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 CBS Studios. 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
Despite never having attended a live opera production, Donald Bentley purchased an LA Opera subscription for his wife Penny as an anniversary present in the late 1980s. In 1989, the Bentleys attended an LA Opera performance of Tosca. At this particular performance, the lead tenor was unable to perform, and Plácido Domingo stepped from the conductor’s podium onto the stage to sing the role of Cavaradossi.
“Plácido’s performance really hooked us, and we’ve been subscribers ever since,” explained Mr. Bentley. The Bentleys also support LA Opera by making tax-deductible charitable donations.
“It’s important for the city of Los Angeles to have a world class performing arts organization like LA Opera,” said Mr. Bentley. “We tend to support organizations that have a good record.”
If an organization is to stay relevant in this wireless, hyperlinked, hashtagged world, social media is key. Thankfully, LA Opera nipped the relevancy problem in the bud last summer when it “Liked” Karen Bacellar and Amisha Patankar.
“I manage LA Opera’s content,” Karen says. “That includes the blog. I would say I write and edit the vast majority of the articles for the blog, and that nine times out of ten, they are determined by upcoming operas. After articles are published, I work with Amisha to promote the content through social media.”
I have been teaching fine arts at Narbonne High School for three years. I specialize in vocal music and theater and have had the pleasure of teaching students the “art” of loving the arts. This year, I tried something different by attending LA Opera’s Opera for Educators sessions. I’ve gained so much from these sessions that have fueled my passion for opera – a passion that I share with my students.
LA Opera Young Artists Summer Hassan and Frederick Ballentine are following amazingly similar paths as they pursue their operatic careers. They both studied at Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music where they first met in 2012. A few years later both were admitted to the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at LA Opera. This season they appeared in The Magic Flute with Summer singing the role of the Second Lady and Frederick performing as the Armed Guard. Both are 26 and from the South with Summer hailing from North Carolina and Frederick a native Virginian.
Duane Schuler is one of the world’s most renowned theatrical lighting designers and a founding partner in the theater planning and architectural lighting design firm Schuler Shook. Over the past forty years, he’s brought grand stories to life through intricate, yet subtle lighting designs for productions at multiple opera houses, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, La Scala Milan, Lyric Opera Chicago, and LA Opera. Through Schuler Shook, he’s also worked on numerous renovations and major architectural projects from Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in New York to an upcoming renovation of the Sydney Opera House.
Currently, Schuler is back in Los Angeles lighting LA Opera’s iconic production of Puccini’s La Bohème. His stellar lighting design reinforces both the gritty realism of the bohemian’s poverty stricken existence, while also showcasing the simultaneous “joi de vivre” of Paris in 1887. We sat down with Schuler during rehearsals earlier this month to discuss his career, work with LA Opera, and his current design for La Bohème.
By the time bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee finishes his second season in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, he will have appeared in six different productions with the company. His is the robust voice audiences have heard from off stage in Moby-Dick and The Magic Flute and on stage in Madame Butterfly. He’s also the singer they will see in such diverse roles as Colline in the current production of La Bohème and as Cesare Angelotti in next season’s Tosca. While the 2015 Met Council Winner may sound and look at home on stage now, he did not always want to pursue a career in opera.
“I was always into performing, whether it was on the football field – I’m a super sports guy – or in choir,” says Brownlee, who originally wanted to be a choral conductor. That all changed when he had his first opera experience.
Close your eyes and imagine the most spectacular fireworks display you’ve ever seen. It’s probably filled with starbursts and various different colors that light up the sky, and brings back fond memories and leaves you in awe.
How you feel about that amazing fireworks display you’re picturing right now is how I have always felt about opera.
I have attended opera for more than 40 years in some of the greatest cities for the art form in the country, including New York and Los Angeles. Before becoming a Community Educator, I went to hear the singer’s beautiful voices and did not worry so much about the background on the opera or the composers. I sat and enjoyed the experience.
This all changed when I learned that as the member of the Opera League of Los Angeles, I could be trained by LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement department to be a Community Educator. It sounded like a great way to give back to the community, while also having fun, and teaching people about opera. So, I decided to join the program.
Our production of Puccini’s La Bohème boasts one of the quickest, major set changes ever seen on our stage. From Act I to Act II, La Bohème’s setting changes from a rooftop and garret (loft) to a Parisian street.
The main set piece – the garret – is rotated to reveal its opposite side – a two-story building with a ground level cafe. This may not seem like a big deal. It’s just rotating a set piece. How difficult can that be? Difficult – very difficult. It isn’t just a light-weight structure or a façade that can be easily maneuvered. This garret is a giant 1500-square-foot, 30,000-pound structure – the equivalent of a three-story house. Moving it requires planning, precision and a great deal of practice. That’s because the structure needs to be moved manually (yes, manually, by a team of 20 production crew members) and hit very specific, pre-determined marks on the stage.
For more than 20 years, members of the prestigious Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) have starred in productions at LA Opera. From playing precocious characters in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998) to singing alongside the pros in Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, LACC children have shared their enthusiasm and vocal gifts with artists, staff and audiences. The latest collaboration between LA Opera and LACC is Puccini’s La Bohème.
In this opera, 14 singers make up the children’s chorus. Some of these children have been in other productions and others are new to the world of opera. What they all share is an excitement about singing and opera that is infectious and wonderful to see.
Today, the kids are gathered in the lobby, chatting excitedly, because they will soon be on stage rehearsing with the pros. When asked what their favorite parts of rehearsals and being in the opera are, several hands shoot up. “I love hearing the power of their voices and knowing that all these people are watching us,” says Soren Ryssdal (12). His fellow choir members nod their heads in agreement. Of staging, Sydney Brakeley (10) says, “I like being able to know where I am going just by hearing the music.” With a big grin on her face, Anika Erickson (13) age adds, “We also have fake siblings.” All the kids laugh.