Building to a Crescendo

Dallas Opera was once the toast of the nation. Now it is reaching for that high note again.

Jenkins insists that the Dallas Opera's biggest limitation is the Music Hall, and he is vehement about the need to replace "that huge theater in Fair Park." He points to the "beautiful, exquisite" new hall in Glyndebourne, England--a city, he stresses, "in the height of recession"--as proof one can be built even when money is tight.

"We should be able to do that here," he proclaims. "The longer we sit around and plan it, the longer off it's going to be. It must start and people must say, 'Let's try and do it for the millennia.' I think by '95, we should get on with it and get it set up."

Other cities apparently agree. A number of multi-arts complexes and opera-specific halls are being built or are currently undergoing extravagant remodeling. A new multipurpose facility that will house a symphony orchestra and an opera company is now under construction in Miami at a cost of more than $150 million, with most of the costs being picked up by Dade County. The Lyric Opera of Chicago is spending $100 million, most of which has come from private donations, to renovate its current facility; the San Francisco opera company is also redoing its hall in association with the ballet company, and a new opera house-symphony hall opened just last year in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Karayanis considers a new home for the opera to be crucial. "If we are to continually and effectively produce opera at the international level, we have to have the stage to allow us to share productions with other companies around the world," he says. He says Dallas had to pass on several productions, including Franco Zeffirelli's recent staging of La Traviata, because the Music Hall's stage was too shallow and its backstage too small to accommodate Zeffirelli's extravagant stage setting. He also stresses the need for more intimacy in the "cavernous" hall, in which the seat farthest from the stage is more than 170 feet away.

But Karayanis insists that he is not frustrated by the promises of a new hall that has not been delivered for more than a decade. He points to the ongoing formation of a performing arts complex corporation--with representatives from, among others, the Dallas Opera, the Summer Musicals, the Anita Martinez and Fort Worth-Dallas ballet companies, and the Dallas Black Dance Theater--as proof that formal planning and action will soon get under way. "I think there's action taking place here," he says.

The Dallas Plan, the ambitious long-range vision for the city headed by Coca-Cola Bottling Company president Robert Hoffman and adopted by the city council last year, is the latest document to include the completion of the Arts District--and that multi-use arts complex--in its agenda. A Dallas Opera task force recently concluded that such a facility, home to a variety of arts organizations, would cost more than $100 million to build and need almost $50 million more to operate. Most of that money will have to come from private, corporate donations. The city would likely contribute the land, but even a bond election seems a distant possibility--especially after the public distrust created when the Meyerson's cost skyrocketed and Ross Perot was called in to fill in the gap.

Councilman Craig McDaniel, the chairman of the city's arts and education committee, figures it will take at least a decade to build such a complex. The city is not even involved, as yet, in discussions surrounding a multi-arts facility, waiting as Karayanis and the other arts organization heads decide who will operate the building, where it will be built, and, most important, who will pay for the building.

"We're discussing those issues, but we're in the very early stages," McDaniel says, explaining that most of the money needed to build the hall likely will come from private donations. "When we spoke recently, we agreed they would come back in a few months when they had a clearer idea of what they wanted. They don't know if they'd build it in phases, if it'd be one facility or a complex, if parts of it would be underground. This is in the early thinking. I know it has been thought about for years, but this is the early serious thinking stage."

The completion of the Meyerson for the DSO affected the Dallas Opera in that it separated the opera company from the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which had provided the music for the company's productions for 35 years. In early 1989, the opera found itself without, in effect, a backup band and was forced to create its own orchestra using local union musicians, most of whom teach at area colleges and universities and are under contract to Dallas Opera for a period of one to three years.

One Opera Guild board member feels that the cobbled-together Dallas Opera Orchestra is a key element holding the company back from competing at an international level. The talent, he insists, simply isn't up to the standard set by the DSO.

But Karayanis dismisses criticism of the Dallas Opera Orchestra, insisting that "any time you put an ensemble together, there's a learning curve of experience." The orchestra will improve with time (Jenkins has scheduled more rehearsals since his arrival). Karayanis stresses that with its own orchestra aboard, the company has actually been able to expand the number of performances and productions each year since there is no DSO schedule with which to compete.

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