Houston Grand Opera's 2017–18 Season Features Long-Awaited Return of Strauss's Elektra and Bellini's Norma

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 sopranoChristine 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 favorite 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 iconic West 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."

Details of the upcoming Houston Grand Opera productions are provided below, and more information is available at the company's website: HGO.org. All repertoire, dates, pricing, productions, and casting are subject to change without notice.

La traviata: Star coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova returns in a new HGO production staged by noted director Arin Arbus, conducted by Eun Sun Kim in her North American debut (October 20­-November 11, 2017)

HGO opens its 63rd season with Verdi's time-honored setting of the heartbreaking story of a courtesan who sacrifices herself for love, given a fresh take by off-Broadway director Arin Arbus, "a director of true insight" (Toronto Star), whose 2012 HGO production of The Rape of Lucretia was her first foray into opera. Dramatic coloratura soprano and HGO Studio alumna Albina Shagimuratova, who sang Violetta here in 2012, returns after her recent triumphant portrayal of the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago and appearances as the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute in Paris and Vienna. Her lover, Alfredo, will be sung by tenor Dimitri Pittas, whose "plangent tenor soar(ed) effortlessly"(Houston Press) as Nemorino in HGO's 2016 production of The Elixir of Love. Romanian baritone George Petean, "absolutely outstanding in the title role" (Bachtrack) of Simon Boccanegra at Opera Australia in 2016, makes his HGO debut as Germont before performing the role later in the season at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Metropolitan Opera. The rising Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim makes her American debut after successful appearances in Europe, including a 2014 Traviata in Marseilles that displayed "a convincing sense of Bel Canto"(Opera Today).

Julius Caesar: Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (HGO's 2017-18 Lynn Wyatt Great Artist) and soprano Heidi Stober make role debuts in James Robinson's art deco-era production (October 27-November 10, 2017)

An art deco pyramid and a silver-screen Cleopatra bring Handel's romantic comedy to the golden age of 1930s Hollywood in this imaginative HGO production originally staged in 2003 by James Robinson. Acclaimed countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo makes his role and HGO mainstage debuts as Caesar, following successes at the Dallas Opera as Roane in Jake Heggie's Great Scott (2015) and in the title role of Philip Glass's Akhnaten at English National Opera in 2016, where he displayed "more raw power than any countertenor I can remember"(Bachtrack). Soprano Heidi Stober returns to HGO as Cleopatra after 2016 performances as Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro and her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Valencienne in The Merry Widow, when Opera News praised her "instrument of stunning brilliance, proportion and beauty." The much-admired mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, who turned in a "bravura performance"(Opera Warhorses) as Nettie Fowler in Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel at HGO in 2016, returns to the role of Cornelia, which she last performed in 2002. The role of Sextus will be sung by mezzo-soprano Megan Mikailovna Samarin in her first performances as an alumna of the HGO Studio, on the heels of her "impressive"(Opera Warhorses) 2016 appearances as Siébel in HGO's Faust. Countertenor David Daniels, who played Arsamenes in HGO's Xerxes in 2010 and is widely agreed to have helped redefine the opera world's understanding of countertenors, will sing Ptolemy. Argentine bass and HGO Studio artist Federico De Michelis, familiar to HGO audiences as Angelotti in Tosca and Thomas Betterton in Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players, both in 2016, will perform Achillas. Patrick Summers will conduct.

The House without a Christmas Tree: Ricky Ian Gordon/Royce Vavrek world premiere features soprano Lauren Snouffer and baritone Daniel Belcher (November 30-December 17, 2017)

HGO continues its annual holiday opera series with the world premiere of The House without a Christmas Tree from the sought-after composer/librettist team of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek. The opera is based on the story by Gail Rock and beloved 1972 television film of the same name. Soprano and HGO Studio alumnaLauren Snouffer stars as the precocious daughter Addie Mills, who struggles to understand why her father, played by baritone and HGO Studio alumnus Daniel Belcher, so strongly resents the holidays. Ms. Snouffer "stood out especially"(Opera News) as Carrie Pipperidge in HGO's 2016 Carousel, after exhibiting "piquant charm" and "lovely singing"(Houston Chronicle) as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, also in 2016. Daniel Belcher, who last appeared at HGO as Taddeo in The Italian Girl in Algiers (2012), recently performed Father Palmer in Kevin Puts's Silent Night in several cities, where "his voice and stance transfixed the audience" (KCMetropolis). The role of Grandma Mills will be sung by soprano Patricia Schuman, who earned positive notices as the Duchess in Thomas Adès's Powder Her Face(2015) and as the Mother in Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves (2016), both at Opera Philadelphia. The work will also include a juvenile chorus.

James Robinson will create the production and HGO's associate music director Bradley Moore will conduct.

Elektra: First HGO performances in 25 years feature superstar soprano Christine Goerke and role debut of Tucker Award-winner TaMara Wilson as Chrysothemis in David McVicar production of Strauss tragedy (January 19-February 2, 2018)

Soprano Christine Goerke's portrayal of Richard Strauss's revenge-driven Elektra in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall was a highlight of the 2015 season, her "effortless power, gleaming sound, and dramatic intensity" adding up to an "unforgettable" performance, according to the New York Times. Now, after her triumphant appearances as Brünnhilde in HGO's first Ring cycle (2014-17), the company brings this virtuosic artist back to Houston for the return, after a 25-year absence, of Strauss's startling one-act masterwork based on the ancient tragedy by Sophocles.

The stellar cast also includes 2016 Richard Tucker Award-winning soprano TaMara Wilson in her role debut as Elektra's sister, Chrysothemis. An HGO Studio alumna, Ms. Wilson last appeared here as Leonora in Il trovatore in 2013. In 2015 she portrayed Aida at the Metropolitan Opera, where the New York Times noted that her "passion surpasses stereotype." The sisters' murderous mother, Klytaemnestra, will be sung by mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens, making her house and role debuts. In the Metropolitan Opera's 2014 mounting of John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer, Martens, as Marilyn Klinghoffer, was "the singer who most tore at the heart"(New Yorker). Baritone and HGO Studio alumnus Greer Grimsley will sing Orest, Elektra's brother. Last heard at HGO in 2002 as the High Priest in Samson and Delilah, Grimsley portrayed the title role in Seattle Opera's The Flying Dutchman (2016), where the Seattle Times noted his "commanding stage presence and resonant voice." Klytaemnestra's lover, Aegisth, will be taken by HGO Studio alumnus Chad Shelton, whose 2016 HGO roles included Charles II in Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players and Cavaradossi in performances of Tosca. Shelton is Mao Tse-tung in this season's Nixon in China.

Patrick Summers conducts and Nick Sandys directs this revival of David McVicar's haunting 2012 production.

The Barber of Seville: Rising star Lucas Meachem makes HGO debut as Figaro and Eric Owens returns as Don Basilio in popular Els Comediants staging of Rossini classic comedy (January 26-February 10, 2018)

Opera's favorite barber returns to HGO with an all-star cast in the colorful Els Comediants production that the Houston Chronicle termed "inventive, playful,[and] unpredictable" when it debuted here in 2011. San Antonio native David Portillo, one of Opera News's 2015 Rising Stars, returns to HGO to play Count Almaviva after bringing his "clean, pure tenor" (Houston Chronicle) to the role of Tamino in The Magic Flute in 2015. Baritone Lucas Meachem will make his HGO debut as Figaro, the role in which he gave a "charismatic"(San Francisco Classical Voice) performance at San Francisco Opera in 2015. Rosina will be sung by HGO Studio alumna Sofia Selowsky, who gave memorable HGO performances during the 2015-16 season as The Fox in The Little Prince and Eliza in the world premiere of David Hanlon's After the Storm. Peixin Chen, the HGO Studio alumnus who "stole the show" with his "deep-dish voice"(Houston Press) as Dr. Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro, will portray that character in Rossini's opera. Acclaimed bass Eric Owens, an HGO Studio alumnus who was named Musical America's 2017 Vocalist of the Year, will make a long-anticipated return to HGO as the wily Don Basilio. He last appeared here as Ramfis in Aida in 1999.

West Side Story: Francesca Zambello directs first major American opera house presentation of Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Jerome Robbins's beloved musical, featuring soprano Andrea Carroll and tenor Norman Reinhardt (April 20-May 6, 2018)

Leonard Bernstein often lamented that his 1957 landmark musical West Side Story did not have the bona fides to qualify as an opera, yet he eventually recorded it with opera singers (1984); the multiple award-winning work has found its way into opera houses across Europe, including a production at Austria's Bregenz Festival in 2003 and 2004 directed by Francesca Zambello. Now Zambello returns to HGO, where she staged many notable projects including Show Boat (2013), Billy Budd(2009), and the world premieres of The Little Prince (2003) and Florencia en el Amazonas (1996), to create a new co-production with Glimmerglass Festival, where she is the artistic director, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Set in a factory where the young women are employed, the production will feature as Maria HGO Studio alumna Andrea Carroll, whose HGO successes include portrayals of Mary Hatch Bailey in the 2016 world premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's It's a Wonderful Life and Julie Jordan in Carousel (2016). HGO Studio alumnus Norman Reinhardt will reprise the role of Tony after singing it in the 2016 Salzburg Festival opposite Cecilia Bartoli. Reinhardt's portrayal of Lensky in HGO's 2015 Eugene Onegin was "magnificently sung"(Houston Press). Anita will be sung by soprano Alicia Gianni, an HGO Studio alumna who portrayed Giannetta in The Elixir of Love (2016), and baritone Brian Vu will make his role and house debuts as Riff. A 2016-17 resident artist with Pittsburgh Opera, he won first place in the 2016 Lotte Lenya Competition, whose judges noted his "refreshing flair and vocal prowess."

Timothy Myers, artistic and music director of North Carolina Opera, will conduct. He led HGO's productions of Gregory Spears and Royce Vavrek's O Columbia(2015) and Ricky Ian Gordon's A Coffin in Egypt (2014).

Norma: Acclaimed soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton headline Kevin Newbury production of Bellini's Bel Canto masterwork (April 27-May 11, 2018)

Vocal acrobatics abound in the title role in Norma, one of the most formidable dramatic soprano roles in all of opera. HGO has not presented the work in 22 years, so Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska's first performances in the role will be particularly significant. After thrilling Houston audiences as Aida in 2013 and Tosca in 2015, she recently gave a "vocally scorching"(Telegraph) portrayal of Abigaille in Nabucco at London's Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Joining her as Adalgisa is world-renowned mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, an HGO Studio alumna whose debut as Fenena in that same Covent Garden production was impressive with "warmth, richness of tone, [and] convincing dramatic engagement"(Opera). Tenor Simon O'Neill, whose "stirring tenor...epitomizes strength and perseverance"(Houston Chronicle) as Siegmund in HGO's 2015 Die Walküre, will sing Pollione, and bass and HGO Studio alumnus Peixin Chen will portray Oroveso. As Dr. Bartolo in HGO's 2016 Marriage of Figaro, Chen "stole the show" with his "deep-dish voice"(Houston Press).

Inspired by research into Druid culture in Roman-occupied Gaul, acclaimed director Kevin Newbury's staging of this monumental work captures the visceral nature of the characters, with costumes often described as reminiscent of Game of Thrones.

Subscription tickets for HGO's 2017-18 season are now available, and single tickets will go on sale August 27. For further information please visit HGO.org or call 713-228-OPERA (6737). Performances take place at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas Avenue, unless specifically stated otherwise.

Houston Grand Opera will give two free community performances at Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre on May 18 and 19, 2018.

HGO Artistic Staff Take On Enhanced Roles

Several members of HGO's artistic staff will take on enhanced roles. Bradley Moore will be promoted to associate music director for the 2017-18 season. Whilecontinuing as music director of the HGO Studio, he will also serve as music director of HGOco and oversee all musical aspects of the commissioning, workshopping, and delivery of new works. He will have new conducting responsibilities starting with The House without a Christmas Tree and will also serve as cover conductor for operas conducted by Patrick Summers and others.

Richard Bado, an HGO Studio alumnus, will return full-time to the company for the 2017-18 season as head of music staff, a position he previously held from 1991 until 2005 when he was recruited to lead the opera program at Rice University. Bado will also continue as chorus master for the acclaimed HGO Chorus, a post he has held for 29 years.

Paul Hopper has been promoted to assistant artistic director. He will be responsible for managing special artistic projects and advising the artistic director, with special emphasis on the planning and logistical delivery of new works and the development of American composers and their compositions. He will continue to serve as the company's principal dramaturg and will also develop new working partnerships across the wider Houston community.

Daniel James adds the new title of artistic media manager to his current role as music administrator. In addition to handling all administrative aspects of the chorus, children's chorus, corps dancers, and orchestra he will plan and manage HGO's increasing artistic media and recording activities. He will take over the management of supertitles and also assist in educating internal and external constituents about selected repertoire.

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