For the next season-and-a-half, the Dallas Opera will face a situation that has restricted its options since its inception in 1957. The physical and technical limitations of the Music Hall at Fair Park and the need to coordinate with other organizations has forced the company to space out its productions. This season, for instance, there is almost a two-month gap between December’s Merry Widow and February’s Salome. Though not as great, there are significant spaces between the other productions.
The opening of the Winspear Opera House in 2009 will change that. The Dallas Opera has first call on scheduling (it will share the house with Texas Ballet Theater and other event sponsors). This, along with the Winspear’s up-to-date technical capabilities, will allow quick changes of productions.
The Houston Grand Opera’s current schedule demonstrates the advantages Dallas will possess starting two seasons from now. This past weekend it was possible to see Mozart’s The Magic Flute on Friday night, Mozart’s The Abduction From the Seraglio on Saturday night and The Magic Flute again on Sunday afternoon. The same possibility exists for the coming weekend.
This makes a trip to Houston more worthwhile for a Dallas music-lover. In fact, there were Dallasites in attendance last weekend, as there undoubtedly will be this weekend. Throw in the possibility of a Houston Symphony Orchestra concert, and it makes a long weekend an especially attractive proposition. Starting in 2009-2010, there may be a counterflow of Houstonians to Dallas.
Houston’s pairing of two Mozart operas may seem a little strange (I can imagine the wails of the marketing department), but it makes sense. As different as they are, especially in musical atmosphere, there are striking parallels. Each has two couples-in-love, one high-born, the other low (Tamino/Pamina and Papageno/Papagena in The Magic Flute, Belmonte/Konstanze and Pedrillo/Blonde in The Abduction). Each has a comic villain (Monostatos in The Flute, Osmin in The Abduction). Each has a wise and benevolent father figure (Sarastro in The Flute, Pasha Selim in The Abduction). And each usually has an exotic setting (mythological Egypt in The Flute, Ottoman Turkey in The Abduction). I say “usually” because you never know what a director and designer might do with an opera (see below).
The two performances I saw were pleasant but just a tad bland. I left the hall glad that I had come, but with the feeling that these were not performances I would sacrifice to attend. The most striking figure was the Osmin of Andrea Silvestrelli, a giant of a man with an earthquakey bass voice and a flair for comedy.
The other principals were competent, and occasionally more. They included, in The Abduction, Paul Groves as Belmonte, Nicholas Phan as Pedrillo, Richard Spuler as Pasha Selim (a speaking part), Pamela Armstrong as Konstanze and Heidi Stober as Blonde. In The Magic Flute, principals included Eric Cutler as Tamino, Patrick Carfizzi as Papageno, Rebekah Camm as Pamina, Raymond Aceto as Sarastro, Albina Shagimuratova as the Queen of the Night, Jon Kolbet as Monostatos and Alicia Gianni as Papagena.
William Lacey (Abduction) and Steven Sloane (Magic Flute) led excellent performances by the Houston Grand Opera orchestra.
The Magic Flute production, with staging by Kevin Newbury and sets and costumes by David Hockney, is fairly traditional, though Hockney’s toying with perspective is striking.
The Abduction production is something else. Director James Robinson, set designer Allen Moyer and costume designer Anna R. Oliver have set the opera in the 1920s aboard the Orient Express. This doesn’t make much sense: What’s the need for an abduction, can’t the captive couples simply leap off the train at the next friendly stop? But at least the train-car set is luxurious, harking back to the golden age of rail travel.
And besides, when has opera ever had to make a lot of sense?