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by Alfredo Catalani, Sung in Italian with English supertitles

EVEREST, World Premiere by Joby Talbot
Text by Gene Scheer, Sung in English

The Dallas Opera

Conductor – Anthony Barrese
Stage Director – Candace Evans
Scenic Designer – Robert Brill
Costume Designer – David C. Woolard
Lighting Designer – Christopher Akerlind
Wig and Makeup Designer – David Zimmerman
Chorus Master – Alexander Rom
Projection Designer – Elaine J. McCarthy
Stage Manager – Bethany Morales

Wally – Mary Elizabeth Williams
Walter – Jennifer Chung
Giuseppe Hagenbach – Rodrigo Garciarroyo

Conductor – Nicole Paiement
Stage Director – Leonard Foglia
Assistant Director – Kristen Barrett
Scenic Designer – Robert Brill
Costume Designer – David C. Woolard
Projections Designer – Elaine J. McCarthy
Lighting Designer – Christopher Akerlind
Wig and Makeup Designer – David Zimmerman
Chorus Master – Alexander Rom
Projection Designer – Elaine J. McCarthy
Stage Manager – Bethany Morales

Rob Hall – Andrew Bidlack
Beck Weathers – Kevin Burdette
Meg – Julia Rose Arduino
Doug Hanson – Craig Verm
Jan Arnold – Sasha Cooke
Mike – Mark McCrory
Guy – John Boehr

Reviewed Performance: 2/1/2015

Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The Dallas Opera’s double bill of La Wally, Act IV and Everest was performed last Sunday to a full house of viewers who chose opera over Super Bowl pregame parties. Wintry weather swirled both outside and in at the Winspear Opera House, setting the mountainous mood for this pair of snowy peak performances. The operas were created centuries apart and yet had a common theme of human tragedy brought on by the characters’ own foolish thoughts and actions.

What I've noticed more and more in modern opera productions, this double bill included, is that there's a huge trend toward the visual telling of a story with extensive projections, striking sets, and flashing lights. Running right alongside the visual aspects are ample electronic sound effects and massive multi-layered orchestrations.

Where is the singing in all of this? Yes, a peppering of operatic singing is thrown in for good measure. When the orchestra now and then drowned out the singing in both operas on Sunday afternoon, it gave me the impression that the beautiful vocals were secondary or even tragically dispensable. Granted, for the most part, the conductors of each opera kept the sound balanced, but there were definitely moments I struggled to pick out the voices in all the layers of instrumental sounds avalanching my eardrums. I will say that they were beautiful layers, composed by Alfredo Catalani and Joby Talbot. I enjoyed the overtures and orchestration throughout, but the instruments must not suffocate the singers with a blanket of sound for even five minutes, or I will fuss.

The opera that was presented first, La Wally, Act IV, was what Gregory Sullivan Isaacs termed in his preshow talk, “your spaghetti and meatball” traditional Italian opera. A woman is expected to marry a man she doesn’t love; she rebels and climbs a mountain to escape.

In Everest, the thrill-seeking clients pay $65,000 each for the experience of “summiting” to the top of the world. The guide helps a client reach the top, knowing it will mean a frozen end for both of them. Another client struggles on his own and, against all odds, drags himself back to camp.

The Dallas Opera’s double bill did tread upon a new and risky path with these selections, and I’m glad to see the venue continuing to take chances, try new methods of presentation and keep progressing. It just takes time for opera buffs to adjust. While the trends in opera are startling and new that doesn’t make them all “bad.”

My music-loving friend, Steven Fontaine, who is also an accomplished tenor, accompanied me to this performance. He happens to be visually impaired. Steven shared with me his thoughts from a sound-only perspective. That angle occurs to me to be the most important viewpoint of all in opera; I mean, when is that last time you sat with a glass of wine and relaxed to a recording of a play? We both agreed that Joby Talbot’s orchestration in Everest was simply outstanding in its plush multilayered brilliance, and Catalani’s music for La Wally is highly under-valued on its own merits, not having just Puccini-like beauty.

In La Wally, soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, who sang the title role, had crisp Italian diction and a silvery tone to match her flowing shiny gown. I would like to have seen her expand more on her gesturing, facial expressions and vocal inflections. There were several stand-pose-and sing moments, which might have been helped with more adventuresome directing. Wally’s friend Walter, a pants role, was sung by Jennifer Chung, who had energetic boyish acting and strong tone but questionable Italian pronunciation. The Mexican tenor, Rodrigo Garciarroyo, who played the love interest, had a strong but pinched sound - not terribly romantic. I did not perceive the pair of lovers as appearing enamored with each other; no chemistry, just desperate. We watched the characters do a lot of plodding from one side of the stage to the other on triangle-shaped raked stages. The large flowing sheets draping the entire stage would have been more effective if the seams were not so pronounced. The ending, with Wally’s arms stretched in a V-shape behind the sheets, was effective in a creamy, snow-like way.

In Everest, I immensely enjoyed the free, clear tones of tenor Andrew Bidlack who performed the role of the mountain guide, Rob Hall. His pianissimos could always be heard throughout and were especially touching in his duet with his pregnant wife, sung with a loving and rich mezzo soprano by Sasha Cooke. Julia Rose Arduino sang the role of Meg, the daughter of one of the climbers. This young singer turns thirteen this month but already has a lovely soprano voice and showed fine acting skills when she called to her daddy.

Her father, Beck Weathers, was sung by Kevin Burdette. While his commanding bass voice handled the vocal lines extremely well, his Southern drawl was stereotypical and distracting. It reminded me of a slave driver from the days of Gone with the Wind rather than the 1990s Dallas physician he portrayed.

Elaine McCarthy’s projection designs of snow, rocks and ice on the five-foot cubes in Everest, and triangular stages and white sheets in La Wally, were dramatic and one of the many visual elements I spoke of earlier. I wasn’t fond of the red, gold and brown colors occasionally projected that seemed out of place on a mountaintop during a blizzard. This native Minnesotan knows the colors of a blizzard: blue, white, and gray!

The bulky climbing costumes were designed by David Woolard and helped the singers create the chilling effect of belabored movement in one hundred degrees below zero temperatures at the height of 30,000 feet - where jets fly and adrenaline-junkies climb.

Robert Brill’s set design for Everest, of identically-sized five-foot cubes stacked to the ceiling, were a strong dichotic symbol of the unpredictable, irregular mountainside.

The Everest chorus, clothed in white and directed by Chorus Master Alexander Rom, was highly effective. Along with supernumeraries, the chorus singers moved in and out of crevices as they sang the role that appeared to be the voice of the mountain itself, one massive character! The only bone I might pick with the chorus was that in the very beginning, the first word on a long-held tone was not understandable. The word may have been “is.” The sound came off as a long “e” sound with a soft “s.” If the intent was to be a hiss rather than a word, that was achieved.

I look to music and art to ruffle my feathers and take me out of my comfort zone. Dallas Opera’s double bill of the new and the old portrays to viewers that to survive and grow, one must sometimes take risks. The alternative is to sit quietly at the bottom and watch the world go by.

I much prefer allowing my suspension of belief to embrace that mountain climbers sing in full voice when oxygen is hard to come by and brain cells scream for nourishment. But they sing.


Dallas Opera’s “Heights of Passion” 2014-2015 Season
Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201

Remaining performances are Wednesday, February 4th and Saturday, February 7th at 7:30 p.m.

La Wally, Act IV runs approximately 40 minutes and Everest runs approximately 70 minutes with one 25-minute intermission.

Tickets range from $19.00 to $275.00 and flex subscriptions start at $75.00.

For tickets and information, call 214-443-1000 or visit