Three Carmens & More

IMAGE ABOVE: Giuseppe Verdi: Aida opens the Houston Grand Opera season. Photo by Cory Weaver.

Texas opera fans need to get out their castanets and start practicing the seguidilla. Bizet’s lurid opera about sex and murder, Carmen, will get productions in Dallas, Houston and Tulsa (which is so close that we include them). The rest of the opera season is a combination of the well-known, the rarely-performed and a few downright surprises.

Contemporary opera gets a big boost after the new year with the American  premiere of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger at Houston Grand Opera in January, and Tod Machover’s Death and the Powers at Dallas Opera  in February. This will be a season with a lot of travel involved for the devoted fan, because there is so much of real interest for opera aficionados across the Southwest.

Carmen opens the season at Dallas Opera, and will also be on the bill in Houston and Tulsa.  Photo by Karen Almond, Dallas Opera.

Carmen opens the season at Dallas Opera, and will also be on the bill in Houston and Tulsa. Photo by Karen Almond, Dallas Opera.

The Dallas Opera stages the first of the three Carmens, opening its production on Oct. 25 and sporting three important debuts. French mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine makes her American debut in the title role. Anticipation runs high after her “Best Newcomer Award” win in the 2011 French Classical Music Awards.

No matter how much she smoulders, however, all critical eyes will be on conductor Emmanuel Villaume as he makes his serendipitous debut as the new music director of the company. As the third director in the company’s 56-year history, his appointment represents a once-in-a generation event for the Dallas Opera. He has conducted in all of the major opera houses in the world.

Don José is double-cast with tenors Brandon Jovanovich and Bruno Ribeiro. Jovanovich impressed as Pinkerton in the company’s 2010 Madame Butterfly, while Ribero is making a company debut. Soprano Mary Dunleavy sings Micaëla and the handsome baritone Dwayne Croft, as Escamillo the Toreador, helps you understand Carmen’s quandary.

Houston Grand Opera closes it season with Carmen with HGO Studio Alum turned international star Ana María Martínez in the title role.  Dallas and Houston will share Jovanovich as Don José, the unfortunate soldier caught in Carmen’s web of lust and ruin. Tulsa Opera lets Carmen seduce the hapless José one more time in May.

In Houston, you can see Verdi’s Aïda, which is one of the biggest of the pageant operas. The season-opening show opens on Oct. 18 in a lavish production shared with three other companies, featuring new choreography by Dominic Walsh, who has gathered dancers from all over the US. Soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska  plays the ill-fated Aïda and tenor Riccardo Massì sings the unfortunate Radames. But the real treat here is to experience the Amneris of mezzo Dolora Zajick, who has sung the role with every major company in the world. Johann Strauss’ frothy Die Fledermaus runs Oct. 25-Nov. 10 at HGO.

The Austin Lyric Opera opens with Verdi’s Don Carlo on Nov. 16. The production is one that started with a compendium of companies as diverse as the Hong Kong and Vancouver operas.  Soprano Keri Alkema sings Elisabetta and bass Peter Volpe sings Phillip II. Two singers boast Metropolitan Opera experience: mezzo Mary Phillips sings Eboli and Michael Chioldi portrays Rodrigo. ALO Artistic Director, Richard Buckley, conducts.

One company that is often unjustly overlooked is Opera in the Heights, a Houston-area regional, professional company that features emerging opera singers and brings affordable opera to the area. They are presenting a season of standards, starting with Verdi’s tragic La Traviata, Oct. 4 and Donizetti’s sublime comedy, Don Pasquale, on Oct. 15. No big names here, but that is the point: Bravo to Opera in the Heights for giving young singers a chance to sing major roles and hooray for Houston for supporting such a valuable company.

Mention must be made of the creative and nimble Amarillo Opera, which does a terrific job. You can see Amarillo’s take on Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on Oct. 5-6 in a beautiful production originally created for the Miami Opera.