City Cast

Houston Grand Opera's Rich History

Brooke Lewis
Posted on September 26
An opera singer wearing a tan button-up shirt sings on stage with his mouth open wide.

Houston Grand Opera's new season starts next month. (Houston Grand Opera)

Houston Grand Opera is beloved by Houstonians, but it’s also recognized internationally, bringing in famous opera singers and creative teams from around the world. The opera company has also won a Tony, two Grammy awards, and three Emmy awards and is the only opera company to win all three honors.

What else has HGO done throughout the years? Our friends at HGO wrote up their own Houston History to let us in on their journey.

Creative Beginnings

HGO was founded in 1955 by Houstonians Elva Lobit, Edward Bing, and Charles Cockrell. For its inaugural season, the company presented two operas, “Salome” and “Madame Butterfly.” Its first conductor and director, German-born impresario Walter Herbert, conducted at HGO until 1972, when David Gockley was named general director.

During Gockley's 33-year tenure, HGO began to produce new works, with a focus on American composers. In 1977, Gockley and the composer Carlisle Floyd founded the HGO Studio, now known as the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio, to hone the talents of the most talented emerging artists in the field.

Alumni of the program include Jamie Barton, Joyce DiDonato, Nicole Heaston, Ana María Martínez, Ryan McKinny, and many more leading opera stars.

New Leadership and Direction

General Director and CEO Khori Dastoor from Opera San José took over in 2021. Dastoor aims to increase diversity across the company and within its audiences, support the career development of promising emerging artists, and present best-in-class grand opera for Houston.

Back in February, HGO received the largest gift in the company’s 68-year history: a new fund within the HGO Endowment valued at $22 million, created by longtime Austin-area patrons Sarah and Ernest Butler. The philanthropic investment rebranded the prestigious HGO Studio as the Sarah and Ernest Butler Houston Grand Opera Studio.

Pioneering American Opera

Next month, for the first time ever, HGO will open its new season with a company-commissioned world premiere. Created by composer Jake Heggie, librettist Gene Scheer, and director/choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar,” Intelligence” blends music, words, and dance to tell the story of two women in Confederate Virginia who spied for the north during the Civil War and together changed the course of history.

Tickets for Intelligence and subscriptions to HGO’s entire incredible season are on sale now.

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