The author of this letter is Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences at Texas Tech University. It describes her reactions to the performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni on Nov 5 and that of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena the following day at the Dallas Opera. NK
We had an interesting time at the Dallas Opera this weekend. Anna Bolena on Saturday night was superb despite the loss of one of the principals half-way through. Don Giovanni on Friday night was full of problems that we first attributed to acoustics, but now that we’ve gone through Anna Bolena I credit to human error as the sound was excellent during the Donizetti.
I blame Don Giovanni’s problems on three causes, since acoustics are clearly not to blame. First, the Don was sung by Paulo Szot best known for his performance of Emile deBecque in South Pacific. I don’t believe all the publicity that said that he really comes out of opera and that his sojourn on Broadway was just a cross-over thing. He simply couldn’t be heard unless he was at the very edge of the stage. So he may have a lovely voice, but who the hell would know? I think he should fire his agent and hire a new one who will make better career decisions for him.
Second, the conductor was Nicolae Moldoveanu, who may not have been respected by the orchestra.The third factor that the orchestra was small (much smaller than for Anna Bolena), possibly because they were taking a quasi-period-instrument approach and needed a big harpsicord in the middle of the pit; this small orchestra was strewn across a very wide and deep space making it difficult to create a critical mass of sound. If they had clumped the small orchestra around the conductor and harpsicord, they might have made this work. As it was, I had an image of the orchestra as a flock of goats, each keeping its distance from the other and reluctant to take direction. Just because the orchestra pit is really large, and isn’t scrunched under the stage doesn’t mean that they have to use up all the space when they place the instruments; but that is what they did.
With Don Giovanni being the greatest opera there is, I don’t understand why they would nickle and dime the production by cutting back on orchestra size and conductor stature, unless it was because they had to pay big bucks to get Paulo Szot, which was a bad decision. There can’t be a production of Don Giovanni that I wouldn’t like, but the Dallas Opera committed some sins in this one. [She hasn’t seen this one – not the Santa Fe performance the one from London appended – NK]
The next night’s production of Anna Bolena was on the other end of the spectrum. Somebody had told us the music was boring, but we didn’t find that to be the case at all. It was wonderful. No problem hearing the big orchestra, which followed the conductor (who was Graeme Jenkins, the boss, so they would have been unemployed if they hadn’t). The voices were fine, and everything fell together beautifully, even though there was some additional drama to this performance.
Denyce Graves (Jane Seymour) gets the first line after the opening chorus; and from that first line – in fact, the first note – I felt there was something wrong. By the intermission I was certain that she was struggling and was in big vocal trouble. Well, the intermission stretched on and 40 minutes into it there was an announcement that Ms Graves had become ill, and that she would sing the first part of the second act, and then there would be a cut. So that’s what happened. She got through the beginning of the second act, then there was a silent space while scenery was shifted. The music then continued and we never saw her again, not even for curtain calls. I googled her name on Sunday and today but didn’t find anything about what was wrong. I wonder if the Dallas Opera is cutting expenses in the wrong places because there was no cover. Surely it would be better to send in someone from the bench than to make cuts! [According to the Dallas Morning News Ms Graves suffered a miscarriage. NK]
The opera house itself is very impressive. When I walked in I just said oh wow and smiled. On the other hand, it’s not well-designed for moving a crowd, and God help them if they ever need to evacuate the house quickly. It won’t happen. We parked for $5 each night at the parking lot by the Methodist Church, which was a very short walk – no problem at all.
Mozart’s DON GIOVANNI
*Dallas Opera Debut
Donizetti’s ANNA BOLENA
Associate Costume Designer: