Houston Matters

A new opera celebrates two hidden figures of Civil War history

Jake Heggie’s opera Intelligence, premiering at Houston Grand Opera, dramatizes the stories of two women who acted as spies for the Union.


Photo of dancers and opera singer on stage
Michael Bishop
Dancers from Urban Bush Women and Janai Brugger in Intelligence.


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Amid the U.S. Civil War, as men took to the battlefield, two women set out to help the war effort from home… behind enemy lines in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a member of high society in Richmond who vehemently opposed slavery and the secession from the United States, and Mary Jane Bowser was an educated slave in the Van Lew household. Both are the central characters of a new opera called Intelligence, with music by Jake Heggie, libretto by Gene Scheer, and choreography by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

Photo of two opera singers on stage in costume
Michael Bishop
Janai Brugger (L) portrays Mary Jane Bowser and Jamie Barton (R) portrays Elizabeth Van Lew in Intelligence.

Ahead of the premiere of Intelligence by Houston Grand Opera, Houston Matters producer Joshua Zinn visited a rehearsal of the production to talk with members of the creative team and cast, which you can hear in the audio above.

Intelligence premieres on Friday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wortham Theatre Center, with additional showtimes through October and early November.

Joshua Zinn

Joshua Zinn

Producer, Houston Matters

Joshua is a producer for Houston Matters on News 88.7 as well as the host of Encore Houston on Houston Public Media Classical. He joined Houston Public Media as a radio intern in 2014 and became a full-time announcer the following year. Now he prepares segments and occasionally records interviews...

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