Houston Grand Opera’s Season Opening Night Performance And Dinner

By Jennifer Roosth – Photography by Jenny Antill and Wilson Parish

THE SETTING: The Houston Grand Opera (HGO) opened its 65th season with a celebratory evening featuring  a new production of Verdi’s beloved Rigoletto under the direction of Tomer Zvulun and with a much-anticipated return to the Ray C. Fish Plaza at the Wortham Theater. The evening began with HGO Managing Director Perryn Leech welcoming patrons back to the Wortham Theater Center for Opening Night with a heartfelt recognition of the evening’s gala committee, and HGO Artistic and Musical Director, Patrick Summers. Later, the cast and artistic team of the new season’s production was introduced before the cast of Rigoletto took the stage to portray the famous story of lust, jealousy, and revenge.

 THE STYLE: Following the performance, the tradition continued with the Opening Night dinner at the Ray C. Fish Plaza with more than than 400 guests, who were greeted by a juggling jester and champagne cocktails. The attendees gathered under the elegant clear-top tent with a backdrop of the clear night’s sky to honor the cast and creative team of the new production.

The Events Company provided a warmly elegant gala setting complete with lush fall florals and Italian murals, and Tony’s Catering served an inspired dinner that flowed like an aria. 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 the operatic, Ah! The Curse, a flourless chocolate cake complemented by blackberry compote.

 THE PURPOSE: The Opening Night event was chaired by Drs. Rachel and Warren A. Ellsworth IV and raised over $375,000 for the Houston Grand Opera, one of the largest, most innovative, and highly acclaimed opera companies in the United States. Having toured extensively and after  winning a Tony®, two Grammy® awards, and three Emmy® awards, it is the only opera company to win all three honors.

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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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Houston Grand Opera Ball’s Cielito Lindo Gala Shines

By Jennifer Roosth Photography by Jenny Antill, Priscilla Dickson, Wilson Parrish


THE SETTING: The Houston Grand Opera hosted its annual white-tie fundraiser, this year titled Opera Ball: Cielito Lindo. Cielito Lindo—loosely translated to pretty darling or heavenly one—is a traditional Mexican song written by Quirino Mendoza y Cortes in 1882 and beloved throughout the Spanish-speaking world and beyond as a symbol of love and unity. The evening had over 450 guests gather at The Revaire for an evening of celebration inspired by Mexico’s rich, vibrant culture and an extraordinary mix of creative influences.

THE STYLE: The décor, by Mandarin Design Lab in Austin, included a towering butterfly diva seemingly summoning guests, cocktails served by a 20-foot-high sombrero-laden wall, and a ballroom framed by a custom 60’ long calla lily chandelier and Talavera blue tile and climbing bougainvillea. The tastes of the evening included traditional Mexican cuisine by A Fare Extraordinaire, and the sounds of Mexico were also center stage with a special performance of Besame Mucho by guest artist soprano Ailyn Pérez. One of the evening’s highlights was the Mariachi los Camperos musical performance of the night’s theme, Cielito Lindo, bringing the crowd to their feet in a spirited sing-along worthy of a grand opera.

THE PURPOSE: Chaired by Marcia and Alfredo Vilas, with Monica Fulton and Hector Villarreal, and Sara and Gabriel Loperena chairing the auctions, the gala raised over $1.2 million to support the internationally renowned performances and community programs that distinguishes the Houston Grand Opera as one of America’s greatest opera companies. Following the gala, guests carried on with a festive, late-night celebration at the Encore After Party chaired by Lady Stephanie Kimbrell and Joshua Allison and featured dancing, a proper taco station, passed frozen mangonadas, and churros with chocolate sauce for dipping.

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