Dallas — Recitals with major opera stars are rare enough, but it’s amazing that two of the world’s best-loved mezzo-soprani—Frederica von Stade and Joyce DiDonato—are performing at the same concert, along with up-and-comers Ailyn Pérez, Anthony Roth Costanzo and Rodell Rosel.
That’s exactly what will happen Friday, Nov. 13 at Hamon Hall, inside the AT&T Performing Arts Center's Winspear Opera House, for “The Opera Lover's Broadway,” a benefit concert for the Dallas Street Choir, which is run by former Turtle Creek Chorale music director Jonathan Palant. Those stars will sing some of their favorite show tunes in a 90-minute concert, with none other than the world’s greatest living opera composer at the piano: Jake Heggie.
Of course, they’re all in town for the Dallas Opera’s world premiere of Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott, which has its final performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 15. Still, it’s pretty amazing that they’re all coming together for this benefit.
Palant began the Dallas Street Choir in February, when he wanted to give the world premiere of Jonathan Welch’s Street Requiem. They began rehearsals in 2014, as Palant was director of the choir for The Stewpot, Dallas’ largest homeless shelter. For that concert, he got von Stade to perform the lead role—and the rest is history.
TheaterJones chatted with Palant about the benefit and the Dallas Street Choir.
TheaterJones: Why did you start the Dallas Street Choir?
Jonathan Palant: In all honesty, I wasn’t looking to start another choir. I was given a new piece of music to peruse—a requiem to those who died living on the street. As conductor of The Stewpot Choir, an ad hoc group that met semi-annually, I knew that giving the American premiere of Street Requiem would require much more time and weekly rehearsals to learn and master this extended work. We scheduled 15 weeks of rehearsals and defined a mission statement:
The Dallas Street Choir offers a musical outlet for those experiencing from homelessness and severe disadvantage.
One year later, the Dallas Street Choir has served nearly 400 singers and collectively amassed more than 2,000 hours of rehearsal time.
What has surprised you most about working with the homeless here?
What surprises me most is how kind-hearted each and every singer is. I suppose I don’t have a basis for thinking they wouldn’t be, but Dallas Street Choir members are polite, considerate, funny, and are generally in good spirits. Of course, there are bad days, but on more than one occasion a singer will say, “I needed to sing today. I feel better now. Thank you!”
These stars are currently in the Dallas Opera’s world premiere of Great Scott, but how did you get them to perform for this benefit?
As I was giving thought to a Street Requiem concert, I had the idea to ask legendary opera singer Frederica von Stade to sing with us. I met her once before, but that was in 1991 and she certainly wouldn’t remember. I knew she was philanthropic with her time and talent, and I knew this type of ministry might be of interest. Moreover, the worst that could happen would be is that she’d say no.
Flicka, as she’s called, has become a dear friend to the Dallas Street Choir. She sang Street Requiem to rave reviews, and when she learned she was coming back to Dallas to sing in a new opera she immediately contacted me and suggested we partner again. Together, we came up with the idea of the Opera Lovers’ Broadway’ benefit concert. With her help and using her connections, we will be singing with many of the world’s leading opera stars. And Jake Heggie at the piano!
What do you want the Dallas Street Choir to be in five years?
First and foremost, I want to see the program continue to serve the street community, as it is doing today. Beyond that, and in a utopic world, I hope none of our current members still need this choir in five years. Rather, I hope they have all moved on and are fulfilling their dreams whatever those may be. As for the program itself, I hope it continues to serve the community in creative and attractive ways benefiting not just those homeless, but the entire Dallas arts community too.
I’ll let you in on a little secret! This Friday, we are launching a very special scholarship opportunity for our singers. I won’t give away too much information, but in five years, I hope the Dallas Street Choir is still a place to sing, but also gives our members some of the tools they need to succeed outside the rehearsal room as well.