One That Got Away

by Suzanne Calvin

My lame excuse is, I was out on vacation that week and responding to emails the next. Here’s a story I shouldn’t have missed from the ever enthusiastic opera observer, Crewmantle at COMMANDOpera, on our generous gift from the Texas Instruments Foundation. Thank you, Crew!

One question, though: Can you hail a cab in that head-gear? Successfully, I mean?

(Image courtesy of

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR

Artistic Director Jonathan Pell at the Arena di Verona

by tdoadmin

The crowd arriving for the performance at the Arena di Verona.

Every opera lover should attend a performance of AIDA once in their lifetime at the Arena di Verona.

The sheer spectacle is something out of an old Cecil B. DeMille epic, and if it wasn’t a cast of thousands then it was at least a cast of many hundreds!  Granted there weren’t elephants, but there were horses in the triumphal scene that galloped across the stage.  The basic unit set was convincingly reconfigured for each act, and if I had any complaint about the evening it was that there were three lengthy intermissions which added over an hour to the shows running time.  Considering that the performance doesn’t start until 9:15 p.m., it makes for a very long evening!

The acoustic in the open air Roman amphitheatre is legendary, and the orchestra and augmented chorus (I gave up counting, but there had to be more than one hundred) sounded terrific.

Extremely well conducted by Daniel Oren (who conducted AIDA in Dallas in the early 90’s) and wonderfully sung by an international cast headed up by Lucrecia Garcia, Jorge de Leon  and Dolora Zajick, it made for a first rate musical evening and not just the bloated spectacle that I had feared it might be.

The triumphal scene from AIDA at the Arena di Verona July 19,  2012

Edifice Complex?

by Suzanne Calvin

The glamorous French Opera House, New Orleans, after losing one of its many lives.


There’s a lot of discussion these days about the newest performing arts venues and whether that money could have been better spent somewhere else. But while reading David L. Groover and Cecil C. Conner, Jr.’s Skeletons from the Opera Closet, I was reminded that at the opposite end of the spectrum, there were worse things than bad acoustics to worry about in many of the old American opera houses. In New Orleans, for instance:

“…one of America’s first cultural centers after La Spectacle de la Rue St. Pierre was built in 1791. It was condemned as unsafe in 1804. The Theatre d’Orléans, home of such American premieres as L’elisir d’amore, La Juive, and Le Prophète, opened in 1809, burned down in 1813 and was rebuilt in 1816…the audience was amused by a loud cracking sound they thought part of the ingenious stage effects until they noticed the second and third galleries break away from the wall and slowly settle orchestra-ward.

“Thirty years later in 1885, when Adelina Patti sang Traviata in the rebuilt French Opera House, the audience was so unrestrained in their enthusiasm that their clamorous ovations caused the plaster ceiling to collapse. Not to be outdone, the re-rebuilt theater presented the American premiere of Gounod’s Reine de Saba in 1899. The opera’s third act features the sculptor Adoniram in his workshop, complete with roaring furnace and vats of molten metal. At the climax of the forging scene…the furnace exploded and engulfed the stage in flames. They never attempted Benvenuto Cellini.”

I should think not. Anyway, the next time you hear a complaint about overbuilt venues just remember this: We had a foot stomping, program shredding, eight minute standing O at the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick and EVERYONE lived to talk about it!

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Venice Part II

by tdoadmin

Interior of the palco reale (Royal Box) at Teatro la fenice in Venice.

The production last night of Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE was delightful on many levels, if somewhat old fashioned.  There was a vague attempt by stage director Bepi Morassi at being “modern” with the action set as an “opera within the opera.”   The curtain rose on the character of Adina reclining in a chaise on a little makeshift stage at the back with the chorus sitting on wooden benches in front of her.  There was also a confusing scene with Adina in her dressing room (with her character’s name and a star on the door) and her changing from a contemporary Chanel suit into her 19th century peasant costume.

It was harmless, though and didn’t undermine the piece.

The star of the evening, and undoubtedly the audience’s favorite, was Italian soprano Desiree Rancatore as Adina.  She was lovely and charming, but occasionally she insisted on interpolating somewhat jarring, effortful, and certainly gratuitous high notes in places where I am not used to hearing them.

I hadn’t heard her in several years, though and it was interesting to hear how she has developed since she burst on the scene a few years ago when she was still in her early twenties.

The tenor was Celso Albelo, a tenor new to me, but someone about whom I have heard quite a bit.  He looked pudgy in his uniform, and his less than romantic appearance was played for laughs, but he sang well enough. Somehow he didn’t connect with most of the audience, though.  There were a few cries for an encore after his aria “Una furtiva lagrima” but it all seemed half hearted, and his applause at the end of the evening seemed muted.

The conductor was Omer Meir Wellber, who had impressed me the night before with his handling of CARMEN.  This young Israeli (I gather a protégé of Daniel Barenboim) is just thirty, but led the performance superbly and with an authority that belies his youth.  He captured every hairpin turn between the elements of farce and the more serious moments of heartbreak with breathtaking control.  He is certainly a name to remember.

Now a few days break before performances at the Arena di Verona.

Artistic Director Jonathan Pell Venice Part I

by tdoadmin

I must have brought the Dallas weather with me—it is supposed to be close to 90 degrees today, and it rarely gets that hot so early in July.  The Adriatic coast of Italy is ill-equipped to cope with such heat and few buildings are air-conditioned.

I never thought I would say that the burning of the Teatro fenice in Venice was anything but a tragedy, but when the opera house (which originally opened in 1792) was rebuilt, air-conditioning was included in the construction plans.  I am very grateful.

Last night was a performance of Bizet’s CARMEN, staged by the notorious Catalan director Calixto Bieto.  Renowned (notorious, perhaps) for his brutal, violent and overtly sexual productions, this CARMEN was no exception.  The curtain rose on an essentially bare stage, which only had a pay telephone box stage right and a flag pole stage center.

If there had been any doubt about the Freudian significance of the flag pole, at the end of the first act a naked woman was hoisted up the pole while being sexually attacked by the garrison of soldiers.

At the introduction of the fate motif in the prelude, a fat old man appeared, apparently drunk and trying to perform a magic trick with a red silk handkerchief.  Was this the old “Don Jose” remembering his ill-fated love of the gypsy girl Carmen?

No, it later turns out to be the innkeeper, Lillas Pastia.

In Act II the stage was completely bare and an old Mercedes-Benz was rolled onto the stage?  Had the car broken down on the way to Lillias Pastia’s Inn?

There were graphically depicted sexual acts during the pulsating gypsy dance at the beginning of this act performed on and around the car.  I am sure that this had some profound meaning (after all, one of Carmen’s friends is named Mercedes) but it eluded me.

Most of the singing didn’t make up for the vulgar staging, with the exception of the charismatic Russian bass, Alexander Vinogradov, as Escamillo.  The Carmen and Don Jose, French mezzo-soprano Beatrice Uria-Monzon and Italian tenor Stefano Secco, each had effective moments, particularly in the final confrontation on a completely bare stage within a chalk circle that had been laid down for them by (once again) Lillas Pastia.

Say what one will about director Calixto Bieto, he certainly knows how to create (and escalate) dramatic tension on the stage.

All of this might have been excruciating to sit through, though, if it hadn’t been for the exciting conducting of Omer Meir Wellber, the Teatro la fenice’s young music director.  He really knows how to shape the score and build excitement musically and dramatically.  There was one moment at the end of Act III where the chorus seemed to lose contact with the pit, but he somehow managed to get everyone back together.

Tonight he will conduct Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE, and I look forward to hearing what he does with this effervescent score, in many ways, the diametric opposite of CARMEN.

The chandelier of the restored Teatro la fenice in Venice, still the most opulent opera house in the world.

View of the stage from the palco reale (Royal Box) of the Teatro la fenice.

Total Impact

by Suzanne Calvin


No, it’s not the name of an upcoming science fiction action film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (or Colin Farrell, for that matter); it’s the measure by which the sucess of American opera companies will be measured in seasons to come.

Allow me to explain: Everyone is familiar with the term “carbon footprint,” but nowadays in the arts, it’s all about the “community footprint” we make--i.e., the total impact. Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny explores ways in which TDO is seeking to maximize its overall community impact in the latest installment of his regular feature, “Off the Cuff,” for Theater Jones.

(Collage inspired by the 1990 film Total Recall for

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

Uncharitable Towards Charitable Contributions?

by Suzanne Calvin

Speaking of sizzling hot topics, there’s the question of continued federal tax deductions for charitable donations to the arts and other non-profit organizations, a topic raised over the weekend by HBO’s Bill Maher and garnering this thoughtful response from 2005 MacArthur Fellow Aaron P. Dworkin, a member of the National Council on the Arts, as well as Founder and President of The Sphinx Foundation--an organization dedicated to promoting greater diversity in the arts.

Read it at your leisure here.  And thanks to Megan Meister for the link!

(Photo of Mr. Dworkin courtesy of Mike Mouradian)

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

The Cultural Conversation Heats Up

by Suzanne Calvin

Just in time for the “Firecracker” week of the Fourth and my long-awaited vacation, things decided to heat up significantly both inside and outside the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

It started last week with the release of a University of Chicago study on a variety of newly constructed cultural edifices, including the AT&T Performing Arts Center, followed (a few days later) by the announcement of a Standard and Poor’s downgrade to the center’s credit rating. The back-to-back stories prompted this Independence Day editorial in “The Dallas Morning News.”

A couple of days later, “Dallas Morning News” Classical Music Critic Scott Cantrell weighed-in with his verdict: ATTPAC and TDO may have suffered in years past from a lack of stable and effective leadership, a conclusion that appears to be based (at least in part) on the success story of another resident company, the Dallas Theater Center.  You can read Scott’s piece here and draw your own conclusions.  I have a bone or two to pick but I will keep them to myself.

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR

TDO’s Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, San Francisco II

by tdoadmin

Yesterday I went to a matinee at ACT (American Conservatory Theater) of Kander and Ebb’s last collaboration before Fred Ebb’s death, the musical THE SCOTTSBOROUGH BOYS, in a production directed and choreographed by Tony Award winner Susan Stroman.

Based on the notorious series of trials that began in 1931 in Alabama where nine innocent African-American boys, ranging in age between 13 and 17 were convicted of raping two white women,   the audacious conceit of the production is to present it in the style of a minstrel show.

The impact was devastating.

The production was seen on Broadway last year, and was well received by the critics, but never found an audience and abruptly closed.

I had missed it in New York, so felt lucky to have the opportunity of catching up with it in San Francisco!

The performances were all excellent, with many of the cast assuming multiple roles to tell the story of this grotesque miscarriage of justice.  The deceptively simple set was designed by Beowulf Boritt, who designed the wonderful set for our production of THE LIGHTHOUSE in March at the Dallas Theater Center.   I say “deceptively simple” because it is astonishingly clever and earned Beowulf a Tony nomination.

The piece is wonderfully well written and really packs a wallop. I was deeply moved by it.  It is certainly not a “feel good” musical but it was a powerful afternoon of great music theater.

Last night was a wonderful production of John Adams’ first opera NIXON IN CHINA. I have been fortunate enough to see Peter Sellars’ production both in Houston and at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as James Robinson’s production in Saint Louis and at Opera Colorado.  This production, staged by Michael Cavanagh and designed by Erhard Rom, was originally created for the Vancouver Opera, and utilized a lot more projections than the other productions, and was very imaginatively done by a terrific group of singing actors.

The cast was headed up by baritone Brian Mulligan who was extremely effective as Richard Nixon, and two singers well known to Dallas audiences, Maria Kanyova as Pat Nixon and Patrick Carfizzi as Henry Kissinger.

Maria was a very touching “Pat” (a role which she has recorded on CD) and reveals a very different side of her artistry than Dallas audiences saw in her “Mimi” in BOHEME or “Nedda” in PAGLIACCI.   Patrick also displayed remarkable versatility as “Kissinger” —a far cry from his endearing “Papageno” in our recent MAGIC FLUTE.

I flew back to Dallas early this morning, and after such an event filled weekend of meetings, performances and auditions in San Francisco, I somehow managed to sleep through almost the entire flight!