In what could easily be the Houston arts moment of the year, opera’s living legend Plácido Domingo — known as the “King of Opera” — led a sellout Wortham Theater Center crowd of nearly 2,500 in a rousing singalong of “Besame Mucho.”
Such was the night of sweeping romance, gripping drama, and chuckle-inducing comedy, as Domingo starred in Houston Grand Opera’s triumphant return to the Wortham in an evening appropriately titled “HGO & Plácido, Coming Home!” chaired by Margaret Alkek-Williams. The iconic tenor was joined by the enchanting and crowd-pleasing soprano Ana María Martínez, an HGO alum who wowed with every elegant entrance.
The emotionality of the moment was palpable. As the show must proverbially go on, the Wortham’s devastation during Harvey forced HGO to move to the George R. Brown Convention Center in a makeshift “Resilience Theater” last year. Hundreds of days and $100 million later, the Wortham has returned as Houston’s performing arts center stage, its renewal led by Houston First. Adding to the homecoming theme: Domingo inaugurated the Wortham in 1987, performing Radames in Aida. (His history with HGO dates back to 1967, with title roles in Faust and as Don Jose in Carmen.)
So who could blame patrons who hugged and kissed during the sultry and smooch-worthy “Besame Mucho” singalong, or HGO’s artistic and music director Patrick Summers for nearly leaping off his stand each time he fiercely conducted every crescendo? Perhaps Perryn Leech, HGO’s managing director, summed it up best when he playfully declared, “Honey, we’re home,” during an introduction that included a surprise visit by Mayor Sylvester Turner, who proclaimed the day as Wortham Theater Center day.
Fans could barely keep their seats, eagerly offering standing ovations as HGO’s orchestra and Summers masterfully executed every note during Sinfonia from Aida, Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana, and a waltz from Carousel. Domingo and Martínez proved to be an enchanting duo and flawless soloists in performances that included “On the Street Where You Live” and “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady and “Tonight” from West Side Story.
The effortlessly charming Domingo also paused to pay homage to Williams, dedicating “Granada” to the grand dame who raised $1.5 million for HGO. “Please tell everyone that Houston Grand Opera is back,” he cajoled the audience. And indeed, it is, in full splendor.
After the performance, some 750 patrons packed The Post Oak Hotel’s ballroom for a dinner and program that featured remarks from Summers, Domingo, and Martínez — and an 11-piece mariachi band (a tribute to Domingo’s Mexican roots).
“I’ve never been happier to share an evening with you as I have been tonight to share music with my beloved HGO orchestra,” Summers shared, who also recognized visiting VIP David Gockley, HGO’s general director from 1972 to 2005, who has worked with both Domingo in 1987 and helped nurture Martínez during his Houston tenure.
“Tonight was just the perfect opening — the fact that the Wortham was closed, and then to have this star and the orchestra and have everything top drawer was just the perfect perfect opening,” said Lynn Wyatt. “And it made people appreciate the Wortham more — because we didn’t have it for a while.”
Martínez remarked that it was “perfect” that Domingo’s were the first notes sung in the reopened Wortham, while Domingo thanked each member, and even held court afterwards, posing for pictures with giddy fans.
The “King of Opera” even shared his thoughts with CultureMap on his trip to BCN, and summed up his return to Houston as a whole: “Beautiful,” Domingo offered in his trademark tenor timbre. “Just beautiful.”
Opera night guests included: Plácido Domingo and Marta Domingo, Alvaro Domingo, Margaret Alkek Williams with Jim Daniel, Ana María Martínez and Gabriel Attal, Sue and Lester Smith, Nancy Ames and Danny Ward, Sofia Androgue and Sten Gustafson, Zane and Brady Carruth, Nicole and Evan Katz, Lucinda and Javier Loya, Ginni Mithoff, Janiece and Steve Lasher, the Honorable David Dewhurst, Diane Lokey Farb, Cerón, Leticia and Steve Trauber, Trini Mendenhall, Vivian Wise, Joanne King Herring, Cynthia and Tony Petrello, Berthica and Hugh Fitzsimons, Richard Liebman, Jennifer and Ben Fink, Liz Grimm and Jack Roth, Marcia and Alfredo Vilas, Rebecca Rabinow and Matt Ringel, Louisa Sarofim, Jay Jones and Terry Wayne Jones, Dancie Ware, and Lynn Wyatt.
Jennifer Roosth contributed to this story.