Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tchaikovsky's Iolanta at the Dallas Opera

I love going to concerts and other musical events, so this year my husband and I decided to get tickets to one of the Dallas Opera's performances of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta. This opera is rarely performed in the United States, even though it's by a prominent composer. In fact, Iolanta is Tchaikovsky's last opera, and he wrote it at the same time as he wrote the Nutcracker. Both works premiered on the same night, and to moderately good reviews. Like Tchaikovsky's more famous work, Iolanta has a light-hearted plot and a happy ending, with gorgeous melodies to spare.

One of the highlights of this opera is its strong cast. Their voices were near flawless--every single performer sounded gorgeous. The rich duet between Iolantha and her beloved Vaudemont, gave the opera more emotional depth than the plot suggested, and the male cast members played exceptionally well off each other. I loved the acting as well--Ekaterina Scherbachenko's Iolanta was pure and innocent without ever becoming saccharine, and the pathos of her disability never overwhelmed the character's sweet grace. But the most engaging scenes of the opera had to be the interactions between Sergey Skorokhodov's Count Vandemont and Andrei Bondarenko's Duke Robert. The two men got plenty of laughs as they wondered through a forest discussing their ideal women, until they happen upon Iolanta's hidden garden. Other acting highlights were the dance-like movements of Iolanta and her maidens as they awaken in the garden, or swirl about Iolanta as she searches for the right rose (the plot summarized quite nicely here).

I'll admit the costumes were a bit disappointing. I understand that opera companies often operate at a loss and elaborate costumes are a huge expense, but I wish they'd dress the cast in Medieval or Romantic attire. The modern clothes did not complement the whimsical, fairy-tale plot. The sets were similarly austere, but the elaborate lighting helped to set the mood of each scene.

Whatever Iolanta's weakness in terms of costumes or sets, the music makes up for it. The sparkling cast and the sensitive, responsive playing of the orchestra beautifully expressed Tchaikovsky's gorgeous music. I'd recommend this Iolanta to any opera lover or Tchaikovsky fan.

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