Author Archives: Karen Bacellar

What do Burning Man and LA Opera have in common?

What do Burning Man and LA Opera have in common?

Anabel Romero.

Anabel Romero

Anabel Romero

Romero is LA Opera’s Community Engagement Coordinator. She helps oversee the company’s Opera Camp and Cathedral Project programs that share opera with the Greater Los Angeles community.

When she’s not leading campers or community members in opera productions at LA Opera, Romero is a co-founder and co-artistic director of aLma.MaddR, a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary arts collective. The collective’s latest project is a sound installation for an international collaboration called Aluna that will be staged at this year’s Burning Man.

These two gigs aren’t mutually exclusive.

Romero shares that one actually informs the other in the way she makes art. Her community outreach work has helped Romero understand how to use art to connect diverse communities.
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Living the Suit Life

Head Tailor Laina Babb posing with suits she's made for LA Opera productions

Head Tailor Laina Babb posing with suits she’s made for LA Opera productions

When Laina Babb learned to sew at age six, she never imagined it would lead her to the opera. She’s made her love of sewing into a career, first training and then apprenticing as a tailor. Now, as LA Opera’s Head Tailor, Babb manages a team of up to six tailors (depending on the show). Together they craft all the men’s suits used in the company’s productions. That means she’s had a hand in making pretty much every suit you can imagine – elaborate French Revolution-style suits for The Ghosts of Versailles, 1960s Italian suits for the Woody Allen directed Gianni Schicchi, and even a flashy, taffeta suit worn in Porgy and Bess.

From Learning to Sew To Working at LA Opera

Long before Babb worked at LA Opera, she was just a little girl learning to sew as part of the 4-H program in her hometown of Lockwood, California. In this program, children complete hands-on projects that will serve their communities, as part of a larger goal to empower young people and teach them leadership.

Babb took her sewing skills with her to high school, where she made costumes in the theater department. Working in costumes in high school spawned her desire to turn a love of sewing and costumes into a career in theater.

Babb enrolled at Chapman University to study technical theater. During her four years at Chapman, she took multiple costume classes, but the technical side of costuming – of building them and solving all a director’s staging challenges – kept calling.
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The Internship of a Lifetime

LA Opera establishes six-year paid internship

Robert Rivera and Maya Ordoñez after meeting with LA Opera's Chief Financial Officer Faith Raiguel

Robert Rivera and Maya Ordoñez after meeting with LA Opera’s Chief Financial Officer Faith Raiguel

When most people think of interns, they think of enthusiastic college juniors and seniors experiencing the office environment for the first time before being thrust into the workforce. At LA Opera, we do hire college interns – but we also hire high school interns through an innovative new program meant to forge the next generation of diverse arts leaders: LA Opera Leadership Academy.

LA Opera Leadership Academy is not your ordinary internship.

Why? It can last six years.
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Writing Mukhtar Mai’s Story

Kamala Sankaram as Mukhtar Mai in Thumbprint; Photo: Noah Stern Weber / Beth Morrison Projects

Kamala Sankaram as Mukhtar Mai in Thumbprint; Photo: Noah Stern Weber / Beth Morrison Projects

NEWS: We’re thrilled and honored that Mukhtar Mai – whose historic bravery inspired “Thumbprint” – is traveling from Pakistan to witness her story told and join us for the talkbacks after each performance. If you don’t have a ticket yet, this is your chance to be part of this powerful moment.

After a brutal attack meant to destroy her, Mukhtar Mai became the first woman in Pakistan to bring her rapists to justice. Since then, Mai has become an international icon for women’s rights. She used the reparations money she received from the government to build schools for girls and continues to support women through her Mukhtar Mai Women’s Organization. Mai’s story resonates beyond borders in its implicit belief that even in the darkest times, one person, one voice, through a single act of courage, can change the lives of thousands.

Writer Susan Yankowitz has told Mai’s story for over a decade – as a monologue, then part of a play called Seven and now in the opera Thumbprint.
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Directing Thumbprint

A scene from the 2014 premiere production of Thumbprint; Photo: Noah Stern Weber / Beth Morrison Productions

A scene from the 2014 premiere production of Thumbprint; Photo: Noah Stern Weber / Beth Morrison Productions

NEWS: We’re thrilled and honored that Mukhtar Mai – whose historic bravery inspired “Thumbprint” – is traveling from Pakistan to witness her story told and join us for the talkbacks after each performance. If you don’t have a ticket yet, this is your chance to be part of this powerful moment.

Thumbprint tracks the extraordinary transformation of Mukhtar Mai. As a young woman in Pakistan, Mai is the victim of a brutal crime meant to destroy her. With incredible courage, Mai reports the crime, brings her perpetrators to justice, and becomes an international champion for women’s rights in Pakistan.

Rather than track Mai’s transformation in a literal fashion – with events happening on stage chronologically – director Rachel Dickstein brings Mai’s story to life in a different way that serves the opera’s impressionistic structure.

“When I first came on to Thumbprint, I was drawn to the impressionistic structure that Kamala and Susan had created,” recalls Dickstein. “Mai’s story does not unfold in a traditional or literal way. Everything that happens is from Mai’s perspective so therefore told through the lens of memory.”

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Patrick Blackwell Gears Up for the Flood

Patrick Blackwell (left) in rehearsal for Noah's Flood (2017); Photo: LA Opera

Patrick Blackwell (center) in rehearsal for Noah’s Flood (2017); Photo: LA Opera

Patrick Blackwell has always wanted to sing. His mother was an avid opera-goer and Blackwell grew up in the shadow of the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. His passion for singing led him to Duke Ellington School of the Arts and later Julliard. As a professional singer, he’s traveled the world performing and in recent years has made a home for himself at LA Opera.

On May 6, Patrick Blackwell stars as Noah in Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood. As part of our Cathedral Project and presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Noah’s Flood brings together opera professionals with members of the Los Angeles community for an opera experience unlike any other. This is Blackwell’s first time performing an opera at the Cathedral and it’s an experience the bass-baritone is looking forward to.

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Mozart: Truth Through Beauty

Matthew Aucoin (right) works with Summer Hassan, a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program

Matthew Aucoin (right) works with Summer Hassan, a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program

Next month, LA Opera presents Mozart: Truth Through Beauty, a recital tour featuring artist-in-residence Matthew Aucoin as he and the rising stars of the company’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program explore Mozart’s unique artistic trajectory.

Why Mozart? Mozart is arguably the world’s most popular composer. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the music in its entirety, you’ve likely heard some of his music on TV, in film, or even in a viral commercial. Mozart is also one of the most misunderstood composers. He is often portrayed as a faintly-annoying child prodigy to whom everything came easy (much to the chagrin of his peers as portrayed in the award-winning film Amadeus). In reality, Mozart was a serious questing artist who spent his few adult years transforming his youthful brilliance into music of sublime simplicity.
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Girl Power Playlist

Sondra Radvanovsky as the title character in Tosca (2013); Photo: Robert Millard

Sondra Radvanovsky as the title character in Tosca (2013); Photo: Robert Millard

Opera has some of the gutsiest heroines that you don’t want to mess with who have killer arias –anthems as empowering awe-inspiring as your favorite Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Katy Perry songs.

Before seeing our upcoming production of Tosca –whose title character is one gutsy heroine – check out our list of music that gets you in that girl power spirit.

Tosca’s Act III aria (“Il tuo sangue o il mio amore”) – Tosca by Giacomo Puccini (opens at LA Opera on April 22)

Tosca will do anything for Cavaradossi, the man she loves – even resort to murder. In Act III, Tosca tells Cavaradossi exactly what she had to do to save his life. It’s one of the most climactic moments in the opera and showcases just how gutsy Tosca can be.

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Body Double

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.

The original search and rescue dummy before the costumes, wig/makeup, and props magic.

The original search and rescue dummy before the costumes, wig/makeup, and props magic.

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.

Craftsperson Meredith Miller (left) and Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere (right) discuss the Cesare Angellotti body double for Tosca.

Craftsperson Meredith Miller (left) and Costume Design Manager Jeannique Prospere (right) discuss the Cesare Angelotti body double for Tosca.

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.

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Master Your Opera Skills

Eli Villanueva

Eli Villanueva

On April 21, LA Opera is hosting a master class for undergraduate and graduate students taught by Eli Villanueva, LA Opera’s resident stage director for education and community engagement. Five students from different schools across Los Angeles – chosen from LA Opera’s College Advisory Committee – will sing and Villanueva will coach them on performance and musicality. Students are encouraged to sign-up for the master class to learn the secrets behind compelling storytelling, musicality, and crafting a personalized approach to opera performance.

Master classes are held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and on college campuses and offer students the chance to connect with the artists that make the opera magic happen. Students watch these professionals work and see firsthand what it takes to pursue careers in the arts – and in opera, specifically.

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How far would you go to save the one you love?

Everyone has their limits – Tosca’s plight reflects today’s world more than Puccini could have imagined.

Sondra Radvanovsky as the title character in Tosca (2013); Photo: Robert Millard

Sondra Radvanovsky as the title character in Tosca (2013); Photo: Robert Millard

Tosca is one of the greatest works of music theatre ever written and its importance is undiminished more than a century after Puccini wrote it. Its narrative is deceptively simple. It involves the lives of three principal characters. Mario Cavaradossi is a talented young painter, earning his living by creating ecclesiastical art in Roman churches. Floria Tosca, his lover, is a well-known opera singer, adored by her public. Baron Scarpia is the chief of police in a military state that is cracking down on all opposition, including artists and the support they draw.

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Sunday Night at the Domingo Awards


LA Opera
The Domingo Awards
Photo Credit: Steve Cohn

Since 1997, Hispanics for LA Opera (HLAO) has hosted the Plácido Domingo Awards. The awards ceremony – which honors distinguished Hispanic opera artists and others who have contributed to the success of HLAO – was held last night at the home of the LA Opera, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall. In addition to honoring this year’s winners – Rafa Sardina and Joshua Guerrero – the awards also celebrated the 25th Anniversary of HLAO.

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Breaking News: LA Opera Releases New DVD

First, there was Richard Simmons. Then, we had Billy Banks Tae Bo. Next, came Pilates and every kind of yoga you can imagine. Way back in the day, there was Jazzercise.

Now, there’s Opera-cise.

Just this morning, LA Opera has released a workout DVD called “Sweatin’ to the Opera.” From Puccini to Bizet, get into tip top shape, while listening to some of opera’s greatest hits. Get your blood pumping and your metabolism soaring, while you strike poses inspired by the staging in LA Opera’s iconic productions, and workout alongside some of LA Opera’s favorite singers.

The Opera-cize Craze is about to take off. Whether you’re looking for a beach body, a six-pack or just to burn off some steam, there’s a workout for you. Here’s a peek at some of the poses that will surely get you that perfect physique.

Get Your Tales of Hoffmann on with our Doll Arms Press

Perfect for building boulder shoulders

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150 Productions and Counting

George Stern in The Tales of Hoffmann (2003); Der Rosenkavalier (2005); The Merry Widow (2006); Manon (2007)

George Stern in The Tales of Hoffmann (2003); Der Rosenkavalier (2005); The Merry Widow (2006); Manon (2007)

Carmen. Manon. Pagliacci. Name almost any opera and George Sterne has probably performed in it. The current production of The Tales of Hoffmann marks the LA Opera Chorus member’s 150th production with the company – a milestone that no other chorister has yet to achieve. … Continue reading

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What’s a heckelphone and why did William May learn to play it for Salome?

William May and the hecklephone

William May and the heckelphone

Salome is one of the most challenging operas to play. Musicians are tasked with a score that pushes the limits of what’s considered playable for an orchestra. LA Opera Orchestra Principal Bassoonist William May had a further challenge. In less than a year, May learned a rare instrument to play in Salome – the heckelphone.

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Zanaida Robles Inspires Students Through Opera

Zanaida Robles working with students during Opera Camp (2016)

Zanaida Robles working with students during Opera Camp (2016); Photo: Gennia Cui

She fell in love with music at the age of seven. Now, Zanaida Robles is an established singer, conductor, composer, and music instructor. As an LA Opera teaching artist, she’s bringing her experience and love for the music to work by inspiring the next generation of opera lovers.

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Finding Love at the Opera

One of Anthony and Marta Richardson's engagement photos, taken outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

One of Anthony and Marta Richardson’s engagement photos, taken outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

When Anthony and Marta Richardson each bought tickets to a performance of LA Opera’s Simon Boccanegra in 2012, they had no idea they would end up finding love at the opera.

Before they ever met, Anthony and Marta were both frequent opera-goers. Marta, a teacher at the time (she’s now an elementary school principal at Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District), saw her first performance at LA Opera in 1997 and had since invited representatives of the Music Center and the LA Opera to speak to her students about opera and music. Anthony – an actor/singer turned financial consultant – had also attended shows at LA Opera since the late 1990s, even volunteering with the Opera League of Los Angeles. His assignment – shuffling artists from LAX to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

In March 2012, Anthony had tickets to see Simon Boccanegra.

“I had never seen Plácido Domingo perform before and was very excited,” says Anthony.

When his friend canceled, Anthony decided to have dinner at Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse, thinking he might meet someone to whom he could give his extra ticket.

“When I got to the steakhouse, I spotted Marta and her friend at the bar and strategically sat next to them,” recalls Anthony. Marta replies jokingly, “That’s how men operate.”

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LA Opera Inspires Fashion Exhibit at FIDM Museum

FIDM 4

From the bonnet à la Figaro (an 18th-century fashion inspired by the hero of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro), to the 1920s costumes in LA Opera’s The Abduction from the Seraglio, opera and fashion have always influenced each other. To celebrate the inextricable link between opera and fashion, LA Opera has partnered with FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles and inspired an exhibition called “Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s.”

FIDM 3

An evening dress designed by Natasha Rambova; circ 1927

This is the second time that LA Opera productions have inspired an exhibition at FIDM. In March 2015, FIDM Museum presented “Opulent Art: 18th-Century Dress.” This exhibition featured a rare original 18th-century Figaro costume worn during performances of The Marriage of Figaro. The exhibition also coincided with the company’s Figaro Unbound initiative (presented in connection with the company’s “Figaro Trilogy”: Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

 

This time, “Exotica: Fashion & Costume of the 1920s” explores how films set in exotic locales influenced the fashion of the day. This exhibition is inspired by LA Opera’s production of The Abduction from the Seraglio, which is set in the Roaring Twenties on the famous Orient Express, traveling from Istanbul to Paris.

Surrounded by a giant Orient Express structure, various “exotic” clothing is displayed as if on a platform about to board the train. Several of the pieces are not so different from what the characters in The Abduction from the Seraglio might wear on their journey around the world, also reflecting the “east meets west” nature of the opera – and of Hollywood cinema in the 1920s (see The Sheik or The Thief of Baghdad).

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Salome’s Two Worlds Projected

LA Opera first presented its provocative production of Salome during its inaugural season in 1986. That iconic production featured a backdrop of hand painted, psychedelic projections envisioned by designer John Bury. Salome returns to LA Opera this month and features new projections that build upon Bury’s original designs and showcase the title character’s mental state throughout the opera.

Bury’s original projections (see below) were abstract and textural, containing a dark color scheme (reds, blues, and purples). Some projections feature shapes that look like bubbles or blood cells, while others create patterns using horizontal lines.

A still from John Bury's original projections

A still from John Bury’s original projections

Updated since their original use, the new projections are no longer hand painted. Projection Designer Alisa Lapidus digitized Bury’s projections and used them as the base for the new projections (which are both digital and animated). These new projections reflect director David Paul’s emphasis on Salome’s journey between two worlds – the one she lives in and the one in her head.

A still from the new projections for Salome

A still from the new projections for Salome

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Where In The World Are LA Opera Productions?

Since LA Opera’s first season in 1986, Los Angeles is not the only place in the world that you can experience one of the company’s productions. Over the years, they’ve been rented and staged by other opera companies, produced during festivals, and even shown on the big screen. LA Opera’s innovative and beloved productions travel the world, sharing the spirit of Los Angeles and a love of opera with people far and wide.

Here are three productions that have traveled the world in recent years.

Salome (1986; 1989; 1998; 2001; 2017)

Salome (1986); Photo: Frederick Ohringer

Salome (1986); Photo: Frederick Ohringer

LA Opera’s iconic production of Strauss’s Salome (which returns to the LA Opera stage February 18) originally premiered during our first season in 1986. Adapted from the scandalous play by Oscar Wilde, Salome is a seductively beautiful tapestry of the subconscious. The princess Salome becomes infatuated by her stepfather’s prisoner, John the Baptist, and she determines to have him…whatever the cost.

This production of Salome is well traveled and has been staged both close to home (at San Diego Opera) across the country (Washington National Opera) and around the world (on tour with the Savonlinna Festival in Finland and as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in China).

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