Dallas — The Dallas Opera’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute of Women Conductors ended with a concert in the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House on Dec. 10, featuring the six participants conducting the full Dallas Opera orchestra. A pool of fantastic, and mostly unknown to this writer, singers gave the evening of operatic arias and overtures some extra sparkle.
The only complaint was about the program, which was printed in minuscule type. It was hard to read even in a well-lit environment, but impossible in the dark Winspear. The projected subtitles were quite welcome. Why couldn’t the name of the selection and the artists be projected as well?
That aside, we heard some great singing and conductors Elizabeth Askren (USA), Mihaela Cesa-Goje (Romania), Alexandra Cravero (France), Tianyi Lu (New Zealand), Chaowen Ting (USA/Taiwan) and Zoe Zeniodi (Greece) turned in fine performances.
Alexandra Cravero already has a major career underway. She started things out with Verdi’s overture to Nabucco. Conducting without a baton, she did a fine job shaping the phrases and keeping the orchestra in balance. Her performance was only marred by the huge cut-offs she gave the orchestra.
Chaowen Ting conducted the duet “Komm, Frühling!” from Kevin Puts’ Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night. She did a remarkable job with the many nuances on this stunningly beautiful selection. She was right with the singers all the way, supportive without being too loud, and never calling attention to herself.
This was our first introduction to the singers. Lyric tenor Jonas Hacker and soprano Kirsten MacKinnon were both impressive and would shine even brighter as the evening progressed.
Mihaela Cesa-Goje has a wall full of conducting prizes. She was tight with mezzo Catherine Martin as they gave the aria “Who Will Walk with Me” from Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Martin has a gorgeous instrument and sure dramatic inclinations. Cesa-Goje’s gestures were sometimes too big for the musical situation and she tends to mirror her hands. However, her musicianship is unassailable.
Elizabeth Askren already has an impressive list of guest conducting appearances with orchestras such as the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic. She conducted the Polonaise from Dvořák’s opera Rusalka. Her baton technique was clear and conveyed exactly what she wanted out of the music, some overly loud brass not withstanding. You could see her struggle not to mirror her hands, something that will become more natural for her in the future.
Zoe Zeniodi currently conducts the Broward Symphony and has appeared with Florida Grand Opera. She conducted bass-baritone Ryan Kuster in “Come dal ciel precipita” from Verdi’s Macbeth. She wisely started off subdivided, to set the tempo solidly, before switching into two. The aria sounded too low for Kuster and Zeniodi tried, in vain, not to cover him. He has a magnificent instrument but should consider a move into the baritone repertoire.
Tianyi Lu was up next conducting coloratura soprano Any Owens in the relatively unknown aria “Non Monsieur mon-mari” from Poulenc’s Les mamelles de Tirésias. This is a comic opera but addresses the serious subject of how to recover a country ravaged by war. The fantastical aria concerns a woman whose breasts turn into balloons and float away, leaving her a male. (Don’t ask). Owens comic flair made this silly situation quite delightful. Lu’s equally perky conducting added to the fun. This aria has many changes of tempo and pacing, and Lu was right with Owen all the way.
After this, each conductor appeared with either an aria, ensemble or overture in turn. Some of the singers who came later were equally impressive. Marco Nisticò was marvelous in a selection from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.
Overall, this was an excellent group of conductors, as well as singers. Hopefully, we will begin to see more women on the podiums, thanks to programs like this one.