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

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