Ars Lyrics Houston Hosts A Roman Feast Gala


Media Contact: 

Shannon Langman for Ars Lyrica Houston | 713-622-7443 |


Ars Lyrica Houston's Spring Gala aims to raise funds for first its fully staged opera production

Ars Lyrica Houston's A Roman Feast gala will take place on Saturday, March 3, 2018 in the historic Esperson building in downtown Houston. The glamorous evening will begin with cocktails and hors d'oeuvres at the contemporary Rusk Lobby, followed by an intimate performance of arias by rising opera countertenor, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen accompanied by Matthew Dirst on the harpsichord. The Feast will be served in the Art Deco Mellie Lobby with all things Roman themed and catered by Morton’s Steakhouse. The night will conclude in the Rusk Lobby with an Italian Disco after party including dancing and drinks.

Proceeds from this gala will support the 2018/19 Ars Lyrica Houston production of Handel’s first operatic masterpiece, Agrippina. Since incorporation in 2003, Ars Lyrica has given the local premieres of many major works by Handel, including La Resurezzione, Susanna, Il Trionfo del Tempo, and Jephtha. Its production of Agrippina will be the organization's first full-length operatic endeavor and its most ambitious Handelian project to-date.  

Gala Sponsors:

The Antiquarium Antique Maps and Prints Fine Custom Framing, Spindletop Design and Workhorse Printmakers, Cameron Management, Morton’s Steakhouse 

Media Sponsor:

CKW LUXE Magazine

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For high-resolution images, please contact Shannon Langman at 713-622-7443 or     


A Roman Feast Gala

An evening honoring Rhonda & Donald Sweeney

Chairs: Drs. Rachel & Warren Ellsworth IV and Sara & Gabriel Loperena

After Party Chairs: Carlos Sierra and Michelle Stair

 Saturday, March 3, 2018

6:30pm - Cocktails
7:30pm - Concert

8:00pm – Dinner

9:00pm – After Party

 ESPERSON at 808 Travis Street
Houston, Texas 


About The Artists

Ars Lyrica Founder & Artistic Director Matthew Dirst is the first American musician to win major international prizes in both organ and harpsichord, including the American Guild of Organists National Young Artist Competition (1990) and the Warsaw International Harpsichord Competition (1993). Widely admired for his stylish playing and conducting, the Dallas Morning News recently praised his “clear and evocative conducting” of Handel’s Alexander’s Feast, which “yielded a performance as irresistibly lively as it was stylish.” Dirst’s recordings with Ars Lyrica have earned a Grammy nomination and widespread critical acclaim. His degrees include a PhD in musicology from Stanford University and the prix de virtuosité in both organ and harpsichord from the Conservatoire National de Reuil-Malmaison, France, where he spent two years as a Fulbright scholar. Equally active as a scholar and as an organist, Dirst is Professor of Music at the Moores School of Music, University of Houston, and Organist at St Philip Presbyterian Church in Houston. He is the author of Engaging Bach: The Keyboard Legacy from Marpurg to Mendelssohn (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and the editor of Bach and the Organ (University of Illinois Press, 2016). 


Countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen has quickly been identified as one of opera and early music’s most promising rising stars. In 2017, he was named a winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and First Prize Winner of the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition. In the 2017-18 season, he joins the Houston Grand Opera Studio, as the first countertenor in the studio’s history, for productions of Handel’s Giulio Cesare and Strauss’ Elektra. He also joins American Bach Soloists for performances of Handel’s Messiah in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. He made his European debut at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, singing the primo uomo role of Timante in Gluck's Demofonte with baroque ensemble Il Complesso Barocco. Additional credits include performances with the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, the Leipzig Barockorchester, the Venice Music Project, and the Newberry Consort 


About Ars Lyrica Houston

Founded in 1998 by harpsichordist and conductor Matthew Dirst, Ars Lyrica Houston presents a diverse array of music from the 17th and 18th centuries on period instruments. Its local subscription series, according to the Houston Chronicle, “sets the agenda” for early music in Houston and it also appears regularly at major festivals and conferences, including the 2014 Berkeley Early Music Festival & Exhibition. Ars Lyrica’s distinctive programming favors Baroque dramatic and chamber works, and its pioneering efforts have won international acclaim: the ensemble’s world première recording of Johann Adolf Hasse’s Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra, hailed by Early Music America as “a thrilling performance that glows in its quieter moments and sparkles with vitality,” was nominated for a Grammy Award® for Best Opera 2011.


About Gala Honorees & Chairs

Honorees Donald & Rhonda Sweeney are retired ExxonMobil executives with a passion for music and opera. Donald's career spanned assignments in Japan, Singapore, New Jersey and Houston, managing Information Technology for oil business activities in Asia, as well as coal and minerals business activities in South America, Asia, and the United States. Rhonda's career in IT and Finance spanned roles in the Upstream, Downstream, and Chemicals businesses. In 2013, the couple was awarded the Immanuel and Helen Olshan award for Vision, Leadership, and Commitment for their longtime support for the Texas Music Festival at University of Houston, and in 2015 were Honorary Chairs for Concert at the Villa, benefiting Catholic Charities’ AIDS ministry. As members of Houston Grand Opera's Leadership Council, the Sweeneys were underwriters for HGO's Ring Cycle operas and HGO's Lincoln Center Festival opera, The Passenger.  In addition to her role as HGO Trustee, Rhonda is Houston District Director for the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions, and immediate Past President of Opera Volunteers International. 

Gala Chairs Drs. Rachel & Warren Ellsworth IV are avid supporters of the performing arts in Houston.  Their love for the arts arose from Warren’s studies in music and background in Opera. His father, Warren Ellsworth III, was one of the first singers in the Houston Grand Opera Studio, and Warren grew up in the opera houses around the world as his father’s career as a Wagnerian tenor blossomed.   A native of Annapolis, Maryland, Rachel moved to Houston for her residency in surgery where she met Warren.  Now a board certified Colon and Rectal surgeon, Rachel is a champion for the care of her patients in both Katy and the medical center. Warren’s career as a Plastic Surgeon combines his love of art and science in this creative field.  As Chief of Plastic Surgery at Houston Methodist West, his practice specializes in breast reconstruction after cancer and cosmetic surgery. Warren and Rachel have enjoyed caring for their patients for over a decade while in practice.  Their greatest love, however, is their young daughter, Isabel, who they welcomed in May of 2016.

Gala Chairs Sara & Gabriel Loperena and their two children, Gabriel and Nina, call Houston their home.  Sara is a native Houstonian and a graduate of Marymount University and St. Thomas University.  She is founder, director, and president of The Book Cycle, Inc. a 501(c)(3) organization that works to create a community of book lovers in Houston and beyond, organizing events where people can donate and take away books, all for free.  Gabriel is originally from Venezuela and is a graduate of Harvard University and Georgetown University.  He is a corporate finance attorney with the Houston firm of Porter Hedges LLP.  All of the family shares a deep and abiding love of the operatic arts.

After Party Chairs Michelle Stair and Carlos Sierra met at a young professional’s art group several years ago and have been friends ever since. Michelle is originally from Dallas, a graduate of The University of Texas at Arlington, and works as an office manager at Moritz & Associates. Since relocating to Houston, she has supported several performing and visual art organizations including: Ars Lyrica Houston, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Symphony, Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, among others. Carlos is a graduate of Florida International University and is Regional Director at Lodgic Hospitality. He serves on several organizations including: Treasurer and Board Member of Texas Business Travel Association; Board Member of Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; Program Director and Board Member of FIU Alumni Houston Chapter; Event Committee Member for Houston Grand Opera’s ONYP; among others. As single young professionals, both Michelle and Carlos stay active in the Houston Art scene.


About the Esperson

Niels Esperson Building
This first building was built by Mellie as a memorial to “Mr. Esperson,” as she called him. It became the tallest building in Texas for two years after its completion and dedication in 1927, and it was ranked as the third largest in all of America. Niels wished to build an architecturally distinctive 32-story building on Travis. He had a vision that Houston would become a city of over a million people one day, and he wanted to play a part in its development. However, with his premature passing, Mellie fulfilled his vision with the construction of the Niels Esperson Building.  

Mellie Esperson Building
Mellie broke ground on an adjacent plot of land next to Niels’ building in 1938. “But,” she cautioned the contractor, “it must not be as tall as Mr. Esperson’s building, nor as magnificent. I wouldn’t want it to detract from his glory in any way. Let it be to the right of his building—as I always was to him.” Completed in 1941, the adjacent 19-story Mellie Esperson Building offered the greatest amount of office space in one structure at that time.  It was also outfitted with central air conditioning, which was a first. 

Esperson—bounded by Travis, Walker, Milam, and Rusk—continues to bring in individuals and companies seeking to lease space in this historic two-building property, contiguously joined on the first 16 floors. Its architecture charms tourists from all over the world. 

As Cameron Management works to make improvements to the property, they also endeavor to add additional amenities like the new escalator, which connects the new first floor Rusk Lobby to the Tunnel System with a redeveloped food court.  

The Cameron Team is excited about their progress as they work to continue the Esperson vision of providing “practical, operating developments,” with a touch of class.


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