Joyce DiDonato, Ailyn Pérez, Frederica von Stade, Nathan Gunn, Anthony Roth Costanzo; Chorus & Orchestra of The Dallas Opera/Patrick Summers
Jake Heggie’s works are consistently successful with American audiences, and his opera Dead Man Walking, his first collaboration with playwright Terrence McNally, more widely so. At 56 Heggie is the most prominent opera composer on the US scene.
In their latest joint work, premiered at the Dallas Opera in October 2015 and recorded live during its initial run, he and McNally take a mildly ironic look at what American opera is (and isn’t) in this lightweight backstage comedy.
A company called, in fact, American Opera is staging the belated premiere of the fictitious Rosa Dolorosa, figlia di Pompei by one Vittorio Bazzetti, rediscovered in a drawer at the Mariinsky by international diva Arden Scott ( Joyce DiDonato). The process of staging the work, in competition with a Super Bowl championship game the same night in the same town with a team run by the husband of the opera company’s chief patron, is the subject of an over-extended piece whose widespread use of bel canto parody tends to mean that Heggie’s own musical personality slips from view.
A cast full of leading American singers and impressive company forces under Patrick Summers give this amiable if slight entertainment a strong launch. DiDonato faces off with Ailyn Pérez as her Eastern European rival Tatyana Bakst in a battle of the divas, while Frederica von Stade and Nathan Gunn give good value as benefactor Winnie Flato and Scott’s erstwhile boyfriend Sid Taylor respectively. The sound is enclosed, but though there’s a good deal of audience noise it’s the healthy sound of laughter.