Houston Grand Opera Brings Performances To The Hill Country

By Jake Gaines  –  Photography by Gracie Byrd Jones


THE SETTING: Dian and Harlan Stai, longtime benefactors of Houston Grand Opera, hosted a recital and brunch at Mansefeldt Ranch, their idyllic hill country ranch near Fredericksburg. The event was held in the Sheep Barn, which is a barn in name only. It originally had granite gravel floors from its construction in 1878 and in 2002 it was re-furbished as an event venue retaining the original limestone walls. The afternoon featured performances by members of the Houston Grand Opera Studio that included soprano Elena Villalón, mezzo-soprano Leia Lensing, bass William Guanbo Su, and pianist Kyle Naig.

THE STYLE: Amongst the venue’s walls that are covered with original works of art, a beautiful grand piano sits prominently atop the landing at the far side of the building from where the singers wooed the crowd with personal selections of songs that had special meaning to them. Everything from operatic arias, to traditional Chinese art songs, to favorite hymns were represented in the program, and masterfully presented by the singers.

The event, planned by Paulette Moser of Mansefeldt Ranch, had tables that were adorned with beautiful black and white linens, with bronze sculptures created by the nationally recognized sculptor Stefan Savides, on loan from the RS Hanna Gallery in Fredericksburg. Each centerpiece featured unique scenes of wild birds that were beautifully surrounded and accented with floral décor of peonies, roses and hydrangeas by Maggie Gillespie Designs. The inspiration and theme for the centerpieces was taking flight, a nod to the young artists who each are taking flight in their professional careers, all meticulously executed by Maggie Gillespie.

Following the recital, guests enjoyed a delicious meal catered by August E’s that featured a chicken picatta and beef tenderloin entrée with a slice of layered cake, decorated to look like a piano keyboard.

THE PURPOSE: This annual event has a history dating back 18 years, where it started in 2001 as a small gathering that the Stai’s hosted in their home for family and friends. It was an opportunity to bring operatic music that they often enjoyed at the Houston Grand Opera, one of the largest, most innovative and  highly acclaimed opera companies that has one of the most respected young artist programs in the country, to the Hill Country. Today, it has grown into a full-fledged recital and brunch that is attended by almost 200 guests annually.

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