LA Opera is a family company. Nowhere is this more evident than in the returning singers that spend long stretches of their career gracing the stage at Dorothy Chandler. Greg Fedderly is the epitome of these singers. Throughout the course of LA Opera’s history, Fedderly has been in 63 productions – that’s over 390 performances in 30 years (and counting). This includes Borsa in Rigoletto (1993, 2010), Monostatos in The Magic Flute (1992, 2002, 2009), Red Whiskers in Billy Budd (2014), and many, many more.
Of the many stars hustling around the stage in Gianni Schicchi – the frenetic first half of a double bill with Pagliacci – there’s only one cast member who remains on stage the whole time. That’s character actor Momo Casablanca, who portrays the significant role of Buoso Donati in Puccini’s comedic opera. The opera centers on Buoso’s greedy relatives, waiting to see what he has left them in his will. That’s right – Buoso Donati is already deceased when the curtain rises.
This Halloween, Jay Hunter Morris reprises his role as Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. It will be the first time he’s performed the opera in Los Angeles, coming fresh from a year of tremendous roles in The Flying Dutchman and Cold Mountain. Here’s our Jay Hunter Morris Edition of Questions.
What’s it like to revisit the role of Ahab for the 4th time?
Thrilling. Ahab is #1 on my wish list every year. The music has been simmering in my mind, and I can’t wait to try again, there are so many options for me as a singer!
Ahab is complex, to say the least. What do you like best about the role?
The madness. Can you imagine the horror of being attacked by such a sea beast, surviving in those days, the agony endured, the festering, acidic anger, the single-minded drive for revenge? AND, I must embody the power, the charm and charisma that he must wield in order to lead grown men willingly to their death. It’s a mighty task, a privilege granted to few, and I am so grateful to step into his cloak once again.
In the aftermath of a war that ravaged America, a family clings to their existence; teenaged Lisa holds onto the hope of a better world as her family spirals into the depths of starvation and despair. When a stranger – a man who acts like and thinks of himself as a dog – arrives on her doorstep, they are forced to confront what it means to be human and what they will do to survive.
The above summary may sound like the logline of a post-apocalyptic thriller, but it is not a film.
It’s a multi-media opera.
LA Opera presented Dog Days in June at REDCAT as part of the Off Grand initiative, which brings thrilling contemporary chamber opera to LAO audiences. It was the west coast premiere of the opera, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects in New York. Inventive, thrillingly evocative of the human condition, and visceral, Dog Days has garnered a great deal of interest in the burgeoning indie opera scene.
Now, LA Opera and Beth Morrison have joined forces again to present two of Beth Morrison Projects’ (BMP) operas this season at REDCAT: Song from the Uproar and Anatomy Theater. Combining live musical performance and original film, Song from the Uproar (October 8-11), tells the incredible story of Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), a young woman who left her life in Switzerland behind for an unfettered existence in the North African desert. Anatomy Theater follows the astonishing progression of an English murderess: from confession to execution and, ultimately, public dissection before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Through the miracle of opera, she sings through it all.
My maternal grandfather Hugo immigrated to New York from Czechoslovakia for the American Dream. He became a citizen and worked extraordinarily hard as a doorman to support his wife and two children. Hugo also loved opera. Passionately.
Although he barely earned enough for his family, he would save some pennies for days, weeks, or even months, so he would eventually have enough money to buy one standing room ticket at the Metropolitan Opera (in its old location on 39th Street and Broadway) and enjoy his favorite art form. He dreamed of one day being able to share his love of opera with our entire family.
My grandfather passed away when I was one. I could never speak to him about his love of opera, but my grandmother and mother would tell me countless stories. They insisted that I had acquired my “love of opera gene” from him.
As October approaches, we are gearing up for Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. But we can’t help hearing the joyous music coming from The Ahmanson Theatre across the street, currently presenting Center Theatre Group’s The Sound of Music. It got us thinking – what would happen if Maria’s “My Favorite Things” met Moby-Dick?
Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci are rarely – if ever – done together. The most common pairing for Pagliacci is Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, another tragic love triangle of sorts. This season, LA Opera has forgone tradition by staging two gigantic productions together in its season opening double bill. It’s a marriage of comedy and tragedy and a posthumous reconciling for two composers, who fought against each other so fervently, after Puccini premiered La Bohéme (Leoncavallo also completed a version of the Bohéme story).
It’s also a huge undertaking set-wise.
From their view in the house, audience members are not privy to the pure magic that goes on behind the curtain, while they are in the midst of intermission. But with a view from the bridge, it’s possible to see both the production and the set-up.
The bridge is a platform walkway, connecting our second-floor backstage area with lighting equipment. Before you ask, this seat is not open to the public, but it does provide an interesting view of what it takes to stage a sizeable double bill, such as Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci. Once the curtain falls on the 50-minute Gianni Schicchi, it’s the stage crew’s time to shine. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, Schicchi’s gigantic, 1940s-inspired Florence set is removed and a 1980s-inspired bohemian Pagliacci set takes its place.
Last week during Arts in Education Week, LA Opera teaching artists spent the day working with students on Orpheus, an original youth opera commissioned by LA Opera, written by librettist Matthew Leavitt and composer Nathan Wang, based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. This is part of a program called Secondary In-School Opera, a ten-week performance workshop that provides secondary schools with a team of teaching artists and directors to show students what it takes to perform an opera. Students meet with the artists ten times to work on the opera between August and October with a performance in November – an engaging experience to foster interest in the world of opera.
For more than 20 years, LA Opera has been exploring the magic of opera with schools, teachers and students from kindergarten through college, all over Southern California. Secondary In-School Opera is just one of the many education programs that make LA Opera a teacher’s paradise. Others include Opera Camp, Opera-U, and LA Opera 90012.
From Hey Arnold! to The Simpsons, several cartoons have featured opera . Of these, The Muppet Show most notably included several opera references during its run that introduced younger audiences to the art form. Did you know that Miss Piggy wanted to sing opera? We think Miss Piggy would love our Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci. Can you picture her singing Lauretta’s aria, “O mio babbino caro?”
One of the busiest stars currently gracing the LA Opera stage in Gianni Schicchi is only 10. The triple-threat (actor, singer, dancer) plays Gherardino, the son of one of the scheming Donati family members. Besides being in his debut at the opera this season, Isaiah is also an avid YouTuber with his own channel and he’s been featured in several commercials, including ABC Mouse. Check out his latest cover of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”
“[There’s] an underlying anger [to Penelope]…her frustration, and at the bottom of everything is fear – what these people could do to her. They’ve had enough of her saying, ‘Just wait a little longer, he’s going to come back.’” – Frederica von Stade’s explorations of her character Penelope in The Return of Ulysses (1997)
“The first time I did Pagliacci, at the Royal Opera House in London, I did it as it had normally been done, turn-of-the-century. Also, at the Met, I did it that way. But then in the early ‘80s, I brought it much closer to us. I set it in the same environment, Southern Italy, but in the early 1940s. That’s the version that Plácido [Domingo] and Teresa Stratas did around the world and also on video and laser disc. But then I thought, why stop in the middle of the road? Let’s do it today.” – Director Franco Zeffirelli on staging his Pagliacci in the present day (then 1996)
“I can listen to the music in my home and imagine the most amazing imagery. But quite often when I go to the opera and then I see it, I’d rather close my eyes, because you can’t match the music.” – Julie Taymor (Frida, Across The Universe) on what made her desire to push theatrical boundaries in opera for The Flying Dutchman (1995)
“I have gone out of my way to demonstrate that Debussy was writing very specific music for very specific situations. When you actually put it all out there, when you take the trouble to make a believable existence, note by note, bar by bar for these characters, you realize this opera is so filled with life, and with detail, that it becomes anything but the boring opera of the season. On the contrary, it’s a sizzler.” – Peter Sellars, on his staging of Pelléas et Mélisande (1995)
“[Designer] Hockney has turned the opera into a scenic wonderland of gleaming, fluidly changing, primary colors. Everything looks very pretty and very painterly, from the stylized panoramas of winding roads, lakes and ornamental trees in the upper realms to the dye-dripped platform that functions as Barak’s modest hovel.” – Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times Music Critic (1993)
“Having worked in many art forms, I find opera is the most challenging of all, because it is a fusion of all the arts.” – Herbert Ross (Steel Magnolias, The Turning Point) on his first operatic directing experience staging La Boheme at LA Opera in 1992.
For the 1992/1993 season, director Sir Peter Hall believed that The Magic Flute “should have the metabolism of a child.” He wanted it to capture the childhood essence he believed existed in the music’s “deliberate naiveté.”
Mozart’s The Magic Flute is set in Egypt in the fantasy lands of Sarastro and the Queen of the Night. The young Tamino is asked by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from Sarastro, who has captured her. Tamino falls instantly in love with Pamina and vows to through every trial to be with her.
Last night, LA Opera opened its doors to hundreds of people excited to learn about opera and see what all the brilliant fuss is about. This Newcomer Event allowed guests a sneak-peak into the world of opera, including a costume and wig exhibit, props demonstration, photo booth, and a tour of the Founders Circle (with a view of the Pagliacci set on stage). After mingling with LA Opera staff and discovering more about our upcoming productions, guests were treated to performances from three of our young artists: Kihun Yoon (currently singing the role of the Notary in Gianni Schicchi), Brenton Ryan (currently singing Beppe in Pagliacci) and Summer Hassan (who’ll appear as the Second Lady in this season’s The Magic Flute).
What is our personal duty to the state? How can a sense of history move a nation forward?
The 1991-1992 season brought two epic productions to the LA Opera stage: – Hector Berlioz’s The Trojans and Aulis Sallinen’s Kullervo – that ask these questions about personal duty and nationhood.
The Trojans is based on Virgil’s The Aeneid, following the capture of Troy in by the Ancient Greeks as well as the Trojans’ time in Carthage before the forming of Rome. A vast undertaking, The Trojans is a four-hour masterpiece, rarely staged at the time LA Opera put on the production. Director Francesca Zambello discussed its relevance to modern audiences:
With the retirement of Beverly Sills from the stage in the early 1980s, however, the association with New York City Opera entered into a limbo. Whispers began about the renewed possibility of forming a resident opera company. Such would be an Olympian feat indeed, but, with the actual Olympics about to arrive in Los Angeles, the timing seemed right.
Los Angeles began a cultural renaissance in the early 1980s as the city prepared to host the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984. Organizers strove to prepare for the artistic invasion to come. The fate of the city’s opera company hung in the balance of a handful of people: Bernie Greenberg, Music Center president Michael Newton and—most remarkably—Plácido Domingo, who had become a superstar in the years since Don Rodrigo. Greenberg had received a call from fellow board member Carl Princi. Plácido Domingo wanted to talk to them about their plans. As Greenberg recalls, “I said ‘Plácido Domingo called you? Are you sure it wasn’t his agent or his lawyer or somebody like that?’ And he said, no, it was Maestro Domingo himself and he wanted to meet with us.” The gentlemen had dinner, during which Domingo announced, “Los Angeles is the last great city in the world without an opera company, and I would like to get involved in your opera company.” He also affirmed that he wanted to participate with their company in a serious way. With these words, the die was cast. During the Los Angeles Olympics, the Opera Association co-produced three operas with London’s Royal Opera (Turandot, starring Domingo as Calaf, as well as Peter Grimes and The Magic Flute), which not only helped establish the city as an international arts destination, but also helped raise funds for the soon-to-rise opera company.