The Dallas Opera continues to astound. One of its composer conversations, this time with British composer Joby Talbot, turned into a surprise announcement of a new commission on an opera based on the fatal 1996 Mount Everest expedition. Even in hard economic times, The Dallas Opera continues to be concerned with the future of opera and with bringing new works to the stage.
On Tuesday evening, The Dallas Opera held a conversation with a composer, one of their services to the community. This time, it was with a composer who has never written an opera. This seemed odd at the time, but was a broad hint at the announcement to come.
After 30 minutes of discussion (including a video) about Talbot's previous works, for everything from a rock band to a ballet, TDO Artistic Director Jonathan Pell made the announcement.
As the news release reads: "The Dallas Opera is tremendously proud to announce the commissioning of a new original one-act opera by renowned British composer Joby Talbot and the critically acclaimed American librettist Gene Scheer (Moby-Dick, Cold Mountain) in their first joint project. Everest is expected to command center stage in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House at the AT&T Performing Arts Center in February of 2015."
This is not the first commission since Keith Cerny took over the management of The Dallas Opera. Composer Jake Heggie and librettist Terrence McNally are at work on Great Scott, a new comedy that will open the Dallas Opera's 2015-2016 Season. Talbot's opera will become the fifth world premiere work commissioned by the Dallas Opera since 2000. (Joining Moby-Dick, Thérèse Raquin, Great Scott and the song cycle A Question of Light).
The 1996 expedition to climb Mount Everest has passed into the common knowledge through a series of books. The stories of the few survivors of the harrowing experience will be the text of the opera. Librettist Gene Scheer said that he was already interviewing the survivors so that he could get a first-hand, non-sensationalized report of what actually happened. "When you are standing on the top of the world, and realize that you will never be able to get down, what thoughts go through your head," Scheer queried at the conference.
Unthinkable. But surely the stuff of opera; which can express emotions and thoughts as well as words.
This commission represents Joby Talbot's first foray into opera, after establishing himself as a composer of ballet and screen scores. However, this "first time" commissioning of operas is not unique to the Dallas Opera. Gene Scheer is currently writing an opera with Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, who has written for the voice. Perhaps this new blood, from other compositional endeavors, will breathe some new life into the opera.
The Dallas Opera is counting on it.
"I've been intrigued by the idea of Joby Talbot composing for the opera stage since experiencing his brilliant work on [the ballet] Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Dallas Opera General Director and CEO Keith Cerny said in the news release. "I was fortunate enough to attend the premiere, which made a strong impression on me. It was clear that Joby's score supported the ballet magnificently as it progressed through a wide range of scenes, characters, and stage effects. I found myself taking a serious interest in his body of work and quickly realized that this was a composer 'without borders'; who had proven successes in film, ballet, choral writing, chamber music, orchestral writing, and many other genres—so, why not opera?"