Tag Archives: Wagner

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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The Staging of an Opera Company: Plácido Domingo’s New Millennium

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.

Placido Domingo as Dick Johnson and Catherine Malfitano as Minnie in <em>The Girl of the Golden West</em> (2002); Photo: Robert Millard

Placido Domingo as Dick Johnson and Catherine Malfitano as Minnie in The Girl of the Golden West (2002); Photo: Robert Millard

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.

The cast of <em>The Queen of Spades</em> (2001); Photo: Ken Howard

The cast of The Queen of Spades (2001); Photo: Ken Howard

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Marie Rogers: A Teacher For All Seasons

Marie Rogers (center) with Rob Crites (left) and her student Isaiah Morgan (right)

Marie Rogers (center) with Rob Crites (left) and her student Isaiah Morgan (right)

In 1986, Marie Rogers was an opera enthusiast excited that Los Angeles was finally getting its own resident opera company. She taught in LA’s public school system at the time and couldn’t wait to spend a night at the opera watching Plácido Domingo in Otello. But she couldn’t find anyone to go with her.

So Marie went alone – and loved every second of it. The show made a great impression on her and she wanted to be a part of it. Act I had a children’s chorus and Marie thought to herself, “There has to be a studio teacher for those kids.”

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