Houston Opera = "Snowy Day"
Raven McMillon as Peter in The Snowy Day | Credit: Lynn Lane Photography

The brief, ultra-Romantic orchestral introduction of The Snowy Day at its Thursday in-person and online premiere from the Houston Grand Opera closes the gap between Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors and Amazon’s Boyz II Men – Snowy Day, but not aspiring to the musical-dramatic depth of such “children’s opera” classics as Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel or Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges.

Entertaining, endearing, and important as it is with a multiethnic cast and a Black youngster in the leading role, Houston’s The Snowy Day is likely to have a significant run by opera companies, and serve as introduction to musical theater for children.

Houston Opera - "Snowy Day"
Karen Slack and Nicholas Newton are the Mother and Father in A Snowy Day, between them is Raven McMillon as Peter in the world premiere by Houston Grand Opera | Credit: Lynn Lane Photography

Ezra Jack Keats wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, the story of a little boy named Peter who is finally allowed to venture into the snow alone. The book won the 1963 Caldecott Medal, and it broke a persistent color barrier: Peter was the first Black boy to be the main character of a mainstream children’s book, said to be the most-checked-out book in the history of the New York Public Library.

The Houston world premiere was created during the pandemic. Composer Joel Thompson is best known for his work, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed; librettist Andrea Davis Pinkney is an award-winning author whose book A Poem for Peter is about The Snowy Day’s protagonist.

As the central character, Raven McMillon’s Peter is a career-making performance, flawless in singing and enacting the delight of a young boy’s first experience playing in the snow. Soprano Karen Slack is Mother, the bass-baritone Nicholas Newton is Father, a character not included in the book. Soprano Elena Villalón is Amy, who befriends and protects Peter.

The production was originally conceived in collaboration with SF Symphony Collaborative Partner Julia Bullock, who was set to play the role of Peter but withdrew because of travel restrictions during the pandemic, which also forced the cancellation of the scheduled premiere last year.

The Snowy Day is representative of HGO’s longstanding commitment both to major American opera commissions and diversity in the art form. With this opera, Houston has had an unprecedented 70 world premieres, 35 of them during the 1972 – 2005 leadership of David Gockley, who became San Francisco Opera’s general director, 2006–2016.

Houston Opera - "Snowy Day"
Houston Grand Opera Studio Artists, with Raven McMillon on the right of the front row; seated: Elena Villalón, Sun-Ly Pierce, Blake Denson, Bin Yu Sanford, Alex Munger, Raven McMillon; standing: Ricardo Garcia, Cory McGee, Eric Taylor, William Guanbo Su, Emily Treigle, Luke Sutliff | Credit: Lynn Lane Photography

Among the many other connections between the Houston company and SF Bay Area opera houses: HGO’s new general director, Khori Dastoor, who introduced the Snowy Day premiere, has just concluded the same role with Opera San José; Houston’s artistic and music director, Patrick Summers, is a Merola/Adler alum, former music director of the SF Opera Center, and a frequent guest conductor in the War Memorial; Snowy Day stage director Omer Ben Seadia had a long, distinguished run with Merola and Adler; Karen Slack, the Mother in the production, is also a Merola alum; and there have been numerous comings and goings between training programs in Houston and San Francisco as well as between the two companies.

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