Monthly Archives: March 2016

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Madame Butterfly

title character in Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Ana María Martínez as the title character in Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Madame Butterfly takes flight one last time on April 3, wowing audiences with amazing voices and interesting staging. In case you’ve missed the Madame Butterfly love these past few weeks, we’ve collected a bunch of articles and a video for you to check out and see why Madame Butterfly is a Puccini masterpiece.

Get To Know Madame Butterfly

Lee Blakeley Talks Directing “The Humming Chorus”

“The Humming Chorus” is a rare moment of peace in the tragic love story that is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. In the scene, Butterfly does not sing or move for three minutes. She holds a silent vigil, waiting for Pinkerton (her American husband) to return, while an off-stage chorus sings wordlessly. “The Humming Chorus” carries an enormous amount of emotional weight, highlighted in LA Opera’s current production by director Lee Blakeley’s novel take on which character the scene belongs to.

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Why I Give: Murray Aronson

Murray Aronson has been donating to LA Opera since the 1990s. In fact, one of his favorite LA Opera memories is seeing Plácido Domingo in Stiffelio in 1996. His life-long love for opera began long before that, in his New Jersey high school’s auditorium at an educational production of Così fan tutte. Although the singers were only accompanied by a pianist, Mr. Aronson was mesmerized. “I remember the colored lights on the stage with Mozart’s eternally beautiful music,” he recalled.  “This gave me a vision of a world that can be wonderful. I was 14 years old, and that did it for me.”

Elena Prokina as Lina and Plácido Domingo as the title character in Stiffelio (1996); Photo: Ken Howard

Elena Prokina as Lina and Plácido Domingo as the title character in Stiffelio (1996); Photo: Ken Howard

Mr. Aronson has now seen close to 400 opera performances over the course of his lifetime. However, there are still a few operas he hasn’t seen performed live, like Phillip Glass’ Akhnaten, which will be performed in LA Opera’s 2016/17 season.  “When the LA Opera puts on a new work, or one that is relatively rare like Norma, that gets me hook, line and sinker.”

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Sing Along with Great Opera Choruses

Great Opera Choruses (2014); Photo: Jennifer Babcock

Grant Gershon conducting the audience at Great Opera Choruses (2014); Photo: Jennifer Babcock

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to sing Carmen? LA Opera is presenting a free concert called Great Opera Concerts on April 10, where you can do just that.

Presented at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge, the concert (which will feature the acclaimed LA Opera Chorus) will begin with Resident Conductor Grant Gershon rehearsing the audience for their sing-along debuts.  Music will be provided in the program to the three sing-along sections: “Habanera” and the “Toreador Song” from Georges Bizet’s Carmen, and the “Anvil Chorus” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

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James Conlon Talks Life, Opera, and Ten Years in Los Angeles

James Conlon; Photo: Chester Higgins

James Conlon; Photo: Chester Higgins

This fall, James Conlon will mark ten years as LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director. Throughout the past decade, he has led the orchestra through almost fifty operas, from the great masterpieces of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner to contemporary works like The Ghosts of Versailles and Moby-Dick. To celebrate his birthday on March 18, we sat down with Mr. Conlon to chat about his life in classical music and what he loves most about opera in Los Angeles.

(Scroll down for information on Office Hours with Maestro Conlon)

What inspired you to become a conductor?

It wasn’t a single person but, instead, a series of events that inspired me to become a classical musician. I went to the opera for the first time in 1961. I was 11 and the experience transformed my life within months. I wanted to hear classical music day and night. Soon I was studying piano and violin. I also began singing in the children’s choir of a small New York City opera company. A few years later, I decided I wanted to be a conductor, at which point every career decision I made focused on that goal. At 22, I graduated from The Julliard School and my professional life as a conductor was on its way.

Maestro James Conlon conducting Don Pasquale at The Julliard School in 1972; Photo: Beth Bergman

Maestro James Conlon conducting Don Pasquale at The Julliard School in 1972; Photo: Beth Bergman

What are the greatest challenges you faced in the field and how did you overcome them?

 The greatest challenge I faced when I was starting out was proving myself as a young conductor in both symphonic and operatic institutions. Unlike today’s world, which now welcomes young conductors, it was just the opposite when I started out. I also faced the challenges of both proving myself in Europe as a qualified American conductor (and a young American conductor to boot), and additionally proving myself in the United States, which has historically preferred foreign (mostly European) conductors.

How did I master these challenges? I simply devoted myself to my work: Seriously. Relentlessly. Passionately. At a certain point, conducting ceased to be a career and became a way of life—something that still holds true today.

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Why I Give: Rosanne Karlebach

Rosanne Karlebach has always loved opera and has donated to LA Opera for many years. She grew up in a very operatic household, as generations of her family members had experienced the joys of the art form. Ms. Karlebach even jokes that her mother used to take her to the opera instead of hiring a babysitter.

 John Treleaven as the title character in Siegfried (2009); Photo: Monika Rittershaus.

John Treleaven as the title character in Siegfried (2009); Photo: Monika Rittershaus.

Ms. Karlebach described her mother as an enthusiastic fan of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, who would often travel across the country to attend productions. Now, as an adult, Ms. Karlebach often brings friends to the opera, sometimes introducing them to classics like Carmen, or at most, three hours of the Ring Cycle. “I took a friend to one night of the LA Opera Ring Cycle, and she was fascinated, it was absolutely gorgeous.”

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Lee Blakeley Talks Directing “The Humming Chorus”

Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

“The Humming Chorus” is a rare moment of peace in the tragic love story that is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. In the scene, Butterfly does not sing or move for three minutes. She holds a silent vigil, waiting for Pinkerton (her American husband) to return, while an off-stage chorus sings. “The Humming Chorus” is a scene that carries an enormous amount of emotional weight, highlighted in LA Opera’s current production by director Lee Blakeley’s novel take on which character the scene belongs to.

For Blakeley, whether he is directing theater or opera, it is all about storytelling. When he signed on to direct this production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, he went back to basics. His primary job in the early stages of directing was to answer the question, “What do you strip away to find the essential truth of the piece?” He knew the first thing he had to do was rid himself of any preconceived notions of what the opera could be, which can be difficult with such a familiar work as Butterfly. With a blank sheet of paper and the libretto, he listened to Puccini’s music, while working through the text.

Blakeley came to understand that the essential truth – or theme – of Madame Butterfly is “loyalty in the face of adversity.” That singular theme informed all of Blakeley’s directorial choices for this production, whether it was the decisions he preplanned (for example, updating the setting to 1904, the year the opera premiered) or choices he “discovered along the way,” while working with singers.

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An Inspired Puccini Composes “The Humming Chorus”

Milena Kitic as Suzuki in Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Milena Kitic as Suzuki in Madame Butterfly (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

In the fall of 1900, Giacomo Puccini sat in a London theater, mesmerized by a play entitled Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan. In the play, “Butterfly,” a Japanese geisha, abandoned by her American naval officer husband, Pinkerton, awaits his return. Puccini immediately grasped the operatic potential in the play’s doomed love story and clash of cultures. Yet one scene in particular—created by the play’s writer, producer and director, David Belasco—inspired him most of all.

Butterfly sits in the center of the stage, holding an overnight vigil, awaiting Pinkerton’s long-overdue return. For several long minutes, she does not speak. Time passes. The sun sets, the stars come out, fade, and then the sun rises again. In the audience, Puccini and those around him truly empathized with Butterfly. The powerful staging eliminated all the distractions, allowing them to focus solely on her emotional plight. It was at that moment that Puccini not only resolved to make Butterfly his next opera, but he also decided to make Butterfly’s vigil an arresting musical moment. Such a long stretch of silence had never been explored in opera and he was determined to see it come to life on the operatic stage.

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#TBT: Domingo in Concert

Plácido Domingo in concert (2002): Photo: Robert Millard

Plácido Domingo in concert (2002): Photo: Robert Millard

To celebrate Plácido Domingo’s upcoming concert with Renée Fleming on March 18, we are throwing it back to 2002, when Domingo sang in “A Night of Zarzuela & Operetta with Plácido Domingo & Friends.” The concert also included singers Julia Migenes, Charles Castronovo, and Virginia Tola, and featured highlights from the Zarzuela and operetta repertory. Zarzuela, in particular, is very dear to Domingo’s heart as his parents were both Zarzuela singers. (Learn more about LA Opera’s Zarzuela Project here.)

Can’t get enough Plácido Domingo? Check out a few articles below before seeing him in concert.

#LAO30Images: Domingo at LA Opera

To celebrate Maestro Domingo’s birthday, we dedicated this edition of our #LAO30Images series to him. Check out our #LAO30Images: Domingo at LA Opera Pinterest Board to see all 30 images of Domingo on the LA Opera stage.

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#WordWednesday: Supernumerary

supernumerary

SUPERNUMERARY (20 Scrabble points) – Latin – A supernumerary is opera’s version of an extra. Supernumeraries have no dialogue and are directed to create a believable scene, when the environment calls for large groups of people. But they’re actors or artists in their own right. What would Gianni Schicchi have been like without the lively corpse played by Momo Casablanca? What would the Pagliacci circus be like without dozens of attentive audience members? Can you imagine the cinematic beauty of Paris in La Boheme without several spirited supernumeraries showcasing the quintessential Parisian “joie de vivre?”

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Student’s Corner: The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute (2014); Photo: Robert Millard

The Magic Flute (2014); Photo: Robert Millard

Being part of LA Opera 90012 means finding the musician within each of us and experiencing opera. As participants in LA Opera 90012, we all learn to love opera – and that means we know about The Magic Flute. (How can we not?) This Mozart masterpiece is quintessential opera that has it all: beautiful music and a creative, fantasy plot. As audience members, we follow Tamino and Papageno on their quest to find Pamina. We’re left to wonder what Mozart was thinking when he composed such a fantastic opera.

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