Ahead of Dallas Opera’s Season Opener, Spotlight Shines On New General Director

The Dallas Opera kicks off its new season this weekend, and the good news for the opera company is that, unlike last year, their opening night simulcast will not conflict with the World Series.

But scheduling conflicts are not the only obstacle the opera has had to contend with ahead of the opening. Scott Cantrell writes over on the Dallas Morning News site (sub. req.) that there are, in fact,  some parallels between the Dallas Opera, as a company, and Donizetti’s opera. For one, it is a work about a marriage forced by hard times:

Keith Cerny, who became the Dallas Opera’s general director in May 2010, has had to make some hard economic decisions of his own. Faced with a $4 million deficit from last season, he has done some major belt-tightening, including cancelling the Janácek Katyá Kabanová that was supposed to open Oct. 28. The Tristan und Isolde scheduled for February 2012 will be scaled down with projections rather than scenery.

You should check out Cantrell’s profile of Cerny, but also be sure to read Willard Spiegelman’s feature on the opera chief that appears in this month’s D Magazine. Spiegelman writes:

No matter what boosters will tell you, the arts are not exactly thriving anywhere. Things have not gone well for most arts organizations over the past few years. Revenues are down; staffs are being cut; changes are being made. InDallas, opera might have suffered the most. It is expensive to produce under the best of conditions, especially now that “the visuals” cost almost as much as the singers. But The Dallas Opera incurred additional costs by moving the company to the Winspear Opera House. Not only is the venue itself more expensive to operate, but now the company has just 2,200 seats to sell, where once it had more than 3,400 at the Music Hall at Fair Park. Instead of four performances, the company must stage six to accommodate the same number of patrons. More performances require more labor. Stage hands don’t work for free.

Given August’s grim, swooping and leaping, gyrating turmoil on Wall Street, people may buy even fewer seats now than before. When the going gets tough, the customers go home. From my experience, The Dallas Opera can’t afford much slippage. Last spring I was riveted, for four hours, during two performances of the company’s first production of Boris Godunov. Not so, other attendees. Each time, the house was not entirely full at the start of the first act. Two hours later, following the single intermission, the house was even less full. People applauded on their way to the parking lots after a long Act 1.

To say the least, then, The Dallas Opera stands at a pivotal moment. What is the future for the company in its second half century? I sat down last spring with Keith Cerny, general director and CEO, as he was finishing his first year at the helm, to find out. This was before the latest wounds. How, I wondered, will a man with a Ph.D. in econometrics keep the Winspear humming?

You can find the entire piece right here.

Photo: Billy Surface for D Magazine.