When James Conlon became LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director in 2006, one of the first initiatives he brought to the company was the Cathedral Project. A partnership between LA Opera and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Cathedral Project brings community singers and musicians together with LA Opera artists to present an opera to the public. For the past decade, it has been a key feature of the company’s community engagement and an opera that performers, teaching artists, and audience members look forward to each year. Mr. Conlon, who conducts these performances every year, is “thrilled that Los Angeles families have responded to community productions with so much enthusiasm and appreciation.”
The company has performed George Frideric Handel’s Judas Maccabeus (2008), The Festival Play of Daniel (2010, 2012), Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood (every other year), and the world premiere of Jack Perla’s Jonah and the Whale (2014) at the Cathedral. Eli Villanueva has directed most of these productions. For The Festival Play of Daniel, he also translated the original Latin libretto into English and scored the music for student orchestra musicians performing alongside a professional chamber ensemble. Apart from being a celebrated baritone, stage director, and composer, Villanueva has a great passion for teaching and thrives when working with performers of all ages (his direction of the company’s annual Opera Camp is masterful). Together with Mr. Conlon, Villanueva draws the most color, beauty, and story out of the music as possible. The two have spent ten years staging some of the most artistic and soul-fulfilling productions that our community is grateful to see.
“A lot of the young people and a lot of the adults involved have never been to the opera. After the Cathedral Project, some of those people start coming to the opera. That makes me very happy,” said Mr. Conlon on the rewards of performing at the Cathedral.
In March, the company will revive its production of The Festival Play of Daniel, a liturgical drama with music, first performed by monastic students at the Cathedral of Beauvais, north of Paris. The original composers and writers are unknown, but the work is nothing less than an early operatic masterpiece. It recounts the beloved Old Testament story of the courageous prophet Daniel. When mysterious and incomprehensible writing appears on the wall of King Belshazzar’s palace, none of the king’s advisors can decipher it, except for Daniel. Soon thereafter, as foretold by Daniel, King Darius defeats and kills King Belshazzar. The new king honors the prophet, but this causes jealousy among the other counselors. They trick the new king into proclaiming himself a deity and then condemning Daniel, who will worship none, but the one true God. King Darius reluctantly condemns Daniel to be cast into a den of lions. Just as the lions are about to spring on the prophet, an angel appears and protects him from the jaws of the hungry animals.
The Festival Play of Daniel will feature several artists from LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists Program in principal roles, including Brenton Ryan (Daniel), Summer Hassan (Queen), and Vanessa Becerra (Angel). Performances will be held March 4 and 5 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Downtown Los Angeles.
The performances are free – a gift to the Los Angeles community. Tickets to The Festival Play of Daniel are now available online here and at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Box Office Window (located at 135 N Grand Avenue).