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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 by … Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
In May 2012, Peter Kazaras sat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, surrounded by his UCLA students, observing a dress rehearsal of Puccini’s La Bohème at LA Opera. During a break, Kazaras asked his students, “When is this production set?” The students hesitated. He continued, “Where is the production set?” They responded, “Paris!” Yet, they still couldn’t determine the time period. Kazaras smiled, pointing out the half-formed Eiffel Tower structure in the background of Act I. He watched the lightbulbs go off, as his students suddenly realized that it must be set in the 1880s, when the Eiffel Tower was under construction. It was in this moment that all Kazaras’s teachings about the importance of design came full circle for his students. Kazaras beamed with pride.
Four years later, Kazaras once again comes face to face with this production – this time in the director’s chair.
Kazaras, who has recently directed La Bohème at both Washington National Opera and Dallas Opera, knows the piece well. However, LA Opera’s production, originally conceived by film director Herbert Ross in 1993, presents its own set of challenges. “It’s like being given a legal brief that you have to study thoroughly so that you can really understand the facts,” says Kazaras, alluding to his earlier profession as a lawyer. This is because Kazaras has inherited some key elements of the production (ie. set, props and costumes) Ross. Kazaras’s challenge is working with Ross’s gigantic and impressive set, while still adding his own directorial stamp on the show.
“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.
The following is an article written by Jessica Insco, a fine arts teacher, who participated in Opera for Educators. This program is designed to equip educators with tools that help foster a love of the performing arts within students in schools across Los Angeles.
Help make education programs like this possible. Visit LAOpera.org/Donate
Thirty years after its founding, the opera legacy first established by Peter Hemmings lives on – literally.
That sweet, albeit heartbreaking and starved face you’ll see at the center of the Scottish Refugee’s chorus in Act IV is Amelia Hemmings, granddaughter of the late Hemmings.
By day, Amelia is your regular 7th grader. Besides singing, dancing and performing, she loves baking mini cupcakes (plain vanilla especially) and crafts (she even has her own glue gun). But then again, she might not be so regular after all. In LA Opera’s last two seasons, she’s been in several productions, carrying on the family’s opera tradition. (Her older brother Rory made his LA Opera solo debut as the Cabin Boy in Billy Budd in 2014 and has also appeared in several other productions.)
Before he ever conceived of a career in opera, renowned tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz still spent most of his week singing. While studying engineering in his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, Chacón-Cruz sang with local trios, mariachis, and even as the lead singer serenading women for other men who were proposing. He was so passionate about singing that his mother signed him up for a voice lesson with an opera coach. At first, Chacón-Cruz protested, but the 15 minutes he spent with his first coach changed the course of his entire life.
“I told my mother, ‘Nobody likes opera. It’s so antiquated,’ but like a good son, I went to the lesson. The teacher – Jesus Li Cecilio – had me wait and I heard him working with another student. I thought, ‘This isn’t so bad.’ Then it was my turn and after hearing me sing for a few minutes, Li Cecilio said that I have a future in opera,” says Chacón-Cruz. He continues, “Those 15 minutes turned into the rest of my life and I couldn’t be happier.” … Continue reading
Ever wonder how an artist steps off stage, then minutes later magically returns in a whole new get-up? While they’re in the wings, they’re in the hands of a dresser, that’s how. You’ll find dressers backstage at most large-scale live performances.
We spent a few minutes with Shelley Graves-Jimenez, one of LA Opera’s dressers, who told us what it’s like to be a dresser in the wings during an LA Opera performance.
Dressers make sure that the performer they’re assigned to can focus on their performance and not whether their costume is right. From head to toe, Graves-Jimenez and her colleagues ensure every piece of an artist’s costume is on, secure, and comfortable before they hit the stage. “Nothing they’re wearing should distract them,” she says.
Plácido Domingo has a passion for discovering talent. He’s not just the world’s most legendary opera singer; he’s also a champion for new young artists. In 1993, Maestro Domingo established Operalia, an international vocal competition created to find and help launch the careers of today’s most promising young opera singers. Over the years, Operalia has done just that, launching the careers of some of the most talked about artists of our time.
This year’s competition wrapped up last night (you can watch the final round here), and those of us in Los Angeles, who have been following along all week, watched and cheered from our homes. Through the magic of live stream, we watched the final announcements from Guadalajara, Mexico. You could probably hear the cheering from the stage in Guadalajara when two of our very own young artists won top prizes (accompanied by Nino Sanikidze, Head Coach in the Young Artist Program).
- Nicolas Brownlee, a current member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, won “The Don Plácido Domingo Ferrer Prize of Zarzuela.” Brownlee has been in six different productions at LA Opera to date, most recently as Coline in La Bohème. He will make his Metropolitan Opera debut this coming season, in addition to performing several roles in Los Angeles, including Angelotti in Tosca next spring.
- Brenton Ryan, an alumnus of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, won the Birgit Nilsson Prize. You can catch Ryan as Pedrillo in The Abduction from the Seraglio in our upcoming season, a role he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera this past spring.
Opera is filled with stories of betrayal, murder, and love that push characters to emotional extremes. Heroines (and anti-heroines) are often the characters most caught up in the drama. They love passionately, sacrifice greatly, and kill relentlessly. We’ve created a list of ten multifaceted women, who aren’t afraid to lean in and stir the plot; they’re bold, brave and influential, even if it leads to their untimely death. See some of these fierce ladies at LA Opera this season and next season.
In Verdi’s Macbeth (based on the Shakespeare play), Lady Macbeth takes fierce to a whole new level. After learning of her husband’s victory in battle, she urges him to kill the king and take the crown. Macbeth does so, only to be filled with remorse. It is Lady Macbeth who completes the killing and frames two guards for the king’s murder. She wants power and social standing and will stop at nothing to achieve this. Verdi expands the role of “Lady M” in his opera, giving her character even more agency, and making her the epitome of an opera anti-heroine not to mess with. She might murder you, if you do!
Is Brünnhilde the strongest women in the entire opera repertory? She is after all the central character in Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, appearing in three of the four Ring operas. A complex and compelling woman with a fascinating character arc, she is defined by her bravery and intelligence. She grasps what is happening in the world with keener perception than her father (Wotan, king of the gods) or her husband (the mighty-but-unintellectual hero Siegfried) and she is unafraid to take action to do what she thinks is necessary. Like many other Wagner heroines, she makes the ultimate sacrifice for love, but Brünnhilde’s martyrdom has the greatest impact: hers redeems the entire world.
I’m incredibly excited to be interning with the LA Opera PR staff, not only for the credit on my resume, but because everyone here is genuinely interested in helping me participate and learn, rather than simply being a go-fer. These hands-on experiences offer a valuable opportunity to practice and improve the skills I’ve learned in the classroom and to network with working professionals in my chosen field.
I’m currently a senior at California State University, Northridge (CSUN.) I will graduate this fall as a journalism major, with a public relations emphasis and a minor in writing and rhetoric. I don’t look like most interns though, because I returned to school after a 25 year break to raise my large family.
Charles Lane has worked with LA Opera since the beginning. He first appeared in the opening night production of Verdi’s Otello in 1986 and can currently be seen in La Bohème. In 30 years, Lane has performed in 70 different operas and 100 total productions. He is only one of 14 current members of the LA Opera Chorus (and 3 retired members), who can say this. We sat down with Lane to chat about his decades-long singing career and his time at LA Opera.
What led you to work for LA Opera?
I moved to Los Angeles from New York around the time that LA Opera was founded. I got into the Master Chorale and at the time they provided the chorus for LA Opera. So, I got to be in that first production of Otello alongside Plácido Domingo.
Why do you think you’ve stayed for so long?
The experience itself. It takes so much to produce an opera and it’s such an honor to be a part of that whole machine. Then, being able to stand on stage next to the greatest singers in the world and working with the most influential directors in the world, even Hollywood directors like Bruce Beresford. It’s extraordinary.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
There are so many! Singing in all the productions starring Plácido Domingo. Being on stage with him is very rewarding. He has such an incredible presence and energy.
What is one production that really struck you?
Lohengrin. We were supposed to open in September 2001, but when 9/11 happened, the opening was postponed. When we finally did open, it was so moving, because everyone came out on stage, and sang the National Anthem. I will always remember that production, because of the time that it happened. I loved that show.
For the past fifteen years, Eli Villanueva has worked with LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement team to bring opera to the Los Angeles Community. An accomplished performer, stage director, and composer, Villanueva has performed in and composed several works for the company’s various education programs (Opera Camp, Opera Tales, and In-School Opera) and has also directed many community productions, including the popular operas staged annually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Through his work, Villanueva strives to impact how children see the world and offer them the same excitement he had when he first “caught the opera bug.”
Villanueva caught the opera bug at age 12. At the time, the New York City Opera would tour in Los Angeles, staging a few operas a year. Villanueva performed with the California Boys Choir and through this choir was cast as a member of the children’s chorus in Puccini’s La Bohème. “I got to actually stand next to operas singers, which I thought was the most amazing thing,” recalls Villanueva. He continues, “I truly feel that it’s that experience of being next to an opera singer that really changes a child’s perspective of the whole art form.”
Villanueva’s work with the Education & Community Engagement team focuses on changing people’s perspective of opera.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.