Opera About Town
LA Opera President and CEO Christopher Koelsch participated in discussions at the inaugural Classical Evolution/Revolution Conference about how companies can find and keep new audiences for music.
The panel also included Yael Greenberg, Music Consultant, Kickstarter, and was moderated by Graham Parker, President of Universal Music Classics, USA.
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.
LA Opera has several programs that bring music – opera, specifically – into schools and into the Greater Los Angeles community. One of these programs, Voices for Tolerance, offers students the opportunity to explore tough issues through music.
In this program, LA Opera collaborates with teachers to create a multi-week, choral program that fosters a love of music rooted in classroom curriculum. Voices for Tolerance features themes of community building, social justice, and cooperative action. Projects culminate in live performance and have included original operas based on classroom personal heritage projects, choral recitals exploring folk and protest music from around the world, and a pageant inspired by the Greek Olympics.
LA Opera’s 16/17 season is almost over. But, you don’t have to wait until September (and the opening of Carmen on September 9th). Here are a few ways to get your opera fix this summer.
Hear LA Opera’s Artists Around Town
Mozart: Truth Through Beauty
LA Opera’s artist-in-residence Matthew Aucoin, joined by the rising stars of the company’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist program, presents a musical exploration of Mozart’s unique artistic trajectory.
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.
There’s something about the entertainment industry that begs for people to be larger than life – some could say that this is especially true of those who perform opera for a living. There’s just something about that grand voice and flamboyant stage presence that makes opera resplendent.
Another art form that has that same grandness is improv comedy. Wasn’t quite what you were expecting to hear was it?! But, improv comedy has been around just as long as opera has – especially in the form of entertainment. And, it requires the same over-the-top, striking stage presence that opera requires – but, instead of taking your breath away with those glass-shattering high notes, improv comedy sets out to give you those deep belly laughs that leave you with a six-pack when the night is done. Or at least feeling like you’re well on your way to developing a six-pack.
Sometime in the company’s history, someone had the bright idea (read: best idea ever!) to have opera and improv comedy join forces. What could possibly be funnier than seeing an opera star comedically navigate their way through Don José pining over Carmen with an aria about Facebook stalking the love of his life?
We can’t guarantee that’s exactly what you’ll get, but you will get some stunning singing and laughs to boot when our Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists head to the legendary Groundlings Theatre on May 15 and 16 to show off their opera and comedy skills. Under the guide of teacher Phyllis Katz – the Young Artists took months of classes to exercise their funny bone before hitting the stage. Although, Katz herself is no stranger to opera singers — in the seven years since she began working with young artists, Katz has developed an individual approach to teaching opera singers, covering everything from basic improv skills to character work.
Next month, LA Opera presents Mozart: Truth Through Beauty, a recital tour featuring artist-in-residence Matthew Aucoin as he and the rising stars of the company’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program explore Mozart’s unique artistic trajectory.
Why Mozart? Mozart is arguably the world’s most popular composer. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the music in its entirety, you’ve likely heard some of his music on TV, in film, or even in a viral commercial. Mozart is also one of the most misunderstood composers. He is often portrayed as a faintly-annoying child prodigy to whom everything came easy (much to the chagrin of his peers as portrayed in the award-winning film Amadeus). In reality, Mozart was a serious questing artist who spent his few adult years transforming his youthful brilliance into music of sublime simplicity.
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The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is not the only place in Los Angeles where you can experience an LA Opera production. You can see our productions at REDCAT, inside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and even at Santa Monica Pier. LA Opera has many programs and initiatives that bring opera to various locations in the county and make sure everyone has access to opera.
In partnership with the County of Los Angeles Public Library and with generous support provided by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe (4th district) and Supervisor Hilda Solis (1st district), LA Opera brings professional opera singers to libraries around Los Angeles to perform musical moments from the most celebrated operas for families. Next month’s Puccini Opera Tales has the singers recounting tales from The Girl of the Golden West, Gianni Schicchi, and Turandot, as told by Giacomo Puccini himself.
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 over a 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. Conlon, who conducts these performances every year, is “thrilled that Los Angeles families have responded to community productions with so much enthusiasm and appreciation.” … Continue reading
It’s Oscars time and we are all waiting with baited breath to see whether La La Land takes home best picture. We’re also excited to see the glamorous looks stars don on the red carpet – some of which could totally be pulled straight from the opera stage.
The story of Salome has inspired artists, filmmakers, and opera composers for centuries. Some adapted the original Biblical story – and scandalous Oscar Wilde play – while others have utilized elements from the tale of Salome to inform their own story. Nowhere does Salome’s story come to life more than in opera and on the silver screen.
To celebrate Salome in film and in opera, American Cinematheque and LA Opera have joined forces to present a special evening at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. First, there will be a screening of the famous 1953 film version of Salome starring Rita Hayworth. While the film takes liberties with the Biblical story, it is a perfect example of film epics in the “glory days of technicolor” and required viewing for both Salome and film enthusiasts. Following the screening, Maestro James Conlon (who conducts Salome at LA Opera starting on February 18) and actor Stephen Fry (who portrayed Oscar Wilde in the 1997 biopic) will discuss the importance of Salome in film and opera. All attendees will automatically be entered to win a pair of tickets to LA Opera’s production of Salome.
Before attending the evening at the Aero, get in the mood. We’ve pulled together a few films to watch and music from the opera.
From the bonnet à la Figaro (an 18th-century fashion inspired by the hero of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro), to the 1920s costumes in LA Opera’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, opera and fashion have always influenced each other. To celebrate the inextricable link between opera and fashion, LA Opera has partnered with FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles and inspired an exhibition called “Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s.”
This is the second time that LA Opera productions have inspired an exhibition at FIDM. In March 2015, FIDM Museum presented “Opulent Art: 18th-Century Dress.” This exhibition featured a rare original 18th-century Figaro costume worn during performances of The Marriage of Figaro. The exhibition also coincided with the company’s Figaro Unbound initiative (presented in connection with the company’s “Figaro Trilogy”: Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.
This time, “Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s” explores how films set in exotic locales influenced the fashion of the day. This exhibition is inspired by LA Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, which is set in the Roaring Twenties on the famous Orient Express, traveling from Istanbul to Paris.
Surrounded by a giant Orient Express structure, various “exotic” clothing is displayed as if on a platform about to board the train. Several of the pieces are not so different from what the characters in The Abduction from the Seraglio might wear on their journey around the world, also reflecting the “east meets west” nature of the opera – and of Hollywood cinema in the 1920s (see The Sheik or The Thief of Baghdad).
Rehearsals are in full swing for LA Opera’s Elementary In-School Opera program. This annual five-week residency brings LA Opera teaching artists and staff into 15 elementary schools across the county to rehearse, stage, and perform an opera. While teaching artists are cast as principal roles, the students are cast in ensemble and smaller roles, often getting their first taste of opera and learn about California history along the way.
Since LA Opera’s first season in 1986, Los Angeles is not the only place in the world that you can experience one of the company’s productions. Over the years, they’ve been rented and staged by other opera companies, produced during festivals, and even shown on the big screen. LA Opera’s innovative and beloved productions travel the world, sharing the spirit of Los Angeles and a love of opera with people far and wide.
Here are three productions that have traveled the world in recent years.
Salome (1986; 1989; 1998; 2001; 2017)
LA Opera’s iconic production of Strauss’s Salome (which returns to the LA Opera stage February 18) originally premiered during our first season in 1986. Adapted from the scandalous play by Oscar Wilde, Salome is a seductively beautiful tapestry of the subconscious. The princess Salome becomes infatuated by her stepfather’s prisoner, John the Baptist, and she determines to have him…whatever the cost.
This production of Salome is well traveled and has been staged both close to home (at San Diego Opera) across the country (Washington National Opera) and around the world (on tour with the Savonlinna Festival in Finland and as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in China).
LA Opera has made a mission of bringing opera into LA County schools and students to the opera. Through several programs, the company introduces and shares a love of opera with kids and teens across the county. Students learn about opera from singers and staff, and experience productions geared toward teaching them the “big ideas” about the art form. However, presenting opera isn’t enough. LA Opera collaborates with teachers to integrate the music and theater standards of the opera with their English language arts and/or history curriculum standards. LA Opera’s production of Figaro’s American Adventure, which the company performs to thousands of students at venues across the county, is a great example of this arts-integrated learning.
Currently in its second year, LA Opera’s Cast to Class program brings opera singers into schools and students to the opera house. Opera singers travel to schools around Los Angeles County speaking to students about their craft, and then those same students attend a mainstage performance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and see the singer in action. The goal of the program—as with all of our education and community initiatives—is to break down the barriers between opera and the community.
However, in the past two years other, somewhat unexpected and beautiful results, has emerged.
LA Opera’s ARIA program has been a great place for the city’s young professionals to connect with the arts, network, and make friends with fellow arts enthusiasts. This season, we are taking ARIA to the next level; the program is being redefined to elevate its placement as a young professionals program for opera lovers between the ages of 21 and 40, and is switching to a club membership-based model.
This new and improved ARIA offers members even more exciting perks and entrée into Downtown LA’s hottest new establishments. Here’s the low down. With an ARIA Club membership, you get access to intermission receptions on ARIA nights, entry to exclusive after-parties, free admission to two auxiliary ARIA events, happy hour networking events, and special discounts to additional LA Opera productions.
The best part? ARIA members get all the above party and networking benefits for only $99 with the purchase of an ARIA Package. Those who purchase a Full Season Subscription (Series C) will receive all of your ARIA benefits and more, and LA Opera will waive the $99 club membership fee.
On the heels of another successful collaboration with anatomy theater, LA Opera and Beth Morrison Projects are hard at work on two operas, ripped straight from the headlines, making their west coast premieres next season. They are Ted Hearne’s The Source and Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint.
In October, LA Opera presents The Source, which follows the story of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, a U.S. Army soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks in 2010. It explores the many identities of the army private – adrift adolescent, emboldened whistleblower, and traitor to her country – amidst the media hysteria following the leak.
Hearne’s and director Daniel Fish’s work is a contemporary masterpiece, showcasing what opera in the digital age can truly be.
Close your eyes and imagine the most spectacular fireworks display you’ve ever seen. It’s probably filled with starbursts and various different colors that light up the sky, and brings back fond memories and leaves you in awe.
How you feel about that amazing fireworks display you’re picturing right now is how I have always felt about opera.
I have attended opera for more than 40 years in some of the greatest cities for the art form in the country, including New York and Los Angeles. Before becoming a Community Educator, I went to hear the singer’s beautiful voices and did not worry so much about the background on the opera or the composers. I sat and enjoyed the experience.
This all changed when I learned that as the member of the Opera League of Los Angeles, I could be trained by LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement department to be a Community Educator. It sounded like a great way to give back to the community, while also having fun, and teaching people about opera. So, I decided to join the program.
Everyone loves a good story. That’s true whether you’re an adult reading the latest world news online or a child listening to a picture book being read. The latter is the core of the newest educational initiative in LA Opera’s already robust roster of inspiring programs.
Since January, LA Opera staff members and artists have read to kids in various grade levels at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. A rewarding experience, Read Aloud offers staff members the opportunity to give back to the Los Angeles community – a core tenant of the company’s mission. It also provides children the opportunity to ask staff members about opera and the arts.
“I think that kids are just innately curious. They want to know how things work. They are with you all the way when you read to them, and so anxious to be part of this exchange,” says Gerrie Maloof, Senior Director, Labor Relations and Human Resources, of her experience. Production and Human Resources Administrator Nadine Bedrossian adds: “I think the most surprising thing when I went was that kids started cheering when I said that I’m from LA Opera. I asked, ‘Does it make me cool that I work at LA Opera?’ and the kids yelled, ‘Yeah!’ It’s so cute how excited they were about LA Opera specifically.”