrah to critical acclaim in September of 2016. The work won the 2017 Music Critics Association of North America award for Best New Opera and was nominated for Best World Premiere at the 2017 International Opera Awards. A new production premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in the summer of 2019, produced by Scottish Opera and Opera Ventures, helmed by Tony Award-winning director Tom Morris and earned star Sydney Mancasola a coveted Herald Angel Award for her performance. Their next opera, an adaptation of Karen Russell’s short story “Proving Up,” was commissioned and presented by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and The Miller Theatre in 2018, was a finalist for the MCANA Best New Opera Award of that year. They are currently developing a grand opera for Opera Philadelphia and the Norwegian National Opera based on an original story by two-time Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Jordan Tannahill, as well as an adaptation of George Saunders’ Booker Prize-winning novel “Lincoln in the Bardo” for The Metropolitan Opera.
His collaboration with composer David T. Little led Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal to proclaim them “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today.” In April of 2016 they premiered their first grand opera, “JFK,” at Fort Worth Opera, a co-commission with American Lyric Theater and Opéra de Montréal that was called “ravishing” (Opera News), earning a ten-star review in Opera Now Magazine. This followed the success of their first opera, “Dog Days,” which received its world premiere in September of 2012 at Peak Performances @ Montclair, in a production co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and directed by American maverick Robert Woodruff. The work was celebrated as the Classical Music Event of the year by Time Out New York and a standout opera of recent decades by The New York Times. They are currently developing an original work for the Metropolitan Opera through the Met/LCT commissioning program.
Royce has also worked extensively with composer Paola Prestini, first on the song cycle "Yoani," inspired by the blog posts of Yoani Sanchez, and then on "The Hubble Cantata," a virtual reality oratorio produced by VisionIntoArt/National Sawdust in association with Beth Morrison Projects. They recently presented the workshop premiere of “Silent Light,” an opera based on the Cannes Jury Prize-winning film by Carlos Reygadas at the Banff Centre for Creativity, a collaboration with the director Thaddeus Strassberger, and are currently working on a new opera inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.” They are also developing "Film Stills," a project for mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti that dramatizes four of Cindy Sherman's iconic photographs through musical monologues composed by Paola, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly and Ellen Reid, and directed by R.B. Schlather. Royce and Paola's collaboration can be further heard on the AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing for Hope recording, where their song "Union," as sung by Isabel Leonard, is featured.
In 2014 Royce premiered “27,” his first collaboration with composer Ricky Ian Gordon, at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Created for renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, the work brought to life Gertrude Stein’s famous salon at 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris. Mark Ray Rinaldi of the Denver Post wrote that the opera “tells a great American story, about Gertrude Stein, as well as opera in the 21st century.” The opera was subsequently presented by Pittsburgh Opera, MasterVoices at New York City Center, Michigan Opera Theater, Opéra de Montréal and Opera Las Vegas. In 2017 their adaptation of Gail Rock’s Christmas classic “The House Without a Christmas Tree” for Houston Grand Opera was premiered to critical acclaim.
Other recent and upcoming projects include “Strip Mall” with Matt Marks for the Los Angeles Philharmonic; “Epistle Mass” with Julian Wachner for Trinity Wall Street, “Midwestern Gothic” with Josh Schmidt for Signature Theatre, Virginia; “Naamah’s Ark” with Marisa Michelson for MasterVoices; “O Columbia” with Gregory Spears for HGOco; and “Knoxville: Summer of 2015” with Ellen Reid for the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and National Sawdust; “Crypto” with Guillaume Coté and Mikael Karlsson; “The Wild Beast of the Bungalow” with Rachel Peters for Oberlin Conservatory; “Jacqueline” with Luna Pearl Woolf for Tapestry New Opera; “Adoration” (based on the film by Atom Egoyan) with Mary Kouyoumdjian for Beth Morrison Projects and “Agnes” with Daníel Bjarnason for the Icelandic Opera.
Royce is co-Artistic Director of The Coterie, an opera-theater company founded with Tony-nominee Lauren Worsham. He holds a BFA in Filmmaking and Creative Writing from Concordia University’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema in Montreal and an MFA from the Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at New York University. He is an alum of American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program.
Adelaide 'Addie' Mills
Praised for her “beautiful sound,” “free spirit,” and “silver high notes,” Louisiana-born soprano Cadie J. Bryan is quickly emerging as a captivating and versatile performer in a variety of repertoire. She recently came out of the Marion Roose Pullin Arizona Opera Studio where she performed mainstage leading and supporting roles including Musetta in La bohème, Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Bess in Craig Bohmler’s Riders of the Purple Sage, Maid in the Taliesin West Premier of Daron Hagen’s Shining Brow, and Annina in La traviata. She spent three seasons with Des Moines Metro Opera during which which she made her mainstage debut as the Second Wood Sprite in the Emmy Award-winning production of Rusalka with director Chas Rader-Shieber. In the 2021 season at DMMO, she will appear as Clarine in Rameau's Platée and Chlöe in The Queen of Spades. An avid recitalist and lover of art song, Cadie is an alumna of Ravinia's Steans Music Institute for singers where she developed relationships with world-renowned coaches and collaborative pianists including Helmut Deutsch, Denise Massé, Cori Ellison, Stephen Blier, and JJ Penna.
Dedicated to promoting new works, other career highlights include Chan Parker in Daniel Schnyder's and Bridgette Wimberly’s Charlie Parker’s Yardbird and Lucy in Fellow Travelers with Arizona Opera as well as Clara in Jake Heggie’s and Gene Scheer's It’s A Wonderful Life at Indiana University. She received a Masters and a Performance Diploma from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music under the tutelage of Heidi Grant Murphy and Kevin Murphy and her Bachelors from Louisiana State University.
James 'Dad' Addison Mills
Grammy Award winning baritone Gabriel Preisser has been praised by Opera News for his “handsome voice, charismatic energy, and timbral allure” and The New York Times called his performance as Lt. Gordon “wonderful.” His resume includes over 40 operatic and musical theater roles including Danilo in The Merry Widow with Utah Festival Opera, Billy Bigelow in Carousel with Minnesota Orchestra, Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia with St Petersburg Opera, Dandini in Cenerentola with Opera Tampa, Escamillo in Carmen with Lyric Opera of the North, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore with Shreveport Opera, Le Mari in LesMamelles de Tiresias with Opera Parallele, Albert in Werther with Minnesota Opera, Mercutio in Romeo et Juliette with Opera Tampa and St. Petersburg Opera, Tommy in Brigadoon with Gulfshore Opera, Silvio in Pagliacci with Opera Naples, Harold Hill in The Music Man with Colorado Symphony, and Bob Baker in Wonderful Town with Skylark Opera to name a few. He has been praised for having a “matinee idol’s charm and charisma,” “a beautiful, luscious baritone,” and “a compelling, commanding stage presence.”
Ashley Stone received her Doctorate of Music degree in Vocal Performance of Indiana University where she studied with Costanza Cuccaro. Her most recent performances include Dame Quickly in Falstaff, The Old Lady in Candide, The Principessa in Suor Angelica, and Meg in Mark Adamo's Little Women with the IU Opera Theater. She received her masters degree in vocal performance and literature from the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with Katherine Ciesinski. While in Rochester, NY, she performed as the Principessa in Eastman Opera Theater's Suor Angelica and was a soloist with the Voices Choral Ensemble, the Gregory Kunde Choral, and the Eastman Chorale. Stone completed her undergraduate studies at Texas State University in San Marcos, her hometown. While in Texas, she was a frequent finalist in the NATS regional and district competitions, a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions regional finalist, and performed as Kate in San Antonio Opera's production of The Pirates of Penzance. In 2006, she attended the Brevard Summer Music Festival, where she performed as Baroness Elsa Shraeder in The Sound of Music. The following summer at Opera in the Ozarks, she played the roles of Suzuki from Madama Butterfly and Cherubino from Le nozze di Figaro.
Miss Thompson/Adult Addie/Helen Mills
Taylor See, a native of Las Vegas, Nevada, is recognized as the second place winner of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) Concerto Competition (2020), a finalist in the James Toland Vocal Arts Voice Competition (2020), a finalist in the Classical Singer (CS MUSIC) Voice Competition (2020), and a finalist in the New York Lyric Opera Competition (2017). She began her musical studies at the age of six playing piano, and she began singing at the age of fourteen.
Taylor will make her Opera Las Vegas debut in November 2021 singing the roles of Adelaide Mills/ Miss Thompson/ Helen Mills in the west coast premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The House Without a Christmas Tree. She has sung the roles of Contessa Almaviva in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro at SFCM (2019), Lucy in Menotti’s The Telephone with Vegas City Opera (2021), Teofane in Handel's Ottone at SFCM (2020), Valencienne in Franz Lehár's The Merry Widow at the Utah Vocal Arts Academy Summer Opera Festival (2017), Lucy Brown in Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera at SFCM (2018), Julie in David Conte’s Firebird Motel at SFCM (2020), Novizia in Puccini's Suor Angelica at SFCM (2017), and Vixen (cover) in Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen at Opera Steamboat (2018).
She was the soprano soloist in Faure’s Requiem at SFCM (2019), as well as the soprano soloist in Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ at Desert Spring United Methodist Church (2016).
Taylor is a graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM), earning her Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance (2020) under the tutelage of César Ulloa. She will be pursuing her master’s at SFCM this Fall 2021.
Courtney G. Schwalbe, mezzo-soprano, is a Mississippi native whose versatility as a performer has led her to successfully sing leading roles and solos in opera, musical theatre, and major choral works. Ms. Schwalbe has performed operatic roles such as Delores in Frank Pesci’s Royal Flush, Carmen and Mercédès in Carmen, Ruggiero in Alcina, the Contralto in The Four Note Opera, Maestra Delle Novizie in Suor Angelica, and Dorabella in Così fan tutte. In concert, she has performed solos in Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, and Bernstein’s Missa Brevis. Ms. Schwalbe holds a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and a Bachelor of Arts. She is currently working on her Doctorate of Musical Arts under the instruction of Alfonse Anderson at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. Ms. Schwalbe resides in Las Vegas with her husband and biggest fan, Michael, and her two dogs, Carmen and Romeo.
Praised for conducting with “steady acumen and considerable aplomb” and “awesome control” (Opera Today), Joshua Horsch is an extremely versatile operatic and symphonic conductor. A two-time winner of the American Prize in Opera Conducting Joshua serves as Music Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Las Vegas. Joshua’s recent and upcoming conducting engagements include appearances with Atlanta Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Opera Orlando, Mobile Opera, Pacific Opera Project, Opera Las Vegas, Tri-Cities Opera, and Chicago Summer Opera.
With a diverse repertoire of over fifty operas and a broad spectrum of orchestral and choral works, Joshua has recently held positions as a conductor/coach/chorus master on the music staff of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Michigan Opera Theatre, Florida Grand Opera, North Carolina Opera, Opera Saratoga, Pensacola Opera, Fort Worth Opera, the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Colorado Music Festival. Joshua’s guest and workshop conducting includes work with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Omaha Symphony, the Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra and Chorus, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquestra Filharmonia de Chihuahua, the Lyatoshinsky Chamber Orchestra, the Newport Music Festival, the Colorado New Music Ensemble, the PENDULUM New Music Ensemble, the Boston Opera Collaborative, and the Boulder Bach Festival.
As a dedicated interpreter of new works, Joshua has enjoyed a number of collaborations with many of today’s leading composers including Tom Cipullo, Jennifer Higdon, and Libby Larsen. For two seasons, Joshua served as Music Director/Conductor of the CU New Opera Workshop where he collaborated with composers Libby Larsen and Alberto Caruso as well as author Colm Tóibín and stage director Ron Daniels. At Seagle Music Colony’s American Center for New Works Development, Joshua has conducted and played workshops for new works by Libby Larsen and Scott Eyerly. For four seasons, Joshua served as conductor/co-founder of the Colorado New Music Ensemble where he programmed and conducted works ranging from John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 2 to Susan Botti’s chamber opera Telaio: Desdemona. While a Festival Artist/Conductor at the Newport Music Festival, Joshua conducted members of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Providence Singers in a series of contemporary choral/orchestral masterworks.