The curtain first rose at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for an LA Opera production in 1986, but our roots trace back four decades earlier. Steeped in tradition and celebrating the spirit of the city we call home, LA Opera’s history is worth exploring.
Check out the articles below to learn about the staging of our opera company.
Minutes before the curtain rose on LA Opera’s 1986 production of Otello, Plácido Domingo stood in the wings, ready to make his entrance in one of his signature roles. He had triumphantly sung Verdi’s tragic hero for audiences around the world, and was widely renowned as the preeminent Otello of his generation. Yet this performance carried a special significance for the tenor. It would be the very first performance in LA Opera’s inaugural season. Full of anticipation, Domingo was eager to showcase to the Los Angeles community, and the greater opera world, what this city could create.
LA Opera’s last decade has been marked by multi-season initiatives—celebrating influential composers, exploring special repertoire, or presenting works in innovative ways—and it all started with a ring.
By 2006, LA Opera had established itself as a force of nature in the opera world. The company staged highly regarded productions each season, remaining true to the original tenets of its founders: pushing the boundaries of the medium, nurturing young talent, building a relationship with Hollywood, and producing opera infused with the pioneering spirit of Los Angeles. It was time for the company’s next bold move: a staging of Richard Wagner’s four-part Ring cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. It would be a game changing project, to be sure, but nobody could have predicted how enormously this monumental project would affect the entire course of the company’s future.
LA Opera ushered in the new millennium with astounding vitality. Now led by Plácido Domingo as artistic director, the young company was poised to build upon the remarkable growth that had marked its first 14 years under the direction of Peter Hemmings. While the 2000/01 season had largely been planned in advance by the now-retired Hemmings, Domingo’s impact was big, bold and immediate.
To open the 2000/01 season, Plácido Domingo conducted the company premiere of Aida, Verdi’s grandest opera, featuring a high-powered cast: soprano Deborah Voigt as Aida, tenor Johan Botha as Radames and bass-baritone Simon Estes as Amonasro, all making their LA Opera debuts. Just days later, Domingo held a press conference to announce his ambitious future plans, which represented nothing less than a radical rethinking of what LA Opera could be. He envisioned fashioning LA Opera into an opera company that would push the artistic boundaries of the medium, bringing it squarely into the popular culture of Los Angeles in the new millennium. His plans included a multi-season collaboration with the dynamic leader of the Kirov Opera, conductor Valery Gergiev; an enormous expansion of the company’s repertoire to emphasize new operas and works not previously presented in Los Angeles; and even a new production of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, the first ever created in Los Angeles. Domingo’s star power would not only attract the most prominent singers, directors and designers of the time, it would also inspire a new wave of funding, through initiatives such as the Domingo’s Angels, essential to realize his plans. At Domingo’s side was a man who shared his artistic ambition: Kent Nagano, newly announced as LA Opera’s first-ever principal conductor, a position he would take up the following summer.
LA Opera’s partnership with Valery Gergiev had begun on the evening before that remarkable press conference. To expand upon the repertoire planned by Hemmings, Domingo had added a remarkable series of Wagner concerts, showcasing the Kirov Orchestra and its celebrated conductor in their first performances in Los Angeles. It was also the first time for L.A. audiences to experience Domingo singing Wagner, as the concert featured Act One of Die Walküre and Act Three of Parsifal. The soloists included Linda Watson, who would become the company’s Wagnerian soprano of choice for the next decade, and a young soprano on the verge of superstardom, Anna Netrebko.
Like the Force, our opera and film connection is strong. In celebration of tonight’s 88th Academy Awards, we are dedicating our #LAO30Images to showcasing the amazing productions that tie opera and film together. This includes everything from filmmakers, who have directed operas here, to our recent silent film inspired production of The Magic Flute. Los Angeles is a cinematic city and LA Opera – being LA’s resident opera company – has always tapped into the special relationship between the two great art forms: film and opera. Below are a few of our film/opera collaborative productions.
Woody Allen and William Friedkin Take On Il Trittico (2008)
The 2008 season opened with Puccini’s Il Trittico, composed of three operas, Gianni Schicchi, Suor Angelica, and Il Tabarro. Oscar-winning film titan, Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Match Point, Annie Hall) made his opera directing debut with Gianni Schicchi (which recently returned to open our current season) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist) masterfully tackled Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica.
Herbert Ross Stages La Boheme (1993)
“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
Herbert Ross (Footloose, Steel Magnolias) directed a production of La Boheme in 1993 that significantly explores the deeper motivations behind Mimi, Musetta and Rodolfo’s actions. The story follows a series of bohemians in Paris (Ross updates the era to 1890s Paris) and centers on the love between Rodolfo and the dying Mimi. In Ross’ vision, Mimi and Musetta have more dimensions than are usually allowed – Musetta is characterized as a woman who demands independence, rather than a shrew, while Mimi is given greater agency and played as if she is not “innocent of experience.” Ross’ iconic 1993 production of Puccini’s La Boheme has been a crowd favorite for over 20 years and returns this June with the final two performances conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (who recently worked on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and conducted a Super Bowl 50 Half-Time performance).
Today, Plácido Domingo turns 75. The legendary singer has wowed audiences onstage for more than fifty years, with his emotionally connected acting talent and the remarkable timbre of his voice. He’s been described as “the King of Opera,” “a true renaissance man in music” and “the greatest operatic artist of modern times.” Domingo has also dedicated his life to sharing his passion for opera with the world. He does so greatly through his work as LA Opera’s Eli and Edythe Broad General Director. His love of the art form shows every time he’s in town and walks around the offices, greeting employees, before singing in and/or conducting an opera here. Domingo was also instrumental to the founding of LA Opera in 1986. (Check out my first installment of The Staging of an Opera Company to learn more.)
In September of last year, I was busy writing an article about opera in film, when I heard the news that Plácido Domingo had arrived on-site. I had yet to meet the famous opera legend, who was about to grace the stage in Gianni Schicchi and conduct Pagliacci, opening our current season. Wondering when I would get to speak to the General Director (who has helmed the company since 2001), I began to listen to my favorite Domingo tunes, including his spectacular Turiddu in Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. In a moment that can only be described as operatic, Maestro Domingo walked into our office right as his voice sounded through my headphones in a duet from Act I, “Turiddu, ascolta!” That’s when I met Plácido Domingo.
A lot of people at LA Opera – and I’m sure around the world – have similarly wonderful Plácido Domingo stories. He’s just that awesome.
To celebrate Maestro Domingo’s birthday, we have dedicated this edition of our #LAO30Images series to him. Check out our #LAO30Images: Domingo at LA Opera Pinterest Board to see all 30 images of Domingo on the LA Opera stage.
We are in the midst of our 30th Anniversary Season. This is a milestone year for a company that has grown to become the fourth largest opera company in the nation, lauded for both its unique artistic vision and innovation. Earlier this year, we introduced our #LAO30Images series. This year-long photo series, showcases photos from our most engaging productions that portray our extensive visual history. Throughout the season, we’ve been sharing images in batches of 30, based on larger themes.
In case you’ve missed the #LAO30Images fun, check out our year-end roundup.
“The theme [of Otello] is eternal and current: The Soldier, shoved into peacetime, proves to be defenseless and helpless in the face of the attacks of everyday life, the persecutions of injured vanity. In ancient tragedy, the heroes fell because of the gods. With Shakespeare and Verdi, it is the envy of men which destroys the outsider.” – Götz Friedrich, director of inaugural season opener, Otello.
“All the characters in the opera are obsessed, often to the brink of madness. Obsessions make men blind, unable to understand other points of view or to admit the balancing power of reason. And such obsessions finally lead to violence [in Salome]. Salome’s passions lead directly to her death. She is crushed like an infectious insect. We can only approve of her end, while perhaps reflecting that all of us have the possibility of aberrant sexual behavior inside us. It is the obverse of true passion.” – Sir Peter Hall, director of 1986’s Salome
“All art, no matter how sophisticated, avant-garde or advanced, must still have the ability to touch and move a human being.” – Gottfried Helnwein, set and costume designer for Der Rosenkavalier (2005)
LA Opera capped off its 2004/2005 season with a colorful production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Visually striking and set during the wildness of the Baroque era, Der Rosenkavalier was a new production directed by Academy Award nominee, Maximilian Schell (his second for the company following the successful Lohengrin in 2001).