There’s something about the entertainment industry that begs for people to be larger than life – some could say that this is especially true of those who perform opera for a living. There’s just something about that grand voice and flamboyant stage presence that makes opera resplendent.
Another art form that has that same grandness is improv comedy. Wasn’t quite what you were expecting to hear was it?! But, improv comedy has been around just as long as opera has – especially in the form of entertainment. And, it requires the same over-the-top, striking stage presence that opera requires – but, instead of taking your breath away with those glass-shattering high notes, improv comedy sets out to give you those deep belly laughs that leave you with a six-pack when the night is done. Or at least feeling like you’re well on your way to developing a six-pack.
Sometime in the company’s history, someone had the bright idea (read: best idea ever!) to have opera and improv comedy join forces. What could possibly be funnier than seeing an opera star comedically navigate their way through Don José pining over Carmen with an aria about Facebook stalking the love of his life?
We can’t guarantee that’s exactly what you’ll get, but you will get some stunning singing and laughs to boot when our Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists head to the legendary Groundlings Theatre on May 15 and 16 to show off their opera and comedy skills. Under the guide of teacher Phyllis Katz – the Young Artists took months of classes to exercise their funny bone before hitting the stage. Although, Katz herself is no stranger to opera singers — in the seven years since she began working with young artists, Katz has developed an individual approach to teaching opera singers, covering everything from basic improv skills to character work.
Soprano Melody Moore believes in female empowerment — perhaps that’s why she’s so drawn to the Lady Macbeths and Floria Toscas of the operatic stage. Luckily, these are the types of roles she’s been polishing since her earliest days as a budding singer, meticulously analyzing each and every leading lady throughout her development. But Moore is all grown up now, and on May 13 she once again steps into the title role of Puccini’s Tosca at LA Opera, under the baton of Maestro Grant Gershon.
With her fifth production of Puccini’s masterpiece underway, Moore doesn’t let repetition affect her artistic integrity. In her own words, it’s a role that changes as she matures, and her understanding of the character has zig-zagged across the mood board.
Patrick Blackwell has always wanted to sing. His mother was an avid opera-goer and Blackwell grew up in the shadow of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. His passion for singing led him to Duke Ellington School of the Arts and later Julliard. As a professional singer, he’s traveled the world performing and in recent years has made a home for himself at LA Opera.
On May 6, Patrick Blackwell stars as Noah in Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood. As part of our Cathedral Project and presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Noah’s Flood brings together opera professionals with members of the Los Angeles community for an opera experience unlike any other. This is Blackwell’s first time performing an opera at the Cathedral and it’s an experience the bass-baritone is looking forward to.
Baritone Ambrogio Maestri may be a sinister villain on stage as Scarpia in Tosca, but he’s quite the opposite off stage.
A large, booming man, Maestri who comes in at 6 foot, 5 inches tall, he towers over the parishioners, his victims, and the doomed lovers, Cavaradossi and Tosca. Maestri, who plays Scarpia through the end of the month, has sung the role many times and developed the role over the years. In Maestri’s interpretation, Scarpia is stoic and still, believing that such a powerful man would command the room and force others to move about him, responding to his orders and will. The effect is a Scarpia that is completely in control and with an evil essence that makes Rome quake.
But, the evil Scarpia couldn’t be further from who Maestri really is.
This week we open the final main stage production of LA Opera’s 2016/17 season – Tosca. If you’ve been following along on social media, you’ve seen a host of rehearsals in progress. As the elements come together this week, we thought we’d break it down and show you how an opera comes to life.
GETTING TO KNOW TOSCA
Several weeks ago, we started with studio rehearsals. These are musical and staging rehearsals where the principal cast and the chorus go through the music, sometimes individually, sometimes together, to get a sense of the show’s flow, the acting involved and how the director expects it to all look. These rehearsals are conducted in rehearsal halls with a piano, not on the stage and without many of the main elements of the opera (the orchestra, the lighting, the costumes etc). Each scene is mapped out on the floors with tape so that the cast can rehearse their roles in their proper positions, relevant to each other and the chorus, as well as to the sets and props on stage.
Next month, LA Opera presents Mozart: Truth Through Beauty, a recital tour featuring artist-in-residence Matthew Aucoin as he and the rising stars of the company’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program explore Mozart’s unique artistic trajectory.
Why Mozart? Mozart is arguably the world’s most popular composer. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the music in its entirety, you’ve likely heard some of his music on TV, in film, or even in a viral commercial. Mozart is also one of the most misunderstood composers. He is often portrayed as a faintly-annoying child prodigy to whom everything came easy (much to the chagrin of his peers as portrayed in the award-winning film Amadeus). In reality, Mozart was a serious questing artist who spent his few adult years transforming his youthful brilliance into music of sublime simplicity.
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Opera has some of the gutsiest heroines that you don’t want to mess with who have killer arias –anthems as empowering awe-inspiring as your favorite Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Katy Perry songs.
Before seeing our upcoming production of Tosca –whose title character is one gutsy heroine – check out our list of music that gets you in that girl power spirit.
Tosca’s Act III aria (“Il tuo sangue o il mio amore”) – Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (opens at LA Opera on April 22)
Tosca will do anything for Cavaradossi, the man she loves – even resort to murder. In Act III, Tosca tells Cavaradossi exactly what she had to do to save his life. It’s one of the most climactic moments in the opera and showcases just how gutsy Tosca can be.
For the past few weeks, our props, costumes, and wig/makeup teams – the same people who created a scarily realistic head of the John the Baptist for Salome – have been working on their latest bit of opera magic. They’re not just creating a head, but an entire body to look like one of the characters in Tosca.
That character? Cesare Angelotti.
Angelotti (played in our production by Nicholas Brownlee) is an escaped political prisoner given sanctuary by the opera’s hero, Mario Cavaradossi (Russell Thomas). While Angelotti evades capture for most the opera, he’s ultimately cornered by Scarpia’s thugs. In our production, Angelotti’s corpse is hung by the neck. When this happens, the singer is replaced by a “stunt double,” or in other words, a mannequin that’s dressed and styled to resemble the singer.
Making the body double is a multi-tiered process that starts with sourcing the dummy.
Properties Coordinator Lisa Coto sources the dummy. We started with an articulated dummy used for search and rescue and CPR training. Coto chose this dummy, because it’s well-made. It’s a heavy dummy (60lbs) and the limbs dangle like a real person; in other words, it’s very lifelike.
After Coto sources the dummy, she delivers it to Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere. Prospere and her team make sure that the dummy’s costumes match Angelotti’s costume – an off-white, striped prison uniform, with blue/grey pants and jacket. Since Angelotti has been in prison, it’s not enough for the team to replicate the costumes. They also must distress, age, and dye the costume to make it look like the dummy has suffered the same trauma as the live character of Angelotti.
Women Rock – on television, in film and in opera – Tosca Rocks!
Girl Power has been around a long time – and it’s at the center of many conversations today. The more we’ve gotten to know the title character of Tosca – in anticipation of its opening on April 22nd – it’s clear that she is the epitome of Girl Power. She’s certainly not a wallflower – she’s courageous, she’s loyal and she’s fierce. In the spirit of Tosca, we’ve rounded up some powerful women and their stories to get us inspired and in the mood.
Daenerys – Game of Thrones
Daenerys rose from being sold by her brother in exchange for an army to becoming one of the most powerful forces in the Seven Kingdoms. Whether she’s freeing the slaves in Meereen or blowing up enemy ships via her dragons, she’s a total fighter. Judging from the latest promo, Daenerys will continue fighting for what she wants – the Iron Throne. Like Tosca, she controls her destiny. … Continue reading
Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey had two passions growing up: soccer and singing. Though a series of life events eventually led her to pursue classical music, her time spent as the only girl on sports teams worked in her favor, carrying over lessons from her time as “one of the boys” into her celebrated career. On April 15, Lindsey finishes another run of her signature role, Nicklausse, in LA Opera’s production of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, alongside Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau.
Though opera-goers have established Lindsey as one of today’s leading interpreters of trouser roles, she never set out wanting to become a singer — instead, she feels that music found her, and that’s ultimately what drew her in.
Tara Colburn, born Tarasenka Pankiv in Zagreb, Croatia, grew up surrounded by music and the arts. She studied piano with her concert pianist mother and her grandfather was director of the Zagreb Conservatory. A lifelong supporter of the arts, Ms. Colburn served as an active board member of LA Opera since the company’s founding year in 1986. She was one of the company’s most dedicated supporters for nearly two decades before her death in 2003. She established the Tarasenka Pankiv Fund through a bequest (a directive in her will) that continues to support LA Opera productions, including the upcoming presentation of Tosca.
On April 21, LA Opera is hosting a master class for undergraduate and graduate students taught by Eli Villanueva, LA Opera’s resident stage director for education and community engagement. Five students from different schools across Los Angeles – chosen from LA Opera’s College Advisory Committee – will sing and Villanueva will coach them on performance and musicality. Students are encouraged to sign-up for the master class to learn the secrets behind compelling storytelling, musicality, and crafting a personalized approach to opera performance.
Master classes are held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and on college campuses and offer students the chance to connect with the artists that make the opera magic happen. Students watch these professionals work and see firsthand what it takes to pursue careers in the arts – and in opera, specifically.
Everyone has their limits – Tosca’s plight reflects today’s world more than Puccini could have imagined.
Tosca is one of the greatest works of music theatre ever written and its importance is undiminished more than a century after Puccini wrote it. Its narrative is deceptively simple. It involves the lives of three principal characters. Mario Cavaradossi is a talented young painter, earning his living by creating ecclesiastical art in Roman churches. Floria Tosca, his lover, is a well-known opera singer, adored by her public. Baron Scarpia is the chief of police in a military state that is cracking down on all opposition, including artists and the support they draw.
Since 1997, Hispanics for LA Opera (HLAO) has hosted the Plácido Domingo Awards. The awards ceremony – which honors distinguished Hispanic opera artists and others who have contributed to the success of HLAO – was held last night at the home of the LA Opera, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall. In addition to honoring this year’s winners – Rafa Sardina and Joshua Guerrero – the awards also celebrated the 25th Anniversary of HLAO.
First, there was Richard Simmons. Then, we had Billy Banks Tae Bo. Next, came Pilates and every kind of yoga you can imagine. Way back in the day, there was Jazzercise.
Now, there’s Opera-cise.
Just this morning, LA Opera has released a workout DVD called “Sweatin’ to the Opera.” From Puccini to Bizet, get into tip top shape, while listening to some of opera’s greatest hits. Get your blood pumping and your metabolism soaring, while you strike poses inspired by the staging in LA Opera’s iconic productions, and workout alongside some of LA Opera’s favorite singers.
The Opera-cize Craze is about to take off. Whether you’re looking for a beach body, a six-pack or just to burn off some steam, there’s a workout for you. Here’s a peek at some of the poses that will surely get you that perfect physique.
Get Your Tales of Hoffmann on with our Doll Arms Press
Perfect for building boulder shoulders
Brian Michael Moore has lived a fuller life in 24 years than most people do in a lifetime — in barely a quarter of a century, the young tenor has beaten cancer twice, lived in multiple states and has shared the stage with some of the world’s most esteemed musicians. Currently in his first season as a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist, Moore has already been seen in the company’s productions of Wonderful Town and Salome. This month and next, he’s playing Nathanaël in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and sharing the stage with opera superstars Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau.
Prior to his time in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati native attributes his musical beginnings to his parents, who enrolled him in piano lessons as a small child. Though neither of them “were that musical,” as Moore states, classical music was a big part of his childhood development. While balancing school and sports, his first taste of the limelight came in the seventh grade, after he was cast in the ensemble of his school’s production of Oliver! — however, the opportunity was over for him before it even began.
“I was never told when rehearsals would start or where they were, so I just never showed up,” Moore laughs. “And then they performed it and I thought ‘Well, I guess I could have been in that.’”
Though his stage career began rocky, Moore eventually became serious about pursuing singing professionally. He participated in his school’s musical the following year, singing in the Barbershop Quartet in “The Music Man.” And after taking the advice from his middle school musical director, he began taking formal voice lessons the summer before he entered high school, where he was first exposed to classical singing.
LA Opera is a non-profit organization dedicated to the greater good. We rely on generous contributions to produce the world-class opera you see on the stage, around the county and through our many education and community engagement programs. By becoming a member of the Friends of LA Opera with a tax-deductible contribution, you’re helping us share opera with the Los Angeles community – and receiving several benefits along the way, such as the ones listed below.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is not the only place in Los Angeles where you can experience an LA Opera production. You can see our productions at REDCAT, inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and even at Santa Monica Pier. LA Opera has many programs and initiatives that bring opera to various locations in the county and make sure everyone has access to opera.
In partnership with the County of Los Angeles Public Library and with generous support provided by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe (4th district) and Supervisor Hilda Solis (1st district), LA Opera brings professional opera singers to libraries around Los Angeles to perform musical moments from the most celebrated operas for families. Next month’s Puccini Opera Tales has the singers recounting tales from The Girl of the Golden West, Gianni Schicchi, and Turandot, as told by Giacomo Puccini himself.