Under the leadership of Khori Dastoor, who took the helm as General Director and CEO in 2021, a time during which musicians and audiences were desperate to reunite after months of pandemic-related precautions, HGO remains one of the most acclaimed opera companies in the United States, committed to producing longstanding, audience-friendly repertoire while commissioning and premiering groundbreaking new works.
In the upcoming season, Dastoor and HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers embrace and expand upon this vision, with a world premiere, a family-friendly staging of music theater classic, several smart productions of comic and tragic repertoire, and a mounting of Wagner’s final gesamtkunstwerk Parsifal.
The HGO opens its season in October with a world premiere: Intelligence, composed by Jake Heggie. Set during the Civil War, with a libretto by Gene Scheer, and direction by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, a 2021 MacArthur Fellow and founder of the Brooklyn-based dance company, Urban Bush Women, Intelligence draws on historical events to tell the story of a pro-Union spy ring created by Elizabeth Van Lew, a woman from a prominent Confederate family, and Mary Jane Bowser, a slave born into her household. Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings the role of Elizabeth, and soprano Janai Brugger makes her company debut as Mary Jane. The innovative production incorporates movement by eight dancers from Urban Bush Women and will be conducted by Kwamé Ryan, also making his HGO debut.
This fall, the HGO will also stage Verdi’s comedic opera, Falstaff, with baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. singing the role of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved and enduring characters. January 2024 heralds the archetypal journey of Parsifal, directed by Tony Award-winning director John Caird, and featuring what is described as “a cast of extraordinary Wagnerians,” including tenor and rising star Russell Thomas as Parsifal. Thomas, a queer, Black man, is a strong advocate for casting performers from all communities on the opera stage, be they Asian, Black, gay, straight, transgender, or nonbinary, which aligns with the HGO’s mission, and withParsifal, brings a welcome layer of depth and meaning to Wagner’s music and troubling biography.
Ailyn Perez (photo courtesy of Houston Grand Opera)
While “beloved tragedy” sounds like a contradiction in terms, the expression certainly applies to Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, which returns to the HGO at the end of January 2024. Jordan Braun directs this three-hankie revival of Tony Award winner Michael Grandage’s production, with internationally sought-after soprano Ailyn Pérez singing the role of Cio-Cio-San opposite tenor Yongzhao Yu as Pinkerton. On a somewhat lighter note, the company’s spring programming includes Mozart’s tragicomedy Don Giovanni, with a cast that includes bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni as the thoroughly un-woke womanizer Don Giovanni, soprano Andriana Chuchman in her role debut as Donna Anna, and, returning to the HGO, mezzo-soprano and all-around cool person Sasha Cooke as Donna Elvira.
Closing the season in April 2024 is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s tune-filled The Sound of Music, with Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard as Maria and baritone Alexander Birch Elliott as the Captain. You know the songs; isn’t it time your kids learned them too?
For more information about the 2023-24 season, including two more commissioned chamber operas, Giving Voice — its fifth annual celebration of Black artists in opera, and the 36th annual Concert of Arias, the final round of the Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, visit the HGO website.
Isabel Leonard (photo by Sergio Kurhajec)
Khori Dastoor and Patrick Summers (photo courtesy of the Houston Grand Opera)