Surprise Gift of $22 Million Steals the Spotlight at HGO’s Annual ‘Concert of Arias’ Event

Wilson Parish and Michael Bishop
Surprise Gift of $22 Million Steals the Spotlight at HGO’s Annual ‘Concert of Arias’ Event

Chris Johnston, Duke & C.C. Ensell, Mark Folkes

HOUSTON GRAND OPERA, a company well familiar with epic events and grand occasions, outdid itself at its recent Concert of Arias show and dinner.


The usual high point of the annual event — the finals of the Eleanor McCollum Competition for Young Singers, followed by an elegant dinner in the Wortham foyer — is the naming of the winners of the “American Idol”-type contest for young opera singers. But there was another announcement this year that had tongues wagging.

Indeed, after mezzo-soprano Natalie Lewis was named the first-place winner and handed a check for $10,000, HGO General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor spoke to the audience, explaining that donors Sarah and Ernest Butler had just made the largest ever single gift to the company — $22 million! In recognition of their gift, HGO’s 43-year-old, world-renowned school for young singers was renamed the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio.

“Decades-long HGO supporters Rita Leader and Glen Rosenbaum chaired the evening that saw record attendance and raised over $660,000 to benefit the future of the operatic art form through HGO Studio’s recruitment, nurturing, and support of world-class young artists,” added a rep for the company.

Boldface names in the crowd included Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Molly and Jim Crownover, Isabel and Danny David, Beth Madison, Kristina Sommerville, Bobbie Nau, and Grammy-winning soprano Isabel Leonard, who was among the judges for the competition.

Beth Wolff, Anna Dean, Cheryl Byington

Bobbie Nau & Kristina Somerville

Al Lasher and Melanie Jerrell

Cynthia Petrello & Celina Hellmund

Jennifer Davenport and Rebecca Martens

Betty and Jess Tutor, Jackie and Malcolm Mazow

Anne and Albert Chao

Danny and Isabel David

Drs. Warren and Rachel Ellsworth

Marty Dudley, Teresa Ivo, Luke Sutliff

Emily Bivona and Ryan Manser

Thomas Oswald and Maureen Zoltek

Ani Kushyan and Navasard Hakobyan

Vivianna Jolie & Astley Blair

Patrick Summers, Rita Leader and Glen Rosenbaum

Aerin & Quentin Smith

Ann & Jonathan Ayre

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