Monthly Archives: May 2016

Everything You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About La Bohème

Share There are three chances left to see La Bohème at LA Opera. This Belle Époque set production has wowed audiences with its doomed love story beautifully sung by Nino Machaidze and Olga Busuioc and Mario Chang and rivetingly conducted … Continue reading

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Why I Give: Donald Bentley

The Broken Jug (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

The Broken Jug (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

Despite never having attended a live opera production, Donald Bentley purchased an LA Opera subscription for his wife Penny as an anniversary present in the late 1980s. In 1989, the Bentleys attended an LA Opera performance of Tosca. At this particular performance, the lead tenor was unable to perform, and Plácido Domingo stepped from the conductor’s podium onto the stage to sing the role of Cavaradossi.

“Plácido’s performance really hooked us, and we’ve been subscribers ever since,” explained Mr. Bentley. The Bentleys also support LA Opera by making tax-deductible charitable donations.

“It’s important for the city of Los Angeles to have a world class performing arts organization like LA Opera,” said Mr. Bentley.  “We tend to support organizations that have a good record.”

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Like and Share: Meet LA Opera’s Social Media Dynamic Duo

Amisha Patankar and Karen Bacellar at Opera at the Beach (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Amisha Patankar and Karen Bacellar at Opera at the Beach (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

If an organization is to stay relevant in this wireless, hyperlinked, hashtagged world, social media is key. Thankfully, LA Opera nipped the relevancy problem in the bud last summer when it “Liked” Karen Bacellar and Amisha Patankar.

“I manage LA Opera’s content,” Karen says. “That includes the blog. I would say I write and edit the vast majority of the articles for the blog, and that nine times out of ten, they are determined by upcoming operas. After articles are published, I work with Amisha to promote the content through social media.”

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How LA Opera’s Professional Development Program Helped Me Get Kids Excited About Opera

Jessica Insco (center) with Stacy Brightman, Senior Director of Education & Community Engagement and Nathan Rifenburg, Education Manager

Jessica Insco (center) with Stacy Brightman, Senior Director of Education & Community Engagement and Nathan Rifenburg, Education Manager

I have been teaching fine arts at Narbonne High School for three years. I specialize in vocal music and theater and have had the pleasure of teaching students the “art” of loving the arts. This year, I tried something different by attending LA Opera’s Opera for Educators sessions. I’ve gained so much from these sessions that have fueled my passion for opera – a passion that I share with my students.

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Traveling Along… Singing A Song… Side by Side

Summer and Freddie

LA Opera Young Artists Frederick Ballentine (left) and Summer Hassan (right)

LA Opera Young Artists Summer Hassan and Frederick Ballentine are following amazingly similar paths as they pursue their operatic careers. They both studied at Cincinnati’s Conservatory of Music where they first met in 2012. A few years later both were admitted to the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at LA Opera. This season they appeared in The Magic Flute with Summer singing the role of the Second Lady and Frederick performing as the Armed Guard. Both are 26 and from the South with Summer hailing from North Carolina and Frederick a native Virginian.

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From Los Angeles to Sydney, Duane Schuler Lights the World

Duane Schuler

Duane Schuler; Photo: Ken Howard

Duane Schuler is one of the world’s most renowned theatrical lighting designers and a founding partner in the theater planning and architectural lighting design firm Schuler Shook. Over the past forty years, he’s brought grand stories to life through intricate, yet subtle lighting designs for productions at multiple opera houses, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, La Scala Milan, Lyric Opera Chicago, and LA Opera. Through Schuler Shook, he’s also worked on numerous renovations and major architectural projects from Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in New York to an upcoming renovation of the Sydney Opera House.

Mario Chang as Rodolfo and Olga Busuioc as Mimi in La Bohème 92016); Photo: Ken Howard

Mario Chang as Rodolfo and Olga Busuioc as Mimi in La Bohème (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Currently, Schuler is back in Los Angeles lighting LA Opera’s iconic production of Puccini’s La Bohème. His stellar lighting design reinforces both the gritty realism of the bohemian’s poverty stricken existence, while also showcasing the simultaneous “joi de vivre” of Paris in 1887. We sat down with Schuler during rehearsals earlier this month to discuss his career, work with LA Opera, and his current design for La Bohème.

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How Nicholas Brownlee Went From “Performing” on the Football Field to Being a Rising Opera Star

Nicholas Brownlee as Colline in La Bohème (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

Nicholas Brownlee as Colline in La Bohème (2016); Photo: Ken Howard

By the time bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee finishes his second season in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, he will have appeared in six different productions with the company. His is the robust voice audiences have heard from off stage in Moby-Dick and The Magic Flute and on stage in Madame Butterfly. He’s also the singer they will see in such diverse roles as Colline in the current production of La Bohème and as Cesare Angelotti in next season’s Tosca. While the 2015 Met Council Winner may sound and look at home on stage now, he did not always want to pursue a career in opera.

“I was always into performing, whether it was on the football field – I’m a super sports guy – or in choir,” says Brownlee, who originally wanted to be a choral conductor.  That all changed when he had his first opera experience.

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Mary Johnston: Why I Became an LA Opera Community Educator

Mary Johnston volunteering with LA Opera

Mary Johnston volunteering with LA Opera

Close your eyes and imagine the most spectacular fireworks display you’ve ever seen. It’s probably filled with starbursts and various different colors that light up the sky, and brings back fond memories and leaves you in awe.

How you feel about that amazing fireworks display you’re picturing right now is how I have always felt about opera.

I have attended opera for more than 40 years in some of the greatest cities for the art form in the country, including New York and Los Angeles. Before becoming a Community Educator, I went to hear the singer’s beautiful voices and did not worry so much about the background on the opera or the composers. I sat and enjoyed the experience.

This all changed when I learned that as the member of the Opera League of Los Angeles, I could be trained by LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement department to be a Community Educator. It sounded like a great way to give back to the community, while also having fun, and teaching people about opera. So, I decided to join the program.

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One of the Quickest Act Changes in LA Opera History

La Bohème (2012): Photo: Robert Millard

La Bohème (2012): Photo: Robert Millard

Our production of Puccini’s La Bohème boasts one of the quickest, major set changes ever seen on our stage. From Act I to Act II, La Bohème’s setting changes from a rooftop and garret (loft) to a Parisian street.

The main set piece – the garret – is rotated to reveal its opposite side – a two-story building with a ground level cafe. This may not seem like a big deal. It’s just rotating a set piece. How difficult can that be? Difficult – very difficult. It isn’t just a light-weight structure or a façade that can be easily maneuvered.  This garret is a giant 1500-square-foot, 30,000-pound structure – the equivalent of a three-story house.  Moving it requires planning, precision and a great deal of practice. That’s because the structure needs to be moved manually (yes, manually, by a team of 20 production crew members) and hit very specific, pre-determined marks on the stage.

Try moving this piece – along with other set pieces and props – while over a hundred people (principal artists, chorus members, supernumeraries) crowd onto the stage for Act II.

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Los Angeles Children’s Chorus Takes the Stage in La Bohème

Members of the Los Angeles Children's Chorus, who also make up the Children's Chorus in La Bohème.

Members of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, who also make up the Children’s Chorus in La Bohème.

For more than 20 years, members of the prestigious Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC) have starred in productions at LA Opera. From playing precocious characters in the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998) to singing alongside the pros in Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd, LACC children have shared their enthusiasm and vocal gifts with artists, staff and audiences. The latest collaboration between LA Opera and LACC is Puccini’s La Bohème.

In this opera, 14 singers make up the children’s chorus. Some of these children have been in other productions and others are new to the world of opera. What they all share is an excitement about singing and opera that is infectious and wonderful to see.

Today, the kids are gathered in the lobby, chatting excitedly, because they will soon be on stage rehearsing with the pros. When asked what their favorite parts of rehearsals and being in the opera are, several hands shoot up. “I love hearing the power of their voices and knowing that all these people are watching us,” says Soren Ryssdal (12). His fellow choir members nod their heads in agreement. Of staging, Sydney Brakeley (10) says, “I like being able to know where I am going just by hearing the music.” With a big grin on her face, Anika Erickson (13) age adds, “We also have fake siblings.” All the kids laugh.

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Speranza Scappucci Searches for Puccini’s Truth in La Bohème

Speranza Scappucci; Photo: Dario Acosta

Speranza Scappucci; Photo: Silvia Lelli

Speranza Scappucci is one of opera’s rising conducting stars. Since making her debut in 2012 conducting Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Yale Opera, Scappucci has conducted around the world, including at Finnish National Opera, Washington National Opera and Scottish Opera. She did not always know that her destiny was to conduct.

Speranza Scappucci conducting a gala concert, starring soprano Marina Rebeka to celebrate the opening of Great Amber, the new concert hall in Liepāja, Latvia.

Speranza Scappucci conducting a gala concert, starring soprano Marina Rebeka to celebrate the
opening of Great Amber, the new concert hall in Liepāja, Latvia.

This month, Scappucci makes her LA Opera debut conducting six performances of Puccini’s La Bohème. It’s a piece that Scappucci knows really well (she coached the piece for 20 years), but that does not stop her from finding new things in Puccini’s masterpiece. Scappucci discovers these new things by extensively revisiting the score, as if it’s the first time she’s approaching it.

Born and raised in Rome, Scappucci moved to New York at age 20 to study piano at The Juilliard School. She received a master’s at Juilliard in collaborative piano and went on to brilliant career as a coach and assistant conductor. For 15 years, Scappucci was a familiar face in the world’s top opera houses, coaching both rising stars and famous opera singers, and also working as an assistant conductor for some of the world’s most renowned conductors – Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Daniele Gatti, and James Levine.

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Jill Michnick’s secret identity – revealed

Jill Michnick

Jill Michnick

By day, Jill Michnick leads the team at LA Opera that produces its signature events. From glamorous galas to vision-setting board meetings, town halls to salon gatherings, Jill spends her time overseeing the details of award winning festivities.

While Jill is used to directing a team of producers and vendors and dealing with all the surprises that she encounters in her role, little did she know that after ten years at one of the country’s most prestigious opera companies, she too would catch the acting bug. Jill’s not one to shy away from a challenge, so when the idea of being in one of LA Opera’s iconic production arose, she didn’t hesitate to explore it.

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LA Opera Goes On Tour with Figaro Opera Tales

Leroy Villanueva and Ashley Faatoalia in Figaro Opera Tales; Photo: Jennifer Babcock

Leroy Villanueva and Ashley Faatoalia in Figaro Opera Tales; Photo: Jennifer Babcock

LA Opera has many programs to make sure that everyone has access to opera for little or no cost. Opera Tales is one of these programs. In partnership with the County of Los Angeles Public Library and with generous support provided by Los Angeles County Supervisors Don Knabe and Hilda Solis, LA Opera brings professional opera singers (or “opera pals”) to libraries around Los Angeles to perform musical moments from the most celebrated operas for families. Next month’s Figaro Opera Tales has the singers recounting tales from the entire Figaro Trilogy (Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles), as told by Pierre Beaumarchais.

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