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Building to a Crescendo

The Music Hall in Fair Park was half empty, the writer for Time noted, but it was understandable. After all, "two of the city's most popular debutantes were giving dances that night." Still, the opera went quite wonderfully, despite "a Texas chorus that had a lot of trouble learning to sing in Italian," the writer said. The production was topnotch, the sets were expansive and gorgeous, the singing was brilliant, the staging was sharp and witty--everything and more one expects from opera, even when the production in question is a lesser-known work from the renowned Rossini.

"As of today," Time quoted one opera buff as saying, "Dallas is on the map as an opera town along with New York." Newsweek then chimed in with the breathless proclamation that "for a couple of nights running last week, Dallas, Texas was the operatic capital of the U.S."

"The city has always prided itself on being an opera-minded town, supporting various local operatic enterprises," continued the writer, "but rarely has it found itself with as much vocal excitement as when two national attractions held the stage of the big Dallas Music Hall in Fair Park."

Such praise--in the same week, no less--from two of the nation's most widely read publications cements an opera company's place in the world of opera, a place filled with men and women driven by grand tradition and elite pride.

The praise, however, dates back to December 2, 1957--a time when Maria Callas, one of the most famous opera singers ever to set foot on a stage, considered Dallas a home away from home; the phrase "Callas in Dallas" was often heard around the world. Thirty-seven years ago, critics and opera fans from all over the world flocked here, to what was then one of the most prestigious operas in the world.

It's been decades, a presidential assassination, and a boom-and-bust cycle or two since the Dallas has had that kind of notice, but the opera supporters say its time is at hand again.

On a mid-December evening, the Dallas Opera Orchestra, an ensemble of local union musicians, is practicing in its Deep Ellum rehearsal space. Their new leader, Dallas Opera music director Graeme Jenkins, who served as the director of the prestigious Glyndebourne Touring Company in England before coming to Dallas this season, lounges nearby on a brown couch, dressed casually in jeans and a pullover. It's a far cry from the elegant, tuxedoed image he projects during a performance of the opera when his conductor's baton pierces the air above the orchestra pit.

"Internationally, this company is considered in a very, very high light," Jenkins says. Yet even he anchors that reputation in the Opera's distant past. "Remember, this is the company where Maria Callas sang more of her performances in America than any other company," he says. He is anxious to join his orchestra for rehearsal, but before he does, Jenkins spells out his long-term goals for the survival of the Dallas Opera: a broader repertoire featuring modern productions, a multimillion-dollar new opera house in the Arts District, and renewed public enthusiasm for the art form--from a younger audience.

It's a tall order for a city that seems to appreciate any one of its sports franchises more than the arts. But Jenkins gamely predicts a time in the near future when the Dallas Opera and other local arts organizations will bring people back to downtown to restore the soul to the city. It is a matter of nothing less than civic pride, he says.

"You look at these early pictures [of Dallas] at the turn of the century, and you see how vibrant downtown was," says Jenkins, with the perspective of an outsider who has yet to fight the funding battles. "Now, once the offices are closed, it's a ghost town practically. You have the magnificent Meyerson, the fantastic museum, but apart from Deep Ellum and a little bit in the West End, this city is very quiet at night. Everything goes on in the suburbs.

"It's very important that the Dallas Opera, along with the other theater companies of the city, generates more of a nightlife going on if this city wants to be regarded as one of the major international cities of the world," says Jenkins, who seems to have already learned the trick to motivating Dallas, a city that has an obsession with becoming world-class.

In the first year of a three-year contract with the company, Jenkins is ambitious, articulate--and, perhaps, all too aware of the difficult job that lies ahead of him. Though the Dallas Opera is still regarded by opera experts and enthusiasts as one of the top 10 companies in the country, it has been a long time since it has received the glowing praise that warmed it in the late '50s.  

And so Jenkins defines his vision of the future with triumphs from the past. But while a storied past has certainly given the Dallas Opera a sense of history and credibility within the opera world, it has also given Jenkins and his company a tough act to follow.

In the end, the quality of a performance on any given night--how movingly the leads translated the material, how powerfully they sent their voices through the opera hall--is not the simple, if subjective, yardstick in judging opera companies.

When experts and aficionados rank the world's best companies, they point to more concrete criteria: how many productions they stage a year, how many performances are held each season, the company's ability to draw the opera world's leading performers and brightest stars, the hall in which the opera is staged, the quality of the orchestra, the ability of management to discover rising young talent.

When Patrick Smith, the editor of Opera News, and Mark Scorca, the head of Opera America (the organization to which most of the country's professional companies belong), insist that Dallas Opera is among the 10 finest in the United States, it is upon that criteria they hang their praise.

"I can say the Dallas Opera has, from any perspective, a tremendous track record of growth in terms of numbers of productions, numbers of performances, and numbers of audience members," says Scorca, who has worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. "And there is artistic growth, as well, as measured by American works produced there and world premieres staged there. And it is all done in the context of sound fiscal management."

The current season, which began in November with Puccini's immortal La Boheme and concludes in February with a staging of the Gershwins' mainstay Porgy and Bess, was the first time Dallas Opera expanded its number of productions from five to six; similarly, the number of performances blossomed from 16 in 1990 to 34 this year. And though that's a far cry from the more than 20 productions and 200 performances held at the Met, it's also considerably more than most opera companies in the country.

When La Boheme opened the season, it was with a new staging from wildly erratic film director Herbert Ross, responsible for the critically praised Pennies from Heaven and the panned Footloose. And Dominick Argento's The Dream of Valentino made its Southwestern debut on the Music Hall stage this year--notable not simply for its prestige, but for the bad reviews that followed.

And it was in Dallas where opera's reigning female superstar, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli, performed in 1993--long before she appeared on the Metropolitan Opera stage. Such a coup recalled Dallas Opera's glory days, when the likes of Dame Joan Sutherland and a 19-year-old Placido Domingo made their North American debuts here, or when Franco Zeffirelli, who rose to fame as the director of Romeo and Juliet, served as stage designer on a number of productions.

But Dallas Opera has its faults, some that may be insurmountable. Dallas Opera needs a new home, a better orchestra, more performances and an even wider variety of productions. As David Littlejohn, a journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley and an opera expert, points out in his book The Ultimate Art, Dallas does not fit the bill of an international company because it does not have the capability to stage 10 different operas and 40 performances a year.

A major hurdle to growth is the Music Hall in Fair Park, which has been roundly condemned--by performers such as Bartoli, by architects, and by the Dallas Opera management itself--as "a facility as acoustically dismal as it [is] sprawling," as former Dallas Symphony Association executive director Leonard Stone once described it.

These are all criticisms Dallas Opera general manager Plato Karayanis has heard since arriving here more than 17 years ago. He is well aware they are the things that separate a good local opera company from a great international one--in effect, Dallas 1990 from Dallas 1960.

"What we are trying to do [is] for not only our audience currently, but also to perpetuate the art form into the 21st century and beyond," Karayanis says. "The vision we came up with was opera for the 21st century--new initiatives, new audiences for a new world. The opera going into the 21st century has to be something that builds on an audience and sustains their interest."

But he is constrained, he says, by a budget that allows only limited flexibility. The Dallas Opera operated on a budget of $8.6 million for the 1994-1995 season--up from $4.8 million just four years ago.

Among the 115 professional companies that belong to Opera America, Dallas ranks in the top 20 when it comes to annual budget--or at the Level One, as Opera America classifies it, the cut-off point being $5 million or more. But Dallas Opera is not among the top 10, ranking below the Met, San Francisco, the New York City Opera, Chicago, and even Seattle and Houston in spending. The Met's operating budget for this year alone is $134 million, with more than half of the revenue coming from ticket sales.  

Almost every dollar that comes in to Dallas Opera this year--$4.1 million from ticket sales, $4.1 million from private and corporate donations, $114,000 from the city, and more than $260,000 from other miscellaneous income--goes out almost immediately. A majority of the money, more than $5.5 million, is spent on the productions themselves, from hiring the performers to paying the orchestra to constructing and hauling sets. The rest of the Dallas Opera's income is spent on promoting the company, paying the management, and operating the Music Hall.

If Dallas Opera is lucky, by the end of the season it will have made a little more than $5,000 in profit.

But, as Opera News editor Patrick Smith insists, there is not one opera company in the country that makes any money--not in New York, not in San Francisco, not in Chicago, nowhere. Of all the performing arts, opera is simply the most labor-intensive, with all its enormous and grand detailed sets, the extravagant costumes, the men and women needed to create and shlep the sets. It's almost like hauling around the Rolling Stones' mammoth Voodoo Lounge tour each week to a different city, but with only a fraction of the budget.

"I don't know any opera company around the world that's made money in the last 50 years," Smith says. "Opera is the fastest way to go bankrupt you can imagine."

There is no discussing Dallas Opera without dealing with its home, the 70-year-old Music Hall in Fair Park--the site of so many triumphs, now a dilapidated building that has outlived its usefulness. For decades the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Opera, along with Dallas Summer Musicals and touring events, shared the Fair Park Music Hall, a beast of a building with the acoustics of a high-school auditorium.

The DSO and the Dallas Opera never kept secret their feelings about the Music Hall, and almost two decades ago both organizations requested the city provide for them new and improved performance spaces--more attractive structures with larger spaces, better sound, and greater flexibility.

The DSO got its wish, and in the early '80s planning began on a new symphony hall; the opera was told it would have to wait, but that it wouldn't have to wait long. But when the $84.5-million Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Hall opened in 1989--almost $35 million over budget--and the symphony abandoned the Music Hall for the Meyerson, the opera company still found itself without new digs.

The Meyerson was built as a showcase hall only for symphony--as well as jazz concerts, vocalists (like Tony Bennett and Harry Belafonte, who have performed there), lectures, and graduation exercises. The Meyerson's small stage is equipped to accommodate 99 orchestra members, but the boomerang-shaped stage can't hold stage sets, and there is no provision for an orchestra pit.

The city's plans for the Arts District, which date back to a 1977 study--"A Comprehensive Arts Facilities Plan for Dallas," prepared by Carr, Lynch Associates--have long included a multi-event, Kennedy Center-type space that would eventually house the Dallas Opera, the Dallas Black Dance Theater, and such now-defunct arts groups as Ballet Dallas and Allegro Dallas.

In the Carr study and others that followed, the issue of the Music Hall's inadequacies was raised. The 1984 "Dallas Arts District" report, done by Theatre Projects Consultants, Inc. out of New York (of which famed Broadway producer-director Hal Prince was vice president), noted several problems.

"The stage and backstage is very constrained for grand opera, and opera in repertoire is not possible," the report read, pointing out there is simply no room for enormous sets. "The hall is not ideal as it is too vast, and acoustics are not good for first-class opera."

In conclusion, the report warned that the Dallas Opera's growth and strength would be constrained if the city did not provide a first-class facility--one that must have "magic" and be "the deluxe salon of a great city," as Dallas Opera co-founder and artistic director Nicola Rescigno maintained then. TPC also estimated that a facility would cost the city $86.6 million--in 1984 dollars, or about $14 million less than some estimate it would cost to build such a hall now.

Nine years later, the Central Dallas Association--of which Karayanis and almost every influential officer of every arts organization, bank, real estate company, and big business in this town is a member--submitted a plan to the city titled, "A Future Vision for Downtown Dallas." They again called for a multipurpose arts facility--this time based on a 1989 study, "A Cultural Facilities Master Planning Process for the City of Dallas," that was adopted by the city council.  

According to both plans, the multipurpose arts facility should include: a 1,200- to 2,000-seat "opera facility" that would be home to Dallas Opera and local dance organizations; a 700- to 900-seat theater to serve as the Dallas Theater Center's Arts District Theater; a 300- to 500-seat theater for "music, dance, and drama"; and other smaller theaters and multipurpose exhibition halls and galleries.

The Central Dallas Association also noted that such a facility should be built within the next "0-2 years." That would have been two years ago.

Constrained by the Music Hall, yet without a new home, the Dallas Opera experimented in 1984-85 with performances in the much smaller Majestic Theatre, which Karayanis and Rescigno agreed was "an ideal setting for chamber opera." The 1984 season was filled with ambitious productions that transcended the traditional Italian fare; foremost among the presentations was Virgil Thompson's history of 19th century America, The Mother of Us All, which featured a libretto by Gertrude Stein. But despite the critical acclaim for its scope and ambition, the spring season at the Majestic fared poorly financially and was ditched.

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.

"We're still building on the orchestra, and you're never home on anything like that," he says. "You constantly have to improve."

John Dizikes, a professor of American studies at University of California at Santa Cruz and author of the recently published comprehensive history, Opera in America, says that whatever the size of the company, whether it's the Met or the Milwaukee Opera (which has a new home that seats only 350), that opera needs to provide a more diverse product for a more diverse audience to survive in the long haul. And indeed, Dallas Opera has, of late, made attempts to shed the image that opera is the domain of the elite and the blue-haired.

It has launched the Puppet Opera Theater for elementary school kids; this year's "production," as it were, is Dallas composer Robert X. Rodriguez' Monkey See, Monkey Do!, based on a Mexican folk tale, and it will make the rounds in more than 60 local schools. Two years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a $150,000 grant to Dallas Opera (the San Francisco Opera and Opera Delaware won similar grants) for the education-driven "Music! Words! Opera!"

And as part of its mission statement--which promises to "[enrich] the life of the community and [embrace] its diverse cultural heritage"--Dallas Opera has begun several so-called community outreach programs that introduce opera to Hispanic, African-American, and Asian audiences; programs such as the 3-year-old Adelante, the newly formed African-American Advisory Committee (boosted in December by a huge donation from EDS), and the Asian Task Force provide season tickets to potential operagoers who feel alienated or simply uninformed about an art that has been traditionally the realm of the white and wealthy.

But it is no small irony that as part of its fund-raising and awareness programs, the African-American Advisory Committee is selling tickets to Porgy and Bess, written by two white men.

"Our mission is that the Dallas Opera is committed to producing opera of uncompromising artistic quality, and I've addressed that part of it," Karayanis says. "And it's also to enrich the life of the community and embrace its rich cultural heritage. And when I talk about enriching the life of the community, we, as a cultural asset to this community, are enriching it through our productions and performances."

It is also the function of the regional company to expand not only the audience, but the art itself. And, as Dizikes points out, companies such as Dallas and Houston are indeed furthering the opera by offering new operas that may eventually help to broaden the accepted repertoire.  

For instance, both Texas companies have commissioned new operas in recent years: Dominick Argento's The Aspern Papers debuted here in 1988 and was later televised to rave reviews on PBS, and John Adams' similarly acclaimed Nixon in China premiered in Houston a year before. This season, the Dallas Opera presented the Southwest premiere of Argento's The Dream of Valentino, a biography of Rudolf Valentino co-produced with the Washington Opera.

Of course, pioneering opera is not always good opera. Valentino was greeted with lukewarm reviews even before it was presented here in January. A full year before, when the Argento-composed opera debuted at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., it was panned by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

"Let me tell you what my dream of dreams is," Karayanis says. "I'd love nothing better than to see a contemporary opera festival, where you do nothing but contemporary works. Now, we don't have the money for it, there isn't any subsidy for it, but I think it would be very exciting to do a small festival of contemporary works. That could be fabulous. Just think what it would do for encouraging new compositions, and we might do a commissioned work every year. But no, there's really nobody in this country who can really afford to do that."

But innovation takes shape not only in new operas (few of which, as Littlejohn notes, make the cut or even have more than one run), but also in fresh perspectives of time-tested hits. Imaginative interpretations can be as shocking as setting Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro in a New York skyscraper, as avant director Peter Sellars has done, or as subtle as having singers who are better actors.

Graeme Jenkins hopes that, under his leadership, the Dallas Opera will give "another look at the masterpieces" and is striving to balance the expectations of die-hard buffs with new ideas that might draw an audience that would otherwise dismiss opera as stodgy and outdated.

More than infusing old operas with topical issues, inventive stagings like Sellars' have helped to break down preconceptions that opera is elitist and to reveal the art's connection to popular culture. From Jenkins' perspective, a modern opera like The Dream of Valentino and its story of how icons are built up and destroyed should be "highly relevant" for an "enormous, well-off youthful population looking for something to do."

But opera itself is in a "growth phase" right now, as Smith and Scorca insist. A recent study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts indicates that of all the performing arts--including theater or dance--opera is the most rapidly growing. Almost every major city in the country has at least one opera company (Chicago, for instance, has two), and the number of performances and productions nationally has grown substantially over the past decade. Perhaps most important, opera has seduced a younger, more diverse audience--one that's between 18 and 24 years old. As Smith jokes, "It's not like the audience could get any older."

The reason for this potential growth is that opera has simply become a larger part of the pop culture. The wildly successful Broadway productions of such shows as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables are merely opera performed in English, lowbrow masquerading as highbrow.

The Three Tenors in Concert album--featuring Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and Jose Carreras--sold more than a million copies and went all the way to number four on the Billboard pop charts, saddled alongside Nirvana and the Eagles. And, if one needed further proof of Pavarotti's status as pop icon, he is booked into Reunion Arena--the venue of Sting and Neil Diamond. Opera is even packaged in rock music videos, which have cut and pasted the grand spectacle into three-minute segments.

"Opera has registered the most encouraging growth among younger people," Scorca gushes, "because opera really is the classical [music] manifestation of today's multimedia pop culture. If you look at music videos, which are words expanded by music further expanded by images, the raw material of today's pop music video is the raw material of opera. It's a multimedia musical expansion of the spoken word.

"I think there's a natural resonance between what young people are enjoying in their entertainment forms today and what opera has to offer. For me, the bit that I have seen on film of what Madonna does in concert is nothing but good news for opera."

Still, no matter how clever or pertinent a work might be, nothing seems to capture the attention of a larger public like a star. Along with the innovations, Jenkins acknowledges the importance of bringing in opera's superstars. After all, Pavarotti will command a Reunion Arena-size audience in February, and the loudest buzz in years about the Dallas Opera was generated by the anticipated appearance--and subsequent cancelation--of mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli.  

Bartoli canceled her appearance in the Dallas Opera's mid-December production of Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella) because she injured her knee during a November performance in Zurich, then fell ill with bronchitis. And that cancellation all but ruined the Dallas Opera's season--detracting from other presentations, casting a pall where there should have been only rousing applause.

The entire 1994-1995 season was built upon Bartoli's appearance here, with most of the ad revenue going to promote her, and it generated such excitement that opera fans from as far as away as Los Angeles and Nashville ordered tickets to catch a glimpse of the burgeoning superstar. To those who read headlines and know only the names of the opera world's most famous performers, of which Bartoli is one, her failure to appear here this season after so much hype hinted at some sort of failure on the opera's part.

Karayanis insists Bartoli's cancellation and the considerable coverage it received indicate "there's no such thing as bad news." After all, he says, it raised awareness about the company among an audience that perhaps did not know of, or care about, its existence.

But it may have also alienated a huge chunk of its supporters. Dallas Opera publicist Brian Chapman says the company received an enormous amount of calls from people who demanded their money back; even more phoned to vent their anger at Bartoli's cancellation, feeling they had been misled. (No refunds, however, were granted. Each ticket bore a disclaimer that offers the company an out should a featured performer not show.)

It was certainly quite a coup for Dallas to book Bartoli (who was featured in last season's The Barber of Seville), especially because her performances here in the lead role of Rossini's Cinderella were to be her only opera dates in the United States this season. Yet Bartoli decided to perform in Dallas this season not because of her affinity for the Music Hall--it's no secret she dislikes the place--but because Dallas Opera was the first company in the country that expressed interest in featuring her as a star.

"Dallas was on the forefront and this is one of the first contracts she had in the United States. I guess they heard her and they realized her potential and booked her," says Bartoli's manager, Jack Mastroianni.

Bartoli has said she will again appear with the Dallas Opera in the future. However, her next Dallas appearance will be a concert with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on October 2 in the Meyerson.

Still, for Dallas to bet its season on a star was a dangerous gamble. "I was aware of the publicity caused by the Bartoli cancellation," says Patrick Smith. "The whole opera world was aware of it. It's often a problem when you depend on a star. That is why many opera companies now get younger singers and like to say, 'We found them first'--as Dallas did with Bartoli."

Smith says he's still waiting to assess the fallout from the Bartoli cancellation. "If you have subscriber base that believes in the company, and the star is an added attraction but is not integral to the season, then you will see renewal," he says. "But if the people are coming for the star and the star doesn't come, then the audience will not come back."

As the company aches to move ahead and present new operas and newly conceived productions, there's also pressure that the repertoire stick with the classics, like following up Argento's Valentino with Verdi's Rigoletto and its songs, which "everybody knows," as Jenkins says.

"There is a mystique to opera," Karayanis said. "And you want to preserve that. The more that one sort of greases the skids for [more people] to make the [financial] commitment...that's what we have to do."

The challenge for the Dallas Opera is to balance the conflicts between maintaining the mystique and glory of the art and attracting a broader, younger audience.

"Let's talk about Dallas," Jenkins says. "This city is founded in 1841. Two years later, Verdi is penning Nabucco. Ten years later, he had written Travatore, Rigoletto, Stefelio, and Traviata. It had been so much a part of European life. Here, people were still trying to build a log cabin."

And 150 years later, in many ways, they still are.


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