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There are three chances left to see La Bohème at LA Opera. This Belle Époque set production has wowed audiences with its doomed love story beautifully sung by Nino Machaidze and Olga Busuioc and Mario Chang and rivetingly conducted by … Continue reading
La Bohème is one of the world’s most beloved operas; it also returns this season in one of LA Opera’s iconic productions. In 1993, director Herbert Ross envisioned a production set in the romantic era of Belle Époque Paris, fashioned brilliantly by costume designer Peter J. Hall. Since Hall’s passing in 2010, the costume shop has made some updates to his design, while keeping his original vision for La Bohème alive.
“He was a real artist,” says Jeannique Prospere reverently. Prospere is a Senior Costume Production Supervisor at LA Opera. Since joining the company in 2007, she has overseen many shows, including La Bohème (which has 160 total costumes). “As a supervisor, what I usually do is try and get into the designer’s head and see what they want to be on stage and keep that vision alive,” she says. This entails reviewing the costumes each time a production is revived, making sure that they retain the same feel and that the original idea is kept. Costumes might also need to be tweaked for a singer, not only in size and shape, but also in aesthetic, in order to reflect a singer’s individual essence.
In May 2012, Peter Kazaras sat in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, surrounded by his UCLA students, observing a dress rehearsal of Puccini’s La Bohème at LA Opera. During a break, Kazaras asked his students, “When is this production set?” The students hesitated. He continued, “Where is the production set?” They responded, “Paris!” Yet, they still couldn’t determine the time period. Kazaras smiled, pointing out the half-formed Eiffel Tower structure in the background of Act I. He watched the lightbulbs go off, as his students suddenly realized that it must be set in the 1880s, when the Eiffel Tower was under construction. It was in this moment that all Kazaras’s teachings about the importance of design came full circle for his students. Kazaras beamed with pride.
Four years later, Kazaras once again comes face to face with this production – this time in the director’s chair.
Kazaras, who has recently directed La Bohème at both Washington National Opera and Dallas Opera, knows the piece well. However, LA Opera’s production, originally conceived by film director Herbert Ross in 1993, presents its own set of challenges. “It’s like being given a legal brief that you have to study thoroughly so that you can really understand the facts,” says Kazaras, alluding to his earlier profession as a lawyer. This is because Kazaras has inherited some key elements of the production (ie. set, props and costumes) Ross. Kazaras’s challenge is working with Ross’s gigantic and impressive set, while still adding his own directorial stamp on the show.
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).
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.
“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 (Steel Magnolias, The Turning Point) on his first operatic directing experience staging La Bohème at LA Opera in 1992.