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

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

Tomlin-BPatterson03Now that January is behind us, and it seems we don’t have to expect icy weather any time soon (though in Texas, ya never know), a lot of events are springing up for your entertainment calendar.

This is a busy weekend for limited-run events, many with gay appeal. Tonight and twice on Saturday, the Turtle Creek Chorale and Uptown Players co-present a concert version of the Terrence McNally-penned musical Ragtime at the City Performance Hall. I saw it last night, and, while long, it has some terrific singing — and acting — especially from Markus Lloyd and Tyce Green.

On Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. and again a 2 p.m., Susan Nicely performs a free mini-opera, portraying Julia Child in Bon Appetit! at the Demonstration Kitchen inside the Farmers Market. To RSVP, go to DallasOpera.org. That evening, the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet performs … and that’s a company that’s truly inventive. (We have a preview of it here.)

You can go to the ballet and still get out in time to see dance diva Kristine W headline the Carnivale celebration at Station 4 — she goes on at midnight.

On Sunday, Lily Tomlin, pictured, brings her one-woman show to the Winspear, performing her classic characters. She’s one of the legends of American comedy — you don’t want to miss it.

In addition, Mardi Gras is on Tuesday, Valentine’s Day is on Thursday, and next week welcomes to major touring productions — Catch Me If You Can at Fair Park (remember: DSM’s shows now begin a half-hour earlier than before — that’s 7:30 p.m. at nighttime performances!) and Anything Goes at the Winspear.

Don’t say you’re bored — there’s too frickin’ much to do!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Overtures: Our classical music calendar

Bell Joshua_ Perf shot 1 2010_PC Eric Kabik

Now that the holiday concerts are behind us, the classical season returns in full in February — and none too soon. Our classical music expert, Gregory Sullivan Isaacs, offers these notes on what to look for in February:

• Things start out with the truly amazing pianist, Nobuyuki Tsujii. Born blind, the 24-year-old Japanese man tied for the gold medal at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. He learns all of his scores (some of the most complex in the repertoire) one note at a time. His performance has to be experienced live to be understood. You can hear him with the Fort Worth Symphony on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 1 and 2, at 8 p.m., and Sunday for a 2 p.m. matinee. He will play Tchaikovsky’s first concerto, which rocketed Van Cliburn himself to fame in 1958 in Moscow.

• Next weekend, the Dallas Opera takes you into both the oven and the frying pan with Lee Hoiby’s Opera Bon Appetit! Mezzo soprano Susan Nicely portrays food goddess and gay icon Julia Child in this tuneful and delicious amuse bouche. It’s a one-day-only event (Feb. 9), but there are two performances: one at 11:30 a.m. and one at 2 p.m. It will be presented not in the opera house, but in the Dallas Farmers Market Demonstration Kitchen. Where else? Admission is free, but reservations are needed.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 02.17.12

Friday 02.17Vera-Pearl-3qtr

Time to get funked up
While the late Whitney Houston recharged one of Chaka Khan’s biggest hits, there’s no denying the funk queen’s own style. Khan comes to Dallas for a night of some legendary R&B with The O’Jays, Jeffrey Osborne, The Mary Jane Girls and Ohio Players as part of the Love Train show. What’s better — that’s not even the entire roster.

DEETS:
American Airlines Center
2500 Victory Ave.
6 p.m.

$24.50–$79.50.
Ticketmaster.com.

……………………..

Sunday 02.19

Knight in shining armor
The Dallas Opera gets all soap opera like in their production of Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. Sparks fly between a princess and a knight, but her husband isn’t too thrilled. He also happens to be the king. The tale is a classic and doomed love story, but the show gets a refreshed touch with this modern production.

DEETS:
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
2 p.m. Through Feb.
25. $25–$275
ATTPAC.org.

……………………..

Tuesday 02.21

No helper needed for this Tuna
Joe Sears and Jaston Williams reprise our favorite roles for Tuna’s Greatest Hits: 30 Years of Laughter. Vera, Bertha, Petey and the rest all get a bit older, but only get better as they remind us why we can’t get enough of some Tuna.

DEETS:
Eisemann Center
2351 Performance Drive, Richardson.
8 p.m. Through Mar. 4.
$44–$55.
EisemannCenter.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas Opera announces abbreviated 2012-13 season, another world premiere from Heggie

Last year, in a major cost-cutting initiative, the Dallas Opera trimmed its season from the planned five full-production operas (plus a chamber piece) down to four, one of which was scaled back to a concert version. The upcoming season looks even more spartan, with only three full-scale shows in 2012-13. But beyond that, there’s hope for some big things.

The so-called “Pursuit of Passion” season kicks off Oct. 26 with Verdi’s Aida, which will be directed by gay British composer John Copley. (I’ve been interviewing Copley for 10 years, and he always says he’s about to retire. So far, it hasn’t stuck… all the better for us. Aida will be followed in the spring with Puccini’s classic Turandot on April 6 and the return on April 12 of The Aspern Papers, which got its world premiere  25 years ago (in 1988) at the Dallas Opera.

But TDO isn’t just reminding us of its past premieres; it promises another in 2015 … once again from gay composer Jake Heggie.

Heggie, pictured — who composed Moby-Dick for its world premiere at the Winspear Opera House in the TDO’s inaugural season there — is teaming again with gay playwright and librettist Terrence McNally for the first time since Dead Man Walking. Great Scott will kick off its 2015-16 season. The rest of that season has not been announced.

The current season continues Feb. 16 with a concert version of Tristan und Isolde, followed by The Lighthouse, La Traviata and Die Dauberflote (The Magic Flute).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: Racette an easy singer in a special TDO concert at the Winspear on Wednesday

Last night afforded opera fans the last chance to see a Dallas Opera presentation until 2012 — well, sort of. Soprano Pat Racette, who was supposed to portray Katya Kabonova this month before the production was canceled, still managed to play the Winspear in a special 70-minute cabaret set. (“In honor of Janacek, I have translated all the lyrics into Czech,” she joked.) Although she said she wouldn’t be singing opera, just classics, she couldn’t resist the chance to turn on the pipes big-time for “La Vie en Rose,” which was met with thunderous applause.

For those who sniff at the overblown style of opera, Racette could probably make a convert of ya. She was jokey and easy-going onstage with a torch singer’s facility. She also was refreshingly open. She someone from the audience yelled out, “Is Beth here?,” Racette didn’t hesitate to give shout-outs to her wife, mezzo Beth Clayton, and her in-laws, who were all in the hall. She even played around a bit with Gershwin, changing the lyric “I got my man” to “I got my gal” for one verse.

The set, consisted of several medleys and three encores, ran the gamut from Piaf to the novelty song “To Keep My Love Alive,” all met with warmth by the audience, populated with season subscribers. The worst thing about the evening? Being reminded that we would not get to see her do Katya. Here’s to hoping the TDO adds her back into the mix in a season real soon.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Last chance to see ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’ at Dallas Opera

This week, we have an interview with soprano Pat Racette, who will be doing a special cabaret concert for Dallas Opera season ticketholders Wednesday, but not the planned full-scale opera she had been set for. That means you have to wait until the spring for the second production of the TDO season. But there’s still time to catch the last performance of its season premiere, Lucia di Lammermoor, which will be performed Sunday at 2 p.m. As I said in my review, it’s a marvelous show. Visit DallasOpera.org for tickets. Heck, maybe even sign up for a season and see Racette perform.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Aria there yet?

Patricia Racette, half of the lesbian power couple of opera, has certainly arrived. And that’s music to our ears

PR-Devon-Cass-5

QUEEN OF OPERA | Stunning soprano Patricia Racette was disappointed when the Dallas Opera canceled her production of ‘Katya Kabanova,’ but she still gets to perform at the Winspear this week with a cabaret performance featuring jazz and pop classics. (Photo courtesy Devon Cass)

 

GREGORY SULLIVAN ISAACS | Contributing Writer
gregoryisaacs@theaterjones.com

…………………..

AN EVENING OF CABARET
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St. Nov. 9 at 7:30 p.m. Free to Dallas Opera season
subscribers. DallasOpera.org.
………………….

From the outside, the opera world seems like a gay haven — costumes, wigs, oversized egos, passionately dying divas full of drama. The fans are legendary in their devotion — the term “opera queen” is one that is used for self-identification more than it is tossed as a jab.

On the inside, however, it is mostly a gloriously appointed closet. While those who work in the opera, both onstage and off, are mostly straight, a large contingent are lesbians and gay men. They may be out to one another, and even show up at the gala with their partners, but few are out beyond the curtains.

Not so for the stunningly beautiful opera star Patricia Racette. “I am out and proud,” say the soprano in a phone interview. “Everyone has their own timing and their own issues to face, but I have never regretted coming out.”

Racette, who will sing leading roles in both Tosca and Madame Butterfly at the Met in 2012, is married to Beth Clayton, a mezzo-soprano justifiably famous for her smoldering portrayal of Carmen. They met while singing a production of La Traviata in Santa Fe in 1997, Racette playing the ill-fated Violetta and Clayton portraying her loyal friend Flora. (I always wondered about those two characters.) The couple married in 2005.

“It is inconceivable that we would be hiding our relationship,” Racette says. “If I were to be lying to everyone about such a huge aspect of my life, it would affect my performance. I am a total package and I certainly can’t leave part of me at home when I walk onstage.”

Any irony in a lesbian playing Tosca, the ultimate straight woman? Racette laughs at that thought. “We are past that nonsense in the theater and on television as more and more actors come out. In Tosca, I am portraying the circumstances of being passionately in love and I have my own love for Beth to dig into for motivation.”

In this, she is absolutely correct — you don’t need to be a whore to play Carmen. “There is a certain suspension of reality in opera,” Racette adds.

Racette admits to some apprehension at the start of her decision to come out, but it was short-lived. She looked at it in reverse: All her straight colleagues talked freely about their personal lives and the demands of spending so much time on the road, why not her?

“I thought, wait a minute. If I try to avoid these kinds of questions about my personal life, they will think that I am ashamed, like my love for Beth is some kind of dirty secret. For decades, the ‘It’s nobody’s business’ mantra kept opera singers in the closet. I can’t judge what other people do, but when

I hear that I think, ‘Too bad.’ They have no idea how liberating it is to just put all that baggage in the trash and live openly. If I want everyone else to think that my life is great, I have to show how great it is myself.”

Has this adversely affected her career? Hardly, as her Met engagements indicate. Clayton as well continues to get juicy roles. But she realizes that you can never know what you didn’t get.

“I am always asked this question and I always give the same answer. I just don’t know, and can never know unless someone tattles later. However, it really doesn’t matter. The opera world is full of as many disappointments as triumphs.”

One big disappointment was the cancellation of Janacek’s opera Katya Kabanova at the Dallas Opera this season. Racette was scheduled to sing the leading role in a glorious production in which she has triumphed in the past. “That one really hit me in the gut. I was so excited to return to Dallas. I went to school at North Texas State University and have many friends still in the area. I was especially looking forward to singing in the new house opera house.”

She will get to sing in the Winspear on Nov. 9, but it will be a far cry from Janacek. Racette performs her one-night cabaret as a bonus show to TDO patrons. Unlike other classical artists that seem stiff in crossover work, Racette started out singing jazz and cabaret; she switched to opera at the suggestion of an astute teacher. Accordingly, her program is a tribute to songs made famous by some of her favorite singers, and like any good gay person, Judy Garland and Edith Piaf top that list.

“Don’t expect any high notes,” she laughs. “I do in fact belt a few higher notes in the evening, but the reality is that my technique is speech-based. That translates into whatever style of music I sing. Sometimes, my opera fans are surprised that I can sing this way and not hurt my ‘other’ voice. But my technique allows for both styles and I sing in exactly same way — just in wildly different ranges.”

I ask Racette about Tosca’s great moment when she leaps off the castle wall to her death, cursing her tormentor on the way down. “Katya makes a leap as well, but into a river. Of course, Tosca is an opera diva, so her leap is much more spectacular. I always tell them to make it real and take some chances. However, I may feel like I am 17 when I am flying through the air, but I feel like I am every bit of 46 when I land.”

There is another unique “coming out” from Racette: She’s an opera singer who admits her age.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Dallas Opera opens season with ‘Lucia di Lammermoor’

She will cut you

The Dallas Opera opens its season with Lucia di Lammermoor, about Lucia, who isn’t too fond of her future husband. So much so, she takes matters into her own hands. For opera newbies, TDO offers a free public simulcast of the opening night in Sammons Park. One way or another, you’ll see how Lucia copes with a deceitful brother and the man he tricks her into marrying.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7:30 p.m. Through Nov. 6. $25–$275. ATTPAC.org.

—  Rich Lopez