|So Long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehen, Adieu!|
|Home > Newsletter Archive > Vol. 44 > So Long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehen, Adieu!|
SO LONG, FAREWELL, AUFWIEDERSEHEN, ADIEU!
On an autumn evening in late November 1957, Maestro Nicola Rescigno raised his baton and a new chapter in the musical life of Dallas was born. With Maria Callas performing center stage, it was an event to treasure. The very next night, a fully staged production of Rossini’s rarely heard (in those days) L’italiana in Algeri launched The Dallas Opera. The director, Franco Zefferelli, was making his American debut. The star soprano was a luminous Giuletta Simoniato. They were indeed heady times; a bold beginning that put Dallas on the operatic map where it has remained for the past 52 years.
There have been many remarkable debuts since: Joan Sutherland, who considered the Music Hall “a converted aircraft hangar;” the sublime divas Olivero, Caballé, Berganza and two rather astonishing tenors, Domingo and Vickers. However, October 23, 2009, marking our first performance in the new Winspear Opera House, could be the moment that upstages them all - the biggest event in The Dallas Opera’s long and illustrious history.
L’italiana in Algeri was the final production of the 2008-2009 season and my 50th production with the company. In all my years in Dallas, you and I have been separated for much of our acquaintance by 18 inches of solid concrete, the thickest pit wall I know! About 50% of what our orchestra achieves has never been adequately projected to our patrons. Now, however, things are about to change for the better.
I’m optimistic that the new pit in the Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House will allow us to position the Dallas Opera Orchestra members in the successful configuration already used by the Vienna State Opera and the Deutsche Oper in Berlin: On my far left, we place the Woodwinds, Horns, and Harp; closer to me, First and Second Violins, but with the Firsts in the middle of the orchestra. In the center of the pit, we position the celli, with the Double Basses immediately behind. To my right, the Violas; and, to my far right, the Brass and Percussion.
I consider it crucial to position as many players in front of the proscenium as possible. This will enable the artists and performers onstage to (finally) hear the orchestra—and vice-versa. Currently, our singers struggle to hear musicians who are close enough to touch, yet buried in all that cement!
The beauty of having the woodwinds and brass play across the orchestra is, it allows us to achieve a tremendous blend without requiring anyone to play so loudly. The crucial thing isn’t the volume of sound created, it’s a breathtaking beauty of tone. It’s no secret as to why the Vienna Philharmonic is the greatest and most flexible orchestra in the world: they play 52 different operas every season and a lot of ballet, as well. The work-out doesn’t stop there: additionally, the Vienna Philharmonic performs outstanding concerts in the world’s finest concert hall, the Musikverein in Vienna. Because of limited rehearsal time, when the players are involved in an opera production, they routinely keep one eye on the beat, and one ear tuned to the singer’s vocal cords!
And what about our patrons? We move from a theater of over 3400 seats to just 2200. The airspace in the auditorium will be about half that of the Music Hall. Meaning, a whispered pianissimo in a recitative will resonate to the back row of the Winspear without difficulty. Opera lovers in Dallas will benefit from a more intimate state-of-the-art auditorium than that enjoyed by any other major opera company in America. It will transform The Dallas Opera and the way in which this art form is both perceived and appreciated across the Metroplex.
Nevertheless, there are two things we cannot take with us from the Music Hall: the stage dust kicked up by hundreds of compelling performances and the priceless memories they evoke. As you read this, take a look around the auditorium…one final look. Take a moment to recall the singers who etched themselves in your heart, the productions that made you stand up and cheer, and the one or two that generated “Letters to the Editor.”
At an OnStage Dinner a few years ago, I was put, firmly, in my place by a longtime patron. I had casually asked her whom had she most enjoyed hearing on this noble stage. After all, this is a patron who had been with us from the start. Her parents met on the grounds of Fair Park at the Texas State Fair of 1913. Here in this hall, this lovely lady had listened with rapt attention to Maria Callas and all the mighty opera singers who followed in her wake.
Needless to say, I expected to recognize the name of her personal favorite. And I did. But I found myself “beyond astonishment” when she turned, looked me straight in the eye and said:
“You know, the night Liberace came on stage driving a Rolls Royce—that was neat!”
See you in the Winspear….Bon Voyage!