Houston Grand Opera


(L-R)Wolfgang Brendel (Mandryka), Jozsef Gregor (Count Waldner), Katherine Ciesinski (Adelaide) and Renee Fleming (Arabella)


Fortune Teller.........Jill Grove
Adelaide...............Katherine Ciesinski
Zdenka.................Christine Schafer
Matteo.................Raymond Very
Arabella...............Renee Fleming
Count Elemer...........Chad Shelton
Count Waldner..........Jozsef Gregor
Waiter.................Mark Swindler
Mandryka...............Wolfgang Brendel
Welko..................Eric Edlund
Count Dominik..........Daniel Belcher
Count Lamoral..........Christopher Scott Feigum
The Fiakermilli........Nancy Allen Lundy
Djura..................James Alba
Jankel.................Peter Webster
Gambler................Derek W. Henry
Gambler................Matthew A. Kreger
Gambler................Douglas C. Threeton

Conductor..............Christoph Eschenbach
Director...............Mikael Melbye

Houston, TX, March, 1998

Houston Grand Opera opens its spring repertory with international opera superstar Renee Fleming singing her first Arabella in a stylish production with Mikael Melbye. Arabella, which open on Friday, April 17 in the Wortham Center's Brown Theater, will be a tour-de-force of some of the world's opera luminaries. German baritone Wolfgang Brendel returns to HGO as Mandryka and German soprano Christine Schafer and American soprano Nancy Allen Lundy make their HGO debuts as Zdenka and The Fiakermilli respectively. The cast also features Hungarian bass Jozsef Gregor as Count Waldner and American mezzo-soprano Katherine Ciesinski as Adelaide. Forner Houston Opera Studio members, tenor Raymond Very and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove, round out the cast as Matteo and the Fortune Teller. Arabella's three suitors, Count Elemer, Count Dominik and Count Lamoral will be sung by current HOS members, tenor Chad Shelton, baritone Daniel Belcher and bass Christopher Scott Feigum, respectively.

(L-R) Renee Fleming (Arabella) and Wolfgang Brendel (Mandryka)

Further performances of Arabella are on April 19m, 22, 25, 28, May 1and 3m, evening performances at 7:30pm and matinees at 2:00pm. Houston Symphony Music Director Christoph Eschenbach will conduct the Houston Symphony for all performances. In addition to directing the production, Denmark's Mikael Melbye has also designed the sets and costumes. The rest of the creative team includes Mexican choreographer Jose Moreno and lighting designer Ken Billington.

The creation of
Arabella came with extremely high expectations. Richard Strauss wanted it to be "the second Der Rosenkavaleier without the mistakes," and he knew that he could turn his long-time collaborator, librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, to help create it. Hofmannsthal turned to two of his own sources -- a comedy entitled Lucidor about an impoverished mother who forces the younger of her two daughters to dress as a boy, and a sketch about the Viennese Fiaker (cabdriver) culture of the late 1900's -- for his libretto. The premiere at the Dresden State Opera in July 1933 was a critical success. Unfortunately, Arabella would become a neglected masterpiece in other parts of the world. There is speculation that the opera suffered because of its origins -- it was presented and revered in Germany at a time when the country was an enemy to much of the world. Arabella did not premiere in the United States until 1955.

ARABELLA (Set Design, Costume Design, and Directed by Mikael Melbye)

Arabella, set in Vienna in the 1860's, tells the tale of an aristocratic family, the Waldners, who are in decline and as a result pin their financial hopes on their eldest daughter, Arabella, who must marry a wealthy suitor. Much to their despair, Arabella's heart is committed to no one and she rejects all of her suitors. Arabella dreams of the "right man" and has faith she will know him when she sees him. In the meantime, her sister, Zdenka, who is forced to pretend she is a boy because the family cannot afford to bring both daughters into society, has fallen in love with one of Arabella's suitors, the officer Matteo, who has threatened to kill himself if Arabella doesn't consent to marry him. The farce comes to a head at the annual Cabbies' Ball where Arabella meets and falls in love with Mandryka, a rural landowner from Croatia, but their wedding plans are put in jeopardy when Mandryka overhears a conversation in which Matteo is given a key to Arabella's bedroom.

Renee Fleming, Soprano, ARABELLA

Renee Fleming Returns to Houston Grand Opera For Her First Arabella

The artistry of Renee Fleming (Arabella) has won the soprano numerous awards, including a recent Grammy, Musical America's 1997 Vocalist of the Year and the inaugural Solti Prize of L' Academie du Disque Lyrique in 1996, not to mention a devoted following on the operatic stage, in concerts and recitals, on television and radio
and on recordings. One of the busiest performers today, Ms. Fleming appears regularly at the world's premier opera houses and symphony and concert halls. An exclusive recording artist with London/Decca, Ms. Fleming recently released The Beautiful Voice. The American soprano is a favorite with audiences at HGO, where she first appeared as the Countess in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in 1988. Other HGO triumphs include her return as Countess Almaviva in 1991, Donna Elvira in 1991, Rusalka in 1991 and the Marshchallin in 1995.


Costume Design, Mikael Melbye

Production by Mikael Melbye features the HGO debut of German soprano Christine Schafer and the return of acclaimed German baritone Wolfgang Brendel

Danish director/designer Mikael Melbye's numerous credits include work at the finest opera houses in the world including Covent Garden, La Scala, Vienna State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. However, these credits are for performances on the stage, not as a director or designer. After a highly successful career as an opera singer, one that included receiving the Golden Pegasus Award and a number of recordings, Mr. Melbye has in recent
years become as much in demand for his work off-stage as on. Recent acclaimed productions for the Royal Danish Opera include Cosi fan tutte, Turandot and Arabella. Upcoming productions including staging The Magic Flute for Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the Royal Danish Opera and Giselle for The San Francisco Ballet.

Wolfgang Brendel, Baritone, MANDRYKA

Last seen opposite Mirella Freni in HGO' 1985 Eugene Onegin, German baritone Wolfgang Brendel returns as Mandryka. Mr. Brendel sang his first Mandryka opposite Kiri Te Kanawa in 1994 at the Metropolitan Opera, a production that was broadcast on television and recorded for video. He went on to sing the role at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne. Mr. Brendel had recent triumphs as Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus at the Metropolitan Opera, Music Master in Adriadne auf Naxos in Frankfurt and the title role in The Flying Dutchman at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

German soprano Christine Schafer (Zdenka), who recently signed an exclusive contract for solo repertory with Deutsche Grammophon, makes her Houston Grand Opera debut with this production. Considered a leading interpreter of the Mozart repertory, Ms. Schafer is equally familiar with the works of Richard Strauss. She has performed Zerbinetta in Adriadne auf Naxos at the Bavarian State Opera under Sir Colin Davis as well as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier at the Bavarian State Opera and at the San Francisco Opera's Strauss Festival in 1993, when she made her U.S. operatic debut. Her career has taken her to many leading opera houses, including Paris Chatelet, Berlin State Opera, San Francisco Opera, Welsh National Opera, and Theatre Royale dela Monnaie in Brussels. She has also sung at the Salzburg and Glyndebourne festivals, turning in highly acclaimed performances as Konstanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio at Salzburg in 1997 and the title role in Lulu at Glyndebuorne in 1996. Aside from her HGO debut, she has made two other American debuts this season - with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle in Mahler's Symphony No. 2 and with the Chicago Symphony in a program of Berg and Mozart. She has recorded for several labels, including Haensler, Teldec and Hyperion; she will launch her Deutsche Grammophon series with a disc of Mozart and Strauss arias with the Berlin Philharmonic under Claudio Abbado.


Hungarian bass Jozsef Gregor, who sings the role of Count Waldner, was last seen at Houston Grand Opera as Sacristan in the 1996 production of Tosca. Mr. Gregor made his American debut with HGO in 1986 as Varlaam in Boris Godunov. Other HGO credits include Basilio in The Barber of Seville in 1993 and Benoit/Alcindoro in La Boheme in 1996. A specialist in opera buffo, Italian basso and the Mozart repertory, Mr. Gregor has performed at The Metropolitan opera (Doctor Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro), Hamburg State Opera (Dulcamara in The Elixir of Love) and Grand Theatre Municipal de Bordeaux (title role in Don Pasquale) in addition to performing countless roles for the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, where he debuted in 1977. He also performed in the world premiere of Cimarosa's newly discovered Il Pittore Parigino at Opera de Monte-Carlo. Mr. Gregor has contributed to more than 30 recordings in his native Hungary, including The Magic Flute, Falstaff, and Don Pasquale. This spring, Mr. Gregor is also performing the role of Doctor Bartolo in HGO's production of The Marriage of Figaro.

A former member of the Houston Opera Studio, American tenor Raymond Very has performed frequently at HGO, most recently as Tamino in the 1997 production of The Magic Flute. His other company credits include Alfredo in La Traviata (1994), Pong in Turandot (1994), Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor (1994) and Italian Tenor in Der Rosenkavalier (1995). Mr. Very also created the role of Dan White in the world premiere of Harvey Milk in 1995, a role he reprised for his San Francisco Opera debut last season and recorded for Teldec. While a member of the Studio, Mr. Very created the role of the Tenor in the 1994 world premiere of the Dracula Diary, which was recorded and released on BMG / Catalyst. Outside of Houston, he has performed at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Tulsa Opera, Opera Omaha, Washington Summer Opera and, in his European debut, at the Norwegian National Opera in Oslo. Earlier this season, Mr. Very returned to San Francisco Opera to sing the Steerman in The Flying Dutchman and Lensky in Eugene Onegin. Future engagements include his Bavarian State Opera debut in a new production of Otello conducted by Zubin Mehta, as well as the Steersman at HGO in Julie Taymor's production of The Flying Dutchman.
Houston based mezzo-soprano Katherine Ciesinski, who is singing the role of Adelaide, is a regular performer at the world's most prestigious opera houses. She last appeared at Houston Grand Opera in March when she created the role of Cecilia March in the world premiere of Mark Adamo's Little Women. Ms. Ciesinski has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Opera Bastille (where she appeared in the world premiere of La Celestine). Her extensive recording credits include Die Walkure with the Cleveland Orchestra under Christoph von Dohnanyi (Decca). Ms. Ciesinski was nominated for a Grammy Award for her performance as Pauline in The Queen of Spades with the Boston Symphony under Seiji Ozawa (BMG). This spring, Ms. Ciesinski may also be heard as Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro.


Christoph Eschenbach, Conductor

Christoph Eschenbach to conduct the Houston Symphony for all performances

A regular guest conductor at Houston Grand Opera, Christoph Eschenbach last appeared at HGO in Atom Egoyan's acclaimed production of Salome, featuring Hildegard Behrens in the title role. His other HGO credits include several productions with Renee Fleming, including Don Giovanni (1991), Der Rosenkavalier (1995) and two previous stagings of Goran Jarvefelt's production of The Marriage of Figaro (1988 and 1991)). Music Director of the Houston Symphony since 1988, Maestro Eschenbach has led the orchestra on international tours (including its first European tour in 1992 and a return tour in 1997), expanded its repertory by commissioning new works and recording the symphony on such labels as Virgin Classics, Telarc and BMG's RCA/Red Seal. He has also recorded a pair of albums with Ms. Fleming, Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs ad The Schubert Album. The German-born conductor regularly leads orchestras throughout Europe and the United States, including the major rochestras of Germany and London as well as the symphonies and orchestras of Vienna, Boston, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago and Philadelphia. Maestro Eschenbach is also the Music Director of the Ravinia Festival, home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during the summer, and beginning next season, he will become Music Director of the NDR Symphony Orchestra of Hamburg. Before taking to the podium, Christoph Eschenbach had a distinguished career as a pianist, performing with many of the world's major orchestras.

Mexico City native Jose Moreno, a former member of the Houston Ballet, was last seen on Houston Grand Opera stages as one of the acrobatic cats in the Maurice sendak-designed production of Hansel and Gretel. His other HGO dance credits include Babes in Toyland and La Traviata. Mr. Moreno has performed with the Incarnate Word College Ballet Company, Corpus Christi Concert Ballet, Kingwood Dance Theatre, the Generating Company, and Dance Kaleidoscope in Indianapolis, Indiana. An accomplished teacher and choreographer, Mr. Moreno has also taught at Karolyi's Gymnastics and Dana Mannix Gymnastics in Indianapolis. He is currently coaching dance at Brown's Gymnastics in Houston. This production marks the first time Mr. Moreno has served as choreographer at HGO.

Tony Award Winning lighting designer Ken Billington, A Broadway veteran with more than 70 productions to his credit, works frequently with Houston Grand Opera. His HGO credits include the world premiere of Willie Stark (1981), The Marriage of Figaro (1988, 1991), Madame Butterfly (1985, 1993), Carmen (1988), Cosi fan tutte (1988, 1991), Don Giovanni (1991) and Porgy and Bess (1995), which later toured ten cities, Japan, La Scala and Paris. On Broadway, his credits include Chicago (for which he won the Tony Award in 1997), Annie, Candide, Inherit the Wind, Moon Over Buffalo, Hello Dolly! Lettice and Lovage, Tru, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Red Shoes, Sweeney Todd and Deathtrap. His other opera credits include Madame Butterfly for Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Candide for New York City Opera, The Girl of the Golden West and Madame Butterfly for Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Turandot for Vienna State Opera. Mr. Billington has been nominated for six Tony Awards.

The Pre-Curtain Lecture Series is thirty minutes before each performance. Guest speakers will present a twenty-minute informal lecture on the sixth floor of the Grand Foyer. The lectures are free and open to all ticket holders and are intended to enhance audience members' enjoyment by preparing them for the production they are attending.

Wortham center features easy wheelchair access to both theaters. An infrared listening system, generously underwritten by Pennzoil Company, is available free of charge at all performances. Please call the subscription office at 713-546-0246 or 1-800-346-4462 for details. Descriptive services for visually impaired persons are also available with 48-hour advance reservations. Please call the Education and Outreach Department at 713-546-0232 for information or to make a reservation.

Arabella is sung in German with English surtitles.