Throughout the world, the HGO Studio is synonymous with excellence. Alumni of the program perform across the globe, representing the extraordinary level of talent that is a hallmark of the HGO brand. Tonight marks the beginning for a new generation of young artists. I recently visited with four distinguished alumni of the program about how the Eleanor McCollum Competition Concert of Arias gave them their start.
Perhaps no artist is more closely identified with HGO today than Ana María Martínez, the company’s Artistic Advisor. Ana María has appeared at HGO many times, most recently in the title role of Florencia en el Amazonas and in the digital series Suite Española, which she also curated. Looking back on her nearly 30-year operatic career, she can still remember the impact of Concert of Arias.
“I remember feeling shocked, heart racing, when I heard my name announced as the first-place winner! There are so many emotions and so much adrenaline in that moment for a young singer, hoping beyond hope for validation that they are on the right track. I felt overwhelmed, grateful, and by the end of that amazing evening, I realized one important factor: Tonight it was me. Last year it was someone else and next year it will be someone else. This awareness was instantly humbling and is a perspective that has kept me ever vigilant of my craft, working on my skills as a singing artist, and keen on co-creating most openly with my fellow artists.”
Following her winning moment, Ana María joined the HGO Studio, honing her craft and learning professional skills through her residency with the company. She remembers that the opportunity to work together with operatic stars played a key role in her development.
“Imagine being young, driven, wet-behind-the-ears when it comes to your craft, and able to sit in on rehearsals with major international opera singers and conductors—or, better yet, cast in one of the mainstage productions and soak in all the knowledge, in real time! That level of excellence around a young artist—a sort of living master class—as well as knowing that excellence is always expected of us, was a tremendous experience to breathe in daily. Knowing that I could fulfill my professional obligations and deliver what was expected of me with success was paramount. The long-standing relationship with HGO that followed, and which I still enjoy today, has been the cornerstone of my career.”
Among the most noted singers in the world today, Tamara Wilson has made her home in the Houston area and continues to appear with HGO regularly—this spring, in her role debut as Tosca. Many firsts have come for Tamara in Houston, including her first Verdi role: Amelia in Simon Boccanegra, just one year after she completed her time with the HGO Studio. Tamara says Concert of Arias changed her entire outlook on her career.
“It was the first time I thought, ‘Hey, I might be good enough to become a professional singer.’ Winning the Eleanor McCollum Competition significantly boosted my confidence that performing was the right path for me. It wasn’t for the Concert of Arias, my life would be different.”
Tamara’s time in the Studio helped her to develop professionalism and artistry—both strengths she is well-known for today. When asked about the most important thing she learned in the Studio, she said that it was to “trust my instincts. We are taught so much from so many points of view, be it from coaches, conductors, directors, and guest artists. Ultimately, it’s about taking all that information in and finding what works and what doesn’t work for you, then applying it to your craft. HGO gave me the resources and the opportunities. I had to step up and take advantage of them. Professionalism is one of the top qualities you find in anyone who is in the program at HGO. We are well-trained and well-prepared.”
Now at the height of an international career, Ryan McKinny has returned to HGO many times, including in the title roles of Don Giovanni and Rigoletto. Although he performs all over the world, he still thinks of the company as his artistic home after developing deep bonds with the city and people of HGO during his time in the Studio.
“I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without the Houston Grand Opera Studio. It has been a huge gift to be an alum of this fantastic program. I was able to learn here, make mistakes, create amazing contacts, study hard, make debut roles, work with world class artists, directors, and conductors, and make lifelong friends. It’s so gratifying to be part of the HGO family. Our children were born in Houston, and our eldest’s first three birthday parties took place at the Wortham. Our whole family feels like this is our house. We hope to be back many more times in the future.”
The opportunity to perform in an HGO production is a hallmark of the Studio program and a game-changer for artistic development. Early in his time in the Studio, Ryan had the opportunity to perform alongside the extraordinary American bass Samuel Ramey. This remains one of his greatest memories of working at HGO: “My very first role was the police officer in Boris Godunov with the great Samuel Ramey as Boris. Being so close to a hero of mine, getting to work with him and learn from him, was a dream. And he was so incredibly kind.”
This season, Mané Galoyan returned to the company for the second time since graduating from the HGO Studio program, to sing the role of Avis in The Wreckers. Her extraordinary career, still in its early stages, continues to rise.
Last year, she won second place in the famous Operalia competition, an experience she was well-prepared for by her Concert of Arias win six years earlier. Before being named a finalist in Concert of Arias, Mané had already dreamed of that moment, yet she was still overwhelmed by the reality of being named the winner.
“Concert of Arias was one of the most important events in my life! I was in HGO’s Young Artists Vocal Academy, and I just loved it. And I thought to myself, I must come back and be in the program. So when I was invited to the competition, I was very excited and very nervous! Fast-forward to the moment I was announced as the first prize winner—I have never been so shocked. I did not think even for a second that I was going to win. It was an incredible moment of joy, shock, and disbelief. I will never forget it!”
For each of these winners, the Concert of Arias experience was the first step in a long relationship with HGO and the city of Houston. Mané moved to Houston from Armenia to join the HGO Studio and, she says, now feels a sense of belonging in this company and this city, where she worked so hard to realize her dreams.
“Coming back to HGO always feels like coming home! I am always so happy to be back. It just feels so good to be here and work in my home company. It is so nice to be walking in the hallways and see so many familiar and friendly faces.”