DRIVEN BY A DREAM

The Dallas Opera takes center stage in the push for a performing arts center.

When Dallas Opera production director John Gage first saw the ornate set of columns his boss wanted for this season’s production of A Masked Bail, one question immediately sprang to mind: Will they fit in the Music Hall?

It’s a recurring question for Gage, one that sums up the Opera’s essential problem with the Music Hall: Built in 1926, the hall is too small for most of today *s elaborate opera productions. The Dallas Opera-one of the top opera companies in the U.S.-is in danger of being left behind.

Picture this: To dismantle the set for A Masked Bali, Gage had to rent a set of motorized chains to lay the columns flat on the ground before disassembling them because the counterweight system at the Dallas hall supports only 950 pounds. (Most modern halls can support up to 2,200 pounds.) The working stage is only 40 feet deep-some 15 feet less than the industry standard-so the columns could not be rolled to the rear of the stage to free the area for workers. Electricians and carpenters had to wait for the columns to be disassembled before they could begin.

So it goes for the behind-the-scenes staff at The Dallas Opera. You’d never know it from your seat in the audience, but virtually every production is hampered by a facility that is more than 70 years old.

The list of deficiencies at the Music Hail at Fair Park goes on and on. And then ends up on the bottom line.

In an industry dependent on generous benefactors. The Dallas Opera spends tens of thousands of dollars a year on rentals and accommodations that would be standard in newer facilities. For every opera, Gage budgets a separate line item of $15,000 for expenses that are a direct result of the hall’s inadequate space- things like wiring, specialized carpentry, pulley systems. For a five-production season, that equals $75,000. That’s about 935 season tickets.

Gage realizes that no space is perfect. He’s a realist. “As soon as you build something new,” he says, “something else comes along that’s even better.”

That’s true. But the plans for The Dallas Opera’s new home would be hard to improve upon.

The Lyric Theater is part of a big dream: The nonprofit DaJlas Center for the Performing Arts. The Dallas Opera is just one part of this fragile coalition of arts groups that banded together out of a common need. They all want-and can justify- performance space in the Dallas Arts District. Dallas Children’s Theater brings live theater to thousands of Dallas children and offers classes at the theater and in DISD classrooms. But it is on a temporary lease at the Crescent Theater, a makeshift space to begin with. Fort Worth Dallas Bal let has the same problems with the Music Hall that the Opera does. In any plan for the eastern part of the Arts District, Dallas Theater Center’s Arts District Theater is going to be demolished. They’ll need another performance space. All these organizations, and a dozen or so more, have different timetables, different experiences, and different problems.

The Center for the Performing Arts- which proposes six indoor and two outdoor performance spaces-is their common solution. Last May, voters approved the bond issue that provided money to purchase the necessary land. The next scheduled bond issue will be in 2002. That’s the year the Opera, and other members of the Center for Performing Arts coalition, is targeting.

The Opera is the driving force behind the Center, not because of desperation, but because of preparation. The Dallas Opera is in the strongest state of readiness to go forward-they have the organization, the community support. They can get the money. Opera general director Plato Karayanis’ vision of a world-class hall for a world-class institution is finally coming into focus. But the proposed Lyric Theater won’t serve just The Dallas Opera. The Opera would be the resident company, but Fort Worth Dallas Ballet would perform there, and Dallas Summer Musicals would use it as a mid-size space. In fact, the new feasibility study projects that the 2,400-seat Lyric Theater would be used 265 nights a year. Of that, the Opera would occupy the space about 30 percent of the time.

The whole is bigger than any of the pieces, no matter how big those pieces are-Critic Albert lnnaurato says art must be about the community. The Dallas Opera plans to help create an arts community.

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