Houston Grand Opera, with Music Director Patrick Summers and Managing Director Perryn Leech, announces its 2012-13 season, headlined by four new productions.
The first of these is Puccini's La bohème, which launches the new season with a new staging by award-winning British director John Caird. To honor 2013's joint bicentennials of Wagner and Verdi, the coming season juxtaposes Tristan und Isolde – starring Ben Heppner and Nina Stemme in a new contemporary staging by Christof Loy – with a revival of Steven Lawless's unforgettable take on Il trovatore. British conductor Trevor Pinnock leads a strong international cast in Mozart's ensemble masterpiece Don Giovanni, while Francesca Zambello's new production of Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat brings together stars of Broadway and the opera house in a celebration of America's own contribution to the art. For a more intimate experience, Daniela Barcellona and Lawrence Brownlee star in Rossini's dramma giocoso, The Italian Girl in Algiers.
John Caird's brand new production of a perennial favorite, Puccini's La bohème, opens the season on October 19. An Honorary Associate Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company and Principal Guest Director of Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre, Caird's numerous honors include two Tony Awards, two Laurence Olivier Awards, and three Outer Critics Circle Awards. American soprano Katie Van Kooten stars as Mimì, the role in which she made her Covent Garden debut, impressing the Telegraph as "a major operatic talent" with "a winning stage personality." Opposite her as Rodolfo is New York native Dimitri Pittas – "a huge talent, with a ringing, easy tenor voice…like a young Plácido Domingo" (Opera News). With designs by Olivier Award-winner David Farley, the new production will be conducted by young American Evan Rogister, former Kapellmeister of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.
As HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers reveals, "Planning a season is like planning a great six-course meal, and [the company has] a lot of main courses but the one dessert – and it's a great one, a real soufflé." This "soufflé" is Rossini's comic masterpiece The Italian Girl in Algiers, which opens on October 26. Making her HGO debut in the title role is Italian soprano Daniela Barcellona, a bel canto specialist whom Opera News found "perfect" in the title role of Rossini's Tancredi. She'll be singing opposite tenor Lawrence Brownlee, winner of both the Marian Anderson and the Richard Tucker Awards, who returns to Houston after wowing audiences in The Barber of Seville. The production comes courtesy of Spanish director-designer team Joan Font and Joan Guillén – who were last seen in Houston with witty stagings of Rossini's La Cenerentola and The Barber of Seville – and features Italian conductor Carlo Rizzi on the podium. Winner of the first Toscanini Conductors competition, Rizzi made his HGO debut in 2007 with Aida.
The second of Houston's upcoming new productions is Show Boat, which opens on January 18, 2013. Summers, who will lead from the pit, explains:
"Show Boat is one of a handful of the classic American musicals that greatly benefit from the resources of an opera company. It was Kern and Hammerstein's wish that it bridge the worlds of opera and musical theater – I view it as the moment that operetta got an American accent."
Filled with such memorable hits as "Ol' Man River" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," the new production will be directed by Francesca Zambello, General Artistic Director of the Glimmerglass Festival. Since making her operatic debut at HGO in 1984, Zambello's direction has been internationally recognized with France's Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, the Russian Federation's medal for Service to Culture, three British Olivier Awards, Germany's Palme d'Or, Australia's Helpmann Award, and many more. Perfectly cast as Magnolia Hawks is American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, whose "fresh, vital portrayal" and "luminous tone" (New Yorker) recently caused a sensation at the Metropolitan Opera. Canadian tenor Joseph Kaiser, a winner in the 2005 Plácido Domingo International Opera competition, is cast as Gaylord.
Houston Grand Opera's 2012 winter season continues with Don Giovanni, which opens on January 25 in a revival of the popular and "perceptive staging" (Gramophone) by the late Göran Järvefelt, one of Sweden's greatest directors. Austrian baritone Adrian Eröd makes his HGO debut as the incorrigible titular playboy, with American bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen as his long-suffering servant Leporello, HGO Studio alumna soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen as Donna Anna, and Swedish soprano Malin Christensson as a "heartbreaking, beguiling Zerlina" (Independent). With designs by Carl Friedrich Oberle, the production is led by British conductor Trevor Pinnock, founder of The English Concert. Honored as both a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and as an Officier des Arts et des Lettres, Pinnock makes his long-awaited HGO debut.
April 18 sees the premiere of Christof Loy's contemporary new production of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Winner of the "Faust"-Theaterpreis and Musikpreis der Stadt Duisburg, Loy has also been nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award, and was twice named Director of the Year by Germany's Opernwelt. His new staging features set and costume design by Johannes Leiacker, whose credits include the Metropolitan Opera, Dresden Semperoper, and English National Opera. The title roles will be sung by Canadian tenor Ben Heppner and Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, both making their HGO debuts. Heppner, whose Tristan has already graced the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Salzburg Easter Festival, is widely recognized as "one of the best Wagnerian tenors around" (New York Times), while Stemme's most recent Isolde at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne proved "magnificent…thrilling…radiant" (Telegraph). Wagner's groundbreaking score will be conducted by Patrick Summers, who observes: "Tristan und Isolde is one of the greatest operas ever written. It totally changed the course of Western music."
To complete the season, Il trovatore, one of Verdi's early blood-and-thunder operatic warhorses, opens on April 26, in a revival of Steven Lawless's thought-provoking Los Angeles Opera production. Critic S. James Wegg described Lawless's treatment as "a sumptuous feast for the ear and the eye…that resonates with modern times." HGO Studio alumna Tamara Wilson, whose soprano impressed the Houston Chronicle as "a voice of steely beauty and great power," will sing Leonora, opposite Italian tenor Marco Berti, winner of the Giuseppe Verdi Gold Medal, as Manrico. Leading dramatic mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick – "a force of operatic nature" (Los Angeles Times) sings the gypsy Azucena, with Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson making up the quartet as Count di Luna, Manrico's rival. Once again, Patrick Summers will conduct.
Houston Grand Opera: 2012-13 season
La bohème (new production)
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