History of HGO
  • Houston Grand Opera (HGO) was founded in 1955 through the joint efforts of Maestro Walter Herbert and cultural leaders Mrs. Louis G. Lobit, Edward Bing, and Charles Cockrell. From its modest beginnings-HGO's inaugural season featured a mere two performances of two operas, Salome and Madame Butterfly-HGO has grown into a company of international stature.

    HGO's mission is to contribute to the cultural enrichment of Houston and the nation by producing and performing world-class opera, and by creating a diverse, innovative, and balanced program of performances, events, and community and education projects that reach the widest possible public. Its core values are excellence, relevance, and affordability. One of the country's principal commissioners and producers of new works, HGO has introduced 56 world premieres and seven American premieres since 1973. These range from the first American staging of Handel's Rinaldo (1975) with Marilyn Horne in the title role, to world premiere productions of such contemporary classics as Bernstein's A Quiet Place (1983), John Adams's Nixon in China (1987), Mark Adamo's Little Women  (1998), and the American premieres of Weinberg's The Passenger (2014) and Philip Glass's Akhnaten (1984). HGO's most recent world premieres include Jake Heggie's Three Decembers (2008), André Previn's Brief Encounter (2009), José "Pepe" Martínez's Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (2010), Ricky Ian Gordon's A Coffin in Egypt (2014), and Iain Bell's A Christmas Carol (2014), all of which were commissioned by the company. HGO has received a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards-the only opera company in the world to have won all three honors.

    Company Foundation
    The HGO Association has 204 members: a 48-member board of directors, two honorary directors, and 154 trustees. The HGO Board of Directors meets four times, and the trustees meet three times each year. The opera employs over 900 people annually, of which 117 are full-time staff.  On May 25, 2011, the board of directors appointed Patrick Summers as artistic and music director, occupying the Margaret Alkek Williams Chair. At the same time, Perryn Leech was named managing director. They succeeded Anthony Freud, OBE, the company's general director from 2005 to 2011, who resigned at the end of the 2010-11 season to assume leadership of Lyric Opera of Chicago.

    The permanent artistic foundation  of HGO rests on three pillars: the HGO Orchestra, HGO Chorus, and HGO Studio. During Patrick Summers's tenure with the company, the HGO Orchestra has reached a new level of virtuosity, adding many great masterworks to its repertoire. The HGO Chorus, which was created at the same time as HGO itself in 1955, has become one of the world's most acclaimed opera choruses under the direction of Chorus Master Richard Bado, who holds the Sarah and Ernest Butler Chorus Master Chair.

    HGO Studio
    Founded in 1977 by composer Carlisle Floyd and HGO's then-General Director David Gockley, the mission of the Houston Grand Opera Studio is to provide career development for young artists who have demonstrated potential to make major contributions to the opera/musical theater profession. The Studio's goal is to develop well-rounded professionals prepared for all performance aspects in the fields of opera and music theater and in all genres: traditional European operas, contemporary opera and works of musical theater by American composers from diverse cultural backgrounds, innovative interpretations of the standard repertoire, recitals, concerts with orchestra, and fully staged productions.

    To re-establish the company's relevance to the community, in 2007 HGO established HGOco, a far-reaching initiative established to break down barriers to the arts by creating opportunities for observation, participation, and creation. The "co" in HGOco represents a focus on company, community, connection, and collaboration. Maximizing the resources of the entire company (staff, chorus, orchestra, designers, technicians, guest artists, etc.) and collaborating with kindred organizations, HGOco seeks to change the way people involve art in their lives. These efforts include all of HGO's education and community-engaging activities. Since 2007, HGOco has commissioned 16 new works and three song cycles and has conducted innovative community projects reaching more than one million people in the Greater Houston metropolitan area

    Song of Houston is an ongoing initiative within HGOco that creates new works based on stories that define the unique character of Houston. Notable Song of Houston projects include 2007's The Refuge, a groundbreaking musical tapestry of immigrant stories from various Houston communities; 2010's Cruzar la Cara de la Luna / To Cross the Face of the Moon, the world's first mariachi opera; and East + West (2010-14), a four-year series of eight chamber operas telling contemporary stories from Houston's Asian communities.  In 2009 the program received the Leading Lights Diversity Award in Arts and Culture from the National MultiCultural Institute (NCMI).

    HGO Guild
    The Houston Grand Opera Guild was founded in October 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. William W. Bland, Mrs. Edger Haden, and Mrs. John L. Abercrombie, and has played an instrumental role in making Houston Grand Opera one of the premier opera companies in the world today. The mission of the HGO Guild is to promote and support Houston Grand Opera in all its activities. A non-profit organization with nearly 2,300 members, its core group of active volunteers perform roles such as backstage tours, hosting artists, educational talks, fundraising events, and operating the Guild Boutique. The HGO Guild is committed to fostering and encouraging an active, educated, and increasingly diverse audience to experience grand opera.

    Throughout the year, the Guild offers a variety of educational activities introducing opera to students. Forty-five minute presentations have been developed for over 15 operas and include video clips and background notes that help students understand the history surrounding the opera, the singers, composers, and librettos. Each year, Houston Grand Opera schedules performances specifically for students, which typically include High School Night and student matinees for younger students. By providing presentations for classes attending these operas, HGO Guild members help students increase their attention to and enjoyment of the opera. Other popular activities include panel discussions with distinguished speakers as well as awarding scholarships to young artists.

    Each year the Guild honors volunteers who have made significant contributions to its programs as well as honoring non-members who has made singular contributions to the Guild or to the opera company itself. The HGO Guild Board of Directors oversees all Guild activities and manages its finances.

    HGO's first national tour took place in 1975, when the company traveled to the Kennedy Center to present Scott Joplin's Treemonisha, which was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon. This was quickly followed in 1976 by the national, Broadway, and European tour of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. During the same year, while Porgy and Bess  was playing on Broadway, HGO also presented a revival of another important American opera, John Philip Sousa's El Capitan,  at the Kennedy Center.

    The new staging of Porgy and Bess  with the complete Gershwin score was artistically acclaimed. The reception helped to change public opinion about the work, which had never before been staged by an opera company. HGO's production of Porgy and Bess was then recorded by RCA Records. HGO won a Tony Award for the Broadway performances and a Grammy Award for the recording.

    Internationally, HGO has performed at the Edinburgh Festival and in Milan, Berlin, Cairo, Zurich, Genoa, and Palermo, and has traveled to Japan, Canada, and Israel. In September 2011, HGO presented six performances of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna/To Cross the Face of the Moon  (José "Pepe" Martínez/Leonard Foglia) at Paris's famed Théâtre du Châtelet.

    HGO is the only American opera company invited to perform twice at New York's Lincoln Center Festival. In 1996 the company contributed its production of Virgil Thomson's and Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts, conceived, designed and directed by Robert Wilson.  In 2014 HGO brought The Passenger,  Mieczyslaw Weinberg's uncompromising 1968 opera about the Holocaust, directed by David Pountney, to the Park Avenue Armory.

    Wortham Theater Center
    In 1987, HGO officially moved into its home at the Wortham Theater Center, a 437,500-square-foot facility featuring two theaters- the Alice and George Brown Theater and the Roy and Lillie Cullen Theater-which together contain over 3,300 seats. The $72 million state-of-the-art facility was built entirely with private funds during a major downturn in Houston's economy and was given to the City of Houston, which owns and operates the facility through the Houston First Corporation. In 1997, improvements were made to the Wortham Center that included the addition of 180 seats in the main orchestra section and an expansion and reconfiguration of the orchestra pit. Further renovations resulting in a major expansion of the orchestra pit were completed in 2005.

    The Genevieve P. Demme Archives and Resource Center
    In 1989, Houston Grand Opera became the first performing arts organization in Houston and the second major U.S opera company to establish its own archives and resources center. The facility preserves valuable materials from throughout the company's history. The archive houses 3,500 linear feet of institutional records including programs, artist files, production records, audio and video recordings, financial records, and photographic images in a wide range of formats. The archives and resource center are named for the late Genevieve P. Demme, a longtime trustee and historian of Houston Grand Opera Association.

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