When I reached Ian Derrer on the phone a couple of weeks ago, the Dallas Opera’s Kern Wildenthal General Director and CEO was on the verge of making a difficult decision.
At the beginning of February, the first members of the cast of the upcoming world premiere of the Diving Bell and the Butterfly were set to arrive. The opera is a collaboration between English composer Joby Talbot and American librettist Gene Scheer, the same creative duo that had written the successful Everest for the Dallas Opera in 2015. Over the past few months, Derrer and his team had been making major preparations to ensure the opera premiere could be staged safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plans for testing, isolating, and distancing performers and crew sounded a little like the NBA bubble, only for opera
But by early January, the situation had changed dramatically. Cases in Dallas were surging, hospital beds were filling up, and the death toll mounted. In the end, Derrer had to make the difficult — though, ultimately, correct — decision to postpone. Today, the Dallas Opera announced that it has canceled its entire spring subscription season. Opera will return to Dallas in February 2022, though the planned Joyce DiDonato “Viva Diva” “socially distanced” concert will still take place on May 10.
“It is with profound disappointment that TDO has made the decision not to proceed with the 2020/2021 Season performances planned for March and April of this year,” Derrer said in a release. “The ongoing spread of COVID, the level of hospitalizations in our area, and the rate of vaccine rollout is such that we believe we cannot proceed with the modified season we had planned. On the advice of medical experts, and with the full safety of our artists, patrons, and staff of paramount importance, we are moving all our subscribers to the new 2021/2022 Season in the Winspear that will begin February of 2022 with four, full-scale grand opera productions.”
That means the Dallas Opera National Vocal Competition, the Hart Institute for Women Conductors Showcase Concert, the Dallas Opera’s Family Season performances of Jack and the Beanstalk and Doctor Miracle, and the student matinees will all be delayed until later in the year, with dates TBD. The premiere of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly will not happen until the 2022/2023 season.
This latest news is a reminder of how difficult a time it is for all performing arts organizations, as ongoing concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus now push delays and cancellations into their second season. All performing arts groups face difficult decisions regarding cancellations and postponements, but the scale and complexity of opera productions make those decisions particularly complicated and costly for the opera. Stars are often booked years ahead of schedule, and delays can mean having to recast productions.
The Dallas Opera introduced pay cuts and furloughs early in the crisis, though its shift to digital programing has been a bright spot of innovation that has resulted from the pandemic. The Dallas Opera’s TDO Network has become one of the world’s most popular online platforms for operatic performances and conversation. When I spoke to Derrer, he said the opera was in a position to weather the financial headwinds through the duration of the pandemic. The success of the vaccine has at least set a likely finish line for the current state of cultural austerity.
Here is the full release.