Artistic Director Jonathan Pell – Venice Part II

by Megan Meister

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 Megan Meister

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 coronacomingattractions.com)

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 Megan Meister

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!

THE DALLAS OPERA HONORED WITH A $250,000 GRANT FROM THE TEXAS INSTRUMENTS FOUNDATION

by Megan Meister

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Monday, July 2, 2012

Contact: Suzanne Calvin (214.443.1014/suzanne.calvin@dallasopera.org)

Or Megan Meister (214.443.1071/megan.meister@dallasopera.org)

 

THE DALLAS OPERA HONORED WITH A

$250,000 GRANT FROM THE

TEXAS INSTRUMENTS FOUNDATION

~~~~

TI FOUNDATION CITES EXTRAORDINARY LEADERSHIP, ARTISTRY AND FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY AT TDO

             DALLAS, JULY 2, 2012 – The Dallas Opera is pleased to announce that the company has been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Texas Instruments Foundation, which recently approved grants totaling $1.5 million to a dozen diverse North Texas arts and cultural organizations.  According to the foundation, the purpose of these awards is to “enrich the quality of life in TI’s headquarters community.”

            In making this unprecedented gift to the company, Texas Instruments Foundation cited TDO’s outstanding leadership and the new direction taken by the company under the guidance of General Director and CEO Keith Cerny.  In awarding the grant, the foundation also cited a proven commitment to artistic excellence and the positive impact of a successful, carefully crafted financial plan designed to restore community confidence in the Dallas Opera, as well as putting the company on the path to genuine fiscal responsibility and balance—and keeping it there.

“Texas Instruments has been a stalwart supporter of The Dallas Opera for more than 50 of its illustrious 55 years,” explains Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny.

“For the second consecutive season, the Texas Instruments Foundation is providing an unprecedented level of financial support.  As we strive to create new productions, showcase revivals, and secure commissions reflecting the highest artistic and technical standards for this art form, Texas Instruments Foundation must be credited for its starring role as a partner in the success of this company.  It’s a role for which all of us at The Dallas Opera are deeply and sincerely grateful.”

In addition to supporting the highest standards of excellence in each of our critically acclaimed mainstage productions, these newly awarded funds will advance the educational and community outreach initiatives of the Dallas Opera throughout the 2012-2013 Season.  This includes—but is not limited to—live performances and opera recitals in schools, libraries, museums, and cultural centers destined to reach more than 20,000 young people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area alone.

This season, the Dallas Opera—supported by the generosity of the Texas Instruments Foundation—reached nearly 25,000 students and their families in performances of a new production of Georges Bizet’s Doctor Miracle, special family concerts and other well-received outreach initiatives.  Now the company has added a new children’s production of John Davies’ Jack and the Beanstalk (featuring the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan) introduced at campTDO just last month.

Sam Self, Chairman of the Texas Instruments Foundation explained the rationale behind the foundation’s decision: “The Dallas Opera is one of the cornerstones of the Dallas arts community, and we’re proud to be a partner in their continuing success.”

Besides the Dallas Opera, this year’s arts grant recipients include the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico, Chamberlain Performing Arts, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Children’s Theater, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Summer Musicals, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Nasher Sculpture Center, Richardson Symphony Orchestra, Shakespeare Dallas, and the Turtle Creek Chorale.

“It’s both an exciting and challenging time for the arts in Dallas,” said Ann Pomykal, executive director of the TI Foundation. “We believe that an entire community benefits when its arts thrive.  So by helping the arts in North Texas reach and sustain a high level of operational and artistic excellence, we can positively impact our community’s economy and quality of life.”

The TI Foundation has accomplished its mission well, providing direct operational support to a variety of nonprofit arts organizations in the Greater Dallas Area.  The 2012-2013 “Pursuits of Passion” Season will mark the second consecutive year that the foundation’s generosity and long-term relationship with the Dallas Opera has resulted in it being named the sole season sponsor.

~~~~

About Texas Instruments Foundation:

The Texas Instruments Foundation, founded in 1964, is a non-profit organization providing philanthropic support for educational and charitable purposes primarily in the communities where Texas Instruments operates. While its primary focus is on providing knowledge, skills and programs to improve science, technology, engineering and math education, the Texas Instruments Foundation also invests in health and human services programs that meet the greatest community needs.

About Texas Instruments:

Texas Instruments semiconductor innovations help 90,000 customers unlock the possibilities of the world as it could be – smarter, safer, greener, healthier and more fun.  Our commitment to building a better future is ingrained in everything we do – from the responsible manufacturing of our semiconductors, to caring for our employees, to giving back inside our communities.  This is just the beginning of our story.  Learn more at www.ti.com.

 ~~~~

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT “JULY AT THE DALLAS OPERA”

IS CONVENIENTLY AVAILABLE ONLINE, 24/7

VISIT WWW.DALLASOPERA.ORG AND CHECK THE CALENDAR LISTINGS

For high-resolution, digital photographs suitable for print

To arrange an interview

Or for additional information

Please contact Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR

214.443.1014 or suzanne.calvin@dallasopera.org

 

TEXAS INSTRUMENTS FOUNDATION

SPONSOR OF THE 2012-2013 DALLAS OPERA SEASON

THE DALLAS OPERA WISHES TO EXPRESS ITS GRATITUDE TO OUR EXCLUSIVE PARTNERS:

 

AMERICAN AIRLINES – OFFICIAL AIRLINE OF THE DALLAS OPERA

LEXUS – OFFICIAL VEHICLE OF THE DALLAS OPERA

CARTIER – OFFICIAL JEWELER & WATCHMAKER OF THE DALLAS OPERA

ROSEWOOD CRESCENT HOTEL – OFFICIAL HOTEL OF THE DALLAS OPERA

Ticket Information for the 2012-2013 Dallas Opera Season

  

All performances for the “Pursuits of Passion” Season are in the new Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. Subscriptions start at just $75 and are on sale now.  For more information, contact The Dallas Opera Ticket Services Office at 214.443.1000 or visit us online at www.dallasopera.org.

THE DALLAS OPERA 2012-2013 SEASON INFORMATION

The Dallas Opera celebrates its Fifty-SixthInternational Season in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in downtown Dallas. Evening performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees will begin at 2:00 p.m.   English translations will be projected above the stage at every performance.  Assistance is available for the hearing impaired.

AIDA by Giuseppe Verdi

October 26, 28(m), 31, November 3, 9, 11(m), 2012

Verdi’s Complex and Intimate Love Story Set in Spectacular Ancient Egypt!

An opera in four acts first performed at Khedivial Opera House, Cairo on December 24, 1871.

Text by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on a scenario written by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette.

Time: Old Kingdom

Place: Egypt

Conductor: Graeme Jenkins

Stage Director: John Copley

Costume Design: Peter J. Hall

Wig & make-up Design: David Zimmerman

Chorus Master: Alexander Rom

Starring: Latonia Moore (Aida), Antonello Palombi (Radames), Nadia Krasteva* (Amneris), Lester Lynch (Amonasro), Orlin Anastassov* (Ramfis), Ben Wager (The King of Egypt), Jonathan Yarrington* (Messenger), and NaGuanda Nobles* (Priestess).

TURANDOT by Giacomo Puccini

April 5, 7(m), 10, 13, 19 & 21(m), 2013

Puccini’s Last Masterpiece—Riddled with Passionate Romance and Unforgettable Music!

An opera in three acts first performed in Milan at La Scala, April 25, 1926

Text by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, based on Carlo Gozzi’s fable, Turandot.

Time: Legendary times

Place: Peking, China

Conductor: Marco Zambelli

Stage Director: Garnett Bruce

Production Design: Allen Charles Klein

Wig & make-up Design: David Zimmerman

Chorus Master: Alexander Rom

Starring: Lise Lindstrom* (Princess Turandot), Antonello Palombi (Calaf), Hei-Kyung Hong (Liu), Christian Van Horn* (Timur), Jonathan Beyer (Ping), Joseph Hu (Pang), Daniel Montenegrio* (Pong), Ryan Kuster* (A Mandarin), Steven Haal (Emperor Altoum).

THE ASPERN PAPERS by Dominick Argento

April 12, 14(m), 17, 20, 28(m), 2013

The Games People Play—Both Young and Old—To Achieve Their Twisted Desires!

An opera in two acts first performed in Dallas, November 19, 1988.

Text by Dominick Argento, based on Henry James novel.

Time: Legendary

Place: Venice, Italy

Conductor: Graeme Jenkins

Stage Director: Tim Albery

Scenic Design: Andrew Lieberman*

Costume Design: Constance Hoffman*

Lighting Design: Thomas Hase

Wig & make-up Design: David Zimmerman

Assistant Director: Michael Mori

Starring: Susan Graham* (Tina), Nathan Gunn (The Lodger), Joseph Kaiser* (Aspern), Dean Peterson (Barelli), Sasha Cooke* (Sonia), Eric Jordan* (A painter), Jennifer Youngs* (Olimpia).

*DallasOpera Debut

** American Debut

______________________________________________________________________________________

The Dallas Opera is supported, in part, by funds from:  City of Dallas, Office of Cultural Affairs; TACA; the Texas Commission on the Arts and The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)American Airlines is the official airline of The Dallas Opera.  Lexus is the official vehicle of The Dallas Opera.  Cartier is the official jeweler and watchmaker of The Dallas Opera.  Rosewood Crescent Hotel is the official hotel of The Dallas Opera.  Advertising support from The Dallas Morning News.  The T. Boone Pickens YMCA, Smartwater and Stephen Pyles Restaurant--supporting partners.  A special thanks to Mrs. William W. Winspear and the Elsa von Seggern Foundation for their continuing support.

###

 

 

TDO’s Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, San Francisco I

by Megan Meister

I arrived in San Francisco on Thursday just in time to make a 7:30 curtain of Verdi’s rarely produced opera ATTILA.

The cast was headed up by veteran bass Ferruccio Furlanetto in the title role and conducted by Nicola Luisotti, San Francisco Opera’s music director.

I know the piece is problematic, having seen a few other stagings of it over the years, none of which made a compelling case for the work as being stage worthy, but this production was very static.

Italian director Gabriele Lavia tried to liven up the last act by projecting battle scenes from a 1950’s “B” movie about Attila the Hun, starring Jack Palance, but it didn’t help much.

Some of the singing was quite good, though, particularly baritone Quinn Kelsey as “Ezio” and of course, Ferruccio Furlanetto sounded magnificent, if not quite the magnetic, charismatic personality the part ideally requires.

I prefer him in more introspective roles, like “Filippo” in DON CARLO, in which he is unsurpassed today.

Friday afternoon I heard nine current and former Adler Fellows in audition.  The Adler Fellows (named in memory of former San Francisco Opera general director Kurt Adler) is the highly regarded young artists’ program of the opera company, which has been run brilliantly for a number of years by Sheri Greenawald, who, of course, had a major singing career herself.

The most outstanding audition was from a remarkable young soprano named Nadine Sierra.   I first heard a few years ago (I don’t think that she had yet turned twenty at the time) and she just keeps getting better and better.

Another wonderful audition was from mezzo-soprano Laura Krumm, in her first season as an Adler Fellow.  She was a winner of the Winspear Scholarship at the University of North Texas, where she just received her master’s degree in vocal performance.

Last night was a highly anticipated new production of Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE, designed by Japanese ceramic artist Jun Kaneko, who now lives in Omaha.  The production was directed by Harry Silverstein, who has staged many productions for The Dallas Opera, and featured Nathan Gunn as “Papageno” and Kristinn Sigmundsson as “Sarastro” both of whom have sung recently in Dallas.

The production was essentially an abstract light show projected on flat panels that flew in and out.  While it was very colorful and effective, I can’t help feeling that our recent FLUTE was a much better show.

I know, I know, I can’t really be objective about this, but that was how I felt.

Tonight is NIXON IN CHINA, and I am really excited about seeing this production, which originated in Vancouver.  I have seen the original Peter Sellars production both in Houston and at the Met, and the James Robinson production in Saint Louis and Denver, so this will be very interesting for me to see and compare.

UNSCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

by Suzanne Calvin

In this star-spangled month of July, the question that comes to mind is “What are the defining characteristics of an American Opera?”  Should it be opera on identifiable American themes?  Operas merely set in one of the fifty states?  Or exhibiting a particularly American musical idiom?  Operas composed by men and women who claimed the Americas as their “home” – either North or South?

For simplicity’s sake, I opted for the last definition when I contacted some of my favorite critics and opera writers, asking them to weigh-in on the three greatest “American” operas.  The critics were allowed to rank them—one, two and three—or present them as a trio of equals, and their choices were assigned a numerical value based upon those decisions.  Some critics asked to keep their participation or comments unattributed, others did not.

Although close to the same numbers of votes were actually cast for the first and second place picks, due to the arbitrary weighting system I established, the winner by a country mile was George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  Gershwin’s 1935 masterpiece garnered more first place rankings than any other opera in our informal poll, prompting D Magazine’s Wayne Lee Gay to write, “It’s the great American story—the departure from our old, simple communities to the world of commerce and urbanization—with all the good and bad of our national character, set to a score any composer should envy and emulate.  Gershwin’s limitless musical imagination and boundless inventiveness, as well as his ability to absorb influences and make them his own, is always astounding.  On top of that, every moment is just plain beautiful and engaging.”

Scott Cantrell, Classical Music Critic for The Dallas Morning News essentially agreed: “The attempt at black dialect may make us a bit uncomfortable, but it remains a powerful story—and an all-too-persistent one of an underclass victimized by substance abuse.  And nobody ever composed greater tunes.  Even Gershwin’s sense of timing and proportion is first-rate—right up there with Puccini’s.  If my hand were held to the fire, I’d say this is THE great American opera.”

David Shengold, who regularly covers opera for a variety of publications from Opernwelt to Opera News, created his own mathematical equation to express his admiration for the piece: “Mussorgsky + African-American jazz artistry + Jerome Kern = Gershwin’s genius opera, surely the most generative of great melodies of any American opera.”

Coming in at number two in our poll was Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah about which Katherine Baltrush, the managing editor of Opera America magazine wrote: “In this work, Floyd explores the struggle between religion and desire.  When the Puritans began to colonize this part of the world, they often wrote of having found a Garden of Eden where Man might begin his relationship with God and himself anew.  When we meet Susannah, her innocence and blissful ignorance allow her to occupy her own small paradise…this story of a community’s fear and subsequent warping of religion in Appalachia resonates strongly.  Supported by Floyd’s lush scoring and lyrical vocal writing, the loss of yet another Eden becomes about individual struggles as well as those of a religion.”

Number three was Samuel Barber’s Vanessa.  “It showed Europe that American composers could beat them at their own game,” wrote Gregory Sullivan Isaacs of Theater Jones, “and its Pulitzer Prize was well-deserved.”  David Shengold admitted there’s “nothing ‘American’ about its subject matter, but it’s wonderfully orchestrated and scored for the voice (and) creates characters who live on in your mind.”

The poll respondents voted Douglas Moore’s 1956 opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe, into fourth place.  One critic wrote: “Ballad of Baby Doe, Susannah and A View from the Bridge—Each has a quintessential Americanness, which is to say that the ‘operatic’ qualities of these works are relatively low-key.  And I think that’s a hallmark of American opera.”

Coming in at number five was the work that had its 2010 world premiere right here in Dallas: Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick which, wrote William H. Burnett of Opera Warhorses, “points the way to the future of opera: 1) an infusion of melody, so beautifully constructed that it might be themes from the great franchise movie scores, and 2) an intelligent, focused libretto….Jake Heggie may be the one who writes the great American operas (and the first additions to the core operatic repertory in over 85 years).”

After that, it’s a free-for-all, with critical votes cast for Adams’ Nixon in China and Doctor Atomic; Virgil Thomson’s suffragette opera, The Mother of Us All; John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles; Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass; William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge with a libretto by the late, great Arthur Miller; Tobias Picker’s Emmeline, Carlisle Floyd’s Cold Sassy Tree which struck a chord with critic Maria Nockin for “an aria that speaks to me directly.  It has to do with an unmarried female renting rooms and what the landlord thinks is his to trifle with,” Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, and Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land.

A bit further off the beaten path were selections that included Daniel Catan’s Florencia en al Amazonas (“It blew me away when Houston did it,” wrote Scott Cantrell, “another powerful story, with bits of fantasy, bathed in gorgeous music.  I keep hoping either Dallas or FW Opera will revive it!”); the Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night by Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell (“I was completely transfixed at its world premiere,” wrote New York-based critic Olivia Giovetti [Gramophone, Classical Singer].  “It’s big, bold, comprised of four languages and manifold musical styles, and in that way epitomizes the melting pot of American music,” adding, “its viewpoints on war, I find, come from a distinctly American perspective…and the music is just a wonder.”); and Jule Styne’s Gypsy: A Musical Fable about stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.  Critic Wayne Lee Gay found himself “falling more deeply in love with the story and music….It’s not Puccini, but Rose’s final aria exploits traditional harmony and the capabilities and potential of the human voice to express an emotional state right up there with the best of ‘em.”

Critic Gregory Sullivan Isaacs—like several of his peers—agonized over his final choice: “I am in a quandary.  I would like to pick something on an American theme, such as Copland’s Tender Land or Moore’s Ballad of Baby Doe or an opera that requires a big Strauss-sized production like Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles.  However, I have long been a champion of (Lee) Hoiby’s Summer and Smoke (I recommend it to every opera company director I meet) and must go with that opera again this time.  Besides,” Isaacs adds, “it tosses in two of America’s greatest writers, with a play by Tennessee Williams and a libretto by Lanford Wilson.”

So, how would you go about defining “American opera”?  And if we ran them up a flagpole—which three would you salute?

UPDATE: You can declare and defend your personal favorites online at theaterjones.com, as well.

-Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR