The Dallas Opera Leaves Fair Park Not With a Bang, But a Giggle
The Dallas Opera’s 52-year run at the Music Hall at Fair Park ends with a fitting theatrical image: the two lovers of The Italian Girl in Algiers lifting off the stage in a hot air balloon, waving goodbye to the audience, on their way to better things.
There is little nostalgia for the actual theater that the Dallas Opera will be leaving after the closing performance of Algiers on March 14. The end of the half-century stay in Fair Park is more of a reason to look back at the company’s successes than to lament the loss of what almost everyone agrees is one of the world’s more terrible venues for opera.
“What a story we will have to tell when we get home,” leading tenor Lindoro (William Burden) sings in act II of Algiers. In the context of the final Fair Park performance, the line seems to speak about more than the opera.
In this way, Rossini’s comic opera is the right work with which to say goodbye, and not merely because it was the first opera produced by the Dallas Opera in 1957. Rossini’s piece is a silly romp, a sometimes ridiculous comedy that is short on pretentions, but requires creative staging and meticulous singing in order for it to succeed. It set a festive tone in the Music Hall on opening night, even if the singing was not so meticulous and the staging a tad overwrought.
The Dallas Opera has brought in some powerful stars for the final performance. At the forefront is internationally acclaimed tenor William Burden. His voice has that easy, nonchalant power that makes good tenors so seductive. Unfortunately, Algiers just isn’t the right opera for his style. Burden was born to swoon. If only he was our Rodolfo during last month’s La Boheme. Instead, as Lindoro, Burden is a little sloppy, a little like a caged bird. You keep waiting for big tenor moments Rossini just hasn’t written into the score. And when he joins in the slapstick, his tall, hulking physique looks a little silly.
Lindoro is an Italian slave in the court of Mustafa (Paolo Pecchioli), the ruler of the Bey of Algiers. Mustafa gets it in his mind that he wants to have an Italian girl, since they are reported to be the most beautiful, challenging women in the world. He plans to marry off his wife Elvira (Ava Pine) with Lindoro to make way for the Italian girl. Just Mustafa’s luck, a plane crashes in the Bey of Algiers (updated in this Sante Fe Opera production from the original’s ship-run-aground) carrying the beautiful Isabella (Manuela Custer) who is looking for her lost lover -- who happens to be Mustafa’s slave, Lindoro. Taddeo (Patrick Carfizzi), Isabella’s traveling companion and would-be lover, also arrives in tow, and you can see where this goes. Mustafa falls madly for Isabella, who juggles the three love interests and uses her beauty and wit to trick Mustafa and win the three Italians’ freedom.
The tone for the performance is set by Pecchioli, who is very funny as Mustafa. It’s an over-the-top turn with plenty of wide-eyed audience jabs and general slapstick. Pecchioli is such an energetic stage-grabber that the rest of the performance seems to be racing to keep up with him.
Manuela Custer is the only actor who can keep up with Pecchioli’s showboating. A star in her own right (she has sung, well, everywhere), Custer possesses a Marlene Dietrich quality -- in tan slacks and a white blouse -- dripping with self-assured sexuality. Her voice is mesmerizing, with a power and gusto for Rossini’s music.
Homegrown soprano Ava Pine has found a good fit with Elvira. Her feathery, flirtatious stage presence is matched with moments of great high-range power.
In an opera that primarily pairs fits of vocal creativity to comic ends, Rossini saves the best music for his orchestra. Maestro Graeme Jenkins is back on the podium for the season’s last performance, and with Rossini’s famous overture he gets the performance off to a dancing, spirited start. Warm feelings bounce from the pit throughout. Just imagine what Jenkins’ orchestra will sound like when he is out from behind that 18-inch concrete wall that separates the orchestra pit from the audience in the Music Hall.
Rossini’s Algiers is such a cheerful piece that the Music Hall at Fair Park is perhaps one of the few halls where it would work as a house opener and closer. Where else would such storied run end with this much excitement?