Houston, January 12, 2017 – Houston Grand Opera expands its commitment to broadening the audience for opera with a 2017-18 season that includes the first presentations of Leonard Bernstein’s classic musical West Side Story by a major American opera house and the world premiere of composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek’s holiday opera The House without a Christmas Tree. HGO will present its first performances in a quarter century of two iconic works: Richard Strauss’s revenge-filled Elektra with virtuoso soprano Christine Goerke in the tempestuous title role and 2016 Richard Tucker Award–winner and HGO Studio alumna Tamara Wilson in her role debut as Chrysothemis, under the baton of HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers; and Bellini’s grand-scale tragedy Norma showcasing the debut of stellar dramatic soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska in the notoriously difficult title role, with 2015 Tucker winner and HGO Studio alumna Jamie Barton as Adalgisa. The company will revive its production of Handel’s Julius Caesar set in 1930s Hollywood, featuring the role debuts of star countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (HGO’s 2017–18 Lynn Wyatt Great Artist) and Houston favorite and HGO Studio alumna soprano Heidi Stober as Caesar and Cleopatra, respectively, also conducted by Maestro Summers; and Rossini’s ever-popular comedy, The Barber of Seville, with a cast that includes the eagerly anticipated return of HGO Studio alumnus Eric Owens, Musical America’s 2017 Vocalist of the Year, as Don Basilio. The season opens with director Arin Arbus’s probing staging of Verdi’s poignant La traviata, with acclaimed soprano and HGO Studio alumna Albina Shagimuratova as Violetta, tenor Dimitri Pittas as Alfredo, and the North American debut of the highly praised young Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim.
HGO’s main-stage season will comprise 45 performances (including two free community performances) of seven productions. The company will also present four student performances.HGOco, the company’s initiative to connect HGO’s creative resources with the diverse and vibrant Houston community, will cap three years of engagement with the city’s veterans through several projects in November 2017 culminating around Veterans Day. HGOco will produce the American chamber opera Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo, November 6 and 9, 2017. Based on the book of the same title by Tom Philpott, the opera tells the story of America’s longest-held prisoner of war, Vietnam veteran Jim Thompson. The production will take place in the 1940 Air Museum hangar adjacent to Houston’s Hobby Airport. On Saturday, November 11, HGOco will present the final in a series of concerts featuring music commissioned during the course of its three-year Veterans Songbook project. The songs are based on the words of veterans developed through workshops with Houston-area veterans groups held in conjunction with Writers In The Schools (WITS). Both of these projects will be part of a city-wide partnership focusing on veterans and their families that will include the Veterans Affairs Office of the City of Houston, the Veterans’ Administration Hospital, and Houston Public Media, among others.
HGOco is also partnering with American Lyric Opera to develop a new opera for children and families by composer Kamala Sankaram, to premiere at HGO in January 2018. An alumna of American Lyric Theater’s Composer/Librettist Development Program, Sankaram’s music has been performed by The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Beth Morrison Projects, and Opera on Tap, among others. She has received awards from the Jonathan Larson Performing Arts Foundation and the NY Innovative Theatre Foundation. Her opera Thumbprint, which premiered at the 2014 Prototype Festival, will have its West Coast premiere at LA Opera in June 2017. In recent articles Sankaram’s work has been praised as “strikingly original” (NY Times) with “a driving percussive energy and a distinctive sound” (Wall Street Journal).
This season HGO continues its discounted subscription series for young people under 25 featuring seven operas for $125, and its under 25 Pay Your Age single-ticket program launched last season. These initiatives complement HGO’s popular Opening Nights for Young Professionals discount series, and the continuing opportunities available to community groups for discounted and free tickets through the multiyear Nexus ticket underwriting initiative.
HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers notes, “In this season we are thrilled to bring back after nearly 25 years two masterpieces that have long captured the imaginations of opera lovers but whose extraordinarily demanding title roles have daunted many a performer; in Liudmyla Monastyrska (Norma) and Christine Goerke (Elektra) we have artists whose vocal and dramatic virtuosity illuminate these roles for our time. A new work from composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek, retelling the children’s holiday favourite The House without a Christmas Tree, will warm our hearts with the power of family love. We are thrilled to welcome the brilliant countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (HGO’s 2017–18 Lynn Wyatt Great Artist) to our stage as Julius Caesar. To celebrate the centennial of the American musical genius Leonard Bernstein, HGO is proud to present the first major American opera house production of his iconicWest Side Story, which has been performed by several European opera companies, and which will speak to us with fresh relevance through the vision of director Francesca Zambello. And we are delighted to open our season with the collaboration of another tremendously gifted director, Arin Arbus, with rising conductor Eun Sun Kim on La traviata, featuring two outstanding lead artists, HGO Studio alumna Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Dimitri Pittas.”
HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech adds, “HGO’s exceptional presentations of masterworks of the repertoire and new operas that resonate with audiences are raising the level of excitement around opera in Houston. Both the main-stage season and our HGOco activities at the Wortham and at venues around the city are connecting with our diverse and vibrant Houston community, and we look forward to new HGOco initiatives under the leadership of director Carleen Graham. We are also delighted that more young people have been discovering the excitement and passion of opera for about the same cost as a movie ticket through our under-25 Pay Your Age programs.”