The Houston Grand Opera




Houston Grand Opera's 1997 Production of FAUST. Photo by Jim Caldwell


January 20, 23, 26, 28m, and February 3, 2007

In French with English surtitles

Houston Grand Opera Production


            Houston Grand Opera revives its acclaimed Francesca Zambello production of Gounodís French masterpiece Faust with a stellar cast, led by one of Americaís most gifted tenors, William Burden (The Coronation of Poppea, 2006) as the man who sells his soul to the devil for a second chance at youth.  Burdenís Faust, hailed as ďsuperbÖbeautiful French, with fine line and glowing tone,Ē (Philadelphiaís City Paper), is lured into eternal damnation by Mephistopheles, sung by the incomparable American bass Samuel Ramey (Boris Godunov, 2005) in one of the roles that has made him world famous.  Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri makes her house debut as Marguerite, the naÔve young woman who falls for Faust.  Her devoted brother Valentin is sung by American baritone Earle Patriarco (The Barber of Seville, 2004).

          Sebastian Lang-Lessing (Carmen, 2006) conducts; Elizabeth Bachman directs.  The ďlushĒ (Houston Chronicle) sets and costumes are by Earl Staley; lighting is by Ken Billington.

Cast:                                                                            Production Team:


William Burden


Sebastian Lang-Lessing


Samuel Ramey

Original Director

Francesca Zambello


Tamar Iveri * ^


Elizabeth Bachman


Earle Patriarco

Set/Costume Designer

Earl Staley



Lighting Designer

Ken Billington



Chorus Master

Richard Bado á



Fight Director

Brian Byrnes

^  Role debut              *  Houston Grand Opera debut       á  Former HGO Studio member



A Conversation with the Devil (Part II)

Interview with Samuel Ramey Starring As THE DEVIL

in Gounod's FAUST for The Houston Grand Opera


By Theresa Pisula

January 15, 2007

For about 30 years, Samuel Ramey has reigned as one of the music worldís foremost interpreters of bass and bass-baritone operatic and concert repertoire.  With astounding versatility he commands an impressive breadth of repertoire with virtually every musical style from Argante in Handelís Rinaldo, which was the vehicle of his acclaimed Metropolitan Opera debut in 1984 to the dramatic proclamations of the title role in Bartokís Bluebeardís Castle, which he sang in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera televised by PBS.  Mr. Rameyís interpretations embrace the lyric and dramatic roles of Mozart and Verdi; and the heroic roles of the Russian and French repertoire.


Samuel Ramey in the title role of Boito's Mefistofele.  Florence Opera in Florence, Italy.


The unique expressiveness of the bass voice has inspired many composers to assign the portrayal of devils and villains to basses, and it is in this repertoire that Mr. Ramey has established a reputation unequaled in the musical world.  In 1996, Mr. Ramey presented a sold-out concert at New Yorkís Avery Fisher Hall titled A Date with the Devil in which he sang fourteen arias representing the core of this repertoire, and he continues to tour this program throughout the world. 

 Samuel Ramey has appeared on the stages of the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Vienna Staatsoper, Opera de Paris, Arena di Verona, Deutsche Oper Berlin, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the operas of Munich, Hamburg, Geneva, Florence, Zurich and Amsterdam, among others.  In concert, he has performed with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra and the symphonies of Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and San Francisco.

 Samuel Ramey holds the distinction of being the most recorded bass in history.  His more than eighty recordings include complete operas, recordings of arias, symphonic works, solo recital programs and popular crossover albums on every major label.  His recordings have garnered nearly every major award including 3 Grammy Awards, Gran Prix du Disc Awards, and ďBest of the YearĒ citations from the journals including Stereo Review and Opera News. 

It was a cold day out in Houston when I met him for this interview, but he greeted me with an alluring smile and a warm handshake.  Decked out in black leather designer duds, the devil today is not wearing Prada, he is wearing Gianni Versace silk shirt and form-fitting pants.

Theresa:  I must admit Iím terrified right now.  Because Iíve seen you play the Devil in Mefistofele.

Samuel:  Oh (laughs).

Theresa:  The last time you played the Devil here in Houston was Mefistofele in May of 1999.  After that you performed in Boris Godunov.  But after seeing your performance as the Devil, I said to myself coming over here for this interview ďOh my God, Iím about to meet the Devil.Ē

Samuel:  Donít be frightened (laughs).

Theresa:  Well thatís easy for you to say (laughs).  And you are awesome!!!  You are amazing as the Devil.  You play the Devil beautifully.  Everyone should meet the Devil at least once in their lives to give themselves the opportunity to mend the error of their ways.  So I definitely encourage everyone to see Faust by Gounod now playing at the Houston Grand Opera from January 20 Ė February 3, 2007 to have the opportunity to be terrified of Samuel Ramey as the Devil once again.

Samuel:  Thank you.

Samuel Ramey as Mephistopheles in FAUST


Theresa:  I know this is a corny line, but are you a Leo?

Samuel:  No, Iím not a Leo.  Many people think Iím a Leo actually because of my hair (laughs).

Theresa:  Yes, you have this hair that looks like a lionís mane.  When is your birthday?

Samuel:  March 28th.  Iím an Aries.

Theresa:  Wonderful.  Where were you born?

Samuel:  I was born in a small town in Western Kansas, Colby, Kansas and grew up there.  Most of my schooling was at Wichita State University also in Kansas after I got my degree from there.  I went to New York where I continued my private studies.

Theresa:  Were your parents in Opera as well?

Samuel:  No.  Growing up, I had no exposure to Opera at all.  I didnít really know what opera was.  Colby, Kansas is a very, very small town.  But growing up, I always enjoyed singing, Iím interested in music.  Everybody in my family sang to a certain extent.  My oldest brother had a bass voice as well and my other brother also sang.  I had 2 brothers and one sister, all much older than me.  I was raised more like an only child because my brothers and sister were all grown up and gone from home.  My dad was a butcher, a meat cutter.  And my mom was a housewife. 

Theresa:  Did anybody in your family get the success you have in Opera?

Samuel:  No, they sang for fun.  Nobody pursued music in any way.  My mother always hoped that somebody in the family would so I was her last chance (laughs).  She was very happy that I did.  We lived a very simple life.  My mom tried to get me to take piano lessons but I was more interested in sports.  But I sang all the time.  I sang in church choirs when I was in high school.  It was my last year in high school when I decided that I would study music and probably the idea of becoming a teacher. 

Theresa:  Did you already have your amazing voice back then?

Samuel:  No, I donít think so.  I mean, I had a voice and my high school music teacher encouraged me.

Theresa:  And it was through the training that you developed your voice.

Samuel:  Yeah.  And then when I went to college I got interested in Opera really just by listening to recordings. 

Theresa:  So you liked Opera from the very beginning.

Samuel:  Well yeah, from my first exposure to it, yeah because I always liked being in plays.  And I enjoyed singing, so I thought, ďWow, this is a sung play.  Great!Ē  Well then a friend of mine told me about a summer opera company in Central City Colorado that they hired young singers to sing in the chorus and they had this all-apprentice program.  So I went out to my local radio station and I sent in an audition tape and sent it off and they took me.

Theresa:  How fun.  Well, thatís how it all gets started you know.

Samuel:  And I went out there.  That was my first exposure to Opera.  Iíve never seen an opera until I was actually in one.  I started out in the chorus and the apprentices had to study some of the opera scenes we did.  So I was cast as Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro and just had a short scene.  And then I discovered college and continued my studies.  After that summer, I decided that I wanted to be an opera singer.

Theresa:  When did you start traveling professionally?

Samuel:  I made my debut at the New York City Opera in 1973.  I didnít do the Metropolitan Opera until 10 years later.  First I sang the NY City Opera I was more or less at New York City Opera all the time.  It wasnít until a few years at the NY City Opera that I started singing elsewhere.

I made my European debut in 1975 in Glyndebourne, England.  I sang the Marriage of Figaro in the summer festival when I was in my early 30ís.  Then my European career started to develop in the years after that.  Actually, my European career started much earlier than with a lot of the American companies.  I sang in the European theatres before I started in San Francisco or Chicago or the larger American companies.

Theresa:  When did you get to travel after Glyndebourne, England?

Samuel:  Then, I sang in Hamburg, Germany.  I sang in Italy a lot.  In Milan, La Scala, London, Paris.  It was great.  You feel like youíre on vacation, but youíre getting paid for it.  So, itís great.  Itís quite wonderful. 

Theresa:  Does it ever get old?

Samuel:  I donít mind the traveling.  What I donít like is the thing you have to do to get ready when youíre preparing to go on a long trip for instance.  The thing you have to do to prepare to get ready to go is what I donít love.  I still enjoy traveling, being in all these places and working in all these places after all these years.

Theresa: Growing up as a young man being trained in the arts, who would you say influenced you the most?

Samuel:  Probably my first college voice teacher.  His name is Arthur Newman at Wichita State University where I went to college.  He had been one of the charter members of the old New York City Center Opera Company, when the company was first founded.  He was a member of the company in its early years.  So he inspired me a lot and encouraged me a lot.  Onstage, Ezio Pinza, heís a very famous bass who sang at the Met í20s, Ď30s and into the Ď40s.  He had another profound influence on me.  It was his voice that I first began listening to when I got interested in opera.

Theresa:  Of all the people that you work with, who do you enjoy working with the most?

Samuel:  Oh my goodness, thatís a difficult one.  Iíd probably have to say Marilyn Horne is one of my favorites to work with and Beverly Sills.


Fortunato "Ezio" Pinza.  Italian - American Bass 1892 - 1957

Theresa:  Are you married?

Samuel:  (Well this time) Iíve only been married 5 years this coming summer. 

Theresa:  How does this factor into your busy international jet set life?

Samuel:  Well, itís a little bit more difficult now because we have a 3 Ĺ year old son.  So that complicates the travel because they go with me everywhere.  I only have one son and heíll travel with me everywhere until he goes to school.

Theresa:  How is your son doing?

Samuel:  Heís just great. 

Theresa:  Does he look like he might be another bass?

Samuel:  Itís hard to say (laughs).  I donít know.  He seems to like music.  So, weíll see.

Theresa:  At this point in your life, who would you dedicate your performance to?

Samuel:  My voice teacher now that Iíve been working with for such a long time.  His name is Armen Boyajian.  Heís an American living in New York and of Armenian descent.  I lived in New York a long time after moving there from Kansas.  I lived in New York for almost 30 years before I moved to Chicago. 

Theresa:  So why did you choose Chicago?

Samuel:  Iíve been singing in Chicago for years and always enjoyed being there and I always thought that if for some reason that I wanted to leave New York that Chicago would be a very nice alternative.

Theresa:  So, tell us about the part that youíre playing.

Samuel:  The partÖMefistofelesÖthe devil.  What can be said about the devil? (Laughs)  Well this devil is much different than the one you saw.


Theresa:  Oh yeah?  How so?

Samuel:  Itís different music.  Itís a different character. 

Theresa:  How can you say that?  Because when I saw Mefistofele, he was so amazing and grand and evil as the devilÖ

Samuel:  Well this one is more or less the devil in disguise.  Heís a very charming French gentleman type.  The devil in Mefistofele is more like the devil himself.  Heís much more the devil not in disguise.  Heís much less charming (laughs).

Samuel Ramey in the title role of Boito's Mefistofele.  San Francisco Opera.


Theresa:  I donít agree with that at all.  I was totally blown away.  That devil would have charmed the pants off of me (laughs).  But I guess I see what youíre saying.  When they depicted Hell onstage, that devil was more within his element, within his environment. 

Samuel:  Yeah, you donít see that in this opera Faust.  You donít see it. 

Theresa:  You see the devil walking on earth, talking to Faust more?

Samuel:  Yeah.  Heís a much more debonair and charming character. 

Theresa:  Which devil do you prefer?

Samuel:  Well, I donít know.  I like both of them.  But this one, the Gounod is probably the role that Iíve sung most often in my career.  Iíve sung it more than the Boitoís Mefistofele.  Iíve sung the Boito a lot also but not as many as Gounodís.  Iíve probably sung nearly 300 performances of the Gounodís. 

Theresa:  Thatís amazing.  Why is that, you think?

Samuel:  Gounodís is done more often.  Itís more popular.

Theresa:  When I saw Mefistofele Ė it was amazing.  Itís Amazing!  I couldnít believe what I was seeing.  I mean, if anybody could imagine what hell was like.  Arenít you like amazed?  (Laughs) Who am I asking?  Youíre the Devil, you created all of that! 

Samuel:  (Laughs a mean spirited boisterous evil laugh).  Yeah, Iíve always enjoyed playing the Devil, in the many different operas Iíve played the Devil. 

Theresa:  Why is that?  Because of who he is, as a character?

Samuel:  I always say bad guys have more fun.

Theresa:  That is true.  Heís definitely not boring.  Heís better than Figaro or Don Giovanni.

Samuel:  Heís a great character, much more interesting to play. 

Theresa:  What did you have to do to research your role?

Samuel:  I remember years ago before I did Faust for the first time, I remember reading Goetheís Faust.  Trying to read it, it was very long.  It was interesting to read the source of all the characters of all these operas.  But the operas themselves are only interpretations of the literature.  Most often times they donít really follow the Goethe that closely.  Theyíre more or less loosely based on Goetheís Faust.  The Boito comes closest to Goethe. 

First of all this opera Faust is really only based on one chapter of Goethe and thatís the chapter that has to do with Marguerite.  Thereís also Berliozís Damnation of Faust which Iíve done.  Thereís also The Rakeís Progress by Igor Stravinsky which is a more modern setting opera.

Theresa:  So, out of everybody else out there in the world, you would know the devil more than anybody.

Samuel:  (Laughs) Well, maybe.

Theresa:  Because you play him brilliantly onstage (laughs).  Honestly, I donít know anybody else who can play the devil as good as you. 

Samuel:  Iím sure thereís somebody out there.

Theresa:  Nope.  And you know whatís so funny?  I interviewed Tony Randall as the Devil.


Tony Randall






Samuel:  Heís a good friend of mine. 

Theresa:  Was he?

Samuel:  He passed away.

Theresa:  I know.  It is sad because he was such a great man.  How did you know him?

Samuel:  Through the opera.  Heís a big opera fan.

Theresa:  Thatís right, he's a big opera buff.  Did you get to meet him after one of your performances?

Samuel:  I think we first met actually when I was singing with the New York City Opera.  We did a special gala performance once in Los Angeles of the second act of Die Fledermaus which has this big ball scene.  Usually itís tradition that they have guest singers come and perform at this ball.  As a special thing, they asked Tony Randall to sing the part of Prince Orlovsky which he did.  Thatís when we first met.  Then we just met at various times over the years.

Theresa:  He was here in Houston for the 2000 Theatre Under The Stars production of the Musical Damn Yankees.  He was a legendary actor and a wonderful human being.

Samuel:  Very charming.

Theresa:  When you perform, do you actually take this persona of the devil?

Samuel:  Oh no.

Theresa:  One of the questions I asked Tony Randall, have you ever come to a point in your life when you had to give up a part of yourself in exchange for success or an opportunity or a big break in life?  Much like Faust in the Opera?

Samuel:  Oh gee. No, I donít think so. 

Theresa:  Did it all come easy for you?

Samuel:  Well no.  Iíve worked very hard for my success.  When I look back it seemed to come very easily.  But I think it was because that I worked hard and I was well trained and justly rewarded for all the work Iíve done.  Thatís one way to look at it anyway.

Theresa:  Of all the places youíve traveled to, tell us your favorite.

Samuel:  I would probably have to say Venice, Italy.  This is one of my favorite theatres to sing in and such a beautiful place.

Theresa:  Do you speak all the languages?

Samuel:  Not fluently.  I can get by.  I speak a little Italian.  I speak a little German.  I speak a little French. 

Theresa:  What are your plans for the future and where are you going to be after the show?

Samuel:  After this run of Faust, I go off on a dual recital tour with Frederica Von Stadt.  Actually one of them is here in the Houston area.  One of our performances is in the Opera House in Galveston.  I think in early March.  The recital tour will travel mostly in the Southeastern part of the United States: Florida, Georgia, places like that.  For the rest of the Opera season, I go back to the Met in April for some performances of The Barber of Seville, then in Chicago, with the Chicago Opera Theatre doing Bluebeardís Castle.  Then I go to Europe in Barcelona, Spain and to Rome, Italy.  For the next Fall Opera Season, I start it again in Europe in Madrid, Spain. 


Theresa:  What would you like to say to the Houston-Theatre going audience?

Samuel:  I hope theyíll come and see our production of Faust and find it theatrically inspiring, shall we say?  Because we have a good cast and theyíre all very good singing actors.

Theresa:  You come to Houston quite a bit.  Do you like to come to Houston? 

Samuel:  Iíve always loved being in Houston.  I enjoy the city and the people.  Itís great. 



Samuel Ramey





The Houston Grand Opera performs at the Wortham Theater Center in Houstonís Downtown Theater District.  Opened in 1987, the Wortham Center features the 2,329-seat Brown Theater and the 1,065-seat Cullen Theater.



            Subscriptions for the 2006Ė2007 Season, priced at $140 to $1,125, are now on sale through HGOís Customer Care Center.  Single tickets go on sale August 27, 2006.

            New Family Packages: HGO will offer two different three-opera subscription packages for families, which include specially priced childrenís tickets and pre-curtain activities in the lobby for the whole family.  The packages include Hansel and Gretel, La Cenerentola, and either AÔda or The Cunning Little Vixen.  A range of seating options is available throughout the theater, from Orchestra Circle to the Balcony.  Adult tickets are deeply discounted (ranging from $77 for three operas to $224) and the childrenís tickets are only $10, making this three-opera series an affordable option for Houston families.  Additionally, the productions included in the family packages are the most artistically ambitious of the seasonóthree of the four productions offered are being designed specifically for HGO.

             New Young Professionals Series: HGO is also proud to offer its first Young Professionals subscription package, created to respond to the popularity of this seasonís inaugural ďOpening Nights for Young Professionals,Ē also known as O.N.  The O.N. series offers orchestra tickets and exclusive pre-performance cocktail parties at which individuals mingle with their peers and meet the ďyoung professionalsĒ of HGOís world: young directors, conductors, and HGO Studio artists.  This season, over 1000 people came to HGO for the first time to attend O.N.  Next seasonís reasonably priced $155 O.N. package includes orchestra seats for opening night performances of Don Giovanni, Faust, and AÔda.   A $35 tax-deductible contribution is also built into the package. 

             For information on subscriptions, call Houston Grand Opera at 713-228-OPERA (6737) or 1-800-62-OPERA (1-800-626-7372) 9 a.m.Ė5 p.m. MondayĖFriday.



            The Wells Fargo Pre-Curtain Lecture Series takes place forty-five minutes before each performance.  Guest speakers present a twenty-minute informal lecture in the orchestra level of the Brown Theater.  These lectures, free and open to all ticket holders, are intended to enhance the audienceís enjoyment by preparing them for the production they are about to attend.

            The Wortham Theater Center features wheelchair access to both theaters, with a choice of seating locations and ticket prices. 

            An infrared listening system, underwritten by Shell Lubricants, is available and free of charge at all performances.  Please call HGOís Customer Care Center at 713-228-OPERA (6737) or 1-800-62-OPERA (67372) for details.

            Descriptive services for persons with vision loss are available with a 48-hour advance reservation.  Please call HGOís Education and Outreach department at 713-546-0230 for details.



HGO gratefully acknowledges support for the following series: Opening Night Series made possible by Fluor Corporation; Friday Series made possible by Fayez Sarofim & Co.; Weeknight Series made possible by Schlumberger

The 2006-2007 season is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Houston through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County, and the Texas Commission on the Arts through the Cultural Arts Council. 

ExxonMobil Corporation is Education and Outreach Guarantor.   

Continental Airlines is the Official Airline of Houston Grand Opera.