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More Out-of-Town Notices on the Winspear, the Wyly and Otello


by Jerome Weeks 27 Oct 2009

Of course, you’ve probably read (or heard about) Edwin Heathcote’s takedown of the entire Arts District in the Financial Times. A tad overstated, perhaps, because Heathcote sees no viable model for a city except the classic European one: Dallas’ downtown, he writes, “is a melange of defunct US tropes: mirror-glazed blank-slab offices, massive multi-storey carparks, […]

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smaller forbisOf course, you’ve probably read (or heard about) Edwin Heathcote’s takedown of the entire Arts District in the Financial Times. A tad overstated, perhaps, because Heathcote sees no viable model for a city except the classic European one: Dallas’ downtown, he writes, “is a melange of defunct US tropes: mirror-glazed blank-slab offices, massive multi-storey carparks, conference centres that have the size and aspect of walled cities.” Reading Heathcote, one would conclude the only solution to the influence of American cars and freeways would be to bulldoze everything and start over.

Which — surprise — is more or less what Dallas has repeatedly tried to do, and with these results. But there is much truth here, too:

The Arts District is the cultural version of that city. Here star projects sit in self-satisfied isolation, unrelated to each other, unconcerned. Valet parking attendants ensure that patrons arrive and depart without being contaminated by any sense of urban life. The two new buildings try, and broadly fail, to address the problems. Yet they are far from failures in themselves.

Then there’s  George Loomis, also in the FT, on the Dallas Opera’s Otello:

The cast for Verdi’s late masterpiece is not one for the history books, yet in Tim Albery’s production and in these premises it gives a gripping performance. Alexandra Deshorties’s moving portrayal of Desdemona is a case in point. Her voice, while basically attractive, lacks Italianate bloom and can sound shrill on top. But she transcends these flaws, because you can appreciate expressive details of her performance and attention to words – qualities that can get lost in a large house like the Met.

And on the third hand, here is Jeremy Gerard (former New York Times-man and my predecessor as theater critic at the Dallas Morning News) writing for Bloomberg. He calls the entire Otello production “misguided”:

Baker’s tri-level concrete bunker of a set offers no imposing castle, no inviting gardens or plaza and a marital bedroom with all the charm of a naval barracks. Thomas C. Hase’s mysterious lighting frequently left singers in shadow. Confined to such a hell, Desdemona would welcome death. It’s hideous ….

If you closed your eyes, the last act really packed emotional punch. Deshorties produced a lovely line with Desdemona’s heart-breaking Willow Song; Forbis sang a moving death scene, even if he seemed uncertain how to kill Desdemona …

Ultimately, the real hero was the guy in the pit, music director Graeme Jenkins, who has spent 15 seasons fighting the acoustics at the company’s former home. On Friday night he conducted as though he’d died and gone to heaven.

As for the Wyly:

[The theater’s multiple configurations] are not new, and wrapping a shiny exoskeleton around a bad theater still leaves you with a bad theater; just ask anyone who has watched a show in Koolhaas’s Second Stage Theater in Times Square….

There seems to be no quiet way for the actors to make exits and entrances; footsteps on metal stairs throughout the building pierce the walls, as do noises from the lobby. The seats are torture-chamber hard….

They say people will endure a great deal to see great theater. [Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin] Moriarty, whose vision and commitment I admire, has his work cut out for him.

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  • Rawlins Gilliland

    Never have so many out of town ‘reviewers’ seemed more petty and provincial. Whether reviewing the building venues or their premier productions, these annointed tribal envy resembles drool to those accustomed to discerning archaic slurs.

    Collectively, these ‘critics’ sound like aging harpies on diet pills; Beefeaters on-the-rocks or a Tom Collins in hand. Sitting around a cocktail lounge round corner booth table in a yesteryear hotspot. Sneering: that I.M. Pei was at best a ‘1970s has been’ while any young and talented newcomer who is turning heads is a ‘prebubescent Cretan’ while dissing Rene Fleming as an Elaine Stritch reject.

  • Rawlins Gilliland

    Never have so many out of town ‘reviewers’ seemed more petty and provincial. Whether reviewing the building venues or their premier productions, these anointed tribal envy resembles drool to those accustomed to discerning archaic slurs.

    Collectively, these ‘critics’ sound like aging harpies on diet pills; Beefeaters on-the-rocks or a Tom Collins in hand. Sitting around a cocktail lounge round corner booth table in a yesteryear hotspot. Sneering: that I.M. Pei was at best a ‘1970s has been’ while any young and talented newcomer who is turning heads is a ‘prepubescent Cretan’ while dissing Renee Fleming as an Elaine Stritch reject.

  • topham beauclerk

    Heathcote’s “review” — more of a mirror of the reviewer’s prejudices than a window into the PAC — made me laugh out loud. Rawlins’ riposte made me laugh even harder.

    But, it’s juvenile merely to laugh off these critics, however much they deserve it. For all their prejudices, they’re right that the PAC won’t be finished until in-fill allows people to get dinner before a performance or a drink afterward, or, maybe best of all, pick up a quart of milk as they walk home from the opera house. Without street life, it’s a dead zone. And, because the economy is stalled, the city government has a chance to plan for those types of mixed-use requirements before new commercial projects are proposed for the area.