Monthly Archives: October 2015
“There on the fountain’s edge, the shadow appeared to me. I could see her lips moving as if speaking and with her lifeless hand she seemed to call me. For a moment she stood there motionless, then she vanished all at once, and the water, earlier so limpid, had grown red, as if with blood.” – Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
With these words, Lucia shows the world her thin grip of reality, showcasing her slip into madness later on in Donizetti’s tragic Lucia di Lammermoor. Opera is filled with such haunting moments and characters, some that are so powerful, they are difficult to forget like the above Lucia scene, or others that are truly terrifying, such as the characters in Howard Shore’s The Fly (2008).
To celebrate Halloween during our 30th Anniversary Season, we have selected 30 haunting LA Opera images. Below are images from three productions that horror junkies should know about. Other images in this series have been uploaded to our #LAO30Images: Halloween Edition Pinterest Gallery.
“The time had come for me to attach myself to a new form.” – Composer Howard Shore on his score for The Fly
LA Opera presented the U.S. premiere of The Fly in 2008. Based on David Cronenberg’s 1986 cult horror classic, The Fly follows the story of an eccentric scientist, who while working on a teleportation device, accidentally fuses his DNA with that of a fly’s. As a result, he slowly turns into a fly, terrifying those he loves.
When the LA Opera first presented Rigoletto in 1993, David Young was the second chair bass player in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the ensemble that played for most performances during the company’s early years. The opera features a prominent solo for the double bass—at the fateful moment when the troubled jester first encounters the assassin Sparafucile—which went to LACO’s longtime principal bassist, Susan Ranney. But by 2000, when the company next offered Rigoletto, Young had become the principal bassist for the LA Opera Orchestra, and it was finally his moment to shine after years of waiting for that rare opportunity. He asked Peter Hemmings, who would soon retire as LA Opera’s general director, if a promotional poster had been made for the production, explaining how much it meant to him. “Of course,” replied Hemmings. “I’ll get you one.”
Hemmings delivered the poster a few days later. Not only was it signed “Best wishes, Peter Hemmings,” it also boasted the signatures of the major stars in the cast. That framed treasure hangs on the wall of Young’s studio today. Hemmings passed away two years later, making his thoughtfulness especially poignant to Young. “Peter Hemmings really cared about everybody,” he says. “He loved this company and he gave his all to our founding years.”
Young’s story is indicative of the atmosphere that Hemmings fostered, with artists, administrators, staff and volunteers all working in close collaboration toward a common goal. Fondly remembered for his warmth, British wit and jovial nature, Hemmings was also greatly respected for his high expectations, imagination and loyalty. With a background that included bringing the Scottish Opera to prominence, he was more than up to the challenge of building a massive opera company—virtually overnight.
This is the time of year when things get spooky – horrific even! It’s also that time when people scour various pop up Halloween stores in search of the perfect costume. Here at LA Opera, we don’t have your typical witches (Hocus Pocus, anyone?), vampires (Dracula), and ghosts (do you see dead people Sixth Sense style?). While these are all good options, consider taking your costume to an operatic level with these 9 opera Halloween costumes.
The Countess in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades is a force to be reckoned with, dead or alive. With her obsession about keeping the secret of what makes her constantly win at cards, the Countess is more fun and regal than other aristocrats (looking at you, Cleopatra!).
Dressing up as Don Giovanni, the title character in Mozart’s Don Giovanni is guaranteed to charm.
When most people think of October, visions of fall and Halloween come to mind. Here at LA Opera, this October has been “The Month of the American Composer.” Three of our events involved some of the most important American composers of our age – Missy Mazzoli, Philip Glass, and Jake Heggie – working at the height of their powers. To celebrate how vital opera is to our nation culturally, we’ve curated a few articles below where you can learn more about each composer and listen to some of their masterful music.
Jake Heggie, The Man Behind Moby-Dick
Composer Jake Heggie Brings Moby-Dick to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – via Los Angeles Magazine
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, the classic tale of one man’s pursuit of an elusive white whale, has over the years been turned into films and television miniseries. Now, it has been turned into an opera. Jake Heggie, whose Dead Man Walking was performed earlier this year at the Broad Stage, is the composer of the show, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Jake Heggie On Why Opera Is Here To Stay – via Los Angeles Times
Don’t tell Jake Heggie that opera is a dying art form. The composer of the opera Dead Man Walking “thinks it’s alive and kicking — he even uses an unprintable term to describe a recent batch of articles declaring that “Opera is dead.” And while his passionate words in defense of the operatic form are convincing, the trajectory of his own career is perhaps his best argument.
Music Monday: Moby-Dick Overture – via LA Opera Blog
This weekend, Moby-Dick opens at LA Opera. Melville’s tale of obsession, the nature of good and evil, and the search for the elusive, titular, white whale is set to an evocative score by famed American composer, Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking). When Heggie describes tackling the mammoth tale, he speaks of finally finding the music of Moby’s universe in four simple chords. These chords capture the spirit and yearning inherent in Melville’s story and resurface throughout the rest of the score, in a haunting fashion.
Joshua Guerrero didn’t grow up dreaming of a career in opera, and his path towards opera stardom is anything but ordinary. He always loved singing. Yet, it was only after Guerrero joined a choir at the seminary where he studied theology that his opera journey began. After a few years of singing lounge/crooner music (which included a stint as a gondolier on the Las Vegas strip and abroad in Macau), Guerrero moved to Los Angeles to pursue music full-time, enrolling at UCLA. His passion for opera and skilled tenor voice eventually landed him a place in the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at LA Opera, where he made his mainstage debut as Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor, soon followed by a return as Steve Hubbell in A Streetcar Named Desire. Guerrero also went on to place second in Plácido Domingo’s worldwide Operalia competition and tackle the important role of Count Almaviva in the west coast premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles.
This Saturday, the charismatic young tenor will make his role debut as Greenhorn, one of the leading characters in Moby-Dick.
Here’s our Joshua Guerrero edition of Questions.
What do you enjoy most about performing opera?
I perform in hopes of providing a vulnerable and honest message that can heal the audience member from whatever is ailing them. They are leaving their reality after all, wanting to take in a new world that will leave an impression on them. It’s kind of like being a modern showman. This is particularly true of opera, because it’s the ultimate combination of all the arts.
“There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part.”
– Bram Stoker’s Dracula
There are mysteriously thrilling stories from literature that have inspired excellent additions to the horror film genre. Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is one such story. It’s the grandfather of the eternally pop-culture-relevant vampire fandom – American Horror Story: Hotel, Underworld, Only Lovers Left Alive, Interview with the Vampire (my personal favorite) and The Lost Boys, to name a few. While Stoker’s Dracula has been adapted into a television miniseries and has inspired several television characters and episodes (including the short lived series, Dracula), the story really shines on the silver screen.
Probably the greatest of them all is Universal’s 1931 silent film, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. The film’s original release coincided with the shift from silent pictures to “talkies.” With limited sound technology in existence, the film had no musical soundtrack and few sound effects. For its 1998 restoration of the film, Universal commissioned legendary composer Philip Glass to write a hypnotic new instrumental score, blowing the cobwebs off the horror classic and adding depth to the emotional layers of the drama.
Tomorrow night, LA Opera presents Dracula with a live performance of Glass’s score, providing an eerie counterpart to the suspense of the creepy classic projected on the big screen. Philip Glass will share the stage along with the celebrated Kronos Quartet for the performances (running through October 31) at the gorgeously restored Theatre at Ace Hotel.
In honor of LA Opera’s presentation of Dracula, here is a list of film adaptations we found that you should check out to get in the vampire spirit:
Nosferatu (1922) – The Count may have a different name in German director F.W. Murnau’s silent film adaption (he’s called Count Orlok), but he gets up to many of the same antics as Stoker’s Dracula. Nosferatu is a hauntingly cinematic piece known as one of the great influences on the later film noir genre.
It’s finally the night.
After spending some time researching and reading about which opera to see first, you’ve snagged some tickets and are thrilled to be attending your first opera. But there’s one more thing to figure out before big night out…
What to wear?
A casual sundress? A nice suit? A Lady Gaga-inspired dress made of meat? Swim trunks and sandals? What’s appropriate and what’s not?
Opera fashion can be as wild and crazy as Paris Fashion Week, or Kirsten Dunst’s outfits in Marie Antoinette, but it can also be a more casual affair. It’s an event impossible to overdress for and also the best place to catch somewhat of a fashion show for free.
There’s really no wrong way to dress for the opera (excluding meat dresses and swim trunks). It’s all about what the opera-goer feels comfortable wearing when it’s all boiled down. A great tip for opera newbies would be to dress up the first time to attend a performance. Don’t go over the top and drop a lot of money on an outfit you won’t wear again, but do throw on a nice dress or suit. It’s not every day you get the chance to dress to impress. Take advantage of it! After experiencing a performance or two and having a chance to see the wide array of outfits worn, then make the call about going a bit more casual (if preferred) for the next trip to the opera.
Another great way to determine what to wear would be figuring out which night or day the show falls on. Opening and weekend night performances are usually the dressiest nights. They’re a great opportunity to whip out more formal dresses with big statement pieces and spiffy suits with the most tasteful of bowties. Weekday and matinee performances are generally where you’ll see more casually dressed opera-goers in business casual or jeans and a nice blouse or button-up.
Check out our What To Wear To Opera Board on Pinterest for style ideas.
Maestro Conlon is very excited about conducting the upcoming production, Moby-Dick, opening October 31st. Check out why he loves Jake Heggie’s opera and why he thinks you should see it too.
Moby-Dick is a classic American tale that’s wonderful to experience live. Yet, to enjoy Moby-Dick fully, take a look behind-the-scenes to see how the production has come together.
Today, National Opera Week kicks off. Running through November 1, National Opera Week is a great opportunity to celebrate opera’s positive impact on communities around the country (and to a larger extent, the world). This got us thinking. What are some of the ways that opera influences community?
It brings us together.
Putting together an operatic production is a feat of epic proportions. Since opera is an amalgamation of several art forms, various artists (singers, designers, writers, even filmmakers) join together for one singular purpose: to bring a story to life.
Yet, opera brings not only artists together. Opera is for all those willing to experience timeless stories, staged theatrically, and sung by the most engaging voices of our time. This can mean a night out in Downtown Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler or a date night at Santa Monica Pier for a live HD simulcast at Opera at the Beach.
It educates us about history, society, social responsibility, and just about anything else you can imagine.
Did you know that there’s an opera about Richard Nixon called Nixon in China? Several operas are based on Shakespeare plays and Greek myths that tackle the big themes: love, humanity’s purpose, revenge. There are even short operas based on themes of social responsibility that form the crux of our Opera Camp program. Operas make people think in different ways; they can teach us to see the world through a new lens.
Before he captained the Pequod, Jay Hunter Morris debuted at LA Opera as Unferth—singing in Old English—in the world premiere of Grendel by composer Elliot Goldenthal and director Julie Taymor. The warrior Unferth tries to best the monster Grendel, but falls short of his heroic expectations (which serves as a source of comic relief in the opera) and is mocked for his shortcomings. Based on the novel of the same name by John Gardner, the opera follows the story of the titular monster and his war against the humans that shunned him. He gobbles up his enemies throughout the show, in attempt to reconcile his idealized view of humanity with the realities of “modern man.” The opera is a fable with very real world connections.
Jay Hunter Morris will play Captain Ahab in our upcoming production, Moby-Dick. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here. To find out more about our current season, check out our website.
When you think opera, you don’t usually think swashbuckling, brawls or adventure. But then there’s Moby-Dick and it’s filled with all that and more.
If you’re keeping track, you know that Moby-Dick opens on October 31. Of course, we couldn’t ask you to come to the opera on Halloween without inviting you to come in costume.
So this is your formal invitation to join us on opening night – all Hallows’ Eve.
If you dress like a sailor or pirate or a whale we’ll upgrade you to a better seat if they’re available.
The better the costume, the better the seat.
What can you expect in the opera version of Moby-Dick? Jake Heggie, the acclaimed composer, has distilled the huge story so that the audiences of all ages get to know the famous Captain Ahab, his crew and his obsession with the mythical whale. With deck-top action, ocean intrigue, uncanny staging and the presence of the beastly Moby-Dick, this show leaves you wide-eyed and rethinking your definition of opera.
So dig in your closet, hit the Halloween store and pull together your opening night Moby-Dick outfit.
Shipbuilding is an ancient profession that predates the period of recorded time. It’s an old art form that created vessels allowing the earliest humans to conquer rivers and oceans, in search of both food and adventure. Upon these ships, sailors created their own microcosm of reality upon the high seas.
Recreating a ship on stage can take many forms. A ship can be represented by actors physically moving their bodies to form a boat on stage, or it can be a giant prop that the story’s action revolves around. An image of a ship can even be projected on a scrim on stage to represent what’s not physically on stage. In Robert Brill’s grand set design for Moby-Dick, the ship consumes the entire stage. The Pequod, as the whaling ship is called, can be seen from various sides depending on the act and there are multiple parts to make this ship seem very real to singers and audience members alike.
“After much prolonged sauntering and many random inquiries, I learnt that there were three ships up for three-years’ voyages – The Devil-Dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod. Devil-Dam, I do not know the origin of; Tit-bit is obvious; Pequod, you will no doubt remember, was the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians, now extinct as the ancient. I peered and pryed about the Devil-Dam; from her, hopped over to the Tit-bit; and, finally, going on board the Pequod, looked around her for a moment, and then decided that this was the very ship for us.” – Ishmael in Melville’s Moby-Dick
Before a single note is sung, the audience is treated to a sophisticated projection of The Pequod, projected onto a blackout curtain on a starry night. This visual treatment represents the masterful design to come. It is only in the second scene of the opera that the first full set can be seen. A center mast sits in the middle of the stage, attached to a diagonal yard arm and a round centerpiece called a “Crow’s Nest.” Both in front of and behind the mast, there are three sails made of scrim—transparent, white fabric upon which images are projected. Below you can also see trusses, ropes, and working pulleys that all add to the realism of the set design. Principal singers, chorus members, and supernumerary climbers are not just miming working on a ship; they are physically involved in the running of The Pequod, which is one of the reasons Brill’s set is so effective.
There are thousands of great operas to experience, but figuring out where to begin can be a little intimidating. However, opera newbies might be surprised to learn that they’re more familiar with opera than they think. Ever seen an episode of Looney Tunes or Tom and Jerry? Many television shows, Broadway productions and even films are based on or inspired by some of the most popular operas to ever hit the stage.
Here’s a list of ten operas that would be great for any opera newbie to check out, most of which can be seen at LA Opera this season.
Moby-Dick – It’s a classic read and will be a classic opera performance for any newbie to watch. Sung in English, Moby-Dick is easier to follow musically and newbies will also be wowed by set designer Robert Brill’s creations, which bring the high seas to life on stage. Read more about a unique stage prop called a cyc, and the Moby-Dick ship set here.
La Boheme – For the Broadway junkies out there, this is the opera that sparked the musical Rent. It also served as the inspiration for Moulin Rouge (along with La Traviata) making the plot familiar and easy to follow for first-timers.
Aida – The elaborate costumes and set design give any opera newbie enough incentive to watch this beautiful opera. The story takes place in Egypt and focuses around the enslaved Ethiopian princess, Aida. The large pyramid sets and Egyptian attire, much like Pagliacci, show how much planning and work goes into making one of these shows come to life.
Madame Butterfly – Madame Butterfly is a romantic tragedy with an easy to follow story line and gorgeous music. The set is simple, beautiful and elegant and is sure to impress anyone who sees.
The Barber of Seville – Opera fan or not, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of The Barber of Seville. With famous tunes (check out this overture) and a few good laughs, it’s sure to be a lively performance and a great show for opera newbies.
WANDELPROBE (19 Scrabble Points) – German – Like a sitzprobe, this means the orchestra and singers are rehearsing together for the first time with one small difference. Instead of just singing, there is some staging/blocking involved. Picture Captain Ahab singing along to the orchestra’s music and walking the stage in peg-leg, because Moby-Dick’s wandelprobe is coming up this Saturday!
Born and raised in Pasadena, John Walz felt he was always wired for music, attending concerts as a youngster with his music teacher mother. He began cello at 10 in public school, and the next year began studying with Eleonore Schoenfeld and performing in chamber groups. This early training forced him to play and listen at the same time, a skill that has served him well as principal cellist for the LA Opera Orchestra.
John began his professional life when he met Pierre Fournier, the great French cellist, who invited him to study with him in Geneva. During these two years, John was introduced to many legendary players and performed in great halls in Europe, launching his career.
Props can vary in size, shape, color and just about any other fashion imaginable. Some even float (well, kind of). Boats can play a large role in opera, adding an aquatic element to the production, captivating the audience’s attention and taking them on the cruise of a lifetime.
Throughout the years, LA Opera has used many forms and types of boats as props to make each show come to life on the stage. Past productions using boats in the set include II Tabarro (2008), II Postino (2010), The Flying Dutchman (2013), Billy Budd (2014), Jonah and the Whale (2014), Florencia en el Amazonas (2015), Hercules vs Vampires (2015) and, of course, Moby Dick (2015). Some of these productions used actual boats salvaged from retired fishermen, others used rented prop boats, and some even used boat silhouettes projected onto the stage.
The winds have shifted! The tide has changed! With the pending arrival of Moby-Dick, we’re on to sea words for #WordWednesday.
PEQUOD (18 Scrabble Points) – The Pequod is the fictitious whaling ship that Captain Ahab and his crew call home, as they sail the seas in search of the elusive white whale, Moby-Dick.
Moby Dick sails to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on October 31st, and the Pequod will be a stunning set to see, consuming the stage with ropes, masts and breathtaking visuals.
Jay Hunter Morris first appeared in Los Angeles in 1994 at the Mark Taper Forum in Terrence McNally’s Master Class, with Zoe Caldwell portraying Maria Callas. There, as the character Anthony Candolini, he sang the aria from Tosca, “Recondita armonia”. He first sang it (as scripted) somewhat affectedly (and was marked down), but then repeated it with such purity of feeling that his mentor, overcome with emotion, admitted, “I have never really listened to it before.” An enduring memory of Morris’ is that of him, with Ms. Caldwell on his arm, regularly patronizing (what was then) Otto’s Restaurant after performances and schmoozing with the likes of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.
Moving ahead to 2005, Mr. Morris, in the role of Mario Cavaradossi, sang not only that aria, but the entire opera for LAO’s student matinee performances of Tosca, also covering that role for the regular performances. Interestingly enough, Morris had never sung the complete opera until he returned here for that revival of this LAO favorite.
For the 2005 stagings, Jay Hunter, mindful of the operatic lore associated with various on-stage anomalous happenings during performances of Tosca (the springy trampoline, the suicidal firing squad, etc.), took whatever precautions he could think of to assure that nothing untoward would happen to him. In Tosca the firing squad is typically composed of six to eight supers. In LAO’s production, some of the firing squad fire loud blanks; the rest fire wads of material that go, “Poof!” Jay Hunter recognized that, given the close quarters separating Cavaradossi from the Firing Squad and observing the high exit velocity of the Poofing material, reasoned that, if the Poofing material hit him below the waist, there was a finite possibility of an accidental impact transmogrifying him (at least on a temporary basis) from voice type tenor to that of countertenor. So, during rehearsals, Jay Hunter gave firm instructions to his Firing Squad, “Aim high, fellas!”
In just a few short weeks, Moby-Dick opens at LA Opera. Melville’s tale of obsession, the nature of good and evil, and the search for the elusive, titular, white whale is set to an evocative score by famed American composer, Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking). When Heggie describes tackling the mammoth tale, he speaks of finally finding the music of Moby’s universe in four simple chords. These chords capture the spirit and yearning inherent in Melville’s story and resurface throughout the rest of the score, in a haunting fashion.
Bold. Dreamlike. Visionary. These are all words that describe Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar. They also describe the opera’s real life protagonist, Isabelle Eberhardt. Have you missed some of our Song from the Uproar love this past month? Have no fear! We’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos that truly show how captivating Song from the Uproar is.
Get To Know Song from the Uproar
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.
Opera is a place where all other art forms – art, film, even dance – meet to create a spectacular production. This is a convergence that’s very familiar to mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, who plays Isabelle Eberhardt in Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar. Fischer utilizes various artistic talents in the multimedia opera now showing at REDCAT. It is her haunting singing, however, that mesmerizes throughout the 75-minute opera.
“I hope that Song from the Uproar will provide audience members with an immersive theatrical experience and that they will be interested in learning more about Isabelle,” Mazzoli says. Judging from the passion of the artists involved, it is likely her hopes will prove fruitful.