Command Performance

by Suzanne Calvin

The rave reviews continue to pour in for the Dallas Opera’s 25th Anniversary production of Dominick Argento’s THE ASPERN PAPERS, starring Susan Graham, Alexandra Deshorties, Nathan Gunn and Joseph Kaiser at the head of an all-star cast.
Here’s what Mark-Brian Sonna wrote for “The Column” and “Pegasus News”:

Stop reading and buy your tickets now!

“There is a myriad of reasons to go see this breathtaking, awe inspiring, flawless, and thrilling production of Dominick Argento’s masterpiece The Aspern Papers.

“….First and foremost: Susan Graham. She is one of the leading opera singers on the planet. She has performed the world over in numerous roles and received sufficient awards in her career to establish her reputation as one of the pre-eminent voices of this generation. Her voice is simply spectacular but she’s also a gifted actor. To miss out on one of opera’s greats would be a shame. She portrays the niece of Juliana and she has a secret. Her portrayal is sympathetic and eventually bone chilling. Her voice isn’t just goose bump inducing, her portrayal is too. There aren’t enough words to describe how monumental her performance is.

“To be on the same stage as Ms. Graham requires a cast that can keep up. And every performer equals her in their respective portrayals. Hands down this is the best cast opera I’ve seen. Each performer doesn’t just do a superb job vocally, they also look the parts, and more importantly, they act the roles with such veracity that even the singing becomes just a natural extension of their character.

“Alexandra Deshorties is stunning playing both the young and the old Juliana Bordereau. Juliana is the only character that appears both in 1835 and 1885. This requires an opera singer that can transform herself both physically and vocally and Ms. Deshorties is magnificent in her portrayal. She is able to sound like a young woman in certain scenes and an old lady in others while still singing the score sublimely. Because the opera isn’t completely linear, the audience is required to assemble the story line based on the evolution of Juliana’s ever degenerating mental state. Besides the demanding and technical vocal requirements, the performer must develop a character that is completely three dimensional and that helps guide the audience through this complex storyline. Ms. Deshorties makes this complicated acting requirement seem easy.

“As Aspern, the young composer who dies under unusual circumstances, Joseph Kaiser captures the dashing bravado of a young musical genius who is fully aware of his prowess both as a composer and in bedding women. You can see why women fall for him. Yet he isn’t evil in being a philanderer, he simply has an untethered sexual energy and he fails to see how this could possibly bring about his downfall. His tenor is effortless and charming and matches his acting perfectly.

“Dean Peterson as the impresario Barelli has a commanding presence and a rich, supple and textured bass voice. His portrayal is so grounded in reality that his character and his relationships with all the other characters in the scenes from 1835 make him most intriguing.

“Sonia is played with a cunning twist by Sasha Cooke. As Barelli’s mistress, she knows she will have a role in the opera Aspern is working on. But there’s an edge to her performance that makes the audience know she will at any moment, and willingly, take over the role that is written for Juliana. Her character appears very innocent, almost innocuous, but the audience knows better. Keep in mind that the libretto of the opera doesn’t directly clue the audience in on her motivation; she conveys this simply and effectively in the way she sings the score in her melodious mezzo-soprano voice.

“Nathan Gunn plays the Lodger who is trying to manipulate Tina in order to get his hands on the score. He is an unsettling presence. The audience is informed near the beginning of the reasoning behind his actions, but as played by Mr. Gunn we know there’s an ulterior purpose behind his desire in acquiring the music and libretto. Like the other characters in the opera he must convey his reasoning via subtext not via the actual words given in the libretto. This makes his performance so on-the-edge-of-your-seat intriguing that every note he sings captures not just the beauty of the score, but illuminates the psychology behind the character. Only a masterful singer like Mr. Gunn could do this role justice. The richness of his voice and his unique tonality in delivering the ever evolving and complex melody lines are handled with such ease that he creates a palpable and real character.

“Even the smaller roles of the Painter as played by Eric Jordan, the Gardner by Mark McCrory, and the Maid by Jennifer Youngs, add to the complex and disturbing psychology of this story. The Dallas Opera cast these small roles with singers that are sublime in the expressivity of their voices.

“Dominick Argento’s score requires the use of a chorus that is never seen. At times they serve as an echo to some of the words sung on stage, at other moments they simply add the sound of “aah” or “ohh” to punctuate the music, as if the human voice was an additional instrument. Alexander Rom, the Chorus Master, displays once again his unfathomable talent in directing the chorus to accomplish the unusual choral requirements of this score.

“Graeme Jenkins is leaving the Dallas Opera after this season and The Aspern Papers marks his last performance. His understanding of this intricate score is evident. At one point in the opera the orchestra slowly fades into silence, leaving the singers on stage to sing acapella throughout a scene. This fading out of sound is very difficult to achieve without the audience noticing that there is no more instrumentation; he manages to make the orchestra simply disappear. A few moments later the crackling sound and the boom of the orchestra is so loud that the audience nearly jumped out of their seat. The score is at different points lyrical, lush, discordant, macabre, fraught with tension, ethereal and startling. Mr. Jenkins demonstrates his genius in this performance.

“Tim Albery directs this opera with mastery. Every moment is fraught with tension. Even the act of closing a door takes on harrowing meaning in the way he stages this opera. He is also working with a stellar cast of international reputation. It requires a master director to be able to reign in the talent so that they all work together seamlessly….The Dallas Opera’s production of The Aspern Papers is one that deserves to be experienced. One doesn’t just go see this opera, one is transformed by it. It is a world class opera with world class singers in a world class venue. ¬†GO!”

And you can read the entire review right here.

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR



The Dallas Opera
Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201

Runs through April 28th

Wednesday, April 17th at 7:30 pm
Saturday, April 20th at 7:30 pm
Sunday, April 28th at 2:00 pm

Tickets start at $19.00.

For tickets and information, call 214-443-1000 or go to

Comments are closed.