Intelligence, Houston Grand Opera

Intelligence, Houston Grand Opera Cover

Intelligence marks the 75th original production that the Houston Grand Opera has brought forth and serves as the opener to the 23-24 season. This is a unique modern English-spoken opera that is incredibly fresh with ideas that are not only relevant to 2023 culture but also has an intrinsic intrigue in the form of a plot twist that is sure to inflict empathy for these characters. Intelligence is sure to intrigue, impress, and impact audiences with its themes, acting/vocals, and set. Artistic / Music director Patrick Summers explained at the pre-show lecture, “If you are given a car that has a plethora of problems that weren’t your fault, you still have to deal with those problems; similarly, if we are given a country with several inherited problems, those problems are still ours to deal with.” (paraphrased). 

The Civil War is raging, and the country is burning. Men are slaughtering each other on the battlefield, but it is two women who possess the deadliest weapon of all: Intelligence, made more powerful by its invisibility. Who would guess that Elizabeth Van Lew, from a prominent Confederate family, is running a secret pro-Union spy ring? That Mary Jane Bowser, born into slavery in the Van Lew household, not only has been taught to read and write, but is also possessed of a photographic memory?” -(Summary by Houston Grand Opera)

The two protagonists are based on real people and combine what is known about their lives and what is not known (devising plausible events that could have happened) to develop a partial fiction/non-fiction production. Janai Brugger (Mezzo-Soprano) and Jamie Barton (Soprano) play Elizabeth and Mary Jane respectfully. These ladies' voices were vibrant and resonated seamlessly throughout the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center. While both leads are outstanding; Barton is the standout, bringing life to any scene she enters into. Caitlin Lynch (Soprano) plays Callie Van Lew, Elizabeth’s sister-in-law who is residing in the same household as Elizabeth. Joshua Blue (Tenor) plays Wilson, Mary Jane’s husband. J’Nai Bridges (Mezzo-Soprano) plays Lucinda, a woman only Mary Jane seems to be able to interact with (her true identity will have an integral impact on the story during the final act).

Set designer Mimi Lien’s work is impeccable; featuring panels that can be moved up and down and turned around to reveal a completely new set. The setup was visually stunning and allowed for the actors to have various aesthetically pleasing new environments to act inside of. Additionally, Lighting Designer John Torres and Projection Design Wendall J. Harrington set the mood with the appropriate colors of lights that match the tone of a scene and/or add detail to a scene with projections of the environment. Costume designer, Carlos Soto brings forth beautifully detailed garments that are appropriate for each character and match the style of clothing in 1865.

While Act I is a bit slow-paced, having to set up a plethora of characters and the conflicts they are facing, the conclusion of Act I is explosive and will have you feeling eager as you come back for Act II. The second half of this opera is all “killer / no filler” with many suspenseful and tense conversations and interactions between all of the characters.

Intelligence will be playing October 28th, November 3rd, and November 8th at 7:30 PM in the Brown Theater at the Wortham Theater Center and runs for 2 hours 40 minutes including 1 intermission.

Final Verdict:Intelligence is sure to intrigue, impress, and impact audiences with its themes, acting/vocals, and set