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Dare to Diva

Alefiya Akbarally

WHEN ASKED WHAT can be done to introduce new audiences to opera, Chicago-born soprano Nicole Heaston does not mince words. “People think that in order to compete with performers like Beyoncé, opera singers need to be naked,” says Heaston, a former Houston Grand Opera Studio member who is now based in Katy. “Beyoncé can’t do what we do, and we can’t do what Beyoncé does. But when people see what we can do, and we do it right, they become excited about it.”


Houston opera fans will have a lot to be excited about this season, when Heaston’s star shines bright on multiple stages. She joins the Houston Symphony for three performances of Haydn’s oratorio Die Schöpfung (The Creation) (Sept. 29-Oct. 2). And in October, Heaston sings the lead role of Adina in HGO’s production of Donizetti’s comic opera L'Elisir d'Amore (The Elixir of Love) (Oct. 21-Nov. 4).

In a twist of staging, the HGO production takes place on the Italian Riviera in the 1950s. The atmosphere is likely to be an entertaining combination of La Dolce Vita and screwball comedy. “Instead of running a farm or vineyard, my character is going to be a hotel owner,” says Heaston. “I’m totally game.”

Chicago-Born soprano Nicole Heaston

Haydn’s The Creation, which portrays the beginning of the world according to Genesis, is more serious in tone, but just as popular with modern audiences. “Haydn’s music is so incredibly beautiful,” says Heaston, who sings the roles of archangel Gabriel and Eve. “Gabriel’s recitatives and arias are declamatory, with more syncopation than Eve’s. When I sing Eve, I imagine the sun rising. Her music has a sweet, more naive feel.”

Heaston, who has sung lead roles for major companies around the world, believes outreach is key to creating fansof her genre. “If you diversify the stage and diversify the audience,” says Heaston, “people will come.”

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Valerie and Ellie Cassady at PepperLou Gifts

In West Houston, in a nondescript shopping center at the corner of Memorial and Kirkwood, there's a hidden-gem boutique filled with treasures from all over the country called PepperLou Gifts. It's the brainchild of Ellie Cassady, a joyful 19-year old with different abilities, and her mom, Valerie. This holiday season, the duo has a ton of fun, festive events in the works at their store — which is named after the family's two cats — including plenty of holiday discounts and CDC-friendly ways to shop safely.

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