Opera Ennui

HGO Announces Dramatic Cuts to its Staff and Season

The opera is the latest Bayou City arts institution to alter its upcoming performance schedule to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

By Emma Schkloven June 24, 2020

Image: Lynn Lane

In the latest blow to the Bayou City arts community, Houston Grand Opera has slashed of its 2020-2021 production season and workforce to ensure the company’s survival amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Less than two months after welcoming back furloughed staff members, thanks to a $2.5 million Payroll Protection Plan loan from the government, HGO announced on June 23 that it had laid off 27 percent of its staff, reducing its workforce from 129 individuals to 94—a first in the organization’s 65-year history. The company has also issued a reduction of hours and pay cuts of 15 percent for its remaining employees beginning on July 1 (rollbacks for senior staff took effect June 1) that is set to run through February 2021.

In addition to reducing its workforce, HGO has cancelled five of its seven productions for the 2020-2021 season and will remain closed until April 2021 when it will present Breaking the Waves and conclude its truncated season with Rodgers and Hammerstein II’s The Sound of Music. Cancelled shows include theater performances of the 2020–21 season, through the spring of 2021. The canceled performances include Carmen (Oct 23–Nov 13), Werther (Oct 30–Nov 15), the world premiere of The Snowy Day (Dec 10–Dec 20), Parsifal (Jan 22–Feb 7, 2021), and Cinderella (Jan 29–Feb 15, 2021). Information on how these changes will affect ticket purchases and subscriptions can be found on HGO’s website.

The heartbreaking news from HGO arrives on the heels of last week’s similar announcement from Houston Symphony. On June 12, HSO, which had already negotiated pay cuts for its performers and staff, announced that it had laid off 21 full- and part-time employees and decreased its budget from $34.5 million to $23.5 million after projecting an $11 million deficit for next season. Other major performing arts institutions, including The Alley and Theater Under the Stars, have also rejiggered their upcoming seasons.

All hope is not lost for Bayou City opera lovers, though. HGO has revealed that it will present bi-monthly video content, to be announced in the coming months, and is planning to produce a media project about The Snowy Day, which was set to have its world premiere in December. According to the news release, a fully realized production will follow in the future. “Now, more than ever, the Houston community needs the arts to help it process and heal, and that is not lost on us,” HGO Artistic and Music Director Patrick Summers said in a statement. “We will continue to find ways to connect with our beloved audiences, even if we cannot physically be together.”

 HGO 2020–2021 Season

Breaking the Waves: Apr 16–May 1, 2021

Sound of Music: Apr 30–May 15, 2021

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