In a double-billing of cold, mountain settings, The Dallas Opera presented an evening to remember.
Act Four of Alfredo Catalani’s, La Wally, was the perfect appetizer for the evening. Coming in around a half-hour of soaring arias, including the famous Ebben? Ne andrò lontana from Act I, Wally served as a precursor of how the Dallas Opera planned to bring the audience into cold, unforgiving mountains with the use of minimal staging and impressive projections. Opening immediately with a challenging and well-known work like the above-mentioned Ebben?… aria only to transition directly into demanding death scenes is no easy task, but soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams was more than up to being thrown into the fire in her Dallas Opera debut and she pulled it off with aplomb. Hopefully, she will return for a larger role in Dallas soon.
The first star of the Everest production was Projections Designer Elaine J. McCarthy. Having the opening curtain project what looked like fuzzy video transmission footage beautifully moved the audience from a late Romantic frame of mind to the here-and-now, while also perfectly complimenting Joby Talbot’s sparse and eerie prologue. Throughout the performance, McCarthy’s projections were as important to the production and the story as the people on stage.
The opening “Is this how it ends?” chorus wonderfully painted the scene musically to match the visuals and to create a feel for a past echo of voices from the mountain through the nearly antiphonal setting by Talbot. This was not just a brilliant setup for the opening scene, but also foreshadowed the ending when more voices would join the ghostly chorus.
Gene Scheer’s non-linear libretto features looks into the stories of the people involved in the expedition in a way that beautifully connects the audience to the characters in order to create a deep emotional attachment within a fairly short, one-act, work. The way a true story, that itself has undoubtedly more drama than what was presented in the opera, is able to resonate with the audience is a key reason why presenting new works of this scope is so important to the future of the genre. When the plot of La Wally was presented on the supertitles in order to catch the audience up to the fourth act, there was a little audible giggling at the fairly ridiculous story. In contrast, a true story, set in such a recent-past, like Everest is dramatic without any aid from a librettist or composer.
An extremely strong cast throughout helped to tell this harrowing tale. Tenor Andrew Bidlack (Rob Hall)’s clear and resonate tenor cut through moments of apprehension and tension in order to bring false hope to the audience that maybe he would make it back to the tents with Craig Verm (Doug Hansen). His scenes with the fabulous Sasha Cooke (Jan Arnold – Rob Hall’s pregnant wife) were positively gut-wrenching. Kevin Burdette’s commanding bass voice, as the main character Beck Weathers, helped to guide the story between the glimpses into the lives of the expeditioners and their expedition. Burdette also makes sure we don’t forget where Weathers is from as he injects quite the Texas twang into his performance.
It is easy to imagine Everest as a lasting work that will hopefully be performed around the country as much as the last major Dallas premiere, Moby Dick. The efforts of Talbot and Scheer combine a stirring score on top of a masterful libretto in order to create a thoroughly modern, yet timeless work.
February 1(m), 4, 7, 2015.