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Houston Grand Opera Awarded Grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Underwrite New Works

Houston Grand Opera recently announced plans to produce new American operatic works over three years with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Houston Grand Opera has been awarded a $750,000 grant to support the development and production of two new main stage operas—Carlisle Floyd’s Prince of Players and Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life—and three new commissions under HGOco, the company’s award-winning community collaboration and education initiative. HGO is a global leader in the creation of new work, having commissioned fifty-four world premieres and seven American premieres since 1973.

The Mellon Foundation’s Performing Arts program provides grants based on artistic merit and leadership in the field, with the intent of achieving long-term results. The Foundation has long supported HGO’s commitment to new operatic works, which advances the company’s leadership in contributing to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation. This multi-year grant period will encompass HGO work during the 2014–15, 2015–16, and 2016–17 seasons.

“HGO deeply appreciates the Mellon Foundation’s ongoing investment in new works at HGO,” said Perryn Leech, managing director of HGO. “The Mellon Foundation’s advocacy for ambitious new work and for bringing that work to broader audiences strongly aligns with HGO’s core values of artistic excellence and cultural relevance for a diverse, rapidly growing city like Houston.”

Carlisle Floyd’s Prince of Players (2015–16)

Prince of Players is the latest opera by Carlisle Floyd, one of America’s most celebrated living composers and the co-founder of HGO’s training program for young artists, the HGO Studio. The opera, for which Floyd also wrote the libretto, tells the story of Edward Kynaston, the last of the “boy players” who performed women’s roles onstage in Restoration England, following his life from the height of fame to his downfall after King Charles II’s proclamation allowing women to appear onstage. HGO will present the world premiere of Prince of Players in the Wortham Theater Center’s Cullen Theater in March 2016.

HGO has previously premiered Floyd’s Bilby’s Doll, Willie Stark, The Passion of Jonathan Wade (new version), and Cold Sassy Tree.

Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life (2016–17)

HGO’s new series of holiday opera commissions, to be launched in December 2014 with A Christmas Carol, continues in 2016 with a new work by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer, whose previous collaborations include Moby-Dick and Three Decembers.

Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s story “The Greatest Gift” and made famous by the classic 1946 Frank Capra movie, HGO’s adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life will follow the well-loved journey of George Bailey, a troubled banker about to end his own life on Christmas Eve, only to be saved when his guardian angel helps him realize how many lives he has touched. It’s a Wonderful Life will have its world premiere in December 2016 in the Wortham Theater Center’s Cullen Theater.

HGOco opens new phase of Song of Houston with historic commission O Columbia (2015–16)

The Mellon grant will fund three commissions marking the next chapter of HGOco’s innovative Song of Houston initiative, the ongoing project that tells the stories of Houstonians through words and music.  The first commission, O Columbia, is a chamber opera to be composed by Gregory Spears with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, premiering in the fall of 2015. The other two commissions will be announced at a later date. Each of these works will be performed in large public venues as well as at the Wortham Theater Center’s Cullen Theater.

O Columbia will commemorate the tragic events surrounding the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. The opera will explore the Columbia’s tragic fate from multiple perspectives including the control room at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, a family waiting at Cape Canaveral in Florida, the astronaut crew on board the Columbia, and residents north of Houston who witnessed the fatal scene in the sky.  Composer Gregory Spears previously wrote the score for HGOco’s The Bricklayer in 2012. Librettist Royce Vavrek recently collaborated with composer Ricky Ian Gordon on the opera 27, which premiered at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June.

The award-winning Song of Houston is an ongoing initiative within HGOco that creates new works based on stories that define the unique character of Houston. Notable Song of Houston projects include 2007’s The Refuge, a groundbreaking musical tapestry of immigrant stories from various Houston communities; 2010’s Cruzar la Cara de la Luna / To Cross the Face of the Moon, the world’s first mariachi opera; and East + West (2010-14), a four-year series of eight chamber operas telling contemporary stories from Houston’s Asian communities.  In 2009 the program received the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from the National MultiCultural Institute (NCMI).

Now in its eighth year, HGOco has commissioned sixteen new works and conducted innovative community projects reaching more than one million people in the greater Houston metropolitan area. HGOco creates opportunities for Houstonians of all ages and backgrounds to observe, participate in, and create art. Through projects like O Columbia, HGOco endeavors to make opera relevant to its changing audiences by connecting the company with the diverse Houston community through collaboration.

Since the early 2000s, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has helped HGO fulfill its commitment to creating new and innovative opera. Significant grant funding has supported fifteen new commissions and rarely performed works on HGO’s main stage, and many of HGOco’s community-based commissions, including the 2010 Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, the world’s first mariachi opera, and the East + West series.

More information about Houston Grand Opera and HGOco is available at the company’s website,

Media Contacts

Houston Grand Opera: Christine Cantrell, [email protected], (713) 524-0661

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