LIKE SO MANY BABY BOOMERS warily approaching that milestone birthday—yes, you know which one—the Dallas Opera finds itself at the contemplative crossroads of half a century. Happily, there’s no midlife crisis in sight: Beginning this month, the venerated institution will be treating its guests to a star-strewn golden-anniversary season. So put those AARP subscriptions away. The DO is more alive than ever.
Now, it’s true that this vitality has not always been apparent—after all, Houston Grand Opera (two years the Dallas company’s senior) boasts most of the national publicity and has a more acoustically gratifying home to boot. But that hardly makes the DO second- rate. For one thing, there’s its pedigree: In the beginning there was the unequaled soprano Maria Callas, singing in angelic octaves at the company’s inaugural recital. Then there was Montserrat Caballé, Dame Joan Sutherland, and Plácido Domingo, among others, who all made their U.S. debuts in Dallas. As Dallas Morning News classical music critic Scott Cantrell points out, “The company really came out of the gate in a grand way.”
Today the DO is still a contender in the international competition for velvet-voiced singers, and it has done a decent job of keeping up with the ever-increasing de- mand—thanks to visual oversaturation—for more-elaborate productions (video killed the opera star?). With general director Karen Stone at the helm, the company is in good hands: Since her arrival in 2003, the DO’s hefty deficit has been vaporized and its “artistic product stabilized,” as Cantrell, for one, sees it. And Stone is making good on her promise to vary the repertoire. Of this season’s five full-length operas, four are a first for the company.
And all of them are stacked with talent. The luminous Ruth Ann Swenson will take on the weighty lead role in Maria Stuarda. (Of her dazzling turn in last year’s Rodelinda, Cantrell says, “I remember thinking there could not be more glorious singing.”) Also of note are Christopher Ventris, a vocal powerhouse, in the lead role of Lohengrin, and his cast mate Sergei Leiferkus as Fred- erick of Telramund. And keep your ears perked for Anna Shafajinskaia as Abigaille in this month’s opener, Nabucco; Vivica Genaux as Rosina in The Barber of Seville; and Verónica Villarroel as Magda in La Rondine. More arias, anyone? The cherry on top is a onetime concert of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, featuring bass Robert Lloyd and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.
Fifty or not, the DO can’t afford to go soft. If anything, it