Press Room

HGO’s Tristan and Trovatore reap acclaim, with big fall ahead

This spring, Houston Grand Opera has reaped high praise for its new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde — starring soprano Nina Stemme and tenor Ben Heppner in their company debuts — and its staging of Verdi’s Il trovatore, helping to mark both composers’ 200th birthday. About HGO’s Tristan und Isolde, the Wall Street Journal said: “Thanks to a magnificent soprano, a laser-focused production and an energetic conductor, the Houston Grand Opera’s performance is an enthralling theatrical event.” Underscoring the conducting of HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers, the Houston Chronicle said: “Summers and the orchestra brought out the score’s color, impetus and character — from the sweetness of the lyricism to the explosiveness underlining the characters’ emotional outbursts… Playing up the opera’s red-blooded humanity, the orchestra helped tell the story.” Reviewing the company’s Il trovatore, the Houston Chronicle enthused over the “power and poetry” of the performances, singling out the “spirit and finesse” of the HGO Chorus. Opera World called the Verdi production “spellbinding and spectacular.” Looking ahead to the 2013–14 season, HGO has more Wagner in store, with Das Rheingold, the first installment of the company’s Ring cycle; there will be more Verdi in Houston, too, with stagings of Aida and Rigoletto.
PBS NewsHour also recently profiled the company, examining its innovative efforts to expand the definition of opera beyond the core repertoire to connect with various communities in Houston. Focusing on works like Cruzar la cara de la luna, which won rave reviews when it returned to HGO’s main stage in March, the PBS piece also explored how fluctuating demographics are changing Houston’s artistic focus. In the segment, Summers explains, “We absorb each other’s culture, and what comes out is something uniquely American… That’s how I view Houston. And that’s very much how I view the role of the Houston Grand Opera.” The segment is available for on-demand streaming at PBS NewsHour’s website.
There was more acclaim for HGO’s Tristan und Isolde, with the Associated Press giving rave notices to Stemme’s Isolde: “The Swedish soprano gave a performance of overwhelming vocal and dramatic intensity as the Irish princess, from gleaming top notes down to a potent, crystal-clear lower register. Her high C’s at the beginning of the love duet in Act II rang out with sustained brilliance, and she finished the night with a rapturous ‘Liebestod,’ capped by a luminous, lingering, hushed final note.” The Wall Street Journal called Stemme “matchless in Wagner… She lights up Christof Loy’s staging.” About this Isolde’s Tristan, the Journal added: “After 15 years of experience with the role, Ben Heppner remains a consummate Tristan… His heldentenor sound is vivid and expressive, capturing Tristan’s mood swings as it warms into lyricism or edges into hysteria and delirium in Act III.” Opera World was taken by the production, saying: “Under the direction of Christof Loy, the lengthy opera is wholly captivating and alluring. The pacing of the opera is superb, and the emotions emanating from the stage and orchestra pit serve to enrapture and intrigue… I, like many around me, found myself on the edge of my seat during all three acts because of the way this performance is staged on Johannes Leiacker’s impressively moody and austere set.”

Casting its eye on HGO’s Il trovatore, the Associated Press said that soprano Tamara Wilson — a former HGO Studio Artist — “came into her own with an exquisitely precise rendition of ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee.’” The Houston Chronicle said: “The more Leonore’s thoughts turned to happiness she could only imagine, the more Wilson’s silky, stratospheric pianissimos illuminated Verdi’s poetry. Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick demonstrated how ferocity and tenderness can come from the same source. As Azucena, Manrico’s mother — who’s haunted by horrific events in her past — Zajick sang with an earthiness and fire that radiated the intensity of Azucena’s obsessions. Yet when Azucena finally found rest in more peaceful visions, Zajick’s gentleness showed she was moving beyond the reach of her sorrows. Conductor Patrick Summers and the HGO Orchestra had a deftness that enabled Zajick and Wilson to savor moments like those. Summers put Verdi’s dynamism in the forefront, capturing the music’s electricity through agility rather than raw force.” Opera World lauded HGO Chorus Master Richard Bado, who “has plenty to be proud of concerning this production. His large, expansive chorus is astounding in this piece. They blend with one another gorgeously, creating aural landscapes that are pleasant and provocative… HGO’s Il trovatore is a marvelous closing production for an extraordinary season.”
Verdi, Wagner, and more next season
HGO launches its 2013–14 season in high style with more Verdi: the ever-popular epic Aida, starting on October 18. Featuring sets and costumes by British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes, this production of Aida is suitably larger than life. In the title role, HGO is thrilled to present Liudmyla Monastyrska, star of the Ukraine National Opera, who recently brought her voluptuous soprano to Aida in her first U.S. appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, where she made “a triumphant house debut,” according to the New York Times. In her signature role, powerhouse mezzo Dolora Zajick returns to Houston to defend her title as “the Amneris of our day” (Opera Today), while Texan baritone and HGO Studio alumnus Scott Hendricks sings the role of Aida’s father, Amonasro. Italy’s Antonino Fogliani, a specialist in the music of his native country, will conduct. Aida marks the first collaboration between HGO and Houston-based Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, whose work has been praised by dance cognoscenti nationwide.
In January 2014, HGO will revive Verdi’s Rigoletto in a production directed by Harry Silverstein and conducted by Patrick Summers. Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, whose voice “drips with gold” (Opera News), returns to sing his first Rigoletto, while Richard Tucker Award–winning tenor Stephen Costello makes his long-awaited HGO debut as the Duke of Mantua. Costello drew rave reviews at this year’s Tucker Award Gala, when the Associated Press noted that he was “in brilliant voice, his bright tenor brimming with youthful vigor and passion.” Also making a house debut is Elizabeth Zharoff as Gilda, of whom Opera Today wrote that she “possesses a warm, even, and well-placed voice, solid coloratura technique, and considerable innate musicality.”
There is more Wagner next season, too, with HGO launching the company’s first-ever Ring cycle, in a visionary and captivating production by Catalan company La Fura dels Baus. The first installment in Wagner’s four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen is Das Rheingold, which opens April 11, 2014. Summers calls the Ring cycle the “largest single endeavor in HGO’s history,” with subsequent operas in the cycle to be produced one per season. The Los Angeles Times called the La Fura dels Baus production “visually dazzling.” Previously staged only in Europe, this production employs acrobats in tableaux of human scenery and cutting-edge visual imagery to create “a veritable symphony in pictures,” according to Opera News. Heading the outstanding cast in Das Rheingold is Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson (dubbed “a talent to watch” by the Chicago Tribune), making his house debut in his first performances as Wotan. Singing opposite him as Fricka is American mezzo Jamie Barton, an HGO Studio alumna and Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner. Conducting will be Patrick Summers, who made his Wagner debut in 2009 when he led Lohengrin in Houston — “a soulful reading that unleashes the score’s power and encompasses its breadth,” said the Houston Chronicle.
Along with the Wagner and Verdi, HGO will present the highly anticipated North American premiere of the Holocaust opera The Passenger by exiled Polish-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg. The company will also give the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, starring Frederica von Stade. Leonard Foglia is both the librettist and the director for the new opera—the first-ever musicalization of a work by Texas playwright Horton Foote. Along with a revival of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, HGO will stage a new production of Bizet’s Carmen by Broadway sensation Rob Ashford. The season also includes Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music designed by fashion star Isaac Mizrahi. In addition, courtesy of HGOco’s award-winning Song of Houston project, the company continues to celebrate Houston’s cultural diversity with the world premieres of two new commissions exploring the city’s Vietnamese and Indian communities as part of the East + West series.
Houston Grand Opera: 2013–14 season
* HGO debut
+ current HGO Studio Artist
‡ former HGO Studio Artist
Giuseppe Verdi: Aida
Oct. 18, 20m, 26, 29, Nov. 1, 3m, 9, 2013
Aida: Liudmyla Monastyrska*
Radames: Riccardo Massì* / Issachah Savage*
Amneris: Dolora Zajick
Amonasro: Scott Hendricks ‡
Ramfis: Ain Anger*
Conductor: Antonino Fogliani
Original Director: Jo Davies
Director: Jose Maria Condemi
Set and Costume Designer: Zandra Rhodes
Lighting Designer: Michael James Clark
Choreographer: Dominic Walsh*
Chorus Master: Richard Bado ‡
A co-production of Houston Grand Opera, English National Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Norwegian National Opera.
Johann Strauss II: Die Fledermaus
Oct. 25, 27m, Nov. 2, 8, 10m, 2013
Eisenstein: Liam Bonner ‡
Rosalinde: Wendy Bryn Harmer* 
Adele: Laura Claycomb
Prince Orlofsky: Susan Graham
Alfred: Anthony Dean Griffey 
Dr. Falke: Samuel Schultz
Frank: Michael Sumuel ‡
Frosch / Bell Boy / Waiter: Jason Graae
Conductor: Thomas Rösner*
Director: Lindy Hume
Set Designer: Richard Roberts*
Costume Designer: Angus Strathie*
Lighting Designer: Michael James Clark
Associate Director / Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Chorus Master: Richard Bado ‡
An original production by Opera Australia, owned by Opéra de Montréal.
Mieczyslaw Weinberg: The Passenger (North American premiere)
Jan. 18, 22, 25, 31, Feb. 2m, 2014
Liese: Michelle Breedt*
Walter: Joseph Kaiser 
Marta: Melody Moore 
Tadeusz: Morgan Smith*
Katya: Kelly Kaduce*
Bronka: Kathryn Day*
Conductor: Patrick Summers 
Director: David Pountney
Set Designer: Johan Engels
Costume Designer: Marie-Jeanne Lecca
Lighting Designer: Fabrice Kebour*
Associate Director: Rob Kearley*
Chorus Master: Richard Bado ‡
A co-production of Bregenzer Festspiele; Wielki Teatr, Warsaw; English National Opera; and Teatro Real, Madrid.
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
Jan. 24, 26m, 29, Feb. 1, 7, 9m
Rigoletto: Ryan McKinny ‡
Duke of Mantua: Stephen Costello*
Gilda: Elizabeth Zharoff*
Count Monterone: Robert Pomakov
Sparafucile: Dmitry Belosselskiy*
Maddalena: Carolyn Sproule +
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Harry Silverstein
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Costume Designer: Peter J. Hall
Chorus Master: Richard Bado ‡
A co-production of Houston Grand Opera and The Dallas Opera.
Stephen Sondheim: A Little Night Music
March 7, 9m, 13, 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23m, 2014
Desiree Armfeldt: Elizabeth Futral 
Fredrik Egerman: Chad Shelton ‡
Madame Armfeldt: Joyce Castle 
Count Carl-Magnus: Mark Diamond ‡
Countess Charlotte: Carolyn Sproule +
Anne Egerman: Andrea Carroll +
Henrik Egerman: Brenton Ryan* 
Petra: Alicia Gianni ‡
Conductor: Eric Melear ‡
Production: Isaac Mizrahi*
Director: Matthew Ozawa
Set and Costume Designer: Isaac Mizrahi
Lighting Designer: Brian Nason
An original production of Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Ricky Ian Gordon/Leonard Foglia: A Coffin in Egypt (World Premiere)
March 14, 16m, 21, 2014
Myrtle Bledsoe: Frederica von Stade
Conductor: Timothy Myers
Director: Leonard Foglia
Set and Costume Designer: Riccardo Hernandez
Lighting Designer: Brian Nason
A co-production and co-commission of Houston Grand Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia.
Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
April 11, 13m, 17, 23, 26, 2014
Wotan: Iain Paterson*
Loge: Stefan Margita
Alberich: Christopher Purves
Mime: Rodell Rosel 
Fricka: Jamie Barton ‡
Erda: Meredith Arwady
Fasolt: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Fafner: Andrea Silvestrelli
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Carlus Padrissa*
Set Designer: Roland Olbeter*
Costume Designer: Chu Uroz*
Lighting Designer: Peter van Praet*
Video Designer: Franc Aleu*
A co-production of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, and Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.
Georges Bizet: Carmen (new production)
April 25, 27m, 30, May 2, 4m, 10
Carmen: Ana María Martínez ‡ 
Don José: Brandon Jovanovich
Escamillo: Ryan McKinny ‡
Micaëla: Natalya Romaniw +
Conductor: Rory Macdonald
Director/Choreographer: Rob Ashford*
Set Designer: David Rockwell*
Costume Designer: Julie Weiss*
Lighting Designer: Donald Holder
Chorus Master: Richard Bado ‡
Children’s Chorus Director: Karen Reeves
Media Contacts
Houston Grand Opera: Ali Vise, [email protected], 713-524-0661
21C: Glenn Petry, [email protected], 212-625-2038
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© 21C Media Group, May 2013

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