DAS RHEINGOLD and CARMEN to Close Out Houston Grand Opera's Season
Houston, (May 29, 2014) - Houston Grand Opera drew the season to a close with hit new productions of Das Rheingold and Carmen that prompted CultureMap Houston to conclude: "This is, without doubt, the epitome of early twenty-first century opera production. It's where we are going, and it's thrilling." This success capped a series of triumphs: fall revivals of Die Fledermaus and Aida proved "a spellbinding and sumptuous beginning" (Broadway World) to the new season, followed by the world premieres of three new commissions: Ricky Ian Gordon's A Coffin in Egypt, named one of the twelve "must-see opera events of the season" (Opera News); and Bound and River of Light, both commissioned under the auspices of HGOco's award-winning Song of Houston project; a "downright gorgeous" (Houston Chronicle) take on Sondheim's A Little Night Music; a "glorious" (Theater Jones) Rigoletto revival; and the American premiere of long-suppressed Holocaust opera The Passenger -hailed by the Associated Press as "the latest coup for a company known for producing new works"-which the company will bring to New York's Park Avenue Armory for three performances at this summer's Lincoln Center Festival (July 10-13).
Das Rheingold marked victorious launch of HGO's first Ring cycle
Houston Grand Opera scored an unequivocal triumph with Das Rheingold, which marked an important company milestone, launching not only the American debut of La Fura dels Baus's groundbreaking and visionary treatment of Der Ring des Nibelungen, but also the first staging of Wagner's epic cycle in HGO history. "Houston Grand Opera enters a new phase of its illustrious history with this stunning Rheingold," enthused CultureMap Houston. Finding the results "a jaw-dropping example of opera as an art form," Houstonia declared: "This is a production to be reckoned with." Broadway World admired the "altogether magnificent spectacle," which the Houston Press pronounced "thoroughly mesmerizing." As Opera News put it, "The extraordinary quality of this production lies in how effectively it unleashes the potential and profoundest significances of the Rheingold story." Furthermore, as Classical Voice recognized, despite its originality, the production remained "faithful to the composer's conception of Gesamtkunstwerk. ... Unforgettable."
As for the musical performances, the Houston Press concluded:
"Under the sympathetic baton of [Patrick] Summers, who has a definite affinity for Wagner, ... the ensemble cast is above reproach: probably the best all-round Rheingold I've ever heard."
Opera News was similarly impressed by the "fantastic cast of singers and the exceptionally rich orchestral color achieved by artistic and music director Patrick Summers." ConcertoNet considered the cast "one of the strongest HGO has ever assembled," while CultureMap Houston stated simply: "This is likely the best all-around international cast I have ever heard in any Wagner opera." Iain Paterson's Wotan proved "nothing short of magnificent" (Theater Jones], and Dallas News named him "the best Wotan I've heard since James Morris's heyday." Jamie Barton "displayed a big, resonant mezzo" (Wall Street Journal) as Fricka, giving "a definitive, strong and passionate performance...that puts her clearly in the upper echelon of great singers" (CultureMap Houston). As Freia, Melody Moore's "lush soprano instrument pulls on our heartstrings" (Broadway World); Christopher Purves "was a perfect embodiment of the tortured dwarf [Alberich]" (ConcertoNet); and Stefan Margita's "joyful rendition of the mischievous Loge" proved "a show-stealing performance" (Houstonia).
All told, as CultureMap Houston reflected, in HGO's Rheingold, "Patrick Summers creates a milestone in his impressive career, the singers advance artistically, and the city further establishes itself as a sophisticated, international center for opera." As for what lies ahead, Houstonia noted: "If the next three operas in the series are anywhere near this good, Houston is in for a very exciting few years." As ConcertoNet concluded, "This Ring will be one for the ages."
HGO's new Carmen was "the one to see"
HGO crowned the 2013-14 season with a fresh take on Bizet's perennially popular Carmen. "If you've never seen Carmen live on stage, this HGO production is the one to see. Steamy, provocative, and thoroughly entertaining, it's the ultimate in gypsy love," declared Houstonia. Broadway sensation Rob Ashford's "robust vision for the production highlights the sexuality and emotionality of the show," explained Broadway World, and Houston Press affirmed: "This is mighty fine stage direction."
"Ana María Martínez sizzles in the title role," observed Houstonia. "It's no surprise that Martínez is a Grammy Award winner-this woman has vocal prowess." "Martínez is the most physical Carmen since operatic superstar Geraldine Farrar in Cecil B. DeMille's silent classic from 1915. ... Spectacular," added the Houston Press. Singing opposite the soprano as Don José, Brandon Jovanovich was "a revelation" (Houston Press), being "one of the rare tenors to make the stratospheric climactic phrase of the Flower Song taper off pianissimo as Bizet planned" (Houston Chronicle). "I found myself glued to the edge of my seat," noted the writer in Broadway World. Similarly, as Escamillo, Ryan McKinny demonstrated "another fine interpretation." As the Houston Press remarked, "Carmen falls hard for him. Who wouldn't?"
The production was enhanced by "Julie Weiss's vibrant and splashy costume design" (Broadway World), and "the sweeping, sculptural lines of David Rockwell's set, [which] framed the action dramatically, especially when backlit by the rich reds and oranges of Donald Holder's lighting" (Houston Chronicle). On the podium, maestro Rory Macdonald "kept Bizet's spicy paella on full boil" (Houston Press). As Broadway World declared, "This Carmen is full of life, vigor, passion, and powerful performances, gifting Houston audiences with a fantastic closer to a marvelous season of opera."
Houston brings The Passenger to New York's Lincoln Center Festival this July
Mieczyslaw Weinberg's The Passenger has been called "the most significant opera composed in the Russian language since Prokofiev's War and Peace" (Independent, U.K.), and the critical response to HGO's American premiere production of the opera was strongly enthusiastic. Classical Voice America proclaimed the opera "a masterpiece," and the Chicago Tribune found it an "engrossing, thought-provoking experience" that "deserves [a place] in the regular repertory." The production impressed the Houston Chronicle as one "that unites commanding performances and vivid, fast-paced staging," while the Wall Street Journal commended the way "conductor Patrick Summers shaped the evening with enormous care." As for the performers, "top to bottom, the cast is excellent," asserted the Dallas Morning News. Melody Moore "gave Marta's anguish lyricism and strength" (Wall Street Journal), "Michelle Breedt's instrument seemed ideally suited to the role of Liese" (Classical Voice America), and "Kelly Kaduce was mesmerizing" as Katya (Wall Street Journal). The Toronto Star concluded:
"It is an act of remembrance, a call to conscience, a letter to the future from those who have experienced a terrible past. Houston Grand Opera can take pride in its presentation."
Now HGO presents the long-suppressed opera's New York premiere at the Lincoln Center Festival, when Summers and his stellar cast and orchestra take David Pountney's definitive production to the soaring space of Park Avenue Armory's Wade Thompson Drill Hall (July 10-13).
World premiere of A Christmas Carol and Die Walküre highlight 2014-15 season
Continuing HGO's longstanding tradition of creating and premiering important new operas, next season the company launches a new cycle of holiday-themed commissions with the world premiere of A Christmas Carol (Dec. 5-21, 2014). Composed by Iain Bell to a libretto by famed Dickens scholar Simon Callow, who makes his U.S. operatic directorial debut with the production, the new monodrama will showcase the talents of American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey-"an altogether exceptional artist" (Boston Globe)-who returns to Houston after his comic turn alongside Susan Graham in this season's Die Fledermaus.
In Die Walküre, HGO's second installment of the epic cycle, Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson returns to continue his first staged portrayal of Wotan and Cardiff Singer of the World Jamie Barton resumes her rendering of Fricka, joined by Christine Goerke in her eagerly awaited first U.S. staged performances as Brünnhilde, Simon O'Neill-"the best heroic tenor to emerge over the last decade" (Telegraph, U.K.)-as Siegmund, and revered Finnish soprano Karita Mattila in her role debut as his twin, Sieglinde, once again under the leadership of Patrick Summers (April 18-May 3, 2015).
Next season also sees Ana María Martínez return to Houston in another title role, when she reprises her extraordinarily rich portrayal of Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madame Butterfly in a revival of the stellar HGO staging with which theater legend Michael Grandage made his knockout American operatic debut (Jan. 23-Feb. 8, 2015).
Other upcoming highlights include the return of Melody Moore (Das Rheingold's Freia and The Passenger's Marta) and Stephen Costello, who proved himself "one of the best lyric tenors in the business" (Theater Jones) as the Duke in Rigoletto, in Così fan tutte, which comes back to HGO in the company's beloved Järvefelt/Silverstein staging, with Patrick Summers conducting (Oct. 31-Nov. 15, 2014).
There's more Mozart with The Magic Flute, which marks the American premiere of Sir Nicholas Hytner's iconic English National Opera staging, starring David Portillo, Lisette Oropesa, and Kathryn Lewek, all making company debuts, with Michael Sumuel, an HGO Studio alumnus most recently heard in Die Fledermaus, and Robert Spano on the podium (Jan. 30-Feb. 14, 2015).
Following the success of the company's new-to-Houston production of A Little Night Music, pronounced "spectacular...one of the best musical productions to grace Houston stages" (Broadway World), next season marks the return of Sondheim's macabre masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to HGO, which was the first opera house to ever mount it. This will be the American premiere of Lee Blakeley's new staging, which will be headlined by Nathan Gunn (April 24-May 9, 2015).
Rounding out the compelling 2014-15 lineup is HGO's first presentation of John Cox's staging of Otello, with Maestro Summers leading Simon O'Neill-"the most complete Otello since Domingo" (BBC Music)-opposite recent Tucker and Operalia Award-winner Ailyn Pérez in her house and role debuts as Desdemona (Oct. 24-Nov. 7, 2014).
More information about Houston Grand Opera and its productions is available at the company's website, HGO.org.