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they the were increasingly life sto ry T7i. w ey 1′ WeietoirvinOPci rt o .f d, he say s, 6r4 st o ry a gnsed that :nobody. had dOn! They saw Milk ‘s the Sto man’ s; ev at o ti e Or n i m ;and revolution, brought horn: o to t h em c i s still ress b~ eots, sorb and energy int rattc tradition, and credits the inno `. the breakthrough ” Tf new such on’t come into the theater, if they toiig4tint6 the theaterthe: ‘ The Power of One BY MICHAEL KING HARVEY MILK. Music by Stewart Wallace, Libretto by Michael Korie. World Premiere presented by the Houston Grand Opera, Wortham Center, Brown Theater. i LTHOUGH YOU WOULD hardly know it from its American incarna * on, grand opera has an honorable political history, associated especially with Italian populism and rebellion in the 19th century. But like the rulers of PBS, opera’s landed gentry have generally found it more comfortable to live in the past. It’s a rare company that accepts the risks associated with searching out and supporting potentially controversial new work. The Houston Grand Opera and its general director David Gockley have been happy exceptions to this timidity, as evidenced by their sponsorship of Opera New World productions, an ongoing effort to support new works for new audiences. In 1989, the HGO premiered Where’s Dick?, an anti-heroic detective parody in a film noir mode, by composer Stewart Wallace and librettist Michael Korie. Now Wallace and Korie have returned with Harvey Milk, a sweeping historical tragedy based on the life of the gay San Francisco activist, assassinated in 1978. The opera premiered in Houston, and will run there until February 5, to be followed by productions at the New York City Opera and San Francisco Opera. Milk certainly lived on an operatic scale, moving through the ’60s and ’70s with the breathlessness of a man convinced he would die young. The new opera, starkly framed by his cold-blooded assassination, traces Milk’s life in three broad acts. “The Closet” follows him through his youth in New York, where he discovered his sexuality but kept it hidden, during a tour in the navy as well as a successful career as a stockbroker, until he was galvanized by the nascent gay movement epitomized by the Christopher Street rebellion of 1969. Milk moved to San Francisco and “The Castro,” the Castro Street neighborhood where he became a small businessman and community organizer, building minority and working-class coalitions until he was himself elected a city supervisor, in 1977. The relatively brief Act Three, “City Hall,” assembles the city’s politicians for a final tableau, including Milk, fellow victim Michael King is a freelance writer in Houston. Mayor George Moscone, murderer Dan White and the woman who would pick up the political pieces, Dianne Feinstein. The opera closes with an evocation of the spontaneous candlelight vigil, walked by thousands of San Franciscans, immediately following the murders. Harvey Milk’s story has been told before, and indeed the opera was originally inspired by the 1984 Academy Award-winning documentary directed by Robert Epstein, The Times of Harvey Milk. The narrative generally follows the film as fleshed out by Randy Shills’ biography, The Mayor of Castro Street, with additional material from friends and family. There are even a few auditory reproductions: Feinstein’s tremulous voice announcing the assassinations, and the coda of Milk’s own prescient, taped “political will”: “If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet shatter every closet door.” Corn poser Wallace researched the operas Milk most lovedhe attended an historic performance of Tosca the weekend before he was murderedand the eclectic score is dotted with operatic references. A huge portrait of 18 FEBRUARY 10, 1995