Keith Cerny
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All Eyes on The Dallas Opera

Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny writes about special programming for the 2017 OPERA America Conference in Dallas.

published Friday, March 3, 2017


Dallas — As you may have already heard, The Dallas Opera will be hosting the 2017 OPERA America Conference for the first time in 30 years. This honor was awarded to the company in recognition of its innovative programming, world premieres, and consistent community engagement, and it provides a unique opportunity to showcase the extraordinary Dallas Arts District, including “the jewel in the crown”—the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. The theme of this year’s conference is Creating Collaborative Change, and one of the highlights of the conference for me will be a session entitled “Partnership in Play: The Dallas Arts District” (see conference schedule here). This panel discussion will be moderated by OPERA America’s President and CEO, Marc Scorca. Participants will include Doug Curtis, President & CEO, AT&T Performing Arts Center; Jonathan Martin, President and CEO, Dallas Symphony Orchestra; Kevin Moriarty, Artistic Director, Dallas Theater Center; Jeremy Strick, Director, Nasher Sculpture Center; Ann M. Williams, Founder and Artistic Advisor, Dallas Black Dance Theatre; and myself. This promises to be a very stimulating session, and I am looking forward to hearing from my friends and colleagues in the Arts District.

One of the perks of hosting the conference, highly sought-after by North American opera companies, is the chance to share The Dallas Opera’s story with hundreds of delegates from the United States, Canada, and Europe. These delegates are organized into multiple “tracks,” allowing them to spend time with their colleagues across the industry, whether they are General Directors, Music Directors, or other members of the artistic and administrative staffs.

Hosting the conference has also given me the enjoyable opportunity of adding special programming to share with our audiences in Dallas, as well as the broader opera community. In selecting these new works, I had several goals: First, I planned to showcase both our Music Director, Emmanuel Villaume, and our Principal Guest Conductor, Nicole Paiement. I wanted to include works that would be of interest to both our mainstage season and our family series audiences. I also wanted to program a group of works that demonstrated TDO’s ability to perform a wide range of musical styles at a very high standard. Lastly, I was interested in demonstrating TDO’s commitment to contemporary opera, and the company’s emphasis on incorporating high technology, especially projections, into its productions.

With these goals in mind, I turned my attention to programming (one of the most intriguing aspects of my job). Here’s what I came up with:

Thursday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m.: A Dallas Opera concert performance of Arjuna’s Dilemma by Douglas J. Cuomo, conducted by TDO’s Principal Guest Conductor, Nicole Paiement. I had wanted to schedule a special concert for Nicole Paiement, and one of the aspects of this work that convinced me it would be a perfect “fit” for Nicole’s considerable talents, was its unique combination of vocal and instrumental resources. Like a great chef who combines unexpected ingredients into a new dish, Cuomo has created a fascinating 70-minute work that includes an Indian quarter-tone singer, Western tenor, small vocal ensemble, and chamber orchestra. The orchestration is novel as well, featuring an Indian tabla (drums) and jazz saxophone, as well as instrumentation familiar to audiences from traditional opera. The text is based on Indian sacred texts from the Bhagavad Gita, with singers performing in both English and Sanskrit (yes, there will be supertitles). While we did not have the resources to mount an entirely new production, we are adapting the projections used in earlier performances to add striking visual elements to the piece. Personally, I greatly admire the composer’s skillful use of an exotic musical palette, the rhythmic intensity, and the unmistakable originality of this work.

• May 5, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.: A semi-staged performance—with projections—of Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s stunning and emotionally wrenching Everest. This remarkable work, described by one critic as a “genre-bending coup de théâtre” was the first of the trio of world premieres The Dallas Opera brought to the stage in calendar year 2015. The opera will be preceded by a world premiere “curtain raiser” by Talbot entitled, The Epic of Everest, a work inspired by British mountaineer George Mallory’s attempts to summit the world’s highest peak in the 1920s. This performance will be conducted by TDO’s acclaimed Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, and will include several principals from the critically-acclaimed original cast, notably Kevin Burdette as Beck Weathers and Andrew Bidlack as Adventure Consultants guide, Rob Hall. I am thrilled to revive this stunning opera in memory of climber Dick Bass. As readers may know, Dick and Alice Bass gave a transformative gift for the premiere in 2015. Meanwhile, composer Joby Talbot’s diverse career continues to advance. Among his most recent successes is his witty and brilliantly-scored soundtrack for the Golden Globe-nominated film, Sing.

• May 6, 2017 at 2 p.m.: The regional premiere of BreakThru Films’ The Magic Piano, with live piano accompaniment. The Dallas Opera has made a significant investment in our family series in recent years, where we present two different 60-minute operas and a concert focused around a famous opera composer each year (Verdi is featured in the 2016-2017 Season). This popular series performs six times each year, and tickets cost just $5 apiece. I had wanted to add a new dimension to our family programming, and this animated film, plus four animated shorts in sharply contrasting visual styles, links sophisticated animation technique with the excitement of live musical performance. The films are accompanied by the music of Frédéric Chopin (the Polish government commissioned these films, and Chopin is still their “favorite son”), performed by Derek Wang, a frighteningly young protégé of Lang Lang. If this young man can’t inspire the children in our audience to take up an instrument, no one can!

• May 7, 2017 at 2 p.m.: The final opera performance of the 2016-2017 Season: Bellini’s Norma. This production stars soprano Elza van den Heever in the title role with Music Director Emmanuel Villaume conducting. Remarkably, this exquisite work has never been performed in Dallas.

Although these performances are timed to take place during the OPERA America Conference, they are all open to the public. As an added bonus, these performances are also special preview events for the upcoming Soluna Festival, founded by the Dallas Symphony. I hope that many readers will be able to attend all four performances, and experience, first-hand, TDO’s ability to flex from classic bel canto to contemporary vocal techniques, from Western to Eastern musical languages and traditions, from wood and steel productions to sleek, modern set designs involving extensive projections—all with the great singing, orchestral playing, and stunning visuals you would expect from one of North America’s top opera companies.

Tickets for all four performances can be purchased here.

See you at the Opera!


◊ Keith Cerny is the General Director and CEO of The Dallas Opera. His column OFF THE CUFF appears the first Friday of each month in (Note: As of Feb. 2017, it will run on Fridays.)









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All Eyes on The Dallas Opera
Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny writes about special programming for the 2017 OPERA America Conference in Dallas.
by Keith Cerny

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