Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Houston Grand Opera Announces New $22 Million Fund Within The HGO Endowment

Sarah and Ernest Butler make the largest gift in HGO's 68-year history.

Houston Grand Opera Announces New $22 Million Fund Within The HGO Endowment

At tonight's annual Concert of Arias, the 35th Annual Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, Houston Grand Opera announced that Sarah and Ernest Butler have created a new fund within the HGO Endowment valued at $22 million, the largest philanthropic investment in the 68-year history of the organization. The company also announced that its acclaimed training program for young artists has been renamed the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio.

"Sarah and I have been Houston Grand Opera subscribers for 35 years, since the company's first season in the Wortham Theater Center," said Ernest Butler, "and we've been attending performances at HGO much longer. The two of us have followed the HGO Studio since its inception, watching its graduates go on to successful careers in opera. We've decided to create a new fund within the HGO Endowment that supports the program, because we've seen the endowment's careful fiscal management firsthand. We have tremendous confidence in HGO and want to help this great company expand its mission and its reach, throughout our region and beyond."

"The arts are a reflection of who we are," said Sarah Butler. "For our society to be healthy, we must invest in art and culture, which is critical to the wellbeing of humanity. With our investment in HGO's future, Ernest and I want to support the organization through the next century, so that everyone in our part of the world has access to the beauty of grand opera. This gift is a strategic one, because the artistic excellence at HGO supports and elevates cultural endeavors both within, and far beyond, Houston."

The Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio, one of the most respected and highly competitive young artist programs in the world, provides comprehensive career development to young singers and pianist/coaches who have demonstrated potential to make major contributions to the artform. During residencies that last up to three years, artists receive individualized study programs in classical singing, piano, and coaching, as well as movement and language instruction. Butler Studio artists are afforded numerous performance opportunities, including major and supporting roles in mainstage productions, working with world-renowned artists, directors, and conductors.

"We are deeply grateful to Sarah and Ernest Butler for their vision, their decade-spanning support and leadership of HGO, and this history-making gift to secure its future," said HGO General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor. "Having gotten to know this extraordinary couple since assuming leadership at HGO, I know the careful consideration they've put into this strategic investment. The trust the Butlers have placed in this organization; their belief in HGO's impact as a world-class cultural institution; their decision to invest in the company as an industry leader that nourishes the careers of the most talented young artists in the field-it is both inspiring and humbling. All of us at the company are thrilled to honor them not only through our renamed Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio, but also through our pursuit of artistic excellence of the highest order."

Sarah and Ernest Butler, who are based in Austin and travel to Houston for HGO performances, have supported the company for decades. Most recently, in 2020, after the onset of COVID made live performance impossible, the couple made an essential $1 million donation to Houston Grand Opera to create HGO Digital, the Sarah and Ernest Butler Performance Series. The gift supported the Texas Opera Alliance, a strategic partnership between HGO and four other companies throughout the state that enabled the production of shareable digital for audiences at home. Today HGO Digital, now in its third season, offers virtual programming to complement the company's live mainstage performances.

Both native Texans, the Butlers attended Baylor University. Sarah is a retired educator, and Ernest is a retired otolaryngologist who founded the Austin Ear Nose and Throat Clinic, as well as Acoustic Systems, a company that manufactures booths for hearing tests, musical practice, and broadcasting. The Butlers have dedicated the larger part of their lives to their involvement and philanthropy in the arts and sciences, providing generous financial support and leadership to the organizations they support, including Austin Opera, Ballet Austin, Austin Symphony Orchestra, the Texas Cultural Trust, and the University of Texas Butler School of Music, which has carried their name since 2008. They were inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Texas Medal of the Arts in 2011 from the Texas Cultural Trust.

Sarah has been on the Ballet Austin Board of Directors for almost 20 years and currently serves as its Board of Directors Chair and Foundation Chair. She recently received the Honorary Gold Membership from the Women's Symphony League, recognizing 50 years of active membership. She was recognized as the 2017 Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of Central Texas and received the 2016 Champion Award from Dance USA. Ernest helped found the Texas Medical Foundation, now the TMF Health Quality Institute, and the Central Texas Medical Foundation. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Board and the Endowment Investment Committee Chair of the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

For more information on Houston Grand Opera's upcoming productions, the Butler Studio, and opportunities to support the organization, visit

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is one of the largest, most innovative, and most highly acclaimed opera companies in the United States. General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor assumed leadership of the organization and responsibility for its strategic vision in 2021. HGO was the only American finalist for Opera Company of the Year in the 2019 International Opera Awards, and the only American company to be nominated twice. In fulfilling its mission to advance the operatic art, to serve the Houston community, and to be a global leader in the future of opera, HGO has led the field in commissioning and producing new works (73 world premieres to date) and in training and nurturing promising young artists and administrators. The company contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO's pioneering Community and Learning initiative has served as a model for other arts organizations.

The NEXUS Initiative is HGO's multiyear ticket underwriting program that allows Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy opera without the barrier of price. Since 2007, NEXUS has enabled more than 250,000 Houstonians to experience superlative opera through discounted single tickets and subscriptions, subsidized student performances, and free productions.

HGO has toured extensively and has won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and three Emmy awards. It is the only opera company to win all three honors.

Cape Town Opera Brings Rossinis STABAT MATER To Paarl Toringkerk Photo
This Easter, on Sunday 8 April 2023, Cape Town Opera brings Rossini's Stabat Mater to the beautiful Toringkerk in Paarl.

Review: Shakespeare’s Merry Wives Get the Best of a Grand Michael Volle in Verdi&rsq Photo
Combine a supreme farceur with a stentorian voice that thrills and you get baritone Michael Volle’s portrayal of the title role in Verdi’s FALSTAFF, which breezed into town late last week for a limited run at the Met. While we’ve had dramatic singers in the role before, they were mostly from Italian repertoire; I don’t know when the last time a Wagnerian--a Wotan from the Ring, for instance--took on this role around here, but Volle did himself proud.

OPERA AT JIMBOUR Celebrates 20 Years With Biggest Program Ever Photo
Twenty years after its first event, Opera at Jimbour will return from May 5 to 7 with a rich program to make its decades-long heritage proud. The capstone event of Qld Music Trails' Southern Trail, gives classical connoisseurs a chance to immerse in the stunning Western Downs region while enjoying the spoils of the state's finest arts.  

Review: SAN DIEGO OPERAS TOSCA at San Diego Civic Center Theatre Photo
Puccini is one of Michelle Bradley’s favorite composers, and she’s in San Diego to sing his Tosca for the San Diego Opera company. We were originally scheduled to talk in person, but a rehearsal change meant Zoom was going to work better for an hour discussion. “I'm happy to be back, and I know that everyone's happy to have me back because I've been treated warmly as always. They check up on me making sure I'm okay, and Southern California feels like a working vacation. After rehearsal I can have a nice walk any time of day. The ocean’s close, the mountains, beautiful views. I've made some great friends, and it’s a wonderful relationship to have. They seem to think I’m a star.”

More Hot Stories For You

THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE World Premiere Opera To Run At Fresh Squeezed Opera, May 13-19THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE World Premiere Opera To Run At Fresh Squeezed Opera, May 13-19
February 28, 2023

A new opera by composer Eric Moe and librettist Rob Handel, The Artwork of the Future, will have its world premiere in a production by Fresh Squeezed Opera in five performances at HERE Performing Arts Center in SoHo on May 13, 14, 16, 18, and 19, 2023. The 70-minute work, scored for four singers and instrumental septet, is a lighthearted science-fiction opera that looks at the purpose of art in challenging times through the lens of comedy.

OPERA America Awards Opera Grants For Women Stage Directors And ConductorsOPERA America Awards Opera Grants For Women Stage Directors And Conductors
February 22, 2023

OPERA America has announced the first-round recipients of the 2023 Opera Grants for Women Stage Directors and Conductors. 

Opera Saratoga Names New General And Artistic Director Mary BirnbaumOpera Saratoga Names New General And Artistic Director Mary Birnbaum
February 13, 2023

Opera Saratoga's board of directors has announced that Mary Birnbaum has been named the company's new general and artistic director. She succeeds former General and Artistic Director Lawrence Edelson, whose eight year tenure concluded at the end of the 2022 season. Birnbaum is the tenth general director in the Opera Saratoga's celebrated history.

OPERA America Awards The 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies To Three New-To-Opera Creators Of ColorOPERA America Awards The 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies To Three New-To-Opera Creators Of Color
February 6, 2023

OPERA America has announced the recipients of the 2023 IDEA Opera Residencies program (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), an initiative that provides New York City-based composers and librettists of color an opportunity to explore opera as an expressive medium.

Works & Process at The Guggenheim Presents CHAMPION, An Opera By Terence BlanchardWorks & Process at The Guggenheim Presents CHAMPION, An Opera By Terence Blanchard
February 6, 2023

Works & Process at the Guggenheim presents Champion-an opera by Terence Blanchard, with a libretto by Michael Cristofer-featuring performances by members of the cast and a moderated discussion about the work's forthcoming company premiere at the Metropolitan Opera.