European opera house tradition landed at Wortham Theater Center on Friday night, but with a magical twist that only Houston Grand Opera could conjure. For the naming of rehearsal halls in honor of David Gockley, HGO general director for 33 years, and Carlisle Floyd, renowned composer, HGO orchestrated a musical evening that had even the most sophisticated opera followers swooning.
Eight baby grand pianos were assembled in the Floyd Rehearsal Room where opera great Samuel Ramey performed "The Prayer" from Carlisle's Susannah and soprano Katie Van Kooten also sang a selection from the compelling American opera.
And with that all eight pianos were manned, with Summers in the lead, to fill the rehearsal hall with the stirring strains of "The Ride of the Valkyries."
Ramey is portraying the Grand Inquisitor in HGO's current production of Verdi's Don Carlos while Van Kooten is singing Elizabeth I in Donizetti's Mary Stuart.
In musical tribute to Gockley, four HGO pianists performed a medley of songs from Porgy and Bess. While heading HGO, Gockley was the first to stage George Gershwin's musical as an opera, which won a Tony in 1977 for best revival. Gockley departed HGO in 2005 and became general director of the San Francisco Opera in 2006.
In the evening's grand finale, HGO artistic and music director Patrick Summers announced the final presentation as one that is "one so important to HGO's future." And with that all eight pianos were manned, with Summers in the lead, to fill the rehearsal hall with the stirring strains of "The Ride of the Valkyries" from Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle.
HGO and Opera Australia have commissioned a new Ring Cycle production that will be presented in Houston during the 2013-2014 season.
HGO managing director Perryn Leech and Summers, divined the event with help from the evening's chair Terrylin Neale. Following official dedication, the opera patrons were seated for dinner.
Among those savoring this rich evening were Gloria Portela and Richard Evans, Eileen and George Hricik, Lynn Wyatt, Lynn Guggolz, Bobbie-Vee and Gerald Cooney, Franci Crane, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Gockley's children —Adam Gockley, Meredith Hedemann and Lauren Gockley — and his wife, Linda Kempner.
Long-time opera supporters in the mix included Catherine Merchant, Anne and Dr. John Mendelsohn, Olive Jenny and Tas Thornhill, Pat and Dan Breen, Sylvia and John Sullivan, Sharon and Lanny Martin and Marie and John Seidl.