“All art, no matter how sophisticated, avant-garde or advanced, must still have the ability to touch and move a human being.” – Gottfried Helnwein, set and costume designer for Der Rosenkavalier (2005)
LA Opera capped off its 2004/2005 season with a colorful production of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Visually striking and set during the wildness of the Baroque era, Der Rosenkavalier was a new production directed by Academy Award nominee, Maximilian Schell (his second for the company following the successful Lohengrin in 2001).
“There on the fountain’s edge, the shadow appeared to me. I could see her lips moving as if speaking and with her lifeless hand she seemed to call me. For a moment she stood there motionless, then she vanished all at once, and the water, earlier so limpid, had grown red, as if with blood.” – Lucia in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
With these words, Lucia shows the world her thin grip of reality, showcasing her slip into madness later on in Donizetti’s tragic Lucia di Lammermoor. Opera is filled with such haunting moments and characters, some that are so powerful, they are difficult to forget like the above Lucia scene, or others that are truly terrifying, such as the characters in Howard Shore’s The Fly (2008).
To celebrate Halloween during our 30th Anniversary Season, we have selected 30 haunting LA Opera images. Below are images from three productions that horror junkies should know about. Other images in this series have been uploaded to our #LAO30Images: Halloween Edition Pinterest Gallery.
“The time had come for me to attach myself to a new form.” – Composer Howard Shore on his score for The Fly
LA Opera presented the U.S. premiere of The Fly in 2008. Based on David Cronenberg’s 1986 cult horror classic, The Fly follows the story of an eccentric scientist, who while working on a teleportation device, accidentally fuses his DNA with that of a fly’s. As a result, he slowly turns into a fly, terrifying those he loves.
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.
“The first time I did Pagliacci, at the Royal Opera House in London, I did it as it had normally been done, turn-of-the-century. Also, at the Met, I did it that way. But then in the early ‘80s, I brought it much closer to us. I set it in the same environment, Southern Italy, but in the early 1940s. That’s the version that Plácido [Domingo] and Teresa Stratas did around the world and also on video and laser disc. But then I thought, why stop in the middle of the road? Let’s do it today.” – Director Franco Zeffirelli on staging his Pagliacci in the present day (then 1996)
“I have gone out of my way to demonstrate that Debussy was writing very specific music for very specific situations. When you actually put it all out there, when you take the trouble to make a believable existence, note by note, bar by bar for these characters, you realize this opera is so filled with life, and with detail, that it becomes anything but the boring opera of the season. On the contrary, it’s a sizzler.” – Peter Sellars, on his staging of Pelléas et Mélisande (1995)
“[Designer] Hockney has turned the opera into a scenic wonderland of gleaming, fluidly changing, primary colors. Everything looks very pretty and very painterly, from the stylized panoramas of winding roads, lakes and ornamental trees in the upper realms to the dye-dripped platform that functions as Barak’s modest hovel.” – Martin Bernheimer, Los Angeles Times Music Critic (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 (Steel Magnolias, The Turning Point) on his first operatic directing experience staging La Bohème at LA Opera in 1992.
“Nixon in China imagines what history cannot tell us and what none of the participants in the trip was able to articulate. The opera is not about what I meant for Nixon to go to China, it is an opera about what it felt like to be Nixon in China. It is not an opera about what Nixon did for China, but what China did for Nixon.” – Mark Swed, classical music critic for the Los Angeles Times.