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Threatened by opera

I don’t normally think of opera as being particularly controversial or threatening, at least not in this day and age, but apparently it can be.

The organizers of the second annual Opera Vista Festival suspected one of their featured operas would draw controversy. But when an anonymous letter threatening the founders of the Nova Arts Project arrived at founding director Amy Hopper’s doorstep, she realized the show had potential to ignite a firestorm.

“We received this letter that was all about ignorance and hate, and that’s the whole point of this opera — to confront ignorance and hate. It makes it even more important to tell the story,” Hopper said.

The opera is “Edalat Square,” one of two works that won Opera Vista’s inaugural festival competition in 2007 (think “American Idol” for opera composers). Written by Atlanta-based composer R. Timothy Brady, the opera recounts the true story of Mahmoud Asgari, 17, and Ayaz Marhoni, 16, who were hanged in Iran in 2005 for the crime of lavaat, or sex between two men. Brady was inspired by the story to craft a poetic work that offers an unblinking look at bigotry, but is also prayerful and mystical, said Viswa Subbaraman, artistic director and co-founder of Opera Vista.


On May 5, Amy Hopper found out the show was already pushing buttons here in Houston. She opened her mailbox to discover a hand-stenciled, anonymous letter that said: “You are pigs to mix Islam with gays. You must stop! We will not let you do it.”

The festival’s organizers actually are glad the opera could spark debate or criticism. That’s part of the purpose of the performing arts — to provoke discussion and ignite the emotions, they said.

Well, they did succeed at that. Click the link above to see a photo of the letter, and consider supporting Opera Vista, which makes me glad to know that there’s still a lot of life in that art form. You can learn more about the 2009 Opera Vista Festival, and buy tickets for any of the shows, here. Thanks to Joe White for the tip.

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