Don't Miss Fort Worth Opera's 2014 Festival, Opening This Weekend

Ellen Appel
The cast of Fort Worth Opera's upcoming production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte (Kathryn Leemhuis, Scott Quinn, Paul Scholten and Jan Cornelius)

The 2014 Fort Worth Opera Festival starts this weekend and you know what that means: time to head to Cowtown and binge-watch opera.

Instead of spreading productions out across several months, the Fort Worth Opera presents their entire season in just three, short, drama-packed weeks (April 19 through May 11). This year the schedule even makes it possible to catch performances of all four productions over the course of just one weekend (May 2-4), giving audiences the option to gorge themselves on operas Netflix-style.

This year's festival offerings include comedy and tragedy, large-scale, grandiose productions and an intimate chamber opera as well as the fascinating juxtaposition of old and new music. In addition to familiar works by Mozart (Cosi fan tutte) and Bizet (The Pearl Fishers), the FWO has taken on the exciting challenge of presenting audiences with two modern operas by contemporary American composers (Kevin Puts' Silent Night and Daniel Crozier's With Blood, With Ink). Whether you plan to attend them all or pick and choose your own operatic adventure, the preview below will give you a good idea of what to expect. Here's the rundown:

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Khatia Buniatishvili's Bold, Brash Recital at the Winspear Opera House Disappointed

Khatia Buniatishvili at the Echo Klassik Awards in Berlin last September. She wore the same dress at the Winspear on Tuesday

There was nothing subtle about Khatia Buniatishvili's piano recital on Tuesday night at the Winspear Opera House. As soon as she took the stage, the 26-year-old Georgian pianist grabbed the audience's attention in a stoplight red, figure-hugging sequined gown that popped against the Winspear's signature red and gold splashed curtain. She played some of the biggest, showiest repertoire a pianist can perform, starting the program with Franz Liszt's daunting Piano Sonata in B Minor and ending with Stravinsky's notoriously thorny Pétrouchka. Everything about her performance-style was bold to the point of brash, demanding attention for sure, but sacrificing musicality along the way.

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The Best Classical Concerts to Hear in Dallas this April

Forget Google Glass. Opera glasses are where it's at.
So. Many. Operas. And good ones, too!

With The Dallas Opera wrapping up its season and the Fort Worth Opera kicking off its acclaimed annual festival, there's loads of opera to be heard on area stages this month. There is also plenty of chamber music available in April, with concerts that feature standard repertoire from the 19th century as well as more diverse modern offerings (i.e. music for the accordian and a percussion ensemble playing on two-by-fours). Let's get to it:

April 4: An Accordionist and Animation Artist Collaborate at the Nasher's Soundings Concert.
A pianist accompanies a tenor and mezzo-soprano in The Diary of One Who Disappeared, a dramatic song-cycle by Czech composer Leos Janacek that tells the story of a young boy who disappears, running away from home to chase love. The second half of the concert features a unique collaboration between accordionist and composer Merima Kljueo and animation artist Ruah Edelstein. Kljueo's unique piece tells the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an ancient Jewish manuscript saved from destruction.

April 5, 11 and 13: A Fun Barber of Seville at The Dallas Opera
The Dallas Opera wraps up it's 2013/2014 season with a colorful, high-energy production of this familiar comedic opera. It's smart, witty, entertaining and beautifully sung. You can check out my full review of this production here. In addition to live performances at the Winspear Opera House, the April 11 performance of Barber will be simulcast (for free!) at the Cowboy's AT&T Stadium. For tickets and more information, visit the opera's website.

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The Dallas Opera's "Barber of Seville" is Campy, Fun and Expertly Sung

Karen Almond, Dallas Opera
Dr. Bartolo, played by Donato DiSteafano, (left) is fooled by Count Almaviva, played by Alek Shrader, who shows up in disguise as a music teacher with a tiny violin.
"Just so you know, the first act is an hour and a half long," the attendant warned as she handed me a program for The Dallas Opera's Sunday matinee performance of The Barber of Seville and directed me to my seat.

While I'm sure her comment was meant as a friendly (if not also a bit motherly) suggestion to hit up the lady's room before I settled into my seat, it sounded ominous, as if she was preparing all who entered for some kind of lengthy operatic purgatory.

Opera can be challenging theater. It's a complex medium -- combining theatrical, musical and visual arts -- that is notoriously hard to pull off well and has a penchant for long-windedness. When it is great, it is transcendent, but when all of those elements don't meld together successfully, it can be a bit of a drag.

On Sunday I was already feeling a little bummed to be indoors instead of out on such a gorgeous spring day. As I settled into my seat, I tried to push visions of sunny patios and mimosas out of my mind and reminded myself of what so many faithful opera-goers often do: "I sat through Wagner's entire Ring cycle! Ninety minutes of Rossini is a breeze."

As soon as the curtain rose on the whimsical set and the familiar, lively strains of Rossini's music rose from the pit, I forgot about everything outside the Winspear Opera House. This production flies by -- in part because both musical and comedic timing are incredibly fast-paced -- but mostly because across the board the acting and singing is exceptional.

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Review: At the Dallas Symphony, Two Young Pianists and Two Very Different Takes on Romantic Piano Music

Jan Lisiecki's Facebook Page
Jakub Hrusa and Jan Lisiecki in 2013
Last night a tall, skinny teenager with an unruly mop of straw-blonde hair reminded Dallas Symphony audience members that not all millennials are created equal. Jan Lisiecki celebrated his 19th birthday last Sunday, and while I'm sure he knows his way around a smart-phone as well as any other kid born in the '90s, his performance of Chopin's first piano concerto last night at the Meyerson Symphony Center was one of the most mature renditions of the piece I've heard.

Sporting adorably over-shined shoes and an over-sized bow tie, Lisiecki was mesmerizing to watch as he spun one chromatic blur of notes after another from his right hand. Chopin's first piano concerto is a thorny one, with fewer big, memorable orchestral moments than the Rachmaninoff concerto featured on last week's DSO program. It's easy for pianists to get bogged down in this piece, but last night Lisiecki and Czech conductor Jakub Hrusa propelled it forward with rhythmic drive and impeccably planned and coordinated rubatos.

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Jay Hunter Morris on Die tote Stadt, Siegfried and Winning a Grammy

Jay Hunter Morris won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording in 2013.
What is it like to win a Grammy? According to tenor Jay Hunter Morris, the star of The Dallas Opera's current production of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt, "It's the most crazy, good thing ever!"

"I feel like five years ago not a soul on this earth, myself included, would've believed that I would win a Grammy," he confesses. "It really is just the most unexpected, coolest thing ever." And where does he keep it? In his living room in Roswell, Georgia, of course.

In 2011, Morris was tapped as an understudy to sing the title role in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Wagner's Siegfried when the scheduled performer fell ill. This was a big moment in his career, and Morris nailed the massively difficult role. He has since sung Siegfried in two consecutive Ring Cycles at the Met, the recording of one of which won him a 2013 Grammy.

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Review: The Dallas Opera Works Hard to Pull Off Die tote Stadt

The Dallas Opera
Jay Hunter Morris and Mardi Byers Star in The Dallas Opera's Production of Korngold's Die tote Stadt.

In addition to presenting high quality renditions of old favorites like Carmen, La bohème or Don Giovanni, great opera companies also take artistic risks by presenting audiences with new or unfamiliar works. The Dallas Opera deserves props for bringing not one, but two rarely performed operas to the stage in its 2013/2014 season. A recent production of Tod Machover's 2010 opera Death and the Powers brought contemporary music with a technological twist to the stage. The company's current production of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt highlights music that, while composed nearly a century ago, has rarely been performed in the United States, and therefore is still "new" to most in the audience.

The Dallas Opera made a good choice when it chose to stage Die tote Stadt, a dark psychological thriller that follows the mental and emotional meltdown of the lead character (Paul) in the wake of his beloved wife's death. Dramatically, the lines between reality and mental hallucination become increasingly blurred as the opera progresses, pulling you into Paul's dark, obsessive world with disturbing effect. Korngold's music swells with complex, intoxicating harmonies and sumptuous orchestration. It's a great opera with fantastic music and a compelling storyline that is worth getting to know.

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Applause 101: Everything You Need to Know About Clapping at a Classical Concert

To clap, or not to clap, that is the question
If you've ever attended a classical concert, you've probably experienced that awkward, hesitant half-clapping that sometimes occurs at the end of a symphonic movement: The music stops, the hall falls silent and, whether out of nervous habit or honest enthusiasm, a few audience members start to clap. But like a slow clap that doesn't catch on, the applause is quickly quelled by those in the room who are following the traditional "rules" of the genre (no clapping between movements). What results is a sort of flaccid, uncertain response that leaves everyone feeling awkward ("Eek, I shouldn't have clapped!" or "Argh, those idiots don't know when to clap").

See also: Tito Munoz on Conducting, Gimmicks and Why Clapping Between Movements Is OK

In his recent review of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's ReMix concert, Dallas Morning News classical music critic Scott Cantrell posed a question: "It's great to see new audiences at a symphony concert," he noted, "but is there some non-snooty way to suggest holding applause between movements?"

Well, Mr. Cantrell, probably not, especially in reference to a concert that was clearly billed as relaxed and informal. Anytime you tell someone who paid for a ticket to hear a performance that their response to that performance was somehow wrong or incorrect, it is definitely going to sound snooty. It's like saying, "We're glad you imbeciles came to see our fancy schmancy art music, but your response was totally gauche." Not a particularly inviting sentiment for an art form that needs to cultivate younger audiences if it is to thrive in the future.

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Open Classical Adds Tap Dance to New Show The Bach and Wing

Categories: Music Notes

Serken Zanagar

Bach's music performed at borderline speed metal pacing with disco beats, check. Tap dancers doing things that would put you into immediate cardiac arrest, check. Side story about Mozart in a comedic love triangle, check. This is The Bach and Wing--Live Classical Music Tap Dance Extravaganza, the latest tweaked and twisted offering from Open Classical. They're the mad classical geniuses who brought you things like amplified chamber music concerts and a comedy Halloween show with decomposing Beethoven and Mozart.

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The Best Classical Concerts to Hear in Dallas this March

Categories: Music Notes

Dallas Symphony Orchestra
If you go to a classical concert in Dallas this month expecting to see 50 shades of gray hair in the audience and/or onstage, you'll likely be surprised. Several local organizations are gearing their programming towards younger crowds this March, wooing the under-40 set with more relaxed concerts in alternative venues and plenty of booze. Both the Dallas Chamber Symphony and The Dallas Opera are seeking out fresh, new talent, hosting open-to-the-public competitions for young pianists and vocalists. In fact, the majority of this month's most interesting concerts feature young performers. Here's the rundown:

March 6: The Polyphony Foundation Presents Young Arab and Israeli Musicians Side by Side
Harmony: it's easier said than done when it comes to blending both sounds and cultures. The goal of the Polyphony Foundation is to teach young Arab and Israeli students to find common ground as they practice and perform classical music together. On Thursday, March 6, this group of talented young string players will perform at Southern Methodist University as part of their 2014 spring tour of American cities (other stops include Los Angeles and Washington D.C.). Tickets are $40 and the concert takes place in the Owen Arts Center's Caruth Auditorium. In addition to string quartet music provided by these inspiring students, Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza will perform. For tickets and more information, visit the Jewish Community Center of Dallas' website.

March 7: The Dallas Symphony's ReMix Series Returns
Last fall, the Dallas Symphony launched ReMix, a new series in a new venue with marketing clearly aimed at courting a younger crowd. This weekend the series returns for its second installment, again offering a concert in a smaller, less formal venue (Dallas City Performance Hall instead of the Meyerson Symphony Center), drinks you can sip during the show and an opportunity to hobnob with musicians post-concert. Tito Muñoz, a 30-year-old American conductor who made a name for himself working with the alternative music venue/club Le Poison Rouge in New York, will lead the orchestra in a concert that features Argentinian composer Astor Piazzola's electric "Four Seasons". For tickets, visit the orchestra's website.

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