Turandot at the Death Star

Most of you know about Cowboys Stadium. A lot of folks call it Jerryworld, after Jerry Jones, of course – but I refer to it as the Death Star. It is a structure of almost unimaginable size. When you are driving around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the thing will, often unexpectedly, be spotted looming on the horizon like a giant scoop of steely ice cream. You will look, and then realize how far away it is. I’ve seen the thing from just west of Mesquite – a good forty miles away.

Cowboys Stadium - The Death Star

Cowboys Stadium – The Death Star

Its purpose, of course, is to be the home of the Dallas Cowboys, America’s (nowadays mediocre) Team. But it is also used for other purposes, from concerts to monster truck rallies. I’ve seen a basketball game there.

Other than its gargantuan size, the stadium’s most famous attribute is its video screen. A four-sided apparatus (two large screens on the sides, and two small ones on the ends) that hangs down from the roof over the field, it simply has to be seen to be believed. The first thing that strikes you is the size – 72 feet tall and 160 feet wide. But what is jaw-droppingly amazing is the quality and brightness of the picture it displays. It is better than real… it is real life re-imagined on a grand scale.

So when I read that they were going to put that screen to a unique use – they were going to simulcast a production of the Dallas Opera’s production of Turandot from the Winspear Opera House onto those giant screen, I had to be there.

Turandot simulcast at Cowboys Stadium.

Turandot simulcast at Cowboys Stadium.

I have to admit, the main reason I wanted to go was simply the uniqueness of the event. Grand, full-scale, opera being piped live into the gargantuan shrine of huge sweaty sportsmen… this was something I had to see – the collision of two very different worlds. I picked up tickets for Candy and I, and marked the calendar to drive out there.

We had our doubts. I had seen some light opera over the years, but never a whole production of grand opera. What would it be like on a giant video screen? Candy especially didn’t think it would be all that – and almost didn’t go. She asked, “It isn’t long is it?”

“Yes, it’s very long.”

“They aren’t singing in another language are they?”

“Yes, it’s in Italian, but there will be subtitles.”

In the end, we made the drive. There were twenty-nine thousand people there. I don’t think there have been very many live opera performances with (counting the folks at the Winspear) thirty five or so thousand spectators. Before the festivities started, the crowd was pretty restless and innervated.

I wanted to get there on time because before the opera itself started they showed a cartoon on the big screen. It’s what most folks think of when they think of opera – What’s Up Opera, with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. You know… “Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!”

Elmer Fudd on the Giant Screen

Elmer Fudd on the Giant Screen

And then, after another mini-opera modeled after Julia Child baking a chocolate cake and a bunch of interviews, the performance started.

It was greatness. It was fucking amazing. It was fantastic. It was a thing of exquisite beauty.

When you see little bits of a Grand Opera – the overdone costumes and makeup, the melodramatic stories, the talking-in-music – it seem sort of silly, weird, and overly precious. But when you put it together like this, done well, it is an overpowering emotional experience.

I remember, in the middle of the third act, looking sideways at the massive crowd packed into the steeply sloping seats staring out at that video screen, mouths gaping, completely taken in, enraptured. I don’t see how anyone with anything approaching an open mind could not be amazed and enthralled at what they saw.

Oh, and Candy loved it too. She had brought her iPad so she could read if she was bored. It never came out of its case. She said it was beautiful and amazing. She was especially impressed with Antonello Palombi, the tenor playing Prince Calàf. Here’s an interesting story from his Wikipedia Page:

On 10 December 2006 he was thrust into the media spotlight in Franco Zeffirelli’s new production of Aida at La Scala, which opened the theatre’s 2006/2007 season. During the second night of the run, Palombi took over the role of Radames when Roberto Alagna walked off the stage after booing from the loggione (opera fans who sit in the less-expensive seats at the very back of the Scala). Palombi entered on stage wearing jeans and a black shirt to finish the act, and returned in costume after the interval to sing the remainder of the opera.

Nobody was booing from Cowboys Stadium. It’s pretty odd to see folks giving a standing ovation to performers that aren’t even there.

How was it on the screen? Not bad. Some of the closeups were a little strange – seeing things like beads of sweat or imperfections in makeup blown up to the size of a schoolbus was disconcerting. They did as good a job with the sound as they could – the vast open space echoes terribly, of course, but they had extra speakers and subwoofers lining the field and it wasn’t as bad as you would think.

So – now I’m pumped. I really want to see one of these live now. Remember, those folks are singing live… really live – they are not miked. The purpose of the simulcast was to introduce folks to something they might not otherwise see and get them interested… and it worked, in spades.

Oh man, in October they are doing Carmen at the Winspear…. I wonder if I can save enough money for tickets.