Top Gear: Opera Edition

LA Opera uses some of the most intriguing vehicles in its productions. From trucks and cars to modes of transportation only imaginable in the arts world, prop vehicles help tell grand opera stories. They are even sometimes rare and built entirely from scratch or refurbished by our technical crew to serve the needs of a production. Take a look at the vehicles we “drive” in our operas in the roundup below.

REPRODUCING A ONE OF A KIND PEUGEOT FOR LA BOHÈME

Peugeot Before and After; Photo: Studio Sereno

Peugeot Before and After; Photo: Studio Sereno

When the technical department was tasked with sourcing an 1890 Peugeot Type 2 (one of the earliest French motorized vehicles) for La Bohème, they realized how difficult this would be. There were none of these Peugeots anywhere in America, not even in museums. Working from only an 11”x17” photocopied image, a team at Studio Sereno built a fully battery-powered replica of the original model. This vehicle will be seen live when La Bohème opens May 14.

A 1929 ROLLS ROYCE ROARS ONTO STAGE

Nino Machaidze as Violetta, making a grand entrance at her own party in Verdi's La Traviata (2014); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Nino Machaidze as Violetta, making a grand entrance at her own party in  La Traviata (2014); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Our Roaring Twenties-set production of Verdi’s La Traviata features a 1929 Rolls Royce sourced from a private owner. Director Marta Domingo saw a photograph of the elegant car in 2006 and loved it so much, she made it a starring prop in her production. (What better way for glamorous party girl Violetta to arrive than in this stylish vehicle?)

 

A CAR FOR ETERNITY

The Makropulos Case (1992); Photo: Robert Millard

The Makropulos Case (1992); Photo: Robert Millard

In 1992, LA Opera staged a production of Leoš Janáček’s The Makropulos Case, a fascinating opera about a famous singer, whose fateful drinking of a magical elixir prolongs her life for three centuries. The vehicle of choice for this seductive and avant-garde production? A fully-restored 1932 Ford Phaeton, borrowed from the Deutsche Oper Berlin (where the production originated). 

THE VEHICLES IN IL POSTINO – ON LAND AND SEA

Il Postino (2010); Photo: Robert Millard

Il Postino (2010); Photo: Robert Millard

The world premiere of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino in 2010 required both a boat and a car. For the boat, Props Coordinator Lisa Coto visited Talley Ho Marine Salvage & Décor in San Pedro, CA, and purchased a used boat from owner Allen Johnson, an experienced fisherman himself. He was so knowledgeable and excited about the production that the company invited him in to teach the cast and crew about different netting techniques. A video recording of his hands mending nets was featured in the final production. For Coto, Allen Johnson is now not only a valuable resource, but also a personal friend. Once they had a boat, Coto and the props teams needed a car. They sourced a Fiat 1100 from a local salvage yard, refurbished it, and added a speaker to the top, so the car could be used in the opera’s political rally scene.

THE PAGLIACCI CONVERTIBLE

Pagliacci (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

Pagliacci (2015); Photo: Craig T. Mathew

For our iconic 1996 production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, we had to get creative. Founding General Director Peter Hemmings saw Zeffirelli’s production in Rome and fell in love with it, but getting it to Los Angeles proved difficult. The set hadn’t been stored properly and was falling apart. In the end, LA Opera’s technical staff had to recreate an all-new version of Zeffirelli’s enormous set from scratch, basing the entire design from an 11”x17” Xeroxed copy of a single production photo. Recreating this world also meant sourcing a flashy car for showman Canio’s entrance. Former Properties Coordinator, Kirk Graves, found the perfect car from a private seller: a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair convertible.

THE SINFUL TRUCK

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (2007); Photo: Robert Millard

In Kurt Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny a 1910 Mack truck carries a band of fugitives to a land far from the federal agents that pursue them. When the truck breaks down, the fugitives decide to found Mahagonny, a city of pleasure, where the bored, tired and rebellious flock to for fun. Originally built by Seattle Opera and used in our 1989 production of Mahagonny, the truck was revamped by LA Opera’s technical staff and featured again in a very different production in 2007.

IMAGINATIVE VEHICLES

The Turk in Italy (2011), left, and Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998), right; Both Photos: Robert Millard

The Turk in Italy (2011), left, and Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998), right; Both Photos: Robert Millard

While our productions have a plethora of normal cars, we also have vehicles that might surprise you. Thanks to the wonder of theater, there was a magic carpet featured in our production of The Turk in Italy (2011) used for the title character’s arrival from far off lands. Our production of Fantastic Mr. Fox (1998) went even further and included two anthropomorphic vehicles – Agnes the Digger and Mavis the Tractor– that were singers in costume (Check out Agnes, the red vehicle in the picture on the right).

For more information about our current and upcoming seasons, visit our website.

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2 Responses to Top Gear: Opera Edition

  1. DM Stenlake says:

    How fun! This is a reminder opera isn’t all hitting the high or low notes. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Evelyn White says:

    My all time favorite opera productions were Marta Domingo’s brilliant productions of “La Traviata” in LA and San Francisco. The sets, costumes, dance, and the nuances that she added to the action were perfection. Now, she will direct it for San Diego Opera. It will be such a joy to experience her wonderful production again. I wish LA would record it on DVD. It should be seen by all opera lovers. Thank you, Marta.

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