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The Winspear's Debut Weekend: Otello and Dracula

by Jerome Weeks 25 Oct 2009 8:56 PM

It’s a twofer. The Winspear had back-to-back openings this weekend — did you hear? — with the Dallas Opera and TITAS. Bill Zeeble reports on the response to Otello and Jerome Weeks reviews Philip Glass’ Dracula.


smaller deshorties as desdemonaThe Dallas Opera launched its season Friday in the brand-new Winspear Opera house. On Saturday, Philip Glass performed in the same red venue. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reviews Glass’s score for the Dracula silent film, but first Bill Zeeble reports on Otello which, by all accounts, lived up to sonic expectations. Pictured, Alexandra Deshorties as Desdemona. Dallas Opera photos by Karen Almond.

  • KERA radio story:
  • Expanded online story:

Opening night of the Dallas Opera’s Otello by Giuseppe Verdi left audiences more than impressed by the sound.

DR. JIM DILL: “It is wonderful.”

Dr Jim Dill served on the Dallas Opera board in the 1960s and 70s.

DILL: “I’m surprised how well the voices come across. They’re essentially not really distorted. From the various points in the stage, I’m impressed it doesn’t drop off as one gets further back in the stage, or off to either side.”

Cleve Schneider says he has been attending operas for about 15 years now, and has heard productions in some of the best sounding halls in the world.

SCHNEIDER: “And the sound here, the clarity, and the ability to hear just the whisper of some of the voices in this hall is amazing compared to others.”

Myra Hull, who says she’s an inveterate opera fan, has been attending Dallas productions for 30 years. She says there’s a huge acoustical difference between the new Winspear hall and the company’s old home in Fair Park.

HULL: “And you can hear the orchestra so much better here. The pit in the music hall at Fair Park was actually surrounded by concrete which is the most acoustically non desirable material you could possibly imagine. Now everything abut the sound from the orchestra pit is as spectacular as the sound from the stage.”

Many fans said they weren’t sure they would see this world-class opera house here in their lifetime. Now that they have, they’re proud of their city. And they say it’s fitting that the opera season opened October 23rd — which would have been the late Bill Winspear’s 76th birthday.

  • Manny Mendoza’s interview with Philip Glass
  • Manny Mendoza’s review in the News
  • KERA radio review:
  • Expanded online review:

[music ‘The Crypt’ from the soundtrack, Dracula]

Saturday night TITAS made its debut at the Winspear with the Philip Glass Ensemble playing the composer’s score for Dracula, the classic horror film from 1931.

Without the film accompanying it, Glass’ soundtrack lacks atmosphere. Many people think Glass’ minimalism is just numbingly repetitive. It’s not. Within that language, the composer can build delicate longings, nervous tension or overwhelming waves of sound.

Given all the mood and suspense in the vampire film, the CD versions of Glass’ Dracula are disappointing – both the one by the Kronos Quartet and the one for solo piano, which is what you’re hearing.

But with the film projected onstage at the Winspear and the live music orchestrated for a five-piece ensemble, Dracula often worked surprisingly well. I hadn’t seen the film in 25 years, but it impressed me again with how much it achieves — with so little. No digital effects, no splatterific gallons of gore. But some tremendous sets and, of course, Bela Lugosi’s performance. He’s not an erotic, pretty-boy vampire or steroidal super-villain. Somehow, Lugosi does seem like he’s centuries old – and not fully human. He makes death aloof and formal but driven

Saturday’s audience chuckled at the flapping bats and the hokey bits, especially Dwight Frye’s over-the-top performance as Renfield. For those who can’t see past the period moviemaking (see the other reviews above), that’s all the movie seemed to be. But Glass’ score never descends into camp. At moments, it does just fill time. And sometimes at the Winspear, the audio balance had the crisply played music drowning out this film print’s fuzzy dialogue.

But by the end, the music — and Lugosi — made the silly and tattered old figure of the vampire seem almost majestic.

[music “The End of Dracula”]

SPECIAL NOTE: In the question-and-answer session that followed, TITAS’ executive director Charles Santos made the remarkable announcement that TITAS is working on bringing Einstein on the Beach — the landmark, five-and-a-half-hour opera by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson — to Dallas “in a year or two.”