Tag Archives: James Conlon
Georges Bizet’s last opera has struck deeply into the soul of Western Civilization.
Its music is universally loved and its meaning constantly analyzed, debated and reinterpreted. As a protagonist, Carmen is unique. Contrary to many mythological characters who served as operatic subjects, she transcended her stage existence and then evolved into an archetype, a popular and modern myth. Unlike Don Juan, Faust and numerous Greek, Roman and Nordic mythological characters adapted for the opera stage, Carmen had little prehistory. But like Mozart’s Don Giovanni, her obvious male counterpart, she became immortal thanks to the genius of a composer. The protagonist of a short story by Prosper Mérimée, she was perfectly realized the moment Bizet set her to music.
Who is Carmen and what does she represent?
Ask a dozen opera lovers, and there will be a dozen answers. Evil temptress, femme fatale, erotic demon, 19th-century Eve for some; victim of racism, gender inequality and social injustice, symbol of emancipation and feminine empowerment for others.
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Together again – LA Opera Music Director, James Conlon and Patricia Racette (Salome) will host a special CD signing.
When: Thursday, March 16, 2017 – immediately following the performance
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – Grand Avenue Lobby
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
James Conlon’s remarkable work with the LA Opera Orchestra has elevated LA Opera’s artistry to a new level of excellence. He has also brought lost works to life through the Recovered Voices project and, working closely with Plácido Domingo, has contributed enormously to developing a love for opera in our city.
From convening, citywide festivals to packing the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall during his pre-performance talks, Mr. Conlon has become one of the most visible advocates for classical music in Los Angeles.
This season, Maestro Conlon celebrates his tenth anniversary as LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director, and he recently extended his contract to the 2020/2021 season.
LA Opera invites you to celebrate Maestro Conlon’s achievements by supporting the James Conlon Tenth Anniversary Initiative, which will provide critical funds to support new programing and further enhance our acclaimed orchestra.
Additionally, we’ve curated some articles, videos, and a podcast below to help you get to know Maestro Conlon and illustrate why he has become a beloved figure in the cultural life of Los Angeles.
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.
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.
“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.
This season, James Conlon celebrates ten years as LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director. Throughout the past decade, he has led the orchestra through more than fifty operas, from the great masterpieces of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner to contemporary works like The Ghosts of Versailles and Moby-Dick, and will continue do so for several years to come. On the heels of a contract renewal that will have him at the podium through the 2020/2021 season, we sat down with Maestro Conlon to discuss his life in classical music and what he loves most about opera in Los Angeles.
What inspired you to become a conductor?
It wasn’t a single person but, instead, a series of events that inspired me to become a classical musician. I went to the opera for the first time in 1961. I was 11 and the experience transformed my life within months. I wanted to hear classical music day and night. Soon I was studying piano and violin. I also began singing in the children’s choir of a small New York City opera company. A few years later, I decided I wanted to be a conductor, at which point every career decision I made focused on that goal. At 22, I graduated from The Julliard School and my professional life as a conductor was on its way.
What are the greatest challenges you faced in the field and how did you overcome them?
The greatest challenge I faced when I was starting out was proving myself as a young conductor in both symphonic and operatic institutions. Unlike today’s world, which now welcomes young conductors, it was just the opposite when I started out. I also faced the challenges of both proving myself in Europe as a qualified American conductor (and a young American conductor to boot), and additionally proving myself in the United States, which has historically preferred foreign (mostly European) conductors.
How did I master these challenges? I simply devoted myself to my work: Seriously. Relentlessly. Passionately. At a certain point, conducting ceased to be a career and became a way of life—something that still holds true today.
Pittance Chamber Music, comprised of members of the LA Opera Orchestra, will host their next concert on February 3. Special guest James Conlon will be conducting Pittance Chamber Music in Mozart’s sublime Serenade in B-flat, K.361, known as the “Gran Partita.” As Pittance is a chamber music organization, its ensembles are small and normally don’t require a conductor. However, the size and scope of the “Gran Partita” makes it difficult to put together without one, and it is exciting that Maestro Conlon has agreed to move from the pit to the stage for this concert.
“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.
Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera’s President and Chief Executive Officer, is either astonishingly modest or tremendously reverential to those who have gone before him… or both.
Mr. Koelsch is this year’s recipient of the Opera League’s Peter Hemmings Award – given to individuals “who have made significant contributions to the development of opera in the greater Los Angeles area.” He speaks of the achievements of LA Opera in his four years at the helm as little more than the naturalension of ideas and programs put forth by his predecessors – and by “the incredible team we have here.”
Have you ever wanted to perform in an opera surrounded by artists, friends, and family? Here’s your chance. For the eleventh year, LA Opera and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels will produce a community opera production of Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood (Noye’s Fludde), conducted by James Conlon.
LA Opera’s gritty production of Macbeth, directed by Darko Tresjnak will be staged one more time – this afternoon. In case you’ve missed the Macbeth love these past few months, we’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to check out.
Get to Know Macbeth
In this guest post, Maestro James Conlon discusses why he loves Macbeth.
In this guest post, Maestro James Conlon discusses why Macbeth is important.
The dancing witches in Macbeth are not your pointy hat, black-wearing, broom-flying witches. As the agents that drive the story, they are onstage virtually the entire time, lurking during every sinister choice that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make in the opera. They move props. They haunt all of the characters and bring them to the darkest moments of their lives. We spoke with the nine women who play the witches about how they bring their hellish characters to life.
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.”
As an addendum to my essay “Why Verdi’s Macbeth Is Important,” I want to add a very personal note about why this opera, which has been with me for my entire professional life, has been so important to me.
For no particular reason, it has turned out that I have done more productions of Macbeth (this will be the eighth) than any other opera. Whereas it is hardly a rarity, it is also not a work that is so popular that it comes up every other season.
“Be guided by this, there are three roles in this opera and three roles only: Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and the chorus of the Witches.”—Giuseppe Verdi
In 1847, Giuseppe Verdi stood the world of Italian opera on its head when he wrote his tenth opera in seven years. (He would later refer to that grueling period as his “years in the galley.”) This was no routine work. In writing Macbeth, he made a major leap into the future—his future, Italian opera’s future, our future. It would take half a century for the logical consequence of Macbeth to be fully drawn, and even then it would take another 50 or 60 years before its significance was recognized.
With this opera, Verdi began the long process of dismantling the forms he inherited from Rossini and the bel canto period. In so doing, he irrevocably transformed Italian opera. Dramatic coherence became dominant. It is in Macbeth that he stipulates, with an insistence and virulence beyond what he had demonstrated in the past, what the singers must do to serve the drama. He no longer accepts the status quo, neither in the comportment of the singers, who must now act with their voices as well as their bodies, nor in the overall form of the music. Verdi chooses musical forms that fit the dramatic situation. The opera is not a series of formulaic scenes designed to showcase the vocal prowess of the performers, but a concentrated distillation of the dramatic essence. As he instructed baritone Felice Varesi, his first Macbeth: “I will not cease to recommend that you study the dramatic situations and the words: the music will follow on its own.”
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.
The 15/16 season may have come to an end, but the halls of LA Opera are still abuzz with staff and artists working on the upcoming 16/17 season. Auditions are being held for supernumeraries in season opener Macbeth and the show’s set is also currently being built at Studio Sereno. Preparations for other productions and events for the fall are also underway. Can’t wait? Neither can we. See what all the excitement’s about below.
Plácido Domingo and James Conlon unite to kick off the season with Verdi’s Macbeth
The season opens with a new production of Verdi’s Macbeth (September 17 through October 16, 2016), starring Plácido Domingo in the title role and conducted by James Conlon. Ekaterina Semenchuk will perform the role of the treacherous Lady Macbeth. LA Opera’s first production of Macbeth since 1987 will be staged by Darko Tresnjak, director of the 2015 hit The Ghosts of Versailles.
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.
Every season, LA Opera presents multiple mainstage operas. The operas vary season to season, as does the cast. One thing that remains constant is the chorus. Under Resident Conductor Grant Gershon’s direction, the LA Opera Chorus has evolved into one of the nation’s most renowned choirs.
Gershon – a California native – started working as a pianist at LA Opera in its third season (1988). He remained with the company for six seasons, before moving to the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He returned to work with LA Opera in 2007, making his company debut conducting multiple performances of Verdi’s La Traviata in 2009. Additionally, he has worked with the LA Opera Chorus ever since.
When asked what makes the LA Opera chorus unique, Gershon says, “I think that the talent pool in Los Angeles for singers is extraordinary and there’s a long-standing tradition of great solo singing and great ensemble singing in the city. From the beginning, LA Opera has always been able to draw on a really deep pool of talent and on singers who are very well trained and very enthusiastic about singing as an ensemble.” Some choristers have been with the company for over 100 productions; others are just starting their careers as vocalists.