Monthly Archives: September 2015
In the aftermath of a war that ravaged America, a family clings to their existence; teenaged Lisa holds onto the hope of a better world as her family spirals into the depths of starvation and despair. When a stranger – a man who acts like and thinks of himself as a dog – arrives on her doorstep, they are forced to confront what it means to be human and what they will do to survive.
The above summary may sound like the logline of a post-apocalyptic thriller, but it is not a film.
It’s a multi-media opera.
LA Opera presented Dog Days in June at REDCAT as part of the Off Grand initiative, which brings thrilling contemporary chamber opera to LAO audiences. It was the west coast premiere of the opera, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects in New York. Inventive, thrillingly evocative of the human condition, and visceral, Dog Days has garnered a great deal of interest in the burgeoning indie opera scene.
Now, LA Opera and Beth Morrison have joined forces again to present two of Beth Morrison Projects’ (BMP) operas this season at REDCAT: Song from the Uproar and Anatomy Theater. Combining live musical performance and original film, Song from the Uproar (October 8-11), tells the incredible story of Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904), a young woman who left her life in Switzerland behind for an unfettered existence in the North African desert. Anatomy Theater follows the astonishing progression of an English murderess: from confession to execution and, ultimately, public dissection before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Through the miracle of opera, she sings through it all.
My maternal grandfather Hugo immigrated to New York from Czechoslovakia for the American Dream. He became a citizen and worked extraordinarily hard as a doorman to support his wife and two children. Hugo also loved opera. Passionately.
Although he barely earned enough for his family, he would save some pennies for days, weeks, or even months, so he would eventually have enough money to buy one standing room ticket at the Metropolitan Opera (in its old location on 39th Street and Broadway) and enjoy his favorite art form. He dreamed of one day being able to share his love of opera with our entire family.
My grandfather passed away when I was one. I could never speak to him about his love of opera, but my grandmother and mother would tell me countless stories. They insisted that I had acquired my “love of opera gene” from him.
As October approaches, we are gearing up for Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. But we can’t help hearing the joyous music coming from The Ahmanson Theatre across the street, currently presenting Center Theatre Group’s The Sound of Music. It got us thinking – what would happen if Maria’s “My Favorite Things” met Moby-Dick?
Giacomo Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci are rarely – if ever – done together. The most common pairing for Pagliacci is Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, another tragic love triangle of sorts. This season, LA Opera has forgone tradition by staging two gigantic productions together in its season opening double bill. It’s a marriage of comedy and tragedy and a posthumous reconciling for two composers, who fought against each other so fervently, after Puccini premiered La Bohéme (Leoncavallo also completed a version of the Bohéme story).
It’s also a huge undertaking set-wise.
From their view in the house, audience members are not privy to the pure magic that goes on behind the curtain, while they are in the midst of intermission. But with a view from the bridge, it’s possible to see both the production and the set-up.
The bridge is a platform walkway, connecting our second-floor backstage area with lighting equipment. Before you ask, this seat is not open to the public, but it does provide an interesting view of what it takes to stage a sizeable double bill, such as Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci. Once the curtain falls on the 50-minute Gianni Schicchi, it’s the stage crew’s time to shine. Over the course of the next 30 minutes, Schicchi’s gigantic, 1940s-inspired Florence set is removed and a 1980s-inspired bohemian Pagliacci set takes its place.
Last week during Arts in Education Week, LA Opera teaching artists spent the day working with students on Orpheus, an original youth opera commissioned by LA Opera, written by librettist Matthew Leavitt and composer Nathan Wang, based on the Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice. This is part of a program called Secondary In-School Opera, a ten-week performance workshop that provides secondary schools with a team of teaching artists and directors to show students what it takes to perform an opera. Students meet with the artists ten times to work on the opera between August and October with a performance in November – an engaging experience to foster interest in the world of opera.
For more than 20 years, LA Opera has been exploring the magic of opera with schools, teachers and students from kindergarten through college, all over Southern California. Secondary In-School Opera is just one of the many education programs that make LA Opera a teacher’s paradise. Others include Opera Camp, Opera-U, and LA Opera 90012.
From Hey Arnold! to The Simpsons, several cartoons have featured opera . Of these, The Muppet Show most notably included several opera references during its run that introduced younger audiences to the art form. Did you know that Miss Piggy wanted to sing opera? We think Miss Piggy would love our Gianni Schicchi/Pagliacci. Can you picture her singing Lauretta’s aria, “O mio babbino caro?”
One of the busiest stars currently gracing the LA Opera stage in Gianni Schicchi is only 10. The triple-threat (actor, singer, dancer) plays Gherardino, the son of one of the scheming Donati family members. Besides being in his debut at the opera this season, Isaiah is also an avid YouTuber with his own channel and he’s been featured in several commercials, including ABC Mouse. Check out his latest cover of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?”
“The first time I did Pagliacci, at the Royal Opera House in London, I did it as it had normally been done, turn-of-the-century. Also, at the Met, I did it that way. But then in the early ‘80s, I brought it much closer to us. I set it in the same environment, Southern Italy, but in the early 1940s. That’s the version that Plácido [Domingo] and Teresa Stratas did around the world and also on video and laser disc. But then I thought, why stop in the middle of the road? Let’s do it today.” – Director Franco Zeffirelli on staging his Pagliacci in the present day (then 1996)
“I have gone out of my way to demonstrate that Debussy was writing very specific music for very specific situations. When you actually put it all out there, when you take the trouble to make a believable existence, note by note, bar by bar for these characters, you realize this opera is so filled with life, and with detail, that it becomes anything but the boring opera of the season. On the contrary, it’s a sizzler.” – Peter Sellars, on his staging of Pelléas et Mélisande (1995)
“[Designer] Hockney has turned the opera into a scenic wonderland of gleaming, fluidly changing, primary colors. Everything looks very pretty and very painterly, from the stylized panoramas of winding roads, lakes and ornamental trees in the upper realms to the dye-dripped platform that functions as Barak’s modest hovel.” – Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times Music Critic (1993)
“Having worked in many art forms, I find opera is the most challenging of all, because it is a fusion of all the arts.” – Herbert Ross (Steel Magnolias, The Turning Point) on his first operatic directing experience staging La Bohème at LA Opera in 1992.
Last night, LA Opera opened its doors to hundreds of people excited to learn about opera and see what all the brilliant fuss is about. This Newcomer Event allowed guests a sneak-peak into the world of opera, including a costume and wig exhibit, props demonstration, photo booth, and a tour of the Founders Circle (with a view of the Pagliacci set on stage). After mingling with LA Opera staff and discovering more about our upcoming productions, guests were treated to performances from three of our young artists: Kihun Yoon (currently singing the role of the Notary in Gianni Schicchi), Brenton Ryan (currently singing Beppe in Pagliacci) and Summer Hassan (who’ll appear as the Second Lady in this season’s The Magic Flute).
“Nixon in China imagines what history cannot tell us and what none of the participants in the trip was able to articulate. The opera is not about what I meant for Nixon to go to China, it is an opera about what it felt like to be Nixon in China. It is not an opera about what Nixon did for China, but what China did for Nixon.” – Mark Swed, classical music critic for the Los Angeles Times.
“[Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld] is a masterfully constructed spoof on the First Musician’s private life. But it does considerably more than substitute Orpheus’ famous rock-charming lute for a nymphette-seducing violin. It brings the Olympian deities down to earth with a sequence of hilarious bumps, including an examination of the sexual double standards of the gods, and a revolution on Mount Olympus on grounds of the catering standards.” – Snoo Wilson, English libretto translator, Orpheus in the Underworld
Minutes before the curtain rose on LA Opera’s 1986 production of Otello, Plácido Domingo stood in the wings, ready to make his entrance in one of his signature roles. He had triumphantly sung Verdi’s tragic hero for audiences around the world, and was widely renowned as the preeminent Otello of his generation. Yet this performance carried a special significance for the tenor. It would be the very first performance in LA Opera’s inaugural season. Full of anticipation, Domingo was eager to showcase to the Los Angeles community, and the greater opera world, what this city could create.
As conductor Lawrence Foster ushered in the sound of the orchestra to begin the opera, the curtain flew up swiftly. To the surprise of everyone present, the curtain rose halfway and no further. The show went on, and within minutes, the curtain arrived in its designated place, functioning properly for the rest of the stunning premiere.
The curtain’s antics prodded Los Angeles Times music critic Martin Bernheimer to ask, “Los Angeles Opera starts, and the curtain goes halfway up and gets stuck, is that what is going to happen to our opera company?”
David Hockney’s 1987 Tristan und Isolde came out of a newly formed company looking to innovate and connect with the Los Angeles community. It was an LA affair with bold, wildly colored sets (designed in Hockney’s Hollywood Hills studio), a west coast born and bred cast, including stunning soprano, Jeannine Altmeyer, and Zubin Mehta vibrantly conducting the LA Philharmonic in the pit.