The strong “Heights of Passion” season has come to a close (production-wise) in Dallas with the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta. With performances like Moby Dick, Tristan und Isolde, Die tote Stadt, Death and the Powers, and Everest, the Dallas Opera has been making a statement that technology in opera is here to stay. Friday’s production of Iolanta was another straw in the Dallas Opera’s projector cap. With the same design team as the aforementioned Tristan und Isolde, featuring stage director/production designer Christian Räth, and projections designer Elaine J. McCarthy, Iolanta is a visual stunner.
In the opening scene the audience is presented with a stark black stage with a near-holographic reflection of the performers projected behind them. The staging artfully places the viewer in the mindset of the blind (but unknowingly-so) Iolanta. Also, much like with Tristan, Räth and McCarthy pair minimal stagings with the projections to not only highlight gorgeous settings, but to also interact with the composer’s motifs. “Light” is the major element for Tchaikovsky in this work, and it was as much a visual element as it was a musical and spoken one in this performance.
Paired with the modern technologies, the production is also updated from the 15th Century with more modern costuming; a change that worked wonderfully other than when Robert (Andrei Bondarenko) and Count Vaudémont (Sergey Skorokhodov) bring up potentially fighting with their swords. (It’s hard to take the threat seriously when the characters are wearing three-piece suits and neither of them actually have swords)
After the stark opening with Iolanta revealing her thoughts that perhaps there’s something she isn’t being told about the world around her, the focus moves quickly to the “Two Worlds” aria performed by Vladislav Sulimsky making his American debut in the role of Ibn-Hakia. Sulimsky’s strong baritone and fantastic capturing of the duality he’s discussing quickly reveals why he’s been called for a second European tour of the role in 2015, and why he seems to be making waves in Europe with other Tchaikovsky roles.
Perhaps the most impressive performance (out of a strong cast) was Sergey Skorokhodov in his Dallas Opera debut. His full tenor brought a strength to the character of Count Vaudémont, a strength that was very much needed when facing the bombastic voice of bass Mikhail Kolelishvili as King René.
I had high expectations for the orchestral performance in this production after listening multiple times to Emmanuel Villaume’s recent Iolanta recording on Deutsche Grammophon. Friday evening’s performance by Villaume and the Dallas Opera Orchestra did not disappoint. Villaume displayed full control of the score and the orchestra with incredible sensitivity to underscoring Tchaikovsky’s musical motifs. Perhaps what was most stirring though was the chorus singing from the orchestra pit.
A season that balanced some classics with a world-premiere rightly showcased the often overshadowed Iolanta and demonstrated it’s importance and ability to stand on it’s own. It was a brilliant ending to a wonderful 2014-2015 season.