Though not technically an opera, Show Boat is a natural fit for such a company to perform.
Dallas Opera, using Francesca Zambello's Lyric Opera of Chicago production, has breathed new life into the American classic with soaring voices and nuanced performances.
The sheer scale of Show Boat, based on Edna Ferber's sweeping book, can be intimidating. Spanning from the late 1800s to the 1920s, it follows the daughter of a river boat entertainer as she herself becomes a performer, falls in love, sees the world, deals with poverty, and then catapults back into stardom later in life.
Peripherally we also see how the world changes around her, from the beauty of the Chicago World's Fair to the ugliness of slavery and racism.
The grand set and costumes of this production steadily increase with each scene; expense clearly wasn't an issue here. The large cast that populates the Winspear's stage is also rounded out with dancers from Dallas Black Dance Theatre, who get plenty of opportunities to steal the spotlight with Michael Lynch's vibrant choreography.
Andriana Chuchman brings a playfulness to Magnolia, imbuing her with girlish enthusiasm at first and quiet strength by the end. Matching her in voice but not in acting chops, Michael Todd Simpson is a rakish Ravenal when he's singing.
Alyson Cambridge and Angela Renee Simpson each shine in their brief star turns — Cambridge as the imperiled songstress Julie and Simpson as wise companion Queenie.
Two other smart moves gives this Show Boat fresh life. Company member Morris Robinson does deep, rumbling justice to the show's signature tune, "Old Man River," letting Jerome Kern's melody increase in urgency and giving Oscar Hammerstein II's eye-opening lyrics a streak of anger. However, Dallas Opera shies away from a few of the musical's controversial lines, having them spoken by the actors but not projecting the words above the stage with the rest.
Casting Broadway talent in the form of Jeffry Denman and Kate Loprest as the vaudeville couple Ellie May and Frank also scores, as their comic skills and dance ability give a lift to the otherwise mainly serious story.
You're not likely to see this early American gem, which many credit as changing the course of American theater when it premiered in 1927, performed in such lavish style again for a long, long time.
Dallas Opera's production of Show Boat plays again on April 29 and May 1.