Monthly Archives: October 2016
The 2016/17 season is a big year for J’Nai Bridges. She recently made her San Francisco Opera debut as Bersi in Andrea Chenier (a role she will later reprise at Bavarian State Opera in Munich), Bridges will make her LA Opera debut as Nefertiti in Philip Glass’s Akhnaten on November 5. She has become one of the most sought after mezzo-sopranos of her generation, but she didn’t always long for a career in opera.
Bridges was well on her way to becoming a college basketball star when she discovered a passion for singing that couldn’t be ignored. She joined her high school choir, started taking private voice lessons, and eventually made the decision to become a singer.
“My parents said, ‘You just started singing classically, are you sure you want to do this?’ I told them I had this feeling in my gut and in my soul telling me I need to pursue opera” recalls Bridges.
The choice to sing opera came a little later. She recorded four songs for a pre-screening tape to apply to music schools. Surrounded by her family, Bridges heard herself on tape for the first time.
Have you ever wanted to perform in an opera surrounded by artists, friends, and family? Here’s your chance. For the eleventh year, LA Opera and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will produce a community opera production of Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood (Noye’s Fludde), conducted by James Conlon.
Constance Chesnut grew up in the performing arts. Both of her parents were classical musicians. Her mother occasionally performed in her hometown opera’s orchestra and was its first female French horn player. “That was a time when women weren’t encouraged to work,” she said.
Ms. Chesnut’s exposure to opera at a young age cultivated a love for the art form that carried over into adulthood. She and her husband, Sheldon Benjamin, have been enjoying performances at LA Opera for many years, and one of her favorite operas inspired her to become a donor and provide financial support above and beyond the cost of her tickets.
Grand Avenue is a playground for arts and culture, and Grand Avenue is its epicenter. For the second year in a row, Grand Ave Arts: All Access invites all to explore, be curious, pop in, and choose their own adventures with more than 10 participating cultural institution. All events are free and open to the public.
For 20 years, LA Opera Orchestra members have been greeted by a very special fan on their way to nearly every performance. Near the Artists Entrance, Tony stands as a sentinel watching and wishing each member well before they enter the opera house and the pit.
“It’s almost a pre-show ritual for some of us,” says Brady Steel, Orchestra Personnel Manager.
As a nonprofit, everything we do—on stage and throughout the community—is made possible by the generosity of supporters like you, who value the impact the performing arts have on the cultural fabric of Los Angeles.
Teens and opera – there’s a connection there. You might think that teenagers in Los Angeles would never think about it or avoid it, assuming it’s old fashioned and boring. But, LA Opera is challenging that narrative by bringing opera directly to Los Angeles’ secondary school students.
Every year LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement’s program, Secondary In-School Opera (SISO), offers an original opera specifically commissioned for middle and high school students. On as many as 10 campuses across all five Los Angeles districts, students work together as an ensemble to build critical music and performance skills, under the direction of professional teaching artists from LA Opera. During one class period a week, for ten weeks each fall they put together an opera. On performance day a truck rolls up to the campus with sets, costumes, technical equipment, and more. Students are joined by several professional opera singers and orchestra members for their final dress rehearsal and a stirring performance for their peers, parents and special invited guests.
If bringing this art form to students was all SISO offered, it would be amazing.
But wait, there’s more!
Making his company debut this season in the title role of Akhnaten is one of today’s foremost countertenors: Anthony Roth Costanzo. Akhnaten was also the role of his English National Opera debut earlier this year, in the celebrated Phelim McDermott staging that now comes to Los Angeles.
How did you discover that you were a countertenor?
I had been singing on Broadway and in theater for years as a boy soprano, but at 13 I reached a turning point: I was asked to sing Miles in The Turn of the Screw. I was immediately drawn to the depth of expression and the complexity of opera. Some of the opera crowd hanging around the production said, “your speaking voice seems to have changed and you have hair on your arm—maybe you’re a countertenor.” I had no idea what a countertenor was, but I soon found out and I’ve continued singing in the treble clef ever since.
Countertenors seem to spend their careers in two very distinct musical worlds: baroque/early music and contemporary music.
I love occupying these two ends of the spectrum simultaneously. It’s amazing how well the technique and approach required for baroque music serve the contemporary repertoire I’ve done, and similarly the openness, creativity and daring required for contemporary pieces serve the baroque. I do often dream of singing the operatic repertoire of the 19th and early 20th century, and I have found opportunities to explore some of those composers in recital and concert. While I will likely never get to sing Wagner (in public), I can say that Akhnaten is a lot closer to singing Wagner than it is to singing Handel.
One of the hallmarks of the score for Akhnaten—like much of Philip Glass’s music—is a continuous repetition of musical motives and patterns. It’s so beautiful, but it sounds really tough to learn.
The patterns are incredibly difficult to learn because they do not repeat exactly, but rather one phrase will repeat twice, alter slightly, and then repeat three more times, alter slightly again….etc., etc. At first, I thought I would make charts with letters and numbers, and memorize those charts, but the charts looked like advanced calculus, and I soon decided they would be harder to memorize than the music itself.
I finally realized that the only way to keep it all in my head was good old practice. It had to become part of my muscle memory. It took me about four months to internalize the music, but now that I have, it is euphoric to perform—even addictive. I can get into a groove with it that is unlike any other music I have performed. As fun as that groove is, it also requires a tremendous amount of focus. If I let my mind wander for a split second, I could find myself far out of sync.
LA Opera’s gritty production of Macbeth, directed by Darko Tresjnak will be staged one more time – this afternoon. In case you’ve missed the Macbeth love these past few months, we’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to check out.
Get to Know Macbeth
In this guest post, Maestro James Conlon discusses why he loves Macbeth.
In this guest post, Maestro James Conlon discusses why Macbeth is important.
The dancing witches in Macbeth are not your pointy hat, black-wearing, broom-flying witches. As the agents that drive the story, they are onstage virtually the entire time, lurking during every sinister choice that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make in the opera. They move props. They haunt all of the characters and bring them to the darkest moments of their lives. We spoke with the nine women who play the witches about how they bring their hellish characters to life.
Share Fall is in full swing in Los Angeles and so is LA Opera’s 16/17 season. WikiLeaks. Pharaohs. Vampires. There’s something for everyone to see. Here’s a breakdown of all LA Opera offerings over the next few months. The Source (October … Continue reading
Dr. King, it is a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to share your career highlights with our audience. As an internationally recognized teacher, you fly into L.A. to work with our young artists three days every month.
How do the great vocal teachers get great? May we recap a bit of your formal academic path?
I was hooked nearly from the beginning. I went to college at Auburn University in Alabama and began by studying biochemistry. When I made the critical discovery that it would never be my passion, I joined the choir and auditioned for the voice program. After acceptance, I started intensively studying voice. Within six months, I was on stage singing in my first show, Gianni Schicchi. I cringe when I think of how I must have sounded then! After that, I entered graduate school at Florida State University and began singing.
Joshua and his sister, Gloria were not always opera fans. The closest to opera they came was watching Andrea Bocelli specials on PBS as kids. It was not until adulthood that they both fell in love with the art form and found a home at LA Opera – Joshua as an up and coming tenor and Gloria as a rising star in the costume shop.
“I got into opera later in life and Gloria was a huge part of it,” says Joshua, who led an eclectic pre-opera life that included studying theology and a stint as a gondolier on the Las Vegas strip and abroad in Macau.
Joshua was always a singer, and adds, “We’re close and she was really the only family member who saw the whole process of becoming a singer.”
As Gloria saw Joshua pursuing a career in opera, she decided to pursue her dream of studying fashion.
DESIGN ARTWORK FOR LA OPERA’S PRODUCTION OF SALOME
Are you a budding graphic designer or artist – or know one?
LA Opera is hosting a contest for currently enrolled college art and design students in Southern California.
You are invited to submit artwork for LA Opera’s spring production of Strauss’s Salome. The winning submission will be featured on the cover of the show’s performance program and displayed at the home of LA Opera, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
This contest is made possible with the generous support of GRoW@Annenberg.
What will you win?
The winning submissions will receive a combination of cash and recognition at the show.
- First Prize: $5,000
- Second Prize: $2,000
- Third Prize: $1,000
Winners will be invited to attend the opening night performance of Salome (February 18, 2017) and the Cast Supper that follows the show.
Submission Deadline: December 15, 2016
NEW: Your Frequently Asked Questions – Answered … Continue reading
Heading to one of LA Opera’s live broadcast on Thursday, 10/13? If you haven’t planned to – you should! Whether you’re going to Santa Monica Pier or to South Gate Park to experience the live broadcast of Macbeth starring Plácido Domingo there are a few things you should know about Opera at the Beach and Opera in the Park.
1. It’s FREE.
Yes, that’s right. Both live broadcasts are free, so come early to get the best seats. The event opens at 5:30 pm and the show starts at 7:30 pm.
Yes, it’s fall, but only in Los Angeles can you take advantage of the southern California weather, grab a blanket and a picnic and experience opera under the stars. This Thursday, you can do just that – experience the grandeur of LA Opera’s production of Macbeth as it is broadcast live to Santa Monica Pier and South Gate Park. That’s opera – live – for free – and surrounded by families and friends.
While the idea of showing opera in three locations might sound simple, it takes an enormous number of people to pull it all together and bring it to life.
Preparations for Opera at the Beach and Opera in the Park began nearly nine months ago when we secured the production team – Black & Tan – that will direct, live edit, and produce the broadcast.
In partnership with members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors (who have generously supported these events for the last three years) we identified the venues. We would have had a riot had we moved from the Santa Monica Pier, so that location was set in stone, thanks to support from Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. But we all agreed, more communities should experience this production. So this year, with the support from Supervisor Hilda Solis, we’ve expanded the program and we will also be broadcasting to South Gate Park – the heart of the South Gate community.
Ted Hearne’s The Source is not your typical opera. The Source is about how we deal with the massive amounts of classified information leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2010. The piece allows audience members to experience this information not by watching the news or sitting in front of a computer where they may become distracted, but instead, through the all-encompassing magic of opera. The Source is not staged in the way you would expect and it is not a biography of Chelsea Manning’s life – choices that director Daniel Fish championed from the beginning.
As a non-profit, LA Opera relies on the generous contributions of our donors to make the opera magic happen. By becoming a member of the Friends of LA Opera, you’re helping us bring opera to life, while also enjoying exclusive benefits that help make your opera-going experience that much more memorable.
Members receive behind-the-scenes access and other exclusive privileges. Below are a few of their favorites:
- Tickets to final dress rehearsals – Members receive complimentary tickets to select final dress rehearsals of performances, such as Macbeth and The Tales of Hoffmann, starring opera superstars, such as Diana Damrau, Plácido Domingo, and more!
Vampire films have been around forever. One of the earliest was Nosferatu (1922). A visually striking and influential film (a product of director F.W. Murnau’s collaboration with outré graphic designer/illustrator Albin Grau), we’ve never really forgotten this influential piece. The titular character is a rodent-like vampire designed with severe lines and angles. His dome-like bald head contrasts with the almost architectural extensions of his ears and fingers. Actor Max Schreck needed minimal movement to characterize this monstrous take on novelist Bram Stoker’s suave and debonair Dracula. The hauntingly effective character design would go on to influence generations of filmmakers and will likely never stop doing so.
Before seeing our presentation of the classic 1922 Nosferatu at the Ace Hotel, check out five of the more memorable tributes to the Nosferatu character design selected by one of our resident horror experts, Keith Rainville.
Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)
There’s an astounding quality to Werner Herzog’s low-budget/high-art remake of Murnau’s film that’s difficult to pinpoint, but it genuinely gets under one’s skin. He chose the path of the faithful update rather than to redefine a film he considered the most important German film ever made, and certainly wasn’t going to alter the character himself. The casting of Herzog regular Klaus Kinski was written in the stars. Kinski’s performance, aided by both color film and particularly sound, sculpts a mewling, hissing and even more repugnant version of Nosferatu. (And for opera fans, he did it amidst a score augmented by Wagner’s prelude to Das Rheingold.)
Witches. Cauldrons. Prophesies. Runes. Our production of Macbeth is the stuff nightmares are made of – in the very best and haunting way. When it comes to props, director Darko Tresjnak wanted objects capable of truly terrifying and also intriguing an audience.
Here’s our list of 5 Macbeth props that will keep you up at night.
Bloody Head in a Burlap Sack
The nightmare-inducing props start at the very beginning of Macbeth, when messengers from King Duncan present Macbeth and Banquo with the head of the executed Thane of Cawdor in a bloody burlap sack. (Macbeth gets the dead man’s title, following the prophecy of the witches.)
(spoiler alert!), Macbeth and Lady Macbeth murder King Duncan in the first act so that Macbeth can seize the throne. During the second scene, Duncan’s body is brought out on a golden bier, very slowly, to emphasize the gore. While a white sheet is placed over the corpse, it is clear that Duncan’s throat has been slashed, and the Special FX blood ensures that his body appears freshly killed.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth present these skulls to the audience at the end of the opera – creepily representing their doomed fate. Flashes of light illuminate these two props and they are the last thing seen as the curtain falls – a haunting image not easily forgotten.
Many opera goers may not realize how much costume design is involved in telling a production’s story. Award-winning costume designer Kevin Pollard shared some interesting tidbits about how costume creation plays a role in informing the audience and moving the story forward in this season’s Akhnaten.
Most of what the world understands about the ancient Egyptian royals is theory, based on hieroglyphics and artifacts that captured the world’s attention in the 1920s, when Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered. Pollard sought to find an innovative way of interpreting ancient Egypt while maintaining the awe of viewing a new world, never before seen. He has, through costume design, intricately woven together a simultaneous sense of history and the transition of time, as well as the struggles of both the royal family and their subjects.
Pollard’s costume design is an amalgam of worlds colliding – from ancient Egypt, to colonialism, to the present day – layered together. He began by focusing on the chorus. He started with a 1920s style but appearing partially mummified, rotted, and caked in mud and dried earth, as though the characters had been entombed for a long time. Topped with animal headdresses, depicting the ancient polytheistic gods, Pollard captures a world caught between its buried past and emerging future. The production’s jugglers tie into the same earthy feel, as the desert itself, with their color palette and fabric design representing the dry, cracked landscape.