Master of the House

Classic Arts Features   Master of the House
A conversation with Dallas Opera chorus master Alexander Rom.

Alexander Rom: I was born in what is now the sovereign nation of Ukraine, which, at that time was a part of the Soviet Union. This is where I went to a special music school for gifted children and later applied for the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music (then, Leningrad), one of the two finest conservatories in the country. I was fortunate enough to be admitted and I finalized my studies there.

Playbill: When did you arrive in the United States?

Rom: In 1976. New Orleans, Louisiana, became my new hometown…

Playbill: That's quite a culture shock! From Ukraine to the "Big Easy."

Rom: Yes and no. We were mesmerized by the writings of Mark Twain back in the Soviet Union and, through his books, we already had a sense or feel for the region. In fact, when I arrived in New Orleans, thanks to Mark Twain and other great American writers like O. Henry, I had the distinct feeling I had been there before. I loved it immediately.

Playbill: You certainly personify the international nature of The Dallas Opera. This isn't just a homegrown company, it's much more than that.

Rom: It's been much more than that from the very beginning. One of the founders of this company was already an internationally known conductor. Even when The Dallas Opera was a smaller operation, it was always highly international in flavor. This opera company has seen some almost mythological figures walk across the very stage where we perform.

Playbill: Callas, Sutherland…

Rom: Marilyn Horne, Jon Vickers. I didn't know that Franco Zeffirelli made his American debut here in Dallas. And a lot of people did. It's important for you to know that I don't say what I say because I work for The Dallas Opera and I'm trying to say "the right thing." I do think this is a very, very important opera company‹a company of great quality. Even in the most difficult circumstances, like the situation we faced after 9/11, this company has always maintained the highest artistic standards. The Dallas Opera is a well respected company, especially in Europe. I wish I saw more interest in this opera company from people throughout this community. It is very important to this city and this region because it does put Dallas on the international map. A football team is great, but a great city is more than a great football team.

Playbill: What are some of the moments or productions in the past 14 years that stand out in your mind and of which you are most proud?

Rom: Oh, from a choral point of view, I probably should name Britten's Billy Budd, The Flying Dutchman, Massenet's Manon, both productions of JenÔ_ufa.

Playbill: Is there something about these productions that ties them all together?

Rom: They all took work. And everyone took part in that unified effort. You know, sometimes a production is like a loosened fist; other times it's like a tight fist. These productions I mentioned were like a tight fist. In all of these, everyone, the chorus included, sensed that something special was going on.

Playbill: For some people, opera is personified by the tenor standing center stage, singing "Nessun Dorma." Yet for many people, the heart and soul of opera lies in the chorus. There are few more powerful experiences in an opera hall than a great choral work like Verdi's Va pensiero. Why is that?

Rom: I do think that singing, the sound of a human voice solely constructed by God, is incomparable. It's almost as if we human beings were constructed of sounds. We're always ready to receive sounds‹first and foremost, the sound of a human voice. For me, the voice is the only truly natural instrument. When just one singer sings well, there is a projection, it touches something inside us. When ten, 20, or 50 voices are singing, well... this is an enormous bombardment, unified by a single will, penetrating the audience. And the impact is not just voice-wise, it's eyes-wise.

Playbill: "Eyes-wise?" You mean the emotional content?

Rom: Allow me to get esoteric for a moment. We do project our emotions through our eyes. Toscanini conducted primarily through his eyes; he could drop his hands and still the orchestra would play. All this, combined with the best instrument‹the human voice‹I simply don't know any higher power than this. People instinctively experience its tremendous positive punch. Whether we are singing or simply listening, we are changed from within.

Suzanne Calvin is Associate Director of Marketing/Media and Public Relations for The Dallas Opera and frequent host of Inside The Dallas Opera on WRR. She is also an award-winning journalist, former news anchor, and playwright.

Recommended Reading: