The Dallas Opera is building mutually beneficial relationships with other arts organizations this season, including a chamber opera co-produced with the Dallas Theater Center in the spring.
But first, the Opera is doing Georges Bizet's one-act operetta Doctor Miracle, a collaboration with two area universities with outstanding music programs: Southern Methodist University and the University of North Texas, each school providing a cast for multiple performances. The Dallas Children's Theater also plays a part in that the show, which opened Friday and has three more performances through February, is at the DCT's home at the Rosewood Center for Family Arts.
Bizet's slight score, written when he was a teenager, is based on a familiar plot for a myriad of comic operas, not to mention generations of commedia dell'arte and Punch and Judy entertainments.
Laurette, daughter of the Mayor and his wife Veronica is in love with a dashing solider, Silvio, but her father has already picked out a rich, albeit elderly, husband for her. The solider puts on a disguise as a servant and cooks up a vile omelet. Once he is chased out of the house, he sends a note that the food was poisoned. He returns as Dr. Miracle and trades the antidote for Laurette's hand in marriage. The father takes this attempt on his life graciously and all ends happily. As to whether this story of a rebellious child and her boyfriend tricking her naïve parents to get their way is appropriate for children, is best left to Dr. Benjamin Spock and his ilk. Nevertheless, it is all so stiffly silly that the harm is no more dangerous than Wile E. Coyote's dropping of a cartoon safe.
Friday's show gave the young singers from UNT an outing for the first performance of the production. Singers from SMU will take the stage on Oct. 14. For all performances, musical director Julian Reed is at the piano and keeps the music perking along. James Hampton's stage direction is fairly stagnant and minimal, considering the broader opportunities the libretto offered. The comic book set and poufy costumes, designed for touring by Tommy Bourgeois, are effective and clever. The pseudo swami outfit for Dr. Miracle is especially hilarious.
Vocally, the cast heard on Friday was excellent. Jennifer Youngs is a spry soubrette with a lovely voice and a secure upper register. Her Laurette is full of energy but lacks the mischievousness required for these kinds of roles. Christian Bester, as the Mayor, was full of indignant pomposity and bluster, without over doing it, and consistently got the best laughs of the evening. Unfortunately, his baritone tends to slip backwards in the high register and thus lacks the freedom of his middle voice.
Avis Stroud's excellent mezzo soprano voice perfectly fit the role of the Mayor's wife and she gave the role a blousy "whatever" attitude that is right out of any present day sitcom. Jonathan Yarrington is at his best in the disguise of the servant. As the phony Dr. Miracle, he is understandably stiff and stoic, but he remains that way when he returned as himself and in uniform. There was nothing young and boyish about him that would make you believe that he cooked up such an elaborate and silly plot to get Laurette's hand.
All of the singers suffer from diction problems, with Yarrington being more understandable most of the time. But there is dialogue to move the slim plot along. It is obvious to even the youngest in the audience what is going on.
But what is more significant is that with this production, the Dallas Opera is thinking out of the opera box. They are reaching out to university programs to collaborate in bringing a clever live opera directly to children. Subsequent performances will be at the Rosewood Theater, but will move into the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House for a run during the fall and again in the spring. Thus, Parents can choose between the familiar small children's theater environment or the whole big-time opera house experience. Further, talented university singers get to sing a role under the tutelage of the Dallas Opera's artistic staff, not to mention a valuable résumé credit.
In the end, the community is enriched, future audiences are (hopefully) created, and opera is demystified for both the younger generation and, probably, many of their parents. On Friday, I heard one child tell her parents with some wonderment, "Why, opera is just a play with music."