This month, Grant Gershon is doing something no other person has ever done. He is conducting performances at three of the city’s most celebrated music organizations – LA Opera (Wonderful Town), LA Philharmonic (John Adams’ El Niño), and the LA Master Chorale (Festival of Carols and Handel’s Messiah) – all in one month. This is an exciting time for the renowned conductor and Artistic Director of the Master Chorale, who has a lifelong relationship with the Music Center (including LA Opera).
Gershon is a Californian through and through, hailing from the city of Alhambra, and educated at Chapman University and at the University of Southern California. He first pursued a career as a pianist and was suspicious of conductors with the anti-authoritarian spirit of a teenager growing up in the 1970s. Twenty years later, Gershon found himself at the Music Center, working as an assistant conductor and principal pianist at LA Opera. It was here that Gershon discovered a passion for conducting.
Wonderful Town opens on Friday, December 2nd, and we’ve been watching rehearsals all week. Here are some things we thought might surprise you.
1. Long before Carrie Bradshaw lived in Greenwich Village, Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, played by Faith Prince and Nikki M. James, sought out to find fame and fortune in the big city. Greenwich Village is the backdrop for Wonderful Town.
2. One guy can play lots of parts. Roger Bart, serves as the narrator of Wonderful Town, but he also serves as the Tour Guide, Speedy Valenti – the nightclub owner, Chick Clark – the sharp newspaper guy and others too. … Continue reading
The following is a personal story from Clemence Yi, an 8th grade student, who has participated in LA Opera’s education programs. As a non-profit organization, LA Opera relies on donations from individuals like you to fund programs that introduce students like Clemence to opera and ensure the art form thrives for generations to come.
Help make programs like these possible. Visit LAOpera.org/Donate
The following is an article written by Jessica Insco, a fine arts teacher, who participated in Opera for Educators. This program is designed to equip educators with tools that help foster a love of the performing arts within students in schools across Los Angeles.
Help make education programs like this possible. Visit LAOpera.org/Donate
Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, a nationwide day of giving back. As a non-profit organization, LA Opera relies on donations from individuals like you to share the power of the performing arts within our community.
LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement programs touch the lives of more than 140,000 Angelenos annually. Below is a story of some of the young lives being affected.
Help make programs like these possible. Visit LAOpera.org/Donate
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).
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.”
This fall has been very busy for Matthew Aucoin – LA Opera’s new artist-in-residence. Not only did he compose, conduct, curate and perform in October’s wildly popular Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (held at The Theater at Ace Hotel), he also made his LA Opera mainstage debut conducting Philip Glass’s Akhnaten. In the below excerpt of a podcast hosted by Living with A Genius’s Omar Crook, Aucoin talks about how he tackled the challenging Glass opera.
Imagine being invited by a world-renowned opera legend to move to a country where you don’t speak the language.
Would you hesitate? Or embrace the opportunity?
This is how the powerful and sonorous baritone Kihun Yoon, a native of Seoul, South Korea, answers the question.
Thousands of people just like you come to LA Opera each year to experience the magnificence that can only be found in opera. Through world-class staging and bold experimentation, opera has something for everyone, regardless of age, musical preferences or means. Here are some of the opera experiences you can give as gifts to your friends and family this holiday season.
Hop on Mozart’s Orient Express with The Abduction from the Seraglio
If you’re a fan of screwball comedies, this is the opera for you. Updated to the Roaring Twenties, this riotous staging marries the brilliance of Mozart’s comic gem with the flair of a classic Hollywood comedy. En route from Istanbul to Paris, two beautiful damsels in distress are held captive aboard the luxurious Orient Express by a notorious Ottoman royal. It’s up to their faithful lovers to rescue them before it’s too late!
You can learn a lot about the 1930s from Wonderful Town. When aspiring reporter Ruth interviews a group of Brazilian cadets near the end of Act One, her topics were only two decades in the past for the show’s first audiences in 1953. Today, however, many of her references to Depression-era American culture have grown obscure. Here’s a quick guide to some of them.
“What do you think of the NRA? TVA?”
Nope, not the National Rifle Association. The National Recovery Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to help the country recover from the Great Depression. The NRA was designed to promote recovery by establishing a code system of fair competition for industries; it was declared unconstitutional in 1935. The TVA was one of the largest New Deal projects, created to build dams, reservoirs and electrical stations. It brought affordable power and jobs to millions in an impoverished, rural region.
“What do you think of Charles G. Dawes? Warden Lawes?”
Dawes was Calvin Coolidge’s vice president from 1925 to 1929. He had shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work on the Dawes Plan, designed to provide economic relief to Germany after the first World War. He was the American ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1929 to 1932, then served as chairman of the board of City National Bank from 1932 until his death in 1951.
As warden of Sing Sing from 1920 to 1941, the progressive reformer Lewis E. Lawes modernized the overcrowded and crumbling prison. He famously organized basketball and football games for his “boys,” with his wife and three daughters watching in the bleachers, seated with the inmates.
“Good neighbors, remember our policy”
Part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933, the Good Neighbor Policy was a pledge that the U.S. would treat Latin American nations with respect. With a goal of increasing trade with these nations, this new policy marked a departure from earlier administrations’ interventionism in Latin American foreign and domestic affairs.
On December 5, LA Opera kicks off its holiday music Tour with a recital at City of Hope. This is the fifth year of the beloved program that brings holiday cheer to patients at healthcare facilities across Los Angeles County, including Shriners Hospitals for Children, UCLA Harbor Medical Center, and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. While the tour brings beautiful music to audiences across LA County that celebrate the season, the recitals have a healing effect on those who need it most.
Beloved Broadway diva Faith Prince won a Tony Award for her indelible portrayal of Miss Adelaide in a blockbuster 1992 revival of Guys and Dolls, her third show on the Great White Way. She now makes her LA Opera debut as Ruth Sherwood in Wonderful Town, another classic mid-century musical comedy.
How does a girl from Lynchburg, Virginia, end up on Broadway?
My parents weren’t performers, but I sang in the chorus and was in musicals in my school, which had a terrific drama program. My wonderful chorus director Carl Harris helped me get into the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and that changed my life. I started to see that I was making headway, that maybe I could do theater for a living. I went to Washington DC for a job that got me an Equity card, and then moved to New York in January of 1981. Not too long after that, I got into an Off Broadway show in Boston, got an agent, and I was off and running. And now I’ve just finished my 14th Broadway show!
You’ve worked with two of your Wonderful Town cast mates before on Broadway—Marc Kudisch in Bells Are Ringing in 2001 and Roger Bart in Disaster! earlier this year.
I love Roger like my own child. And I adore Marc, too. He’s a pussycat and I’m excited that he’s doing a sweet role for a change! My list of leading men is insanely wonderful, everybody from Jason Alexander to Nathan Lane, Richard Kind, Kevin Chamberlin, Oliver Platt, Martin Short… And I also worked with our director, David Lee, in Two by Two here in Los Angeles for Reprise.
Next Tuesday marks the fifth annual Giving Tuesday, a nationwide day of giving back, following the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping holidays. As a non-profit organization, LA Opera relies on donations from individuals like you to produce world-class opera … Continue reading
You have two more chances to see Philip Glass’s Akhnaten – November 19 and 27. In case you’ve missed the Akhnaten love these past few weeks, we’ve collected a bunch of articles for you to check out and see why this staging of Akhnaten is a modern masterpiece.
The 2016/17 season is a big year for J’Nai Bridges. She recently made her San Francisco Opera debut as Bersi in Andrea Chenier (a role she will later reprise at Bavarian State Opera in Munich), Bridges made her LA Opera debut as Nefertiti in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten on November 5. She has become one of the most sought after mezzo-sopranos of her generation, but she didn’t always long for a career in opera.
Anthony Roth Costanzo – who just made his LA Opera debut in the title role in Akhnaten – is one of today’s foremost countertenors. Before opening night, we spoke to Costanzo about his upcoming role and his life in opera.
Many of the opera singers that comb through the halls of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion never conceived of a career in opera. Some started their careers late in life, after having an epiphany that they loved music, while others began their careers after thinking they would play professional sports. But, for soprano Summer Hassan, it’s always been singing.
“When I was six years old, my mom took me to see The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto. The music and singing thrilled me and I found myself – even at that young age – wanting to be on that stage, singing, and knowing every single thing that was going on. I wanted to part of it,” recalls Hassan. She continues, “At the time, I thought The Phantom of the Opera was an opera. It wasn’t, but there was something about the word ‘opera’ that caught my attention.”
Director Phelim McDermott’s staging of Akhnaten is anything but ordinary. By instructing the singers and cast members to move slowly through the world of Akhnaten, McDermott creates an atmosphere that is hypnotic. It’s difficult to look away from such intensity, which is not unlike the intense intimacy you get from a film close-up. He further captures the pharaoh’s world through abstract use of juggling and a set greatly influenced by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics discovered by Egyptologists in the 1920s.
While McDermott is now comfortable in staging Philip Glass (Akhnaten is his third Glass production), directing Glass was not always on his to-do list.
In the below excerpt of a podcast hosted by Living with A Genius’s Omar Crook, McDermott discusses how he came to direct Akhnaten and his vision for the show.
Every year, LA Opera brings opera into schools through its Secondary In-School (SISO) program, through which students and teaching artist join forces over the course of 10 weeks to produce an opera. This innovative and influential program shares the art form with kids across Los Angeles. It’s an enriching experience for both students, teachers, and the artists involved in the program, including baritone Leroy Villanueva.
Continuing their family tradition of encouraging support for LA Opera during the holidays, Paul and Marybelle Musco have announced a matching gift challenge. Any donation received by December 31 will be matched $2 for every $1 donated up to $500,000.
For Paul and Marybelle Musco, supporting opera is an integral part of their lives. As a boy growing up in Rhode Island, Paul’s Italian immigrant parents were opera lovers and insisted that their children gather around the radio for the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. “I guess it was osmosis, because I came to love opera and it has stayed with me personally ever since,” he recalls.
LA Opera chorister Omar Crook has appreciated opera since he was a child, spending summers roaming the creaky corridors of his grandparents’ house.
“My grandfather had a really nice tape player. One day, I came across the iconic Decca recording of Luciano Pavarotti singing Canio in Pagliacci,” says Crook. “I had just finished playing Billy Idol’s ‘Eyes Without a Face,’ and I was jazzed up. Then, I played all of Pagliacci and the music grabbed me just as much.”
Crook did not immediately pursue opera. In fact, he spent several years narrowing down the careers he wanted, taking a variety of classes from literature to marine biology. He ultimately decided on writing and was accepted into UCLA’s creative writing program. To transfer to UCLA from Santa Monica college, he needed to fulfill one more requirement. That’s how Crook found himself in a beginning voice class.
There is nothing left of this glorious city of temples and palaces. The mud brick buildings have long since crumbled and little remains of the immense stone temples but the outline of their floor plans.
—from Akhnaten, the opera by Philip Glass
Like the lost kingdom of Egypt, little more than outlines remain of the glorious ancient pharaohs that ruled there. A treasure trove of precious metals and jewels, the once carefully preserved tombs—intended to last for eternity—have been looted and disturbed since antiquity. Today, we have stories that are pieced together from 7,000-year-old mummified bodies and the confusing array of artifacts and artistic renderings remaining to us. Modern technology has allowed for advancements never before imagined. CT imaging of mummies allows us to see more and destroy less and DNA testing has advanced the traces of a family tree. But there is still much we don’t know about this profoundly important African dynasty.
For years, the version of New York City that Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden and Adolph Green created in Wonderful Town really was the New York that many people around the country believed existed. It was a place where everyone was a lot smarter, a lot tougher, and moved a lot faster than other Americans did. Wonderful Town depicted New Yorkers with a wised-up wit, an unapologetic brashness (with a beating heart underneath), and battle scars from years of surviving life in the city—characters we came to believe were very much like the creators themselves.