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In Review > North America

Great Scott

DALLAS
Dallas Opera
10/30/15

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Act I of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott at Dallas Opera, featuring (left to right) Kevin Burdette, Rodell Rosel, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Joyce DiDonato, Michael Mayes, Ailyn Pérez and Frederica von Stade
Karen Almond, Dallas Opera
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Nathan Gunn as Sid Taylor and DiDonato as Arden Scott
Karen Almond, Dallas Opera
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Von Stade as Winnie Flato
Karen Almond, Dallas Opera

ADVANCE PRESS FOR Jake Heggie’s new opera, Great Scott, hinted at an exploration of America’s obsession with sports over culture, with a plot involving Super Bowl versus American Opera financing. Much was made over the work’s inclusion of a “forgotten” nineteenth-century bel canto opera, in homage to mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, for whom Heggie fashioned the title role of Arden Scott, a contemporary diva returning to help her hometown’s struggling opera company. In spite of the inclusion of the character of an opera patron married to the owner of a football team, the sports theme is virtually abandoned, and the bel canto opera-within-an-opera, Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompei, affords Di Donato a chance to spoof herself while singing beautifully, but provides too many extended laughs at the absurdity of the genre. 

Terrence McNally’s libretto is stuffed with theatrical in-jokes, which the Dallas Opera audience gobbled up at the world premiere on October 30 in the Winspear Opera House. Who doesn’t love a look at backstage life, with squabbling stars, tentative flirtations and rehearsal problems? But the laugh lines are lame, (after the baritone makes a small mistake, the tenor shouts “and people think tenors are stupid!”) and stereotypes (the sassy but sensitive stage manager, the baritone who always finds a way to appear shirtless) substitute for real people. 

Great Scott touches on twenty-first-century career management (with an ambitious, over-tweeting young soprano) and personal regrets (the diva’s old boyfriend shows up while her aging music teacher now finds fulfillment spending her husband’s money on cultural patronage), but the opera’s superficial tone never finds a focus. Heggie’s facility with lyricism and pastiche serve well in the many extended passages from Rosa Dolorosa, but McNally’s Italian lacks rhyme or meter and seems retrofitted onto pre-composed music. The clever sextet “I couldn’t possibly” recreates an alphabetic opera naming game, while a final contrapuntal quartet references the trio from Der Rosenkavalier. Best of all is the wacky version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” sung at the football game by the ambitious Tatyana Bakst, with four uniformed policemen as back-up. As the overbearing upstart Bakst, soprano Ailyn Pérez steals the show with her consistently beautiful, glamorous singing, while conductor Patrick Summers brings command to the work’s various musical styles.

Joyce DiDonato brings her accustomed vocal and dramatic commitment to the title role, making much of Rosa Dolorosa’s quiet “Vesuvio, il mio unico amico,” heard in rehearsal, and the final cabaletta “Io sola posso salvare,” as well as Arden’s personal insecurities. Nathan Gunn is in fine voice as the easy-going Sid Taylor, the boy Arden Scott left behind, while Frederica von Stade brings perfect diction and elegant demeanor to the role of Winnie Flato, Arden’s former music teacher and patron of the local opera company. Kevin Burdette brings vocal clarity and theatrical command to the dual role of conductor Eric Gold and the ghost of composer Vittorio Bazzetti, while tenor Rodell Rosel and baritone Michael Mayes capture the fun of their stereotypical opera singer roles. The excellent countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo brings intelligence and intensity to the role of the no-nonsense, hip-hopping stage manager Roane Heckle.

Stage direction by Jack O’Brien runs from the vulgar to the clumsy, and mishandles the renewed interest between the old friends Sid and Arden. O’Brien misses the mark in the one scene with emotional and dramatic potential, in which the nineteenth–century composer appears to Arden Scott, thanking her for presenting his old piece but urging her to champion a new work she’s been avoiding. —Judith Malafronte 

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