To Sevillian barbers, Carmen, and all those Spanish Dons — Don Carlos, Don Giovanni, Don Rodrigo — you’re adding art to your repertoire. I’m writing this week about a new collaboration among the Meadows Museum in Dallas, the Dallas Opera, and the Teatro Real, the opera house in Madrid facing the Royal Palace. I was in Madrid last week and attended the launch.
The Meadows, which is the art museum at Southern Methodist University, focuses on the best art from the Hispanic world. It’s an imaginative, entrepreneurial place. I’ve seen lots of good exhibitions there over the years. Now, it’s bringing opera into its gallery and returning art to two great opera houses. The Meadows will license its great collection to the Dallas Opera, which will design its stage sets around it. The Dallas Opera will send its singers to the museum for performances. They’ll collaborate on marketing, too.
Over time, the Meadows will plan shows with a music subtext. This is smart and ambitious. The museum spaces are elegant, spacious, and suited to sound. I’d suggest Picasso and the stage. He designed dozens of sets. John Singer Sargent loved Spanish music and dance. Spain is a musical melting pot. Jewish, Visigothic, Moorish, Italian, and French styles ooze into one another, jolted by castanets and tambourines. Goya, alas, was deaf.
Verdi’s Don Carlos and Rossini’s The Barber of Seville are the two anchor shows at the Dallas Opera next year, both using Meadows art. Carlos (1545–1568) was a very bad dude. He looked like James Dean but had a touch of Charles Manson in him. He was Philip II’s oldest son and heir. His father poisoned him in an act of patriotism. This most ascetic king liked clean breaks. His younger son, Philip III, was sensible and pious.
The art from the Meadows evokes the intense religious dynamic of the Spanish court. The Dallas Opera will center its staging on such paintings as Luis Morales’s Pietà, sometimes projecting them, sometimes using them as wall murals or scrims. Morales (1510–1586) painted it in 1550. Francisco Gallego painted Ten Thousand Martyrs on Mount Ararat in 1490, right before Columbus’s voyage and the final ouster of the Moors from Spain after the 700-year-long Reconquista.
And then there’s the Hapsburg chins. Diego Velázquez’s Portrait of Philip IV, from 1623, is one of his earliest of Philip, who ruled from 1621 to 1665. He was about 17. During Philip’s rule, the Spanish Empire grew to about 5 million square miles. The three Philips — Philip II, III, and IV — were autocrats who guaranteed Roman Catholic primacy in Spain. They were the overarching presence in Spain’s growth as an empire and its many European entanglements. The Meadows owns three works by Velázquez. I imagine they’ll be a constant presence.
Barber of Seville is the great comic opera. I’ve seen it performed cabaret-style. It premiered in 1816 but is set in the time of Goya’s Los caprichos, Goya’s etchings from 1797 and 1798 on the follies of Spanish everyday life. The Meadows has plenty to offer. Goya created Punctual Folly in the late 1810s, around the time Barber of Seville was first produced. If you need to suspend disbelief as you listen to opera, this will help.
This spring, the Meadows is doing an exhibition, Alonso Berruguete: First Sculptor of Renaissance Spain, along with the National Gallery, where it’s running now. Berruguete (1488–1569) was the chief court painter for Charles V, the King of Spain. He was Ferdinand’s and Isabella’s grandson. Charles V eventually became Holy Roman Emperor. When he retired, moving to a monastery in 1559, he left the rule of Spain and the Netherlands — then Europe’s industrial heart — to Philip II, his son. Don Carlos was his grandson. Philip II was controversially and briefly married to Mary Tudor. He launched the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Philip’s job No. 1 in 1559 was removing Don Carlos from this big family business because he was insane. It ran in the family. Philip II’s mother, and Charles V’s daughter, was Juana la Loca — Joan the Crazy.
The Hapsburgs were ancestral minimalists. Each of we regular folk — well, Vermonters might be an exception — have a total of 30 parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents. Philip IV had only 14, and then he married his niece, Mariana of Austria. Their oldest son was Charles II, called Charles the Bewitched. The blood gets very thin after a while, and before long things turn operatic. And the Hapsburgs were running a big chunk of the world.
They obviously weren’t interested in equity, inclusion, and diversity, though they loved great art.
Equity, inclusion, and diversity rule the roost in the museum chicken coop these days. It’s so boring and priggish, and makes for bland programming that nobody wants. It’s good to see a museum like the Meadows focus on quality and adventure, and opera is an obvious pairing. Artists love opera, for its grandeur, complexity, and sheer sex. At the Teatro Royal, I saw and heard Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, set on a Basque beach. . . . That’s a broad cross-section of humanity. The set drew from French and Spanish beach paintings from the 1870s and 1880s. It was very fun, and the music was beautiful. “Equity, inclusion, and diversity” isn’t fun. It’s the stuff of bean-counters.
The Teatro Real is the outlier in this project. It doesn’t need the art at the Meadows since the Prado is down the road. It’s a pilot program for them — how to use great art in museums to set a mood on the opera stage. It needs the American contacts, too. The Madrid opera now has American visibility, which helps its fundraising here. It’s a beautiful, small house, celebrating its 200th birthday, but like most Spanish things, it’s new. The construction of the Madrid subway destabilized its foundation in the 1920s. Then came the civil war and the deep freeze from, say, 1930 to 1980. The opera house was rebuilt in the 1990s.
The Meadows and the two opera houses are showing leadership and imagination. I love their willingness to bust silos. The Meadows and the Dallas Opera aren’t bureaucratic. They can move fast and nimbly. Next week, I’ll write about the Sorolla Museum; the Fundación Juan March; and Madrid’s newest art space, the Fundación María Cristina Maseveu Peterson. I’d never suggest not going to the Prado, the Reina Sofía, or the Thyssen Bornemisza. But these are fresh, small places with their own magic.