Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Otello at the Winspear

The opera Otello was the choice of the Dallas Opera to open the new Winspear Opera House, and Verdi’s masterpiece was an excellent choice. The music is powerful and since Otello has only two crucial roles, Otello and Iago, which Clifton Forbis, as Otello and Lado Ataneli, as Iago, capably filled, the work was a successful debut for the Winspear.

Forbis was a strong and commanding presence as Otello and his fall into confusion and despair at the hands of Iago was both convincing and affecting.

Ataneli was suitably manipulative and clever as Iago, and the dynamic between the two lead singers made for great entertainment.

The orchestra played well, the opera house itself is superb, and the staging, costumes and lesser characters were, at a minimum, acceptable. An unforeseen consequence (at least by me) of Dallas’s new opera hall is that acceptable is no longer going to be good enough. Otello was reviewed by newspapers around the world and treated less kindly than it should have been. Before this year, Dallas operas were simply ignored by the press.

New opera houses are so rare that the opening of Dallas’s new opera house was a major international event in the world of opera. The good-natured audience last Wednesday, when I attended, arrived early to see the Winspear Opera House and was thrilled that it no longer had to contend with the dubious acoustics of the Fair Park Music Hall. But we’re going to be judged by a new standard now. The Dallas Opera is attempting to contend with Chicago’s Lyric Opera and the San Francisco Opera in the second rank (behind Lincoln Center) of American operas. That’s a tough league—it’s the equivalent of jumping from high school ball to the NBA.

It’s going to put not just the Dallas Opera but all of us to the test. We’re going to need to learn to distinguish between pretty good and great opera. I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge, but I did see one good sign last Wednesday.

At least in the Dress Tier where my wife and I were seated, for the first time I can remember in Dallas, a solid but unspectacular performance wasn’t given a standing ovation. That’s a sign of maturity in the audience, and it takes mature audiences to demand great opera.

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