Houston Grand Opera Caps Red-Letter Season with Acclaimed New York Premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger in Lincoln Center Festival

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Houston Grand Opera Caps Red-Letter Season with Acclaimed New York Premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger in Lincoln Center Festival

 

“Harrowing and powerful…a gripping production.” — New York Times

 

Houston Grand Opera capped a financially and artistically successful 2013–14 season by presenting Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger —the Polish-Jewish composer’s long-suppressed Holocaust opera—to wide acclaim at New York’s Park Avenue Armory as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Earlier this year, HGO gave the American premiere of the work in Houston with the same cast. There was special praise for the production and performances, conducted by HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. New York magazine described David Pountney’s staging as “a multi-story set so vivid you can practically smell the machine oil and coal smoke,” while the Financial Times said: “The production, imported from Houston, is imposing in every way.” The New York Times called the cast “flawless,” adding: “The conductor, Patrick Summers, drew a surging, textured, richly detailed performance of this challenging score (lasting three hours) from the inspired musicians of the Houston Grand Opera.” WQXR’s Operavore summed up the import of the performances: “The Passenger shows how a Holocaust opera can hold the stage while examining important, complex issues—and could certainly point the way for future composers to deal with such important but delicate subject matter.”

 

The2013–14 HGO season surpassed previous records for attendance and fundraising. Expanding its season for the fourth consecutive year, HGO presented eight main-stage productions with a total of forty-nine performances, up from seven and forty-six, respectively, in the previous year. Attendance rose 3 percent over last season, or 28 percent over 2009–10, and the organization’s comprehensive campaign has raised more than $160 million, on track to reach its $165 million goal by December 2014. Along with The Passenger, the 2013–14 season included HGO’s fifty-third world premiere: Ricky Ian Gordon and Leonard Foglia’s chamber opera A Coffin in Egypt, starring Frederica von Stade. HGO also launched its first presentation of Wagner’s Ring cycle and staged Stephen Sondheim’s classic A Little Night Music.

 

More on The Passenger

 

Weinberg (1919–96) based The Passenger on a Polish novel by Auschwitz survivor Zofia Posmysz. The composer also knew intimately the dangerous vicissitudes of life in mid-century Europe; he was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. Yet escaping to the Soviet Union would come to mean a second period of danger and discrimination for Weinberg under the cultural repression of the Stalin regime. Many of Weinberg’s works were banned; others, like The Passenger, were deemed “cosmopolitan”—a euphemism for Jewish—and censored by the Kremlin, doomed to remain unperformed during his lifetime. Dmitri Shostakovich was a friend of the composer and a fan of the work, which he called “a perfect masterpiece,” but it is only in the twenty-first century that Weinberg’s works have had a posthumous resurgence.

 

The Passenger was not heard in concert until 2006 and would not be fully staged until David Pountney produced the opera at Austria’s Bregenz Festival in 2010. Later that year, his production of The Passenger moved to the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw for its Polish premiere. In 2011, Pountney and his team brought the staging to London’s English National Opera.

 

HGO’s performances of The Passenger this summer were co-presented by the Park Avenue Armory and the Lincoln Center Festival. New York Classical Review said of the presentation: “If anything might refute Theodore Adorno’s statement that ‘to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric,’ it would be Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera The Passenger.” They added: “In the Armory’s giant drill hall, Patrick Summers led alert, assured playing from the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra. The instrumental colors and balances sounded ideal, and the agility and sensitivity of the players were superb. … In this New York cultural moment, where one finds oneself discussing with strangers the wisdom, or lack thereof, of the Metropolitan Opera canceling their HD broadcast of The Death of Klinghoffer, The Passenger stands as proof of the need to perform important works like this to wider audiences.”

 

The HGO performances of The Passenger in New York were made possible in part by generous support from the Polska Music Program of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Robert and Helen Appel, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Larry A. and Klara Silverstein, Judy and Michael Steinhardt, Nancy & Morris W. Offit, and one anonymous donor. Additional support was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Passenger was a co-production of Bregenzer Festspiele, Teatr Wielki, English National Opera and Teatro Real. HGO’s performances of The Passenger in New York were generously underwritten by Bill and Sara Morgan, and Amanda and Morris Gelb. Additional support was provided by Robin Angly and Miles Smith, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joyce Z. Greenberg, Houston First Corporation, Houston Methodist, Schlumberger Oilfield Services, Rhonda and Donald Sweeney, Phoebe and Bobby Tudor, and Nina and Michael Zilkha.

 

More information about Houston Grand Opera and HGOco is available at the company’s website, HGO.org.

 

 

 

Houston Grand Opera: 2014–15 season

* HGO debut
+ current or former HGO Studio Artist

 

Verdi: Otello
Oct 24, 26m; Nov 1, 4, 7, 2014
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: John Cox
Associate Director: Bruno Ravella
Set and Costume Designer: Johan Engels
Lighting Designer: Michael James Clark
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Children’s Chorus Director: Karen Reeves
Otello: Simon O’Neill
Desdemona: Ailyn Pérez*
Iago: Marco Vratogna*
Cassio: Norman Reinhardt+
Emilia: Victoria Livengood
Lodovico: Morris Robinson

A co-production of Los Angeles Opera, Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and Teatro Regio di Parma

 

Mozart: Così fan tutte
Oct 31; Nov 2m, 8, 13, 15, 2014
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Production: Göran Järvefelt
Director: Harry Silverstein
Set and Costume Designer: Carl Friedrich Oberle
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Ferrando: Stephen Costello
Guglielmo: Jacques Imbrailo
Fiordiligi: Rachel Willis-Sorensen+
Dorabella: Melody Moore
Don Alfonso: Alessandro Corbelli
Despina: Nuccia Focile

A production of Houston Grand Opera

 

Iain Bell and Simon Callow: A Christmas Carol (world premiere of new HGO commission)
Dec 5, 7m, 9, 11, 14m, 16, 17, 19, 20, 21m, 2014
Conductor: Warren Jones*
Director: Simon Callow*
Set and Costume Designer: Laura Hopkins*
Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough
The Narrator: Anthony Dean Griffey (except Dec 17 and 20); Kevin Ray+: Dec 17, 20

 

Puccini: Madame Butterfly
Jan 23, 25m, 28, 31; Feb 6, 8m, 2015
Conductor: Giancarlo Guerrero*
Production: Michael Grandage
Revival Director: Louisa Muller*
Set and Costume Designer: Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Cio-Cio-San: Ana María Martínez+
Pinkerton: Alexey Dolgov
Sharpless: Scott Hendricks+
Goro: John Easterlin*
Suzuki: Sofia Selowsky+*

A co-production of Houston Grand Opera, Grand Théâtre de Genève, and Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Mozart: The Magic Flute
Jan 30, Feb 1m, 4, 7, 14, 2015
Conductor: Robert Spano
Production: Sir Nicholas Hytner
Revival Director: Ian Rutherford
Set and Costume Designer: Bob Crowley
Lighting Designer: Nick Chelton
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Tamino: David Portillo*
Pamina: Lisette Oropesa*
Queen of the Night: Kathryn Lewek*
Sarastro: Morris Robinson
Papageno: Michael Sumuel+
Speaker: Patrick Carfizzi
Monostatos: Aaron Pegram*
First Lady: D’Ana Lombard+
Second Lady: Megan Samarin+*
Third Lady: Renée Tatum
Papagena: Pureum Jo+*

Production created by English National Opera

 

Wagner: Die Walküre
April 18, 22, 25, 30; May 3m, 2015
Conductor: Patrick Summers
Director: Carlus Padrissa / La Fura dels Baus
Associate Director: Esteban Muñoz
Set Designer: Roland Olbeter
Costume Designer: Chu Uroz
Lighting Designer: Peter van Praet
Video Designer: Franc Aleu
Brünnhilde: Christine Goerke
Wotan: Iain Paterson
Sieglinde: Karita Mattila
Siegmund: Simon O’Neill
Fricka: Jamie Barton+
Hunding: Ain Anger

A co-production of Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, and Maggio Musicale, Florence

Stephen Sondheim: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
April 24, 26m, 29, May 2, 8, 9, 2015
Conductor: James Lowe+
Director: Lee Blakeley
Set and Costume Designer: Tanya McCallin
Lighting Designer: Rick Fisher
Chorus Master: Richard Bado
Sweeney Todd: Nathan Gunn
Mrs. Lovett: Susan Bullock
Tobias Ragg: Nicholas Phan+
Judge Turpin: Jake Gardner
Anthony Hope: Morgan Pearse+
Johanna: Megan Samarin+
Beggar Woman: Cynthia Clayton

Production created by Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris

A co-production of Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Théâtre du Châtelet

 

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© 21C Media Group, July 2014

 

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