Press Room

This Spring, Houston Grand Opera Presents Tristan und Isolde with Stemme and Heppner, plus Il trovatore and Acclaimed Mariachi Opera

Spring will bring a trio of striking productions to Houston Grand Opera, starting with the return-by-popular-demand of the world’s first mariachi opera – Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”). Cruzar – an HGO commission that the company premiered to acclaim in 2010, with the Houston Chronicle calling it “a multicultural winner” – will run March 22-24 at the Wortham Theater Center. Next up is HGO’s new production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde (April 18–May 5), conducted by the company’s music and artistic director, Patrick Summers, and starring two of today’s greatest Wagnerian singers: soprano Nina Stemme as Isolde and tenor Ben Heppner as Tristan, both in their company debuts. Summing up Stemme’s performances in Wagner, the San Francisco Chronicle called her a singer of “astonishing vocal clarity and dramatic pathos.” Named “Woman of the Year” by Opera News in November, the Swedish soprano is performing the role of Isolde for the first time in the U.S.  Finally, just as the production of Tristan und Isolde helps mark the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth, HGO’s staging of Il trovatore does the same for Verdi’s 200th birthday. Running from April 26 to May 11 and conducted by Summers, Il trovatore stars up-and-coming soprano Tamara Wilson, a former HGO studio artist.
Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (March 22-24)
Cruzar la Cara de la Luna blends the musical and storytelling traditions of opera and mariachi. Composed by José “Pepe” Martínez (music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán) and co-written by Martínez with the distinguished Broadway director and writer Leonard Foglia, Cruzar tells the story of a family divided and defined by the border they have crossed, and re-crossed, over several generations. Laurentino, an octogenarian Mexican laborer, lies dying in his Houston home, surrounded by his family and longing for the other family he left behind many years before. Thoughts of his beloved wife Renata, who died in an attempt to cross the border, pervade his memory. The opera shifts between past and present, English and Spanish, Mexico and Texas, as Laurentino’s families – and memories – come together in a rich, vibrant mariachi score.
Cruzar enjoyed a sold-out world premiere in Houston in 2010 and then an acclaimed run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2011. In its review of the Paris performances, Classical TV said: “Heartfelt, sophisticated, shockingly melodic. At the end of this moving work, Théâtre du Châtelet shook with applause. You could hear weeping, but most of all you heard shouts of joy at the discovery of something wonderful and fresh.” Reflecting on the relevance of this first-ever mariachi opera, Summers said: “I am excited to present Cruzar primarily because it’s a great opera. That it is also a cross-cultural invitation to our art form is an added bonus.” Albany Records has released a CD of the music – which ranges from plaintive, folk-like balladry to rousing Latin dance rhythms – recorded live at the Houston premiere.
Tristan und Isolde (April 18-May 5)
The new HGO production of Tristan und Isolde – directed by the award-winning Christof Loy and with contemporary sets and costumes designed by Met veteran Johannes Leiacker – will not only feature Nina Stemme bringing her acclaimed Isolde to an American opera house for the first time, it will see Ben Heppner continue his welcome return to the spotlight after several years away. After Heppner’s comeback performance as Tristan this past January in Toronto, the Globe and Mail said:
“Ben Heppner was magnificent Tuesday night on the stage of the Canadian Opera Company – stunning, open-hearted, in robust and thrilling voice, creating a dramatic homecoming that banished all worrisome thoughts anyone might have had about this remarkable performer. As he told several interviewers in the days leading up to Tuesday’s performance, with just a hint of belligerence and pride: ‘I’m back.’ Indeed, he is.”
The National Post echoed the enthusiasm, saying: “Ben Heppner was in grand form.” Meanwhile, Stemme’s most recent Isolde performances at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne were judged “magnificent … thrilling … radiant,” according to the Telegraph. Conducting Wagner’s score will be HGO’s Patrick Summers, who says: Tristan und Isolde is one of the greatest operas ever written. It totally changed the course of Western music.”
Il trovatore (April 26-May 11)
Il trovatore is one of Verdi’s early blood-and-thunder warhorses, and HGO revives Stephen Lawless’s Los Angeles Opera production, which critic S. James Wegg described as “a sumptuous feast for the ear and the eye … that resonates with modern times.” HGO presents a cast of established stars – Giuseppe Verdi Gold Medal-winner Marco Berti (Manrico), Dolora Zajick (Azucena) and Tómas Tómasson (Count di Luna) – along with a rising star: soprano Tamara Wilson, as Leonora. An HGO Studio alumna, Wilson has been praised as having “a voice of steely beauty and great power” by the Houston Chronicle. She was recently the grand prize winner of the 48th Annual Francisco Vinas Competition held at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain; she was also honored with a George London Award from the George London Foundation, and was hailed by Opera News for having “a striking timbre all her own.”
Houston Grand Opera
The spring season’s rich offerings reflect both HGO’s commitment to artistic excellence and the success this has engendered – all of which has been noticed nationally and internationally. During the 2011–12 season and continuing in the current 2012–13 season, HGO’s audiences have come from all 50 states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, as well as from at least 23 foreign countries. Public demand for tickets has skyrocketed – as evidenced by a 35% increase in subscription sales since 2007, allowing HGO to dramatically increase the size of its season for the second straight year. The company will present 48 performances of eight operas in 2013-14 – an increase of 45% over the 2011-12 season, which included 33 performances of six operas.
HGO: upcoming productions
March 22–24, 2013
Cruzar la Cara de la luna (“To Cross the Face of the Moon”)
Laurentino: Octavio Moreno
Renata: Cecilia Duarte
Diana: Brittany Wheeler
Lupita: Vanessa Cerda-Alonzo
Music Director: David Hanlon
Director: Leonard Foglia
Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán
April 18 – May 5, 2013
Tristan and Isolde (new production)
Isolde: Nina Stemme
Tristan: Ben Heppner
Brangäne: Claudia Mahnke
Kurwenal: Ryan McKinny
King Marke: Christof Fischesser
Melot: Roger Honeywell
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Christof Loy
Set and costume designer: Johannes Leiacker
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Richard Bado, chorus master
April 26 – May 11, 2013
Il trovatore
Leonora: Tamara Wilson
Manrico: Marco Berti
Azucena: Dolora Zajick
Count di Luna: Tómas Tómasson
Ferrando: Peixin Chen
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Stephen Lawless
Set designer: Benoit Dugardyn
Costume designer: Martin Pakledinaz
Houston Grand Opera Orchestra and Chorus / Richard Bado, chorus master

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