Ars Lyrica Brings The Stars To You With Inventive Virtual Gala And After Party
Over 1,000 people from 21 different countries tuned in via multiple platforms on Saturday evening to honor a pair of Houston's most dedicated philantrophists and an iconic advocate for young stars.
This reinvented A Star is Born gala also featured a performance by an internationally renowned opera star. Robin Angly and Miles Smith were recognized for their decades of support of Ars Lyrica and and their cultivation of young artists, including star performer Michelle Bradley. The event, originally planned in partnership with Hotel Alessandra, was reimagined for a virtual audience with deft alternation of heartfelt testimonials and live broadcast. Testimonials articulated the depth of support for Ars Lyrica's mission, to bring authentic performances of 17th and 18th century music to the greater Houston community.The broadcast began with the organization's signature "choose your own adventure" cocktail party experience. This proprietary assemblage of personal and public content enticed viewers to donate ahead of the broadcast, in any amount, in order to receive exclusive access to the content. A brief preview was offered as part of the live broadcast, including personal introductions to the leadership of Ars Lyrica and the stars of the gala,. For the last four years, Ars Lyrica's annual gala has been a significant source of fundraising for the organization, ensuring its ability to fulfill its vision and, most recently, to produce historically-informed Baroque opera performances. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the reinvention of this major fundraising platform. A Star is Born raised over $60,000 to support the organization and its artists. In an unprecedented move, the board launched an Artist Support Fund as well, in order to guarantee that artists with cancelled Ars Lyrica performances would be able to recoup a substantive amount of their contracted fee. As an added incentive, Robin Angly and Miles Smith offered a $25,000 matching challenge in the month preceding the gala, in order to raise the maximum amount of money to benefit the organization and its aritsts. Ars Lyrica still needs to raise $30,000 by the end of May to fulfill its pledge to its artists.
"It means so very much that you are offering us payment even though the (final) program has been cancelled," says violist Erika Lawson. "I have always had great respect for this organization - you are showing great kindness to us." Ars Lyrica's ability to deliver on its promise to support musicians owes much to its dedicated board of directors, led by president John Lemen, who notes that "It's all about the music..the concert and being in communication with the art that is happening before us. These are extraordinary times, and it is very important for us to sustain the art, the artists, and the audience."
A Grammy-nominated organization, Ars Lyrica is a significant part of the Houston tapestry of artistic excellence. Lois Alba, gala honoree and mentor to superstar singers such as Michelle Bradley, has left a lasting imprint on the culture of our city as well as the future of opera. Notable attendees to the broadcast included countertenors John Holiday and Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau Jr., Helen Wils, Dr. Susan S. Osterberg, Geraldine Gill, John Mangum, and Drs. Warren and Rachel Ellsworth.
In celebration of the evening, an inventive afterparty was held with Ars Lyrica's media sponsor Connie Kwan Wong, after party chairs Mario Gudmundsson and Shane A. Miller, upcoming season soloist Nola Richardson and many others in attendance. It was hosted by an Ars Lyrica regular, violinst Alana Youssefian. With advertised prizes for best pajamas and party wear, trivia winner, and cocktail contest prizes, the event was marked by exhuberant joy and heartfelt appreciation by the prize winners, who donated their prizes back to Ars Lyrica in support of artists and opera.
Star Performer: soprano Michelle Bradley, student of Lois Alba, is a recent graduate of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and is beginning to garner great acclaim as one of today's most promising Verdi sopranos. This season, Ms. Bradley is making debuts with the Vienna State Opera as Leonora in Il Trovatore (a role debut), the San Francisco Opera as Elvira in Ernani, the San Diego Opera in the title role of Aida and is returning to the Metropolitan Opera for their New Year's Eve Gala. Future projects include debuts with Houston Grant Opera (in Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves), the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and returns to the Metropolitan Opera, all in leading roles.
Founded in 1998 by harpsichordist and conductor Matthew Dirst, Ars Lyrica Houston presents a diverse array of music in its original context while creating connections to contemporary life. Intelligent programming features neglected gems alongside familiar masterworks and extracts the dramatic potential, emotional resonance, and expressive power of music. Its local subscription series, according to the Houston Chronicle, "sets the agenda" for early music in Houston. Ars Lyrica appears regularly at international festivals and conferences because of its distinctive focus, and its pioneering efforts in the field of authentic performance have won international acclaim.