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On Homecoming and Community

By Richard Bado

Richard Bado, the conductor of Carousel, holds The Sarah and Ernest Butler Chorus Master Chair at HGO. An alumnus of the HGO Studio, he has served as chorus master since 1988 and was concurrently head of music staff from 1991 to 2005. He is the director of the Opera Studies Program at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

It’s great to be conducting Carousel at HGO. I love the piece; it is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s greatest score and includes one of the great anthems, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” It is sung at graduations and funerals and was performed in a televised concert on the first anniversary of 9/11. And it really works in the show. Carousel is also ideal to be performed in an opera house. Christine Johnson, who originated the role of Nettie Fowler in Carousel and was thus the first to sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” also sang the role of Erda in the Ring at the Met, and John Raitt, the original Billy Bigelow, was classically trained.

When HGO last performed Carousel, in the summer of 1990, I conducted several performances. We used the original Agnes de Mille choreography. Our current director/choreographer, Rob Ashford, has created new choreography that is more athletic and he is using stronger dancers. And carnival owner Mrs. Mullin, traditionally a non-dancing role, is a dancer in this production.

Because there is so much dance in the show, Carousel contains a number of sections for orchestra alone. There’s the opening Carousel Waltz, for example, which I once conducted in a concert with the Russian National Orchestra. The music has to support the dancing, which requires the conductor to coordinate very closely with the director and choreographer. Much of the dialogue is also underscored, and it is a lot like conducting the score to a movie. It’s written to tug at the heartstrings.

In opera, the chorus and principals often rehearse separately. But for this piece we have put the chorus and principals together from day one so that we would develop a sense of community. The principals sing with the chorus, even when the music isn’t officially included in their parts, so the differences between them are blurred. There’s a great sense of fun and enjoyment.

This is the first time in 11 years that I have conducted a production at HGO, but I have been conducting operas at Rice University where I am director of the opera studies program. Two members of this cast were my students at Rice—Lauren Snouffer and Ben Edquist—and I know others from the HGO Studio. It’s kind of like we are back at school, but now we are colleagues. It really gives me a sense of pride.