Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

To get her pet opera produced, Arden has come back to her hometown where the
American Opera, run by impressaria Winnie Flato (Federica von Stade), is based.
Winnie’s husband runs the local pro football team and makes enough money
to indulge his wife’s passion for opera. The team is playing across town
in the Super Bowl the night “Rosa Dolorosa” opens. Onstage with
Arden is a fiercely ambitious young Eastern European soprano, Tatyana Bakst
(Ailyn Perez), who is eager to supplant the veteran diva. There are romantic
subplots between Arden and her former high school sweetheart (Nathan Gunn), and
between the cute young stage manager (Anthony Roth Costanzo), and the conductor
(Kevin Burdette). In addition, there is a barihunk intent on revealing his
torso onstage and a witty tenor.

As you can see from this description, there’s a lot going on in
Great Scott. Master playwright Terrence McNally has created characters
that are much fully drawn than is usual in opera. The libretto is witty,
warm-hearted and eloquent.

Jake Heggie’s score for Great Scott raises all sorts of
questions. It’s a meta-operatic work, an opera about the making of an
operatic production filled with pastiche of bel canto composers plus a dollop
of Richard Strauss. Heggie’s virtue is his talent for writing melodies
for the voice in an era in which many operatic composters think of the human
voice as just another instrument in the orchestra and often not the most
important one. No wonder singers love his music. However, the score for
Great Scott is so easy on the ear that, apart from the pseudo Rossini,
the sweet, melodic music often sounds like old-fashioned Broadway. Its best
moments, like the rapturous quartet toward the end, echoing the trio from
Der Rosenkavalier, tend to sound like someone else. There
were times when I thought the opera would be better if Heggie had gone more in
the direction of Broadway. The echoes of Rossini in Cy Coleman’s
brilliant score for On the Twentieth Century are wittier than
Heggie’s parodies. There’s nothing wrong with musicals combining
Broadway and opera – think of Porgy and Bess, Street
, Regina or The Most Happy Fella. McNally’s
libretto does this masterfully. Heggie’s music isn’t quite in
either camp. He wants the music to be approachable, but is it distinctive?

On opening night, Great Scott ran for nearly three and a half
hours. Here is a case where less would be more. The longish overture is weak
and could easily be cut and there’s too much operatic parody. The joke
wears a bit thin after a while. An edited version of Great Scott
focusing more on the backstage story with less faux Rossini would be far more

The premiere production couldn’t have had a better cast. Great
calls for singers with excellent technique and personal charisma.
This cast had both. It’s difficult to single out any of the leads for
particular praise. Joyce DiDonato sang like an angel but acted equally well as
a star in midlife crisis. Federica von Stade still has a beautiful voice and
made Winnie into a lovable character. Ailyn Perez has certainly met sopranos
like Tatyana Bakst and gives a spot-on performance as an embodiment of diva
ambition. Her star turn is a bizarre version of “The Star Spangled
Banner” at the Super Bowl that almost steals the show. Anthony Roth
Costanzo, is totally winning as Roane, the stage manager who can’t decide
whether he is a realist or a romantic. Costanzo also gets a show stopping
number in which he confesses to his non-operatic musical preferences. He can
dance too! As he always does, veteran director Jack O’Brien gives the
work both warmth and pizzazz. Opera never gets enough rehearsal. I wish I had
seen the last performance instead of the first. I’m sure the production
will settle in even more over time.

I doubt that Great Scott will withstand the test of time. I
couldn’t help thinking of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Last
, another comic opera filled with pastiche that doesn’t have a
firm enough musical profile. Great Scott is thoroughly enjoyable but
not great.

Ian MacKenzie

image_description=Photo: Karen Almond
product_title=Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott at the Dallas Opera
product_by=A review by Ian MacKenzie
product_id=Above photo by Karen Almond