Photo by Karen Almond
The holiday season is now officially upon us, and with its arrival comes a quiet sense of dread and anxiety that rarely is uttered out loud—the stress of finding that “perfect” gift. With the world premiere of the new opera Becoming Santa Clauson December 4, The Dallas Opera and acclaimed composer/librettist Mark Adamo explore the value of giving gifts, the motivation behind the gesture, and how it affects the loved ones around us.
Set in a kingdom of elves far in the north, Prince Claus is about to celebrate his 13th birthday with a lavish gala being held in his honor. His three cherished uncles Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar (the kings of the Christmas story) send a Donkey-Messenger to explain their absence, as they follow a radiant star and attend the birth of a mysterious child. Struggling to comprehend why his exiled father always showered him with gifts as a substitute for his time and affection, the boy feels frustrated and abandoned. As he discovers his uncles’ intent to offer symbolic gifts to the newborn baby, Claus decides to one-up them and fill a sleigh with dazzling gifts to deliver to the child as well. Arriving after everyone has already departed, he is left with many toys and no one to give them to. It’s then that he thinks of a little solution.
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Becoming Santa Claus stars mezzo Jennifer Rivera as Queen Sophine, tenor Jonathan Blalock as the young Prince Claus, bass Matt Boehler in the dual role of Donkey/Messenger, and four challenging elven roles sung by soprano Hila Plitmann, mezzo Lucy Schaufer, tenor Keith Jameson, and bass Kevin Burdette, under the baton of conductor Emmanuel Villaume.
Speaking with renowned Scottish director Paul Curran about the opera, he describes the piece as a non-religious story about “a disenfranchised family" in which the mother is trying to compensate for the father’s absence.
"The father—he’s the King—gets caught up in work, but he is not deliberately ignoring his son. It happens to a lot of young people. You don’t see your parents because they’re running around, and then their compensation is usually with ‘things.’ The whole message of the piece is that we should give love. We should give understanding. We should just make a presence.”
For theatergoers and fans of ballet and choral music, this time of year is synonymous with Christmas Carols, Nutcrackers and Messiahs, yet opera lovers are essentially left with only the dark and twisted fairy tale Hansel and Gretel or Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. Adamo’s glittery new holiday opera fills that void, and its broad appeal stretches far beyond the nativity story and the lore surrounding Santa Claus. With a brilliant creative team and cast of performers, this poignant human drama should appeal to children and adults, queer and straight audiences alike. Becoming Santa Claus looks to be a holiday classic in the making.
The Dallas Opera presents Becoming Santa Claus at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4-12 at the Winspear Opera House, Dallas, Texas. 214-443-1000. DallasOpera.org.