Entertainment » Theatre

Becoming Santa Claus

by Drew Jackson
Monday Dec 7, 2015
Becoming Santa Claus

The Dallas Opera closes out the year with it's third world premiere in 2015: Mark Adamo's charming "Becoming Santa Claus," which is likely to become a seasonal favorite for opera companies across the country.

It's a rare gift to find a truly novel Christmas story that doesn't feel like a Hallmark or Lifetime movie-of-the-week. But Adamo, who also wrote the music and libretto, has penned an original holiday tale that connects the Santa Claus legend with the Nativity story with such simplicity that it makes you wonder why it hasn't been done before.

The elven Prince Claus is upset when his three favorite uncles (Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) won't be attending his 13th birthday party. The uncles send word that they have seen a star in the West heralding the birth of a special child. The uncles are planning to visit and bear presents to the child.

Spitefully Claus decides that he will bring the child better presents (toys!) Claus and his toys travel across the world to a small manger only to discover that the child and his parents have already departed. Claus is moved by the story of the child's birth and devises a plan for what to do with his sleigh full of presents.

"Becoming Santa Claus" feels both familiar and new. The book is original but includes the familiar threads of both the secular and religious celebration of Christmas. And even though "Becoming Santa Claus" is a new work, the Dallas Opera's production belies its youthfulness. It looks and feels rich, polished and seasoned.

Adamo's opera comes to life thanks to an amazing creative team that includes Stage Director and Choreographer Paul Curran, Set and Costume Designer Gary McCann, Lighting Designer Paul Hackenmueller and Projections Designer Driscoll Otto. Emmanuel Villaume conducts the score.

The wintry palace set is handsome and spacious and is built and lit with a crisp ice-blue palette. The attention to detail is remarkable from the snow-speckled tablecloths to the ice laden tinseled throne to the snooty portraits of ancestors whose expressions change in response to the story.
Kids of all ages will sit in awe as the second scene unfolds in Prince Claus' oversized toyshop.

Colossal shelves that stretch from the stage to the rafters are stuffed with a variety of gigantic toys. Many of the toys come to life including a stuffed animal, toy soldier, a doll and a large green Gumby-like blob that stretches and unfolds itself across the workshop. A small child sitting in front of me called the blob a buggar. Fun!

The frosty hue extends to the costumes. Queen Sophine's gowns feature jewel-like trim that resemble glistening icicles. And the elves are outfitted in cloudy-covered peplum styled jacket and pants. The only exception to the chilly palette is the occasional shock of hair on an elf and the regal red robes worn by Prince Claus.

The performances are universally great. Tenor Jonathan Blalock plays Prince Claus and delivers a strong performance highlighted by the dramatic arc from a withdrawn spiteful boy to a generous spirit. Matt Boehler's outstanding bass is a welcome presence contrasting nicely with the higher range singing of his co-stars. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera is striking as the regally cool Queen Sophine but is burdened by the role's expository libretto.

If "Becoming Santa Claus" were a Disney movie the spirited four elves would be mass marketed and would appear under every child's Christmas tree. The merry quartet is delightfully sung and played by Hila Plitmann, Lucy Schaufer, Keith Jameson and Kevin Burdette.

I'm not a big fan of the atonal operatic style Adamo composes in the first and second scenes. But by the third scene the score steers into a more harmonic melodic style and in hindsight you can appreciate the blending of the two styles with the themes of the story.

"Becoming Santa Claus" is enchanting and full of wonder. The opera is a surprisingly fresh and welcome holiday treat.

"Becoming Santa Claus" runs through Dec. 12 at the Winspear Opera, 2403 Flora Street in Dallas. For information or tickets, call 214-443-1000 or visit www.dallasopera.org

Drew Jackson was born in Brooklyn and has been writing ever since he graduated from NYC. He now lives in Dallas happily married to his husband Hugh. Jackson is currently working on his next play.


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