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Why Houston Grand Opera’s Season Is a Big Deal

September 4, 2018 by Jessica Goldman
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“La Boheme” at Houston Grand Opera

The 64th season is a very special one for the Houston Grand Opera, and not just because the company is featuring a world premiere, two new productions, and two beloved revivals. HGO’s 2018-19 season, which launches Oct. 19 with “The Flying Dutchman,” will see the return of the venerable organization back to its creative home, the Wortham Theater Center.

For almost a year, HGO was displaced due to Hurricane Harvey, which caused devastating flooding to their downtown building. But the show must go on, and so HGO boldly constructed an entire theater (the aptly-named Resilience Theater) in the George R. Brown Convention Center (including lobby space, restaurant space, patron lounges, and a lecture hall) in order to perform the 2017-18 season.

Now the company is in the process of moving everything, the opera production equipment (including lights, set pieces, pianos etc.), staff, and database servers back into the Wortham for what promises to be a grand and long-awaited homecoming. Between the move back into their space and an exciting program planned, this new HGO season is shaping up to be one of their best ever.

A special kick off
Thirty years ago, Plácido Domingo starred as Rademes in “Aida” in the Wortham Theater Center’s very first production. Now, as a special opening gala concert, Domingo returns to Houston on Sept. 26 to re-open the theater with the HGO orchestra conducted by artistic and music director Patrick Summers.

Two new productions
“The Flying Dutchman” officially kicks off HGO’s 64th season on Oct. 19. This is the first Wagner opera presented by HGO since “The Ring Cycle” two seasons ago.

Kasper Holton’s new production of “Don Giovanni” marries Mozart’s amazing music with Es Devlin’s innovative, rotating set and Luke Halls’s cutting-edge projections transport the audience deep into the dark mind of a serial philanderer. This is the first time for HGO to work with Devlin, who has designed for the London Olympic Closing Ceremony, Beyoncé, and U2.

Two premieres
Houston audiences will get a taste of Georges Bizet when the company presents its first ever production of “The Pearl Fishers,” and later in the season, audiences will be treated the world premiere of “Phoenix” (by composer Tarik O’Regan and librettist/director John Caird) about the infamous Mozart librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. This scandalous story spans decades and the main character is portrayed by Thomas Hampson and Luca Pisaroni (real life father- and son-in-law) at different points in the character’s life.

Two revivals including a beloved classic
HGO is bringing back two productions this season. “Florencia en el Amazonas,” originally premiered by HGO in 1996, is a Spanish-language opera based on the magical realism works of author Gabriel García Márquez.

And to audience delight, the HGO will be once again presenting Puccini’s “la Bohème,” one of the most produced operas in the world thanks to its iconic story of love among young, struggling artists and its famously bittersweet music.

You’ll want to take special note of the sets in this HGO production as they take inspiration from the character Marcello’s impressionistic paintings, featuring the art throughout the set design. In addition, the production will feature the role debut of soprano and HGO Studio alumna Nicole Heaston as Mimì and the American debut of rising tenor Ivan Magri as Rodolfo.

Outreach on many levels
In addition to presenting productions, HGO (through it’s outreach arm HGOco) prides itself on having multiple community outreach efforts, and this season is no different.

Opera To Go! presents high-energy opera at schools, libraries, or community centers in a fully-staged, 45-minute performance. Performances are sung in English/Spanish and are designed for today’s young audiences in grades 2-8. Teachers receive a study guide in advance.

This fall HGOco presents the bi-lingual opera “Cinderella in Spain,” a favorite over the years. Starting in January 2019 and running through May, there’s The Elixir of Love. And for very young audiences, HGO offers “Storybook Opera and First Songs.”

In addition HGOco offers a variety of performances and unique works based on Houston stories throughout the city designed to inspire and engage Houstonians of all ages.

Making opera more accessible
Thanks to the efforts of the HGO, mainstage opera can be affordable for Houstonians. The HGO’s Nexus initiatives allows first time opera attendees to purchase tickets for just $15. There is also a Pay-Your-Age program for students, subsidized subscriptions and Title 1 schools get a 50% discount on all student matinees.

This year, the high school night performance is “la Bohème” on November 8. Those in grades 9 – 12 can experience the evening performance for $15, with half-price tickets available to Title 1 schools.

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