When it comes to opera, these two Louisianans place their bets on Houston

By Mark Yost
The Houston Business Journal

Houston Grand Opera will host its 2014 Grand Opera Ball, Fleurs de l’Opera, at Wortham Hall April 5. It is the group’s most important fundraiser of the year, and will be integral to HGO reaching its current fundraising goal of $165 million.

Jerry Fischer, soprano Nina Stemme, who starred in HGO's production of Tristan and Isolde, and John Turner.

Jerry Fischer, soprano Nina Stemme, who starred in HGO’s production of Tristan and Isolde, and John Turner.

But in many ways, Houston’s opera company, which has a reputation for being one of the best in the country, received the most important fundraising commitment of the season.
John Turner and Jerry Fischer, two opera-loving Louisianans from Baton Rouge, committed $2 million to the Houston Grand Opera. And while no arts company ever wants to rely too heavily on a handful of big donors, Turner and Fischer are symbolic of how arts groups woo patrons.
When it comes to giving, these globe-trotting Louisiana opera lovers put their money in Houston. They’ve agreed to provide $500,000 a year over the next four years as HGO produces one of the hardest operas of any repertoire, Wagner’s Ring Cycle, which will cost an estimated $12 million, according to HGO Chief Advancement Officer Greg Robertson.
“It’s a relationship we’ve nurtured over time,” Robertson told Houston Business Journal. “Five years ago, they were modest donors, giving maybe $5,000 a year.”
Robertson and his staff first spotted the pair of Carmen-loving Cajuns when they saw that they purchased tickets to see multiple performances of the same operas.
“It told us they were serious opera goers,” Robertson said.
Fischer and Turner said their first HGO performance was “Tosca” in 2003. Over time, HGO became one of their favorite opera destinations and they became two of HGO’s favorite patrons.
Turner is one of the Turners of Turner Industries Group LLC, an industrial construction and pipe fabrication company that’s headquartered in Louisiana but has offices in Houston, Beaumont, Corpus Christi and Paris, Texas. Turner doesn’t work in the family business anymore. He and his life partner, Fischer, travel the world listening to great opera.
“They nurtured us slowly and brought us into the HGO Family,” Turner said.
They wrote their first check for HGO’s 2009 production of Wagner’s Lohengrin. Since then, the number of zeros on the end of their checks has grown, culminating in their support for Wagner, one of their favorite composers.
“Wagner is not only really beautiful music, but also some of the most difficult to perform,” Fischer said. “It requires a huge orchestra. And while HGO doesn’t need to reaffirm it’s credentials as one of the top opera companies in the country, it says a lot about their ambition and artistic integrity that they’re putting it on.”
For the year ended July 31, 2012, the HGO’s total revenue was $18.7 million. Of that, $10.4 million, or about 56 percent, came from contributions.

About Mark Yost
Mark Yost is the author of the Rick Crane Noir series, published by Stay Thirsty Press. Rick Crane is the classic, anti-hero private eye in the spirit of Sam Spade and Jim Rockford. He works in the unmistakably noirish underworld of Upstate New York, running errands and fixing problems for Jimmy Ricchiati Sr., one of Upstate New York's most notorious crime bosses. But readers quickly learn that deep down, Rick Crane is one of the good guys. "Cooper's Daughter," the first book in the widely acclaimed series, is a fast-moving tale in which a heartbroken father comes to Rick and asks him to find out what really happened to his daughter, who was murdered and the details buried in the Unsolved Crimes File of the local police department. The second book in the series is "Jimmy's Nephew," which begins with the death of Joey "Boom Boom" Bonadeo, an up-and-coming boxer and the nephew of Rick's underworld boss. What starts out as a routine investigation turns into a case that will test Rick's faith -- in the Catholic Church and his fellow man. Book No. 3 in the series, "Mary's Fate" is due out in August 2015. Mark Yost also writes for The Wall Street Journal Arts in Review page, as well as the Book Review section. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America -- Midwest Chapter, International Thriller Writers, and a number of other author groups. He is also a member of the Amazon Author's Program. Mark lives in the Loyola neighborhood of Chicago, but he and his son, George, call the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn "home."

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