Reflections on HGO’s 2016–17 Season

By Patrick Summers, Artistic and Music Director

There are very few questions in life that I find uncomfortable, but one is, surely, when I’m asked about a new opera season: “What are you most excited about?” It always feels like someone is asking me, “Which child is your favorite?” Every opera season we produce is a process of culling from dozens of ideas, sifting through the vast maze of availabilities of the most gifted singers, and matching them to the demands of a range of scores and styles we want to present to cover a broad spectrum. We have a wealth of riches in some repertoire, and an absolute drought in others, a balance that must constantly be noticed and cared about. When certain singers mature, we want to be the company where they give voice to new roles, so next season reflects this, too. 

I am most excited that we are announcing a season with three operas by living composers (John Adams, Jake Heggie, and Laura Kaminsky). The most majestic way for us to honor the great traditions that we all love is to present works of our own time. Repertoire trends are quite long; some of today’s most popular operas took time to take hold, and several operas that were the most popular a century ago are never seen now. Our artistic responsibility is to invest in the most prescient and relevant compositional voices we can identify. The important thing is ensuring their voices are heard and making the operas as great as we can. History will take care of the judgments that so often distract us in the moment.

John Adams’s Nixon in China has enjoyed enormous success all around the world since its premiere at HGO 30 years ago. It is time for this game-changing and ground-breaking opera to be back on the stage that launched it.

Jake Heggie is the most successful opera composer in the world now, and It’s a Wonderful Life will be his third HGO commission; we have now commissioned half of his operatic output. This project, based on the iconic Frank Capra film that starred Jimmy Stewart, has been simmering in Jake for as long as I’ve known him. The story is an important one: the chance for a man to see what the world would be like had he never lived. This opera completes a cathartic personal journey he has taken as a composer, and I imagine it will be a captivating and uniquely powerful experience.

Laura Kaminsky’s Some Light Emerges is an HGOco project that focuses on Dominique de Menil’s initial meeting with Mark Rothko, which led to the building of the Rothko Chapel in Houston. It is about the role of art in creating an ecumenical and inclusive spirituality in life, particularly in a city built for commerce.

Next season opens with a “tenor fest”—starting with Dimitri Pittas in The Elixir of Love in Danny Slater’s delightful production; it’s a joy to welcome back Nicole Heaston as his co-star. Then Michael Fabiano, at the outset of what is going to be a meteoric career, will star in Faust with Ana María Martínez along with Luca Pisaroni in an important role debut as Mephistopheles. Francesca Zambello’s production has always been a great favorite here. 

There aren’t words to describe my excitement about the Verdi Requiem, one of the most profound and powerful works of art in any genre. It is unquestionably one of Verdi’s greatest scores: freed from having to fight with a librettist, he wrote one of the world’s greatest musical works about liberty. And what an honor to present our peerless chorus, directed by Richard Bado, in a work that will fully showcase them.

Most composers set out to write works that matter. Wagner’s ambition with Götterdämmerung, the final opera of the Ring cycle,was nothing less than to alter the world’s view of itself by bringing all of the Ring’s diverse themes together into a shattering climax, a warning about the dangers of greed and fundamentalist ideologies. It is perfectly paired with Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, which we are presenting with a cast that could not be outmatched anywhere, led by soprano Albina Shagimuratova and tenor Lawrence Brownlee. The cross-cultural message of Seraglio is as important as, if far less grandiose than, Wagner’s; near the end of this extraordinary opera, the quartet of lovers sing,  “Nothing is so horrible as revenge; to be humane and kind and to selflessly forgive is the work of a great soul.”

In their own diverse voices from many eras, all the composers of next season’s operas ask us for depth, kindness, and openness and call us to embrace what we love and to look seriously, but light-heartedly, at the world. It is particularly moving to bring the Ring cycle to a close with such a range of works around it, and to look forward to so much beyond.