A pair of operas will be staged at Odessa College starting tonight at the Globe Theater —“Sister Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi.”

Instructor of Music David Corman said there are about 15 students in each opera.

Gianni Schicchi Corman’s libretto and story and it’s set in West Texas, specifically Notrees. OC student Jacob Garcia is conducting it.

It’s about cousins waiting for “the old man to die,” Corman said.

Originally, it is set in 1290, Corman said it could be 2018 in West Texas. He uses local references to area towns, Rosa’s, Bush’s Chicken and Buffalo Wallow.

“Sister Angelica” is set in 1690 in a convent stuck away in the middle of nowhere in “a very severe order,” Corman said.

“There’s little to no communication to the outside world. Once in the convent, they never see their family again,” he added.

The young girl in the story is abused, has a child and is placed in the convent. From the start, Corman said, she is unbalanced at best and is losing her mind already.

“The whole thing takes place within a couple of hours. Her great aunt comes to visit her and tell her that she has to sign away any kind of inheritance because her sister’s getting married and also they can’t have her shame on the family. Also, her husband is the abuser, so there’s this horrible hatred from the old lady. She ends up mixing up … a potion to kill herself. It’s as dark a tale as Gianni is a bright, so it’s a cool juxtaposition. The music is heartbreaking, too.”

“Gianni Schicchi” will feature Gary Simpson, a bass baritone with the Metropolitan Opera. He has previously performed in Odessa in “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Simpson has sung for the Metropolitan Opera on and off for about 10 years and was on the Cinemax show “The Knick.”

Singing has taken Simpson all over the world. His wife, Katherine Olsen, is his manager and the founder of Encompass Arts LLC, which represents leading Broadway, film, stage and operatic talent, its website said.

He said he has enjoyed rehearsing with the students because he can see their progress from practice to practice.

Being around someone with his decades of experience, Simpson said, helps to demystify what it means to be an opera singer.

A native of Alexandria, Va., Simpson went to North Carolina School of the Arts, now part of the University of North Carolina system, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music. He started a master’s program at the Manhattan School of Music, but didn’t finish it.

The first time he was paid to sing was when he was 20 or 21, which was about 37 years ago, he said.

“I really wanted to be Wayne Newton. I loved that music,” Simpson said.

But his voice didn’t sound right doing pop music. Someone at school suggested he take voice lessons and he realized he could improve.

While bartending in New York, he met Sherrill Milnes, an operatic baritone. He got into a conversation with Milnes and Milnes gave him his wife’s phone number because she was a voice teacher. Simpson said he found an instructor he liked, and 10 years later, things began to fall into place.

Most people who have had a career like Simpson’s have gone through a program and got moved along “because it really is a business of who you know … just like the acting business. They hire who they know.”

The one-act operas “Sister Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi,” are being staged in conjunction with the Music Masters Series.

Corman and Simpson are connected through Olsen.

“I met Kathy when I was at Yale University back in the ‘80s. She played an audition for me. She was a pianist/coach. For years, she played auditions for me. We did some productions together where she was the music director,” Corman said.

“We remained friends for years. … I’m always looking for great artists for the Music Masters Series and thought of her. She represents many great artists as an agent. She brought Harolyn Blackwell, a wonderful soprano. She played here at the Globe in 2012 — somewhere in there. Then we had the idea of bringing Gary in for Sweeney Todd, which I thought would be perfect for him and it was,” Corman said.

Since then, Corman has wanted to bring Simpson back.

The first time OC staged “Gianni Schicchi,” Corman said he was in it, but he decided Simpson would be better in the role this time.

“We brought Kathy here to do some master classes for our students yesterday (April 23). We had about 12 singers sing for her,” Corman said. “She critiqued them, gave them ideas about singing, acting (and) the business. Throughout this week, she’s going to be working with individual singers, hearing some different things. A couple of alumni are coming to audition for her.”

A Permian High School graduate, Garcia is conducting “Gianni Schicchi.” He said the production is hilarious and working with Simpson and Olsen has been constructive.

“This is my first time conducting an opera,” Garcia said. “It’s a brand-new bull to grab by the horns. It has been quite challenging. Not only do you have to worry about one singer, but you have to worry about many making sure their cues are correct. You have to make the orchestra is in the right place with you, so multiple things to have to worry about. It’s been challenging, but fun; very fun.”

Crystal Jaquez, a Midland High School graduate also studying music, is in her first lead role as Sister Angelica. She said she had a small role last year in another opera.

“It’s a good opportunity. … I love the story of Sister Angelica. I love working with all the girls in my cast, getting to sing with them. It’s been a journey …,” Jaquez said.

The cast of ‘Gianni Schicchi’ poses with Metropolitan Opera singer Gary Simpson. The show will be at the Globe Theater today through Saturday. Performances start at 7:30 p.m. nightly.

Photo courtesy of Steve Goff

If You Go
  • What: “Sister Angelica and Gianni Schicchi,” featuring Metropolitan Opera baritone Gary Simpson.
  • Where: Globe Theater, 201 W. University Blvd.
  • When: 7:30 p.m. today, Friday and Saturday.
  • Cost: Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and military personnel. All ECISD, UTPB, and OC students are admitted free with a student ID.
More Information