Tag Archives: The Staging of an Opera Company
Today is Plácido Domingo’s birthday. To celebrate, here are some articles and images that showcase his work at LA Opera over the years.
Get to know Maestro Domingo by reading the articles below and check out images of Maestro Domingo on our Domingo at LA Opera Pinterest Board.
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.
LA Opera ushered in the new millennium with astounding vitality. Now led by Plácido Domingo as artistic director, the young company was poised to build upon the remarkable growth that had marked its first 14 years under the direction of Peter Hemmings. While the 2000/01 season had largely been planned in advance by the now-retired Hemmings, Domingo’s impact was big, bold and immediate.
To open the 2000/01 season, Plácido Domingo conducted the company premiere of Aida, Verdi’s grandest opera, featuring a high-powered cast: soprano Deborah Voigt as Aida, tenor Johan Botha as Radames and bass-baritone Simon Estes as Amonasro, all making their LA Opera debuts. Just days later, Domingo held a press conference to announce his ambitious future plans, which represented nothing less than a radical rethinking of what LA Opera could be. He envisioned fashioning LA Opera into an opera company that would push the artistic boundaries of the medium, bringing it squarely into the popular culture of Los Angeles in the new millennium. His plans included a multi-season collaboration with the dynamic leader of the Kirov Opera, conductor Valery Gergiev; an enormous expansion of the company’s repertoire to emphasize new operas and works not previously presented in Los Angeles; and even a new production of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, the first ever created in Los Angeles. Domingo’s star power would not only attract the most prominent singers, directors and designers of the time, it would also inspire a new wave of funding, through initiatives such as the Domingo’s Angels, essential to realize his plans. At Domingo’s side was a man who shared his artistic ambition: Kent Nagano, newly announced as LA Opera’s first-ever principal conductor, a position he would take up the following summer.
LA Opera’s partnership with Valery Gergiev had begun on the evening before that remarkable press conference. To expand upon the repertoire planned by Hemmings, Domingo had added a remarkable series of Wagner concerts, showcasing the Kirov Orchestra and its celebrated conductor in their first performances in Los Angeles. It was also the first time for L.A. audiences to experience Domingo singing Wagner, as the concert featured Act One of Die Walküre and Act Three of Parsifal. The soloists included Linda Watson, who would become the company’s Wagnerian soprano of choice for the next decade, and a young soprano on the verge of superstardom, Anna Netrebko.
When the LA Opera first presented Rigoletto in 1993, David Young was the second chair bass player in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the ensemble that played for most performances during the company’s early years. The opera features a prominent solo for the double bass—at the fateful moment when the troubled jester first encounters the assassin Sparafucile—which went to LACO’s longtime principal bassist, Susan Ranney. But by 2000, when the company next offered Rigoletto, Young had become the principal bassist for the LA Opera Orchestra, and it was finally his moment to shine after years of waiting for that rare opportunity. He asked Peter Hemmings, who would soon retire as LA Opera’s general director, if a promotional poster had been made for the production, explaining how much it meant to him. “Of course,” replied Hemmings. “I’ll get you one.”
Hemmings delivered the poster a few days later. Not only was it signed “Best wishes, Peter Hemmings,” it also boasted the signatures of the major stars in the cast. That framed treasure hangs on the wall of Young’s studio today. Hemmings passed away two years later, making his thoughtfulness especially poignant to Young. “Peter Hemmings really cared about everybody,” he says. “He loved this company and he gave his all to our founding years.”
Young’s story is indicative of the atmosphere that Hemmings fostered, with artists, administrators, staff and volunteers all working in close collaboration toward a common goal. Fondly remembered for his warmth, British wit and jovial nature, Hemmings was also greatly respected for his high expectations, imagination and loyalty. With a background that included bringing the Scottish Opera to prominence, he was more than up to the challenge of building a massive opera company—virtually overnight.
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.
As conductor Lawrence Foster ushered in the sound of the orchestra to begin the opera, the curtain flew up swiftly. To the surprise of everyone present, the curtain rose halfway and no further. The show went on, and within minutes, the curtain arrived in its designated place, functioning properly for the rest of the stunning premiere.
The curtain’s antics prodded Los Angeles Times music critic Martin Bernheimer to ask, “Los Angeles Opera starts, and the curtain goes halfway up and gets stuck, is that what is going to happen to our opera company?”