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By the time bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee finishes his second season in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, he will have appeared in six different productions with the company. His is the robust voice audiences have heard from off stage in Moby-Dick and The Magic Flute and on stage in Madame Butterfly. He’s also the singer they will see in such diverse roles as Colline in the current production of La Bohème and as Cesare Angelotti in next season’s Tosca. While the 2015 Met Council Winner may sound and look at home on stage now, he did not always want to pursue a career in opera.
“I was always into performing, whether it was on the football field – I’m a super sports guy – or in choir,” says Brownlee, who originally wanted to be a choral conductor. That all changed when he had his first opera experience.
It is sometimes said among theatergoers that a bad final dress makes for a great opening night. If this is true, does less-than-perfect inaugural performance indicate success for the company as a whole?
When LA Opera opened the 1986/87 season with its first performance of Verdi’s Otello on October 7, 1986, nervous excitement and anticipation clung in the air—and apparently on the curtain as well. As the lights dimmed and conductor Lawrence Foster took his place at the podium, the curtain began to rise, only to malfunction and stick at its halfway point. The show went on and the curtain finally rose upward an instant later. Though many in the audience or behind the scenes must have been shocked, this proved to be only a small glitch in the overall evening. LA Opera has certainly clung to a standard of excellence in the 31 years since then. We’ve experienced ups and downs, but what has remained most constant is Plácido Domingo’s invaluable involvement with the company.
There’s something about the entertainment industry that begs for people to be larger than life – some could say that this is especially true of those who perform opera for a living. There’s just something about that grand voice and flamboyant stage presence that makes opera resplendent.
Another art form that has that same grandness is improv comedy. Wasn’t quite what you were expecting to hear was it?! But, improv comedy has been around just as long as opera has – especially in the form of entertainment. And, it requires the same over-the-top, striking stage presence that opera requires – but, instead of taking your breath away with those glass-shattering high notes, improv comedy sets out to give you those deep belly laughs that leave you with a six-pack when the night is done. Or at least feeling like you’re well on your way to developing a six-pack.
Sometime in the company’s history, someone had the bright idea (read: best idea ever!) to have opera and improv comedy join forces. What could possibly be funnier than seeing an opera star comedically navigate their way through Don José pining over Carmen with an aria about Facebook stalking the love of his life?
We can’t guarantee that’s exactly what you’ll get, but you will get some stunning singing and laughs to boot when our Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists head to the legendary Groundlings Theatre on May 15 and 16 to show off their opera and comedy skills. Under the guide of teacher Phyllis Katz – the Young Artists took months of classes to exercise their funny bone before hitting the stage. Although, Katz herself is no stranger to opera singers — in the seven years since she began working with young artists, Katz has developed an individual approach to teaching opera singers, covering everything from basic improv skills to character work.
For the past few weeks, our props, costumes, and wig/makeup teams – the same people who created a scarily realistic head of the John the Baptist for Salome – have been working on their latest bit of opera magic. They’re not just creating a head, but an entire body to look like one of the characters in Tosca.
That character? Cesare Angelotti.
Angelotti (played in our production by Nicholas Brownlee) is an escaped political prisoner given sanctuary by the opera’s hero, Mario Cavaradossi (Russell Thomas). While Angelotti evades capture for most the opera, he’s ultimately cornered by Scarpia’s thugs. In our production, Angelotti’s corpse is hung by the neck. When this happens, the singer is replaced by a “stunt double,” or in other words, a mannequin that’s dressed and styled to resemble the singer.
Making the body double is a multi-tiered process that starts with sourcing the dummy.
Properties Coordinator Lisa Coto sources the dummy. We started with an articulated dummy used for search and rescue and CPR training. Coto chose this dummy, because it’s well-made. It’s a heavy dummy (60lbs) and the limbs dangle like a real person; in other words, it’s very lifelike.
After Coto sources the dummy, she delivers it to Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere. Prospere and her team make sure that the dummy’s costumes match Angelotti’s costume – an off-white, striped prison uniform, with blue/grey pants and jacket. Since Angelotti has been in prison, it’s not enough for the team to replicate the costumes. They also must distress, age, and dye the costume to make it look like the dummy has suffered the same trauma as the live character of Angelotti.
We’ve just announced the 2017/2018 season and it’s all about the new. Five of the six mainstage productions are new to Los Angeles and two of them are company premieres. There will also be two major concerts – the first celebrating the 50th anniversary of Plácido Domingo’s first appearance at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the second featuring Audra McDonald.
Can’t wait for the excitement to begin? Take a look below and get to know all the 17/18 season has in store for Los Angeles.
(presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)
Ana María Martínez returns as the famous opera femme fatale in Carmen
(Sep 9–Oct 1, 2017; production new to L.A.) — Georges Bizet
James Conlon conducts a cast that also features Alexander Vinogradov as Escamillo and Amanda Woodbury as Micaëla. The production is directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford, winner of Tony, Emmy and Olivier Awards.
After seeing Carmen, experience The Pearl Fishers another Bizet gem
(Oct 7–28, 2017; company premiere) — Georges Bizet
Plácido Domingo and Grant Gershon will each conduct performances of a rarely performed treasure, directed by Penny Woolcock. Nino Machaidze returns as Leïla, her seventh leading role in Los Angeles, with superstar tenor Javier Camarena making his company debut as Nadir. The cast also includes Alfredo Daza as Zurga and Nicholas Brownlee as Nourabad.
Plácido Domingo and James Conlon unite for Nabucco
(Oct 14–Nov 19, 2017; production new to L.A.) — Giuseppe Verdi
Plácido Domingo sings the title role of the monumental opera that made Verdi famous, conducted by James Conlon. Directed by Thaddeus Strassberger, the production also features Liudmyla Monastyrska in her LAO debut as Abigaille, with Morris Robinson as Zaccaria, Mario Chang as Ismaele and Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Fenena.
Joshua Winograde, the company’s senior director of artistic planning, has been living out his dream at LA Opera. For the past decade, he has developed the company’s celebrated Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program and played an instrumental role in championing the company’s artistic vision. It has been an incredible journey for Winograde, whose long history with LA Opera began when he fell in love with opera as a teenager.
As a teenager, Winograde took summer classes at UCLA. There he met an exchange student from Japan who introduced him to Kathleen Battle’s recordings. “I had never heard anything like her. I was totally unaware that a human voice was capable of doing anything like that,” recalls Winograde. After hearing Battle’s voice, he became even more interested in singing and performing. He joined choirs and took advantage of every opportunity to see productions at LA Opera.
“Tara Colburn, one of the founders of LA Opera, was the mother of a friend of mine in high school. My friend didn’t like to go to the opera, so I was his mom’s date,” Winograde jokes.
After growing up at the LA Opera, Winograde pursued a career as a singer. He received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Julliard School and embarked on a professional career as a bass-baritone (including time as a young artist at Houston Grand Opera). However, as Winograde’s career took off, he started dreaming of a different career path.
“I couldn’t shake this peripheral vision of a career producing opera,” says Winograde.
Winograde followed his heart and switched to a career in management, working with young artists at Wolf Trap Opera Company and Julliard. One year later, LA Opera came knocking.
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
Plácido Domingo has a passion for discovering talent. He’s not just the world’s most legendary opera singer; he’s also a champion for new young artists. In 1993, Maestro Domingo established Operalia, an international vocal competition created to find and help launch the careers of today’s most promising young opera singers. Over the years, Operalia has done just that, launching the careers of some of the most talked about artists of our time.
This year’s competition wrapped up last night (you can watch the final round here), and those of us in Los Angeles, who have been following along all week, watched and cheered from our homes. Through the magic of live stream, we watched the final announcements from Guadalajara, Mexico. You could probably hear the cheering from the stage in Guadalajara when two of our very own young artists won top prizes (accompanied by Nino Sanikidze, Head Coach in the Young Artist Program).
- Nicolas Brownlee, a current member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, won “The Don Plácido Domingo Ferrer Prize of Zarzuela.” Brownlee has been in six different productions at LA Opera to date, most recently as Coline in La Bohème. He will make his Metropolitan Opera debut this coming season, in addition to performing several roles in Los Angeles, including Angelotti in Tosca next spring.
- Brenton Ryan, an alumnus of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, won the Birgit Nilsson Prize. You can catch Ryan as Pedrillo in The Abduction from the Seraglio in our upcoming season, a role he debuted at the Metropolitan Opera this past spring.