Houston Grand Opera Announces Its 2014-15 Season Filled With Romance (Often Thwarted), Heroics (Death-Defying & Otherwise) and Murder (Most Foul)

Youll be up to your armpits in blood, death, betrayal and also laughter (on occasion) in a 2014-15 Houston Grand Opera season filled it with options both classical and innovative, premieres and debuts galore with both established and emerging talents.

Most of all, HGO promises beautiful and masterful voices as Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers continues to bring a wide range of music to the opera stage in Houston.

As previously announced, HGO starts the season with an operatic version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in a very different presentation than the Alley Theatre's tried and true version.

Then it's on to the second part of Wagner's Ring cycle with Die Walküre in a special production put together by the Catalan theater company La Fura dels Baus which is said to be so visually stimulating that you won't notice at all your emerging numb butt syndrome as you take in this lengthy classic.

There's the American premieres of Sir Nicholas Hytner's Magic Flute and Lee Blakeley's Sweeney Todd.

The company will make its first presentation of John Cox's Otello, followed by and the Così fan tutte and Madame Butterfly.

"What is most important to us as a company is presenting the broadest possible selection of repertoire performed by the best established and emerging artists in the world, and that's what we kept in mind while planning this season. Telling stories through music and drama is at the very core of what we do, and this coming season explores many ways in which that can be accomplished. From classic works by Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi, to the wonderfully unique musical world of Stephen Sondheim and the much-anticipated world premiere by Iain Bell, HGO will continue to broaden the scope and meaning of opera for our audience," Summers says.

HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech adds: "With each new season we aim to embrace the longstanding operatic tradition, as seen in the second installment of our first Ring cycle. Presenting new works helps the art continue to flourish and evolve, as highlighted by the coming season's production of A Christmas Carol by Iain Bell, which is just the first in a series of holiday-themed operas that we have commissioned. Our 2014-15 season will help us continue to grow our audience, reaching out especially to those who don't yet have a relationship with opera. We believe the coming season's productions will enable us to keep offering the thriving Houston community the cultural enrichment it both needs and deserves."

Here's the schedule of performances:

A Christmas Carol: world premiere December 5-21, 2014

Composer Iain Bell "based his recasting of Charles Dickens's festive favorite on the author's little-known performance adaptation: an eerie yet ultimately heartwarming one-man show in which a single narrator undertakes all the roles, from Scrooge to the three ghosts he encounters."

The libretto is by director Simon Callow, winner of an Olivier Award for Best Direction and author of Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre of the World. Callow who is also an actor "has successfully played Dickens on Broadway, in London's West End, and in television's Doctor Who."

American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey will take on the role of narrator. Warren Jones, former assistant conductor of the Metropolitan Opera will make his operatic conducting debut in the opening run.

Die Walküre: HGO's first Ring cycle in American premiere April 18-May 3, 2015

HGO is soon to launch its first presentation of Wagner's Ring cycle, in a production from La Fura dels Baus, "the genre-defying Catalan theater company behind Barcelona's 1992 Olympic opening ceremony." In this production, Director Carlus Padrissa "combines cutting-edge visuals with acrobats in tableaux of human scenery."

HGO's second installment of the epic cycle, Die Walküre is star-studded and includes Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson who returns to sing the Wotan role. Christine Goerke gives her first staged performances as Brünnhilde, "Goerke took New York by storm in Strauss this fall, prompting the New Yorker's Alex Ross to proclaim her 'the most potent dramatic soprano to appear at the Met since--well, let's not jinx her by naming names.' " New Zealand tenorSimon O'Neill reprises the role of Siegmund alongside Karita Mattila,returning to Houston for a role debut as his twin, Sieglinde. HGO Studio alumna Jamie Barton, who resumes her rendering of Fricka, was this year's Cardiff winner.

As in the first leg of HGO's Ring journey, Patrick Summers will conduct.

Madame Butterfly: January 23-February 8, 2015

Michael Grandage has undertaken four productions including his first: Puccini's Madame Butterfly for HGO.

Soprano and Grammy-winner Ana María Martínez debuts in the role of Cio-Cio-San, "Joining Martínez as Pinkerton is Siberian tenor Alexey Dolgov, who enjoyed success in the role at Washington National Opera. HGO Studio alumnus and Texas native Scott Hendricks sings Sharpless." Giancarlo Guerrero--music director of the Nashville Symphony--will conduct.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street April 24-May 9, 2015

"HGO was the first opera company to mount [Stephen] Sondheim's musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, after its opening run on Broadway, and the upcoming production marks the American premiere of a new staging by Lee Blakeley."

Grammy Award-winning baritone Nathan Gunn, will make his title role debut as HGO's demon barber.Soprano Susan Bullock, takes on the role of Todd's partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett. And HGO Studio alumnus Nicholas Phan sings his first Tobias Ragg.James Lowe, who recently scored a Grammy nomination for his leadership of the Tony Award-winning Broadway revival of Anything Goes, will conduct.

The Magic Flute: American premiere January 30-February 14, 2015

"One of HGO's two Mozart offerings for 2014-15, The Magic Flute marks the American premiere of Sir Nicholas Hytner's iconic English National Opera staging, in a revival directed by Ian Rutherford."

The Magic Flute's three principals are all making HGO debuts. Houston resident David Portillo will perform the role of Tamino, opposite Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions-winner Lisette Oropesa as Pamina, while Kathryn Lewek, a double prize-winner at the 2013 Operalia World Opera Competition, sings the Queen of the Night role. Bass Morris Robinson sings her antagonist, Sarastro, and bass-baritone Michael Sumuel, an HGO Studio alumnus returns as the bird catcher, Papageno.

"The Magic Flute will be conducted by Robert Spano, a former Musical America Conductor of the Year and winner of six Grammy Awards for his recordings with the Atlanta Symphony."

Così fan tutte: October 31-November 15, 2014

"Harry Silverstein's much-loved HGO staging of Mozart's Così fan tutte was originally created as a tribute to Swedish director Göran Järvefelt's 1988 production; according to the Houston Press, 'under the deft direction of Harry Silverstein," the production "fully realized the potential of the late Swedish director Göran Järvefelt's inventive, multiple-use staging.' "

Stephen Costello makes his professional role debut as Ferrando. South Africa's Jacques Imbrailo returns as Guglielmo. Rachel Willis-Sørensen, soprano, reprises her Fiordiligi alongside the Dorabella of soprano Melody Moore. Italian bass-baritone Alessandro Corbelli sings the Alfonso role with Italian soprano Nuccia Focile as Despina.

Summers will conduct.

Otello October 24-Nov. 7, 2014

For the first time, HGO stages Verdi's Otello in the production by John Cox, of Glyndebourne and Covent Garden fame.

Simon O'Neill takes on the lead role opposite recent Tucker and Domingo Award-winner Ailyn Pérez in her house and role debuts as Desdemona. Italian baritone Marco Vratogna is Iago. HGO Studio alumnus Norman Reinhardt plays Cassio, with Grammy-nominated mezzo Victoria Livengood as Emilia, and Morris Robinson lending his "rich basso that can penetrate the listener's bones" (Huffington Post) to Lodovico.

Summers will conduct.

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