"Are we just the grand, pretty night out? Or are we something deeper?"
In what may well be a one-of-its-kind effort, Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers poses that question in a video explaining a new six-year initiative highlighting spiritual themes in opera that will reach out to audiences both publicly and privately.
Joining them in this project, announced Monday and extending through 2023, are Houston Methodist and its Center for Performing Arts Medicine; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Jung Center; The Rothko Chapel; Sacred Sites Quest and The Women's Home/Institute for Spirituality and Health.
There will be three main-stage operas each season, with a common theme. The first year's theme is Sacrifice and the second Transformation, HGO Managing Director Perryn Leach told a room full of people in the Flores Pavilion at Hermann Park. Each year one of the three operas will be a new work.
What HGO means by "private" is that in some cases they'll be performing for hospital patients, teens who are learning about interfaith and spirituality through Sacred Sites Quest, and homeless women at The Women's Home. At the MFAH, tours will connect HGO's operas with visual arts; there will also be a pop-up concert series at MFAH performed by HGO Studio artists. The Jung Center will host lectures on the theme of sacrifice, while The Rothko Chapel will host panel discussions on arts and humanities in the 21st century.
Summers, who initiated the idea for this project, says he wants to start conversations about what art is about in Houston.
"Spirituality and artistic expression are so linked that they can often be used interchangeably, and it is in those intersections where art and spirituality come together that this initiative will live and thrive," he said.
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These are the works that will be tied into Seeking the Human Spirit, according to HGO:
"HGO will launch Seeking the Human Spirit in 2017–18 with three works tied to the theme of Sacrifice: Verdi’s La traviata (October 20–November 11) featuring Albina Shagimuratova as Violetta in a new production by Arin Arbus; the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s The House without a Christmas Tree (November 30–December 17) with Heidi Stober as Adelaide Mills; and Bellini’s Norma (April 27–May 11, 2018) with Liudmyla Monastyrska as Norma and Jamie Barton as Adalgisa.
"The 2018–19 mainstage operas, speaking to the theme of Transformation, will be Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (fall 2018) with Andrzej Dobber as the Dutchman, Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Senta, and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Daland; Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas (winter 2019) with Ana María Martínez as Florencia, directed by Francesca Zambello; and the world premiere of The Phoenix by Tarik O’Regan and John Caird, featuring Thomas Hampson as Lorenzo da Ponte and Luca Pisaroni as Young Lorenzo da Ponte. Also in the 2018–19 season, mezzo-soprano superstar and HGO Studio alumna Joyce DiDonato will perform her acclaimed recital program In War and Peace: Harmony through Music, which explores discord and harmony in times of war through her powerful interpretations of Baroque arias.
"Future seasons of Seeking the Human Spirit will include productions of Handel’s Saul, Donizetti’s La favorite, R. Strauss’s Salome, Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and the world premiere of a new opera by Adam Guettel based on H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man.
"Presentations by HGOco, the company’s community and education arm, will include performances of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, a chamber opera based on the true story of America’s longest held prisoner of war; a concert of songs created from the stories of Houston veterans; The Armadillo’s Dream, a newly created book by Dennis Arrowsmith and Eduard Hakobyan for HGOco’s Storybook Opera program for young children; and Star-Cross’d, the pilot for a web-based serial opera on love in the face of obstacles. Star-Cross’d will follow a modern-day Romeo and Juliet storyline to be chosen from public submissions and will be created by composer Avner Dorman and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann."