“We are starting in the middle of a huge family fight,” conductor Grant Gershon says as he directs the orchestra during a rehearsal for Gianni Schicchi. They are reviewing the overture and the opening scene of the opera, where family members gather at the deathbed of Buoso Donati. There are moments when Gershon perfectly describes how the music changes to reflect the action on the stage. A section they rehearse contains a large crescendo reminiscent of classic Hollywood-era films (very fitting connection for a Woody Allen production) that lightens towards the end. Gershon says this is the moment where the music “switches to decaff.” Orchestra members laugh at this and play the music accordingly, completely understanding the charming analogy.
Last night, we kicked off this year’s ARIA season. Guests wined, dined, and took a break from the heat poolside underneath lit up palm trees at Mr. C Hotel in Beverly Hills. Everyone looked dashing, chatting about the upcoming season and looking forward to the many operatic adventures to come.
Haven’t heard of ARIA? It’s LA Opera’s gem of a club for young professionals, ages 21-35. During an ARIA Night at the Opera, members see a show at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and then head to an exclusive after-party with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to cap off a great evening in style. Often times, members get to meet the artists they’ve just watched on stage as they make their way to the post-opera festivities.
Just how much can one man take? Imagine having to don a clown costume while the woman you love poses as a virgin even while she’s having an affair with a local villager. Or how about using nothing but your wits to save a family from losing its legacy—only to be cast into hell? Where is the gratitude? The understanding? Given the extenuating circumstances, can’t we all learn a little about forgiveness?
George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was the closing production of LA Opera’s inaugural season. It was seen as a highly influential production, created for Houston Grand Opera in 1976, that made the case for the work as a true opera, rather than a Broadway musical, and restored Gershwin’s complete original score. Director Jack O’Brien described the experience of working on the opera as “opening a treasure never seen,” because of the artistic community that formed to create the show. It was a triumphant season finale, conducted by John DeMain, with a magnificent cast that included Donnie Ray Albert and Carmen Balthrop, alternating in the title roles with Mic Bell and Henrietta Davis.
ARIA (4 Scrabble points) – Italian- An aria is an operatic solo, accompanied by music. Similar to a monologue in a play or a solo in a musical, an aria is the truest expression of a character’s desires and soul; it’s an outpouring of emotion often occurring when a character is most vulnerable.
Weeks before opening night, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion bustles with preparations for the upcoming opera season. As summer draws to a close, props are unpacked and organized, costume fittings occur, large sets are unloaded, and rehearsals are in full swing for Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci. Members of the LA Opera community participate in the ebb and flow of a pre-season opera house, a delicate dance of rehearsals, collaboration, and copious amounts of coffee.
“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage.”
Today, LA Opera’s two-story costume shop in Downtown LA is filled with racks of costumes for the upcoming season. There are rows of colorful pieces for Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci right next to Grecian-inspired items for Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma and 19th-century sailors’ clothing for Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. It’s a striking clash of styles and time periods. I’m at first overwhelmed by the sheer volume of costumes for these productions and how they do not even begin to encompass the company’s extensive inventory. Yet, as a first time visitor, it’s also thrilling to be surrounded by creations that are a crucial part of creating the operatic characters seen on stage.
TESSITURA (9 Scrabble points) – Latin – Where is your voice most comfortable? Do you find yourself singing high notes easier than low notes or are low notes your bread and butter? The answer to these questions is what’s called tessitura in the music world.
From cars to animals, props are part of a production’s core. Whether they have been sourced for a new production or arrive as part of a production that’s rented from another opera company, props all have stories behind them. Working with props involves researching about new worlds and eras to help tell the story. This can often lead a props coordinator or production assistant on a scavenger hunt through several antique shops, online auctions, or even to the nearest seaport.
Wrap your brain around this amazing little factoid: While many opera companies have Production Stage Managers, only very few, as in less than 20 in the whole of the U.S., have it as a full-time position instead of seasonal or contractual. LA Opera is one of those twenty and Lyla Forlani is the company’s Production Stage Manager.
Click here to read Tom Lady’s full article about Lyla on OperaLeague.org.
Tom Lady sits on the Executive Committee of the Opera League of Los Angeles and is the editor of BRAVO, the League’s newsletter. By day he works at Yahoo while at night he toils over his own writing projects.
This past weekend, fifty-three children and teens took a stand through art. LA Opera’s summer opera camp performed, Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle at Barnsdall Theatre Gallery in Hollywood. With scenes from four operas promoting themes of social justice, campers showcased not only their talent, but also their desire to create a better world. … Continue reading
Nine-year old Flora White is a born storyteller. She wrote a poem entitled, “The Butterfly in Winter,” and gave a copy to each of her fellow campers prior to this weekend’s first performance of Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle.
I’m on my way to the other side of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a meeting. A couple minutes late, I hurry down to the corner of the world that houses LA Opera’s box office team. Something catches my eye. It’s a mural, painted on the side of a wall that includes scenes from various operas. I think, “Well, that’s gorgeous,” and go on my merry way.
That’s when I run into the lady of the hour, LA Opera’s 2nd Assistant Treasurer, Shawnet Sweets. This is the first time we’re meeting and she greets me with a smile and a hug. I soon realize that this is part of Shawnet’s personality. She’s one of the most jovial people I’ve met at the company and nothing makes the native Angeleno happier than chatting about opera.
As we walk through the plaza together, I discover that Shawnet has worked for the company on and off for twenty years. However, her love of opera did not begin when she walked through the doors of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It began when her grandmother, Constance, took her to see The Marriage of Figaro in 1967. According to Shawnet, she was too young to comprehend the story, but she was taken aback by the music’s raw emotion. From that moment on, she was hooked.
Shawnet gained a great appreciation of classical music and opera from Constance. She jokes that while growing up, you could hear her Mozart record and her mother’s Aretha Franklin record playing simultaneously in various parts of the house. This musically eclectic upbringing not only prepared Shawnet for a position at LA Opera, but also opened up her world to the fact that art and music can bring people together. She has known her purpose in life ever since. She says, “Some people save lives. I get people to go to the opera.”
When sixteen-year-old soprano Golda Berkman performs the role of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis in this weekend’s opera camp production of Then I Stood Up: A Civil Rights Cycle, Ela Weissberger, 85, will be in the audience.
Weissberger was one of more than 600 children who were taught art secretly by Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (the subject of the opera, Friedl) while imprisoned at the Nazi concentration camp at Terezín. Dicker-Brandeis was able to smuggle out 4,500 drawings by her students in two suitcases before she was killed in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Why did you choose to pursue an internship at the LA Opera?
THIS IS LA OPERA!!!! (Major bragging rights)
In all seriousness though, opera has done so much for me. It has shaped me into the individual I am today. The idea that I could introduce others, especially young children, to this amazing art form gives me so much joy.
What does a day at LA Opera look like? Such a question has several different answers.
For 150 scholars from the Compton and Carson Children Defense Fund Freedom Schools, a day at LA Opera meant a true recital experience. This past Friday, LA Opera hosted the Freedom Schools scholars for a day of discovery. … Continue reading
Sisters have a special bond that cannot be compared to any other relationship. They can be your best friend from the start or even your special confidante when there’s something you’re bursting to talk about, but can’t seem to find the words. Sisters can also steer you in the direction of the arts. For Katie and Annie Lee, all this is true.
1) Teamwork is key. Everyone at the company collaborates to make our productions spectacular and employees are willing to go the extra mile for our art
2) There are so many ways to see opera and so many new innovations.
3) Details always matter. It’s been amazing to learn how much detail goes into the work of every department from specific costume trimmings to engaging the community with our marketing campaigns. I have greatly admired as well as shared my colleagues’ artistic enthusiasm for bringing compelling operas the stage.