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State of the Art

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Size DOES matter – in performing arts

By Lawrence Toppman
ltoppman@charlotteobserver.com

Yep, that’s right: Sheer magnitude sometimes makes a difference in quality.

I thought about this after watching an estimable “Sleeping Beauty” by N.C. Dance Theatre and singing in the chorus of “Eugene Onegin” with Opera Carolina, which coalesced in a way none of us might have suspected from the dress rehearsal. (“Bad dress, good show” – that’s what people say, but it’s not always true.)

As well as both came off, I imagined what might have been possible with greater numbers in corps and chorus.

Part of the impact of full-length story ballets and grand opera comes from sheer enormity, from the spectacle of seeing a stage full of Wilis menacing Duke Albrecht in “Giselle” or rank upon rank of Egyptians screaming for war in “Aida.” If I were ever to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 – half-jokingly nicknamed “The Symphony of a Thousand” because of the massive forces needed to perform it properly – I’d hope for an overpowering orchestra and a choir that could waft me to heaven on the sheer strength of its sound.

Charlotte can’t afford those. That’s not a complaint about the quality of the performances; it’s an observation about the resources on hand.

The size of venues available partly limits performances: Even the smaller ranks of NCDT seemed plentiful enough in Knight Theater, and you can’t fit more than one horse onstage in “Carmen” at the Belk. But most of the difficulty is financial, and this is one of the rare occasions where throwing money at a problem would solve it.

If I were a zillionaire, I’d give the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra enough money to hire another half-dozen full-time string players. (Or, rather, to expand its endowment, so money would regenerate itself over time.) I’d enable NCDT to add to its list of principal dancers and do pieces by expensive choreographers. I’d back a production that might otherwise be too costly for Opera Carolina: “Boris Godunov,” perhaps. Or, in my dreams, a “Ring” cycle. (But I’d have to supply enough money that attendance became irrelevant.)

Audiences satisfied with current production levels may not clamor for these improvements, and regular ticket sales won’t pay for them. But this is one of the rare situations where bigger really would be better. I hope someone on the brink of endowing yet another business school gives that idea some thought.

Read Lawrence Toppman’s blog, State of the Art, at www.charlotteobserver.com/arts.

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