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A fun ‘Merry Widow’ gala from Susan Graham, Thomas Hampson and the Dallas Symphony

Hits from the Lehár operetta followed a fancy black-tie dinner at the Meyerson Symphony Center.

Dallas swells swanned around the Meyerson Symphony Center lobby Saturday evening, nursing pre-dinner drinks and catching up on summer adventures. The black-tie Dallas Symphony Orchestra Gala brought out some spectacular gowns — first prize surely went to the layered rose colors wrapping DSO board chair Cece Smith — but even some gents went daring with colored and patterned tux ties and cummerbunds.

After cocktail hour, the fancy sit-down dinner took up most of the west side of the Meyerson lobby, and a gala after-party was promised. (Writing duties kept me from post-concert revels.) The annual event is a fundraiser for the DSO’s extensive educational activities.

Black-tie dinner at the 2022 Dallas Symphony Orchestra Gala, at the Meyerson Symphony Center...
Black-tie dinner at the 2022 Dallas Symphony Orchestra Gala, at the Meyerson Symphony Center on October 1, 2022.(Scott Cantrell / Special Contributor)

Musical draws were mezzo Susan Graham and baritone Thomas Hampson, who joined the orchestra and Dallas Symphony Chorus — and music director Fabio Luisi — in a delightful potpourri of hits from Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow. The hourlong concert included a diverse lineup of other collaborators on the stage extension: six male vocal students from Southern Methodist University and six young women from DBDT: Encore!, Dallas Black Dance Theatre’s professional training company.

There were things that could have been better. For this music meant for theater, and thus verbal intelligibility, the Meyerson’s adjustable acoustics should have been dialed down for less reverberation. That, and less high-power amplification, could have made Quincy Roberts’ linking narration, quite dramatically delivered, clearer. (The narration was credited to Jillian Weise.) In an age when supertitles are de rigueur in opera houses around the world, projected texts of the English translation would have been helpful.

With the orchestra onstage, rather than in an orchestra pit, singers were sometimes disadvantaged. But Graham and Hampson played their parts to the hilt on the downstage extension, from awkward distance between the rich widow Hanna Glawari and her potential suitor Count Danilo, to their final melting in each other’s arms.

Baritone Thomas Hampson sings with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and music...
Baritone Thomas Hampson sings with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and music director Fabio Luisi during a gala concert at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, October 1, 2022. (Emil Lippe / Special Contributor)

Veteran singers who’ve marshaled their vocal resources wisely, Graham and Hampson vividly impersonated characters who have a history between them, but also transform before our eyes and ears. In a role conceived for a soprano, Graham was presumably accommodated with some transpositions. Top notes of the famous “Vilja” aria, usually floated by sopranos, were delivered full voice. Hampson did some pretty impressive hoofing.

Luisi, himself a veteran of the world’s top opera houses, looked to be enjoying himself immensely. He brought Old World charm and suavity to the orchestra’s playing, by turns dazzling and delicate. (Special praise for solos from concertmaster Alexander Kerr and principal cellist Christopher Adkins.) Prepared by guest chorus conductor Anthony Blake Clark, the large chorus sang with great pizzazz.

The SMU vocalists vividly represented the various diplomats in ensemble, but sparing us the plot’s complications. The dancers put on a spectacular high-kick show as the party-girl grisettes.

Start to finish, your veteran correspondent sat there with a big grin on his face.

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