When he put together his concert program for the second installment of the Houston Grand Opera’s recital series, American baritone Reginald Smith knew he wanted something that would convey yearning, a stretch for something more and in the end, hope.
He also was determined to highlight Black composers.
So beginning on October 9, online viewers will have a chance to watch the HGO Studio Artists graduate, accompanied by HGO director of artistic operations and chorus master Richard Bado perform a number of songs ranging from the poignant to the lyrical, from whimsical to gospel. And have some fun with Creole songs.
Smith, last seen on the Wortham Center stage as Amonasro in the 2019-20 HGO production of Aida, said he also wanted “to showcase music that you don’t often hear on the operatic stage.” Originally from Atlanta, Smith has made Houston his base of operations since graduating from the prestigious Studio Artists program in 2015.
The Creole songs Smith will be singing are “Mister Banjo,” “Lisette, ma chère amie” and “Chere, Mo Lemmé Toi” arranged by Camille Nickerson, who was known for the Creole folksongs she collected and arranged. She was a performer and also a professor of music at Howard University.
Smith will also be doing a number of songs in his hour-long concert composed by H. Leslie Adams from his Night songs: “Prayer,” “Drums of Tragedy,” “The Heart of a Woman,” “Night Song,” “Sense You Went Away” and “Creole Girl.” Adams is known for blending African American musical elements and classical music in his writing.
There are three lieder for baritone by Robert Owens, a composer, actor, pianist and jazz musician, who especially in his early career wrote a lot for the voice including three songs “Fremde Stadt,” “Eine Geige in den Gärten” and “Im Nebel.”
And in conclusion he’ll be performing “It’s Me Lord,” arranged by Betty Jackson King; “Steal Away” arranged by Dave Ragland and “Ain’t-a That Good News!” arranged by Uzee Brown Jr.
Smith says he had two rehearsals with Bado, complete with COVID-19 tests and social distancing and plastic barriers. “It was great to make music with someone in person again in the theater. Some of these songs I have worked with for a long time and it was just dusting them off and some of them were brand new. And I just thought ‘Why not?’ If they’re going to give me a platform to perform whatever I want.
“I wanted to pick things that I thought people could connect with. Especially during this time of quarantine and COVID-19 a lot of us have felt like I don’t know which way to go. What do I do next? So maybe putting these emotions into music will help people sort of express how they feel.”
Reginald Smith’s concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on October 9 and can be watched on that night and for the following month. For information, visit the Houston Grand Opera website. Free.