Fingers crossed, opera lovers in Dallas. This spring may see you in a seat, enjoying the season that was postponed due to COVID-19 – almost a year after the pandemic caused a state-wide shut down.
The Dallas Opera’s 2020-2021 season, postponed earlier this year because of COVID-19, will start on March 5, 2021, with three performances of the world premiere The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (March 5, March 7 (matinee), March 13) composed by Joby Talbot to a libretto by Gene Scheer.
Completing the mainstage season will be abridged productions of Verdi’s Don Carlo (March 27 (matinee), March 31, April 3 (matinee); Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (April 9, April 11 (matinee), April 14, and April 17); and Puccini’s Tosca (April 16, April 18 (matinee), April 21, April 24; May 2 (matinee)—all presented in stagings of approximately 90 minutes in length.
Ian Derrer, The Dallas Opera’s Kern Wildenthal general director and CEO, said audiences can look forward to dramatically and musically exciting performances — albeit different from what they have experienced in the past and will see in the post-pandemic future.
“We have charged our world-class artistic teams with bringing all their creativity and fresh thinking to productions that provide a thoroughly rewarding artistic experience for audiences, while adhering to COVID-related safety and social distancing requirements,” he said.
“The first opera in the season, Joby Talbot’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, is under 90 minutes in length, and the three operas that complete the season — Don Carlo, The Marriage of Figaro, and Tosca — will all be abridged to approximately 90 minutes in length,” Derrer added. “Most of the famous arias and ensembles in these final three operas will be maintained, but without the chorus because of social distancing requirements.”
Derrer explained that the Winspear’s orchestra pit will be expanded to allow for maximum distance between the orchestral players.
Emmanuel Villaume, TDO’s Mrs. Eugene McDermott music director, said that the start of the season comes at an important time.
“Our souls need Art in these difficult times, and our hearts, especially, are craving music. For this special season, TDO audiences will have the opportunity to be in the exceptional company of Talbot for his new opera, and our old friends Mozart, Verdi, and Puccini,” he said. “We will present internationally celebrated singers in a format that will respect the safety of all. This will present some challenges, but we know that artistic quality and emotion will be present in the Winspear more than ever.”
A specially designed set will allow for the creation of a unique visual landscape for every production, with a multitude of projections and lighting used to create and support each story’s atmosphere and dramatic action. Costumes, makeup, and hair design will be streamlined — conveying the essence of each individual character without requiring elaborate costumes and wigs.
“The goal,” Derrer said, “is to create a stunning visual landscape without a multitude of complex sets that require large numbers of backstage personnel to operate the show. Directors will have full use of the stage to create the drama and action, but social distancing is a mandatory requirement for creating the season, with a reduction in scale necessary in areas of each production.”
Derrer stated that all of the directors in the TDO season are rising to the challenge of producing their respective operas in a time of pandemic. For example, Kyle Lang, who will direct Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, explains that “foremost in my mind as I prepare to stage this masterpiece in a socially distanced setting is maintaining intimacy without the ability to have the performers touch one another. I lean into the story for guidance and think of the isolation the Countess (one of the opera’s major characters, who is estranged from her philandering husband) must feel, and the accompanying longing of emotional distance. If I can encourage performers to translate emotional distance and longing into the tension of the negative space between them onstage, we have the opportunity to create touching art that reflects the isolation so many of us have felt in this time.”
Derrer said that for months, he has been receiving enthusiastic encouragement from audiences asking TDO to “try our very best to get live opera back on our stage this spring.” He said that “people understand that we as producers and they as audience members will have to make ‘COVID compromises’ for us to have a spring season — and everyone understands that a good portion of our audience will wait to come back until there is widespread vaccination.”
Derrer emphasized that safety measures for artists, audiences, and TDO personnel are paramount. To adhere to social distancing guidelines, a maximum of 30% of the theater’s seating capacity will be used. Masks for everyone except for singers in performance will be compulsory; temperature checks and hand sanitizing will be mandatory for everyone entering the theater. Special ventilation protocols will be instituted in the Winspear to ensure maximum air circulation and outdoor air intake in the theater, lobbies, and backstage. There will be no intermissions in any of the operas. A full list of safety guidelines can be found on the AT&T Performing Arts Center website. All safety measures will be in compliance with mandated State Health and Human Services regulations for fine arts performance halls.
Derrer said that subscribers for the 2020-21 season would be the first to be accommodated in the greatly reduced capacity.
“We will be doing our best to seat people as close as possible to their original seats locations, realizing that changes will need to be made to allow for social distancing,” he said.
Subscribers will be contacted in the new year regarding exact seating details.
Thanks to successful contract arrangements with TDO’ s union partners, subscribers not wishing to attend live performances will have the option of seeing all of the season’s operas via on-demand videos. Subscribers choosing not to attend live, or to view the videos, will have the option of having their ticket-purchase price applied to their 2021/2022 season subscription, contributing their purchase amount to TDO’s DOER fundraising campaign, or receiving a refund.
Single-ticket availability for the 2020/2021 season will be announced after all subscribers and donors have been accommodated. On-demand video streams of mainstage productions, which will be free for subscribers, will be available for purchase by individual-ticket buyers.
Ann Stuart, chair of The Dallas Opera board of directors, commends Ian Derrer and Emmanuel Villaume for their thoughtful planning while considering a spring season. “While nothing is certain in this COVID-19 environment, Ian and Emmanuel have chosen to pursue the challenging path that leads to our enjoyment once again of all that The Dallas Opera brings to our community. We applaud their leadership.”
In other season news, Derrer said that recital with famed baritone Benjamin Appl, part of the Robert E. and Jean Ann Titus Art Song Recital Series and originally scheduled for January 2021, is being rescheduled to a soon-to-be announced date in January 2022. All ticket-holders will be moved to the future date and contacted by Patron Services to confirm the change or request other ticket options.
The Hart Institute for Women Conductors Showcase Concert is going ahead as planned on Feb. 19, 2021 at 7:30 p.m. in the Winspear. The Dallas Opera Orchestra will be conducted by Elizabeth Askren and Stephanie Rhodes Russell, with program details to be announced this coming January. Also proceeding as scheduled are The Dallas Opera National Vocal Competition on May 1, 2021, at 7:30 p.m.; and the Joyce DiDonato concert with Maestro Emmanuel Villaume and The Dallas Opera Orchestra, on May 10, 2021, at 7 p.m., with amended plans for the onstage dinner to be announced in the new year.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to dallasopera.org.