Friday night marked the beginning of the Dallas Opera’s newly dedicated chamber opera series. Moving this series across the street from the Winspear Opera House to the Wyly Theater was a great move to launch the new series. The smaller theater provided a comfortable and intimate setting for Peter Maxwell Davies’ dramatic work, The Lighthouse.
The work opens with the three performers in a Court of Inquiry in Edinburg, Scotland. The “inquisitor” in this case was the wonderful horn player Bill Scharnberg, who masterfully performed Davies’ acrobatic questioning of the supply ship officers. It is within this prologue that the audience is introduced to the three performers (who play multiple roles).
While all of the performers seemed to take the Prologue to really warm up, right from the start it was clear that we were in for a special performance from Baritone Robert Orth. It is no wonder that Opera News has called him a “fixture of contemporary opera.” His comfort level with such a challenging vocal work was more than impressive. Not only did he shine within the difficult music, he also dazzled in the vocal acrobatics of his character. Daniel Sumegi was a perfect performer for his role as the orthodox zealot Arthur. When he sang of The Beast rising from the deep, his commanding tone made one feel as if it was less a prophecy and more of an authoritative command. Tenor Andrew Bidlack was able to embrace his characters in a way that at times seemed to hide his vocal abilities. But when the music put him in a position to shine, he took full advantage and gave the Dallas audience a taste of his bright tenor sound. He especially took advantage of his turn in the “battle of songs” as he sung, well, let’s just say he was singing about a woman…
Perhaps the person with the most difficult job for this performance is the conductor, and Nicole Paiment did a wonderful job not only keeping the orchestra together, but making the music support the singers and set the mood of the ever-changing work. And that isn’t an easy task when you’re leading a chamber orchestra that features an out-of-tune piano and a referee’s whistle.
Set designer Beowulf Boritt did a great job with a minimalist setting, and lighting designer Tyler Micoleau brought in another dimension to the story. The combination of which, allowed the Hitchcock-esque story to ebb and flow to perfection until the ending, and there were many that seemed to be caught off guard at the “twist.”
For the first chamber opera in the series, this is a great start for the Dallas Opera company, and it is certainly one worth seeing, not only because it’s exciting to think of what the future holds for this new series, but because it’s a story that will stick with you for some time.