Houston Grand Opera's new home at the George R. Brown Convention Center
A standing ovation for Houston Grand Opera's 'La Traviata'
The George R. Brown Convention Center lobby to the Houston Grand Opera's Resilience Theater
HGO artistic and musical director Patrick Summers and managing director Perryn Leech modeling the 'new dinner jacket.'
Stadium seating for 1,500 brings the audience close to the stage.
Opening night chair Kristina Somerville shares her loyalties between the Astros and HGO.
The Events Company decor a resplendent transformation from convention hall to salon.
HGO patrons would gather for dinner after the performance into an open space transformed into dining salon.
Downtown amenities surrounding the George R. Brown Convention Center are plentiful.
The George R. Brown Convention Center 'Wings Over Water' sculpture greets visitors.
Patrick Summers, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Jim Crownover, Perryn Leech Photo by Wilson Parish
One might say that while the Astros got back into American League Championship Series Friday night so Houston Grand Opera got back into the game, post Harvey, with the season’s opening night in a venue that was never intended to host an opera company.
A certain curiosity, blended with excitement, washed over the well-heeled guests that flowed into the George R. Brown Convention Center exhibit hall. What would this pop-up Resilience Theater deliver for opera aficionados driven by Hurricane Harvey from the luxurious environs of Wortham Theater Center?
On this season opener, the company delivered on that promised resilience with a remarkable transformation of the northern end of the convention center into a commendable performance venue, Green Room, Founders Salon and public foyer. It was no small miracle that materialized in only a few short weeks.
The performance of La Traviata, led by the glorious voice of soprano Albina Shagimuratova in the lead role of Violetta, had the sellout audience giving standing ovations not only to the orchestra and cast but also to the HGO leadership that accomplished this spectacular feat.
“We thought the biggest challenge we would ever have was completing the Ring Cycle,” quipped HGO managing director Perryn Leech, who was given much of the credit for the herculean effort. Addressing the audience before the performance, he continued, “I’m so proud to be a member of that team of people who just said ‘So what? It’s a little bit of water. We’ll get on with it.'”
And on with it they did with rapid fire planning and logistics. Never mind that only a few weeks earlier Hurricane Harvey refugees were living in the George Brown Convention Center.
“We are particularly honored to be in the George R. Brown Convention Center, to turn this space into an artistic space,” HGO artistic and musical director Patrick Summers told the audience. “Because it was in this building where more than 10,000 people were sheltered in the days after the storm. And to turn this into an artistic place is very, very moving for Houston Grand Opera.”
To create the comfortable environment HGO required 26 trailer trucks (50 feet in length) to move the necessary equipment into the hall. And as reported by the Houston Chronicle, the effort required nearly a mile of trusses, so much in fact that HGO bought everything available in Texas and had to complete the order from New Jersey.
“It’s an amazing experience,” Leech said. “This has brought this company closer together than it’s ever been before. We’ve tried to create an environment that you can recognize, something similar to what you had downtown.”
The 120,000 square foot space that will be home to HGO performances throughout the season is built with pipe and drape, cycloramas to capture sound and stadium style seating for 1,500 and floor seating for 200 that allows a remarkable intimacy between performers and audience. “No audience member will have ever been as close to a cast of La Traviata as they will in this theater,” Summers noted during an earlier tour of the space. The transformation was facilitated by Houston First, which owns and operates the GRB.
Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Leech, Summers and HGO board chair Jim Crownover in remarks to the audience. “Tonight summarizes the great spirt of this city,” Turner said, “the can do city that when we put our minds together and when we work as a unit we can make almost anything happen.”
To the cheers of the audience many in black-tie, Turner noted, “I chose to pass up being at the stadium (Minute Maid Park only one block away). The Astros will live to fight another day and tomorrow (referencing Game 7 of the ALCS).”
The Astros hit it out of the ballpark Friday night and so did Houston Grand Opera.