What: Houston Grand Opera’s Opening Night performance and dinner Celebration
Where: Wortham Theater Center and Ray C. Fish Plaza
The scoop: Houston Grand Opera opened its daring 65th season with a new production of Verdi’s beloved Rigoletto under the direction of Tomer Zvulun and a much-anticipated return to the Ray C. Fish Plaza. The celebratory night, chaired by Drs. Rachel and Warren A. Ellsworth IV, raised over $375,000 for HGO.
The evening began with HGO managing director Perryn Leech welcoming patrons back to the Wortham Theater Center for Opening Night of the 2019—20 season before the cast of Rigoletto took the stage with the famous story of lust, jealousy, and revenge.
Following the performance, the tradition of the Opening Night dinner returned to the Ray C. Fish Plaza where more than 400 guests, greeted by a juggling jester and Champagne cocktails, gathered under a clear-top tent and the backdrop of the clear night’s sky to honor the cast and creative team of the new production.
Leech opened the festivities just off the Astros game 5 loss to the Yankees, stating that the only person who had endured a worse night then the opera’s tragic Rigoletto, was Justin Verlander.
He followed with a more serious heartfelt recognition of the evening’s illustrious event chairs, the Ellsworths, making special note that Warren’s father, Warren A. Ellsworth III, was a member of the HGO Studio young artist training program in the 1970s and went on to have a hugely successful international opera career. He tragically passed away in 1993 at the young age of 42 at Houston Methodist, where Rachel and Warren are now both surgeons.
Artistic director Patrick Summers later introduced the cast and artistic team of the new production, including American baritone Michael Mayes, who impressively stepped into the lead role less than a week before opening night after the original Rigoletto Brian Mulligan had to withdraw for health reasons.
Two HGO Studio alumni returned to the Brown stage in notable performances as Gilda (Mané Galoyan, soprano) and Maddalena (Zoie Reams, mezzo-soprano). Bass David Shipley (UK) made his HGO debut as Sparafucile as did conductor Jordan de Souza (Canada), currently Erster Kapellmeister (conductor) of the Komische Oper Berlin.
The Events Company provided a warmly elegant setting complete with lush fall florals and Italian murals and Tony’s Catering served an inspired dinner. The feast began with fresh burrata accented with treviso, fuji apple, and pomegranate, followed by a duet of beef filet and Branzino and ending with “Ah! The Curse”—a flourless chocolate cake complimented by blackberry compote.
Who: Dr. Rachel and Warren Ellsworth IV, Lynn Wyatt, Margaret Alkek Williams with Jim Daniel, Drs. Liz Grimm and Jack Roth, Richard Lydecker and Donna Kaplan, Caroline and Perryn Leech, Patrick Summers and Beau Miller, Isabel and Danny David, Geraldine and Fred Dyen, Drs. Gary Hollingsworth and Ken Hyde, Dr. David Leebron and Y. Ping Sun, Dr. Sippi and Ajay Khurana, Tony Bradfield and Kevin Black, Christina Stith and Marshall Heins, Dr. Franklin and Cindi Rose, Teresa and José Ivo, Kristina Somerville, Donna Chapman, Sylvia Barnes and Jim Trimble, and Penny and John Wright.