Dallas — As many patrons and readers know, major international opera companies such as The Dallas Opera plan their seasons, literally, years in advance. This allows us to secure exceptional singers, directors, designers, and guest conductors to work with the company, side-by-side with our superb Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, and our talented artistic and production staff. This long-term perspective also allows us to build on our many strong partnerships with other arts organizations in the Dallas Arts District, because it enables us to pitch ideas for artistic collaborations while there is still flexibility in their schedules.
When I recruited Emmanuel Villaume four seasons ago, as only the third Music Director in the company’s history, I knew that he would be exceptional on the podium. However, I also wanted a colleague and collaborator who would work closely with me and the other members of the artistic and production teams to bring top-tier talent to North Texas. Maestro Villaume has more than lived up to these very high expectations in both areas, and for the last four years, he and I have been working to exceed our own high expectations regarding the musical talent that we can attract to North Texas. In this casting process, we are also ably supported by our Casting Manager, David Lomeli, in planning for the company’s future seasons.
The 2017-2018 Season is a particularly strong example of the benefits of this long-term planning approach and the intensive involvement of our Music Director; showcasing, as it does, the company debut of more than a dozen extraordinary artists. Future seasons include an equally glittering array of talent, so the future looks very bright, indeed. For our season-opening production of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Samson & Dalila, we will feature Dallas favorite (and Chair of the Voice Department at the Meadows School of the Arts at SMU) Clifton Forbis as Samson, as well as—in her long-awaited company debut—the captivating Olga Borodina in the other title role: the seductive Dalila. The opera will be conducted by Maestro Villaume and directed by Bruno Berger-Gorski in his company debut. Nycole Ray, the Artistic Director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre: Encore!, makes her TDO debut as the lead choreographer of the important dance elements in this production. We are still reaping the benefits of our extensive collaboration with Dallas Black Dance Theatre during our 2016 production of Kern and Hammerstein’s Show Boat, and are delighted to be working with Nycole. Samson promises to be a gripping, and musically powerful, evening.
Our second production of the season, Verdi’s beloved classic La traviata, will be conducted by acclaimed Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro, making his welcome company debut. This is a signature work for him, having conducted no fewer than three productions of this opera at La Scala alone. Maestro Montanaro has also been a regular master class coach for the Hart Institute for Women Conductors, and will be working with our conductors throughout the third residency of the program this November. International soprano Georgia Jarman, in the role of Violetta, will be partnered with American tenor Zach Borichevsky making his company debut as Alfredo Germont. Vladislav Sulimsky returns to Dallas as Alfredo’s father, Giorgio. Readers may remember his riveting performance in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta back in 2015, also conducted by Villaume.
In February, we will present Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s rarely performed first opera, The Ring of Polykrates, composed in his mid-teens. (TDO presented his most famous opera, Die tote Stadt in 2014). This one-act domestic drama, almost, but not quite, a comedy, blends influences from Verdi, Strauss and Wagner, while still displaying Korngold’s personal voice. The libretto was written by the composer’s father, Julius Korngold, a distinguished Viennese critic from the early 20th century who realized very early on that he had sired one of the greatest musical prodigies of all time. All three of the major roles in this opera will be performed by artists making their vocal debuts with TDO. Tenor Paul Groves will play the role of Wilhelm Arndt, and Soprano Laura Wilde will perform the role of Laura Arndt. Peter Vogel will be performed by Bass-baritone Craig Colclough. Maestro Villaume will conduct, and Peter Kazaras will direct. I have paired the work with Korngold’s sumptuous Violin Concerto in D Major, performed by Augustin Dumay in his—you guessed it—company debut. Dumay is a consummate performer with exquisite musicianship, and I’m sure that audiences will appreciate this unique pairing.
In March, the Dallas Opera will perform the United States premiere of Michel van der Aa’s Sunken Garden, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Nicole Paiement. Paiement’s career continues to flourish, including most her recent highly successful performances at the Glimmerglass Festival. The opera includes three live singers, and a number of actors and singers on pre-recorded 3-dimensional film directed by the composer. As with the Korngold work, all three singers will be making their debut with the company. When I first saw a performance of Sunken Garden in Lyon, France, Roderick Williams performed as Toby Kramer, and Katherine Manley as Zenna Briggs, and both of these artists will be appearing in TDO’s production. Last year, I saw Miah Persson, making her debut with us in the role of Iris Marinus, in another stunning and provocative world premiere by Mr. van der Aa entitled, Blank Out, incorporating the wrenching poetry of South African poet Ingrid Jonker.
For the final production of the season, we will present a starry cast in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by Emmanuel Villaume. Some productions of this classic opera portray the Don as a charming womanizer—more James Bond than Jack the Ripper—but in this production, it is clear that however charismatic the Don may be, his evil deeds deserve the damnation he receives. Marisusz Kwiecien returns to Dallas for these performances, bringing exceptional singing and dramatic intensity worthy of this monumental production. Kyle Ketelsen makes his debut with TDO as the Don’s—mostly—loyal aide-de-camp, Leporello. Dallas native Laura Claycomb will return as Donna Anna, and Donna Elvira will be performed by Ellie Dehn in her company debut. Virginie Verrez and David Portillo have both appeared on TDO’s Music & Masterpieces series in the past, but are now making their mainstage debuts with us as Zerlina and Don Ottavio, respectively. Craig Verm, who played Doug Hansen in the world premiere of Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer’s Everest, portrays Zerlina’s justifiably suspicious, and yet credulous, love interest, Masetto. And Morris Robinson, who appeared in our 2010 production of this opera, before “stealing the show” as Joe in our 2016 production of Show Boat, returns as The Commendatore. This is a cast worthy of any opera stage in the world, and I know that it will make for a truly thrilling season finale!
This season also marks the appearance of a number of notable directorial debuts. As noted earlier, Bruno Berger-Gorski will direct Samson, and Stefania Panighini will direct La Traviata. After the holiday break, Peter Kazaras will direct the Korngold opera, and composer Michel van der Aa will direct his own unique opera, Sunken Garden, with a libretto by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas). In addition to his creativity as a composer, van der Aa is also a gifted movie and stage director, and will apply these diverse skills to the Dallas production. Wrapping up the season, distinguished director Robert Falls, who has been the Artistic Director of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago for 30 years, will direct Don Giovanni. I can promise you one of the most gripping and emotionally engaging Giovanni’s you have ever seen, with a boldly theatrical ending.
All of these performances feature the outstanding Dallas Opera Orchestra, fresh from its performances accompanying Texas Ballet Theater in Tchaikovsky’s Beauty and the Beast in September, and the polished Dallas Opera Chorus expertly prepared by veteran Chorus Master Alexander Rom.
I know you will enjoy them all!
◊ 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 TheaterJones.com.
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