As the rather sparse crowd settled into their seats before Friday's opening performance of The Ring of Polykrates, most look confused.
For Erich Wolfgang Korngold's piece at The Dallas Opera, the orchestra sat atop the stage rather than below because they performed Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major prior to his one-act comic opera.
Music director Emmauel Villaume, accompanied internationally acclaimed violinist Augustin Dumay, led the orchestra in a buoyant performance. Villaume and Dumay matched each other's enthusiasm throughout the final movement, which ended with cinematic flair. With his contagious enthusiasm, perhaps Villaume could conduct onstage more often.
Intermission returned Villaume and his orchestra back into the pit for Korngold’s rarely performed opera, which he composed when he was just 17.
Korngold was a child prodigy who grew up in Vienna before the First World War. He wrote a ballet when he was 11 and a piano concerto at 13. After escaping the Holocaust, he had a successful career as a writer of musical scores in Hollywood, two of which won him an Academy Award. Korngold remained true to a lifelong commitment to make well-sounding music despite changes in musical trends during his lifetime.
He based his good-humored comic opera on a lyrical ballad written in June 1797 by Friedrich Schiller that Heinrich Teweles turned into a play in 1888. The Ring of Polykrates was first performed in 1916.
The opera centers on the exceedingly lucky court music director Wilhelm Arndt and his exceedingly wonderful wife, Laura, in their exceedingly beautiful house staffed by two exceedingly faithful attendants, Florian and Lieschen, who are exceedingly in love with each other. And it goes along exceedingly happily until Wilhelm’s exceedingly unlucky friend Peter Vogel pays them a visit and suggests to Wilhelm an exceedingly foolish test of Laura’s love.
All of this excess could have turned into a saccharine rom-com were it not for a delightful cast that, when combined with Korngold’s musical mastery, skilled use of leitmotif and attention to detail, made for an entertaining romp.
Making his Dallas debut, sweet-voiced tenor Paul Groves as Wilhelm displayed naivete, gratitude for his good fortune and devotion to his wife. The role of Laura was sung by Laura Wilde, who is also new to the Dallas stage. Her strong soprano and mature stage presence made her a good match for Wilhelm.
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Soprano Susannah Biller and tenor Brenton Ryan, well suited for each other as lovers Florian and Lieschen, performed ably in their duets, and Ryan’s facial expression and manner were suitably comical.
Baritone Craig Colclough as Vogel brought a deep-voiced baritone to his role as the rumpled, clumsy, mischief-making friend of Wilhelm, who knew Laura before Wilhelm came along to save her from a life with that loser.
Set designer Donald Eastman created a lovely living room for the production and director Peter Kazaras kept the production cheerful, while music director Villaume kept the voices in the foreground as he led the Dallas Opera Orchestra.
Korngold’s cinematic Violin Concerto and light-hearted comic opera were a delightful pair.