Putting His Foot Down

by Suzanne Calvin

…On the path to inspired (and inspiring) leadership.

Dallas arts writer and reviewer Marilee Vergati takes a closer look at Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny’s multifaceted vision for the company and the success of his ongoing mission in Dallas.  In the current economy, it’s not all coming up roses; but Keith appears to be a man capable of making the tough choices and getting things done.  More details in Miss Vergati’s assessment right here.

(Photo of Mr. Cerny courtesy of Karen Almond, Dallas Opera)

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR

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

3 Questions for Keith – Desert Island Edition

by Suzanne Calvin


1. What if I still don’t like opera after having gone to numerous opera’s, Verdi, Puccini and Wagner, and reading “The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire,” to boot?

Almost everyone I meet enjoys live theater, so I encourage people who don’t consider themselves opera goers to experiment with a wide range of different styles and musical possibilities. One example is operas where the dramatic and theatrical components are equally important (such as our production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse or even an older classic like Britten’s 1954 chamber opera The Turn of the Screw). Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas are another possibility. When performed with elegance and wit, Gilbert and Sullivan makes for great theater and finds a natural home in the opera house. There are other works to consider, too, which fit comfortably in the operatic world (e.g. Chicago Lyric’s upcoming production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s musical Showboat). And, of course, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess makes many converts of opera skeptics.

2. If you (Keith) were forced to take only three CD’s to a desert island with no hope of rescue, what would they be? And would they necessarily even be operas?

The first would be a selection of Beethoven piano trios. After graduating from Berkeley, I studied piano for four years in London with Lady Spender (née Natasha Letvin). She had studied intensively in her youth with famed Beethoven interpreter Artur Schnabel, who used to refer to her as “his first granddaughter.” As you can imagine, Beethoven’s piano music was a core part of my musical training, and I would want to bring some of his best works to enjoy. Rather than piano sonatas, I would bring the wonderful Sony Classical CD of Beethoven’s “Ghost” (Op. 70 No.1) and “Archduke” (op. 97) trios performed by Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose.

My second choice would be Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde -- one of my favorite operas, and worth listening to many times; the overture is one of the masterpieces of Western music, and the Liebestod is equally magnificent. I would select the Warner Classics CD with Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with John Treleaven and Christine Brewer singing the title roles.

For my third CD, I’d pick something lighter: the original cast recording of The Will Rogers Follies, starring Keith Carradine. Follies premiered on Broadway in 1991, and won multiple Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The musical tells the inspiring and ultimately tragic life story of Will Rogers using the Ziegfeld Follies as a backdrop. If that piece can’t keep your spirits up in a tough situation, nothing can!

3. What are the three great modern operas? “Nixon in China” can’t be one, that’s too easy!

I think that John Adams continues to write very important opera, and am delighted that Nixon in China continues to gain mainstream acceptance. I would add Adams’ opera, Dr. Atomic, which premiered in San Francisco in 2005 when I worked there as Executive Director (COO) and CFO. It’s an excellent work. One of my favorite moments is Oppenheimer’s aria at the end of Act I -- “Batter my heart” -- set to text by 17th century poet John Donne and sung in the world premiere by Gerald Finley. In this aria, I’m particularly intrigued by the juxtaposition of lyrical vocal writing and Adam’s signature minimalist compositional style.

Although I had no hand in its creation, I also believe that Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick is another great opera that will stand the test of time. I also traveled to San Diego in February, 2012 to see it a third time. If that choice sounds a bit partisan because of Dallas Opera’s role in its commissioning, I would also highly recommend Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking, which San Francisco Opera premiered in 2000.

I’m a little torn for my third choice. I admire the exoticism and orchestral coloring of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar. If you are after something more firmly rooted in 19th and early 20th century tradition, I think that Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas is a worthy selection.

If I could add a work scored for chamber orchestra as well, it would be Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers. DATP is a unique blend of classical opera and high tech, and a personal favorite. Tod appeared in Dallas as part of TDO’s “Composing Conversations” series, jointly hosted with the Museum of Nature and Science, and was very well received.

Fifth-generation Dallas native David Feld began his career as a design editor in 1994 when he left New York Magazine to join Architectural Digest as a contributing editor. He then became an editor at large for Condé Nast’s House & Garden, producing, styling and writing stories on great residential interiors worldwide. Feld was later named senior contributing editor at Southern Accents.

Locally, Feld served as the creative director of D Magazine Partners for four years, where he led the editorial team for D and D Home and launched D Weddings and D Design Book, with a special interest in developing the audiences for each of the titles. Prior to his time at D Magazine Partners, Feld held the position of editor at large for PaperCITY, where he wrote a monthly column on design (“Our Man At Large: David Feld”) and served as the launch editor of PaperCITY House in Dallas, Houston and San Francisco.

Most recently, Feld worked as a freelance writer/editor for the The New York Times and The New York Times Magazine, before returning to his Highland Park hometown and joining Modern Luxury Dallas as Editor-in-Chief and Dallas Group Editor in July 2011.

“Feld brings more than two decades of journalistic and editorial experience to Modern Luxury Dallas. His strong familiarity of Dallas and intent to further increase locally relevant content, in combination with his proven track record for editorial leadership, has ushered in a new era for Modern Luxury Dallas’ publications, including Dallas Brides and Modern Luxury Interiors Texas,” says Modern Luxury Vice President of Editorial Beth Weitzman.

Blockbusters, Opera-Style

by Suzanne Calvin

It’s the time of year when oceans of ink are devoted to the cinematic summer blockbusters du jour. However, there’s more than one “gateway” to attract eager paying audiences, as explored in the latest edition of “Off the Cuff” by Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny--his ongoing “Theater Jones” series on opera, arts and culture.

Check it out here. (Photo by Karen Almond for the Dallas Opera)

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

Good Company

by Suzanne Calvin

It’s incredibly nice to be included when the other organizations acknowledged here are the likes of the Amon G. Carter Foundation; The 500, Inc.; and TACA.  What’s it all about?  “Under the direction of (General Director and) CEO Keith Cerny, the Dallas Opera’s strategic plan is healthy and continues to earn the confidence of the community.” 

More from Marilee Vergati of Examiner.com (posted on CBS/DFW).

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR

Rollin’ Down the River

by Suzanne Calvin

New at “Theater Jones”: the latest edition of Keith Cerny’s “Off the Cuff.” The Dallas Opera General Director and CEO takes this opportunity to explore why the placement of pieces in musical time matters. Read it right here.

(Photo of Ganges River delta courtesy of loc.gov)

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

3 Questions for Keith from Harlan Crow

by Suzanne Calvin

In our continuing series, interesting people from the North Texas community are invited to pose three opera-related questions for Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny. The latest to take us up on the offer is Mr. Harlan Crow of Crow Holdings:

1. It is my understanding that the opera normally starts at 8:00 p.m. That is a difficult time for many people, particularly people that would like to introduce their families to the opera. Why can’t some presentations start earlier, resulting in an earlier opera evening?

The question of when to begin operas is an important one, and is often the subject of extensive market research. At The Dallas Opera, we typically begin our performances at 7:30 p.m., so that we can have everyone out of the theater well before 11:00 p.m. even for a moderately long opera. Some classic operas, such as Richard Strauss’s Salome, are relatively short (under two hours), and some contemporary operas are also around that length (such as Moby-Dick). With a start time of 7:30 p.m., the whole evening then finishes before 10:00 p.m. For our recent production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, we began the evening performances at 7:00 p.m., which allowed people to get home at a more reasonable hour than if we held rigidly to our usual start time. At the recent performance I attended of Wagner’s Siegfried at the Met, the mid-week performance began at 6:00 p.m. One challenge with tinkering with start times is that it always creates a certain amount of patron confusion, as they try to sort through which performances start at an unusual time.

Lyric Opera of Chicago, well-known for its devoted subscriber base and marketing prowess, offers some Wednesday and Thursday matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. These mid-week matinees have proven very popular with commuters, as they can attend an opera during the week without having to make a special trip on the weekend from the suburbs. As The Dallas Opera begins to grow its number of performances and productions in the future, we may also test such an idea.

2. At the risk of heresy to purists, why can’t an operatic presentation be abbreviated? A good solid 1-1/2 hour show would create a rewarding experience without such a lengthy commitment to an evening.

Relative to the symphonic world, opera faces two programming challenges. The first is that with rare exceptions, one opera is presented in an evening (excluding such standards as the double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci or Puccini’s Il Trittico, which includes 3 one-act operas in an evening). In the symphonic world, most -- but not all -- programs include several different works, which lowers the perceived risk of patrons in attending. They know that if the first piece is not to their liking, they will get to hear something else in the same evening. The second challenge is that many wonderful operas are very long for today’s audiences. As a result, they are already cut quite considerably. This is particularly true for such famous Mozart operas as Così fan Tutte or The Marriage of Figaro, but many other operas are cut. (For example, we made careful cuts in last year’s presentation of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena). With the near-universal adoption of supertitles (showing the English language translation of the opera on a small screen above the stage) and increasing improvements in large-scale projection technology, one can imagine presenting key scenes of an opera and then providing detailed text describing what events took place in between. This approach would allow the audience to hear significant parts of the opera, and to maintain the dramatic thread, in a much shorter span of time. It might be difficult to cut the whole opera down to 1-1/2 hours, unless the performance was presented without intermission, but performances of 2-2.5 hours would be feasible. Such an approach would not save much on production costs, but it might be an effective way to draw new audiences. I have already held informal discussions with the General Director of another leading U.S. opera company about piloting such an approach at some point in the future. Naturally, we would need to market these abbreviated operas quite differently, to eliminate the risk of patron confusion.

3. Again, at the risk of heresy, what about an operatic “greatest hits” night? The talent, costumes and sets, of course, would be difficult but the hope of drawing a new and younger audience might be worth it.

There is nothing heretical about an operatic “greatest hits” evening, and it is an idea that we would like to consider for TDO at some point. Evenings of operatic excerpts, especially famous opera choruses, regularly sell out in London, and some opera companies in the U.S. have had great success with gala-type events featuring famous singers in several extended excerpts over the course of an evening. These events also typically include sets and costumes. While the costs can be relatively high due to the need to include singers, sets, costumes and stage directors, they can make a significant “splash” and generate a lot of community interest.


Harlan Crow

Harlan Crow is the chairman and chief executive officer of Crow Family Holdings, a private family-business established to exclusively manage the capital of the Trammell Crow family. He assumed overall responsibilities for the family operations in 1988 after serving in other management positions. During Mr. Crow’s tenure as CEO, the firm has continued to grow and strengthen its position as a leader in the real estate investment business. The firm has also made important strategic diversifications into a whole variety of additional asset classes. Mr. Crow is a director on several boards including the American Enterprise Institute, the Southwestern Medical Foundation, the Supreme Court Historical Society Board and the Antiquarian Society. He also serves as honorary counsel of Denmark for the Southwest region.

(Photo courtesy of Crow Holdings)

You’re Invited – Tonight!

by Suzanne Calvin

What’s so controversial about Arts Education? Mmmmm. Just about everything: Who funds it? Who needs it? Who gets it? Join Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny, D magazine Arts Editor Peter Simek, and an outstanding panel to discuss the future of education in the arts in America.

More here from Liz Johnstone of D Magazine. Show up at the Winspear, tonight at 6:30 for the “General Director’s Roundtable” and we’ll seat you -- should be a lively conversation!

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media and PR

Introducing “Three Questions for Keith”

by Suzanne Calvin

(Why? Because You Really Want to Know)

This month’s questions for Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny are from James Faust, Artistic Director of Dallas Film Society and host of the DALLAS International Film Festival, April 12-22, 2012.  He asks:

1. Is Opera for everyone?

Opera at its heart is about great singing and powerful theater brought together, accompanied by an orchestra—and sometimes including dance as well. Theater has been part of the Western cultural tradition going back more than 2,000 years, which speaks to its power and universal appeal. The human voice is a remarkable instrument; it connects with performers at a visceral level more closely than any other instrument. After all, a violinist can improve his or her tone quality by upgrading their instrument, but a singer must develop the voice that they were born with. Because opera weaves together all of these important traditions, I believe passionately that opera is, in fact, for everyone. That being said, not all operas are as accessible or comprehensible for first-time listeners, so I recommend giving some thought to your first experience. This spring, we will be presenting two wonderful works that are ideal for first-time opera goers: Verdi’s La traviata and Mozart’s The Magic Flute.

2. What’s the greatest Opera turned into a film or vice versa?

My personal favorite opera turned into a film is Ingmar Bergman’s 1975 film of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. I love the musical interpretation in this film, as it beautifully captures the gentleness and innocence of the piece, and brings out its lyrical qualities. (Knowing the German version as well as I do, I still struggle with hearing the text in Swedish, but the warmth and intimacy of the film allows me to overlook this aspect). In many ways, the film anticipated the artistic choices that opera companies now face with simulcasts and DVDs of opera; Bergman’s film is a movie made on an opera set, rather than a recording of a true live performance. The movie contains many close-ups of singers that would not be possible in a typical opera house, and the lighting and theatrical makeup draw their inspiration from movies or TV rather than an actual opera performance. Bergman uses shots of the face of a young girl in the audience (his real-life granddaughter) almost as a leitmotif, to remind us of the importance of the audience in the performance. I also relish/enjoy –I don’t think savor quite works how the director films the opera’s characters on both the mainstage and backstage. The footage of the intermission contains marvelous comic touches: Pamina beating Tamino at chess, Sarastro is studying the score of Parsifal, and the Queen of the Night is smoking a cigarette.

My favorite film to include opera in a cameo role is Orson Wells’ 1941 classic Citizen Kane—still regularly selected as one of the greatest films ever made. In this film, Charles Foster Kane’s mistress, who later becomes his second wife, is an aspiring opera singer. Kane is determined to advance her career, and uses his newspapers in different cities to promote her rising “talent.” Ultimately, though, even his control of the press cannot overcome her mediocrity. The scenes showing her struggling to please her vocal coach, and the shot of two stagehands holding their noses in response to her performance is especially memorable, because it is much more difficult for an actor to play a mediocre opera singer than an out-and-out bad one.

And while we’re on the subject of opera in film, I would mention a third favorite: the cult film Diva. This 1981 film centers around a famous aria from a seldom performed opera, Catalani’s La Wally. Wilhemenia Fernandez as the film’s protagonist sings the famous aria “Ebben? Ne andrò lontan,” which is one of the highlights of La Wally. I particularly enjoy how opera as an art form is portrayed as hip and glamorous in this movie—no small feat when it is based on a lovely, yet relatively unknown, opera.

3. Will the Dallas Opera ever perform a “rock” Opera?

When I meet opera patrons for the first time, they often assume that I listen to nothing but opera. Actually, I enjoy listening to a wide range of music. The band The Who arguably created the rock opera genre in the 1970s, and the original musical Tommy, written by Pete Townsend and Des McAnuff contains some great music. The artistic impulse to knit together a series of rock songs, which tend to be relatively short, into an overall story-line was a very influential model (even if one argues that the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s got there first).

So will the Dallas Opera perform a “rock ” Opera? Probably not. But it’s not because some of them aren’t great music and theater. Every opera company is wrestling with the question of what works to add to their core repertoire. The Lyric Opera of Chicago revived Showboat this winter to great critical acclaim. Other opera companies have performed Gilbert & Sullivan, and George Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess has been revived by the Dallas Opera, as well asother major opera companies, many times.

To me, the issue is one of artistic “stretch.” The Dallas Opera’s core mission is producing grand opera, with occasional chamber operas added in. As a producing company, we hire top singers and other artists from directors to designers, and bring in orchestral players from outside of North Texas when needed (e.g. the banjo player in our mid-March production of Peter Maxwell-Davies’ The Lighthouse). While we could hire singers and rock musicians for a work like Tommy, it isn’t really what we do best. It would also put us into more direct competition for audiences and supporters with other excellent producing and presenting companies in North Texas (such as the Dallas Theater Center, the AT&T Performing Arts Center, and Dallas Summer Musicals).

Thanks for the questions, James!

About James Faust: James Faust, Artistic Director of Dallas Film Society, loves his family. Loves film. Loves Dallas. Wants you to stay in school.

James Faust | Artistic Director| Dallas Film Society
Host of the DALLAS International Film Festival -- April 12-22, 2012
3625 North Hall Street, suite 740 | Dallas, Texas 75219
P 214.720.0555 | F 214.720.0551 | C 214.505.3681
Jfaust@dallasfilm.org | www.dallasfilm.org

Idea for a New Opera? Before You Start…

by Suzanne Calvin

If you’ve ever given a moment’s thought to creating a new work for the opera stage -- this is a must read! Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny’s lastest edition of “Off the Cuff” for “Theater Jones” delves into the tricky business of commissioning new works. And you don’t have to be an impresario to enjoy discovering the thought processes that motivate the decision-makers.

Read it all right here

(Photo courtesy of Karen Almond, Dallas Opera)

Suzanne Calvin, Manager/Director Media & PR