Houston Grand Opera

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The Wortham Theater Center Wortham Center.jpg
The Wortham Theater Center

Houston Grand Opera (HGO), located in Houston, Texas, was founded in 1955 by German-born impresario Walter Herbert and Houstonians Elva Lobit, Edward Bing, and Charles Cockrell. [1] HGO's inaugural season featured two performances of two operas, Salome (starring Brenda Lewis in the title role) and Madama Butterfly . David Gockley succeeded Walter Herbert as general director in 1972 and remained in the post until accepting the general directorship at San Francisco Opera in 2005.

Walter Herbert was an American conductor and impresario of German birth, and also a world champion at contract bridge.

<i>Salome</i> (opera) opera by Richard Strauss

Salome, Op. 54, is an opera in one act by Richard Strauss. The libretto is Hedwig Lachmann's German translation of the French play Salomé by Oscar Wilde, edited by the composer. Strauss dedicated the opera to his friend Sir Edgar Speyer.

Brenda Lewis was an American operatic soprano, musical theatre actress, opera director, and music educator. She enjoyed a 20-year-long collaboration with the New York City Opera (NYCO) with whom she notably created roles in several world premieres by American composers; including the title role in Jack Beeson's Lizzie Borden in 1965. She also performed with frequency at the Metropolitan Opera from 1952 to 1965, and was active as a guest artist with notable opera companies both nationally and internationally. Although she is mainly remembered as an exponent of American operas and musicals, she performed a broad repertoire of works and was particularly celebrated for her portrayals of Marie in Wozzeck, Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, and the title roles of Carmen and Salome; the latter of which she performed for the inauguration of the Houston Grand Opera in 1956.


Gockley was succeeded at Houston Grand Opera by Anthony Freud, previously the general director at Welsh National Opera. When Freud resigned his post at HGO in 2011 to take the general directorship of Lyric Opera of Chicago, he was succeeded by joint leaders Patrick Summers, who had been music director at HGO since 1998, and Perryn Leech, who joined the company in 2006 and became chief operating officer in 2010. Summers serves as artistic and music director and Leech serves as managing director. Oversight of the HGO Association is provided by a board of directors; a body of trustees also supports the organization.

The company presents six to eight productions per season and has a current operating budget of $27 million. Houston Grand Opera performances are held in the Wortham Theater Center, a venue with two performance spaces: the Alice and George Brown Theater and the smaller Roy and Lillie Cullen Theater. Their combined capacity is more than 3,300. However, HGO performed all of its 2017–18 season at the “HGO Resilience Theater,” a temporary space the company created in an exhibit hall at Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center, after the Wortham Theater Center was closed due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. [2] The Wortham Theater Center is scheduled to reopen in September 2018.

Wortham Theater Center

The Wortham Theater Center is a performing arts center located in downtown Houston, Texas, United States. The Wortham Theater Center, designed by Eugene Aubry of Morris Architects, was built out of private funds totaling over $66 Million. The City of Houston owns the building, and the Houston First Corporation operates the facility.

In 1973–74, Houston Grand Opera began regularly commissioning and producing new works—almost exclusively from American composers—and the company continues to do so. HGO has also staged seven American premieres.

The Houston Grand Opera Studio, founded in 1977, was one of the earliest comprehensive young artist training programs in the United States. [3] It provides advanced training and professional opportunities to outstanding young artists, many of whom have gone on to establish international careers.

Through its HGOco initiative, HGO partners with educational and community organizations to provide a variety of artistic experiences to the greater Houston area and the Gulf Coast region.

Houston Grand Opera is supported by an active auxiliary organization, the Houston Grand Opera Guild, established in October 1955. [4]

The company has received a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards, and three Emmy Awards, and is the only opera company in the world to win all three honors.

Tony Award awards for live Broadway theatre

The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Broadway Theatre, more commonly known as the Tony Award, recognizes excellence in live Broadway theatre. The awards are presented by the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League at an annual ceremony in Manhattan. The awards are given for Broadway productions and performances, and an award is given for regional theatre. Several discretionary non-competitive awards are also given, including a Special Tony Award, the Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre, and the Isabelle Stevenson Award. The awards are named after Antoinette "Tony" Perry, co-founder of the American Theatre Wing.

Musical Forces

The Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, with more than 45 core members, plays all Houston Grand Opera performances. Patrick Summers (artistic and music director since 2011) has been the music director since 1998. No music director was appointed during the Walter Herbert years (1955–72) until 1971, when longtime assistant conductor and chorus master Charles Rosekrans was named. Later music directors/principal conductors include Chris Nance (1974–77), John DeMain (1977–94), and Vjekoslav Šutej (1994–97). In the 2019–20 season, Eun Sun Kim will become the company's first principal guest conductor since 1993, when Šutej completed two seasons in that role.

The Houston Grand Opera Chorus has been led since 1988 by Chorus Master Richard Bado, an alumnus of HGO's young artist training program, the Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Young Artist Training

Houston Grand Opera Studio

Houston Grand Opera's young artist development program, the Houston Grand Opera Studio, was founded in 1977 to help young artists make the transition between their academic training and professional careers. The HGO Studio primarily trains young singers and pianist/coaches but has also trained aspiring conductors in a residency program of up to three years. An annual competition, now called the Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, was inaugurated in 1989 to help identify a pool of potential international artists for the Studio, which is currently directed by Brian Speck. Studio alumni include sopranos Ana María Martínez, Erie Mills, Albina Shagimuratova, Heidi Stober, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, and Tamara Wilson; mezzo-sopranos Jamie Barton, Joyce DiDonato, Denyce Graves, Susanne Mentzer, and Marietta Simpson; tenors Bruce Ford, and Norman Reinhardt; baritones Richard Paul Fink, and Scott Hendricks; bass-baritones Greer Grimsley, Ryan McKinny, and Eric Owens; and bass Eric Halfvarson. Other alumni include HGO Chorus Master Richard Bado, composer/conductor David Hanlon, former Lyric Opera of Kansas City Artistic Director Ward Holmquist, conductor/arranger/composer James Lowe, conductor/pianist Eric Melear, conductor Evan Rogister, and conductor/pianist Craig Terry.

Ana María Martínez singer

Ana María Martínez is a Puerto Rican soprano.

Albina Shagimuratova Russian singer

Albina Anvarovna Shagimuratova is a Russian coloratura soprano, particularly known for singing the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, which she has sung for a decade with Houston Grand Opera, the Salzburg Festival, the Lucerne Festival, San Francisco Opera, Vienna State Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Liceu and The Royal Opera, London. In 2018 she recorded the Queen of the Night for Deutsche Grammophon and performed it in Salzburg. 2016 saw her role debut as Konstanze in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the title role in Semiramide at the BBC Proms; this was recorded for Opera Rara. The Semiramide recording won an award at the International Classical Music Awards (ICMA) 2019.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen American operatic soprano

Rachel Willis-Sørensen is an American operatic soprano.

Young Artists Vocal Academy

The HGO Young Artists Vocal Academy, established in 2011 and administered by the HGO Studio, is a one-week intensive program for undergraduate vocal music students. Participants selected for the program receive training that includes daily voice lessons and coachings as well as classes in characterization, movement, diction, and score preparation.

HGOco (see below) offers training to high school juniors and seniors.


In 2007, HGO established HGOco, an initiative designed to create partnerships between the company and the community. HGOco's first project, the ongoing Song of Houston initiative, creates new works focused on people and groups in Houston—the most culturally diverse city in the United States, according to a report of the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas. [5]

For its first commissioned work in 2007, The Refuge, by Christopher Theofanidis and Leah Lax, HGOco identified seven statistically significant immigrant communities in Houston and the creators began interviewing residents of those communities. The libretto was created from the actual words of some of the residents, and the premiere included performances by members from these communities. [6]

In 2009, HGOco received the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from the National MultiCultural Institute (NCMI) for Song of Houston.

As of May 2018, HGOco has premiered 22 new works, including eight short chamber operas focusing on various Asian communities in Houston, which were commissioned and premiered during a four-year series titled East + West. Recent HGOco premieres include Laura Kaminsky and Mark Campbell/Kimberly Reed's Some Light Emerges, about Houston philanthropist and humanitarian Dominique de Menil and her quest to create the Rothko Chapel; Gregory Spears and Royce Vavrek's O Columbia, realized through the collaboration of Houston-based NASA astronauts, scientists, and engineers; and David Hanlon and Stephanie Fleischmann's After the Storm, about the impact that Hurricane Ike and the Great Storm of 1900 had upon Galveston and the Gulf Coast. Song cycles have also been created in cooperation with workers in the Houston Ship Channel, the veterans community, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

HGOco also administers:

Houston Grand Opera and New Works

HGO has been commissioning and premiering new works since 1974. These include full-length operas for the main stage and chamber works with a community focus or for children/families.

World Premieres

Full-length Operas

The relationship between HGO and composer Carlisle Floyd is the longest ongoing relationship of any composer with an organization: HGO has commissioned five works from Floyd, including Bilby’s Doll (1976), Willie Stark (1981), The Passion of Jonathan Wade (new version, 1991), Cold Sassy Tree (2000), and Prince of Players (2016). Floyd lived in Houston for some 20 years after relocating in 1976 from Tallahassee, Florida, to accept the M.D. Anderson Professorship at the University of Houston School of Music (now the Moores School of Music). In 1977, he cofounded the Houston Grand Opera Studio, HGO's young artist training program, which was initially a joint program between HGO and the University of Houston, and was an active participant in training Studio artists. [7]

Chamber Operas

HGO has commissioned and premiered 15 chamber operas created for children/families. These chamber works are staged and are approximately 45 minutes long.

American Premieres

HGO has presented seven American premieres. Among them, the most significant are the first staged version of Handel's Rinaldo in 1975 (a concert version had been given in 1972 by the Handel Society of New York), starring Marilyn Horne in the title role and Samuel Ramey as Argante; Rossini's La donna del lago in a new critical edition in 1981, and more recently, Weinberg's The Passenger , a long-suppressed Holocaust opera composed in 1968 and performed by HGO in 2014. Besides presenting the American premiere in Houston, HGO was also invited to bring the production to the Park Avenue Armory as part of the 2014 Lincoln Center Festival.

Non-traditional Opera

During the 2017–18 season, HGOco began a web-only series of 15-minute operas titled Star-Cross’d, based on true stories with a Romeo and Juliet theme. The series pilot, “Boundless,” by composer Avner Dorman and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, was released online April 20, 2018. Two more episodes are scheduled for release during 2019. [8]

In 2010, HGO commissioned and premiered the world's first “mariachi opera” [9] , composed by the late José “Pepe” Martínez, the longtime music director of the ensemble Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, with a libretto by Leonard Foglia. This work, titled Cruzar la Cara de la Luna/To Cross the Face of the Moon, has been performed at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and by a number of opera companies in the United States.

In addition to commissioning and premiering new works, HGO has played a role in bringing certain existing works to the attention of the opera world. HGO presented a “triumphant” [10] and “groundbreaking” [11] production of Porgy and Bess in 1976 that restored portions of the work that had been cut for previous productions (including some made by composer George Gershwin himself for the New York premiere in 1935), thus allowing the public to experience the original vision for the work and making it clear that it was indeed an opera. After the Houston premiere, the production, featuring Donnie Ray Albert as Porgy and Clamma Dale as Bess and conducted by John DeMain, toured to Broadway and won a 1977 Tony Award for Most Innovative Production of a Revival. [12] The complete recording won the 1977 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. [13]

Scott Joplin's Treemonisha, which comprises a variety of musical styles even though it is often called a “ragtime opera,” received its first fully staged performances at Houston Grand Opera in 1976 with a score HGO commissioned from ragtime expert Gunther Schuller. Treemonisha also toured to Broadway and was recorded.

Houston Grand Opera and Innovation


In 1984, Houston Grand Opera began using supertitles on all non-English productions, becoming one of the first opera companies in the United States to do so. [14]

Descriptive Services

HGO was one of the first opera companies in the United States (and possibly the first) to offer descriptive services for patrons with vision loss. It has offered descriptive services since the 1987–88 season, the inaugural season in the Wortham Theater Center. The service is offered free of charge and by request for any performance with 48 hours notice.

The Genevieve P. Demme Archives and Resource Center

In 1989, HGO became the first performing arts organization in Houston and the second major U.S. opera company to establish its own archives and resources center. The archives/resource center is named for the late Genevieve P. Demme, a longtime trustee and historian of Houston Grand Opera Association.


On November 10, 1995, Houston Grand Opera became the first performing arts company in the United States to simulcast a live performance to an audience in another location. (The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, was the only other company at the time to have staged a similar event.) The performance of Rossini's La Cenerentola featuring mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli that was taking place inside the Wortham Theater Center's Brown Theater was projected in real time onto a large screen mounted on the outside of the theater building. The event was free to the public. The audience was seated on the Ray C. Fish Plaza outside the theater, which prompted HGO to call the event a Plazacast. HGO held free public Plazacasts each year through the 2004–05 season (HGO's 50th season). In April 2005, the company simulcast both a performance of Gounod's Romeo and Juliet and its 50th anniversary gala concert.

Multimedia Modular Stage

In May 1998, Houston Grand Opera unveiled its Multimedia Modular Stage, a large steel structure with moving lights, projection screens for live-feed video and still images, and a big sound system. It was designed for large outdoor venues but could be adapted for other locations. HGO used it several times for outdoor performances in Houston and on tour, and once for an indoor production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music in 1999. Its last use in Houston was the night of June 8, 2001, in a production of Carmen at Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre. That night, Tropical Storm Allison struck Houston, where the storm's worst flooding occurred. The two remaining performances in Houston were canceled, although the production went on tour as scheduled on June 15 and 16 to the Mann Center in Philadelphia. The effects of the storm, along with the impact of 9/11 and the collapse of Enron just months afterward, led to the retirement of the Multimedia Modular Stage, which was costly to assemble and disassemble.


In the fall of 2000, HGO devised and implemented a system of plasma and projection screens mounted in the Grand Tier and Balcony sections of the larger of the two halls in the Wortham Theater Center. This system—designed to provide close-up views of the action on stage and improve sightlines in the unusually steep Grand Tier and Balcony areas—was called OperaVision and received mixed appraisals from opera patrons. OperaVision was discontinued at the end of the 2004–05 season.


Emmy Awards

Grammy Awards

Grand Prix du Disque

National MultiCultural Institute Award

Tony Award

Premieres, recordings, and television appearances

World premieres through the 2018–19 Season

American premieres

Video recordings

Nationally televised productions

Audio Recordings

Related Research Articles

<i>Porgy and Bess</i> English-language opera composed in 1934 by George Gershwin

Porgy and Bess is an English-language opera by the American composer George Gershwin, with a libretto written by author DuBose Heyward and lyricist Ira Gershwin. It was adapted from Dorothy Heyward and DuBose Heyward's play Porgy, itself an adaptation of DuBose Heyward's 1925 novel of the same name.

Carlisle Floyd American composer

Carlisle Floyd is an American opera composer. The son of a Methodist minister, he has based many of his works on themes from the South. His best known opera, Susannah (1955), is based on a story from the Biblical Apocrypha, transferred to contemporary, rural Tennessee, and is set in a Southern dialect.

<i>Florencia en el Amazonas</i> opera by Daniel Catán

Florencia en el Amazonas is an opera in two acts composed by Daniel Catán. It contains elements of magical realism in the style of Gabriel García Márquez and uses a libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, one of his pupils. The characters are inspired by García Márquez, but the story is not drawn directly from any of his works. Florencia was co-commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Seattle Opera and premiered in Houston on October 25, 1996. It was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Jake Heggie American opera composer and pianist

Jake Heggie is an American composer of opera, vocal, orchestral, and chamber music. He is best known for his operas and art songs as well as for his collaborations with internationally renowned performers and writers.

Virginia Opera is an opera company based in the Commonwealth of Virginia which was first organized in 1974 by a group of Norfolk, Virginia community volunteers.

Hope Clarke is an American actress, dancer, vocalist, choreographer, and director. Clarke performed as principal dancer with the Katherine Dunham Company and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, 1960s; actress on stage, film, and television, 1970s–1980s; choreographer and director, 1980s--. Clarke served on the Tony Awards Nominating Committee for the 2011–12 Broadway season. Clarke made history in 1995 when she became the first African American, as well as the first African-American woman, to direct and choreograph a major staging of the opera-musical Porgy and Bess. Clarke's production of the George Gershwin classic was staged in celebration of the work's 60h anniversary, and it toured not only major American cities but Japan and Europe as well. Clarke drew critical acclaim for her commitment to staging the show as a monument to African-American community and pride, giving a more hopeful, positive aura to a story that has been criticized for its stereotypes. As for the director herself, the success of Porgy and Bess is just the latest accolade in a long career devoted to dance and drama.

Clamma Churita Dale is an African-American operatic soprano. She is best known for portraying "Bess" in the highly successful 1976 Houston Grand Opera production of Porgy and Bess. The show was transferred from Houston to Broadway where Dale was awarded a Drama Desk Award and received a Tony Award nomination.

<i>Cold Sassy Tree</i> (opera) opera

Cold Sassy Tree is an opera composed by Carlisle Floyd, based on the 1984 novel by Olive Ann Burns.

Donnie Ray Albert is an American operatic baritone who has had an active international career since 1976.

Margaret Lloyd is an American soprano who is particularly known for her performances in contemporary operas and concert works. She has sung in the world premieres of several operas, most notably portraying the role of Lightfoot McClendon in the premiere of Carlisle Floyd's Cold Sassy Tree at the Houston Grand Opera in 2000. She has also sung in the world premieres of several works by composer Michael Torke.

Daniel Belcher is an American operatic baritone who has sung at many of the world's leading opera houses. He notably portrayed the role of John Brooke in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's Little Women and played the role of Andy Warhol in the premiere of Michael Daugherty's Jackie O, both with the Houston Grand Opera (HGO). He is particularly admired for his portrayal of Rossini heroes with Dandini in La Cenerentola and Figaro in The Barber of Seville being two of his signature roles.

David Gockley is an American opera company administrator. He served as general director of Houston Grand Opera from 1972 to 2005 and San Francisco Opera from 2006 to 2016.

Jonita Lattimore singer

Jonita Lattimore is an American operatic soprano and a faculty member of Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts. She is a lyric soprano from Chicago's South Side who has performed a wide range of operatic roles, as well as oratorio performances with major orchestras both internationally and domestically.

Marquita Lister is an American operatic soprano. She has sung with major companies in the U.S. and abroad, specializing in the lirico-spinto repertoire. Lister is considered one of the leading interpreters of Bess in Porgy and Bess, having performed the role hundreds of times in companies across the globe, and she is also renowned for her portrayals of Aida and Salome, two signature roles.

Robert Mosley American opera singer

Robert Mosley was an American operatic bass-baritone. Part of the first generation of African-American opera singers to achieve wide success, he performed in numerous opera productions, recitals, and in concerts from the 1950s through the 1990s. In 1957 he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He drew particular acclaim for his portrayal of Porgy in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, a role which he portrayed in the landmark 1976 Houston Grand Opera production, on Broadway, and at the Metropolitan Opera among other opera companies both in the United States and in Europe.

Patrick Summers American conductor

Patrick Summers is an American conductor best known for his work with Houston Grand Opera (HGO), where he has been the artistic and music director since 2011, and with San Francisco Opera, where he served as principal guest conductor, 1999–2016.

Chris Nance was an American conductor and music educator. Primarily active as an opera conductor, he served on the conducting staff of the New York City Opera from 1969-1974 and was the music administrator and conductor of the Houston Grand Opera from 1974-1977. Thereafter he worked as a freelance conductor with opera companies throughout the world. He became particularly associated with George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess for which he was frequently hired to conduct at opera houses both in the United States and abroad.

Carroll Freeman is an American operatic tenor, opera director, and music educator. He began his career as a prominent boy soprano in the 1960s. From the late 1970s through the mid 1990s he performed widely as a tenor with opera companies and orchestras in the United States. After that he worked as a director of opera productions with opera companies throughout North America. He is the former director of the opera program at the University of Tennessee and currently directs the opera program at Georgia State University. He is also the former Artistic Director of Mississippi Opera, Opera in the Ozarks at Inspiration Point, and opera studios at Knoxville Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera.

C. William Harwood was an American conductor. Chiefly remembered for his work as an opera conductor, he notably conducted the Houston Grand Opera's groundbreaking 1977 national tour of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. He also conducted the world premieres of operas by Claude Debussy, Frederick Delius, Stephen Paulus, and George Rochberg.


  1. Giesberg, Robert I., Carl Cunningham, and Alan Rich. Houston Grand Opera at 50. Houston: Herring Press, 2005, p. 83.
  2. Oestreich, James R (October 23, 2017). "Forced Out by Flooding, Houston's Opera Gets On with the Show". New York Times.
  3. Comparable season-long young artist training programs were established by the Metropolitan Opera in 1980, Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1974, and San Francisco Opera in 1977.
  4. Giesberg, et. al., p. 84
  5. Emerson, Michael O., Jenifer Bratter, Junia Howell, P. Wilner Jeanty, and Mike Cline. Houston Region Grows More Racially/Ethnically Diverse, With Small Declines in Segregation: A Joint Report Analyzing Census Data from 1990, 2000, and 2010. Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Hobby Center for the Study of Texas.
  6. Blumenthal, Ralph (November 12, 2007). "Not From Here: An Opera for Houston's Immigrants". New York Times.
  7. Holliday, Thomas. Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd. Syracuse University Press, 2013, pp. 252–69.
  8. "Star-Cross'd: A Serial Web Opera".
  9. "World's First Mariachi Opera Premiere at HGO". September 20, 2010.
  10. "Porgy and Bess, the first great American opera, premieres on Broadway". History.com. 2009.
  11. Gay, Wayne Lee (December 13, 2013). "How the Broadway Porgy and Bess Mangles Gershwin's Grand Opera". D Magazine.
  12. "Past Tony Award Winners search".
  13. "Awards". Grammy.com.
  14. Giesberg, et. al., p. 137