Monthly Archives: February 2016
There are some pieces of music that instantly make the hair on your arms stand up – or give you goosebumps – or both. It’s usually the ones that break your heart while they’re at it. In the opera world, arias are the go-to heartbreakers. You’ve heard them, from Violetta’s final aria (Verdi’s La Traviata) to “Il dolce suono” (Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor). Why? An aria – like a monologue in a play or a solo song in a musical – is the truest expression of a character’s desires and soul; it’s an outpouring of emotion. They’re usually sung when a character is most vulnerable.
In partnership with The Mariachi Conservatory, LA Opera invites people from around LA County (with a concentrated focus on East LA) to explore opera. The Zarzuela Project is a key component of this. Led by a team of LA Opera teaching artists, including Melodee Fernandez, Abdiel Gonzalez and Vivian Liu, The Zarzuela Project accepts all ages and weekly rehearsals are held at Salesian High School in East LA. Fernandez’s students rehearse various Zarzuelas and perform them at partner venues around the community. It is a project that is very dear to LA Opera General Director Plácido Domingo, whose parents were both Zarzuela singers.
One of the members of The Zarzuela Project is Andrea Sohn.
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.
SOUBRETTE (11 Scrabble points) – French – A soubrette is both an operatic voice type and a style of character. Soubrette voices are lighter soprano or mezzos (often sung by younger singers), while soubrette characters are attractive and saucy ladies. Think Musetta in La Boheme.
In our Belle Époque Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme follows the story of six young bohemians, surviving only on laughter and the promise of love. One of them is Musetta, a singer, who early on abandons her rich lover in order to be with her ex. While Mimi may be the La Boheme’s famous femme, Musetta adds a quirky edge and her Waltz (“Quando me’n vo’”) is one of the most famous pieces from Puccini’s opera. Check out Nino Machaidze sing Musetta’s Waltz below and make sure to see her in May, when she makes her role debut as Mimi in our production.
Like the Force, our opera and film connection is strong. In celebration of tonight’s 88th Academy Awards, we are dedicating our #LAO30Images to showcasing the amazing productions that tie opera and film together. This includes everything from filmmakers, who have directed operas here, to our recent silent film inspired production of The Magic Flute. Los Angeles is a cinematic city and LA Opera – being LA’s resident opera company – has always tapped into the special relationship between the two great art forms: film and opera. Below are a few of our film/opera collaborative productions.
Woody Allen and William Friedkin Take On Il Trittico (2008)
The 2008 season opened with Puccini’s Il Trittico, composed of three operas, Gianni Schicchi, Suor Angelica, and Il Tabarro. Oscar-winning film titan, Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Match Point, Annie Hall) made his opera directing debut with Gianni Schicchi (which recently returned to open our current season) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist) masterfully tackled Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica.
Herbert Ross Stages La Boheme (1993)
“Having worked in many art forms, I find opera is the most challenging of all, because it is a fusion of all the arts.” – Herbert Ross
Herbert Ross (Footloose, Steel Magnolias) directed a production of La Boheme in 1993 that significantly explores the deeper motivations behind Mimi, Musetta and Rodolfo’s actions. The story follows a series of bohemians in Paris (Ross updates the era to 1890s Paris) and centers on the love between Rodolfo and the dying Mimi. In Ross’ vision, Mimi and Musetta have more dimensions than are usually allowed – Musetta is characterized as a woman who demands independence, rather than a shrew, while Mimi is given greater agency and played as if she is not “innocent of experience.” Ross’ iconic 1993 production of Puccini’s La Boheme has been a crowd favorite for over 20 years and returns this June with the final two performances conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (who recently worked on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and conducted a Super Bowl 50 Half-Time performance).
Between “Nessun dorma” (Turandot) and “O soave fanciulla” (La Boheme), Puccini’s compositions are arguably the most widely used operatic music in cinema. Yet, it is not only his music that has been used, but also his dramatic storylines. Take Madame Butterfly. The story follows the trials of Cio-Cio San, a Japanese geisha, who marries American naval officer Pinkerton. She loves him, but he abandons her and returns to the United States. Pinkerton returns three years later – a new American wife in tow – and demands that Cio-Cio give up their son. Puccini’s tragic east meets west tale has been adapted into many films (including a 1975 filmed opera starring Mirella Freni and Plácido Domingo and a 1995 filmed opera conducted by James Conlon).
Madame Butterfly (1915)
This film is what happens when one of the greatest silent movie actresses – Mary Pickford – tackles Madame Butterfly.
Madame Butterfly (1932)
Marion Gering’s film is not a musical, but it does utilize a significant amount of Puccini’s music and stars a dashingly youthful Cary Grant as Pinkerton.
- Butterfly (1993)
David Cronenberg (who made his LA Opera debut directing The Fly in 2008) updated Puccini’s tale to 1960s China, just before the Cultural Revolution. In the film, a French diplomat (Jeremy Irons) falls in love with a Chinese opera diva, unaware that she is actually a man (played by John Lone).
The Magic Flute has started enchanting audiences with its silent film inspired magic. In case you’ve missed the Flute love these past few weeks (or want to learn more before seeing the show), we’ve collected a bunch of articles and videos for you to check out and see why The Magic Flute is a must-see this opera season.
Get To Know The Magic Flute
There is usually a pretty standard way of rehearsing opera. The director has a concept for the production – a vision that has been in play with designers and production staff years ahead of the first rehearsal. When singers do arrive, they spend time with the director, reaching a compromise on character choices, and perfecting their knowledge of the music. Sometimes bits of music are cut out; other times bits of music are added. This whole process starts in rehearsal rooms then moves onto stage within a matter of weeks. The rehearsal process for The Magic Flute is entirely different. Learn more.
Barrie Kosky, Susanne Andrade, and Paul Barritt’s production of The Magic Flute is heavily inspired by the silent film era and the spirit of the roaring twenties. In Kosky’s words, “Papageno is suggestive of Buster Keaton, while Monostatos is a bit Nosferatu, and Pamina perhaps a bit reminiscent of Louise Brooks.” There are a plethora of silent films to check out before seeing The Magic Flute, as the silent film era was a rich time for the industry. Filmmakers explored the artistry of the cinematic medium, creating new stories and adapting classic – even operatic – works for a new audience (King Vidor’s excellent 1926 La Boheme film is definitely worth a movie night). Before you step into the world of The Magic Flute, here are a few silent films to watch to get you in the 1920s spirit.
The Magic Flute is a roaring-twenties set vision. It has the beauty of a classic Louise Brooks film (like Pandora’s Box) , but live. Here, the production team – Suzanne Andrade, Barrie Kosky, and Paul Barritt – talk about the concept behind their vision for Mozart’s fantasy opera.
We’re all about Puccini these days with Madame Butterfly opening next month and La Boheme in May. Those two are arguably his most celebrated, but have you experienced the intriguing show that is La Rondine? Starkly different from the dramatic operas with which Puccini made his mark on the musical world, La Rondine is a comic opera that strives to bridge the gap between Puccini’s vision of opera and more lighthearted operetta (a difficult thing to do during the grim World War I time period in which it premiered). Although it differs from standard Puccini repertoire, it’s still a must listen before diving in to our very Puccini spring.
December 1971. While studying abroad at Stanford in Salamanca, I met a beautiful woman and her family. They loved opera; I had never seen one. They were leaving for Vienna and I for Venice and Switzerland. But, I knew that I had to see this woman again. We agreed to meet on New Year’s Eve at 7:30pm outside the Vienna Opera House.
December 30, 1971. After traveling through the Swiss Alps, I took the night train scheduled to arrive in Vienna in the morning of the 31st. I hoped to spend time with her during the day, exploring Vienna, before seeing the opera. But it was not meant to be! I had a Guatemalan passport and did not know that I needed a visa to enter Austria. Around midnight on the 30th, near Lichtenstein, the Austrian police ordered me to get off the train. They told me I could get a visa in the nearby principality of Lichtenstein in the morning. Unfortunately, the Austrian police said that the next train would get me to Vienna only on the 31st in the evening. There was nothing there, but a small closed train station. It was the middle of winter in the Swiss Alps, freezing, and I had nowhere to go. I slept on a bench with my down sleeping bag zipped to my nose. All I could think of was this beautiful woman. I knew I had to get to Vienna to see her. In the morning I took the first bus to Lichtenstein and go a visa from the Austrian consulate. I told his secretary my story about caring for this beautiful woman. She gets excited and drives me to the station in her VW bug. I jump out of her car, grab my pack, jump on the train as it’s leaving, and hear her yelling behind me “Remember the people of Lichtenstein!”
New Year’s Eve, 1971. I arrive at the Vienna Opera House well past 7:30pm. I try to buy a ticket, but the person at the box office looks me up and down, calls her manager, who promptly tells me that I can’t go to the opera looking like that. I have hair down to my shoulders. I’m wearing jeans and a bush jacket. I’m carrying a backpack. I’ve been on a train all day and I spent the night on a bench outdoors at an abandoned train station in the dead of winter in the middle of the Swiss Alps. I understand his concern, but I’m not going to let the protocol of the Vienna Opera House stop me from meeting up with this woman. He lets me in and I see my first opera, Verdi’s La Traviata, and I reunite with the beautiful woman once more.
One of the most elaborate productions LA Opera has staged in recent years was John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, directed by Tony Award winning director Darko Tresnjak (who returns to stage a new production of Macbeth in September). The story follows the ghost of Marie Antoinette (Patricia Racette), who while trapped in the spirit world, bitterly reflects on her final suffering. Her favorite playwright tries to entertain the melancholy queen with the continuing adventures of his beloved characters from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. But sneaky Figaro refuses to play by the script, breaking free from the opera-within-the-opera in a surprise bid for a better life. The opera turns history on its head as love attempts to alter the course of destiny.
With many different worlds to incorporated into Tresnjak and costume designer Linda Cho’s overall vision, The Ghosts of Versailles was a complex, multi-layered, and rewarding show to style.
Darren K. Jinks and Brandi Strona – masters of their wig and makeup crafts – took on styling Ghosts of Versailles and succeeded to dramatic effect (both are nominated for tomorrow’s Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards).
Most operas require hair and makeup styling from one era or “world.” Take La Boheme, for example. Our production sets the action completely in 1880s Paris and so the singers’ hair and makeup reflects that time period. The Ghosts of Versailles is another beast entirely. It’s a show comprised of four distinct worlds: The Ghost World, The Figaro World, The Turkish World, and The French Revolution World. Thus, With the help of an expanded team (10 principal hair/makeup artists and 13 additional hair/makeup artists for chorus members) Jinks and Strona created (and managed during show dates) 47 principal wigs, 55 chorus and supernumerary wigs, 41 sets of facial hair, and several different makeup looks for the show’s 82 cast members (including principal artists, dancers, and supernumeraries). Productions normally have half the number of wigs and makeup looks needed for Ghosts.
Like any other art form, hair/makeup styling starts as a concept and there’s a great deal of planning involved. Since it’s such a feat to stage an opera, the production staff normally plans for new productions at least one or two years in advance. Such was the case with The Ghosts of Versailles. Styling ideas for Ghosts began 12 to 18 months before the show opened, with additional dramaturgical work occurring during the three to four months before the show. The extensive dramaturgy (ie. historical research) included watching films set during the time period for ideas (Tresnjak and Cho were inspired by film such as Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Stephen Frear’s Dangerous Liaisons) as well as researching the French Revolution era to come up with hair/makeup styling that not only theatrical, but also matched period norms.
These norms differed based on the worlds. Here’s a breakdown of some of each world’s hair and makeup style.
For Ben Bliss, playing Tamino in Mozart’s The Magic Flute is like coming home. Not only is he back at LA Opera (he was part of the Young Artist program from 2011-2013), but Tamino was also the first opera role Bliss ever sang.
As an undergrad at Chapman University studying film, Bliss also sang in the choir. When his voice coach threatened to lower his grade if he didn’t try out for The Magic Flute, Bliss auditioned and won the role of Tamino. It was a defining moment, because even after a few years’ stint working for Dr. Phil post-college, Bliss couldn’t quite shake the opera bug and has been singing ever since.
A celebration of true love conquering all, The Magic Flute transports us into an enchanted world where good faces the forces of darkness. It follows the story of Prince Tamino, who is tasked by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina, from the supposedly evil Sarastro.
Tamino is a fun character to tackle. “The music is divine and there are so many different directions you can go with the character,” says Bliss. His favorite Tamino moment occurs in Act I, when Tamino finds himself at the gates of Sarastro’s kingdom. He sings a dialogue with an animated Speaker, who guards the gates. It’s an interesting scene, because it’s the first time in the opera that Tamino thinks the Queen of the Night might be lying to him about Pamina’s situation. Is Sarastro really the evil one? Bliss also enjoys the scene, because it’s unlike many other tenor moments in Mozart operas. It’s a conversation as opposed to a moment when everything stops, so the tenor can sing gloriously about how much he loves the soprano.
PARLANDO (11 Scrabble points) – Italian – Parlando literally means “in speaking style” and refers to the moment when singers used technique to bring singing close to speaking. In other words, singers will sound like they are speaking, but using the rhythm and/or inflections used for singing. A famous example of this is mid-way through the famous aria, “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca (which returns next season starring Sondra Radvanovsky). See a video of Radvanovsky performing the aria below. At first, she sings along with the melody, but soon diverts (around the 1:15 minute mark) from the melody into a section where she’s singing in the style of speech (as if she converses with herself).
Looking forward to our upcoming 16/17 season’s revival of Tosca starring Sondra Radvanovsky? We’ve collected a couple articles for you to read before seeing the show next year.
The Queen of the Night’s second aria is the arguably the most recognized piece of operatic music. Yet, there’s something so refreshing about Papageno’s Aria (“Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” or “A Little Wife”) in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Papageno sings his aria towards the end of Act II, after Pamina has fallen in love with Tamino. He longs for a little wife of his own to keep him company (which he says is better than wine, according to an English translation used in 1984’s hit film, Amadeus). It’s a light aria that Papageno sings, while indulging in several cocktails, and in which he gets a sneak peek at his future wife, Papagena. The aria’s theme is later reprises at the end of the opera, when Papageno and Papagena have found each other.
There is usually a pretty standard way of rehearsing opera. The director has a concept for the production – a vision that has been in play with designers and production staff years ahead of the first rehearsal. When singers do arrive, they spend time with the director, reaching a compromise on character choices, and perfecting their knowledge of the music. Sometimes bits of music are cut out; other times bits of music are added. This whole process starts in rehearsal rooms then moves onto stage within a matter of weeks.
The rehearsal process for The Magic Flute is entirely different.
Our production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute is inspired by the silent film (and early “talkie”) era and is comprised entirely of projected film. Singers stand on stage or on platforms that are 9ft high off the ground, 18” in diameter, and attached to a giant wall. Animated video (in the style of Max Fleischer cartoons or the classic Disney “Skeleton Dance”) is projected onto the wall behind the singers. The singers cannot see what’s behind them, despite the fact that they interact with the animation projected (at one point an animated bird lands on Pamina’s hand).
In a regular opera, there’s some forgiveness, the orchestra, the staging, pretty much everything can adjust in real time. For this opera – there’s none of that.
The required precision means that all character decisions for the singer have already been made by the director (and there are no bits of music being added or taken out). As the film designs and animations are already set, there’s no room for compromise.
Singers also have an added job in rehearsal. They must learn highly choreographed movement that cannot be altered during a performance. If, for example, Monostatos is going to be pulling a dog’s leash at this point in the projection and at this point in the music, his hand has to be in that exact spot for it to look like he’s interacting with the animation. To hit their marks, singers practice with the set and projections as soon as possible, as opposed to only when they arrive on stage for tech rehearsals. They also must rehearse in the dark for the projections to be seen.
It’s not only the singers that are learning the show earlier in the process. The staging staff and crew are learning and planning for highly choreographed work. This show has one stage manager and three assistant stage managers (“ASMs”). The stage manager calls the majority of the 666 cues in the show from a secluded area front of house. That’s 2-3 times as many as there are in most other shows. And, unlike other shows, 25% of the cues are visual instead of the usual 5%. The stage manager must be able to see the projections and know the show well enough to call a cue on time or ahead of time to prepare cast and crew.
I remember the night I was getting ready to see my sister perform in the children’s chorus in LA Opera’s production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. I was nine years old and it was my first opera. As I stressed over what to wear, I kept imagining what it would be like when I opened the doors to the Dorothy Chandler: Hundreds of sophisticated adults in expensive outfits sipping champagne and discussing the show, and meanwhile I’d be sitting there feeling under dressed, under prepared, and terribly confused as to what they were even talking about.
“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.
SINGSPIEL (12 Scrabble points) – German – A singspiel, which literally translates to “sing-play” is a German comic opera that mixes spoken dialogue with singing. Singspiels are folkloric in nature, often having fantasy elements. If you are slightly more inclined towards musical theater, then singspiels are the opera genre for you. Famous singspiels include Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio (coming next season) and The Magic Flute (though our upcoming production has taken out the dialogue).
Excited about our upcoming singspiels? Learn more below.
The Magic Flute opens this Saturday and that means you’ll be able to hear one of the most famous – and extravagant – arias in opera history, “Der Hölle Rache” (aka the “Queen of the Night Aria”). Sung during Act II of the opera, this aria is a pivotal moment in the relationship between the Queen of Night and her daughter, Pamina. The Queen orders Pamina to kill the Queen’s rival, Sarastro, on pain of cursing and forsaking Pamina if she does not comply. It requires disciplined and killer vocal range, as it spans two octaves (hello incredibly low notes and incredibly high notes – all within one aria). Check out Diana Damrau (who will tackle all four heroines in next season’s The Tales of Hoffmann) take on the aria below.
Excited for The Magic Flute? Learn more below.