BWW Interviews: Catherine Filloux Talks Libretto for NEW ARRIVALS
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by David Clarke
Catherine Filloux is applying the finishing touches to her highly anticipated, new libretto for Houston Grand Opera's production of New Arrivals. Houston Grand Opera commissioned the piece. Giving Houston and world audiences a sneak peak into the opera, with a score by John Glover, and the story behind its creation, Catherine Filloux took a moment of her time to answer some of my questions.
Your new opera, New Arrivals, centers on a refugee of Cambodia, who escaped the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. However, this is not your piece that discusses these horrors. What draws you to this topic?
I was drawn to the energy of the young refugees whom Yani Rose Keo has inspired. I saw how Yani Rose Keo is a true leader, and I wanted to dramatize her extraordinary drive to empower other people. Her compassion is tied to her own loss. I am personally drawn to this theme.
The central character of New Arrivals is Yani Rose Keo, who fled Cambodia and eventually took up residence in Houston. She opened a not-for-profit agency, The Alliance for Multiculutral Community, which works with refugees. What was it about Yani Rose Keo's story that attracted you to write the libretto for New Arrivals?
New Arrivals is a commission from Houston Grand Opera (HGO). I came to Houston last summer and HGO arranged for me to spend time with Yani at her agency. I was asked to come up with a story for the opera and to write the libretto. I was deeply moved by the geographical and psychological distances refugees need to travel, and I decided to use an airplane to tell my story. Also, I was attracted to the nature of time, how it surges forward and how it stands still. The composer John Glover and I had the opportunity to discuss how trauma plays into the rhythm of this opera.
New Arrivals has its world premier at Houston's celebration of World Refugee Day (June 16, 2012). How does it feel knowing that your piece is being commissioned for such a prestigious event?
It is such an honor to share this chamber opera on World Refugee Day. Houston Grand Opera has made a commitment to diverse audiences and to an artistic team that cares deeply about how to produce and perform this opera. The composer John Glover has created a thrilling score.
Having experience with writing both drama and opera, what are some unique challenges to writing opera?
When I write plays, I begin completely on my own to create an artistic work, by using my imagination to shape stories and characters. When I write an opera libretto, I am writing the words for a composer, who will generate a score. It is a true collaboration between two artists.
The genocide in Cambodia is not as discussed as other genocides. What are your feelings on this?
That is why I've written about it so much. My plays always start with the U.S. as an entry point. I hope to get the word out that way, as a playwright, as well as by working with Cambodian artists and Western artists to produce theater together.
Your body of work constantly discusses and explores human rights topics. As an artist, what do you want your audiences to leave your shows with?
Having engaged in the stories, characters, language and emotion. Possibly thinking about the topic from a different point of view or in a slightly changed way when they leave.
Looking towards the future, do you already have an idea in mind for your next work? If so, is there anything you can share about it?
My new play LUZ will premiere at La MaMa in New York City, September 28th to October 14th, directed by Jose Zayas. We plan on using a variety of devices-from puppets to video and music to immerse the audience in our story about Zia, Luz and Helene, survivors of violence seeking protection in the U.S. Sergio R. Reyes, from Guatemala, is composing the music.
Houston Grand Opera will perform New Arrivals world premiere at the World Refugee Day Festival on June 16, 2012 at 1:00pm. Houston Grand Opera invites you to attend FREE performances of New Arrivals on June 16, 2012 at 1:00pm, June 17, 2012 at 4:00pm, June 19, 2012 at 7:00pm, June 22, 2012 at 7:30pm, and June 23, 2012 at 2:00pm. For more information about New Arrivals or to get venue and ticket information, please visit http://www.houstongrandopera.org/tickets/calendar/view.aspx?id=2048.
Photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera.