|Lifetime Trustee Catherine Merchant was first appointed to the HGO Board
of Trustees by founder Elva Lobit in 1960, although her involvement
with HGO began two years earlier. It was then that she attended her
first HGO board meeting with her friend Lois Townsend, who was singing
the role of the Marschallin in the company's production of Der
Rosenkavalier in the 1958–59 season. Catherine volunteered to work
backstage for the production, becoming the company's very first props
The following season, she worked on Die Fledermaus and even staged and
directed the show for the Arkansas State Opera in 1961, when it was rare
for a woman to hold such a position with an opera company. In 2005,
Catherine had the pleasure of being backstage at HGO once again, where
she was able to meet Susan Graham and Laura Claycomb, two of the stars
of this year's production. She has now come full circle as a Production
Funder for this season's Die Fledermaus.
Having graduated from Texas Woman's University with a degree in voice
and instruments, Catherine was later invited to study productions at the
famous Glyndebourne and Bayreuth opera festivals in England and
Germany, respectively. While at Glyndebourne in the summer of 1959, she
was able to observe the process of the festival's founder and artistic
director, famed stage director Carl Ebert, in the last productions
before his retirement. At Bayreuth, she had the unusual privilege of
watching a performance of Parsifal from a backstage light tower, and was
also allowed to sit in the orchestra pit under the stage during a performance of Lohengrin.
Catherine's favorite opera composer is Mozart and her most memorable
opera at HGO was the 1959 production of Die Walküre, when she became
friends with Wagnerian soprano Margaret Harshaw. Her favorite singer is
Renata Tebaldi, whom she saw perform many times in opera and concert.
After retiring from being behind the scenes, Catherine volunteered in
the Houston Grand Opera archives and events planning departments. In
addition to supporting HGO, she is a member of the Daughters of the
Republic of Texas and contributes to the Houston Symphony, where she
began volunteering in 1947, even donating a contrabassoon after many
instruments were destroyed during Tropical Storm Allison.
With such a connection to the opera––from working props backstage to
staging and directing––Catherine is thrilled to be involved with Die
Fledermaus once again.