Faces of the Opera

An Opera-Filled Bike Ride

Shawnet Sweets with her opera composer helmet at the AIDS ride

Shawnet Sweets with her opera composer helmet at the AIDS ride

When someone says that opera is their life, you naturally think – singer? composer? conductor?

Not in this case.

For Shawnet Sweets, her opera life is as a fan and as the Second Assistant Treasurer in LA Opera’s box office. But, when she’s not selling tickets, Shawnet travels the world to see opera and she finds other ways to make opera part of her life.

You see, Shawnet is also a philanthropist. She decided she’d ride in the AIDS Lifecycle: The Ride to End Aids. This is an annual seven-day bike ride to raise money and awareness in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Participants raise money and then ride on average 80 miles a day, for seven days, from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

How does opera fit into this story?

Shawnet’s favorite operas give her strength to complete the 560-mile ride.

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Mukhtar Mai Travels To LA To See The Opera She Inspired

A talk back after the west coast premiere of Thumbprint; from left - composer Kamala Sankaram, librettist Susan Yankowitz, creative producer Beth Morrison, and they are joined by Mukhtar Mai, whose life inspired the story, and her translator Gyanam Mahajan

A talk back after the west coast premiere of Thumbprint; from left – composer Kamala Sankaram, librettist Susan Yankowitz, creative producer Beth Morrison, and they are joined by Mukhtar Mai, whose life inspired the story, and her translator Gyanam Mahajan

Mukhtar Mai’s smile lights a room. She’s recently arrived in Los Angeles and when we speak she chats about her eagerness to see Thumbprint – the opera her life inspired – and meet with friend Freida Pinto who lives in the area.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Mukhtar Mai, she’s an incredible woman.
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Writing Mukhtar Mai’s Story

Kamala Sankaram as Mukhtar Mai in Thumbprint; Photo: Noah Stern Weber / Beth Morrison Projects

Kamala Sankaram as Mukhtar Mai in Thumbprint; Photo: Noah Stern Weber / Beth Morrison Projects

NEWS: We’re thrilled and honored that Mukhtar Mai – whose historic bravery inspired “Thumbprint” – is traveling from Pakistan to witness her story told and join us for the talkbacks after each performance. If you don’t have a ticket yet, this is your chance to be part of this powerful moment.

After a brutal attack meant to destroy her, Mukhtar Mai became the first woman in Pakistan to bring her rapists to justice. Since then, Mai has become an international icon for women’s rights. She used the reparations money she received from the government to build schools for girls and continues to support women through her Mukhtar Mai Women’s Organization. Mai’s story resonates beyond borders in its implicit belief that even in the darkest times, one person, one voice, through a single act of courage, can change the lives of thousands.

Writer Susan Yankowitz has told Mai’s story for over a decade – as a monologue, then part of a play called Seven and now in the opera Thumbprint.
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Why I Give: Brian Wong

Brian Wong

Brian Wong

Tax accountant Brian Wong first discovered opera back in 2008, while he was looking for a way to relieve the stresses of work and life. A Los Angeles native, Brian recalled an elementary school trip to see Hansel and Gretel at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

An interest in opera stayed with him, and he began noticing familiar arias in movies and on television. “To me, the most famous aria was ‘O mio babbino caro,’ which I discovered to be from Puccini’s Il Trittico, an opera I’d never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about,” said Mr. Wong.

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From Bollywood to Baroque – Kamala Sankaram’s composing finds inspiration in the world.

Kamala Sankaram

Kamala Sankaram

NEWS: We’re thrilled and honored that Mukhtar Mai – whose historic bravery inspired “Thumbprint” – is traveling from Pakistan to witness her story told and join us for the talkbacks after each performance. If you don’t have a ticket yet, this is your chance to be part of this powerful moment.

A story set in Pakistan about a woman who rises from tragedy to empower others like her is the basis of Thumbprint – LA Opera’s next Off Grand presentation. We spent some time with Kamala Sankaram, who composed and also stars in Thumbprint, and got to know what led her to the story of Mukhtar Mai.

Kamala Sankaram’s life has always been filled with music. She started studying piano at age six and spent hours listening to classical music, traditional Hindustani music, and Broadway music. As an adult, she fell in love with the complexity of the music in opera, and would ultimately pursue a career first as a singer and later as a composer.

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Melody Moore’s Tosca Has Evolved from Demure to Empowered

Melody Moore; Photo: Chip Gillespie

Melody Moore; Photo: Chip Gillespie

Soprano Melody Moore believes in female empowerment — perhaps that’s why she’s so drawn to the Lady Macbeths and Floria Toscas of the operatic stage. Luckily, these are the types of roles she’s been polishing since her earliest days as a budding singer, meticulously analyzing each and every leading lady throughout her development. But Moore is all grown up now, and on May 13 she once again steps into the title role of Puccini’s Tosca at LA Opera, under the baton of Maestro Grant Gershon.

With her fifth production of Puccini’s masterpiece underway, Moore doesn’t let repetition affect her artistic integrity. In her own words, it’s a role that changes as she matures, and her understanding of the character has zig-zagged across the mood board.

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Patrick Blackwell Gears Up for the Flood

Patrick Blackwell (left) in rehearsal for Noah's Flood (2017); Photo: LA Opera

Patrick Blackwell (center) in rehearsal for Noah’s Flood (2017); Photo: LA Opera

Patrick Blackwell has always wanted to sing. His mother was an avid opera-goer and Blackwell grew up in the shadow of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. His passion for singing led him to Duke Ellington School of the Arts and later Julliard. As a professional singer, he’s traveled the world performing and in recent years has made a home for himself at LA Opera.

On May 6, Patrick Blackwell stars as Noah in Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood. As part of our Cathedral Project and presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Noah’s Flood brings together opera professionals with members of the Los Angeles community for an opera experience unlike any other. This is Blackwell’s first time performing an opera at the Cathedral and it’s an experience the bass-baritone is looking forward to.

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Ambrogio Maestri slays on stage and off

Ambrogio Maestri as Scarpia in Tosca (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Ambrogio Maestri as Scarpia in Tosca (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Baritone Ambrogio Maestri may be a sinister villain on stage as Scarpia in Tosca, but he’s quite the opposite off stage.

A large, booming man, Maestri who comes in at 6 foot, 5 inches tall, he towers over the parishioners, his victims, and the doomed lovers, Cavaradossi and Tosca. Maestri, who plays Scarpia through the end of the month, has sung the role many times and developed the role over the years. In Maestri’s interpretation, Scarpia is stoic and still, believing that such a powerful man would command the room and force others to move about him, responding to his orders and will. The effect is a Scarpia that is completely in control and with an evil essence that makes Rome quake.

But, the evil Scarpia couldn’t be further from who Maestri really is.

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Why I Give: Ruby Hanan

Ruby Hanan and friends

Ruby Hanan and friends

Ruby Hanan has worked part-time as a Telefund caller for LA Opera for the past 12 years. For 10 of those years she has also been a donor to the organization.

What inspires Ruby to not only give her time but also contribute to LA Opera?

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How Kate Lindsey Found Her Passion for Singing

Kate Lindsey as the Muse in The Tales of Hoffmann (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Kate Lindsey as the Muse in The Tales of Hoffmann (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey had two passions growing up: soccer and singing. Though a series of life events eventually led her to pursue classical music, her time spent as the only girl on sports teams worked in her favor, carrying over lessons from her time as “one of the boys” into her celebrated career. On April 15, Lindsey finishes another run of her signature role, Nicklausse, in LA Opera’s production of Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, alongside Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau.

Though opera-goers have established Lindsey as one of today’s leading interpreters of trouser roles, she never set out wanting to become a singer — instead, she feels that music found her, and that’s ultimately what drew her in.

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Giving for the Future: Tarasenka Pankiv Fund

Tara Colburn

Tara Colburn

Tara Colburn, born Tarasenka Pankiv in Zagreb, Croatia, grew up surrounded by music and the arts. She studied piano with her concert pianist mother and her grandfather was director of the Zagreb Conservatory. A lifelong supporter of the arts, Ms. Colburn served as an active board member of LA Opera since the company’s founding year in 1986. She was one of the company’s most dedicated supporters for nearly two decades before her death in 2003. She established the Tarasenka Pankiv Fund through a bequest (a directive in her will) that continues to support LA Opera productions, including the upcoming presentation of Tosca.

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Sunday Night at the Domingo Awards


LA Opera
The Domingo Awards
Photo Credit: Steve Cohn

Since 1997, Hispanics for LA Opera (HLAO) has hosted the Plácido Domingo Awards. The awards ceremony – which honors distinguished Hispanic opera artists and others who have contributed to the success of HLAO – was held last night at the home of the LA Opera, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall. In addition to honoring this year’s winners – Rafa Sardina and Joshua Guerrero – the awards also celebrated the 25th Anniversary of HLAO.

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Get To Know LA Opera Young Artist Brian Michael Moore

Brian Michael Moore has lived a fuller life in 24 years than most people do in a lifetime — in barely a quarter of a century, the young tenor has beaten cancer twice, lived in multiple states and has shared the stage with some of the world’s most esteemed musicians. Currently in his first season as a Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist, Moore has already been seen in the company’s productions of Wonderful Town and Salome. This month and next, he’s playing Nathanaël in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and sharing the stage with opera superstars Vittorio Grigolo and Diana Damrau.

Brian Michael Moore (center, right) with fellow young artists Kihun Yoon (center) and Theo Hoffmann (left) in The Tales of Hoffmann (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Brian Michael Moore (center, right) with fellow young artists Kihun Yoon (center) and Theo Hoffmann (center, left) in The Tales of Hoffmann (2017); Photo: Ken Howard

Prior to his time in Los Angeles, the Cincinnati native attributes his musical beginnings to his parents, who enrolled him in piano lessons as a small child. Though neither of them “were that musical,” as Moore states, classical music was a big part of his childhood development. While balancing school and sports, his first taste of the limelight came in the seventh grade, after he was cast in the ensemble of his school’s production of Oliver! — however, the opportunity was over for him before it even began.

“I was never told when rehearsals would start or where they were, so I just never showed up,” Moore laughs. “And then they performed it and I thought ‘Well, I guess I could have been in that.’”

Though his stage career began rocky, Moore eventually became serious about pursuing singing professionally. He participated in his school’s musical the following year, singing in the Barbershop Quartet in “The Music Man.” And after taking the advice from his middle school musical director, he began taking formal voice lessons the summer before he entered high school, where he was first exposed to classical singing.

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150 Productions and Counting

George Stern in The Tales of Hoffmann (2003); Der Rosenkavalier (2005); The Merry Widow (2006); Manon (2007)

George Stern in The Tales of Hoffmann (2003); Der Rosenkavalier (2005); The Merry Widow (2006); Manon (2007)

Carmen. Manon. Pagliacci. Name almost any opera and George Sterne has probably performed in it. The current production of The Tales of Hoffmann marks the LA Opera Chorus member’s 150th production with the company – a milestone that no other chorister has yet to achieve. … Continue reading

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Hear Why LA Opera Oracle Mark Lyons Loves The Tales of Hoffmann

Mark Lyons - LA Opera's Oracle

Every company has an oracle. He/she is the person who has been at the company a while, knows just about everything and is willing to share it with you. They know a lot yet don’t make you feel bad that you might not; and, they have a way of educating while entertaining and guiding you to be as passionate about something as they are.

At LA Opera – that’s Mark Lyons. Mark is the Associate Director of Communications and Publications. Mark has been with LA Opera since 2003 and when we say he knows just about everything there is to know about opera, it’s because he’s been in it and around it his entire adult life.

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What’s a heckelphone and why did William May learn to play it for Salome?

William May and the hecklephone

William May and the heckelphone

Salome is one of the most challenging operas to play. Musicians are tasked with a score that pushes the limits of what’s considered playable for an orchestra. LA Opera Orchestra Principal Bassoonist William May had a further challenge. In less than a year, May learned a rare instrument to play in Salome – the heckelphone.

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Zanaida Robles Inspires Students Through Opera

Zanaida Robles working with students during Opera Camp (2016)

Zanaida Robles working with students during Opera Camp (2016); Photo: Gennia Cui

She fell in love with music at the age of seven. Now, Zanaida Robles is an established singer, conductor, composer, and music instructor. As an LA Opera teaching artist, she’s bringing her experience and love for the music to work by inspiring the next generation of opera lovers.

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Finding Love at the Opera

One of Anthony and Marta Richardson's engagement photos, taken outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

One of Anthony and Marta Richardson’s engagement photos, taken outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

When Anthony and Marta Richardson each bought tickets to a performance of LA Opera’s Simon Boccanegra in 2012, they had no idea they would end up finding love at the opera.

Before they ever met, Anthony and Marta were both frequent opera-goers. Marta, a teacher at the time (she’s now an elementary school principal at Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District), saw her first performance at LA Opera in 1997 and had since invited representatives of the Music Center and the LA Opera to speak to her students about opera and music. Anthony – an actor/singer turned financial consultant – had also attended shows at LA Opera since the late 1990s, even volunteering with the Opera League of Los Angeles. His assignment – shuffling artists from LAX to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

In March 2012, Anthony had tickets to see Simon Boccanegra.

“I had never seen Plácido Domingo perform before and was very excited,” says Anthony.

When his friend canceled, Anthony decided to have dinner at Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse, thinking he might meet someone to whom he could give his extra ticket.

“When I got to the steakhouse, I spotted Marta and her friend at the bar and strategically sat next to them,” recalls Anthony. Marta replies jokingly, “That’s how men operate.”

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Why I Give: Steve McGinty

Steve McGinty

Steve McGinty

Steve McGinty is a computer software engineer, who spends his days providing technical support to commercial users of mainframe products. Outside of work, Mr. McGinty has a passion for opera, which has long been an important part of his life.

“Once a person has been exposed to opera, it can have a tremendous impact on their life,” says Mr. McGinty.

Mr. McGinty has been a season subscriber at LA Opera for many years and generously supports the company through annual contributions.

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Patricia Racette Gets Into Salome’s Head

Share Soprano Patricia Racette’s 2016/17 season features a triple run of Salome, with recent performances for the Metropolitan Opera and Pittsburgh Opera, and now in Los Angeles, where it’s her fifth leading role. (She’ll also reprise the femme fatale for … Continue reading

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