The Dallas Opera on Thursday announced changes to its spring performance plans at the Winspear Opera House.
Ending a yearlong performance hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, most previously scheduled performance dates remain the same. But there will be changes to the four productions, each of which will last no more than 90 minutes.
Audiences in the 2,200-seat Winspear will be capped at 660, and rigorous safety protocols will be in place. Given all the uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus, with infections currently surging, plans will be flexible.
The season will begin in March with the world premiere of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, composed by Joby Talbot with a libretto by Gene Scheer. Rounding out the mainstage season will be abridged versions of three repertory staples: Verdi’s Don Carlo, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Puccini’s Tosca.
“What we really are hearing from our audiences is, we really want to have live music again,” says Ian Derrer, general director and CEO of the Dallas Opera. “And we feel it’s important for us to try.”
The conductor and director for each production have teamed up to create the abridgments, which contain most of the famous arias, but omit the chorus because of social distancing requirements.
One set will be slightly altered between productions, and there will be no intermission. Costumes and makeup will be minimal.
While onstage, singers will be kept at least 6 feet apart and that distance will be closer to 15 feet when they’re facing each other. “The directors are taking that as a real challenge — to figure out ways to maintain intimacy while still telling the story, without being able to be in close proximity the way you normally would,” Derrer says.
Musicians and singers will be tested weekly. The company is also determining whether singers flying into Dallas will need to quarantine for a significant time in the city before rehearsals, Derrer says.
Everyone except performing singers and wind and brass instrumentalists playing in the orchestra will need to wear masks. Temperature checks and hand sanitizing will be mandatory for everyone entering the hall. To create more room for musicians, the Winspear’s orchestra pit will be expanded.
“We still can have a rather substantial full orchestra,” Derrer says. “But it’s not going to be 70, 80 players like you would have traditionally for big, lush Puccini or Verdi.”
The changes come during a difficult period for opera in America. Prominent companies including the Metropolitan Opera — the largest performing arts organization in the nation — the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Houston Grand Opera have canceled their entire 2020-21 seasons because of the pandemic.
The Dallas Opera has been confronting many of its own challenges. The onset of the coronavirus in mid-March forced the organization to cancel three of the five operas in its 2019-20 season and its “Songs for Dallas” community concert, resulting in a revenue loss of $1.6 million in ticket sales. In May, the organization furloughed staff members and reduced salaries between 10% and 25%. Layoffs and additional staff cutbacks followed in June.
“These days every producer has to have the courage to live with complete uncertainty,” says Marc Scorca, president and CEO of Opera America, a national service organization. “All of our audiences, all of our stakeholders need to recognize that our plans for the next six months, even the next year, are somewhat conjectural. And that every plan should have a backup.”
“At the same time,” he adds, “we want to be hopeful and optimistic because that keeps us going through the crisis.”
At first, in-person tickets for the Dallas Opera’s spring performances will only be available to advance subscribers and donors, but will later be opened up to the public. Video recordings of performances will also be made available for purchase.
“We see there is a very strong likelihood that the audience will not be comfortable coming into the Winspear until there’s widespread vaccinations,” Derrer says. The World Health Organization does not expect widespread vaccinations against COVID-19 until the middle of next year. “So we wanted to maintain some option for folks who weren’t going to be able to make it into the Winspear.”
As previously announced, the Dallas Opera’s sixth annual Hart Institute for Women Conductors — which aims to advance the careers of female conductors and administrators in classical music — will take place online Feb. 8-19, 2021. Fellows from the 2021 cohort will be invited back to Dallas to attend the 2022 program.
Two alumnae of the institute will conduct the Dallas Opera Orchestra in a live showcase concert on Feb. 19 at the Winspear. Additionally, Lidiya Yankovskaya, who was a conducting fellow in the inaugural Hart Institute in 2015, will lead the mainstage performances of The Marriage of Figaro.
The Dallas Opera Guild National Vocal Competition on May 1 and a concert starring Joyce DiDonato with the Dallas Opera Orchestra on May 10 will also take place as planned. A solo recital with German baritone Benjamin Appl is being postponed to January 2022.