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Houston Grand Opera

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) is an opera company in Houston Texas. It was founded in 1955 by Maestro Walter Herbert and cultural leaders Mrs. Louis G. Lobit, Edward Bing, and Charles Cockrell.[1] HGO's inaugural season featured only two performances of two operas, Salome (starring Brenda Lewis in the title role) and Madame Butterfly, a modest beginning, but since that time the company has grown into a company of international stature which presents six to eight productions per season.

For 33 years, the General Director was David Gockley, who joined the company in 1970, became General Director in 1972, and who remained in the post until taking over the San Francisco Opera in 2006. He was succeeded by Anthony Freud until 2011. Currently, there is no specific post of General Director.

With an operating budget of $20 million in the 2010/11 season, HGO has provided a variety of services to the greater Houston area and the Gulf Coast region, and has served over 5 million people annually. Since 1973, as one of the country's principal commissioners and producers of new works, HGO has staged 43 world premieres and six American premieres.

The company has received a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards—the only opera company in the world to have won all three honors.[2] Cohle Smith


  • The structure of the company 1
  • Performance venue 2
  • Artists who have appeared at HGO 3
  • HGO Studio 4
    • The training and development process 4.1
    • Performing experience 4.2
    • Performing and networking 4.3
  • Houston Grand Opera in the community 5
    • HGOco 5.1
    • Nexus Initiative 5.2
    • Commissions 5.3
    • Programs for teachers and students 5.4
  • The Opera Guild 6
  • Other aspects of the company's activities 7
    • Touring 7.1
    • Broadcasts and surtitles 7.2
    • The Genevieve P. Demme Archives and Resource Center 7.3
  • Premiered works 8
    • World premieres 8.1
    • American premieres 8.2
  • Recordings, television and radio appearances 9
    • Audio recordings 9.1
    • Nationally televised productions 9.2
    • Video recordings 9.3
    • Radio broadcasts 9.4
  • Awards 10
    • Emmy Awards 10.1
    • Grammy Awards 10.2
    • Tony Awards 10.3
    • Grand Prix du Disques 10.4
  • References 11
  • External links 12

The structure of the company

Patrick Summers conducting La traviata in January 2012

As of August 1, 2011, the HGO Association has a 34-member Board of Directors, chaired by Beth Madison, one honorary director, and 131 Trustees. The opera employs over 1,000 people annually, 120 of whom are full-time staff.

When Anthony Freud, OBE, the company's second General Director from 2005–2011 resigned at the end of the 2010–11 season to assume leadership of Lyric Opera of Chicago,[3] the Board appointed Patrick Summers as Artistic and Music Director, occupying the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair. At the same time, Perryn Leech was named Managing Director.

The permanent artistic elements are the HGO Orchestra, the HGO Chorus, and the HGO Studio. During Patrick Summers’ thirteen years with the company, the HGO Orchestra added many masterworks to its repertoire, while the HGO Chorus, which was created in 1955, has become one of the world's most acclaimed opera choruses under the direction of Chorus Master Richard Bado.[4]

As an example, HGO's 2011–2012 season consisted of 31 performances of six mainstage productions which ranged from The Barber of Seville through Maria Stuarda and La traviata to Verdi's Don Carlos in the Italian repertoire, as well including Fidelio and The Rape of Lucretia.[5]

Performance venue

The original Opera House in downtown Houston in 1958

In 1987, HGO officially moved into its home at the Wortham Theater Center, a 437,500-square-foot (40,650 m2) facility featuring two theaters—the Alice and George Brown Theater and the Roy and Lillie Cullen Theater—which together can seat over 3,300 people. The $72 million state-of-the-art-facility was built with private funds during a major downturn in Houston's economy and was given to the City of Houston, which owns and operates the facility.[6]

Improvements made in 1997 included the addition of 180 seats in the main orchestra section and the expansion and reconfiguration of the orchestra pit, while further renovations of the pit were completed in 2005.[7]

Artists who have appeared at HGO

Albina Shagimuratova in the title role of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor in 2011

Dolora Zajick.

HGO Studio

One of HGO's most visible and valued projects is its young artist development program, the Houston Grand Opera Studio. Founded in 1977 by composer Carlisle Floyd and HGO's then-General Director David Gockley, the mission of Houston Grand Opera Studio is to provide career development for young artists who have demonstrated potential to make major contributions to the opera/musical theater profession. The Studio's goal is to develop well-rounded professionals prepared for all performance aspects in the fields of opera and music theater and in all genres: traditional European operas, contemporary opera and works of musical theater by American composers from diverse cultural backgrounds, innovative interpretations of the standard repertoire, recitals, concerts with orchestra, and fully staged productions.[8]

The training and development process

Each season HGO Studio provides eight to twelve young artists with the opportunity to study and perform under a professional staff of teachers and performers. Studio artists commit to an intense individualized study program while in residence in Houston from September through May. Classes in voice, acting, stage movement, diction and languages are scheduled regularly. Extensive individual coachings are part of the daily work and career counseling sessions are provided throughout the year. Special classes focusing on topics such as fight choreography, audition techniques, taxes and personal finance, Alexander technique, performer's stress management, public relations, and agent representation are conducted by experts in their field. Adjunct instructors include master coaches and conductors.[9]

The Studio requires its artists to commit to the standards and demands of the profession. Because the training process is progressive and each member's artistic development is unique, the Studio program allows artists to continue their training over a two to three-year period with opportunities for advanced study abroad. The mainstage performance exposure enables Studio artists to be reviewed individually by the local, national and international press.[10]

Performing experience

Based upon their level of ability, the artists are assigned supporting roles in HGO's mainstage productions. Additional performance experience includes principal roles in student matinees, study cover assignments of major roles and paid public engagements for community outreach. These assignments provide the opportunity to learn major roles, expand repertoire and demonstrate individual abilities. Other opportunities include Studio-produced recitals, concerts, and occasionally, full-scale productions.

The Studio recognizes performance experience with newer forms of music theater and in innovative stagings of standard repertoire as an essential training element in developing well-rounded professionals. Given HGO's commitment to commissioning and producing new works and the success of its Opera New World program, Studio artists are provided opportunities to create new roles and premiere new pieces.[11]

Performing and networking

Studio artists interact with professional singers, conductors, stage directors, designers and technicians of national and international acclaim and follow a standard rehearsal and production schedule for a major opera company. Houston Grand Opera arranges auditions for Studio artists throughout the year with artist management, visiting general directors of other opera companies, and guest conductors and stage directors.

Houston Grand Opera in the community


To re-establish the company's relevance to the community, in 2007 HGO established HGOco, an initiative established to break down barriers to the arts by creating opportunities for observation, participation, and creation. The "co" in HGOco represents a focus on company, community, connection, and collaboration. Maximizing the resources of the entire company and collaborating with kindred organizations, HGOco seeks to change the way people involve art in their lives. These efforts include all of HGO's education and community-engaging activities. In its first three years, HGOco has reached more than 600,000 people and collaborated with over 70 organizations throughout the Houston area. Among HGOco's programs are a wide range of performances outside the Wortham—361 in the 2009–2010 season.[12]

Nexus Initiative

The Nexus Initiative is an audience development program which allows more Houston community members to experience live performances. Funded by a consortium of Houston's corporate leaders, Nexus provides $10 tickets to eligible groups such as, students, community, church, service and cultural organizations, and senior citizens attending HGO for the first time. The Nexus Initiative also underwrites student matinees, "High School Night", and HGO's radio broadcast. The program has received leadership support from major local corporations.[13]


  • The Refuge, Christopher Theofanidis and Leah Lax, 2007
  • Cruzar la Cara de la Luna / To Cross the Face of the Moon, Jose "Pepe" Martinez and Leonard Foglia, 2010
  • Courtside, Jack Perla and Eugene Chan, 2011
  • Your Name Means the Sea, Franghiz Alizadeh, 2011
  • The Bricklayer: Gregory Spears, Farnoosh Moshiri, 2012
  • Cambodian Opera (new, untitled): John Glover, Catherine Filoux, 2012.

Programs for teachers and students

  • Teacher Workshops: Each Teacher Workshop is an hour-long presentation and discussion on an HGO dress rehearsal, encouraging teachers to incorporate opera and the arts into their curriculum.[14]
  • Storybook opera: In this 30-minute program, a singing artist presents an opera-based storybook to children grades Pre-K through 2. Presentations are available in English, Spanish or in a special Bilingual version. Standard repertoire includes Westward Ho, Carlotta by Candace Fleming, Opera Cat (or the Spanish version: Alma, la Gata de la Ópera) by Tess Weaver, The Dog Who Sang at the Opera by Jim West and Marshell Izen, and El Gallo Bantam de la Ópera by Mary Jane Auch.[15]
  • Student Performances: Students in grades 4 – 8 are invited to experience the magic of opera at the Wortham Theater Center in a Student Matinee, a two-hour version of a selected main-stage opera. At High School Night, high school students have the opportunity to enjoy a full-length weeknight performance of a selected main-stage opera.
  • High School Voice Studio: The year-long scholarship program prepares eight high school seniors for their transition into a university or conservatory music program. After being selected from auditions held in their junior year, members train throughout their senior year in private weekly voice lessons, monthly master classes and vocal coachings. They present two recitals, the final recital being adjudicated with scholarships awarded to the top three finalists. All members meeting performance standards receive stipends to assist with college expenses.[17]
  • Summer Camps: Through three different camps, HGOco hosts over 100 students in grades 3 – 12 at the Wortham Theater Center. These are "The Opera Experience" where campers develop a better understanding of healthy singing and improve music reading/theory skills by performing Broadway-style songs; "Create an Opera" where campers write words, compose music, design and build sets, props and costumes, and perform their own opera based on a popular children's story; and "The Art of Opera" where campers rehearse and perform a fully staged opera or music theater work.[18]
  • Children's chorus: This provides an opportunity for young, talented singers from the Houston area to perform in mainstage productions alongside leading artists.[19]

The Opera Guild

Houston Grand Opera Guild[20] was founded in October 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. William W. Bland, Mrs. Edger Haden, and Mrs. John L. Abercrombie. The mission of the HGO Guild is to promote and support Houston Grand Opera in all its activities. A non-profit organization with over 2,300 volunteer members who perform roles such as backstage tours, hosting artists, educational talks, fund raising events, and operating the Guild Boutique, HGO Guild is committed to fostering and encouraging an active, educated, and increasingly diverse audience to experience grand opera.[21]

Throughout the year, the Guild offers a variety of educational activities introducing opera to school students. Forty five minute presentations have been developed for over 15 operas and include video clips and background notes which help students understand the history of the singers, opera composers and opera librettos. Each year the Houston Grand Opera schedules a "High School Night" and two "Student Matinees" relating to the operas of the season. By providing presentations for classes attending these operas, HGO Guild members help students increase their attention to and enjoyment of the opera. Other popular activities include panel discussions with distinguished speakers as well as awarding scholarships to young artists.

The work by the volunteers is also recognized, and each year the Guild honors volunteers who have made significant contributions to its programs as well as honoring non-members who has made singular contributions to the Guild or to the opera company itself. The Guild’s Board of Directors oversees all the activities as well as manages its finances. Houston Grand Opera has been home to many of the great singers, conductors, directors, and designers since its inception in 1955. The HGO Guild has played an important and instrumental role in contributing to the success of Houston Grand Opera.

Other aspects of the company's activities


The company has toured extensively both internationally and nationally, the first national tour taking place in 1975 to the John Philip Sousa's El Capitan at the Kennedy Center.[24]

The new staging of Porgy and Bess with the complete Gershwin score was artistically acclaimed. As a consequence, it helped to turn public opinion around about the work, which was then recorded by RCA Records. HGO won a Tony award and a Grammy Award for the production – the only opera company to receive these prizes.[25][26]

Internationally, HGO has performed at the Edinburgh Festival, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Cairo, Zurich, Genoa and Palermo, and to Japan, Canada and Israel.[27]

In September 2011, HGO presented six performances of Cuzar la cara de la luna at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris during their 2011-12 season. A specially-commissioned work, this was the world's first mariachi opera.[28]

Broadcasts and surtitles

In 1984, Houston Grand Opera began using surtitles on all non-English productions, becoming one of the first opera companies in the United States to do so.[29] HGO's performances are broadcast nationally to an audience of over 444,000 via the WFMT Radio Network.[30]

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 facility preserves valuable materials from throughout the company's history and it houses 3500 linear feet of institutional records including programs, artists files, production records, audio and video recordings, financial records and photographic images in a wide range of formats. The archives and Resource Center is named for Genevieve P. Demme, a longtime member of the board of trustees and historian of Houston Grand Opera Association.[31][32]

Premiered works

World premieres

American premieres

Recordings, television and radio appearances

Audio recordings

  • Dead Man Walking, Virgin Classics, 2012
  • Three Decembers: Last Acts, Albany, 2008
  • The Refuge, Albany, 2008
  • Cold Sassy Tree, Albany, 2005
  • Of Mice and Men, Albany, 2004
  • Florencia en el Amazonas, Albany, 2002
  • Resurrection, Albany, 2002
  • Little Women, Ondine, 2001
  • Jackie O, Argo/Decca, 1997
  • Song of Majnun, Delos, 1997
  • The Dracula Diary, Catalyst/BMG, 1994
  • ATLAS: an opera in three parts, ECM, 1992
  • Nixon in China, Nonesuch, 1988
  • Treemonisha, Deutsche Grammophon, 1982
  • Porgy and Bess, RCA, 1976

Nationally televised productions

  • Little Women, PBS's Great Performances, August 2001
  • La Cenerentola, PBS's Great Performances, April 1996
  • Nixon in China, PBS's Great Performances, April 1988
  • Aida, PBS's Great Performances, October 1987
  • Treemonisha, PBS, February 1986
  • Willie Stark, PBS's Great Performances, October 1981

Video recordings

  • Little Women, Naxos, DVD, 2010
  • La Cenerentola, London/Decca,VHS and DVD, 1996
  • Treemonisha, Kultur Video, VHS, 1982

Radio broadcasts

  • WFMT Radio Network, 2007–present
  • Australian Broadcast Corporation broadcasts HGO's performances, 2003
  • European Broadcast Union broadcasts HGO's performances, 2002–present
  • New York City's WQXR broadcasts HGO's performances, 2002–present
  • NPR's World of Opera broadcasts HGO's performances nationally, 1999–2007
  • KUHF 88.7FM broadcasts HGO's seasons locally, 1996–1999
  • KRTS 92.1FM broadcasts HGO's seasons locally, 1987–1995


Emmy Awards

  • Hitting the High Cs, Marion Kessell and Rick Christie, 1998
  • Nixon in China, John Adams and Alice Goodman, 1987

Grammy Awards

  • Nixon in China, John Adams and Alice Goodman, 1987
  • Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, 1976

Tony Awards

  • Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, 1976

Grand Prix du Disques

  • Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, 1976



  1. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 83
  2. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 85 and p. 177
  3. ^ Anthony Freud moves to Chicago
  4. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 175
  5. ^ HGO's 2011-12 season
  6. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 145-147
  7. ^ Orchestra pit improvements
  8. ^ New York Times
  9. ^ Opera NewsJoshua Hopkins in
  10. ^ magazineClassical Singer
  11. ^ archiveLa Times
  12. ^ Judith H. Dobrzynski, "Opera That Bridges the Divide", The Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2011.
  13. ^ "Opera For A Song", 16 April 2011 on
  14. ^ Teacher Workshops
  15. ^ Harris County Library programs relating to opera
  16. ^ "Opera to Go!"
  17. ^ Voices Studio
  18. ^ Opera camp
  19. ^ Children's chorus
  20. ^ Houston Grand Opera Guild website
  21. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 84
  22. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 106-107
  23. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 108-109
  24. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 108
  25. ^ Awards
  26. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 175
  27. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 108
  28. ^ in ParisCuzar la cara de la luna
  29. ^ Surtitles at HGO
  30. ^ WFMT information
  31. ^ Archive information on
  32. ^ Giesberg 2005, p. 177

Cited sources

  • Giesberg, Robert I.; Carl Cunningham; Alan Rich (2005), Houston Grand Opera at Fifty, Houston, TX: Herring Press. ISBN 0-917001-24-9

External links

  • HGO's official website
  • HGO's main stage repertoire
  • , 1998Opera News"Up From Houston", (by subscription)
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