OPERA REVIEW: ‘Iolanta’

Iolanta

Projections work best to evoke setting more than they do to create mood in ‘Iolanta.’ (Photo by Marty Sohl/Dallas Opera)

Iolanta, Tchaikovsky’s one-act lyric fairy tale, has long been popular in its native Russia, though not often performed elsewhere. The Dallas Opera, therefore, made an unusual choice in introducing this work as the concluding entry in its current season, but the risk paid off with this inventive and satisfying production.

Princess Iolanta (wonderful soprano Ekaterina Scherbachenko) lives a contented but sheltered life in the mountains of southern France, hidden away from her subjects. She is blind, and her father, King Rene (portrayed with pathos as well as strength by bass Mikhail Kolelishvili), has forbidden her caretakers — Bertrand (powerful bass Jordan Bisch) and Marta (standout mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford) — from mentioning anything in her presence about vision or light. As a result, poor Iolanta has no idea that anyone in the world has sight, believing that eyes are only for crying.

King Rene desperately wants to find a cure for his beloved daughter’s blindness, so he brings renowned Moorish doctor Ibn- Hakia (excellent baritone Vladislav Sulimsky) to their mountain home. The doctor delivers his hopeful prognosis (via the mystical aria “Two worlds”), explaining that Iolanta may be cured of her blindness, but only if she has the desire to see, which necessitates informing her of the gift of sight. The ever-protective King, however, refuses to let her know about her blindness, ordering anyone executed who violates his decree.

Robert, Duke of Burgundy (fine baritone Andrei Bondarenko) and his friend Count Vaudemont (fantastic tenor Sergey Skorokhodov) accidentally stumble upon the beautiful gardens that hide the princess. Robert has been betrothed to Iolanta since a young age, but admits that he has fallen with another in the lovely Matilde instead (“Who can compare to my Matilde?”). Vaudemont sees the princess sleeping and is immediately enthralled by her, but Robert runs for help, fearing that they are in danger. Vaudemont and Iolanta fall in love, during which time he accidentally reveals the secret of Iolanta’s condition to her.

Will Vaudemont be beheaded? Will Iolanta ever see his face? Will the King’s heart soften? In opera, you can never tell, but hey: It’s a fair tale. Still, it’s sentimental even for Russian opera, and more than a touch sanctimonious.

This modern production, directed by Christian Räth, relies heavily on light projections to convey not only the setting but also the mood. The projections (designed by Elaine J. McCarthy) effectively set the various scenes, but are distracting when used decoratively. The costumes, recreating early 20th century fashions via designer Susan Cox, demonstrate a great attention to detail. Though conducted energetically by Emmanuel Villaume, the orchestra, particularly winds, sounded muddled during several technical passages. Despite being in the back of the orchestra pit, the chorus projected powerfully. And at compact 90 minutes, Iolanta is worthwhile.

Performs tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

— Alicia Chang

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Opera announces 6-show season

KM Stairs

Kevin Moriarty, DTC’s artistic director, will cross Flora Street to direct the season opener for the Dallas Opera, ‘The Marriage of Figaro.’

After several seasons of belt-tightening that reduced the number of fully staged operas from the usual five or six to three and then four, the 2014–15 season roars back with six productions — five classics of the canon and a world premiere for its 58th year.

The season, labeled Heights of Passion, launches (as usual) in October with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro — conducted by the DO’s new music director, Emmauel Villaume and directed by Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty — followed by Richard Strauss’ Salome. The season continues the following spring in rapid succession with the remaining four productions:  Catalani’s La Wally (Act IV) on a double bill with the world premiere one-act opera Everest by composer Joby Talbot and librettist Gene Scheer, then the ever-popular La Boheme by Puccini and concluding with Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta.

Moriarty returns to opera with Figaro, having helmed the one-act The Lighthouse in a limited run in March 2012. Salome will be directed by lesbian stage director Francesca Zambello, whom we profiled here in 2010. Villaume will team with gay German stage director Christian Rath for the final production of the season, the rarely-seen Tchaikovsky piece Iolanta.

Here’s the full lineup:

The Marriage of Figaro, Oct. 24, 26 (matinee), 29, Nov. 1, 7 and 9 (matinee).

Salome, Oct. 30, Nov. 2 (matinee), 5, 8 and 16.

La Wally (Act IV) and Everest, Jan. 30, Feb. 1 (matinee), 4, and 7, 2015.

La Boheme, March 13, 15 (matinee), 18, 21, 27 and 29 (matinee).

Iolanta, April 10, 12 (matinee), 15 and 18.

New company subscribers can purchase subscriptions starting June 1; packages for all six productions start at $76. Single tickets will go on sale around July, and will start at $19. All performances will be at the Winspear Opera House. Learn more at DallasOpera.org.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Opera announces 2011-12 season, with some gay

The Dallas Opera has announced its lineup for next season, and it offers some particular interest for the gay community.

The season kicks off at the Winspear on Oct. 21 with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, followed the following week with the Janacek opera Katya Kabanova. The latter will star out soprano Patricia Racette, last seen in Dallas in Janacek’s Jenufa (pictured). Racette, the partner of fellow soprano Beth Clayton, will then perform at the exclusive patron recital on Nov. 9 as the featured cabaret entertainer.

The season continues in February with a staged concert of Tristan und Isolde, directed by out director Christian Rath, who last helmed Beethoven’s Fidelio here in 2002. The season concludes next April with La Traviata and Mozart’s Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones