Envision yourself on stage. You’re in character, singing a role you love, and connecting with hundreds of audience members. You’ve worked hard for this moment and it’s more wonderful than you could have ever imagined. It also doesn’t feel like work, because you’ve enjoyed every minute.
This is how I feel every year during LA Opera’s summer youth program, Opera Camp. It’s some of the most rewarding “work” I’ve had the pleasure of doing. This year, I will participate in the camp for the fourth time, for which I am immensely grateful. Over the past few years, I have learned so much from amazing teaching artists and directors (particularly Eli Villanueva, Leslie Stevens, and Karen Hogle Brown) and even Maestro James Conlon.
The camp only lasts two weeks, but it is an intense two weeks. It never ceases to astound me how quickly the camp passes and how much I learn in such a short period of time. Few words can do justice to how working with Eli, Leslie, Karen, and all of the other magnificent performers and teaching artists enhance my (and other kids) knowledge of acting, singing, performance, and an artist’s responsibility. Whether through the lyrics of Hans Krása in Brundibár—in which, in 2011, I played “Little Joe,” a young man, who seeks out aid from unwilling adults to save his ailing mother—or Then I Stood Up—in which, this year, I will play the role of Pastor Jim—LA Opera always makes sure we learn both about performing and the history behind each opera.
On August 6, LA Opera will premiere Then I Stood Up, a one-act youth opera that honors the contributions of young people to the Civil Rights Movement. The opera—which will be presented as the culmination of a two-week intensive summer Opera Camp—was commissioned by LA Opera and composed and co-written by Eli Villanueva and Leslie Stevens (who have also written other operas for the camp). For two years, Villanueva and Stevens worked closely with the education and community engagement team and a number of consulting organizations (Facing History and Ourselves, Watts Labor Community Action Committee, California African American Museum) on Then I Stood Up. They crafted an opera that not only engages audience members, but also teaches campers vital lessons about social justice.
Plácido Domingo has a passion for discovering talent. He’s not just the world’s most legendary opera singer; he’s also a champion for new young artists. In 1993, Maestro Domingo established Operalia, an international vocal competition created to find and help launch the careers of today’s most promising young opera singers. Over the years, Operalia has done just that, launching the careers of some of the most talked about artists of our time.
This year’s competition wrapped up last night (you can watch the final round here), and those of us in Los Angeles, who have been following along all week, watched and cheered from our homes. Through the magic of live stream, we watched the final announcements from Guadalajara, Mexico. You could probably hear the cheering from the stage in Guadalajara when two of our very own young artists won top prizes (accompanied by Nino Sanikidze, Head Coach in the Young Artist Program).
- Nicolas Brownlee, a current member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, won “The Don Plácido Domingo Ferrer Prize of Zarzuela.” Brownlee has been in six different productions at LA Opera to date, most recently as Coline in La Bohème. He will make his Metropolitan Opera debut this coming season, in addition to performing several roles in Los Angeles, including Angelotti in Tosca next spring.
- Brenton Ryan, an alumnus of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, won the Birgit Nilsson Prize. You can catch Ryan as Pedrillo in The Abduction from the Seraglio in our upcoming season, a role he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera this past spring.
LA Opera believes in sharing the transformative power of opera with the Los Angeles community. As a result, the company places education and community engagement at the core of its mission. In the past sixteen years, LA Opera has more than tripled its outreach programs. The programs have expanded beyond their original target, K-12 students, to serve many more members of the Los Angeles community, including teachers, veterans, families and seniors. Whether at LA Opera’s home in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or in neighborhoods across Los Angeles County, LA Opera remains committed to maintaining and growing the programs that reach hundreds of thousands in the community. How does a non-profit build and maintain such programs? Well, one reason is partnerships.
While the generous support of many donors and foundations has helped make these programs possible, to further extend its programming and to better serve the community, LA Opera adopted partnerships as a vital strategy.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What does LA Opera have that is so beautiful and unique and what are the many ways somebody needs it?’ Opera is a collaborative art form. Partnerships reflect our art form, so it is only natural that this model would help further LA Opera’s mission of sharing opera with the Los Angeles community,” says Stacy Brightman, Vice President of Education and Community Engagement.
Walk into a room and mention you’re heading to the opera. I bet you’ll get some confused looks and head scratching. For me, the response is typically, “You – an opera fan?” So try it and don’t be surprised if you hear some of these.
But you don’t look like an opera fan, what gives?
What does an opera fan look like? I thought I knew, but when I look around the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (LA Opera’s home) during a performance, I see all sorts of people. Parents with their teenagers, hipsters on first dates, girlfriends on outings, couples young and old on a regular night out, groups celebrating special milestones, others dressed in costumes to emulate the production. You name it; you’ll see it in the theater and on the red carpet out front.
On the heels of another successful collaboration with anatomy theater, LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects are hard at work on two operas, ripped straight from the headlines, making their west coast premieres next season. They are Ted Hearne’s The Source and Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint.
In October, LA Opera presents The Source, which follows the story of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, a U.S. Army soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. It explores the many identities of the army private – adrift adolescent, emboldened whistleblower, and traitor to her country – amidst the media hysteria following the leak.
Hearne’s and director Daniel Fish’s work is a contemporary masterpiece, showcasing what opera in the digital age can truly be.
Opera is filled with stories of betrayal, murder, and love that push characters to emotional extremes. Heroines (and anti-heroines) are often the characters most caught up in the drama. They love passionately, sacrifice greatly, and kill relentlessly. We’ve created a list of ten multifaceted women, who aren’t afraid to lean in and stir the plot; they’re bold, brave and influential, even if it leads to their untimely death. See some of these fierce ladies at LA Opera next season.
In Verdi’s Macbeth (based on the Shakespeare play), Lady Macbeth takes fierce to a whole new level. After learning of her husband’s victory in battle, she urges him to kill the king and take the crown. Macbeth does so, only to be filled with remorse. It is Lady Macbeth who completes the killing and frames two guards for the king’s murder. She wants power and social standing and will stop at nothing to achieve this. Verdi expands the role of “Lady M” in his opera, giving her character even more agency, and making her the epitome of an opera anti-heroine not to mess with. She might murder you, if you do!
Is Brünnhilde the strongest women in the entire opera repertory? She is after all the central character in Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, appearing in three of the four Ring operas. A complex and compelling woman with a fascinating character arc, she is defined by her bravery and intelligence. She grasps what is happening in the world with keener perception than her father (Wotan, king of the gods) or her husband (the mighty-but-unintellectual hero Siegfried) and she is unafraid to take action to do what she thinks is necessary. Like many other Wagner heroines, she makes the ultimate sacrifice for love, but Brünnhilde’s martyrdom has the greatest impact: hers redeems the entire world.
I’m incredibly excited to be interning with the LA Opera PR staff, not only for the credit on my resume, but because everyone here is genuinely interested in helping me participate and learn, rather than simply being a go-fer. These hands-on experiences offer a valuable opportunity to practice and improve the skills I’ve learned in the classroom and to network with working professionals in my chosen field.
I’m currently a senior at California State University, Northridge (CSUN.) I will graduate this fall as a journalism major, with a public relations emphasis and a minor in writing and rhetoric. I don’t look like most interns though, because I returned to school after a 25 year break to raise my large family.
These operas capture the American spirit and explore its history. When planning your Fourth of July festivities, add opera to your menu with your burgers and fireworks to celebrate our nation’s independence.
Last performed by LAO in 2007, George Gershwin’s iconic work is the epitome of American opera. Set in 1912 South Carolina, the plot follows the story of street beggar Porgy, who seeks to rescue Bess from the clutches of her brutal lover and drug dealer. Heavily influenced by jazz, blues and spirituals, the score is a perfect summertime listen. You may even already be familiar with the iconic piece thanks to recordings by Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Stewart and countless other recording artists of all genres, which made its most famous song, “Summertime,” a pop culture phenomenon.
Composer-librettist Mark Adamo turned Louisa May Alcott’s classic tale of four sisters growing up in post-Civil War New England into a contemporary American operatic masterpiece. Premiered in 1998 in Houston with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (LAO’s dazzling 2009 Rosina in The Barber of Seville) in the leading role of Meg, it has rapidly become one of the most frequently performed operas of our time.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Based on the very operatic Tennessee Williams play, André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire begins with Blanche DuBois’ arrival in 1940s New Orleans. Clinging to a masquerade of Southern grace, she moves into her sister’s cramped apartment, creating all the wrong kinds of sparks with her crude brother-in-law. When dark truths about Blanche’s past begin to emerge, her world comes apart at the seams in a spiral of violence and madness. LAO’s 2014 performances starred Renée Fleming, who created the role of Blanche at the opera’s 1995 San Francisco premiere.
Last week, David Lang’s anatomy theater had its world premiere at REDCAT as part of LA Opera’s Off Grand series. The grisly and intense work has garnered a great deal of acclaim not only for the edginess of the production (with a staged public execution followed by a dissection), but also for the questions it raises about the nature of evil and where evil truly lives within each of us. If you’ve missed the anatomy theater love these past couple weeks, we’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to get a sense of what makes the show so visceral.
Get To Know anatomy theater
Based on actual 18th-century texts, anatomy theater follows the story of Sarah Osborne, an English murderess, who is tried, executed, and publicly dissected before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Gritty, emotional, and inventive, the opera features several villainous characters, but none more vulnerable than Osborne, who is masterfully brought to life (and death) by mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell.
Bass-baritone Robert Osborne is a veteran performer of contemporary opera, known for tackling challenging roles from the title character in Harry Partch’s Oedipus to François Mignon in the Robert Wilson-directed Zinnias. Currently, he performs the role of Baron Peel, the anatomist, in the world premiere of David Lang’s anatomy theater. During rehearsals, we sat down with Osborne to discuss his work in anatomy theater and what makes Baron Peel tick.
The 15/16 season may have come to an end, but the halls of LA Opera are still abuzz with staff and artists working on the upcoming 16/17 season. Auditions are being held for supernumeraries in season opener Macbeth and the show’s set is also currently being built at Studio Sereno. Preparations for other productions and events for the fall are also underway. Can’t wait? Neither can we. See what all the excitement’s about below.
Plácido Domingo and James Conlon unite to kick off the season with Verdi’s Macbeth
The season opens with a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth (September 17 through October 16, 2016), starring Plácido Domingo in the title role and conducted by James Conlon. Ekaterina Semenchuk will perform the role of the treacherous Lady Macbeth. LA Opera’s first production of Macbeth since 1987 will be staged by Darko Tresnjak, director of the 2015 hit The Ghosts of Versailles.
For Keith J. Rainville, what began as a two-week graphic design gig at LA Opera (which he took instead of going to San Diego Comic Con) has morphed into a 13-year career as the company’s in house designer and brand manager. Rainville oversees and creates LA Opera’s marketing materials and has been instrumental in crafting the company’s cinematic style—a look often inspired by his lifelong love of classic film, 1960s television shows, and vintage horror.
“I was a kid in 1970s New England,” says Rainville. “We had a good five month winter and since I couldn’t go outside, I spent my days watching TV. Back then, pre-cable, you were a victim of whatever was on. I was lucky to have really good channels out of Boston that syndicated a lot of old 1960s TV shows. As a kid, I never quite understood what was new and what was old. I thought a ten year old rerun of Lost in Space was just as contemporary as Star Wars,” recalls Rainville. He continues, “My earliest memories of connecting with graphic design and typography were credit sequences for shows like Wild, Wild West and Bewitched. It was a great time for those credit sequences, most of which were animated, and I used to love those more than the shows.”
Those early experiences of watching 1960s TV shows, as well as Japanese monster movies, moody black-and-white Universal and later garishly hued Hammer classic horror films, still inspire Rainville to this day, particularly in his marketing designs for LA Opera’s more outré productions. “If you ever want to look at key art and say, ‘That’s a Keith Rainville design,’ look at our Lohengrin, Hercules vs. Vampires, and Nosferatu campaigns,” says Rainville. Those campaigns (see below) are 1960s inspired, full of loud colors, and eye-catching graphics. Of this, Rainville says, “Marketing is a blunt force instrument. You have to grab people’s collars and get their attention, and nothing does that more than garish color and large graphics.”
Kazakh-American tenor Timur has truly made an artistic mark in Los Angeles. Beyond studying at USC and CalArts (where he is now a faculty member), he has made solo appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Industry. He has also played throughout the city with his glam rock band Timur and the Dime Museum, including premiering a rock opera at REDCAT in 2014. His latest artistic endeavor in the City of Angels is creating the role of Ambrose Strang in David Lang’s anatomy theater. During rehearsals, we sat down with Timur to discuss anatomy theater.
How did you get involved with anatomy theater?
Last year, I worked with Beth Morrison Projects on several different productions. Beth produced my band’s Collapse: A Post-Ecological Requiem, a piece done in the form of a Catholic mass for the dead. Beth produced it for different festivals, including at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So, I’ve known Beth for almost three years.
She mentioned anatomy theater and when I found out it is by David Lang—a now legendary composer who is breaking waves in music theater—I just jumped at that opportunity. I am also a big fan of Beth Morrison Projects and to have a partnership element with LA Opera—it’s quite innovative. I didn’t want to miss the chance to be part of it.
Tell us about Ambrose Strang. What do you think motivates him?
So Strang is a young assistant to Baron Peel, who is the anatomist, and one can say, also a moral teacher. He’s a mentor to my character Strang, to some extent, and Strang is certainly his admirer and follower. Peel teaches Strang things, while he does all the cuts and the dissections. He outsources all that to my character. To me, Peel represents the current science of the period. In the middle of the opera, Strang has this epiphany that what Peel is saying is not exactly true. From that point on, Strang evolves and realizes that Peel is wrong. Then, Strang finds his own ideas about how the science can change and progress. In a sense, Strang represents the future of what’s going to happen.
The dynamic is very interesting. All the characters in the opera have something they regret, or are ashamed of for different reasons. Strang realizes that maybe we are looking in the wrong place for evil. Strang could be the future of the modern field of psychology, because he suggests that we should look in the soul of the person, which could be an interpretation that maybe there’s something about the mind that is worth exploring.
Bass-baritone Robert Osborne is a veteran performer of contemporary opera, known for tackling challenging roles from the title character in Harry Partch’s Oedipus to François Mignon in the Robert Wilson-directed Zinnias. Currently, he will debut the role of Baron Peel in the world premiere of David Lang’s anatomy theater. During rehearsals, we sat down with Osborne to discuss his work in anatomy theater and what makes Baron Peel tick.
How did you get involved with anatomy theater?
I joined the cast of anatomy theater in 2006 for a workshop of the piece at MASS MOCA. I am the only cast member from that early workshop, which was also directed by Bob McGrath and Ridge Theater. In the decade since the workshop, I have also done some other work with David Lang, and have been a fan and follower of his music all these years.
To be honest, I am not quite sure why David approached me for the original workshop, except that we were colleagues at the Yale School of Music. I’ve known David since 1980. When this project came around, I knew that he was writing the role of Sarah Osborne, the female character in the show, for a mutual friend of ours (this was before Peabody took on the role this year), and she and I were extremely good friends and performed a lot together. I also have a reputation for being someone who can do and does do a lot of contemporary work and new music, and I know that David has seen me in other productions.
Experiencing a violinist on stage performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in Milan, Italy, 7-year-old Roberto Cani determined then and there he would someday play that concerto. Attending Milan Conservatory, he practiced diligently to fulfill his dream. It was there that he remembers meeting Plácido Domingo, who was recording Otello but still took time out to greet young Roberto.
Moving to Moscow at age 20, he studied violin at the Gnessin Institute. He also traveled throughout Europe as a concert soloist, his repertoire including the Tchaikovsky Concerto, which he still enjoys playing. During the Paganini Competition, which he won, Abram Shtern heard Roberto perform and invited him to become his student. Roberto followed Mr. Shtern to Los Angeles in December 1992. Eventually receiving an Artist Diploma from the University of Southern California, Roberto continued to perform concerts in Europe and also served as guest concertmaster at La Scala, the London Philharmonic, and the Radio and Television Orchestra in Milan.
Charles Lane has worked with LA Opera since the beginning. He first appeared in the opening night production of Verdi’s Otello in 1986 and can currently be seen in La Bohème. In 30 years, Lane has performed in 70 different operas and 100 total productions. He is only one of 14 current members of the LA Opera Chorus (and 3 retired members), who can say this. We sat down with Lane to chat about his decades-long singing career and his time at LA Opera.
What led you to work for LA Opera?
I moved to Los Angeles from New York around the time that LA Opera was founded. I got into the Master Chorale and at the time they provided the chorus for LA Opera. So, I got to be in that first production of Otello alongside Plácido Domingo.
Why do you think you’ve stayed for so long?
The experience itself. It takes so much to produce an opera and it’s such an honor to be a part of that whole machine. Then, being able to stand on stage next to the greatest singers in the world and working with the most influential directors in the world, even Hollywood directors like Bruce Beresford. It’s extraordinary.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
There are so many! Singing in all the productions starring Plácido Domingo. Being on stage with him is very rewarding. He has such an incredible presence and energy.
What is one production that really struck you?
Lohengrin. We were supposed to open in September 2001, but when 9/11 happened, the opening was postponed. When we finally did open, it was so moving, because everyone came out on stage, and sang the National Anthem. I will always remember that production, because of the time that it happened. I loved that show.
On June 16, David Lang’s anatomy theater makes its world premiere at REDCAT as part of LA Opera’s Off Grand initiative. This gritty opera tells the story of an 18th-century English murderess and the anatomists, who painstakingly try to discover the root of evil by publically dissecting her body. Composed and co-written by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, anatomy theater is an inventive opera experience.
Here are five reasons why anatomy theater is not-to-be-missed.
Peabody Southwell. She’s the stunning mezzo-soprano who plays Sarah Osborne, the English murderess. The fantastic thing about her performance is she has to play dead for 50 minutes – while she’s dissected – and she sings while “deceased.” Check out Southwell discussing this feat below.
On June 16, David Lang’s anatomy theater makes its world premiere at REDCAT as part of LA Opera’s Off Grand initiative. Based on actual 18th-century texts, anatomy theater follows the story of Sarah Osborne, an English murderess, who is tried, executed, and publicly dissected before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Gritty, emotional, and inventive, the opera features several villainous characters, but none more vulnerable than Osborne, who is masterfully brought to life (and death) by mezzo-soprano, Peabody Southwell.
“On the page, Sarah Osborne could read like a woman who has fallen and become a victim of her society,” says Southwell of her role.
Sarah was born poor, abused by her stepfather and then, because of that, was kicked out of her house by her mother at a young age and forced to make her way on the streets. She became a prostitute, and drank heavily to deal with that lifestyle. She fell in love with her pimp, married him and had two children. After reaching her breaking point, she killed her abusive husband and their children. The opera begins as Sarah is hanged for her crimes.
“What’s interesting to me about anatomy theater is that they refuse to present Sarah as that tragic female archetype” explains Southwell. “Instead they present her as an active villain.”
For the past fifteen years, Eli Villanueva has worked with LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement team to bring opera to the Los Angeles Community. An accomplished performer, stage director, and composer, Villanueva has performed in and composed several works for the company’s various education programs (Opera Camp, Opera Tales, and In-School Opera) and has also directed many community productions, including the popular operas staged annually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Through his work, Villanueva strives to impact how children see the world and offer them the same excitement he had when he first “caught the opera bug.”
Villanueva caught the opera bug at age 12. At the time, the New York City Opera would tour in Los Angeles, staging a few operas a year. Villanueva performed with the California Boys Choir and through this choir was cast as a member of the children’s chorus in Puccini’s La Bohème. “I got to actually stand next to operas singers, which I thought was the most amazing thing,” recalls Villanueva. He continues, “I truly feel that it’s that experience of being next to an opera singer that really changes a child’s perspective of the whole art form.”
Villanueva’s work with the Education & Community Engagement team focuses on changing people’s perspective of opera.
There are three chances left to see La Bohème at LA Opera. This Belle Époque set production has wowed audiences with its doomed love story beautifully sung by Nino Machaidze and Olga Busuioc and Mario Chang and rivetingly conducted by … Continue reading