Tag Archives: Music

James Conlon: Why Verdi’s “Macbeth” Is Important

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Lady Macbeth and Plácido Domingo as the title character in a 2015 production of Macbeth at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain; Photo: Tato Baeza

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Lady Macbeth and Plácido Domingo as the title character in a 2015 production of Macbeth at the Palau de les Arts in Valencia, Spain; Photo: Tato Baeza

“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.”

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Speranza Scappucci Searches for Puccini’s Truth in La Bohème

Speranza Scappucci; Photo: Dario Acosta

Speranza Scappucci; Photo: Silvia Lelli

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.

Speranza Scappucci conducting a gala concert, starring soprano Marina Rebeka to celebrate the opening of Great Amber, the new concert hall in Liepāja, Latvia.

Speranza Scappucci conducting a gala concert, starring soprano Marina Rebeka to celebrate the
opening of Great Amber, the new concert hall in Liepāja, Latvia.

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.

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Music to Remember

Two LA Opera artists—soprano Karen Hogle-Brown and tenor Ashley Faatoalia—perform at USC’s Keck Medical Center.

Two LA Opera artists—soprano Karen Hogle-Brown and tenor Ashley Faatoalia—perform at
USC’s Keck Medical Center.

“Where words fail, music speaks.”

– Hans Christian Andersen

Music is a universal language that feeds the soul.

People connect with music on another level that involves the brain in ways that neuroscientists are still exploring (learn more here). While the science behind music and memory is nascent (research is primarily observational at this point), there is reason to believe that music can stir memories in people with dementia. For the past two years, LA Opera, the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and the Alzheimer’s Association of Southern California have partnered to bring music – and perhaps memories – to patients living with memory loss, Alzheimers disease and other forms of dementia in a program called “Music to Remember.” During the performances, LA Opera teaching artists sing holiday carols to residents (and workers) in long-term care and assisted living facilities throughout Los Angeles, suffering from ­dementia. Postdoctoral fellows and graduate students from the ZNI who work on the neurobiology of aging and memory accompany the group of teaching artists and observe the effects their singing has on patients.

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Norma’s Girl Power Playlist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WnPpQdshQI

Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma is arguably the ultimate girl power opera, with a fiery and dramatic plot that’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Norma tells the story of Druid High Priestess Norma (Angela Meade), who loves and has two children with her greatest enemy – Pollione (Russell Thomas), the leader of an occupying Roman army. It turns out that Pollione’s affections have shifted to a younger priestess named Adalgisa (Jamie Barton).

I know what you’re thinking – what’s so girl power about that? Well, after discovering that they both love the same man, Norma and Adalgisa put their differences aside, team up, and set out to unravel their tangled situation before their Druid tribesman revolt and declare war against the Romans.

Norma; Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Norma; Photo: Craig T. Mathew

To help everyone get in an empowering mood, we’ve put together a list of our top 10 girl-power anthems for you to listen to until the opening night of Norma this Saturday. Here’s a list of 10 stellar girl power songs.

Hit Me With Your Best Shot – Pat Benatar

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JRgHol94Xc

Respect – Aretha Franklin

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0POmdK18WU

Fighter – Cristina Aguilera

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PstrAfoMKlc

Girl On Fire – Alicia Keyes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J91ti_MpdHA

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBR2G-iI3-I

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James Conlon Talks Moby-Dick

James Conlon; Photo: Chester Higgins

As the Richard Seaver Music Director at LA Opera, James Conlon has been a driving force within the company since his arrival in the fall of 2006. His wealth of musical expertise and passion has led him to successfully conduct a plethora of productions, including Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. We spoke with Conlon about Moby-Dick and why the production has what the Los Angeles Times deems “staying power.

What about Jake Heggie’s score drove you to want to conduct Moby-Dick

It is very important that we continue to present operas by contemporary American composers here at LA Opera. It was in that spirit this already highly successful opera was chosen. I threw myself into it as is my custom and have found the effort very rewarding.

Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick (2015)

Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick (2015)

How is it different conducting a contemporary versus a traditional operatic score?

The only thing that is different is the musical content. The preparation, the rehearsing, the reflection, as well as the physical, emotional, and intellectual engagement is the same for all music, regardless of the genre, the period in which the work was written, and the culture out of which it was born.

What do you think makes Heggie and Sheer’s adaptation so powerful?  

Both are masters of their craft and they have succeeded in an impossible task, which was to select out from this massive novel the necessary parts to create a coherent, dramatic musical entity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPXajVAABvw

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Moby-Dick Overture: Music Monday

Jay Hunter Morris as Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

In just a few short weeks, Moby-Dick opens at LA Opera. Melville’s tale of obsession, the nature of good and evil, and the search for the elusive, titular, white whale is set to an evocative score by famed American composer, Jake Heggie (Dead Man Walking). When Heggie describes tackling the mammoth tale, he speaks of finally finding the music of Moby’s universe in four simple chords. These chords capture the spirit and yearning inherent in Melville’s story and resurface throughout the rest of the score, in a haunting fashion.

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#WordWednesday: Sitzprobe

imageSITZPROBE (22 Scrabble points) – German – A sitzprobe is a special rehearsal for an opera or musical theater production, when the singers and orchestra meet to rehearse together for the first time.

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Music Monday: Gianni Schicchi Orchestra

Orchestra Rehearsal“We are starting in the middle of a huge family fight,” conductor Grant Gershon says as he directs the orchestra during a rehearsal for Gianni Schicchi. They are reviewing the overture and the opening scene of the opera, where family members gather at the deathbed of Buoso Donati. There are moments when Gershon perfectly describes how the music changes to reflect the action on the stage. A section they rehearse contains a large crescendo reminiscent of classic Hollywood-era films (very fitting connection for a Woody Allen production) that lightens towards the end. Gershon says this is the moment where the music “switches to decaff.” Orchestra members laugh at this and play the music accordingly, completely understanding the charming analogy.

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