New Appointments at Houston Grand

The year 2006 began with two new appointments at Houston Grand Opera. Baritone Hector Vasquez replaced Diane Zola as the program director of the Houston Grand Opera Studio. Kathleen Kelly, former prompter, coach, and assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, will take on a double role at HGO, as head of music staff and music director of the HGO Studio, beginning Sept. 1.

A native Californian, Vasquez is well accustomed to living the “itinerant singer’s” life. Before the move to Houston, he and his wife were based in Manhattan, and traveled throughout the United States to perform and audition. Vasquez also sang on a regular basis at the Met. As his older son reached school age, he relocated his family to Houston, where his wife had obtained a position on the voice faculty at the University of Houston. Shortly thereafter, Vasquez—already familiar with HGO from having performed on its stage—accepted the position of program director, at the invitation of conductor Patrick Summers.

“I have very big shoes to fill,” declared the baritone, referring to the outstanding leadership of former director Diane Zola. His responsibilities include developing the curriculum and coordinating it with the studio artists’ individual voice studies, inviting guest teachers, scheduling auditions, and making the study program as complete and diverse as possible. Aware of the media-driven pressures on today’s performers as well as the physical demands of the profession, Vasquez plans to address issues such as physicality on stage, proper nutrition, and fitness on the road, all essential aspects of an artist’s life.

Nutritionists, fight choreographers, period dance instructors, and a gym membership are all part of the special package a young artist receives in the HGO Studio. The voice always comes first, but Vasquez believes that “the more complete and balanced we are as people, the more balance we can achieve on stage, which will lead to becoming a complete performer.”

Starting in September, Vasquez will be working closely with the versatile Kathleen Kelly who, in turn, describes Vasquez as “an amazing asset to HGO.” Kelly considers herself fortunate to have worked at the Met, for two main reasons. One, as a prompter she gained a lot of close-up information about how performers sing, memorize, rehearse, and deal with various issues. Two, the years spent assisting Maestro [James] Levine on Mozart operas and the major German repertoire have been an incredible source of learning and information, she says.

Houston seems the perfect fit for Kelly’s many talents, and she is looking forward to working with Summers, her former mentor from the Merola program.

Kelly will oversee the work of the three full-time pianists on staff, and the two in the Studio program. In her role as head of the music staff, she will be in charge of the daily scheduling of those pianists with singers, as well as the pianists’ repertoire in general. As music director of the Studio, she will be responsible not only for the singers’ daily coaching, but also for the overview of their projects for the entire year. She will also be their main coach herself, working with each singer and pianist once a week. She looks forward to getting started.

“As much as I feel I can bring to the company, the company has a lot to teach me as well.”

Maria-Cristina Necula

Maria-Cristina Necula is a New York-based writer whose published work includes the book “Life in Opera: Truth, Tempo, and Soul” and articles in “Das Opernglas,” “Studies in European Cinema,” and “Opera News.” A classically-trained singer, she has presented on opera at Baruch College, the Graduate Center, the City College of New York, UCLA, and others. She holds a doctoral degree in Comparative Literature from The Graduate Center. Maria-Cristina also writes for the culture and society website “Woman Around Town.” To find out more and get in touch, please visit her website.