Khori Dastoor brings stage and business experience as HGO’s Managing Director

Opera music

Framed posters and artwork sit on the floor of Khori Dastoor’s office at the Houston Grand Opera. Posters for HGO’s 2021-22 season can be seen, giving the space a brilliant wash of purple, along with posters for upcoming works like “The Wreckers.” But the office itself remains a work in progress, in part because Dastoor completed a season as general manager of Opera San Jose before moving to Houston full-time late last year.

“I’m just starting to decorate here,” she says.

Obviously, Dastoor started out as the Managing Director and CEO of HGO. As we walk the stage of the Wortham Theater Center, moving around the wooden architecture comprising the set of “Romeo and Juliet”, she asks me to look up.

Not 48 hours earlier, I had seen HGO’s production of Puccini’s “Turandot” and wondered where the grand trellis that opens the second act was.

And there he is, hovering above the stage.

“It takes about 260 people to make ‘Turandot’,” she says. “And there are about 90 bodies on stage with ‘Romeo.’ With ‘Romeo,’ there were brand new costume builds, so it’s very busy, but I walk these halls and I feel this relentless optimism, people here remember how bad the last two years have been. , when we couldn’t do things like that. The people who work here, they treat the jobs as an identity.

These side productions certainly heralded the fullness of HGO’s return after a period in which the organization had to shut down shows and find new platforms to showcase its art.

Dastoor came after his predecessor, Perryn Leech, announced his departure at the end of 2020 after 14 years.

For a few months when she took office late last year, Dastoor flew from the Third Coast to the West Coast as she finished her duties at Opera San Jose. But this year, Dastoor has been fully immersed in HGO, navigating a lingering pandemic and also trying to imagine what the organization can be in the 21st century.

She says her interview with HGO included a meeting with David Gockley – HGO’s chief executive from 1972 to 2005 – which proved crucial to her interest in the job.

“He said the first thing was, ‘He has to be first class,'” she said. “He said that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“I feel like the Gockley era provided a proof of concept around American opera, which now feels settled. Like maybe it was a boundary, but now it’s established and we have to consider its relevance to the community – who is in our audience and why. Houston Grand Opera can do what it has done, which is to show opera as something related to how we live our lives today and how we will live them tomorrow.Houston should be a model for the rest of the country by serving the whole community.

Dastoor offers a fresh perspective on running a legacy opera company. Granted, she came to HGO with a business background at the San Jose Opera and after also working as associate director of the Packard Humanities Institute. But she is also a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music and has performed all over the world. So when Dastoor dropped a few notes from the Wortham stage, she did so like someone who’s spent time on stage.

Having experienced the response generated by the performance as a performer, Dastoor has a keen interest in how HGO presents itself in the future.

She spoke with respect of a performance late last year by German tenor Jonas Kaufmann. Dastoor saw an elderly couple trying to get out early, so the husband could navigate his wheelchair before the passageways became clogged.

“I think Jonas did eight encores,” Dastoor says. “Eight. So they kept going up, then back down. Jonas was doing this amazing and esoteric repertoire. The public was losing their minds. I called my husband and said, ‘When you get here, you won’t believe it.’ That this community reacted in this way, it was special.

Dastoor cited both “Turandot” and “Romeo and Juliet” as “showing the excellent organization we have here. These are pieces that demand everything from a company.

She saw the former as an opportunity to showcase older operas and use aspects of their creation as talking points for contemporary complications. “Turandot” has Persian roots and the story went through a Chinese narrative before becoming an Italian opera. HGO brought legendary director Robert Wilson back to his native Texas for production.

“I feel like the show involves conversations that we should be having,” she says. “We have Russians and Ukrainians making music together right now.

“There is nothing more international than an opera. You have six or seven languages ​​that could be in the building at any time. Which makes it a wonderful representation of Houston itself. And it was wonderful to discover. I knew Houston was a big, cosmopolitan city. But I did not know its international community; it’s food. So I had never been in a room like this, where you feel this energy for classical music.

Dastoor attempts to build on HGO’s great heritage by opening it up more to this diverse and sprawling city. His eyes light up talking about how HGO kept fans engaged with digital programming at the start of the pandemic. As a singer, she appreciates the need to “put money in the pockets of our artists. That’s something that’s been crucial to HGO’s reputation: figuring out how to support young artists coming out of college. Keeping these artists paid during tough times. HGO has never shied away from this art form.

She is now looking to expand the reach of the organization.

“We understand the people behind the dollars we receive,” says Dastoor. “Which is important, because I don’t have to present a case to them. They believe in what we do.

But she thinks the art form can find new listeners, perhaps not by following popular but untested approaches.

“We come into the world singing,” says Dastoor. “And we come into the world curious. Our job is to bring this beauty to the lives of as many people in Houston as possible.

“There was a time when people thought we needed to push novelty, but our research shows that there is interest in novelty. But new audiences are also attracted by “La Traviata”, “Carmen” and “La Boheme”. They find their way to a new opera through these works. It is a commitment to experience.

Old subscription models could be changed, she says. Running times maybe could be shortened, as long as they don’t affect work.

“But it’s still a place where you box experiment,” she says.

“The artists we work with are so amazing. And what I get out of it is clarity about what they and the listeners want to tell us. So they allow me to dream for the future, and those dreams are huge.