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There are stars and, then, there are comets – returning artists who dazzle us again and again. Suzanne Calvin talks with Director of Artistic Administration Jonathan Pell about a few of those returning comets now preparing to streak across The Dallas Opera horizon, leaving a sense of genuine enchantment in their wake.
Calvin: The Dallas Opera is presenting a wonderful slate of artists in 2006-2007, and we’re particularly delighted to mark the return of some of our all-time favorite artists to mark this 50th Anniversary Season. I am including almost the entire cast of principals from our popular hit, Cinderella, who reunite for The Barber of Seville in December.
Pell: Chemistry really is the surprise element when you put a group of people together. You may think there will be chemistry, you hope there will be chemistry but, as we’ve all learned from watching Hollywood and the movie-making process, that real magic is both mysterious and elusive. We knew, for example, that we had all the ingredients when we cast Cinderella a few seasons ago, yet we were delighted when the “magic” became apparent. We’re hoping, by bringing back three of its stars, that we can create something magical again.
Vivica Genaux actually began her career with The Dallas Opera and it’s been a pleasure to watch her grow and develop and turn into one of the world’s leading singers of Rossini. This is one of her signature roles, one she’s sung at the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera. Richard Croft, of course, is the pre-eminent Mozart/Rossini tenor in the world today, in addition to being a specialist in Handel and all sorts of early music. However, he also just did the world premiere of the new Elliot Goldenthal opera, Grendel, that’s been earning phenomenal reviews in both Los Angeles and New York. Then there’s Donato DiStefano, who made his debut with us as Don Magnifico, in which he was not only terribly funny but, he sings so well! Donato is such a wonderful colleague and such a warm human being that it was a no-brainer to try to get him – and them – back.
Into that mix, we’ve added a few new people: most importantly, Giorgio Caoduro, who is making his American debut at Figaro, the title character in The Barber of Seville.
Calvin: We’re going to experience some exciting faces and voices in our season opener, Nabucco...
Pell: Yes, of course! Well, we are bringing back Anna Shafajinskaia and José Luis Duval, but also Zeljko Lucic, the Serbian baritone in the title role. If I had to put my money on anyone to be the great Verdi baritone of the next generation, it would be Zeljko. I had the great, great pleasure of hearing him recently in performances of La traviata at the Vienna Staatsopera and, I have to say, I cannot recall hearing a performance that was more thrilling; not only is he a wonderful singer, he’s a wonderful actor, a real presence on the stage. This is a terrific opportunity for the people of Dallas to hear this amazing singer who just made his American debut last season in San Francisco and is coming to Dallas, straight from his Metropolitan Opera debut.
Calvin: This will be Anna Shafajinskaia’s third time here, and a pretty good “batting average” it is.
Pell: Let’s hope! She made her debut a few season’s back with Turandot and then returned as Lisa in The Queen of Spades. She’s never sung the role of Abigaille, which is a notoriously difficult role, but when we were planning the opera and trying to think of someone who would be exciting, fiery, and really sink her teeth into it – Anna was the first person I thought of and I was thrilled when she accepted. It’s a challenge, no doubt about it, but also a wonderful opportunity for a soprano to eat up the scenery and chew up the other singers onstage!
Calvin: For a soprano who is not, physically speaking, large and imposing, Shafajinskaia really has a hefty stage presence.
Pell: Oh, yeah. She’s a formidable stage animal; there’s something about her that rivets both the ear and eye. Perhaps it’s genetic. When she was here the first time, speaking at The Dallas Opera Guild’s “Opera Insights” program, she revealed that her grandmother was one of the greatest lion tamers in all of Soviet Russia! And there is a fearlessness about her that must come down through the genes. It certainly makes her a very exciting performer to watch.
Calvin: An exciting performer we haven’t seen in a little while, one who certainly made her mark here, is returning this season: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet.
Pell: Jeanne-Michèle is singing the role of Ortrud in our February production of Wagner’s Lohengrin, a terrific role for her, I think. Since her last appearance with us, as Sieglinda in Die Walküre, she’s gone on to become one of the leading singers in Europe for works by Strauss and Wagner. She’s sung Isolde in Italy and Switzerland, as well as a number of important roles at the Paris Opera. Ms. Charbonnet has only sung Ortrud once before, in fact, in Santiago – the same production we’ll be seeing in Dallas. And it was a huge success. But, as long as we’re talking about Lohengrin, we have to talk about Sergei Leiferkus, who we’re delighted to have back! Sergei has sung with us many times since his debut as Prince Igor in 1991. He came back a couple years later as Onegin and has sung a variety of roles for Dallas, including Don Giovanni and Scarpia, and he is renowned for his interpretation of Telramund in Lohengrin which will mark his first Wagner in Dallas. It’s very exciting!
(To be continued in next month’s newsletter)