Development Communications Manager



—Emperor Joseph II of Austria in Tarik O’Regan and John Caird’s The Phoenix


IN HIS FINAL MOMENTS in The Phoenix, the Emperor speaks these words to his two protégés, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. The Emperor is facing foreign policy failures, war, and his own demise, and he takes comfort in knowing that he will be remembered first and foremost as a champion of the arts. He also knows that an art form has to evolve, which is precisely why he commissions the work of mavericks like Da Ponte and Mozart.

Celebrating traditional, beloved operas is important, but new works are even more vital now than they were in 18th-century Europe—and by being a part of HGO, you really are making history. This season, Tarik O’Regan and John Caird’s The Phoenix becomes the 66th new opera to take flight from the stage at HGO. It’s an important new addition to the repertoire that audiences will enjoy for generations to come, and it wouldn’t be possible without visionary donors like you.

“We began to understand the potentially profound impact which new works can have when we saw John Adams’s Nixon in China for the first time in 2017,” says HGO Trustee Sylvia Barnes. Sylvia and her husband, Jim Trimble, have generously underwritten The Phoenix. In 1987, the Grammy Award–winning Nixon in China was the sixth world premiere by HGO, and it has gone on to an Emmy-winning television performance and enduring success on international stages.

“After Nixon in China, we learned more about HGO’s influence in the opera world with its innovative new works,” says Sylvia. “So when we learned that HGO was launching into the almost unbelievable true story of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s life, we wanted to be supportive. We are mesmerized by the impressively exotic and chaotic accomplishments of Lorenzo Da Ponte, and we hope that The Phoenix will prove to have the longevity and virility of Lorenzo!”

The HGO family is filled with visionary people like Sylvia and Jim who make new works a priority for this company. The Phoenix wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of individuals like Principal Guarantors Harlan and Dian Stai; Grand Guarantors Albert and Anne Chao and Ting Tsung and Wei Fong; Guarantors Robin Angly and Miles Smith; Grand Underwriters Connie and Byron Dyer; Underwriters Nana Booker and David Lowe, Rhonda and Donald Sweeney, and Muffy and Mike McLanahan; and Sponsor Glen A. Rosenbaum. They are joined in this important work by our wonderful corporate, foundation, and government supporters, including the Chao Foundation, the Mellon Foundation, OPERA America, the Carol Franc Buck Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, Sidley, Frost, and the Humphreys Foundation.

According to librettist and director John Caird, “If you commission new composers and librettists to do new work, you’re keeping the art form alive. It’s new oxygenated blood flowing through the veins of the art form. Not only are you creating new works for future generations, but you’re keeping conductors and musicians alive and giving audiences a fresh perspective on older works by looking at them through the lens of the new.”

“New works are very important to keep the repertoire more relevant as far as social concerns, political concerns, and what we go through together as humans,” says HGO’s newly appointed artistic advisor, internationally renowned soprano Ana María Martínez. “Much like a child who always needs the guidance and the love and the nurturing from the parents, the donors become that parental figure...who allows us to nurture the wings that we then need to take flight, as an arts organization, as an opera house, as a pioneer for our community.”

HGO Trustees Rhonda and Donald Sweeney are also proud supporters of The Phoenix. “Throughout our 31 years of being in the HGO family, we have enjoyed being part of creating opera for future generations,” says Rhonda. “The reason is that HGO works with the best artists in the world on new commissions. We know that future generations of opera lovers will be talking about The Phoenix for years to come.”

In the near future, we will see even more new premieres: operas like next season’s El Milagro del Recuerdo/The Miracle of Remembering from Javier Martínez and Leonard Foglia, which will fuse opera with mariachi and bring new audiences to the art form. HGOco, our arts education and community collaboration initiative, is developing new family-friendly operas for schools and community venues, digital opera premieres, and new chamber works to tell the stories of Houston. We don’t want to ruin any surprises, but world premieres 67 through 72 are already underway, and they will amaze you.

And like Mozart and Da Ponte, your contributions to the repertoire will leave a lasting legacy. “The arts are what make us human,” says John Caird. “The arts allow us to rise above ourselves spiritually and aspire to something better, something beyond the mundane and the quotidian...Those who are broad-minded enough to give to the arts feel that very deeply. They feel it every time they go to an opening night; they can see it, they can smell the success that they’ve created and the good that they’ve spread around the form, and you can see it... it gives them enormous self-belief as donors, and you can feel how deeply affected they are by their partnership with the artist...Again and again, the donation of support to living artists gives both the artists and the donor a sort of immortality.”


Rhonda and Donald Sweeney

Jim Trimble and Sylvia Barnes

"We are mesmerized by the impressively exotic and chaotic accomplishments of Lorenzo Da Ponte, and we hope that The Phoenix will prove to have the longevity and virility of Lorenzo!"