The Dallas Opera’s 2011-2012 season was certainly golden. The productions were well-received. Debuts were made. And one performance was seen by thousands – in a football stadium.
The astonishing line-up for “Tragic Obsessions” included “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Tristan & Isolde,” “La Traviata,” “The Lighthouse” and “The Magic Flute.” The company also played host to some 15,000 guests at Cowboys Stadium for a free simulcast of “The Magic Flute.”
James Valenti, a former Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year winner and Dallas favorite, returned to sing the role of Alfredo opposite of Papatanasiu in the tragic love story.
Laurent Naouri, a leading French baritone, also made his TDO debut as Giorgio Germont in “Traviata,” while Shawn Mathey, “a honeyed tenor,” made his company debut as Mozart’s Tamino in “The Magic Flute.”
Jonathan Pell, the company’s artistic director, credits the commitment of the artists for part of the success.
“They all came here, many of whom were making their debuts with the company, not really knowing what they were going to find,” he noted. “From the very first day, it was very clear with most of our productions this year that there was something special happening. The cast and production crew bonded in unusual ways. They spent a lot of time outside of rehearsal and the theater. They liked each other as people. We were all seeing the same vision at the end.”
Another part of TDO’s success can be linked directly to its home, the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, opened in 2009 in Dallas’ up and coming arts district.
“The Winspear is one of the great opera houses in the world,” Pell said. “I’ve had the privilege of getting to travel and see performances all over the world, and I can honestly say that there may be some theaters that are as good, but there are none that are better.”
The hall, designed by Foster and Partners, was the dream of Bill Winspear, a millionaire engineer originally from Canada, who donated $42 million to the project. Sound Space Design of London was responsible for the space’s perfect acoustics.
Prior to the Winspear, TDO’s home was the Music Hall at Fair Park, a dismal place where sound goes to die.
“It almost feels like night and day,” said Michale Heaston, TDO’s assistant conductor. “There’s such a wide range of colors and dynamics that weren’t possible in the Music Hall. At the Winspear, you can truly do a pianissimo or you can find the soft colors in Mozart.”
Pell says “there is a wonderful clarity to the sound, but there’s a bloom to the sound that is quite special. Even if you’re sitting under the overhang of a balcony, it doesn’t diminish the quality of the sound, which I think is remarkable.”
With the great sound, of course, comes the realization that mistakes will be heard.
“Sometimes [at the Music Hall] things could get blurred and you wouldn’t notice,” Pell noted. “Here, there is no place to hide. As a result, everyone has to step up.”
Another component to TDO’s glorious season was the simulcast of “The Magic Flute” at Cowboys Stadium.
“Even if those people who came never bought a ticket to a performance in the opera house, the publicity we gained from this event, money couldn’t buy,” said Pell. “We were picked up by The New York Times and newspapers and magazines all over the country.”
At first, Pell said, TDO thought it would be great if five or six thousand people requested tickets.
“There were 35,000 requests,” he said. “As these things go, not everyone came, but the fact that we had 15,000 people was pretty astonishing. The Winspear only holds 2,000.”
Hosting a performance at a football stadium is just one of the many ways TDO is reaching out to new audiences.
“I think a lot of opera companies are redesigning their market strategies,” Heaston said. “Opera is being rebranded in a way that appeals to people. Opera has been marginalized and I think sometimes we’ve done it to ourselves. It’s easy to be considered this heady, elitist sort of art form. I think events [like the simulcast] are actually opportunities for us to provide a more casual experience for more people to make it more acceptable.”
Choosing “The Magic Flute” for the simulcast was also part of TDO’s strategic plan to reach a younger audience.
“There are certain pieces that resonate with young people,” Pell revealed. “And certainly ‘Flute’ is one of them because it’s a basic adventure story. The handsome prince saves the beautiful princess. That’s something children can understand.”
“We’re inviting people to try something completely different,” Heaston added.
This is the second in a three-part series about two of the creative minds behind The Dallas Opera. Check out Tuesday's edition for Part III, an overview of the upcoming season, "Pursuits of Passion."
Single tickets go on sale in September. Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance by calling 214-443-1000 or visiting www.dallasopera.org. Season tickets are available from $76 to $1,015.
TDO also offers special student discounts, family packages and build-your-own-ticket options. Visit the opera’s website for complete information.
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