Arts / Performing Arts

Houston Grand Opera’s New Leader Talks Challenges and Building Bridges — Khori Dastoor On Going From Soprano to CEO

A PaperCity Exclusive

BY // 01.21.22

Officially donning the mantle of Houston Grand Opera general director and CEO this month, Khori Dastoor is feeling hopeful as she sits down for lunch at Brennan’s, her first time in the New Orleans-centric restaurant mecca. Only the day before, in a conference call with Methodist Hospital, doctors had predicted that omicron was reaching its peak.

Welcome news about the decline of the virus left Dastoor “optimistic that the situation is improving.”

When Dastoor arrived at Houston Grand Opera in August, she was well aware that she was stepping into a company that was reeling from the toll that COVID-19 had taken not only on revenue but also on staff as well as the lingering effects of Harvey’s flooding of the Wortham Theater Center. As an example, she noted the loss during the flood of the opera’s entire handmade wig collection.

The challenge might be daunting for a lesser talent, but Dastoor is a nose to the grindstone type. She plans to employ her chops earned first as a professional soprano, then as a grants administrator with the philanthropic Packard Humanities Institute, and ultimately as general manager of Opera San José from which she was tapped by HGO.

The California native first visited Houston as a child when she accompanied her father, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Oakland where she grew up. The trip was a project visit to NASA. Little did she imagine that she would one day take up residence in the country’s fourth largest city. Yet there is a family connection.

Dastoor frequently delivers a glowing smile as she talks about family, Houston and her role at Houston Grand Opera. Her husband, BenJoaquin Gouverneur, and their two young daughters joined her in December to take up residence in River Oaks. Not in one of the newly minted, splashy multi-million dollar homes but in a comfortable abode on a leafy lot. Her youngest daughter turns 5 in April and her eldest is in the second grade at River Oaks Elementary.

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The 41-year-old met her husband through his sister, mezzo soprano Cybele Gouverneur, who by happenstance is a University of Houston Moores School of Music graduate. Thus, opera has its role on both sides of the family. Does she still sing, we ask? Only for pleasure, Dastoor replies.

With the move to Houston, Gouverneur is working remote as senior technical engineering manager with Rivian, producer of electric adventure vehicles, based in California with production in Norman, Oklahoma. (For 10 years previously he had been with Tesla.) On this day, Dastoor is driving only the fourth Rivian pickup truck to come off of the assembly line. The valets are not allowed to park the special vehicle. She tips them in any case.

A native Californian, opera singer and opera company CEO driving a pickup truck (even an electric one) — it’s something to contemplate.

Khori Dastoor and BenJoaquin Gouverneur – Wilson Parish (3)
Khori Dastoor & Ben Joaquin Gouverneur at Houston Grand Opera’s opening night celebration. (Photo by Wilson Parish)

Dastoor now presides over an opera company which has a $27 million budget, two performance spaces, a world-class artist development program and a long history of world premieres, more than 70 of them to date. She adds that Houston Grand Opera has 303 individuals on payroll and that another 700 are often required for the full production of an opera.

“My job has always been to help build bridges between people,” Dastoor says. “Being able to build communities between the various work forces.”

Her purview with HGO is strategic vision, fiscal condition, artistic merit, labor relations and reputation both nationally and internationally. She brings to the table much of the energy, enthusiasm and creativity to the task that one of her mentors did. That would be David Gockley, who became HGO’s general director in 1972 at the tender age of 29 and enjoyed a remarkable 30-year run bringing worldwide recognition to the company.

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