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Winspear: A Great House for Singers


by Olin Chism 16 Oct 2009

Well, the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House is open for business. It made its debut Thursday night with a varied operatic and dance program by the Dallas Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by Graeme Jenkins. Guest artists were baritone Thomas Hampson, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and Morphoses, a visiting dance company. Much has been written […]

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Well, the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House is open for business. It made its debut Thursday night with a varied operatic and dance program by the Dallas Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by Graeme Jenkins. Guest artists were baritone Thomas Hampson, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and Morphoses, a visiting dance company.

Much has been written about the Winspear’s architecture, but what about the sound? Based on Thursday night’s program, it’s going to be great for singers. The voices of Hampson and Graves projected beautifully and warmly; they made a decided impact without much effort, it seemed. The chorus sang forcefully; one can already anticipate some great choral scenes.

The orchestral sound was a little more problematic. In comparison to the singers it seemed subdued, and the sound was not well blended. Individual instruments too often assumed unwarranted prominence.

Another audio problem involved the amplified spoken word. Architect Norman Foster made a few remarks about halfway through the evening. There was a distinct echo emanating from several parts of the house. Strangely, this wasn’t apparent during the musical portion.

Some tweaking may fix the spoken-word problem, and maybe Jenkins and the orchestra can adjust to the new environment. Time will tell — and a good time will be next Friday night, when Verdi’s Otello officially opens the Dallas Opera’s season.

Thursday night’s event was festive, and the audience seemed to be favorably impressed by the hall. The large light-tube chandelier was a hit. It hovers over the audience, and when cranked up into the ceiling as the program is about to begin, it produces an effect like a star field. The field disappears when the music starts.

In one respect the Winspear is reminiscent of the Meyerson Center next door. The exterior is bold and rather modernistic, but in the audience chamber inside, tradition rules. It’s a classic horseshoe shape, and distinctly smaller than Fair Park’s Music Hall, the opera company’s old home.

One disappointment is the text-projection system. Unlike the Metropolitan Opera and the Santa Fe Opera, where seat-back translations are easy on the eyes and neck and can be turned off if the viewer isn’t interested, the Winspear projects above the stage, just like the Music Hall. Those in seats near the stage will find themselves looking virtually straight up if they want to see the words, and even those farther back will find their posture uncomfortable.

Action will be heavy throughout the AT&T Performing Arts Center this weekend. Click here for information (download the reservation form for details). Don’t forget the free open house on Sunday.

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  • Rawlins Gilliland

    VERY Glad to hear the first acoustical report sounds promising. The spoken reverb is probably an audio mic setup and can be easily tweeked. Whereas the larger and very important (as in critical) is the music’s natural airplay. Thanks Olin for the very thorough overview here.

  • Richard B

    I’m sorry to hear about the supra titles, I was hoping they would do them as the Metropolitan had done, in the back of the seats. And I know many Dallas Opera lovers go to Santa Fe every year. They felt the need to give us all personal a/c running under our seats but not personal screens for translations. I’d take the personal screen any day, does anyone know if this was a budget issue or if no one thought it important. Either way I’m still excited as all get out to see the first opera there, I bought season tickets today :), and going on Sunday to check it all out!

  • NETW

    I really thought the titles were going to be at each seat, like the highly successful system in Santa Fe. Darn.