Tag Archives: Ring Cycle

3 Things Opera and the Olympics Have in Common

Back in 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Olympics Arts Festival. During the Los Angeles Olympics, the Opera Association co-produced three operas with London’s Royal Opera (Turandot, starring Domingo as Calaf, as well as Peter Grimes and The Magic Flute), which not only helped establish the city as an international arts destination, but also helped raise funds for the soon-to-rise opera company.

So, you could say, LA Opera was born out of the Olympics.

We’re thinking about this history as we prepare to watch tonight’s opening ceremony for the Rio Olympics. But, we’re also thinking of some of the things opera and the Olympics have in common.

Opera Singers

The 1984 Olympics is not the only time that opera and the Olympics have collided. Throughout the years, many famous opera singers have sung at various summer and winter olympics, including Plácido Domingo. Remember when he sang alongside Song Zuying in Beijing in 2008?

Plácido Domingo and Song Zuying at the Beijing Olympics (2008)

Plácido Domingo and Song Zuying at the Beijing Olympics (2008)

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Opera Heroines Not To Mess With

Opera is filled with stories of betrayal, murder, and love that push characters to emotional extremes. Heroines (and anti-heroines) are often the characters most caught up in the drama. They love passionately, sacrifice greatly, and kill relentlessly.  We’ve created a list of ten multifaceted women, who aren’t afraid to lean in and stir the plot; they’re bold, brave and influential, even if it leads to their untimely death. See some of these fierce ladies at LA Opera this season and next season.

Lady Macbeth

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Lady Macbeth and Plácido Domingo as the title character in Macbeth (2016); Photo: Karen Almond

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Lady Macbeth and Plácido Domingo as the title character in Macbeth (2016); Photo: Karen Almond

In Verdi’s Macbeth (based on the Shakespeare play), Lady Macbeth takes fierce to a whole new level. After learning of her husband’s victory in battle, she urges him to kill the king and take the crown. Macbeth does so, only to be filled with remorse. It is Lady Macbeth who completes the killing and frames two guards for the king’s murder. She wants power and social standing and will stop at nothing to achieve this. Verdi expands the role of “Lady M” in his opera, giving her character even more agency, and making her the epitome of an opera anti-heroine not to mess with. She might murder you, if you do!

Brünnhilde

Brunnhilde (Linda Watson) with Waltraute (Michelle DeYoung, rear left) in Gotterdammerung (2010); Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Brunnhilde (Linda Watson) with Waltraute (Michelle DeYoung, rear left) in Gotterdammerung (2010); Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Is Brünnhilde the strongest women in the entire opera repertory?  She is after all the central character in Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle, appearing in three of the four Ring operas. A complex and compelling woman with a fascinating character arc, she is defined by her bravery and intelligence. She grasps what is happening in the world with keener perception than her father (Wotan, king of the gods) or her husband (the mighty-but-unintellectual hero Siegfried) and she is unafraid to take action to do what she thinks is necessary. Like many other Wagner heroines, she makes the ultimate sacrifice for love, but Brünnhilde’s martyrdom has the greatest impact: hers redeems the entire world.

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The Staging of an Opera Company: The Ring and Beyond

Sieglinde (Anja Kampe) and Siegmund (Placido Domingo) in Die Walkure (2009); Photo: Monika Rittershaus

Sieglinde (Anja Kampe) and Siegmund (Placido Domingo) in Die Walkure (2009); Photo: Monika Rittershaus

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.

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James Conlon Talks Life, Opera, and Ten Years in Los Angeles

James Conlon; Photo: Chester Higgins

James Conlon; Photo: Chester Higgins

This fall, James Conlon will mark ten years as LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director. Throughout the past decade, he has led the orchestra through almost fifty operas, from the great masterpieces of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner to contemporary works like The Ghosts of Versailles and Moby-Dick. To celebrate his birthday on March 18, we sat down with Mr. Conlon to chat about his life in classical music and what he loves most about opera in Los Angeles.

(Scroll down for information on Office Hours with Maestro Conlon)

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.

Maestro James Conlon conducting Don Pasquale at The Julliard School in 1972; Photo: Beth Bergman

Maestro James Conlon conducting Don Pasquale at The Julliard School in 1972; Photo: Beth Bergman

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.

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Why I Give: Rosanne Karlebach

Rosanne Karlebach has always loved opera and has donated to LA Opera for many years. She grew up in a very operatic household, as generations of her family members had experienced the joys of the art form. Ms. Karlebach even jokes that her mother used to take her to the opera instead of hiring a babysitter.

 John Treleaven as the title character in Siegfried (2009); Photo: Monika Rittershaus.

John Treleaven as the title character in Siegfried (2009); Photo: Monika Rittershaus.

Ms. Karlebach described her mother as an enthusiastic fan of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, who would often travel across the country to attend productions. Now, as an adult, Ms. Karlebach often brings friends to the opera, sometimes introducing them to classics like Carmen, or at most, three hours of the Ring Cycle. “I took a friend to one night of the LA Opera Ring Cycle, and she was fascinated, it was absolutely gorgeous.”

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Iconic Productions: Los Angeles Does Wagner’s Ring Cycle

“Producing a new Ring is the ultimate accomplishment for an opera company and it brings to the city a great sense of civic pride.” Plácido Domingo on staging Los Angeles’ first-ever Ring Cycle

Sieglinde (Anja Kempe) and Siegmund (Placido Domingo) in <em>Die Walkure</em> (2008); <span id="lbCaption">Monika Rittershaus</span>

Sieglinde (Anja Kempe) and Siegmund (Placido Domingo) in Die Walkure (2008); Monika Rittershaus

Staging Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is the mark of any great opera house. Since becoming Artistic Director in 2001 (and since then General Director), Plácido Domingo sought to produce a Ring cycle. Led by a generous donation from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Domingo’s dream became a reality, when the company staged all four operas in the cycle (Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung) over the course of two seasons – 2008/2009 and 2009/2010, with complete cycles presented in the summer of 2010.

Wagner’s Ring cycle follows a cast of gods and humans in their ultimate quest for power and search for love over the course of four operas. Music Director James Conlon puts it well:

“Wagner, among so many other things, sought to create works that would unite the accomplishments of Shakespeare and Beethoven. The Ring can be viewed as a four-part symphony, with each movement culminating in the expression of a different aspect of love. Das Rheingold is the expository movement. Die Walküre is the slower, expressive lyric movement. Siegfried is the scherzo: the first act witty, sharply bristling with demonic and Beethoven energy. Götterdämmerung is the apocalyptic finale.”

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