Press Room

HGO grows 34% over past 5 years & announces ambitious future plans

Fueled by the energy and vision of a dynamic partnership between the company and the city it serves, Houston Grand Opera (HGO) has charted a course of success that has resulted in artistic achievement, record-breaking giving to the organization, and stringent cost control that has led to balanced budgets – as well as a substantial increase in the size of its audience. At their September 17 press conference, the company, already one of the nation’s largest before their impressive expansion, also announced a bold list of artistic plans for future seasons.
HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech said: “Our board, trustees, and subscribers are the heroes in this extraordinary story. They – and, indeed, the entire city of Houston – have supported this opera company through good times and bad, making growth possible since the recent economic downturn. They’ve made the decision to invest in this company, and their investment is the foundation of our success.”
Over the past five years, Houston Grand Opera has received more than $106 million in commitments from individual, foundation, corporate, and government sources, certainly one of the most successful fundraising campaigns for an arts organization in the history of this famously entrepreneurial “can-do” city. “Houston is a city that believes in the arts, and our supporters and patrons are extraordinarily generous. We are confident that we can build on this success and we are looking forward to growing with the city,” said Greg Robertson, HGO’s chief advancement officer.
Since 2007, the company has received 19 gifts of one million dollars or more. On September 17, amidst a celebratory atmosphere in the Wortham Theater Center, the company announced its success and its future plans, including the launch of “Inspiring Performance – The Campaign for Houston Grand Opera,” which represents the public phase of its comprehensive development campaign. A series of videos shown at the event can be seen here.  
Houston Grand Opera’s subscriber base grew by 34 percent between 2005 and 2010, with continued growth in the past two seasons. Due to demand, the number of performances has increased from an average of 32 performances per season (2008 ­- 2011) to 44 performances in 2013.
HGO’s success has come at a time of substantial economic challenges across the country, a condition that pushed some arts organizations out of business and others into a weakened or tenuous position. The story of the company’s success is a bright light in an industry that continues to fight for relevance and market share in a crowded and rapidly changing cultural scene. Leech said: “It was critical to react quickly and decisively to the rapidly changing economy, and we did that with a strategy that focused unequivocally on investing in the art form. We believed that if we got the art right, the community would come and support us, and the results we have seen are enormously gratifying.”
Patrick Summers, HGO artistic and music director, attributes the company’s successes to several key and interrelated factors: the choice of repertoire; compelling new productions; and strong, creative teams that bring together of superb singers, directors, and conductors.
The investment in the development of the company’s core assets – the orchestra, chorus, and HGO Studio (HGO’s young artists program) – has also had significant artistic benefit. At a time of retrenchment for many companies, HGO made a strategic decision to invest heavily in the artistic product and bring the very best talent from around the globe to excite and stimulate the Houston audiences.
Building on this base of artistic excellence, Summers announced new programming initiatives for the next few seasons, including three world premieres (Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, Christopher Theofanidis’s Siddahartha and Carlisle Floyd’s Kynaston); the company’s first Ring Cycle; more classic American musicals (Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeny Todd and A Little Night Music in addition to this season’s Show Boat); and the US premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger. HGO, long known as a leader in creating new American operas, also announced that they would be commissioning three new holiday operas: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and The House Without a Christmas Tree.
Another key factor in HGO’s continued success is the productive and non-acrimonious joint partnership with unions. Leech negotiated with the three largest unions from the same starting point, “you’ll grow if we grow” – and the result of this partnership has been a 25 percent increase in the demand for their services. “It was vital that we kept our costs under control in order to try to increase our number of performances. I am extremely pleased that together with our Chorus, Orchestra, and technical employees, we can continue to place premium importance on our shared values – artistic excellence, relevance, and affordability – as we work together to bring more world-class opera to Houston, Texas, and beyond.”
“If they’re not coming, you haven’t built it right,” Leech added. “From the point of view of our audience, the cost of attending a performance at HGO in 2005 was considerably higher than it is in 2012. In 2007, HGO changed its approach to pricing, making sure that affordable tickets were available throughout the house, both for subscribers and new audiences – a program dubbed the NEXUS initiative. The result has been a significant growth in subscription audiences, as well as an improvement in renewal rates annually. Corporate funders, particularly, have embraced the NEXUS initiative – which underwrites performances for first-time opera goers – with enthusiasm.”
“Opera is so often stereotyped as a cultural playground for elites. The NEXUS initiative has made opera truly affordable for everyone. It has helped make opera more popular and changed the way Houstonians think about HGO. We are popular because we are excellent,” noted Robertson, “but we are popular because we are relevant and affordable, too.”
Leech concluded: “At HGO, we believe that taking care of the things that really matter – investing in our art and investing in our community ­– will help us best secure our future. Respect for those key aspects of our brand have determined our success even more that the condition of the overall economy. During difficult times, we have continued to believe in what we were doing and the community has supported us. We’re very proud that we have achieved what we have in a down economy, and it’s a wonderful tribute to the vision and inspired leadership of our management team and the spirit of everyone who works for the organization – but perhaps, even more, to the inhabitants of the city of Houston.”
Houston Grand Opera – upcoming engagements
Houston Grand Opera: 2012-13 season   
La bohème (new production) Oct 19 – Nov 10, 2012
Rodolfo: Dimitri Pittas
Mimì: Katie Van Kooten
Marcello: Joshua Hopkins
Musetta: Heidi Stober
Colline: Vuyani Mlinde
Schaunard: Michael Sumuel
Conductor: Evan Rogister
Director: John Caird
Set and costume designer: David Farley
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Richard Bado, Chorus Master
The Italian Girl in Algiers (new production) Oct 26 – Nov 11, 2012
Isabella: Daniela Barcellona
Lindoro: Lawrence Brownlee
Mustafa: Patrick Carfizzi
Taddeo: Daniel Belcher
Haly: Robert Pomakov
Conductor: Carlo Rizzi
Director: Joan Font
Set and costume designer: Joan Guillén
Song of Houston – East + West: Korean opera Nov 3, 2012  
Cast and  Performance Details to Come.
Show Boat (new production) Jan 18 – Feb 9, 2013
Magnolia Hawkes: Sasha Cooke
Gaylord Ravenal: Joseph Kaiser
Julie La Verne: Melody Moore
Joe: Morris Robinson
Queenie: Marietta Simpson
Parthy Hawkes: Cheryl Parrish
Director: Francesca Zambello
Set Designer: Peter Davison
Costume Designer: Paul Tazewell
Don Giovanni Jan 25 – Feb 10, 2013
Don Giovanni: Adrian Eröd
Leporello: Kyle Ketelsen
Donna Anna: Rachel Willis-Sorensen
Donna Elvira: Veronika Dzhioeva
Don Ottavio: Joel Prieto
Zerlina: Malin Christensson
Masetto: Michael Sumuel
The Commendatore: Morris Robinson
Conductor: Trevor Pinnock
Director: Harry Silverstein
Set and costume designer: Carl Friedrich Oberle
Cruzar la cara de la luna (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”) March 22 – 24, 2013
Laurentino: Octavio Moreno
Renata: Cecilia Duarte
Diana: Brittany Wheeler
Lupita: Vanessa Cerda-Alonzo
Music Director: David Hanlon
Director: Leonard Foglia
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
Tristan and Isolde (new production) April 18 – May 5, 2013
Isolde: Nina Stemme
Tristan: Ben Heppner
Brangäne: Claudia Mahnke
Kurwenal: Ryan McKinny
King Marke: Christof Fischesser
Melot: Roger Honeywell
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Christof Loy
Set and costume designer: Johannes Leiacker
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Richard Bado, Chorus Master
Il trovatore April 26 – May 11, 2013
Leonora: Tamara Wilson
Manrico: Marco Berti
Azucena: Dolora Zajick
Count di Luna: Tómas Tómasson
Ferrando: Vuyani Mlinde
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Steven Lawless
Set designer: Benoit Dugardyn
Costume designer: Martin Pakledinaz
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Richard Bado, Chorus Master


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