A Standing Ovation

For lovers of the arts, there is nothing quite like the opera — the rich sounds of the symphony orchestra, ornate and colorful costumes and the stories that find us through beautiful singing voices that float through our memories forever. Some may be fortunate enough to spend entire seasons at The Dallas Opera, but, for most of us, a night at the opera is a very special occasion — an event that may be experienced only a few times in a lifetime, if at all.

The Dallas Opera has made a night at the opera much more attainable for those of us in Frisco. With its free simulcast of “Madame Butterfly” at The Star in Frisco on Saturday, March 18, we can all enjoy the beauty of an evening at the opera practically in our own backyard. No costly tickets, fighting traffic to get to downtown Dallas or even hiring a babysitter. This family-friendly performance is designed for all ages to enjoy.

This year’s simulcast performance is “Madame Butterfly,” a timeless story of young girl’s love for an American naval officer. “Madame Butterfly” first debuted on the stage in Milan in 1904, and to this day, still has a timeless appeal. This performance, simulcast live from the Winspear Opera House, is The Dallas Opera’s fifteenth free public simulcast. The program is nationally recognized and has attracted more than 70,000 patrons over the past five years. The Dallas Opera presents approximately 30 opera performances each year, including five mainstage productions and three family productions. The organization also presents around 90 educational programs each year in schools, libraries and community centers. Students from schools in Collin County, including Frisco, have visited the Winspear Opera House to see opera dress rehearsals.

Keith Cerny, the CEO of the Dallas Opera and the Kern Wildenthal general director, says the popular simulcast program draws more and more people each year. This will be the very first simulcast performance at The Star. “The first time we held a simulcast performance was at AT&T Stadium. We presented Mozart’s fairy-tale opera ‘The Magic Flute,’ and it was a tremendous success. We drew approximately 15,000 people, and I will never forget the lengthy and enthusiastic standing ovation that came at the conclusion of the performance. Although I have seen countless opera productions during my life, seeing a live performance of an opera projected on one of the largest video screens in the world was thrilling. It was literally larger than life and was accompanied by an excellent sound system we rented that filled the 80,000-seat stadium. It was simply spectacular!”

“Madame Butterfly” is based on the short story by John Luther Long and was adapted into a performance by the famous Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini. As a simple, three-act (originally two) performance, it is loosely based on true events in Nagasaki, Japan. It is a love story that tells the tale of a naïve Japanese girl, Cio-Cio-San, who is blinded by her love for a callous American naval officer, Lt. B.F. Pinkerton. “Madame Butterfly” is the third production of The Dallas Opera’s 60th season and is a classic period production, led by renowned Italian conductor Donato Renzetti. The winner of multiple international awards, Mr. Renzetti has achieved much critical acclaim from around the globe for his performances.

The simulcasts offer a casual setting to enjoy a unique arts and entertainment experience, complete with a spectacular high-definition broadcast screen and a high-quality sound system.  The audience experience is similar to the opera house in that there is a shared emotional reaction to the operas. Audiences tend to sit in one place until the intermissions or the end, rather than moving around like they might do at a sports event. Depending on the location, people may bring food or drinks or purchase them at a concession stand. From a technical standpoint, many hours of pre-show work goes into each simulcast. The behind the scenes preparation requires Dallas Opera staff to work for months on these events, including dedicated volunteers to help support the performances.

For the performers, the experience is unique and exciting, as well. “I have noted that artists particularly relish knowing that their performances will be seen by a larger audience than in just the opera house. When we held our first simulcast of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ in Annette Strauss Artist Square, I invited the performers to take a second bow for the audience outside the Winspear Opera House, and they loved it!” says Mr. Cerny.  

The simulcast program has received rave reviews from opera-goers. Mr. Cerny says, depending on the level of financial support available, they present between one and three simulcasts each season. Since 2010, The Dallas Opera has presented 14 simulcasts and each simulcast may be transmitted to more than one location. In November 2016, a performance of “Moby-Dick” was shown at both Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas and in Wichita Falls at the Kay Yeager Coliseum. The 2014 simulcast of Tod Machover’s robot opera “Death and the Powers” was shown at nine locations in the U.S. and Europe, and required three separate satellites. “Over the life of the program, more than 70,000 people have attended these free public performances. While most of the audiences have been drawn from North Texas, the company has also simulcast to London, New York, Stockholm, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Stanford University and Los Angeles. Closer to home, we have also transmitted to Galveston and Wichita Falls. The community feedback has been extremely positive. We receive many letters and e-mails from patrons who have been delighted to attend these performances and bring their families.”

Although The Dallas Opera did not invent the simulcast program, it is one of the most active opera companies in the U.S. to utilize this technology to bring operas to a wider audience.  “We have been one of the most active companies in this area. We know that other opera companies have taken notice of our efforts and, perhaps, have emulated some of our model. The idea of building community support by investing in performances outside the ‘four walls’ of the opera house is increasingly seen as best practice in the opera field,” says Mr. Cerny.

For The Star, this is just one of the many events to come throughout this year. “We are excited to host our yearly opera simulcast at The Star in Frisco this year,” said Chad Estis, the Dallas Cowboys executive vice president of business operations. “Shown on the outdoor 2,270-square-foot video board, this simulcast will give attendees an intimate experience, while maintaining a casual park-like setting.”

The simulcast will be held on Saturday, March 18, at The Star, the world headquarters of the Dallas Cowboys. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. with KLUV Radio’s host, Jody Dean, and The Dallas Opera’s education program senior manager, Kristian Roberts. The opera performance begins at 7:30 p.m. Activities include a Family Fun Zone from 4:30-6:30 p.m., a Pre-Performance Workshop at 5 p.m., contests and behind the scenes interviews. Parking is free. For tickets, go to dallasopera.org/simulcast. Visit The Dallas Opera website at dallasopera.org or call 214.443.1000 for additional event information. For those who wish to experience this at the Winspear Opera House, mainstage performances take place March 10, 12, 15, 18, 24 and 26.  

Lisa Dawson is a full-time working mom of three, a freelance writer and a Frisco resident.