Over a month after Hurricane Harvey swept across southeast Texas, many of Houston’s premier performing arts venues like Jones Hall, the Alley and Wortham Theaters are still out of commission. Just as they were entering the height of their season, members of the Houston Grand Opera found themselves forced to relocate, undone by 14 feet of floodwater throughout their beautiful facility. Fortunately, in true fashion of the theater, they decided that the show must go on and chose to forge ahead, seeing the situation as an opportunity rather than a setback. As Patrick Summers, artistic director of the Houston Grand Opera put it, “An opera company is more than just a building… we needed to find a place to perform for all the Houstonians who find a home in our art.”
For fans of the opera, the entire experience is often a truly grandiose spectacle. Soaring cadenzas interspersed with drama-laden recitative, intricate and elaborately designed sets and costumes, the palatial trappings of stage, curtain and lights - everything works in concert to transport the audience to another time and place. The real-world requirements of such an elaborate undertaking can be significant, and attempting a production without the proper facility can be a monumental challenge. Ultimately, a solution was found which would provide the Houston Grand Opera with a temporary home while also granting their audiences a rare opportunity to enjoy productions like never before. The George R. Brown Convention Center, which served as an emergency shelter immediately following the storm, was perfectly poised to provide a space for the displaced opera company and act as host for its fall production line up. While the logistics of performing opera in the new location comes with some unique challenges, the transformation of Hall A3 (dubbed “Resilience Theater”) was largely completed in only 12 days.
Productions in the space will be unlike anything opera-goers are typically accustomed to. Rather than the polish that is often the norm at the Wortham, the company has adopted a concept that they are calling ‘Unconventional Theater.’ This minimalist approach to the form will allow audiences an exciting glimpse into the creative and theatrical process. Additionally, performances will have a more intimate feeling altogether. Of the 1,700 seats distributed around the venue, none are farther than 100 feet from the performers on-stage. Because of this, no other audience will have ever been closer for a performance of La Traviata which begins this Friday, or Handel’s Julius Caesar which will follow in the coming weeks. The venue will even debut the world premiere of Gordon and Vavrek’s The House Without a Christmas Tree.
What began as a devastating blow to one of our city’s most beloved theatrical companies, has, in fact, become a rare opportunity to see this beautiful art form from a whole new perspective. Even travel to the GRB is provided for, as the Houston Grand Opera is offering discount codes for audience members arriving by Lyft. Combine all of this with a night of fine dining at one of the wonderful local restaurants, a post-show stroll through Discovery Green, or a stay in the attached Hilton Americas, and you are guaranteed a night to remember.