Press Room

Houston Grand Opera launches first “Ring” with “Das Rheingold” (Apr 11)

Tomorrow, April 11, Houston Grand Opera presents Das Rheingold, launching the American debut of a visionary and groundbreaking treatment of Der Ring des Nibelungen by La Fura dels Baus. As the first staging of Wagner’s epic cycle in HGO history, the event marks an important company milestone—one that HGO follows two weeks later with a new take on Carmen from Broadway sensation Rob Ashford. These two productions come at a time when HGO has once again been making headlines, not only for the world premiere of A Coffin in Egypt and an acclaimed revival of A Little Night Music, but by successfully appealing to new audiences. “The most recent NEA survey shows that only 2% of Americans go to the opera each year. Yet HGO is bucking the trend. Since the 2009–10 season it has seen its attendances grow by 24 percent,” reported the Economist last month. As Houston History noted in a recent feature article, “many arts programs across the nation are shutting down due to financial failure, [but] HGO has succeeded in remaining relevant.”
Upcoming productions: Das Rheingold and Carmen
For its inaugural installment of Wagner’s glorious Ring cycle, HGO embarks on the first American presentation of 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. Previously staged only in Europe, director Carlus Padrissa’s innovative conception employs acrobats in tableaux of human scenery and cutting-edge visual imagery to create “a veritable symphony in pictures” (Opera News). Highlights from the production, which was released on DVD by C Major Entertainment and won the 2010 ECHO Klassik Award for DVD of the year, can be seen here.
HGO will offer one opera from the cycle each year, starting on April 11 with Das Rheingold. Leading the outstanding cast is Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson; having recently proved himself, in concert, “a Wotan of unforced dignity, endowing the role with a voice of quality” (Financial Times), it is in Houston that Paterson makes his house and staged role debuts as Wagner’s King of the Gods. Singing opposite him as Fricka is American mezzo Jamie Barton, an HGO Studio alumna and winner of the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Czech tenor Stefan Margita reprises the role of Loge with which he “stole the show” (Opera Tattler) at San Francisco Opera. HGO’s Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers, who made his Wagner debut at HGO with “a soulful reading [of Lohengrin] that unleash[ed] the score’s power and encompass[ed] its breadth” (Houston Chronicle), will conduct.
Lead support of HGO’s Ring cycle has been generously provided by Mr. John G. Turner and Mr. Jerry G. Fischer; Houston Grand Opera Endowment, Inc; Medistar Corporation; Robin Angly and Miles Smith; Mrs. Janice Barrow; BBVA Compass; Carol Franc Buck Foundation; The Brown Foundation, Inc.; Chevron; Richard A. Lydecker, Jr.; Mr. and Mrs. J. Landis Martin; Will L. McLendon; Mathilda and Michael Cochran; Houston First Corporation; Houston Saengerbund; Mr. and Mrs. Richard Husseini; Beth Madison; Dr. and Mrs. John Mendelsohn; Elizabeth Phillips; Donald and Rhonda Sweeney; John and Sheila Tweed; Birgitt van Wijk; The Vaughn Foundation.
On April 25, HGO breathes fresh life into Bizet’s perennially popular Carmen with the help of American director/choreographer Rob Ashford, winner of Tony, Emmy, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards. In her role debut as Bizet’s Gypsy, the new production presents Grammy Award–winning Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez, the inaugural recipient of HGO’s Lynn Wyatt Great Artist Award, opposite Richard Tucker Award–winner Brandon Jovanovich’s Don José. Their love triangle is completed by the Escamillo of bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, fresh from his success in the title role of HGO’s Rigoletto, in which his “deep, resonant tones and bursts of power made Rigoletto’s inner darkness hit home without theatrical gimmicks” (Houston Chronicle). Rory Macdonald returns to the HGO podium, where he last conducted the The Rape of Lucretia in 2012.
Recent success stories: A Coffin in Egypt, A Little Night Music, and River of Light
Marking the company’s fifty-third world premiere since 1973, in March HGO presented Ricky Ian Gordon and Leonard Foglia’s A Coffin in Egypt, starring legendary mezzo Frederica von Stade. Houston Culture Map called it “the highlight of the season”; the Financial Times pronounced it “absorbing” and the libretto “arresting”; and for the San Francisco Classical Voice, “von Stade made Myrtle’s soul-searching hit home through her flair for bringing words alive. … The impact was all the greater because von Stade cut such a compelling figure.” Citing “the opera’s musical and emotional richness,” the Houston Chronicle concluded that of all the new operas of “the past decade or so,” A Coffin in Egypt was “the most compelling of the lot.” As the Houston Press recognized, “This gorgeous character study doesn’t just translate well from play to libretto; it succeeds on every level and the result stands proudly on its own. … A first-rate star vehicle for a first-rate stage performer.
Demonstrating HGO’s ongoing commitment to musical theater, in March the company presented a new-to-Houston production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, designed by Isaac Mizrahi and originally staged at Opera Theater of St. Louis. According to ConcertoNet, the production inspired “an endless stream of superlatives.” “Has any classic Stephen Sondheim musical ever looked quite so ravishing?” wrote the Houston Press. “Spectacular…one of the best musical productions to grace Houston stages,” declared Broadway World. “Intoxicating,” agreed the Houston Culture Map, “Houston Grand Opera has scored a sure hit.” The Houston Chronicle found “Sondheim’s brilliant, trickily complex score…particularly well served,” before pronouncing Elizabeth Futral “a total triumph,” and Joyce Castle “subtly masterful.” “The HGO cast weaves an impeccable spell. Most are current or former Studio artists,” noted the Houston Press, admiring Chad Shelton’s “superb diction that allows Sondheim’s patented spiky wit to shine through.” The Chronicle termed Mizrahi’s costumes “downright gorgeous,” while Culture Map concluded that HGO Associate Music Director Eric Melear “gave Sondheim’s elegant score exactly the right touch, making this nearly three-hour performance a joy.
One of Houston Grand Opera’s most original and potentially far-reaching innovations is its community collaboration program, HGOco, which inaugurated the Song of Houston project, winner of the National MultiCultural Institute’s Leading Lights Diversity Award. As the Economist observed, this celebration of cultural diversity is by no means typical for an opera company. “I’m not aware of any other opera house that places this kind of focus on ethnic outreach, says Brian Zeger, the artistic director of the musical arts program at the Juilliard School in New York.” HGO “has taken opera out of the Big House downtown and planted it in unexpected places all over the city,” Arts and Culture Texas explains: “It has made a practice of commissioning and producing fresh, new musical-theatrical work that comes from within those communities, telling the stories of the people who live here and now.”
Under the auspices of Song of Houston’s East + West series, HGOco has created chamber operas exploring Houston’s Chinese, Azerbaijani, Cambodian, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese communities. Most recently, its eighth and final commission, Jack Perla’s River of Light, takes its story from Houston’s Indian community with a libretto by Houston author Chitra Divakaruni. As the Indian-born librettist told Texas Monthly:
Look around Houston and what you see is a reflection of how the world itself is changing. You have the traditional type of immigrant, the ones who come with nothing, suffer, make sacrifices, and turn themselves into a success. And you have [River of Light’s heroine] Meera, who arrives as a success. But even then, there’s something missing. Something from home. I wanted to write that story.
More information about Houston Grand Opera and its productions is available at the company’s website,, and high-resolution photos may be downloaded here.
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, Spring 2014
* HGO debut
 former HGO Studio Artist
current HGO Studio Artist
Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold (first American presentation of production)
April 11, 13m, 17, 23, 26
Wotan: Iain Paterson *
Loge: Stefan Margita
Alberich: Christopher Purves
Fricka: Jamie Barton ‡
Mime: Rodell Rosel 
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 *
Associate Director: Esteban Muñoz *
A co-production of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia; and Maggio Musicale, Florence
Georges Bizet: Carmen (new production)
April 25, 27m, 30; May 2, 4m, 8, 10
Carmen: Ana María Martínez ‡ 
Don José: Brandon Jovanovich
Escamillo: Ryan McKinny ‡
Micaela: 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
A co-production of Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago
Media Contacts
Houston Grand Opera: Christine Cantrell, [email protected], (713) 524-0661
21C: Glenn Petry, [email protected], (212) 625-2038
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© 21C Media Group, April 2014


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