Press Room

Houston Grand Opera’s “Passenger” a triumph; world premiere and first “Ring” upcoming

The new year has already brought notable success for Houston Grand Opera (HGO), where the hotly anticipated American premiere of the long-lost Holocaust opera The Passenger—hailed by the Associated Press as “the latest coup for a company known for producing new works”—took the national and local press by storm, and where the company’s Rigoletto revival was pronounced “glorious” (Theater Jones). These accolades come at an exciting time for the company, which continues this season’s extraordinary line-up with the launch of the first American presentation of a visionary and groundbreaking treatment of Das Rheingold by La Fura dels Baus; the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, named one of the twelve “must-see opera events of the season” (Opera News); a new HGO production of Carmen from Broadway sensation Rob Ashford; and Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which boasts designs by fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi.
HGO triumphs with The Passenger and Rigoletto
The critical response to Houston’s American premiere production of The Passenger was overwhelming. Classical Voice America proclaimed the opera “a masterpiece,” and the Chicago Tribune found it an “engrossing, thought-provoking experience” that “deserves [a place] in the regular repertory.” Houston’s production impressed the Houston Chronicle as one “that unites commanding performances and vivid, fast-paced staging,” while the Wall Street Journal commended the way “conductor Patrick Summers shaped the evening with enormous care.” As for the performers, “top to bottom, the cast is excellent,” asserted the Dallas Morning News. Melody Moore “gave Marta’s anguish lyricism and strength” (Wall Street Journal), “Michelle Breedt’s instrument seemed ideally suited to the role of Liese” (Classical Voice America), and “Kelly Kaduce was mesmerizing” as Katya (Wall Street Journal). The Toronto Star concluded:
It is an act of remembrance, a call to conscience, a letter to the future from those who have experienced a terrible past. Houston Grand Opera can take pride in its presentation.
Those who missed The Passenger will have another chance to see Houston’s production this summer, when it tours to New York’s Park Avenue Armory for three performances at the Lincoln Center Festival (July 10–13).
HGO’s recent Rigoletto revival was also enthusiastically received. Calling it “a Houston Grand Opera high note,” Houston Culture Map applauded the company’s “austere but effective production” and the “sublime moments” it yielded. The Houston Chronicle praised Ryan McKinny, whose “deep, resonant tones and bursts of power made Rigoletto’s inner darkness hit home without theatrical gimmicks,” and considered Stephen Costello’s Duke “the sensation of the night”; likewise, Theater Jones named Costello “one of the best lyric tenors in the business.” Uliana Alexyuk, a current member of the HGO Studio who jumped into the role of Gilda at the last minute, impressed with her “vocally amazing” (Theater Jones) performance.
As for HGO’s Music Director, Theater Jones observed:
Patrick Summers leads his superb orchestra in a musically taut and Verdi-friendly performance. He is always on top of the text and constantly inspiring the participants to surpass themselves. He gives the singers lots of room for personal interpretative gestures and lets high notes take on a life of their own. This is possible because his orchestra is always right with him. Intonation is also exemplary. This is exactly what you want in an opera conductor.
Upcoming productions: Das Rheingold, A Coffin in Egypt, and more
Marking an important company milestone, in April HGO launches 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. 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 present one installment from the cycle each year, starting on April 11 with Das Rheingold. Leading the outstanding cast is Scottish bass-baritone and “talent to watch” (Chicago Tribune) Iain Paterson, making his house and role debuts as Wotan. 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, one of opera’s most influential awards. Czech tenor Stefan Margita reprises the role of Loge with which he “stole the show” (Opera Tattler) at San Francisco Opera. 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.
As the first in a series of new HGO commissions, the company presents Ricky Ian Gordon’s A Coffin in Egypt, composed to a libretto by Leonard Foglia, who will direct the stage premiere. A moving melodrama, the opera stars legendary mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, one of opera’s most beloved figures. “This new opera has deep Texas roots,” Patrick Summers explains. “It is based on a play of the same name by the renowned Texas writer Horton Foote. Ricky Ian Gordon is a very theatrically driven composer with a style that is perfectly suited to opera.” Houston Grand Opera’s legacy of commissioning and premiering new works goes back more than forty years and includes commissions from John Adams, Philip Glass, Daniel Catán, André Previn, Mark Adamo, and Jake Heggie. Opening on March 14, A Coffin in Egypt marks HGO’s fifty-third world premiere since 1973.
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 HGO Rigoletto success. Rory Macdonald returns to the HGO podium, having last conducted The Rape of Lucretia in 2012.
The upcoming production of Pulitzer Prize–winner Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music demonstrates HGO’s ongoing commitment to musical theater, America’s original contribution to the operatic genre. On March 7, the company will restage the production with costumes by Isaac Mizrahi; in the initial staging it was, according to the Wall Street Journal, “no surprise that Mr. Mizrahi’s costumes were enchanting.” Headlining the cast are Elizabeth Futral, Chad Shelton, and Joyce Castle, who was chosen by the composer himself to record “Send in the Clowns” for the Book-of-the-Month collection Sondheim. Musical direction is by HGO’s own associate music director, Eric Melear, a Sir Georg Solti Foundation Award winner and former HGO Studio artist.
More information about these upcoming Houston Grand Opera productions is available at the company’s web site:, 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 fifty-two 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
Stephen Sondheim: A Little Night Music
March 7, 9m, 13, 15, 18, 19, 20, 22, 23m
Desiree Armfeldt: Elizabeth Futral 
Fredrik Egerman: Chad Shelton ‡
Count Carl-Magnus: Mark Diamond ‡
Countess Charlotte: Carolyn Sproule †
Madame Armfeldt: Joyce Castle
Anne Egerman: Andrea Carroll †
Henrik Egerman: Brenton Ryan * 
Petra: Alicia Gianni ‡
Conductor: Eric Melear ‡
Original Director/Set and Costume Designer: Isaac Mizrahi *
Revival Director: Matthew Ozawa
Lighting Designer: Brian Nason
An original production of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Ricky Ian Gordon and Leonard Foglia: A Coffin in Egypt (World Premiere)
March 14, 16m, 21
Myrtle Bledsoe: Frederica von Stade
Composer: Ricky Ian Gordon
Librettist/Director: Leonard Foglia
Conductor: Timothy Myers
Set and Costume Designer: Riccardo Hernández
Lighting Designer: Brian Nason
A co-commission and co-production of Houston Grand Opera, Opera Philadelphia, and the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
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, February 2014


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