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Willard Spiegelman on Verdi’s Otello at the Winspear

The Dallas Opera opened its season last night, with a performance of Verdi’s Otello at the new Winspear Opera House. Willard Spiegelman was there, and sends along this report:

Dallas society was out in force last night for the opening of the opera season at the Winspear. I’ll leave the remarks about couture and glamor to others, but one saw lots of black tie and formal gowns, including many ladies wearing red to complement the already signature ruby cylinder of the hall. Also, thank goodness, ordinary people in ordinary clothes.

The building will take some getting used to. Many people, including ushers, weren’t quite sure where everything was, or how to get there. I saw long lines at the ladies’ rooms (in 2009 designers still can’t seem to solve this perennial problem). Unlike the sumptuous Meyerson lobby, the exterior spaces at the Winspear can feel a little cramped. Perhaps this feeling adds to the excitement of the experience.

None of this matters too much. The opening opera, Verdi’s Otello, has been done only twice before here, once in the 1960s with the legendary Mario del Monaco, and once in the mid-80s. It’s a vocal killer for the title character, whose first appearance on stage demands a clarion high fortissimo exclamation — “Esultate” — to announce the defeat of the Turkish infidels. Unfortunately, Clifton Forbis was not an ideal Otello. The voice wobbled, but he warmed to the role, and his singing improved notably as the evening progressed. His Desdemona, the young and beautiful Alexandra Deshorties, acted well, and did a more than credible job with the famous Willow Song in Act 4. As the villainous Iago, Lado Ataneli should win the award for the best all-around singing.

The stars of the show were Graeme Jenkins and the orchestra. You could hear every note, including all the pianissimi ones that had been lost for decades at the ungrateful Music Hall. The Winspear’s acoustics are rich and warm, vibrant in fact. We have something wonderful here, at last.

The set and costumes were supposed to suggest a battle ship c. 1900. The female chorus members were dressed as nurses. Otello didn’t seem to be black. We didn’t seem to be in Cyprus. I suppose there must have been reasons for all this.

I kept thinking of the late, beloved John Ardoin and how he would have been thrilled. Everyone in the house (there was — alas — a fair number of empty seats) certainly was.