Once described as a "soap opera with excellent music," the opera department at Utah State University will present two performances this weekend of the delightful and hilarious 'The Merry Wives of Windsor" by Otto Niccolai. The new Director of Opera Studies, Dallas Heaton, has injected his own fresh, new perspective into the production.
A native of Kaysville, Utah, Dallas Heaton assumed the position of Director of Opera Studies at Utah State University this January. He completed a Master’s in Collaborative Piano at Arizona State University, and an artist’s diploma in Opera Coaching at the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. Since then, Dallas has worked professionally as a collaborative artist for several years.
"It’s always been something I've really enjoyed. Ever since high school I would play for choirs or work with singers or play for our high school musical. It just kind of naturally happened. Even as I would study solo piano I would always accompany on the side and I would want to practice the collaborative stuff more. I enjoy more making music with others. In fact, some of the best music-making experiences I’ve ever had have been in pit orchestras," says Heaton.
With family living in the Logan area, as well as having several freelance engagements with the Utah Festival Opera and students of professors at USU, Dallas was a hidden treasure that quickly made an impression with music professionals in Cache Valley. Dr. James Michael Bankhead, the Head of the Music Department at USU, says that when conducting a search for a new Director of Opera Studies the choice was clear.
“The person that immediately came to our attention was Dallas. It became a very ‘one person short list.’ We thought, if we can attract him here, this is the guy we want because of his background, experience, personality. He’d be a great fit for us," says Bankhead.
When asked what drew him to the position at USU, Dallas said that from previous experience with the faculty in the Music Department, he thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to be able to associate with them as a colleague at the collegiate level.
“Also though, the student body has turned out to be one of the most endearing parts of the job. It’s been really fun to work with the students here. People are so nice and we get a pretty high level of music making up here which is maybe not something you would expect to find in Logan. So all that was a big attraction for me when the option came on the table," says Heaton.
It takes a special kind of person to have all the skills and personality to be an excellent opera director. Dr. Bankhead says Dallas has fit the position like a glove.
“First of all, he is a great colleague. He listens well, he likes to engage students and other faculty. He is extremely well organized which is very important to figuring out putting a complex show together. There are lots of moving pieces. His training has been dealing with professionals, and that’s the world he comes from. What better learning experience for our students. This is how it’s done in the big leagues. If you want to be in the big league, here’s how we go about it. And they're experiencing it firsthand from someone who works, and continues to work all the time on a professional level. He’s awesome," says Bankhead.
This weekend the USU Opera program will be performing Otto Niccolai’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Dallas says it is a lesser-known work in the United States, however it gets quite a bit of stage time in Europe, particularly in Germany.
“It’s a beautifully funny piece. It’s lighthearted, it’s fun. It’s got some deep themes but overall it’s not necessarily a piece you have to spend a lot of time with to really appreciate,” says Heaton.
Referring to audience members who attend this weekend’s performances he adds, “The main thing I hope they’ll leave with is sore ribs from laughing so much. So laughs, for one, but two, I also hope that the audience will come away with a little bit of a deeper sense of something that binds us as humans.”
The opera is based on Shakespeare’s play of the same name which was written over 400 years ago, and this story may have been older. We actually don’t know if Shakespeare came up with the story himself or if he took someone else’s work and just told it in his own way.
With the upcoming performance this weekend, Dr. Bankhead is optimistic in his vision of the future of the opera department at USU.
“You add all that together and all we have is a really bright and exciting future both for those who are in the program and those of us who get to sit in the audience and enjoy what he’s doing.”
"The Merry Wives of Windsor" will be performed on the Utah State University campus at the Morgan Theatre on Friday, April 11th and Saturday, April 12th at 7:30 PM. For more information, visit the Caine College of the Arts homepage.