Press Room

Houston Grand Opera announces new season of firsts for 2014-15

Houston Grand Opera (HGO) announced today another bold season of firsts for 2014–15. As Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers and Managing Director Perryn Leech revealed, coming attractions include the world premiere of A Christmas Carol by Iain Bell—the company’s 55th new commission —from award-winning Dickens authority Simon Callow; the continuation of HGO’s first Ring cycle, with the North American premiere of La Fura dels Baus’s groundbreaking take on Die Walküre; the American premieres of Sir Nicholas Hytner’s Magic Flute and Lee Blakeley’s Sweeney Todd; and a host of career-shaping artistic role debuts that speak to Patrick Summers’s gift for casting. Together with the company’s first presentation of John Cox’s Otello, and the returns of Göran Järvefelt’s beloved Così fan tutte and Michael Grandage’s hit staging of Madame Butterfly, these rich offerings serve once again to illustrate some of the ways that HGO—still the only opera company with two Grammys, two Emmys, and a Tony—epitomizes “one model of what a forward-looking opera company could be” (Greg Sandow, Arts Journal).
Houston Grand Opera has long taken the lead when it comes to creative casting. Just as it was HGO that presented Christine Goerke in her first major Wagnerian role, as Lohengrin’s Ortrud, it is in Houston that the soprano will make her first U.S. appearances as Brünnhilde, alongside the first complete Sieglinde of Karita Mattila’s distinguished career and the resumption of Iain Paterson’s first staged portrayal of Wotan. Similarly, Stephen Costello, a favorite Verdi and Donizetti leading man, ventures into new waters with his professional role debut in Così fan tutte. The Magic Flute introduces Houston resident David Portillo in his house and role debuts as Tamino, Otello presents Tucker Award–winner Ailyn Pérez in her house and role debuts as Desdemona, and Madame Butterfly marks the U.S. operatic debut of Grammy Award–winning conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. Likewise Susan Bullock and Nicholas Phan— leading exponents of Wagner and Britten respectively—join Nathan Gunn in turning their talents to gallows humor with role debuts in Sweeney Todd, a celebration of the nation’s homegrown musical theater tradition that rounds out HGO’s compelling 2014–15 lineup.
As HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers explains, “What is most important to us as a company is presenting the broadest possible selection of repertoire performed by the best established and emerging artists in the world, and that’s what we kept in mind while planning this season. Telling stories through music and drama is at the very core of what we do, and this coming season explores many ways in which that can be accomplished. From classic works by Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi, to the wonderfully unique musical world of Stephen Sondheim and the much-anticipated world premiere by Iain Bell, HGO will continue to broaden the scope and meaning of opera for our audience.”
HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech adds: “With each new season we aim to embrace the longstanding operatic tradition, as seen in the second installment of our first Ring cycle. Presenting new works helps the art continue to flourish and evolve, as highlighted by the coming season’s production of A Christmas Carol by Iain Bell, which is just the first in a series of holiday-themed operas that we have commissioned. Our 2014–15 season will help us continue to grow our audience, reaching out especially to those who don’t yet have a relationship with opera. We believe the coming season’s productions will enable us to keep offering the thriving Houston community the cultural enrichment it both needs and deserves.”
Details of these upcoming Houston Grand Opera productions are provided below, and more information is available at the company’s web site:

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A Christmas Carol: world premiere launches HGO’s cycle of new holiday-themed commissions
(Dec. 5–21, 2014)
Houston Grand Opera boasts a longstanding tradition of creating and premiering important new operas. Launching a cycle of new holiday-themed commissions, the latest in this long line, represents a welcome addition to the family-friendly repertoire. Seasonal, with wide appeal, and synthesizing the talents of a remarkable team of collaborators, A Christmas Carol has the makings of a new holiday classic.
It is the work of composer Iain Bell, fresh from the success of his first opera, A Harlot’s Progress, in Vienna; as the New York Times observes: “Mr. Bell knows how to write for the human voice.” Bell based his recasting of Charles Dickens’s festive favorite on the author’s little-known performance adaptation: an eerie yet ultimately heartwarming one-man show in which a single narrator undertakes all the roles, from Scrooge to the three ghosts he encounters.
The libretto is by famed Dickens scholar Simon Callow, who also makes his U.S. operatic directorial debut with this production. Callow has previously won an Olivier Award for Best Direction, and is the author of Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World. Also one of Britain’s best-loved actors, familiar from film roles in Amadeus and Shakespeare in Love, Callow has successfully played Dickens on Broadway, in London’s West End, and in television’s Doctor Who. When he took to the stage with the monodramatic version of A Christmas Carol that forms the basis of his libretto, Callow was heralded as “an absolute master when it comes to Dickens” (Telegraph, U.K.).
The role of the Narrator, who must embody every one of A Christmas Carol’s many characters, is an acting tour de force. For its world premiere production, HGO is thrilled to have secured the services of Anthony Dean Griffey, “an altogether exceptional artist” (Boston Globe). The American tenor has already created a number of new roles, including Lennie—for which he went on to win the Helpmann award for Best Male Performer in an Opera—in HGO’s presentation of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men.
A Christmas Carol’s opening run will be led by Warren Jones, former assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera and “a musician par excellence no matter what he is interpreting” (Cleveland Plain Dealer), in his operatic conducting debut.
Die Walküre: all-star cast headlines HGO’s first Ring cycle in American premiere of hit production
(April 18–May 3, 2015)
Marking an important company milestone, HGO is soon to launch its first presentation of Wagner’s glorious Ring cycle, in a “visually dazzling” (Los Angeles Times) production from La Fura dels Baus, the genre-defying Catalan theater company behind Barcelona’s 1992 Olympic opening ceremony. Never previously staged in North America, director Carlus Padrissa’s innovative conception combines cutting-edge visuals with acrobats in tableaux of human scenery. When released on DVD, the production won an ECHO Klassik Award and scored a five-star review in BBC Music magazine, which called it “the most exciting staging I’ve seen.” (Highlights may be seen here.)
In HGO’s second installment of the epic cycle, Die Walküre, Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson returns to continue his first staged portrayal of Wotan, after inspiring glowing reviews with his concert rendition of the role at London’s BBC Proms. He will be joined by Christine Goerke, giving her hotly anticipated first staged performances as Brünnhilde; previously associated with Handel, Mozart, and Gluck, Goerke took New York by storm in Strauss this fall, prompting the New Yorker’s Alex Ross to proclaim her “the most potent dramatic soprano to appear at the Met since—well, let’s not jinx her by naming names.” Simon O’Neill—“the best heroic tenor to emerge over the last decade” (Telegraph)—reprises the role of Siegmund alongside Karita Mattila, returning to Houston after her recent triumph in HGO’s Fidelio for a role debut as his twin, Sieglinde. The revered Finnish soprano’s many honors include winning the inaugural Cardiff Singer of the World competition, one of opera’s most influential awards. American mezzo and HGO Studio alumna Jamie Barton, who resumes her rendering of Fricka, was this year’s Cardiff winner.
As in the first leg of HGO’s Ring journey, Patrick Summers—“one of the most in-demand maestros in the business” (Opera News)—will lead from the pit.
Madame Butterfly: Michael Grandage’s knockout operatic debut returns to HGO
(Jan 23–Feb 8, 2015)
Recognized with an abundance of Tony, Olivier, Drama Desk, and London Evening Standard Awards for Best Direction, Michael Grandage’s prolific work in the theater needs little introduction. In the opera house, however, he has undertaken only four productions, of which his stellar staging of Madame Butterfly for HGO was the first. When it premiered four years ago, Grandage’s handling of the Puccini favorite scored a veritable hit. The Houston Chronicle reported:
Breathtakingly beautiful to see and to hear, Houston Grand Opera’s new production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly launches the company’s 56th season on a note of subtle yet complete triumph. With artfully focused direction by the renowned Michael Grandage in his notable HGO debut and soprano Ana María Martínez making a memorable role debut with her gloriously sung and powerfully acted Cio-Cio-San, this is a textbook example of how to refresh a beloved “warhorse” while remaining true to all its core values.
HGO is delighted to welcome back Grammy Award-winner Ana María Martínez to reprise her extraordinarily rich portrayal of the title role; an HGO Studio alumna, the lyric soprano was the inaugural recipient of the company’s annual Lynn Wyatt Great Artist Award. Revival director Louisa Muller maintains a similarly strong relationship with the house, where she recently directed the 2013 HGO Studio Showcase. The upcoming production marks her main-stage directorial debut.
Joining Martínez as Pinkerton is Siberian tenor Alexey Dolgov, who enjoyed success in the role at Washington National Opera. HGO Studio alumnus and Texas native Scott Hendricks sings Sharpless; the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes: “Hendricks’s voice is rich and agile, and as an actor he has an incredible presence.”
Making his U.S. operatic debut, multiple Grammy Award–winner Giancarlo Guerrero—music director of the Nashville Symphony—will lead from the podium.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Sondheim’s macabre masterpiece returns to HGO—the first opera house to mount it—in the American premiere of new staging
(April 24–May 9, 2015)
Described by the New York Times as “the greatest and perhaps best-known artist in the American musical theater,” Stephen Sondheim is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, the Laurence Olivier Award, an Academy Award, a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, seven further Tonys, and multiple Grammy Awards. Ever committed to musical theater, America’s homegrown contribution to the operatic genre, HGO was the first opera company to mount Sondheim’s musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, after its opening run on Broadway, and the upcoming production marks the American premiere of a new staging by Lee Blakeley. When it premiered in Paris, the Wall Street Journal punningly pronounced the black comedy “a cut above…[in] Lee Blakeley’s brilliant production.”
It was Grammy Award–winning baritone Nathan Gunn, now making his title role debut as HGO’s demon barber, who helped create “the evening’s single most beautiful performance” (New York Times) at the New York Philharmonic’s 80th birthday gala celebrations for Sondheim. Dramatic soprano Susan Bullock, who made waves with her star turn at London’s Last Night of the Proms in 2011, makes her first foray into musical theater in her role debut as Todd’s partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett. And HGO Studio alumnus Nicholas Phan, dubbed “an artist who must be heard” (NPR), sings his first Tobias Ragg.
James Lowe, who recently scored a Grammy nomination for his leadership of the Tony Award–winning Broadway revival of Anything Goes, will conduct.
HGO’s commitment to musical theater drew praise last season when the company staged what the Houston Chronicle described as “a stunning and gorgeous new production of Jerome Kern’s and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1929 groundbreaking Show Boat”; the review went on to “commend Maestro Patrick Summers and his brave decision to work more Broadway shows into HGO’s season.”
The Magic Flute: American premiere of iconic ENO staging
(Jan. 30–Feb. 14, 2015)
One of HGO’s two Mozart offerings for 2014-15, The Magic Flute marks the American premiere of Sir Nicholas Hytner’s iconic English National Opera staging, in a revival directed by Ian Rutherford. Paying tribute to its “classic” status, the Telegraph reports that “few productions articulate this opera’s profound message quite so simply yet engagingly, and Hytner strikes an ideal balance by acknowledging the work’s Enlightenment values and Masonic messages, while never allowing that symbolism to weigh things down.”
The Magic Flute’s three principals are all making HGO debuts. Houston resident David Portillo brings “his warm, sexy lyric tenor” (Opera News) to the role of Tamino, opposite Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions–winner Lisette Oropesa as Pamina, while Kathryn Lewek, a double prize-winner at the 2013 Operalia World Opera Competition, imbues the Queen of the Night’s high notes with “clarity, color, sparkle, and a seamless line” (Financial Times). Bass Morris Robinson, fresh from success at Washington National Opera, sings her antagonist, Sarastro, and bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, an HGO Studio alumnus most recently heard in Houston’s Die Fledermaus, returns as the comical bird catcher, Papageno.
The Magic Flute will be conducted by Robert Spano, a former Musical America Conductor of the Year and winner of six Grammy Awards for his recordings with the Atlanta Symphony.
Così fan tutte: return of HGO’s beloved Järvefelt/Silverstein staging
(Oct. 31–Nov. 15, 2014)
Harry Silverstein’s much-loved HGO staging of Mozart’s Così fan tutte was originally created as a tribute to Swedish director Göran Järvefelt’s 1988 production; according to the Houston Press, “under the deft direction of Harry Silverstein,” the production “fully realized the potential of the late Swedish director Göran Järvefelt’s inventive, multiple-use staging.”
Now Houston remounts Silverstein’s treatment with a stellar sextet of singers. Taking time out from his signature Romantic fare, Richard Tucker Award–winner Stephen Costello—“in brilliant voice, his bright tenor brimming with youthful vigor and passion” (Associated Press)—makes his professional role debut as Ferrando. Hailed by The Times of London as “the hottest young baritone on the block,” South Africa’s Jacques Imbrailo returns as Guglielmo, a role he has sung to acclaim at Glyndebourne, after his success in HGO’s Rape of Lucretia during the 2011–12 season. HGO Studio alumna and winner of the 2010 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, soprano, reprises her “radiant Fiordiligi” (Opera Today) alongside the Dorabella of soprano Melody Moore; an audience and critical favorite in HGO’s Show Boat, Moore may also be seen as Marta in the company’s U.S. premiere of The Passenger this season. Italian bass-baritone Alessandro Corbelli revisits his “authoritative Alfonso” (Opera News), with Italian soprano Nuccia Focile, Seattle Opera’s 2012–13 Artist of the Year, as Despina.
Maestro Summers, whose direction of Mozart’s ensemble masterpiece includes performances at the Metropolitan Opera, will conduct.
Otello: Verdi’s tragedy returns to HGO after decades-long absence
(Oct. 24–Nov. 7, 2014)
For the first time, HGO stages Otello in the production by John Cox, of Glyndebourne and Covent Garden fame, who directed the 2012 HGO Studio Showcase; according to the Orange County Register, Cox’s “production carries weight and force. It compels admiration.”
Headlining the HGO revival in Verdi’s formidable title role is New Zealand–born tenor Simon O’Neill “the most complete Otello since Domingo” (BBC Music magazine), opposite recent Tucker and Domingo Award-winner Ailyn Pérez—fast emerging as “a major soprano” (New York Times)—in her house and role debuts as Desdemona. Italian baritone Marco Vratogna revisits Iago, in which role he recently stole the show at San Francisco Opera. HGO Studio alumnus Norman Reinhardt, whose “smooth, agile tenor” impressed Opera News when he partnered Joyce DiDonato in Houston’s Beatrice and Benedict, returns to play Cassio, with Grammy-nominated mezzo Victoria Livengood as Emilia, and Morris Robinson lending his “rich basso that can penetrate the listener’s bones” (Huffington Post) to Lodovico.
Maestro Summers, who demonstrates “understanding of Verdi’s dramatic purpose in every measure” (Houston Chronicle), will conduct.

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About Houston Grand Opera
Since its inception in 1955, Houston Grand Opera has grown from a small regional organization into an internationally renowned opera company. HGO enjoys a reputation for commissioning and producing new works, including 54 world premieres and seven American premieres since 1973. In addition to producing and performing world-class opera, HGO contributes to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation through a diverse and innovative program of performances, community events, and education projects that reaches the widest possible public. HGO has toured extensively, including trips to Europe and Asia, and it is the only opera company to have won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and two Emmy awards.  HGO’s performances are broadcast nationally over the WFMT Radio Network.
Through HGOco, Houston Grand Opera creates opportunities for Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to observe, participate in, and create art. Its Song of Houston project is an ongoing initiative to create and share work based on stories that define the unique character of our city and its diverse cultures. Since 2007, HGOco has commissioned sixteen new works along with countless innovative community projects, reaching more than one million people in the greater Houston metropolitan area. The NEXUS Initiative is HGO’s multi-year ticket underwriting program that allows Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy world-class opera without the barrier of price. Since 2007 NEXUS has enabled more than 142,000 Houstonians to experience first-quality opera through discounted single tickets and subscriptions, subsidized student performances, and free productions.
Houston Grand Opera: 2014–15 season
* HGO debut
+ current or former HGO Studio Artist
Verdi: Otello
Oct. 24, 26m; Nov. 1, 4, 7, 2014
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: John Cox
Associate Director: Bruno Ravella
Set and Costume Designer: Johan Engels
Lighting Designer: Michael James Clark
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Otello: Simon O’Neill
Desdemona: Ailyn Pérez*
Iago: Marco Vratogna*
Cassio: Norman Reinhardt+
Emilia: Victoria Livengood
Lodovico: Morris Robinson
Production co-owned by Los Angeles Opera; Opera di Monte-Carlo; and Teatro Regio di Parma
Mozart: Così fan tutte
Oct. 31; Nov. 2m, 8, 13, 15, 2014
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Production: Göran Järvefelt
Director: Harry Silverstein
Set and Costume Designer: Carl-Friedrich Oberle
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Ferrando: Stephen Costello
Guglielmo: Jacques Imbrailo
Fiordiligi: Rachel Willis-Sørensen+
Dorabella: Melody Moore
Don Alfonso: Alessandro Corbelli
Despina: Nuccia Focile
Iain Bell and Simon Callow: A Christmas Carol (world premiere of new HGO commission)
Dec. 5, 7m, 9, 11, 14m, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21m, 2014
Conductor: Warren Jones*
Director: Simon Callow*
Set and Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins*
Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough
The Narrator: Anthony Dean Griffey (except Dec. 17 and 20) TBD: Dec. 17, 20
Puccini: Madame Butterfly
Jan. 23, 25m, 28, 31; Feb. 6, 8m, 2015
Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero*
Director: Michael Grandage
Revival Director: Louisa Muller*
Set and Costume Designer: Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Cio-Cio-San: Ana María Martínez+
Pinkerton: Alexey Dolgov
Sharpless: Scott Hendricks+
Goro: John Easterlin*
A co-production with Grand Théâtre de Genève and Lyric Opera of Chicago
Mozart: The Magic Flute
Jan. 30, Feb. 1m, 4, 7, 14, 2015
Conductor: Robert Spano
Production Director: Sir Nicholas Hytner
Revival Director: Ian Rutherford
Set and Costume Designer: Bob Crowley
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Tamino: David Portillo*
Pamina: Lisette Oropesa*
Queen of the Night: Kathryn Lewek*
Sarastro: Morris Robinson
Speaker: Patrick Carfizzi
Papageno: Michael Sumuel+
Monostatos/Man in Armor: Aaron Pegram*
Third Lady: Renee Tatum
Originally created by English National Opera
Wagner: Die Walküre
April 18, 22, 25, 30; May 3m, 2015
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Carlus Padrissa / La Fura dels Baus
Associate Director: Esteban Muñoz
Set Designer: Roland Olbeter
Costume Designer: Chu Uroz
Lighting Designer: Peter van Praet
Video Designer: Franc Aleu
Brünnhilde: Christine Goerke
Wotan: Iain Paterson
Sieglinde: Karita Mattila
Siegmund: Simon O’Neill
Fricka: Jamie Barton+
Hunding: Ain Anger
A co-production of Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia,” Valencia and Maggio Musicale, Florence

Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
April 24, 26m, 29, May 2, 8, 9, 2015
Conductor: James Lowe*
Director: Lee Blakeley
Set and Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Sweeney Todd: Nathan Gunn
Mrs. Lovett: Susan Bullock
Tobias Ragg: Nicholas Phan+
Judge Turpin: Jake Gardner
Beggar Woman: Cynthia Clayton
Production originally created by Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris
Co-owned by Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Théâtre du Châtelet
Media Contacts
Houston Grand Opera: Christine Cantrell, [email protected], (713) 524-0661
21C: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038
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