Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, Houston Grand Opera has just announced it is canceling five different productions and won't be back on the Wortham Center stage until April 2021. In addition, it is reducing its workforce and implementing salary cuts.
Canceled performances include Carmen (October 23–November 13), Werther (October 30–Nov ember 15), the world premiere of The Snowy Day (December 10–December 20), Parsifal (January 22–February. 7, 2021), and Cinderella (January 29–February 15, 2021).
HGO plans to be back for the HGO premieres of Mazzoli and Vavrek's Breaking the Waves (April 16–May 1, 2021) and Rodgers and Hammerstein II’s The Sound of Music (April 30–May 15, 2021). Breaking the Waves was originally planned for five performances; that has been reduced to four.
In a press release, HGO explained:
Like many nonprofits, HGO has been negatively impacted financially during the pandemic, having canceled its spring repertory and major fundraising events earlier this year. Staging grand opera requires hundreds of artists, crew, and staff members for each performance. Social distancing, a key tactic in fighting the spread of COVID-19, makes presenting grand opera financially unviable in the coming months. With the anticipation of lost revenues from not producing a full season, Houston Grand Opera has therefore been forced to make the heartbreaking decision to reduce its workforce by 27 percent—a first in the history of the organization. Staff remaining at HGO, including senior staff, will have a 15 percent pay reduction, or have their hours reduced to a level sufficient for the current programming, beginning July 1 and continuing through February 2021. Senior leadership reduced their own salaries, which started on June 1. This combination of savings will reduce the FY21 expenses from $30,730,707 to $20,658,665 and will protect the financial future for HGO.
In a letter to the HGO family, managing director Perryn Leech called the decision "devastating," adding:
"Years of preparation have gone into the planning and development of HGO’s 2020–21 season. We spend many years carefully planning repertoire that has a mix of unworldly journeys, soul-stirring productions, and beloved classics brought to audiences in new ways. Hundreds of people from the Houston community and from around the world come together to celebrate the human voice and bring grand opera to our city. This means that hundreds of our singers, musicians, artists, technicians and administrative staff members will be impacted by these cancellations. Years of hard work and collaboration have been put on hold as we navigate our current reality."
During the time off, HGO will continue to present bi-monthly video content. It plans a media project about The Snowy Day which is based on the award-winning children's book by Ezra Jack Keats.
HGO has formed two group with the goal of supporting the company during this time as well as to assess the best safe working environments once the company resumes performances.
Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers also weighed in:
“Many people depend on HGO for their livelihoods, and this was not an easy decision to make. We are thankful to have a strong board and patron base that will help us get through this upcoming season and remain financially sound. The arts are transformative and provide an impactful and moving experience. Now, more than ever, the Houston community needs the arts to help it process and heal, and that is not lost on us. We will continue to find ways to connect with our beloved audiences, even if we cannot physically be together.”
HGO patrons and subscribers who currently have tickets for the 2020–21 season will have their subscriptions moved to the 2021–22 season automatically. In appreciation of their continued support, existing tickets to Breaking the Waves and The Sound of Music will be made complimentary. More information and additional options can be found at HGO.org/coronaviru
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