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. 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 FoundationThe HGO Association has 166 members: a 34-member Board of Directors, one honorary director, and 131 Trustees. The Board of Directors meets four times, and the Trustees meet three times each year. The opera employs over 1,000 people annually, 120 of whom 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 2005–2011, 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’ 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.
HGO StudioFounded in 1977 by composer Carlisle Floyd and HGO's then-General Director David Gockley, the mission of 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.
HGOcoTo 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. In its first three years, HGOco has reached more than 600,000 people and collaborated with over 70 organizations throughout the Houston area.
HGO GuildHouston Grand Opera Guild was founded in October 1955 by Mr. and Mrs. William W. Bland, Mrs. Edger Haden, and Mrs. John L. Abercrombie. The mission of the HGO Guild is to promote and support Houston Grand Opera in all its activities. A non-profit organization with over 2,300 volunteers, members perform roles such as backstage tours, hosting artists, educational talks, fund raising events, and operating the Guild Boutique, 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 fifteen operas and include video clips and background notes which help students understand the history surrounding the opera, the singers, composers, and librettos. Each year, Houston Grand Opera schedules a High School Night and two Student Matinees of one of the operas of the HGO season. 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 Guild’s Board of Directors oversees all the activities as well as manages its finances. Houston Grand Opera has been home to many of the great singers, conductors, directors, and designers since its inception in 1955. The HGO Guild has played an important and instrumental role in making Houston Grand Opera one of the premier opera companies in the world today.
TouringThe company's first national tour took place in 1975, when HGO 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. As a consequence, it helped to turn public opinion around about the work, which was then recorded by RCA Records. HGO won a Tony award for the production, garnering a Grammy Award for recording.
Internationally, HGO has performed at the Edinburgh Festival; 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.
Wortham Theater CenterIn 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. 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 CenterIn 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, artists files, production records, audio and video recordings, financial records, and photographic images in a wide range of formats. The archives and Resource Center is named for the late Genevieve P. Demme, a longtime member of the board of trustees and historian of Houston Grand Opera Association.