Opera review: ‘Salome’

Voigt and Grimsley in ‘Salome,’ Photos by Karen Almond, Dallas Opera.

The Dallas Opera’s second title of the season is the outrageous Salome. Perhaps the most depraved plot in all opera — and that’s saying something — this retelling of the Bible story is adapted from a German translation of Oscar Wilde’s play. Richard Strauss’ very challenging music only adds to the electrifying story. This lustful and sordid work, with a macabre conclusion, made it a good pick to open the week of Halloween.

Princess Salome (soprano Deborah Voigt) is a young woman whose powerful stepfather/uncle Herod (tenor Robert Brubaker) can’t keep his eyes and hands off her. She, in turn, is infatuated with prisoner Jokanaan aka John the Baptist (baritone Greer Grimsley) who is locked in an underground cistern. As a holy man, Jokanaan wants nothing to do with the spoiled, grasping Salome.

Voigt’s voice has a clear and pleasant tone, but unfortunately she is not well-suited for the title role. She’s more than a little too old to portray a deranged teenager, and the famous “Dance of the Seven Veils” falls flat. The choreography by Yael Levitin is fine, and the backup dancers (in flowing and beautiful dresses from costume designer Anita Yavich) are wonderful, but Voigt’s dancing is clumsy and labored.

KA2_0553AThe standout among the singers is Grimsley. His baritone powerfully reaches to the top of the Winspear, even though most of his performance comes from the underground prison. Herodias, wife of Herod and mother of Salome (mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley), was able in her limited role, while tenor Joseph Hu delivers a forceful and spirited performance as First Jew. Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson (in a trousers role) as Herodias’ page blasts a clear and sonorant voice of caution in this dark story (though why she was dressed as a soldier remains a mystery). Tenor Scott Quinn as Narraboth is strong, if not memorable.

Stage director Francesca Zambello manages to punctuate the heaviness of the story with light-hearted moments of humor. Conductor Evan Rogister marks a successful Dallas Opera debut with this musically challenging piece. Strauss wrote for a large orchestra with particularly difficult passages for the woodwinds. The musicians played admirably, especially the oboes and bassoons in their exposed passages. Though just a compact 100 minutes, it is a tough slog in the orchestra pit.

Peter J. Davison’s modernist scene design is odd-looking, though ultimately effective. The set is divided by what appears to be a giant clear shower curtain, but it was enhanced by the excellent lighting by Mark McCullough. The costumes are colorful and detailed, except for Salome’s primary costume; her dress lacks the splendor of the others at the palace. The soldiers’ costumers are strangely reminiscent of uniforms in sci-fi films. Wig and make-up design by David Zimmerman appeared to be flawless, particularly in the gory final scene.

Check out Salome if you can. The standout performances make it a far more engaging option than other ways you could spend two hours.

— Alicia Chang

—  admin

Pell stepping down as artistic director of Dallas Opera

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Jonathan Pell in the Winspear just before it opened in 2009.

Jonathan Pell, who has spent nearly 30 years with the Dallas Opera, currently as its artistic director, and who marshaled its move from Fair Park to the Winspear Opera House, is stepping down from his full-time role with the company, the DO has announced.

Pell started with the DO in 1985 as its artistic administrator and will walk away on Dec. 31 from his day-to-day role. He will stay on as “artistic advisor.”

Pell brought such luminaries to the DO for their debuts as Cecilia Bartoli, Renee Fleming, Patricia Racette, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves and Ruth Ann Swenson. He also spearheaded several world premieres, including The Aspern Papers (which was revived last season), Therese Raquin and Moby-Dick (which will return next year).

The DO will continue its operation under general director Keith Cerny and new music director Emmauel Villaume. The DO wrapped up its 54th season earlier this month.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

OPERA REVIEW: ‘Die Tote Stadt’

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Act 2 of ‘Die Tote Stadt’ by Karen Almond

Paul, a man long depressed over the death of his wife Marie, spots a woman on the streets of Bruges. Could it be…? She’s a dead-ringer for his beloved! Surely this is a sign! He invites her to his lonely mansion, hoping to woo her and relive his happiness through her. But can that ever happen? Doesn’t he see that this coarse woman lacks Marie’s refinement? How healthy can an obsession be?

That’s the plot for Erich Wolfgang’s opera Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), one of the huge operatic hits of the 1920s but rarely performed today. Indeed, Korngold’s own reputation rests more on his Oscar-winning film scores than his operas.

It’s a shame, because Stadt prefigures the psychological complexity of much of 20th century art, from Hitchcock films (especially Vertigo) to the surrealist movement and beyond. Composed when Korngold was just 23, it has a jaunty, driving through-line — much more in the nature of a dramatic underscore for a motion picture than as the basis for a traditional opera. (Despite its German title, the music is almost wholly without a ponderous tone, instead creating a late Romantic feel.)

And therein lies the conundrum. This production from the Dallas Opera, dazzlingly staged with multimedia components by director Mikael Melbye, is a feast for the eyes and ears despite the singing. While the cast is good, it’s the pulsating, lively and modern style of the music that keeps our interest. Mardi Byers, as Marie, seems occasionally overwhelmed by the score, and Jay Hunter Morris as Paul sounds frequently strained and unsure. (It is set is Bruges — maybe be was a little phlegmish. Ahem.) As much of Acts 1 and 3 are two-handers, relying on the leads to carry the narrative, this presents problems.

Those problems fade, however, when baritone Weston Hurt lumbers onstage as Paul’s friend, his rich, resonant voice undergirding the mystery of the piece, and Morgan Smith all but steals Act 2 as an actor-friend of Marie. (It also doesn’t hurt to see Tony Trahan, in a nonsinging role, providing more than a little eye candy.)

Melbye’s use of video projection and scrims is inventive, and conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing pushes the orchestra along (though he loses a bit of unity near the end of Act 3 — maybe that is just meant to reflect the swirling energy of Paul’s mind, but I doubt it). The city may be dead, but this production is very much alive.

Die Tote Stadt will be performed March 26, 29 and April 6 at the Winspear Opera House; The Barber of Seville opens there Friday.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Opera announces 6-show season

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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 selects new music director

DO general director Keith Czerny, left, present the opera's new music director, Emmanuel Villaume, right

DO general director Keith Czerny, left, and the opera’s new music director, Emmanuel Villaume, right.

Just as their 2012-13 season comes to an end, this morning Dallas Opera general director Keith Czerny announced that a new music director has been selected — only the third in the company’s 56-year history.

Emmanuel Villaume, a French-born conductor, will assume the post later this summer. Villaume Graeme Jenkins, who stepped down following his final turn at the baton with The Aspern Papers last week after serving as music director since 1994.

The Dallas Opera had announced its 2013-14 season lineup already, as well as the conductors for each show, and Villaume was already set to lead the baton for the season kick-off, Carmen. But that will not be his first time before Dallas audiences — he has conducted here in the past.

Subscriptions for season tickets are available starting at $76 for all four productions, and include benefits such as priority seating and exclusive cabaret recitals.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEWS: Operatic ‘Turandot’ vs. balletic ‘To the Wonder’

The beautiful production at Dallas Opera. Photo by Karen Almond

How unfair the opera world is: Turandot gets her name in the title, Calaf gets the big, famous aria, but Liu? She gets the tragic love story, the brutal ending and, at least in the Dallas Opera’s current production of Puccini’s last opera, the pipes. She’s the emotional focus, the true tragic hero, of this Turandot. Hei-Kyung Hong transforms the opera, wonderfully achieving emotional beauty in a powerful interpretation; she rips the rug right from under the others. That’s an accomplishment, since all the principals do excellent work.

Antonello Palombi as Calaf does well in Acts 1 and 2, but the disappointment is his “Nessun Dorma,” which for unfathomable reasons he sings mostly while sitting down, robbing his diaphragm of is strength. Aside from a technical glitch (a big one) in Act 1 of opening night, the production is a marvel of beauty and moody lighting, under Garnett Bruce’s direction an expert management of the chorus by Alexander Rom. This is your last weekend to see it, so get moving.

IMG_0631.CR2From the operatic stage to the balletic medium of film is quite a leap, but balletic is the only term to apply to Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder. By my count, only four filmmakers of the past 40 years — the late Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Jacques Annaud, David Lynch and Malick — truly qualify as cinematic artists: Directors more concerned with making visionary works that serving a commercial or even accessible audience. (A fifth, Ang Lee, is well on his way to that status as well.) These are men who make movies on their terms, inventing their own idioms and grammar. They refer almost to nothing and no one. That’s what artists get to do.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Overtures: Notes on the classical scene

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April is crowed with classical music performances, with some terrific performances coming up. Of course, it kicks off Friday as Dallas Opera opens the first of two not-to-be missed productions at the Winspear: Turandot, Puccini’s final masterpiece (and the resting place of the most popular tenor aria ever, “Nessun Dorma”), which runs April 5, 10, 13 and 19 with matinees April 7 and 21. Running concurrently, Dominick Argento’s atmospheric mystery opera, The Aspern Papers — which the Dallas Opera premiered several decades ago — will feature superstar mezzo soprano Susan Graham. It plays evening performances April 12, 17 and 20, with matinees April 14 and 28.

Can’t make it to the Winspear for Turandot? The April 13 performance will be broadcast live at Cowboys Stadium … and tickets (and parking!) are free. Visit here to avoid the rush. You won’t wanna miss the warm-up act: The classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” will screen at 6:45 followed by the video of the opera’s boffo buffa about Julia Child, Bon Appétit!

Opera season continues with the Fort Worth Opera opening its summer festival at Bass Hall with four operas in repertory. Three are warhorses, with one (Glory Denied, about a Vietnam-era war hero) a regional premiere. The revivals include Puccini’s three-hanky, tuneful La Boheme opening April 20 with the brilliant Joe Illick in the pit, and Donizetti’s knee-slapper, The Daughter of the Regiment, with local favorite Ave Pine and superstar Joyce Castle in the cast opening April 27. Illick returns to conduct Richard Strauss’ sort-of comic opera Ariadne auf Naxos, starting May 4.

The Fort Worth Symphony under Miguel Harth-Bedoya continues its centennial season with a monster concert this weekend, starting with former composer-in-residence Kevin Puts’s Network, then launching into two Russian masterpieces: Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto.

Chamber music fans get three pioneering concerts this month: The innovative Ahn Trio, which is made up of three sisters (Lucia on the piano, Angella on the violin, and Maria on the cello, pictured), brings their cutting edge music to the Winspear April 16; the equally intriguing Lawrence String Quartet plays at SMU’s Caruth Auditorium on April 26; and the same day, the outstanding Soundings series at the Nasher presents pianist Gilbert Kalish playing Ives’ monumental Concord Sonata.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

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It’s a fun week for theater, with WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival in full swing, including such gayish shows as Standing on Ceremony: The Marriage Plays from Q Live!, David Parr’s Pluto Is Listening, The Morning After Show from writer/star Ayana Hampton and director Clayton Farris, as well as live performances from favorites Amy Stevenson, Walter Lee and Diana Sheehan. There’s something going on constantly, so explore!

If you prefer to head south rather than north, well there’s gay-enough stuff at the 11th Annual New Play Competition at the Bishop Arts Theatre, from TeCo Theatrical Productions. Among the six finalists are two with gay themes (including Theophany) and one a “hetero romp” from local playwright Isabella Russell-Ides that has some delicious eye candy. It runs through Sunday.

Also on Sunday night is the queen of dishy humor, Joan Rivers. She’ll be performing at the Winspear Opera House (read our interview with Joan here). The Winspear is actually a hot-bed this week, with sexy South American dancing from Grupo Corpo Friday and the Dallas Opera gala Saturday, featuring a performance by acclaimed mezzo Susan Graves.

For midweek diversions without any acting, check out the DFW Auto Show, opening Wednesday, or laugh you ass off with hilarious gay comic Thai Rivera at the Addison Improv (also Wednesday). Then on Thursday, you can choose between the opening night festivities at the Texas Bear Round Up or check out the sneak preview of Trinity Groves as part of this year’s Savor Dallas food festival.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Overtures: Notes on the classical scene

Van Cliburn - pianist  1960Gregory Sullivan Isaacs and I have prepared this rundown of the upcoming month in classical music news.

The biggest news in local classical music is, of course, international news: The death this week of gay maestro Van Cliburn. More than even his virtuosity on the piano, his sponsorship of the Cliburn competition and performance series made him not just a force for nurturing creativity, but a magnificent asset to local culture. His impact, and his loss, cannot be overstated.

You might, then, choose to honor him by checking out one of these who benefited from his largesse. Yeol Eum Son will perform a piano recital on March 12 under the Cliburn at the Bass banner. She took the Cliburn competition 2009 silver medal and second prize in the recent Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. Many critics call her one of the best pianists alive. Her program has lots of fireworks and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. Show at 7 :30 p.m.

The Soundings series at the Nasher is always fascinating. On March 8, the program features two cellists, one surprisingly doubling on a piccolo, and a pianist who also plays the harpsichord. No hint on what they will play, but history says that it should be excellent. It starts at 7:30 p.m.

Chamber music fans have two concerts. On March 10, in the new City Performance Hall, Chamber Music International presents pianist Chih-Yi Chen and violinist Clara-Jumi Kang in sonatas by Beethoven and Mozart and what they call  “showpieces TBA.” (Curtain at 7:30 p.m.) On March 11, Dallas Chamber Music brings the outstanding Artemis String Quartet to SMU’s Caruth Auditorium at 8 p.m. In the 1990s, they won all the major competitions and their appearance should draw a full house.

Symphonic music is surprisingly scarce this month. The Dallas Symphony continues its performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Meyerson. Musical director Jaap van Zweden shines in these sprawling works so this should be a moving experience.

Music director Miguel Harth-Bedoya leads the Fort Worth Symphony in the popular Sibelius Second Symphony March 15–17. If he minds his manners and doesn’t blow your ears out, it should be a fine performance. The young violinist Stefan Jackiw joins him playing a warhorse. Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. All performances are at Bass Hall.

Looking ahead to April, get your tickets for Puccini’s Turandot, presented in all its splendor at the Winspear Opera House by the Dallas Opera. It is doubtful that there is anyone who hasn’t heard the big aria, “Nessun Dorma,” sung by everyone  from Aretha Franklin to reality TV competitors. Out baritone Jonathan Beyer takes on the role of Ping. (Look for an interview with him in an upcoming issue of Dallas Voice.) Performance are April 5, 7, 10, 13, 19 and 21. Not to be missed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas Opera announces 4-show season

Jenkins, GraemeThe Dallas Opera has announced its 2013-14 season, adding a fourth mainstage opera to this season’s smaller lineup of three major productions. That’s still under the five operas they had mounted in previous seasons.

Entitled Love Transformed, the season is made up of two familiar works, and two less well-known. It begins with Bizet’s Carmen, kicking off the season (as usual) in October. That classic will be followed in February 2014 with American composer Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers, then Erich Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in repertory in March and April.

Carmen will be directed by acclaimed gay stage director Bliss Hebert and conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. Death and the Powers, inspired by sci-fi, is a one-act opera by the still-living MIT professor Tod Machover, who specializes in a modern, rule-breaking operatic style. Die Tote Statd (The Dead City), by Hollywood composer Korngold, will be conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing and staged by Mikael Melbye.

No director or conductor was released for Barber of Seville, but it appears all four productions will have different artistic staffs. Dallas Opera musical director Graeme Jenkins, pictured, is stepping down following his conducting of The Aspern Papers, the last production of the current season. It runs in rep with Turandot starting in April.

Subscriptions for season tickets start at $76 for all four productions, and include benefits such as priority seating and exclusive cabaret recitals. DallasOpera.org.

 

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones