Shedding Light on Artistic Vision: Q&A with Iolanta Scenic Designer and Director, and Lighting Designer

Categories: Opera

Dallas Opera

By Linda Smith

Pyotr Tchaikovsky was never a fan of his last opera Iolanta, finished a year before his death in 1893. He felt it repeated themes from his earlier operas, and the plot is simple, especially when compared to other works in the operatic genre. As such, it is rarely performed. Iolanta takes us through the world of the title character, who is born a blind princess. She is raised by castle servant Bertrand and his wife Marta, and is unaware of her blindness and status. In fact, she naïvely and tragically believes that eyes are only for crying. The opera is a back-and-forth between two helpful characters -- a doctor who can cure Iolanta's blindness and her love interest Count Vaudémont -- and her well-meaning yet obstinate father King René.

Scenic designer and director Christian Räth, and light designer Thomas C. Hase explain their vision for Iolanta, and how this production came about.

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The Dallas Opera's La Boheme Captures Puccini's Poetry and Heartbreak

Categories: Opera

Karen Almond, Dallas Opera

As the curtain opens at the Dallas Opera, behind it are glimpses of the city of lights of a century ago complete with shop-fronts stenciled with French appellations and Parisian apartments whose residents are visible in their second-floor windows. Scenic designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle has created a vivid world that invites us into another time and place, one where we can fantasize of love's power to warm the coldest hand and conquer the vilest illness. This is Pucciniʼs romantic masterpiece, La Boheme.

The Winspear Opera house crackled with energy last Friday evening awaiting the Dallas Opera debut of celebrated conductor Riccardo Frizza. Frizza exceeded all expectations with his perceptive direction of the orchestra, enabling the audience to experience a range of emotions from laughter to tears.

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The Dallas Opera's Everest Will Get You High

Categories: Opera

Karen Almond

The opera will always be operatic. This may seem a redundant, or obvious thing to write, but this can be the paramount struggle for a contemporary audience member. If you didn't grow up on staples like Madame Butterfly or Carmen -- and who really does anymore? -- it's unlikely you'll find yourself buying tickets to see anything that bills itself as an opera, especially anything that's not Puccini or Verdi.

This is not to say the opera lacks relevance. Certainly, writers are still penning librettos and composers are still creating music for the human voice. In fact, opera can still be seen at the forefront of musical progress. As recently as 2013, Phillip Glass has premiered new operas, and he's not the only one. Across the globe, opera is not dying, but like every art form, it's struggling to establish its place in the contemporary world. What are the sounds of an opera in the 21st century? What stories are best told this way? What are the interests, the societal fixations, the struggles, the fascinations that can be explored at the opera house? Here in Dallas, we are lucky to have a company interested in engaging the international dialogue on opera in the 21st century. With commissions, premieres and a brave amount of experimentation, The Dallas Opera is presenting some of the country's most exciting new work, alongside crowd-pleasing classics. And they've reached a new summit with Everest, an opera that is both intelligently crafted and easy to like.

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The Dallas Opera Announces Nicole Paiement as Principal Guest Conductor

Roger Steen
Maestra Nicole Paiement
When The Dallas Opera decided to stage Death and the Powers, Tod Machover's challenging modern sci-fi opera, they called on conductor Nicole Paiement to handle the complex score. Paiement was a smart choice: as Artistic Director of San Fransisco's Opera Parallèl, a professional company dedicated to producing contemporary operas, she's made a name for herself as a conductor, interpreter and champion of new music. If you're looking for a conductor who isn't intimidated by the work required to master a new, strange or obscure piece of music, Paiement is exactly who you want in the pit.

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The Dallas Opera Announces 2014 Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award

Karen Almond, Dallas Opera
Isabel Leonard as Rosina in The Dallas Opera's 2014 "Barber of Seville"
Each year, season subscribers to The Dallas Opera get a chance to vote on their favorite of all the singers who debuted with the company during the previous season. Votes are tallied and the winner receives the "Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year" award. This year's award-winner was no surprise to anyone who saw the company's electric Barber of Seville. Soprano Isabel Leonard stole the show with her mesmerizing performance as Rosina in that production.

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

Leonard had stiff competition this year from another leading lady who made an impressive TDO debut this season. Mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine was fantastic in Carmen, giving a memorable, passionate performance in the opera's title role. They are both the kind of singers that make old music come alive and feel fresh and new. Leonard, however, does so effortlessly and flawlessly. When you hear her sing, you don't soon forget it.

Leonard is a rapidly rising opera star internationally and Dallas audiences were lucky to get to hear her in the role of Rosina. She was stunning -- the kind of singer who makes even the most difficult music sound easy and who's perfectly lovely tone never waivers. She is also gorgeous and is an incredibly talented actress. Here's hoping we get to see her on stage at the Winspear again in the years to come.

Review: The 2014 Fort Worth Opera Festival

Ellen Appel
The cast of Fort Worth Opera's With Blood, With Ink
Fort Worth Opera's 2014 festival wraps up this weekend with finale performances of two contemporary American operas and a classic comedy by Mozart. There's a lot of room for diversity within the operatic genre and this year's FWO festival has celebrated the wide range of musical and dramatic styles opera can take. In that sense, it has been a real celebration of the ways in which staged song and story speak as an art form.

Watching and evaluating a production of a classic, familiar opera is a really different experience from reviewing a new work. Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, for example, is a classic for a reason. The music is wonderful and the story hilarious. Not all productions of Cosi work, but there is always the potential for it to be great because the underlying elements -- the song and the story -- are great.

With new operas, there's a lot more to consider. Not only are you evaluating a specific production, but you're also evaluating the opera itself. Does the story work? How could it be better? Is it worth producing again? There's also the tricky reality that we as listeners generally like things we've heard before better than things that are new to us. First impressions aren't always accurate ones.

That being said, over the last couple weeks I saw one of the Fort Worth Opera's classic productions (Cosi), and both of the newer works they produced during their busy 2014 festival. You can see the final performances of all three of these operas this weekend. Here's a quick review of each so that you can make an informed decision when picking your operatic poison.

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The Dallas Opera Announces Exit of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell. Sort Of.

Jonathan Pell at the Winspear Opera House

You may not recognize his face, but if you've gone to an opera in Dallas at some point over the last 30 years, you're likely familiar with the result of his work. Jonathan Pell, The Dallas Opera's artistic director, has been the company's resident taste-maker for three decades, making important decisions about everything from which operas get staged to who stars in them.

This morning, TDO announced that Pell will be leaving the company at the end of this year. Well, sort of leaving. Pell asked to step down from his full-time position as artistic director to "do some other things that [he has] long wanted to do but for which [he] never had the time." But, at the request of the company, Pell has agreed to stay on as "artistic adviser" through the 2016/17 season to help with "artistic continuity."

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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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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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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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