Arts & Culture

Review: Dallas Opera gives ‘Becoming Santa Claus’ its world premiere

The Dallas Opera presents ‘Becoming Santa Claus’ at the Winspear Opera House.
The Dallas Opera presents ‘Becoming Santa Claus’ at the Winspear Opera House.

Composer Mark Adamo’s superb Lysistrata, which the Fort Worth Opera produced in 2012, whetted the appetite for more Adamo.

The Dallas Opera produced just that Friday night, presenting the premiere of Becoming Santa Claus at Winspear Opera House.

Alas, Santa Claus doesn’t come up to the standard of Lysistrata — and not just because the latter has sex and the former doesn’t.

One problem is that it’s not clear what kind of audience Adamo is aiming Santa Claus at (as with Lysistrata, Adamo is both the composer and librettist).

One might reasonably guess it’s for children. Santa Claus as the protagonist in an opera for adults would seem unlikely, if not bizarre. Especially when Santa begins the opera as a bratty kid, like a character created by Maurice Sendak.

There are also elves, toys, a queen who casts spells and other kidlike elements.

On the other hand, the fact that the opera lasts well over an hour and a half and has no intermission would be risky if the target audience were children.

Also, there are serious elements that probably don’t get much deep thinking among children: the commercialization of Christmas, the importance of true love, the problem of absentee parentism and suchlike.

None of this would matter much if the music were exceptional, but on a first hearing, Santa seems a cut below Lysistrata. The music is pleasant — it’s tonal and colorfully orchestrated (including handbell ringers!) — but not particularly memorable.

The cast members were Lucy Schaufer, Keith Jameson, Kevin Burdette and Hila Plitmann as four elves; Jennifer Rivera as Santa’s queenly mother; Jonathan Blalock as Santa Claus; Matt Boehler as a donkey; and a team of dancers. Dallas Opera music director Emmanuel Villaume was the conductor.

The evening was considerably enhanced by the stage direction of Paul Curran and the design team of Gary McCann (sets and costumes), Paul Hackenmueller (lighting), Driscoll Otto (projections) and David Zimmerman (wigs and makeup).

The designs included fantasy elements (moving tables, painted portraits that came to life), human characters, and projections of real-life scenes mixed with drawn figures.

What got the most laughter Friday night (the opera is billed as a comedy) was that the projected cartoonlike reindeer had to rear up on their hind legs and pass through security’s full-body scanner before being allowed to fly.

Also, I liked the fact that the lead reindeer had a red nose (good old Rudolph).

Becoming Santa Claus

  • 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday
  • Winspear Opera House, Dallas
  • $19-$179
  • 214-443-1000; www.dallasopera.org
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