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The Abduction from the Seraglio takes the stage two more time this month. In case you’ve missed the Roaring Twenties, Orient Express, and Mozart fun, we’ve collected a bunch of articles for you to check out below.
Get To Know The Abduction from the Seraglio
Maestro James Conlon, who is celebrating his 10th season as LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director, discusses Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio.
LA Opera first presented its provocative production of Salome during its inaugural season in 1986. That iconic production featured a backdrop of hand painted, psychedelic projections envisioned by designer John Bury. Salome returns to LA Opera this month and features new projections that build upon Bury’s original designs and showcase the title character’s mental state throughout the opera.
Bury’s original projections (see below) were abstract and textural, containing a dark color scheme (reds, blues, and purples). Some projections feature shapes that look like bubbles or blood cells, while others create patterns using horizontal lines.
Updated since their original use, the new projections are no longer hand painted. Projection Designer Alisa Lapidus digitized Bury’s projections and used them as the base for the new projections (which are both digital and animated). These new projections reflect director David Paul’s emphasis on Salome’s journey between two worlds – the one she lives in and the one in her head.
On February 12, LA Opera will host its first family day of the season. Tickets to the matinee performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio are half-off for children and teens ages 9 to 17 (as always), and there will be several activities inspired by the Roaring Twenties-set production.
Here are some of the fun activities for families on February 12:
Swing Into the 1920s Spirit with Dance Lessons
From 11:30am-12:40pm, members from MASS Historia will be on hand teaching families how to fox trot like its 1925. There will also be professional demonstrations and dancing open to everyone after the performance in Stern Grand Hall.
Members from the California Art Club, one of the oldest and largest professional arts organizations in the country, will be staged throughout the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion capturing the spirit of family day in paintings and showing families how fun art and opera can be. … Continue reading
LA Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio is not a traditional staging of the Mozart treasure. Historically, the 18th-century comedic opera which follows the hero Belmonte as he tries to rescue his love Konstanze from the seraglio (“harem”) of Pasha Selim is set in the Pasha’s grand palace. Our staging, envisioned by director James Robinson, updates the story to the 1920s and sets the action entirely aboard the famed Orient Express, traveling from Istanbul to Paris.
The 1920s was a decade of transition—socially, politically and culturally. The world was still reeling from the Great War and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Grand world changes lend themselves well to the east-meets-west nature of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. This opera explores the comedy, not the tragedy, that arises when people from different cultures collide.
Salome the virgin vamp has had her ups and downs—from the opera stage to burlesque, from fine art to novelty songs like “When Miss Patricia Salome Did Her Funny Little Oo-La-Pa-Lome.” And who can forget Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard, finally ready for her close-up, descending the staircase as the delusional Norma Desmond playing Salome? So many Salomes—one can only draw back the veils, one at a time, in order to get at the truth.
Unveiling Salome’s Origins
The mythical origins of Salome reach back to the ancient fertility figure Ishtar who performed a Welcome Dance to celebrate the renewal of nature. In classical times, this fertility figure became Demeter who gave humanity agriculture and her daughter Persephone who personified vegetation, withdrawing into the earth after the harvest only to return again in the spring. Most of us know the biblical Salome, whose name is similar to the Hebrew word for peace, “shalom,” and who appears in the books of Mark and Matthew, a beautiful virgin dancing to appease the lust of Herod.
But there was also a real Salome, born about 15 AD and married first to a Palestine governor and later to a ruler in Asia Minor. She also appears in the histories of Flavius Josephus, who was the first to name her as the daughter of Herodias, a detail retained by Seneca, Livy, and Plutarch.
Unveiling the Artful Salome
From these origins, we can already see a number of themes emerging: mysterious femininity, sexual power, a mixture of the earthy and the mystical. Interest in Salome grew as Europeans encountered other cultures through conquest or exploration, especially following Napoleon’s campaigns in Egypt and Syria. A fascination with the orient spread throughout Europe in architecture, painting and the decorative arts. This orientalism (a controversial but useful term) also flowered in literature. The appearance in the late eighteenth century of the French translation of One Thousand and One Nights was followed by English versions in the nineteenth century, some bowdlerized for Victorian readers, some with all the juicy bits. It is easy to imagine Salome as the naughty cousin of Scheherazade, the resourceful and imaginative narrator of Nights who kept herself from being beheaded by entertaining the king with fascinating tales.
“Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensations. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both.”
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
Arriving on the heels of Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio in our season, it is difficult to compare these totally different works without reflecting on how the world had changed. European civilization was sitting on a fault line when Richard Strauss wrote Salome. Strauss, who placed “the miracle Mozart, immediately after Bach,” could not turn to the latter for operatic prototypes, but found immeasurable inspiration in Mozart’s operas.
We’ve just announced the 2017/2018 season and it’s all about the new. Five of the six mainstage productions are new to Los Angeles and two of them are company premieres. There will also be two major concerts – the first celebrating the 50th anniversary of Plácido Domingo’s first appearance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the second featuring Audra McDonald.
Can’t wait for the excitement to begin? Take a look below and get to know all the 17/18 season has in store for Los Angeles.
(presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)
Ana María Martínez returns as the famous opera femme fatale in Carmen
(Sep 9–Oct 1, 2017; production new to L.A.) — Georges Bizet
James Conlon conducts a cast that also features Alexander Vinogradov as Escamillo and Amanda Woodbury as Micaëla. The production is directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, winner of Tony, Emmy and Olivier Awards.
After seeing Carmen, experience The Pearl Fishers another Bizet gem
(Oct 7–28, 2017; company premiere) — Georges Bizet
Plácido Domingo and Grant Gershon will each conduct performances of a rarely performed treasure, directed by Penny Woolcock. Nino Machaidze returns as Leïla, her seventh leading role in Los Angeles, with superstar tenor Javier Camarena making his company debut as Nadir. The cast also includes Alfredo Daza as Zurga and Nicholas Brownlee as Nourabad.
Plácido Domingo and James Conlon unite for Nabucco
(Oct 14–Nov 19, 2017; production new to L.A.) — Giuseppe Verdi
Plácido Domingo sings the title role of the monumental opera that made Verdi famous, conducted by James Conlon. Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger, the production also features Liudmyla Monastyrska in her LAO debut as Abigaille, with Morris Robinson as Zaccaria, Mario Chang as Ismaele and Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Fenena.
“Nothing is as ugly as vengeance, whereas the quality of great souls is to be humanely kind and forgive without selfishness.” (Act III, The Abduction from the Seraglio*)
In the final months of his life, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart completed two operas, written simultaneously in 1791: The Magic Flute, a German Singspiel (“singing play”) alternating musical numbers with spoken dialogue; and La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus), an Italian opera seria. He might just as well have given his earlier Singspiel, 1782’s The Abduction from Seraglio, a different title: The Clemency of Pasha Selim. After all, the planned abduction fails to materialize. And of the many issues addressed in this work, the rejection of vengeance and the power of forgiveness are at its center, embodied in the person of Pasha Selim.
Impatient to impress Kaiser Joseph II, one of Europe’s greatest Enlightenment monarchs, Mozart jumped at the opportunity to “lift the national German stage to recognition in music!” He showed that not just he, but German music, could be freed from the virtual monopoly of Italian opera. Taking the popular form of Singspiel, he merges it with Italianate sophistication. This, in time, would lead to The Magic Flute, Beethoven’s Fidelio and the 19th-century German genre of Spieloper (“opera play”).
Mozart was 20 when British historian and man of letters Horace Walpole reiterated in a private letter what was to become his famous epigram: “The world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” The highly cultured Walpole might even have heard about the young genius from Salzburg.
Comedies make us think through provoking laughter and humor. Tragedies and melodramas make us feel, and sometimes weep. In the 18th century, Italian opera was compartmentalized: opera buffa made us laugh, opera seria made us think. Most importantly, they both pleased the ear. Mozart clouded this distinction by elevating the level of comic opera to deal with more serious subjects.
The votes are in…Congratulations to our winners!
This past fall, LA Opera hosted a contest for currently enrolled college art and design students in southern California. Students were asked to submit artwork for LA Opera’s spring production of Strauss’s Salome for a chance to be featured on the cover of the show’s performance program and displayed at the home of LA Opera, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Thanks to the generous support of GRoW @ Annenberg, more than 35 students from 14 different southern California institutions competed for cash prizes and to see their artwork on this season’s Salome program cover. The winners were chosen by a jury, chaired by Gregory Annenberg Weingarten of the Annenberg Foundation and by Regina Weingarten, a member of the LA Opera board of directors. The jury also included Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera President and CEO; Diane Bergman, LA Opera Vice President of Marketing and Communications; Keith Rainville, LA Opera Brand Manager; and Tim Johnson, Film Director at DreamWorks Animation and a member of the LA Opera board of directors. We are pleased to announce our three winners: Marshall Dahlin, David Kwock, and Lauren Moss.
The top submission (see below), by Marshall Dahlin of Cal State Fullerton, was selected for the Salome cover, and earned him a $5,000 prize.
With The Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart scored the biggest stage success he would enjoy during his lifetime. It premiered in Vienna on July 16, 1782, and, by the fourth performance—according to Mozart himself—the show was “creating such a sensation that they don’t want to see or hear anything else, and the theater is packed full each time.”
Nowadays Abduction ranks among the less frequently encountered of Mozart’s mature stage works. One reason might be that it suffers from what director James Robinson calls “ugly-title syndrome.” Catchy titles, to be sure, can go a long way toward securing recognition for even second-rate works. Robinson adds: “Abduction is underrated in many ways. It’s one of the most unabashedly romantic pieces that Mozart ever wrote. The way he addresses relationships and longing, as well as all the things that accompany love and its potential loss, is so heartfelt. Abduction wears its emotions on its sleeve. And it’s also a wonderfully funny piece.”
The stakes for the success of Abduction were high.
When Mozart started working on his new project in the summer of 1781, he was right in the middle of a period of profound transition—personally as well as professionally. The year had started with the premiere, in Munich, of Idomeneo, an ambitious opera that represented a major artistic leap forward for the composer. A few months after that came a dramatic confrontation with his boss, Count Hieronymus Colloredo, the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Among the many reasons Mozart felt so miserable at Colloredo’s provincial court was the lack of opportunities to write opera, the art form he loved most of all.
For the past 11 seasons, LA Opera has been honored to work with the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles to present free, large-scale community performances including Noah’s Flood, Judas Maccabaeus and The Festival Play of Daniel under the baton of James Conlon. These community opera performances include singers, actors and orchestra members from the community, performing alongside professional singers and orchestra members from LA Opera.
This season, LA Opera is reviving its successful production of Noah’s Flood (Noye’s Fludde). Conducted by James Conlon, Noah’s Flood will be performed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 4:00pm and 7:30pm.
Before marking your calendars, here’s a list of things you might not know about our production of Noah’s Flood.
Ever since last season’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, we’ve been eagerly waiting to stage another one of Mozart’s work at LA Opera. Next month, we get to do just that! Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio opens on January 28 and here are five reasons to see this riotous opera.
Did we mention that it’s Mozart?
Mozart’s effervescent score is sure to thrill audiences—even though Emperor Joseph II asked that Mozart cut a few notes from the piece when it was first presented to him. (Check out that moment and the finale of Abduction as depicted in the Miloš Forman biopic Amadeus below.)
Wonderful Town opens on Friday, December 2nd, and we’ve been watching rehearsals all week. Here are some things we thought might surprise you.
1. Long before Carrie Bradshaw lived in Greenwich Village, Ruth and Eileen Sherwood, played by Faith Prince and Nikki M. James, sought out to find fame and fortune in the big city. Greenwich Village is the backdrop for Wonderful Town.
2. One guy can play lots of parts. Roger Bart, serves as the narrator of Wonderful Town, but he also serves as the Tour Guide, Speedy Valenti – the nightclub owner, Chick Clark – the sharp newspaper guy and others too. … Continue reading
Thousands of people just like you come to LA Opera each year to experience the magnificence that can only be found in opera. Through world-class staging and bold experimentation, opera has something for everyone, regardless of age, musical preferences or means. Here are some of the opera experiences you can give as gifts to your friends and family this holiday season.
Hop on Mozart’s Orient Express with The Abduction from the Seraglio
If you’re a fan of screwball comedies, this is the opera for you. Updated to the Roaring Twenties, this riotous staging marries the brilliance of Mozart’s comic gem with the flair of a classic Hollywood comedy. En route from Istanbul to Paris, two beautiful damsels in distress are held captive aboard the luxurious Orient Express by a notorious Ottoman royal. It’s up to their faithful lovers to rescue them before it’s too late!
You can learn a lot about the 1930s from Wonderful Town. When aspiring reporter Ruth interviews a group of Brazilian cadets near the end of Act One, her topics were only two decades in the past for the show’s first audiences in 1953. Today, however, many of her references to Depression-era American culture have grown obscure. Here’s a quick guide to some of them.
“What do you think of the NRA? TVA?”
Nope, not the National Rifle Association. The National Recovery Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal” to help the country recover from the Great Depression. The NRA was designed to promote recovery by establishing a code system of fair competition for industries; it was declared unconstitutional in 1935. The TVA was one of the largest New Deal projects, created to build dams, reservoirs and electrical stations. It brought affordable power and jobs to millions in an impoverished, rural region.
“What do you think of Charles G. Dawes? Warden Lawes?”
Dawes was Calvin Coolidge’s vice president from 1925 to 1929. He had shared a Nobel Peace Prize in 1925 for his work on the Dawes Plan, designed to provide economic relief to Germany after the first World War. He was the American ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1929 to 1932, then served as chairman of the board of City National Bank from 1932 until his death in 1951.
As warden of Sing Sing from 1920 to 1941, the progressive reformer Lewis E. Lawes modernized the overcrowded and crumbling prison. He famously organized basketball and football games for his “boys,” with his wife and three daughters watching in the bleachers, seated with the inmates.
“Good neighbors, remember our policy”
Part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933, the Good Neighbor Policy was a pledge that the U.S. would treat Latin American nations with respect. With a goal of increasing trade with these nations, this new policy marked a departure from earlier administrations’ interventionism in Latin American foreign and domestic affairs.
Director Phelim McDermott’s staging of Akhnaten is anything but ordinary. By instructing the singers and cast members to move slowly through the world of Akhnaten, McDermott creates an atmosphere that is hypnotic. It’s difficult to look away from such intensity, which is not unlike the intense intimacy you get from a film close-up. He further captures the pharaoh’s world through abstract use of juggling and a set greatly influenced by ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics discovered by Egyptologists in the 1920s.
While McDermott is now comfortable in staging Philip Glass (Akhnaten is his third Glass production), directing Glass was not always on his to-do list.
In the below excerpt of a podcast hosted by Living with A Genius’s Omar Crook, McDermott discusses how he came to direct Akhnaten and his vision for the show.
For years, the version of New York City that Leonard Bernstein and Betty Comden and Adolph Green created in Wonderful Town really was the New York that many people around the country believed existed. It was a place where everyone was a lot smarter, a lot tougher, and moved a lot faster than other Americans did. Wonderful Town depicted New Yorkers with a wised-up wit, an unapologetic brashness (with a beating heart underneath), and battle scars from years of surviving life in the city—characters we came to believe were very much like the creators themselves.
On November 5th, Akhnaten opened and audiences got a taste of the complicated set that brings ancient Egypt to life in the opera. Envisioned by set designer Tom Pye (in conjunction with director Phelim McDermott), the Akhnaten set takes 2-Dimensional hieroglyphics and brings them into 3-Dimensional staging.
The reproduced hieroglyphic image above (also the first ever recorded image of juggling) serves as the inspiration for the juggling in this opening funeral scene of Akhnaten and for the three-tiered structure that makes up the set (see second image above).
In the week leading up to the opening of Akhnaten, director Phelim McDermott watches singers rehearse a scene from Act III. In the scene, Akhnaten (Anthony Roth Costanzo) and Nefertiti (J’Nai Bridges) dwell in an insular world of their own creation with their six daughters. The only thing that connects them is a lengthy blue fabric that they all handle throughout the scene as crowds gather restlessly outside the gates and letters arrive expressing increasing concern about Akhnaten’s self-imposed isolation. From his directorial perch, McDermott suddenly rises and holds up a white sheet of paper with a single handwritten word on it: SLOWER. In response, all the singers’ movements become hauntingly slower. The adjustment is mesmerizing and in tune with the atmosphere McDermott has created for Akhnaten
For Akhnaten, McDermott utilizes the movement qualities of renowned theater practitioner Michael Chekhov. The entire opera is staged in this way with all the cast members moving slowly, exploring the narrative moment to moment, and moving through visually stunning tableaus. The simplicity and flow is meant to entrance audience members, allowing them to get lost in this tale of a revolutionary pharaoh.
Akhnaten is McDermott’s third Philip Glass production (following Satyagraha and The Perfect American at English National Opera) and the director is a proponent of playing with rhythm and movement on stage.
“Doing things slowly is the most effective way of experiencing a Philip Glass opera, because the whole piece sits on a psychological level. Singers move to express what they feel in a single moment, not unlike what they do when they have an aria and sing about what it feels like to be in love for five minutes,” says McDermott.
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.