Houston Grand Opera Announces 2013-14 Season

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Houston Grand Opera Announces 2013-14 Season

Houston Grand Opera (HGO)-the only opera company with two Grammys, two Emmys, and a Tony - continues to raise the bar for American opera with next season's gripping new line-up.

As Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers and Managing Director Perryn Leech announced today, the 2013-14 season brings the launch of the company's first Ring cycle, in a visionary and captivating production by the Catalan company La Fura dels Baus; the hotly anticipated North American premiere of the Holocaust opera The Passenger; the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's A Coffin in Egypt, based on the play of the same name by Horton Foote and starring iconic mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade; a new HGO production of Carmen from Broadway sensation Rob Ashford; revivals of Aida, Rigoletto, and Die Fledermaus; and, in tribute to the nation's homegrown musical theater tradition, Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music designed by fashion star Isaac Mizrahi. In addition, courtesy of HGOco's Song of Houston project-winner of the National MultiCultural Institute's Leading Lights Diversity Award-the company continues to celebrate Houston's cultural diversity with the world premieres of two new commissions exploring the city's Vietnamese and Indian communities as part of the East + West series. These rich offerings reflect both HGO's commitment to artistic excellence and the success this has engendered - all of which has been noticed nationally and internationally. During the 2011-12 season and continuing in the current 2012-13 season, HGO's audiences have come from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, as well as from at least 23 foreign countries. Public demand for tickets has skyrocketed - as evidenced by a 35 percent increase in subscription sales since 2007, allowing HGO to dramatically increase the size of their season for the second straight year. The company will present 48 performances of eight operas in 2013-14 - an increase of 45% over its 2011-12 season (which included 33 performances of six operas). HGO's unprecedented artistic and financial achievements make it arguably the most successful opera company in the US today.

Discussing the upcoming season, HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers explains, "Naturally, to me, the most exciting event next season is our production of Das Rheingold, which launches the largest single endeavor in HGO's history, Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelung. The cycle will be presented in succession, that is, one opera during each of the following three years. But there is much besides the Ring to excite everyone. Our 2013-14 season presents a full and wide range of appealing artistic possibilities for HGO's local, national, and international audiences."

"We have developed a wonderful momentum over the last few seasons with our commitment to quality in every aspect of our work." adds HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech. "Our aim is to grow HGO responsibly through a sound business model and to increase our artistic output, further impacting the lives of our audience. We will continue to invest in the future of our art form and in its relevance and accessibility in our community. We are delighted the season ahead includes an increase in subscription productions from six to seven and a total of 48 performances - four more than the 2012-13 season."

Marking an important company milestone, the new season sees HGO launch its first presentation of Wagner's glorious Ring cycle, in a "visually dazzling" (Los Angeles Times) production from La Fura dels Baus, the genre-defying Catalan theater company behind Barcelona's 1992 Olympic opening ceremony. Previously staged only in Europe, this "genuinely original conception" (Music-Web International) employs acrobats in tableaux of human scenery and cutting-edge visual imagery to create "a veritable symphony in pictures" (Opera News). Highlights from the production, which was released on DVD by C Major Entertainment and won the 2010 ECHO Klassik Award for DVD of the year, can be seen here.

Over the next four seasons, HGO will present one installment of the cycle each year, starting in April 2014 with Das Rheingold. Heading the outstanding cast is Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson (dubbed "talent to watch" by the Chicago Tribune), making his house debut in his first performances as Wotan. Singing opposite him as Fricka is American mezzo Jamie Barton, an HGO Studio alumna and Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner. Slovak tenor Stefan Margita reprises the role of Loge with which he "stole the show" at San Francisco Opera (Opera Tattler). Patrick Summers, who made his Wagner debut in 2009 when he led Lohengrin at HGO in "a soulful reading that unleashes the score's power and encompasses its breadth" (Houston Chronicle), will lead from the pit.

No less momentous is the North American premiere of The Passenger, by exiled Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Based on an eponymous novel by Auschwitz survivor Zofia Posmysz, The Passenger is set in the late 1950s and depicts a German couple, Lisa and Walter, on board an ocean liner where former SS officer Lisa thinks she recognizes an Auschwitz prisoner among their fellow passengers. Although Weinberg completed his score in 1968, the opera was not performed until 2006. It was not fully staged until the 2010 Bregenz Festival, at which time the New York Times observed:

The work was brilliantly served by David Pountney's production. Johan Engels's two-level set, with the ship above and the camp below-bleakly characterized by railroad tracks and wooden bunks-facilitated the shift in action from one to the other. Marie Jeanne lecca's realistic costumes, which dressed all those on board ship in white, heightened the contrast.

In January 2014, this production comes to Houston, once again starring South African mezzo Michelle Breedt in the role she created in Austria, where she "excelled as the guilt-plagued Lisa" (New York Times). She will be joined by Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser, best-known as Tamino in Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation of The Magic Flute. Patrick Summers will conduct.

HGO is also proud to present the first in a series of new operas commissioned by HGO: Ricky Ian Gordon's A Coffin in Egypt, with a libretto by Leonard Foglia, who will also direct the stage premiere. One of the world's most beloved opera stars, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, stars in this moving monodrama. "This new opera has deep Texas roots," says Summers. "It is based on a play of the same name by the renowned Texas writer Horton Foote. Ricky Ian Gordon is a very theatrically driven composer with a style that is perfectly suited to opera." Houston Grand Opera's legacy of commissioning and premiering new works goes back more than 40 years, and includes commissions from John Adams, Philip Glass, Daniel Catán, André Previn, Mark Adamo, and Jake Heggie, among others. A Coffin in Egypt will mark HGO's 52nd world premiere since 1973.

In April 2014, HGO breathes fresh life into Bizet's perennially popular Carmen with the help of American director/choreographer Rob Ashford. "Rob Ashford is Broadway's hottest young director," notes Summers, "and we are looking forward to Rob's take on an iconic classic." A Tony, Emmy, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award winner-with nominations for a further seven Tonys and five Olivier Awards-Ashford needs little introduction on Broadway or in London's West End.

"I am thrilled to be making my HGO debut with Carmen," says director and choreographer Ashford. "I've always loved this score and look forward to exploring its strong flamenco rhythms and influence. It is a very exciting opportunity."

In her role debut as Bizet's irrepressible gypsy, the new production presents Grammy Award-winning Puerto Rican soprano, Ana María Martínez. As an alumna of the HGO Studio, Martínez was the inaugural recipient of the Lynn Wyatt Great Artist Award. Opposite her, Richard Tucker Award-winner Brandon Jovanovich, hailed as "a high heroic tenor clearly destined for greatness" (Wall Street Journal), portrays Don José. Their doomed love triangle is completed by the Escamillo of bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, another former HGO Studio artist and the first recipient of Plácido Domingo's Birgit Nilsson Prize. Scotland's Rory Macdonald will conduct.

Described by the New York Times as "the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater," Stephen Sondheim is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, an Olivier Award, an Academy Award, seven Tony Awards, a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, and multiple Grammy Awards. The upcoming production of his intimate chamber piece A Little Night Music demonstrates HGO's ongoing commitment to musical theater, America's original contribution to the operatic genre. In March 2014, the company will revive the staging with which Isaac Mizrahi made his directorial debut, and about which the Wall Street Journal concluded: "No surprise that Mr. Mizrahi's costumes were enchanting; he also brought a light touch to the directing, never pushing the comedy into slapstick or the romance into bathos. It was all charming and very effective." Headlining the revival are: American soprano Elizabeth Futral ("magnificent ..., with a mesmerizing combination of vocal elegance and expressive ferocity" - New York Times); HGO Studio alumnus and company regular Chad Shelton, who has impressed Opera News with his "total tenor confidence"; and American mezzo Joyce Castle, who was chosen by the composer himself to record "Send in the Clowns" for the Book-of-the-Month collection Sondheim. Musical direction is by HGO's own associate music director, Eric Melear, Sir Georg Solti Foundation Award winner and a former HGO Studio artist.

Aida, the first of HGO's upcoming Verdi revivals, opens the 2013-14 season in October. Featuring sets and costumes by British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, this production is suitably larger than life. In the title role, HGO is thrilled to present Liudmyla Monastyrska, the star of the Ukraine National Opera, who recently "brought her voluptuous soprano" to Aida in her first U.S. appearances at the Met, where she made "a triumphant house debut" (New York Times). In her signature role, powerhouse mezzo Dolora Zajick defends her title as "the Amneris of our day" (Opera Today), while Texan baritone and HGO Studio alumnus Scott Hendricks sings Aida's father, Amonasro. Italy's Antonino Fogliani, a specialist in the music of his homeland, conducts. Aida marks the first collaboration between HGO and Houston-based Dominic Walsh Dance Company whose work has been praised by dance cognoscenti nationwide. The company of dancers will perform dance sequences in Aida choreographed by Walsh.

In January, the company will also revive Verdi's Rigoletto in a production directed by revival director Harry Silverstein and conducted by Patrick Summers. Ryan McKinny, whose powerful bass-baritone "drips with gold" (Opera News), returns to sing his first Rigoletto, while Richard Tucker Award-winning tenor Stephen Costello makes his long-awaited HGO debut as the Duke of Mantua. Costello drew rave reviews at this year's Tucker Award Gala, when the Associated Press praised his "ardent, effortless vocalizing," noting, "Costello was in brilliant voice, his bright tenor brimming with youthful vigor and passion."

For the first time in 30 years, HGO produces Die Fledermaus by Viennese "waltz king" Johann Strauss II. In an Art Deco-style concept by Australian director Lindy Hume, the operetta is transported from imperial Austria-Hungary to 1930s Manhattan and was dubbed "the perfect entertainment," by the Sydney Morning Herald. HGO Studio alumnus Liam Bonner makes his role debut as Eisenstein, and Wendy Bryn Harmer brings her "bright pealing soprano" (Wall Street Journal) to her first Rosalinde. Susan Graham - "America's favorite mezzo" (Gramophone) and HGO's Lynn Wyatt Great Artist for 2013-14 - sings one of her celebrated trouser-roles as Prince Orlofsky. Soprano Laura Claycomb portrays Adele, and four-time Grammy Award-winner Anthony Dean Griffey sings his first Alfred. Thomas Rösner-Vienna-born-and-bred-conducts.

HGO expands this exciting 2013-14 lineup with two more world premiere productions through HGOco, its community outreach program that commissions works based on stories that define the unique character of Houston. HGOco's ongoing Song of Houston initiative debuts two new chamber operas in its East + West series, which celebrates Houston as a meeting place for Eastern and Western cultures. Timed to coincide with the Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebrations, the first piece will premiere in January 2014. With the Working Title Bound, it is the creation of librettist Bao-Long Chu and composer Huang Ruo, a Luxembourg International Composition Prize winner. The second work is slated for March 2014, in conjunction with the Indian festival of Holi. With a libretto by American Book Award-winner Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, this marks the second contribution to East + West by composer Jack Perla, whose China-themed Courtside premiered in 2011. These operas represent the 51st and 53nd world premieres at HGO since 1973.

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