<em>The Ring of Polykrates</em>&nbsp;at The Dallas Opera
Music and Opera reporting on is made possible by The University of North Texas College of Music.
Select the link below to discover more.

Review: The Ring of Polykrates | Dallas Opera | Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House

Promise Ring

The Dallas Opera charms with Korngold's The Ring of Polykrates, but pairs it with an odd choice.

published Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Photo: Karen Almond/The Dallas Opera
The Ring of Polykrates at The Dallas Opera


Dallas — It is always a quandary of what to pair with a one-act opera. Such a problem was presented when The Dallas Opera programmed Erich Korngold’s delightful Viennese confection, The Ring of Polykrates. However, it was a surprise to see a violin concerto on the schedule, even if it was by the same composer. We hear plenty of violin concerti on symphonic programs and most of us don’t attend the opera to hear one. The operatic repertoire is replete with one-acts that would have been a good fit for the first half of the program. Korngold even wrote one himself, Violanta, for that very purpose.

Things were made even worse by the obviously unprepared performance of the French violinist Augustin Dumay. Playing from a closely watched score and sweating bullets, he barely made it through the Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major, even if it did require some odd tempi and a forgiving audience. Music Director Emmanuel Villaume made a heroic effort to stay with him when it almost went off the rails. Dumay was having a bad night on Friday, and it was visible on his face.

The opera, on the other hand was simply enchanting with an outstanding cast, charming sets and costumes, and Villaume’s expert ministrations. You could hardly wish for a better production.

Photo: Elias
Violinist Augustin Dumay

The libretto of the opera was written by Leo Feld, and is based on a drama by Heinrich Teweles which in  turn was based on a ballade by Friedrich Schiller. Most of the libretto was reportedly written by Erich’s domineering father Julius Korngold, who was an influential music critic. In fact, Schiller’s poem is a character in the allegoric plot of the opera itself.

The plot goes thusly: The musician Wilhelm Arndt, played with innocent and slightly bumbling humor by tenor Paul Groves, is a lucky guy. He has just received an important promotion and a large inheritance. He also has a beautiful young wife, Laura, played with both tenderness and steel by the Wagnerian soprano Laura Wilde. There are also two servants who, although only engaged, mirror Wilhelm and Laura’s happiness.

The only thing that would make Wilhelm’s life perfect would be the return of his long lost best friend, Peter Vogel, sung with bumbling bitterness by bass-baritone Craig Colclough, who turns out to be the fly in the ointment.

Referring to Schiller’s poem, Vogel says that Wilhelm’s life is so perfect that he must make a sacrifice to appease the fates and that it should be the thing most dear to him, namely his wife. By the way, we learn that he had an innocent flirt with her years ago. Multiple squabbles ensue, as Wilhelm tries to pick a fight with the patient Laura, who finally tells him off—but all’s well that ends well. The perfect sacrifice is found and it is “best friend” Vogel himself, who is unceremoniously kicked out the door.

The opera was written when the composer was just a teenager, which is astounding and puts him on the short list of musical progenies such as Mozart and Mendelssohn. Thus, he can be forgiven if his musical influences are apparent. The score has an original voice but the overripe harmonic romanticism of Richard Strauss peppers the score. More than once, Der Rosenkavalier peeks in on the proceedings. To boot, the drawing room comic operetta style brings the other Strauss, Johann, to mind. This is a terrific combination of influences in any hands, but with Korngold’s magical sense of matching music, language and dramatic occurrences foreshadows his future success in the world of film.

The comment that Korngold’s music sounds like movie music is just exactly backwards—movie music sounds like Korngold since he invented the modern film score.

The cast is uniformly strong and all the singers are perfectly cast. They look like the parts they are playing and have strong enough voices to sail over Korngold’s thick orchestration, which was wisely kept in check by Villaume.

Wilde’s glorious soprano and dignified bearing steals the show. She is a model of patience while her ham-handed husband tries to take Vogel’s advice and run her off. When she finally has had enough, she tells him what’s what while maintaining the dignity that he obviously had lost.

Groves sturdy tenor and slightly bumbling demeanor flawlessly set up his gullibility in accepting Vogel’s outrageous proposition. He brings great humor to Wilhelm’s attempts at starting a silly squabble. Bass-baritone Colclough presents Vogel as the world’s unluckiest man. His voice resounds with frustration mixed with a touch of envy.

As the two servants, soprano Susannah Biller and tenor Brenton Ryan also do a fine job. These two have slightly lighter voices than those of the other characters, which helps to separate them in any ensemble scenes. They are also easily heard over Korngold’s massive orchestration.

The set looks like the living room of a city apartment with Art Nouveau furniture and scalloped wall paper. It is just what you would expect to see in an early-20th century household that could afford a pair of servants. Tommy Bourgeois’ elegant costumes complete the stage picture.

Emmanuel Villaume conducts the opera with a light touch, tailoring the Straussisms to Korngold’s more modest effort. His podium technique changes to match the character of the music he is conducting. Those who remember his serious demeanor in TDO’s fabulous production of Bellini’s Norma could only marvel at his lighthearted approach to the amusing banter and drolleries of The Ring of PolykratesThanks For Reading


Brendan Carroll writes:
Tuesday, February 13 at 2:22PM

I am Korngold's biographer and I must take issue with your reviewer on one particular point - the comment about Korngold's "massive orchestration" and how it overwhelmed the singers. In fact, Korngold scored this opera for an orchestra of chamber proportions to reflect the period of the story (1797). It is meant to be a 20th century response to an 18th century opera buffa. Somebody at Dalllas Opera decided to enlarge the orchestra to Straussian size, presumably because they felt they knew better than the composer!

Gregory Sullivan Isaacs writes:
Tuesday, February 13 at 9:58PM

Thank you for your thoughtful comment and you are correct. However, I made a point of the fact that the orchestration never overwhelmed the singers. True, I gave credit to the singers and the conductor for that situation. It would have been better for me to say that ... "even though written for a smaller-than-Strauss orchestra, and what isn't, the Ring is thicky orchestrated and requires voices of some heft and a conductor with vocal sympathies to pull off - all of which TDO supplied."

Emmanuel Villaume writes:
Wednesday, February 14 at 3:26PM

I usually do not comment on reviews but, in that case, I will respond to the commentary of Brendan Caroll. We strictly respected Korngold indications, as far as musician counts is concerned, with the winds "by 3": 3 flutes, 2 oboes and an English Horn, 2 clarinets and a bass clarinet, 2 bassoons and a contrabassoon; 4 horns, 2 trumpets and one trombone, as strictly required by Korngold in the score. Korngold does not indicate a specific strings count (most composers do not) and we decided to go with a LIGHT one, not the one usually associated with winds by three. As Gregory noted, we were very careful to keep it light, despite the sometimes rich texture of the orchestration (and it is a compliment). To say that we were heavy handed by choice is factually inaccurate (and annoying, to be honest). In any case, thank you for your interest in this extraordinary piece. Regards, Emmanuel Villaume

View the Article Slideshow
Click or Swipe to close
Promise Ring
The Dallas Opera charms with Korngold's The Ring of Polykrates, but pairs it with an odd choice.
by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs

Share this article on Facebook
Tweet this article
Share this article on Google+
Share this article via email
Click or Swipe to close
views on theater, dance, classical music, opera and comedy performances
news & notes
reports from the local performing arts scene
features & interviews
who and what are moving and shaking in the performing arts scene
season announcements
keep up with the arts groups' upcoming seasons
listen to interviews with people in the local performing arts scene
media reviews
reviews and stories on performing arts-related film, TV, recordings and books
arts organizations
learn more about the local producing and presenting arts groups
performance venues
learn more about the theaters and spaces where the arts happen
keep up with fabulous ticket giveaways and other promotions
connect to local arts crowdfunding campaigns
post or view auditions and performing arts-related classes, services, jobs and more
about us
info on TheaterJones, our staff, what we do and how to contact us
Click or Swipe to close
First Name:
Last Name:
Date of Birth:
ZIP Code:
Your Email Address:
Click or Swipe to close
Join TheaterJones Around the Web

Follow Us on Twitter

Subscribe to our Youtube Channel

Click or Swipe to close
Search the TheaterJones Archives
Use any or all of the options below to search through all of reviews, interviews, features and special sections. If you are looking for a an event, use the calendar section of this website. This search will not search through the calendar.
Article Title Search:

Description Search:
TheaterJones Contributor:

TheaterJones Section:

Showing on or after:      Showing on or before:  
Click or Swipe to close
We welcome your comments

I am discussing:  

Your Name:
Your Email Adress:

please enter the text below and then click or tap SUBMIT :