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

Ahn white closeNEW

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

IMG_00075

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

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