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New Opera Initiatives in Both Dallas and Fort Worth

by Jerome Weeks 19 Jan 2012 2:56 PM

Both sides of the metroplex are generating new operas — but in different ways. And the big beneficiary has been Jake Heggie, composer of Moby-Dick.


This week, both the Dallas Opera and the Fort Worth Opera announced projects involving brand-new works. works. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports they both involve generating future operas – in different ways.

KERA radio story:

Expanded online story:

The Fort Worth Opera has begun an innovative new annual program called “Frontiers.” Up to eight new submitted compositions will be chosen blind by a panel of judges. The composers will get to hear excerpts from their works-in-progress performed in piano recitals by the festival’s singers. No other company has a showcase for unproduced operas quite like this. Word has gone viral through the classical music community.

Darren Woods (above, left) is general director of the Fort Worth Opera.

Woods: “When we started running the idea around composers in New York, I would say, ‘Would this be something that would be a game-changer? And always the answer would be, ‘Ohmigod, yes.’ “

The performances will be free to the public. Woods says public response is a vital part of the creative process.

Woods: “You can’t treat a new opera like broccoli: ‘Eat it, it’s good for you.’ You really have to make a commitment to it. So we think that this is just the next stage in our evolution.”

The Fort Worth company already stages new and contemporary works in its main season. This May, it’ll be composer Jake Heggie’s chamber opera Three Decembers. This will be the fourth staging of a work by Heggie in North Texas.

Now there’ll be a fifth one because the Dallas Opera has given Heggie (above, center) a new commission. Two years ago, the highlight of the company’s first season in the Winspear Opera House was the world premiere of Heggie’s Moby-Dick. It received national acclaim. The Dallas Opera hopes those results might repeat. The company will open its 2015 season with a world premiere by Heggie and Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally (above, right) — the two were the creative team behind Dead Man Walking and would have collaborated on Moby-Dick but McNally fell ill and Gene Scheer took over the book-writing.

Great Scott, as their new opera is titled, is based on an original story by McNally. It concerns a famous American singer, Arden Scott, who returns home to star in a new production of a forgotten operatic masterpiece. Great Scott will feature celebrated, Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in her North Texas debut. And it will be led by the rising young conductor Evan Rogister.

Wait, there’s more. There’s a sixth Heggie work still to come. The University of North Texas has commissioned the composer for his very first symphony. It will premiere next year.  The San Francisco-based Heggie says the Texas enthusiasm for his work has been a happy surprise.

Hegggie: “It does feel like that I kind of have a second creative home.”

Photo outfront by Luke McKenzie of soprano Patricia Racette in recital, Dallas Opera.