Tag Archives: Faces of the Opera
Like many musicians in the LA Opera Orchestra, French horn player Daniel Kelley plays on the soundtracks for some of the world’s major films. He’s played in the orchestra for scores of blockbuster movies from Star Wars to Pirates of the Caribbean, and even worked with his hero, composer John Williams, on ten films including the Academy Award-winning JFK. Since the 1993, Kelley has worked at LA Opera first as a freelance French horn player and then as a full member of the LA Opera Orchestra.
“Out of all the jobs I do, opera has become my favorite,” says Kelley. “I just love being here and all the members of the horn section get along. It’s almost like going home to work with the other three players.”
I’m incredibly excited to be interning with the LA Opera PR staff, not only for the credit on my resume, but because everyone here is genuinely interested in helping me participate and learn, rather than simply being a go-fer. These hands-on experiences offer a valuable opportunity to practice and improve the skills I’ve learned in the classroom and to network with working professionals in my chosen field.
I’m currently a senior at California State University, Northridge (CSUN.) I will graduate this fall as a journalism major, with a public relations emphasis and a minor in writing and rhetoric. I don’t look like most interns though, because I returned to school after a 25 year break to raise my large family.
Kazakh-American tenor Timur has truly made an artistic mark in Los Angeles. Beyond studying at USC and CalArts (where he is now a faculty member), he has made solo appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and The Industry. He has also played throughout the city with his glam rock band Timur and the Dime Museum, including premiering a rock opera at REDCAT in 2014. His latest artistic endeavor in the City of Angels is creating the role of Ambrose Strang in David Lang’s anatomy theater. During rehearsals, we sat down with Timur to discuss anatomy theater.
How did you get involved with anatomy theater?
Last year, I worked with Beth Morrison Projects on several different productions. Beth produced my band’s Collapse: A Post-Ecological Requiem, a piece done in the form of a Catholic mass for the dead. Beth produced it for different festivals, including at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. So, I’ve known Beth for almost three years.
She mentioned anatomy theater and when I found out it is by David Lang—a now legendary composer who is breaking waves in music theater—I just jumped at that opportunity. I am also a big fan of Beth Morrison Projects and to have a partnership element with LA Opera—it’s quite innovative. I didn’t want to miss the chance to be part of it.
Tell us about Ambrose Strang. What do you think motivates him?
So Strang is a young assistant to Baron Peel, who is the anatomist, and one can say, also a moral teacher. He’s a mentor to my character Strang, to some extent, and Strang is certainly his admirer and follower. Peel teaches Strang things, while he does all the cuts and the dissections. He outsources all that to my character. To me, Peel represents the current science of the period. In the middle of the opera, Strang has this epiphany that what Peel is saying is not exactly true. From that point on, Strang evolves and realizes that Peel is wrong. Then, Strang finds his own ideas about how the science can change and progress. In a sense, Strang represents the future of what’s going to happen.
The dynamic is very interesting. All the characters in the opera have something they regret, or are ashamed of for different reasons. Strang realizes that maybe we are looking in the wrong place for evil. Strang could be the future of the modern field of psychology, because he suggests that we should look in the soul of the person, which could be an interpretation that maybe there’s something about the mind that is worth exploring.
Charles Lane has worked with LA Opera since the beginning. He first appeared in the opening night production of Verdi’s Otello in 1986 and can currently be seen in La Bohème. In 30 years, Lane has performed in 70 different operas and 100 total productions. He is only one of 14 current members of the LA Opera Chorus (and 3 retired members), who can say this. We sat down with Lane to chat about his decades-long singing career and his time at LA Opera.
What led you to work for LA Opera?
I moved to Los Angeles from New York around the time that LA Opera was founded. I got into the Master Chorale and at the time they provided the chorus for LA Opera. So, I got to be in that first production of Otello alongside Plácido Domingo.
Why do you think you’ve stayed for so long?
The experience itself. It takes so much to produce an opera and it’s such an honor to be a part of that whole machine. Then, being able to stand on stage next to the greatest singers in the world and working with the most influential directors in the world, even Hollywood directors like Bruce Beresford. It’s extraordinary.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
There are so many! Singing in all the productions starring Plácido Domingo. Being on stage with him is very rewarding. He has such an incredible presence and energy.
What is one production that really struck you?
Lohengrin. We were supposed to open in September 2001, but when 9/11 happened, the opening was postponed. When we finally did open, it was so moving, because everyone came out on stage, and sang the National Anthem. I will always remember that production, because of the time that it happened. I loved that show.
On June 16, David Lang’s anatomy theater makes its world premiere at REDCAT as part of LA Opera’s Off Grand initiative. Based on actual 18th-century texts, anatomy theater follows the story of Sarah Osborne, an English murderess, who is tried, executed, and publicly dissected before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers. Gritty, emotional, and inventive, the opera features several villainous characters, but none more vulnerable than Osborne, who is masterfully brought to life (and death) by mezzo-soprano, Peabody Southwell.
“On the page, Sarah Osborne could read like a woman who has fallen and become a victim of her society,” says Southwell of her role.
Sarah was born poor, abused by her stepfather and then, because of that, was kicked out of her house by her mother at a young age and forced to make her way on the streets. She became a prostitute, and drank heavily to deal with that lifestyle. She fell in love with her pimp, married him and had two children. After reaching her breaking point, she killed her abusive husband and their children. The opera begins as Sarah is hanged for her crimes.
“What’s interesting to me about anatomy theater is that they refuse to present Sarah as that tragic female archetype” explains Southwell. “Instead they present her as an active villain.”
For the past fifteen years, Eli Villanueva has worked with LA Opera’s Education and Community Engagement team to bring opera to the Los Angeles Community. An accomplished performer, stage director, and composer, Villanueva has performed in and composed several works for the company’s various education programs (Opera Camp, Opera Tales, and In-School Opera) and has also directed many community productions, including the popular operas staged annually at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Through his work, Villanueva strives to impact how children see the world and offer them the same excitement he had when he first “caught the opera bug.”
Villanueva caught the opera bug at age 12. At the time, the New York City Opera would tour in Los Angeles, staging a few operas a year. Villanueva performed with the California Boys Choir and through this choir was cast as a member of the children’s chorus in Puccini’s La Bohème. “I got to actually stand next to operas singers, which I thought was the most amazing thing,” recalls Villanueva. He continues, “I truly feel that it’s that experience of being next to an opera singer that really changes a child’s perspective of the whole art form.”
Villanueva’s work with the Education & Community Engagement team focuses on changing people’s perspective of opera.
If an organization is to stay relevant in this wireless, hyperlinked, hashtagged world, social media is key. Thankfully, LA Opera nipped the relevancy problem in the bud last summer when it “Liked” Karen Bacellar and Amisha Patankar.
“I manage LA Opera’s content,” Karen says. “That includes the blog. I would say I write and edit the vast majority of the articles for the blog, and that nine times out of ten, they are determined by upcoming operas. After articles are published, I work with Amisha to promote the content through social media.”
Duane Schuler is one of the world’s most renowned theatrical lighting designers and a founding partner in the theater planning and architectural lighting design firm Schuler Shook. Over the past forty years, he’s brought grand stories to life through intricate, yet subtle lighting designs for productions at multiple opera houses, including New York’s Metropolitan Opera, La Scala Milan, Lyric Opera Chicago, and LA Opera. Through Schuler Shook, he’s also worked on numerous renovations and major architectural projects from Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater in New York to an upcoming renovation of the Sydney Opera House.
Currently, Schuler is back in Los Angeles lighting LA Opera’s iconic production of Puccini’s La Bohème. His stellar lighting design reinforces both the gritty realism of the bohemian’s poverty stricken existence, while also showcasing the simultaneous “joi de vivre” of Paris in 1887. We sat down with Schuler during rehearsals earlier this month to discuss his career, work with LA Opera, and his current design for La Bohème.
By the time bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee finishes his second season in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, he will have appeared in six different productions with the company. His is the robust voice audiences have heard from off stage in Moby-Dick and The Magic Flute and on stage in Madame Butterfly. He’s also the singer they will see in such diverse roles as Colline in the current production of La Bohème and as Cesare Angelotti in next season’s Tosca. While the 2015 Met Council Winner may sound and look at home on stage now, he did not always want to pursue a career in opera.
“I was always into performing, whether it was on the football field – I’m a super sports guy – or in choir,” says Brownlee, who originally wanted to be a choral conductor. That all changed when he had his first opera experience.
Speranza Scappucci is one of opera’s rising conducting stars. Since making her debut in 2012 conducting Mozart’s Così fan tutte at the Yale Opera, Scappucci has conducted around the world, including at Finnish National Opera, Washington National Opera and Scottish Opera. She did not always know that her destiny was to conduct.
This month, Scappucci makes her LA Opera debut conducting six performances of Puccini’s La Bohème. It’s a piece that Scappucci knows really well (she coached the piece for 20 years), but that does not stop her from finding new things in Puccini’s masterpiece. Scappucci discovers these new things by extensively revisiting the score, as if it’s the first time she’s approaching it.
Born and raised in Rome, Scappucci moved to New York at age 20 to study piano at The Juilliard School. She received a master’s at Juilliard in collaborative piano and went on to brilliant career as a coach and assistant conductor. For 15 years, Scappucci was a familiar face in the world’s top opera houses, coaching both rising stars and famous opera singers, and also working as an assistant conductor for some of the world’s most renowned conductors – Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Seiji Ozawa, Daniele Gatti, and James Levine.
Behind every member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program is an entire team of coaches and staff helping each individual become the best performer they can be. Nino Sanikidze is the program’s head coach. In her role she wears many hats from coach and mentor to accompanist and administrator. It’s also a role where Sanikidze can bring to life her passion for music collaboration, working with singers, and nurturing the next generation of great artists.
Sanikidze grew up in the Republic of Georgia, where she says “it is very cultural for everyone to study music.” “You turn five years old and you learn to play piano, guitar, violin, or whatever. Of course, not everyone becomes a musician, but you start to appreciate music. My friends from music school, who are now doctors, lawyers, and scientists, still appreciate and are very educated in music.”
After originally thinking that she would become a physician, Sanikidze eventually pursued multiple degrees in music both in Georgia and then here in the United States, including a Doctor of Musical Arts in Collaborative Piano from the University of Maryland, College Park. It was during the latter that she auditioned for and received a place in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program at Washington National Opera, where she worked closely with that company’s general director at the time, Plácido Domingo.
It was Domingo, who asked Sanikidze to move to Los Angeles to help with the company’s new young artist program. For Sanikidze, it was a no brainer. She had freelanced at LA Opera in the years before and really enjoyed the collegial spirit at the company.