Annual ‘Arias’ Competition and Posh Dinner Draw Young Stars — and Big Fundraising Bucks — to HGO

Katy Anderson
Annual ‘Arias’ Competition and Posh Dinner Draw Young Stars — and Big Fundraising Bucks — to HGO

Rafael Rojas, Ani Kushyan, Dominic Domingo, Navasard Hakobyan

THE SPECTACULAR WORTHAM Center tradition that’s sometimes called the American Idol of the opera world — followed in best-of-Houston form by a gala dinner party in the Grand Foyer — was a rousing and inspiring success last week.


Eight finalists from around the world — winnowed down from some 900 contestants — performed in Houston Grand Opera’s Concert of Arias before a packed hall, the final stage of the Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers. The bragging rights to one of the most prestigious titles for emerging opera talent wasn’t the only thing at stake: Winners divided $21,500 in prize money!

The first-place winner, Alabama-born-and-raised soprano Elizabeth Hanje, took home $10,000 of that herself, as well as an invitation to join the Butler Studio, the company’s renowned training program for young artists. Chinese bass-baritone Ziniu Zhao won the second prize of $5,000.

The event was also “seen worldwide via a livestreamed program hosted by acclaimed baritone Ryan McKinny, a Butler Studio alumnus and adored company favorite,” noted an HGO rep.

After the performances, guests dined on duck, with blood orange panna cotta for dessert, and mingled with contestants and the evening’s judges. The latter included Eun Sun Kim, HGO’s principal guest conductor; HGO CEO Khori Dastoor; and HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. The panel also included HGO’s artistic advisor, the soprano Ana María Martínez, who selected Brooklyn’s Sam Dhobhany, a bass-baritone, to win her annual Ana María Martínez Encouragement Award.

“There is no better distillation of HGO’s mission than the Concert of Arias,” said Dastoor of the ultimate dinner-and-a-show, which this year was chaired by Theresa and Peter Chang chaired and raised nearly $700,000 to support the Butler Studio and the company’s missions to make opera more accessible to diverse communities across Houston.

VIPs in the crowd included Nina and Michael Zilkha, Isabel and Danny David, Anne and Albert Chao, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Molly and Jim Crownover, Betty and Jess Tutor, Dan Irion, Kirk Kveton, Karen Payne, Beth Madison, Gene Wu, Miya Shay, Duyen and Marc Nguyen, Andrew Pappas and CJ Martin.

Anne Chao, Jazmine Saunders, Albert Chao

Beth Bullock, Ken Bullock

Deidra Norris, Josepha Immanuel

Dominic Macklon, Mindy Davidson, Kelly Rose, Josh Davidson

Emily Treigle, Jim Crownover, Molly Crownover

Gretchen Watkins, Khori Dastoor, Selda Gunsel

Jason Wang, Julia Wang

Jill Risley, Allyn Risley

Michelle Papenfuss, John Warren, Mo Lovett Warren, Edwin Jhamal Davis, Jill Risley, Allyn Risley

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Stephanie Weber, Paul Muri

Stephen Le, Tiffany Le, Elaine Zhang

Tate Stai, Sarah Stai, Emerson Stai, Aaron Stai, Harlan Stai

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