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Joint-Operation Chamber Opera for Dallas Opera & DTC

by Jerome Weeks 15 Mar 2011 9:02 PM

In 2012, the Dallas Opera will present its first chamber opera, Peter Maxwell Davies’ psychological thriller, ‘The Lighthouse,’ in the company’s first collaboration with the Dallas Theater Center.


In another sign of the Dallas Opera continuing to bestir itself with new ventures in its new Arts District home, the company announced today that in 2012, it would present The Lighthouse, the 1979 chamber opera by British composer Peter Maxwell Davies (left) — in the Wyly Theatre, with Dallas Theater Center artistic director Kevin Moriarty handling the stage directing duties and Nicole Paiement from California’s Ensemble Parallele conducting.

The work will not be a co-production of the DTC and the DO, but it will be a collaboration, with the DO using the Wyly, while the DTC’s Moriarty is bringing along two of his favorite design-team associates, set designer Bdeowulf Boritt (A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the DTC, Sondheim on Sondheim on Broadway) and costumer Claudia Stephens (SMU professor, Into the Woods on Broadway, Dividing the Estate at DTC).

The Dallas Opera’s new general director Keith Cerny explained that with the smaller number of seats at the Wyly and with only three performances scheduled March 16-18, 2012, The Lighthouse does not represent the kind of risk entailed in a major production at the Winspear. So in the future, the Dallas Opera will be able to stage more experimental and lesser-known works instead of the big-production warhorses that have typically made up its subscription seasons.

Part ghost story, part psychological thriller, The Lighthouse is British composer Davies’ 90-minute chamber work based on an unsolved mystery. In 1900, a supply ship made its regular stop at a lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland — and found all three lighthouse tenders missing. Evidence indicated they’d left in a hurry but no sign of them was ever found. Davies, who wrote both music and lyrics, developed his own solution to the puzzle.

The Lighthouse represents a number of firsts:

  • It is the first chamber opera the Dallas Opera has produced.
  • It is the first time The Lighthouse has been presented in Dallas.
  • It is the first of what will be a regular “alternative” offering, the Dallas Chamber Opera Series, presenting either modern compositions, new commissions or Baroque pieces — shows that wouldn’t normally suit the bigger house at the Winspear. In this regard, the Dallas Opera is taking a page from the Fort Worth Opera which has often produced unconventional smaller works, like Phillip Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox, which is being staged this May.
  • It is the first time that Moriarty has directed an opera.
  • The first collaboration between the two organizations.
  • The Dallas Opera will be the first American company committed to producing a separate chamber opera series.
  • And it’s only the second time that a woman has guest-conducted for the Dallas Opera.

Photo of Davies from bruceduffie.

The full release follows:

A Series of Contemporary Works, New Commissions and Opera Rarities Being Introduced During the 2011-2012 Season in AN HISTORIC ARTISTIC COLLABORATION WITH THE DALLAS THEATER CENTER!
With Additional Performances
MARCH 17 & 18, 2012
At the AT&T Performing Arts Center
With Support from Jessie and Charles Price

DALLAS, MARCH 15, 2011 – The Dallas Opera is extremely proud to
announce the launch of a Dallas Opera Chamber Opera Series during the upcoming
2011-2012 Season, the catalyst for a landmark artistic collaboration between TDO and
the Dallas Theater Center.

This new series, designed to complement the mainstage opera performances in the
Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, will
provide the Dallas Opera with an opportunity to produce lesser known contemporary
works, experimental pieces, captivating orchestrations and opera rarities in intimate
“jewel-box” venues.

No other American opera company is currently committed to producing a
separate chamber opera series.

“I am tremendously proud that, less than a year after taking the helm of the Dallas
Opera in exceptionally tough economic times, I am able to announce such an important
step for this company,” says Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny.

“Expanding our repertoire to include chamber opera and new commissions has
been a linchpin of my artistic vision for the Dallas Opera,” Mr. Cerny adds. “By
committing ourselves to this path and forging a landmark collaboration with Kevin
Moriarty and the Dallas Theater Center to launch this series—the first such collaboration
between our two companies—The Dallas Opera hopes to instill new excitement and a
fresh spirit of collaboration and innovation into this, and every upcoming season.

“Kevin Moriarty’s insightful stage direction, as well as his gutsy and intelligent
programming and leadership, have established him as one of the pre-eminent figures in
the Texas performing arts scene in a remarkably short time.

“Just as Nicole Paiement is an absolutely superb choice to conduct this unusual
and challenging work, Kevin is the ideal director to stage this gripping new production.”
The Dallas Opera Chamber Opera Series will be inaugurated in March of 2012
with a Dallas Opera production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ eerie 1979 thriller: a chamber
opera about an unsolved disappearance off the coast of Scotland: THE LIGHTHOUSE.

Based on actual events, the work—to be conducted by Maestra Nicole Paiement,
Artistic Director of the San Francisco’s Ensemble Parallèle, and staged by Dallas
Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty—begins with a Prologue set in the
Edinburgh Court of Enquiry. The remainder of the 90-minute opera occurs on a remote,
wind-swept island (at what is here called “Fladda Isle Lighthouse”), where a trio of
lighthouse keepers vanished without a trace. The plot of this chamber opera serves up the
supernatural and the psychological, in equal measures, yet leaves the mystery at its heart

From the composer’s notes on the opera:

The original inspiration of this work came from reading Craig Mair’s book on the
Stevenson family of Edinburgh. This family, apart from producing the famous author
Robert Louis, produced several generations of lighthouse and harbour engineers. In
December 1900 the lighthouse and harbour supply ship Hesperus based in Stromness,
Orkney, went on its routine tour of duty to the Flannan Isles light in the Outer Hebrides.
The lighthouse was empty – all three beds and the table looked as if they had been left in
a hurry, and the lamp, though out, was in perfect working order, but the men had
disappeared into thin air.

There have been many speculations as to how and why the three keepers disappeared.
This opera does not offer a solution to the mystery, but indicates what might be possible
under the tense circumstances of three men being marooned in a storm-bound lighthouse
long after the time they expected to be relieved.

“At DTC, we believe that arts organizations are stronger when they work
together,” says Dallas Theater Center Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty. “Joining
with the Dallas Opera to support their production of The Lighthouse is a great opportunity
for DTC to contribute to TDO’s outstanding work and to introduce both of our audiences
to a modern opera that they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to experience in

“For me, one of the great pleasures of living in Dallas is being able to experience
operas at TDO, so it’s a special joy for me to have this chance to direct The Lighthouse,
which will be my debut as an opera director. It’s a beautiful, complicated opera: the
score is breathtaking in its psychological depth, innate theatricality, and stunning

Adds Mr. Moriarty, “I’m thrilled to join with members of Dallas Theater Center’s
production staff and my longtime design collaborators, set designer Beowulf Boritt and
Claudia Stephens, to welcome the Dallas Opera into the Wyly Theatre, where we will
bring this important piece to life in a theatrically compelling production.”

Performances of THE LIGHTHOUSE, with support from Jessie and Charles
Price, will take place in the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre at the AT&T Performing
Arts Center (located directly across the street from the Winspear Opera House) on
Friday, March 16, 2012 at 7:30 PM; Saturday, March 17, 2012 at 7:30 PM; and on
Sunday, March 18, 2012 at 2:00 PM.

Tickets will be available to Dallas Opera Season Subscribers, followed by Dallas
Theater Center Subscribers and the general public. Further details and exact ticket prices
will be announced at a later time.

“In order for this opera to achieve its maximum impact,” explains Dallas Opera
Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, “each artist must be an excellent singer as well as an
accomplished actor. We are now finalizing contracts with three superb artists who have
demonstrated their amazing ability to etch indelible and unforgettable portraits of
characters they have portrayed in other works.

THE LIGHTHOUSE, a Dallas Opera production, will be designed by Scenic
Designer Beowulf Boritt, with costume designs by Claudia Stephens—both well-known
to local theater audiences through their work at DTC, while enjoying national reputations.

A 2009 revival of this contemporary classic prompted Geoff Brown of The Times
to write: “The Lighthouse wears its age well. By 1980, the mad clown in Davies’ music
had been subdued; he’d refreshed his language with classical forms, descriptive writing,
even take-home tunes. Indeed, his ear for pictures is so strong that Aaron Mardsden’s
black, minimalist setting stunts nothing, for the craggy rocks, wind gusts and squawking
sea birds are all in the music.”

Parking onsite will be available in the Lexus Red Parking beneath the Winspear
Opera House and the Lexus Silver Parking adjacent to the Wyly Theatre. Should those
reach capacity, additional paid parking is available at nearby One Arts Plaza and in
several surface lots. Prices range from $5 to $25 per vehicle.
Single tickets are on sale now (prices and discounts subject to availability) for the
2012 Spring Season productions, through the Dallas Opera Ticket Services Office at
214.443.1000 or online at Student Rush best-available tickets are
available for $25 (one per valid Student I.D.) ninety minutes prior to each performance.