Houston Grand Opera Announces Its 2015-16 Season

It's a season designed to portray the journeys people take, says Houston Grand Opera Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers in describing the upcoming 2015-16 HGO offerings ranging from the Siegfried (and Summers' favorite part of Wagner's Ring Cycle) to the return of Carlisle Floyd now in his 88th year who's written a new opera Prince of Players that takes him far from his usual Americana.

There's a mixture of classic (and classic in new productions) and new with another special holiday offering - this time The Little Prince - and one from musical theater - Carousel. "Of all of the pieces of American musical theater, Carousel is the most profound. It is the piece of musical theater that sits between opera and commercial theater most obviously. But more than that, the themes of Carousel, the idea of a life that didn't get to be finished, having an opportunity to redeem itself I think that Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers finding that tale and getting to write it just as the war was ending, just as as all kinds of households in the United States were facing a future that had lives that did not get to be completed. They took an extraordinary story in which a man on his own journey gets one day to return to his life to try to redeem himself," Summers says.

Audiences will also be able to see Dvorak's fairy tale Rusalka, a new version of The Marriage of Figaro, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and Puccini's Tosca, as well as world premiere's of chamber pieces O Columbia and another yet untitled one about the effects of Hurricane Ike on Galveston.

Summers calls Floyd's world premiere "the centerpiece" of the coming season. "We're in a golden moment at Houston Grand Opera concerning Carlisle because there's no opera company in history that has had such a long and close association with a living composer and with a living composer of Carlisle's talent and reknown. He has been associated with Houston Grand Opera for more than half its history both as a composer as an influence as a co-founder of the Houston Grand Opera Studio."

"It's an opera about the theater of life itself and how acting is for many people how they discover who they are," Summers says. It's told through the life story of an actual person, Sir Edward Kynaston, who was the most renowned Shakespearean actor of the day., but he was renowned for female roles. Sir Edward Kynaston was the last of that generation of actors before a decree came that women should be able to play female roles which of course was a great advance for women but very bad news for Kynaston."

A lot of regular opera-goers are looking forward to the return of Christine Goerke, who last year achieved so much acclaim in New York City when she sang Strauss. Goerke will be singing the Brunnhilde role in Siegfried and has a long association with HGO.

"It is certainly not an overnight sensation. Christine Goerke has been working diligently for 20 years," says Summers, who added he's known her 20 years. "Yes, HGO invested very early on in Christine, casting her in Lohengrin. It was a very controversial decision at the time, which says more about the art form than Christine Goerke. Christine and I had a plan together to lead her into the Wagnerian roles. So the idea to me that she's an overnight sensation is rather hilarious. Voices take time to mature. She is an extraordinary artist."

For more details on the upcoming season, see the next page.

Here are excerpts from the Houston Grand Opera announcement:

Siegfried: American premiere of hit production showcases a new generation of Wagnerians (April 16-May 1)

In HGO's third installment of the epic cycle, Siegfried, Scottish bass-baritone Iain Paterson returns to continue his first staged performances as Wotan/The Wanderer, and the fiendishly difficult title role will be sung by American tenor Jay Hunter Morris, whose last-minute portrayal at the Met in 2011, characterized by "admirably clean and clear singing" (New York Times), brought him international accolades.

Morris recently gave a tour-de-force performance as The Narrator in HGO's world premiere of Iain Bell and Simon Callow's A Christmas Carol. He is joined by Christine Goerke, continuing her first staged U.S. appearances as Brünnhilde. After hearing Goerke sing Strauss in 2013, New Yorker critic Alex Ross proclaimed her "the most potent dramatic soprano to appear at the Met since--well let's not jinx her by naming names." Patrick Summers will lead from the pit.

Prince of Players: world premiere by American master composer Carlisle Floyd (March 5-13)

HGO's ties with composer Carlisle Floyd, the Lynn Wyatt Great Artist 2015-16,are among the longest of any opera company and composer in history, spanning nearly 40 years.

Now HGO is proud to premiere the 88-year-old composer's latest opera, Prince of Players. A chamber opera in two acts, the opera departs from the American subjects that occupied Floyd's previous operatic work. Instead, it is a high-spirited period piece that examines the fluidity of sexuality and gender roles. Prince of Players is based on the play Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Jeffrey Hatcher and tells the story of Edward Kynaston, the last female impersonator actor in 17th-century England.

English director Michael Gieleta will make his HGO debut with this production, and Patrick Summers will conduct. The cast will be announced at a later date.

Rusalka: evocative new-to-Houston production features Houston favorite Ana María Martínez in title role (January 29-February 12)

The Prince will be sung by the American tenor Brian Jagde in his HGO debut. A winner of the Birgit Nilsson Prize at the Operalia competition, he is an alumnus of San Francisco Opera's Merola and Adler young artist programs. Richard Paul Fink, an HGO Studio alumnus who was last here in Lohengrin in 2009, will sing the Water Goblin.

Rusalka will be conducted by Harry Bicket, chief conductor of Santa Fe Opera and music director of The English Concert.

The Little Prince: revival of popular HGO commission continues cycle of holiday operas (December 4-20)

Based on the classic children's story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this appealing work has been called "an enchanting opera that is both faithful to the book and satisfying to the child and adult alike" (Financial Times)

In this production, Houston native and HGO Studio alumnus Joshua Hopkins reprises his 2004 portrayal of The Pilot, in which he displayed a "clarion baritone and an appealing, warm stage presence" (Houston Press).

HGO's Bradley Moore conducts in his HGO main-stage debut; the remainder of the cast will be announced at a later date.

The Marriage of Figaro: Houston debut of Michael Grandage's hit production; role debuts for Ailyn Pérez and Lauren Snouffer (January 22-February 7)

In 2012 the multiple-award-winning theater director Michael Grandage created one of only a few operatic projects: a staging of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro for the Glyndebourne Festival. Set in Franco's Spain of the 1960s, the production was hailed for its beauty
. For this Figaro, HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers has assembled a cast of rising stars, starting with Glyndebourne's 2013 Figaro, Czech baritone Adam Plachetka, and Count, HGO Studio alumnus Joshua Hopkins. Soprano Ailyn Pérez makes her professional role debut as the Countess, returning to HGO after a moving portrayal of Desdemona in last fall's Otello, singing with "a velvet sheen" (Houston Press). In an unusual approach to Cherubino, the role will be sung by soprano Lauren Snouffer (rather than the usual mezzo-soprano), an HGO Studio alumna who gave a "resplendent" (New York Times) performance as Agnes in Tanglewood's 2013 concert version of George Benjamin's Written on Skin. This will be a professional role debut. Rising star Heidi Stober, also an HGO Studio alumna, will take the role of Susanna.

Harry Bicket, chief conductor of Santa Fe Opera and music director of The English Concert, will conduct.

Eugene Onegin: Houston first for classic Graham Vick production and house debut of Ekaterina Scherbachenko (October 30-November 13)

Tchaikovsky's beloved work based on the Pushkin verse novel receives elegant period treatment in this lavish theatrical production.

HGO presents the house debut of Russian soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko (as Tatyana), who sang the role at Glyndebourne in 2008; the following year she won the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Studio alumnus Scott Hendricks, Sharpless in HGO's Madame Butterfly this season, returns as Onegin. Norman Reinhardt, the versatile Studio alumnus who last season sang both Cassio in Otello and Ferrando in Così fan tutte, sings Lensky.

Michael Hofstetter, whose "artful" conducting of HGO's 2011 Fidelio "captured the color and character of the music" (Houston Chronicle), will conduct.

Tosca: Reprise of "gripping" production (October 23-November 14)

Puccini's Tosca was one of three operas HGO presented during its second season in 1956-57, and the work continues to captivate Houston audiences. In 2010, HGO presented a new production that was hailed by the Houston Chronicle: "From the first chords that explode from the orchestra, Maestro Patrick Summers just about propelling himself out of the pit with them, a gripping sense of urgency drives Houston Grand Opera's potent new production." Next season audiences can again experience Tosca, animated by new and returning stars and creative team. Soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska, whose portrayal of Aida in her 2013 HGO debut was marked with "power, finesse, and soul" (Houston Chronicle) will sing the fiery Tosca. Siberian tenor Alexey Dolgov will reprise his "warm lyricism and...gallant presence" (Houston Chronicle) as Cavaradossi. Polish baritone Andrzej Dobber, who has performed Scarpia at Semperoper Dresden and at the Berlin State Opera and Deutsche Oper Berlin, will make his U.S. role debut with these HGO performances.

Canadian director John Caird (Lynn Wyatt Great Artist 2012-13, during which season he directed La bohème at HGO) returns for this revival, along with Maestro Summers in the pit.

Carousel: Rob Ashford production features HGO debut of Stephanie Blythe, return of rising star Studio alums (April 22-May 7)

HGO continues celebrating the great American musical with a production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's beloved classic Carousel. Broadway sensation Rob Ashford, who seduced HGO audiences in 2014 with his theatrical, dance-rich Carmen, will direct this co-production with Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Singing Julie Jordan is Andrea Carroll, a 2014 alumna of the HGO Studio.The carousel barker Billy Bigelow will be sung by Australian baritone Duncan Rock, an alumnus of English National Opera's young artist program who will be making his HGO debut.

Soprano Lauren Snouffer, an HGO Studio alumna, makes a second appearance this season (Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro) as Carrie Pipperidge, along with fellow Studio alumnus Norman Reinhardt (Lensky in Eugene Onegin, Cassio in HGO's Otello, and Ferrando in Così fan tutte, both 2014).

Making her long-awaited HGO debut as Nettie Fowler is Stephanie Blythe, one of opera's most beloved mezzo-sopranos. Also acclaimed for her tribute to Kate Smith's interpretations of the Great American Songbook, Miss Blythe was seen in Live from Lincoln Center's presentation of Carousel on PBS in 2013.

Carousel will be conducted by Richard Bado, who holds The Sarah and Ernest Butler Chorus Master Chair at HGO.

O Columbia: world premiere by Gregory Spears with libretto by Royce Vavrek (early fall 2015)

O Columbia, a chamber opera in three acts by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Royce Vavrek, examines the past, present, and future of the American spirit of exploration. Each short act, framed by works for chorus, imagines a conversation that crosses space and time to create a unified story: we ride with Sir Walter Raleigh and a mysterious figure on the bow of his ship heading for the New World; sit with a teenager in her Houston bedroom as she experiences communion and later, heartbreak, with a Columbia Space Shuttle astronaut gliding around the earth; and finally we travel with three astronauts making a one-way journey to the far reaches of the solar system with Lady Columbia waiting at the edge. The work is a celebration of the identity of America's frontier men and women, an ode to America's national mythology. O Columbia is informed by interviews with the NASA community, and will be presented under the auspices of HGOco, the company's community collaboration initiative.

Composer Gregory Spears previously wrote the score for HGOco's The Bricklayer in 2012; his opera Paul's Case, performed at Pittsburgh Opera, Urban Arias, and New York's 2014 Prototype Festival was described as having "blinding brilliance" (New York Observer). Librettist Royce Vavrek wrote the "playful, quick-witted" (Wall Street Journal) libretto to composer Ricky Ian Gordon's score for the opera 27, which premiered at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June 2014.

World premiere chamber opera by David Hanlon with libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann (May 2016)

As a massive hurricane hurtles towards the Gulf Coast, a Galvestonian who refuses to leave her home is haunted by storms past. An exploration of resilience, loss, and the power of place, composer David Hanlon's new opera mines the legacy of the Great Storm of 1900 and Hurricane Ike on the region, investigating how natural disasters reshape our psychic terrain. This work, also presented under the auspices of HGOco, is being informed by interviews with Galveston residents and is in development for premiere in May of 2016.

For further information please visit hgo.org or call 713-228-6737.

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