Houston Grand Opera announces plans for Seeking the Human Spirit highlighting universal spiritual themes

Seeking the Human Spirit (STHS) is a six-year multidisciplinary initiative designed to highlight the universal spiritual themes raised in opera and to expand and deepen Houstonians’ connections to opera and to art.

Courtesy of Rothko Chapel

Launching in the fall of 2017, STHS comprises three mainstage operas each season—one of which will be a new work—united by a single theme, and complementary projects by HGO and partner organizations created to enhance and enrich the community’s experience of the themes.

Some of these activities will be available to the public; others will offer personal access to opera and HGO artists and staff for groups such as hospital patients, women who are rebuilding their lives after homelessness, and young people pursuing interfaith projects.

“Opera takes the human spirit in this grand cathartic way and sings it back to you,” explained HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers. “I wanted us to explore a set of pieces that have some vein of spirituality as their artistic core, and invite partners here in the Houston community to help us ignite a set of conversations about what art is for that will be meaningful to audiences and to the broader community.”

Ana Maria Martinez

HGO will launch Seeking the Human Spirit in 2017–18 with three works tied to the theme of Sacrifice: Verdi’s La traviata (October 20–November 11); the world premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s The House without a Christmas Tree (November 30–December 17) and Bellini’s Norma (April 27–May 11, 2018).

Adam Guettel

The 2018–19 mainstage operas, speaking to the theme of Transformation, will be Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (fall 2018) and the world premiere of The Phoenix by Tarik O’Regan and John Caird.

Also in the 2018–19 season, mezzo-soprano superstar and HGO Studio alumna Joyce DiDonato will perform her acclaimed recital program In War and Peace: Harmony through Music.

Future seasons of Seeking the Human Spirit will include productions of Handel’s Saul, Donizetti’s La favorite, R. Strauss’s Salome, Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and the world premiere of a new opera by Adam Guettel based on H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man.

Presentations by HGOco, the company’s community and education arm, will include performances of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, a chamber opera based on the true story of America’s longest held prisoner of war; a concert of songs created from the stories of Houston veterans; The Armadillo’s Dream, a newly created book by Dennis Arrowsmith and Eduard Hakobyan for HGOco’s Storybook Opera program for young children; and Star-Cross’d, the pilot for a web-based serial opera on love in the face of obstacles.

Six artistic and community organizations will participate in Seeking the Human Spirit by presenting projects that speak to the individual operas or the annual themes.

Courtesy of The Jung Center

Houston Methodist and its Center for Performing Arts Medicine:  The Center for Performing Arts Medicine at Houston Methodist will partner with HGO to further integrate music and song into the environment of care at the hospital.

As part of the Margaret Alkek Williams Crain Garden Performance Series, patients, staff, and guests of Houston Methodist will experience public performances in Crain Garden shaped to illuminate healing aspects of music.

HGO performers will partner with select units such as inpatient rehabilitation and the psychiatric department to offer arts experiences as therapeutic tools.  A panel on human creativity led by Dr. Mauro Ferrari, president & CEO of Houston Methodist Research Institute, will focus on Dr. Ferrari’s theory of the four quadrants of human creativity and feature medical researchers and composers.

Bertuzzi Photography MFA

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH):  Thematic tours of the Museum’s collections, led by Museum Docents, will draw connections between the visual arts and HGO featured operas.

  • Performances by HGO Studio artists in the MFAH galleries will be included as part of a pop-up concert series.
  • In conjunction with the MFAH Book Club program, one book will be selected per year to complement an opera featured in the HGO season, beginning with Norma in the spring of 2018.
  • This collaboration will also utilize the expertise of the Mellon Foundation Undergraduate Curatorial Fellows at the MFAH, who will curate a digital exhibition of artworks from the MFAH collections that represent the motifs embodied in the Seeking the Human Spirit initiative. The selected artworks will be printed and/or projected for Seeking the Human Spirit audiences to enjoy.

Courtesy of The Women’s Home

The Jung Center, Houston:  Lectures led by Jungian analysts and depth psychologists will accompany the operas and annual themes. Houston-based Jungian analyst Gretchen Heyer will present two lectures on the theme of Sacrifice to coincide with La traviata in the fall of 2017 and Norma in the spring of 2018.

The Rothko Chapel:  STHS panel discussions will be held on art and activism, the role of the arts and humanities in the 21st century, and their importance in framing and addressing important social issues of the day. Potential topics include contemporary opera as a reaction to modern societal issues and the role of the funder-as-activist in supporting the arts.

Sacred Sites Quest:  This experiential program introducing Houston high school students to sacred spaces in the city and around the world will include visits to HGO for each of the three STHS operas each season. The visits may include rehearsals, meetings with the cast/creative team, attending a performance, and/or backstage tours.

Participating students and volunteers will co-create a sacred space incorporating the labyrinth in a local Houston community in conjunction with Seeking the Human Spirit.

The Women’s Home/Institute for Spirituality and Health:  Residents of The Women’s Home Treatment and Transitional program participating in the home’s Courage to Search spiritual exploration course will attend two STHS performances each season, visit with HGO artists and/or production staff members, and engage in preparatory and debriefing sessions with Courage to Search volunteers.

HGOco will bring performances of Opera to Go! and the new Storybook Opera to families at the Mabee WholeLife Service Center opening in Spring Branch in the fall of 2017.

HGO will provide opportunities for people to reflect on the themes and spiritual questions and to share their experiences throughout the initiative, using the hashtag #HGOHumanSpirit on social media, on the HGO website www.HGO.org/HumanSpirit, and in other ways to be announced later.

Featured photo: Courtesy of Sacred Sites Quest