Houston Grand Opera Announces Triumphant Return To Live Performances At The Wortham Theater Center

After an all-virtual 2020-21 season through HGO Digital, the company will present six highly anticipated productions live at The Wortham Theater Center.

By: May. 06, 2021

Houston Grand Opera Announces Triumphant Return To Live Performances At The Wortham Theater Center

Houston Grand Opera will present its 2021-22 season live and in person after a year of reimagining the artform in a virtual format through the 2020-21 HGO Digital season.

In March 2020, the company made the necessary but difficult decision to cancel the remainder of the 2019-20 mainstage season, and shortly thereafter also had to cancel the entire 2020-21 mainstage season, due to the worldwide pandemic. On October 22, 2021, the company will celebrate its triumphant return to performing live opera on the mainstage with fan favorite Carmen.

"HGO has once again demonstrated its resiliency and its commitment to this treasured artform over the past year. To say I am proud of every member of the HGO team would be an understatement-they all continue to blow me away with their creativity and tenacity," says HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. "Seeking out creative alternative means of artistic expression since the pandemic's onset has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding. We are excited to carry our new expertise forward into the future. But we are thrilled beyond measure to join our beloved audience for a new season of opera. Nothing stirs the soul like being in the theater for a live opera performance-nothing."

The 67th season opens with audience favorite Carmen. Canadian mezzo-soprano and HGO Studio alumna Carolyn Sproule takes on the title role in the revival of Rob Ashford's acclaimed 2014 production of Bizet's classic. She is joined by tenor Richard Trey Smagur as Don José and soprano Heidi Stober as Micaela, both HGO Studio alumni. Rounding out the cast is bass-baritone Christian Pursell as Escamillo, making his HGO debut. The production will be conducted by Lidiya Yankovskaya, also in her HGO debut.

The company's 71st world premiere continues HGO's holiday opera series with composer Joel Thompson and librettist Andrea Davis Pinkney's The Snowy Day, based on the beloved children's picture book by Ezra Jack Keats. Jumping off the pages and onto the stage, the opera was originally slotted for the 2020-21 season. Instead, as part of the HGO Digital 2020-21 season, the company presented a documentary on the new work, The Making of The Snowy Day: An Opera for All. For the family-friendly opera's highly anticipated December 2021 world premiere, HGO Studio artist and soprano Raven McMillon performs the role of Peter, and director Omer Ben Seadia, in her HGO mainstage directorial debut, brings the wonder and magic of a young boy's wintry world to life. HGO's Patrick Summers conducts.

The company's winter repertoire features the powerful tragedy Dialogues of the Carmelites and a reimagined Mozart classic, The Magic Flute. The gripping drama of Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites showcases the talents of some of the most sought-after artists in opera. Sopranos and HGO Studio alumnae Natalya Romaniw and Lauren Snouffer join the cast as Blanche and Sister Constance, respectively. They are joined by the dramatic soprano Christine Goerke as Madame Lidoine, last seen at HGO in her superb performance as the title character in Elektra (2018). Dubbed one of the finest sopranos of her generation, Anna Caterina Antonacci sings the role of Madame Croissy in her HGO debut. Legendary director Francesca Zambello returns to HGO, and Patrick Summers conducts. Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade's wildly inventive production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, originally scheduled for the 2019-20 season, rounds out the winter repertoire. This silenta??film-inspired visual spectacle incorporates live performance with a magical animated world created by artist and illustrator Paul Barritt. Dame Jane Glover conducts this Mozart masterpiece. HGO Studio alumni make up much of the cast, including tenor Norman Reinhardt as Tamino, soprano Andrea Carroll as Pamina, bass Anthony Robin Schneider as Sarastro, and baritone Thomas Glass as Papageno. Soprano Rainelle Krause makes her HGO debut as the Queen of the Night.

Closing the 2021-22 season is HGO's spring repertoire, Turandot and Romeo and Juliet. The mesmerizing new production of Turandot was created by world-renowned artist and Texan Robert Wilson. Opera powerhouse and HGO Studio alumna Tamara Wilson performs the title role, returning to the HGO mainstage after her acclaimed performance in the title role of Aida (2020). Celebrated tenor Kristian Benedikt makes his company debut as Calaf. After taking center stage during the 2020-21 HGO Digital season (Vinkensport, The Impresario, Giving Voice, and a recital for the Live from The Cullen series), Houstonian and beloved soprano Nicole Heaston returns to the Brown stage as Liù. HGO Principal Guest Conductor Eun Sun Kim, who conducted The Impresario for HGO Digital in fall 2020, takes the podium. Finally, director Tomer Zvulun, last seen at HGO as director of Rigoletto (2019), brings a new production of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet to Houston. Tenor Michael Spyres, previously seen with HGO for one critically acclaimed performance subbing for Lawrence Brownlee as Fernand in La favorite in winter 2020, plays Romeo opposite soprano Adriana Gonzalez in her HGO debut as Juliet. Italian conductor Speranza Scappucci also makes her company debut with this production.

Of note, four of HGO's six mainstage operas for 2021-22 will be conducted by women, more than any other season in company history, and the other two will be directed by women.

HGO will host learning panels and discussions to complement each of the operas in the 2021-22 season. This programming will enhance the audience experience, providing history and context for each work while showcasing the extraordinary talents of the artists and creatives behind each production. More information about this additional content will be announced later this summer.

"We know that people who love opera have a tremendous appetite for the artform," says HGO Chief Advancement Officer Gregory S. Robertson. "And so HGO is offering its wonderful patrons and subscribers a host of ways to learn about opera and interact with the amazing people who create it, all in addition to the world-class works we'll be presenting on the mainstage. There is truly nothing else in this entire region that compares to the experience that HGO provides to its audiences and supporters."

Because the inaugural season of HGO Digital, which replaced the company's 2020-21 mainstage performances, received an enthusiastic reception, the company is bringing back HGO Digital for 2021-22. Like companies around the world, HGO re-envisioned how to create and present operatic works in the digital space during the pandemic, allowing it to reach audiences in its region and across the globe. The company will announce a new slate of digital offerings for the upcoming season at a later date.

"This past year we have truly pushed the artform, and the way we consume it, forward. We believe that streaming is here to stay," explains HGO Acting Chief Operating Officer Molly Dill. "It's a way to reach new audiences and hopefully to entice them to experience great opera live in our home in the Wortham Theater Center. It's also a way of expanding beyond geographic and economic barriers. We have a much broader reach with our digital offerings; it allows new audiences to try something they may not have experienced yet, and provides an opportunity for all audiences to engage with the art of opera in a new way. We look forward to announcing our digital offerings later this year."

Subscriptions to the 2021-22 season are available at HGO.org. Single tickets will be available later this summer. Those who previously subscribed to the 2020-21 season will have their orders moved to the 2021-22 season and receive more information regarding their seats.

HGO anticipates new COVID protocols will be in place for the opening of the 2021-22 season. The safety of staff, cast, technicians, and audiences remains HGO's first consideration while planning the upcoming season. New procedures could include temperature checks before entering the building; a mask requirement throughout the building, including in seats; social distancing; and increased hand sanitation stations. While the organization hopes to return to normalcy by the holidays, HGO leadership will continue to assess the situation while following recommendations from the HGO Health Committee, whose members include experts from the company's partners at Houston Methodist. For more information about the procedures in place, visit HGO.org/Safety.

This fall, HGO will forgo in-person gatherings for both their young professional group, Opening Night for Young Professionals (ONYP), and LBGTQIA+ group, Overture. HGO hopes to resume intermission mixers for the winter season. More information about these groups will be announced at a later date.

Dill continues, "Safety will remain at the center of every decision we make this year. We are very eager to get back to live performances but will only move forward by carefully following all protocols set by our HGO Health Advisory Committee comprised of healthcare professionals including our partners from Houston Methodist."

HGO is excited to announce Christine Goerke as this season's Lynn Wyatt Great Artist recipient. The Lynn Wyatt Great Artist Fund, an endowed fund dedicated to bringing the world's best artists to HGO, was established in 2010 by Oscar Wyatt in honor of Lynn Wyatt's many years of philanthropy and service to the company. Past recipients include Ana María Martínez, Eun Sun Kim, John Caird, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Jane Glover, and Joyce DiDonato.

Four mainstage productions from HGO's upcoming season-Carmen, The Snowy Day, Dialogues of the Carmelites, and Turandot-are part of Seeking the Human Spirit, a six-year multidisciplinary initiative designed to highlight the universal spiritual themes raised in opera and to expand and deepen Houstonians' connections to opera and to art. This season's theme is "character." The initiative is committed to creating programs and events that supply context to the operas by enhancing and enriching the community's experience of each year's theme. Lectures, discussions, performances, and interactive workshops will be open to the public throughout the season in partnership with a variety of Houston organizations including Houston Coalition Against Hate, Rothko Chapel, Asia Society Texas Center, Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Jewish Community Center, Emancipation Park Conservancy, and many more. Information about the 2021-22 collaborations will be announced later this year, and details can be found at HGO.org/STHS.

HGOco is Houston Grand Opera's celebrated initiative connecting the company to the community with over 320 creative, civic, and learning events reaching 80,000 Houstonians annually. HGOco commissions new chamber works that tell stories relevant to Houston or highlight important educational themes.

In February 2022, HGOco will present HGO's 72nd world premiere, Turn and Burn, A Rodeo Opera, in tandem with rodeo season. Part of the Song of Houston initiative, the 75-minute chamber opera is composed by Nell Shaw Cohen to a libretto by Megan Cohen and conducted by Benjamin Manis. The production will be directed by Leslie Swackhamer. The story, created from interviews with rodeo athletes through generous access courtesy of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, centers on a small-town barrel-racing champion and an ambitious young executive who aim for a big win at the rodeo. Set in a colorful world of bucking broncs and carnival rides, the premiere offers a feminist perspective on contemporary rodeo culture.

This fall, HGOco will offer a virtual release of The Barber of Seville in Texas, this season's Opera To Go! production. In a bilingual adaption of Rossini's beloved comic opera, language divides a young couple as much as a stubborn uncle. Opera's most famous barber, Figaro, plays the role of translator as Rossini's sparkling, witty score takes center stage. This production is sung in English and Spanish, and will begin touring in Spring 2022.

In March 2021, HGO announced the incoming class of HGO Studio members. Next season the HGO Studio will resume the tradition of hosting its intimate annual recitals for supporters, during which the exceptional talents of this season's up-and-coming artists will be showcased. More information can be found at HGO.org/Studio.

HGO's mainstage season will comprise 36 performances of six productions and three community performances. The company will also present three student performances. Subscriptions to the 2021-22 season are now available at HGO.org. Single tickets will be available later this summer. Additional details of the upcoming HGO 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.


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