Week Day Spotlights
In the fall of 1900, Giacomo Puccini sat in a London theater, mesmerized by a play entitled Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan. In the play, “Butterfly,” a Japanese geisha, abandoned by her American naval officer husband, Pinkerton, awaits his return. Puccini immediately grasped the operatic potential in the play’s doomed love story and clash of cultures. Yet one scene in particular—created by the play’s writer, producer and director, David Belasco—inspired him most of all.
Butterfly sits in the center of the stage, holding an overnight vigil, awaiting Pinkerton’s long-overdue return. For several long minutes, she does not speak. Time passes. The sun sets, the stars come out, fade, and then the sun rises again. In the audience, Puccini and those around him truly empathized with Butterfly. The powerful staging eliminated all the distractions, allowing them to focus solely on her emotional plight. It was at that moment that Puccini not only resolved to make Butterfly his next opera, but he also decided to make Butterfly’s vigil an arresting musical moment. Such a long stretch of silence had never been explored in opera and he was determined to see it come to life on the operatic stage.
To celebrate Plácido Domingo’s upcoming concert with Renée Fleming on March 18, we are throwing it back to 2002, when Domingo sang in “A Night of Zarzuela & Operetta with Plácido Domingo & Friends.” The concert also included singers Julia Migenes, Charles Castronovo, and Virginia Tola, and featured highlights from the Zarzuela and operetta repertory. Zarzuela, in particular, is very dear to Domingo’s heart as his parents were both Zarzuela singers. (Learn more about LA Opera’s Zarzuela Project here.)
Can’t get enough Plácido Domingo? Check out a few articles below before seeing him in concert.
To celebrate Maestro Domingo’s birthday, we dedicated this edition of our #LAO30Images series to him. Check out our #LAO30Images: Domingo at LA Opera Pinterest Board to see all 30 images of Domingo on the LA Opera stage.
SUPERNUMERARY (20 Scrabble points) – Latin – A supernumerary is opera’s version of an extra. Supernumeraries have no dialogue and are directed to create a believable scene, when the environment calls for large groups of people. But they’re actors or artists in their own right. What would Gianni Schicchi have been like without the lively corpse played by Momo Casablanca? What would the Pagliacci circus be like without dozens of attentive audience members? Can you imagine the cinematic beauty of Paris in La Boheme without several spirited supernumeraries showcasing the quintessential Parisian “joie de vivre?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
CADENZA (19 Scrabble points) – Italian – A cadenza is an elaborate section (sometimes improvised) towards the end of an aria that allows the singer to really showcase what their voice can do, like the below “Flute Cadenza” in Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.
Interestingly enough, Donizetti never wrote such a section into his original score for Lucia. The section was added to showcase Nellie Melba’s coloratura singing during an 1889 performance at The Paris Opera. Other famous singers (Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, and Beverly Sills) added their own flavor when playing Lucia. Check out Diana Damrau (who will play all four heroines in our 16/17 production of Tales of Hoffmann) tackling Lucia’s entire mad scene below, including the famous cadenza.
Can’t get enough Diana Damrau? Get to know Diana Damrau in the articles that follow and get in the Damrau spirit.
There is no better composer than Giuseppe Verdi to tackle the darkly complex tragedy that is Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Fascinated by the supernatural and the bloody betrayal of Macbeth, Verdi composed the original opera in 1847, making dramatic additions in 1865 to create the masterpiece opera. Starring Plácido Domingo, Macbeth will kick off our upcoming season at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this September.
COUNTERTENOR (13 Scrabble points) – Latin – A countertenor is the highest, adult male voice type in opera. Countertenor parts are common in Baroque opera (watch Anthony Roth Costanzo sing “Stille amare” from George Frideric Handel’s Tolomeo below) but they also gained an increased popularity in the mid to late 20th century with the works of Benjamin Britten and Philip Glass. The title character in Akhnaten, which opens at LA Opera in November as part of the 16/17 season is a countertenor part.
Can’t get enough of the countertenor voice? We’ve collected a few articles and videos below to get you in the countertenor spirit.
To say that Nabucco put Giuseppe Verdi on the map is a vast understatement. The opera – a telling of the Biblical story of Jewish oppression by the Babylonians – saved his career. After his first opera, King for a Day, failed miserably (and also after he lost his wife and two children), Verdi was ready to give up composing. But La Scala manager Bartolomeo Merelli slipped him the libretto for Nabucco. Once Verdi read the lyrics to “Va pensiero,” he knew that this would be his next project. Nabucco became one of Verdi’s most famous operas, reigniting his career as a composer capable of creating rapturous, nationalistic sound, so vastly different from the more melodic Bellini or frenetic Donizetti. In 1901, at Verdi’s funeral, crowds of mourners sang “Va pensiero,” in his honor.
Are you excited to find out what we have in store for our 2016/2017 season? We can’t wait to tell you! That’s why this week, we’re giving you some clues. Get in on the fun and guess what will be on our mainstage in the coming season, which starts this fall.
Just how well do you know opera? (And if you don’t, now’s the time to get excited.) There are two ways that you can guess the 16/17 season this week. Here they are.
Let’s Talk About Icons
Each day this week, we will release an image of an object that symbolizes of one of the operas in the coming season. We’ll roll them out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest and they’ll also be added to this post.
Comment below or on any of our “How Well Do You Know Opera” social media posts and guess which production the icon is from. If you guess right, you will be entered to win a special prize.
But that’s not all! All winners will be entered to win a GRAND PRIZE – two tickets to the Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming concert on March 18.
Let the guessing games begin! In what opera might you see this?
Mozart is the king of comedy. His Così fan tutte is a comedic battle of the sexes in the style of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. In September 2011, LA Opera presented Così fan tutte for the first time in 15 years. The story begins when two young men go undercover to test the fidelity of their fiancées. Not to be outdone, the women put up a good fight against false seduction, but will they prove faithful? Filled with ravishingly beautiful music and sparkling wit, Così fan tutte features a funny, clever plot that was bracing and politically incorrect, even in Mozart’s day.
CABALETTA (13 Scrabble points) – Italian – A cabaletta is a feature of Italian opera common in the first half of the 19th century. The fast, final section of a two-part aria, a cabaletta is animated, lively, and memorable. Think the end of the first act of Verdi’s La Traviata, when Violetta sings “Sempre libera.” Listen to Maria Callas’ rendition below.
Can’t get enough of cabalettas? Stay tuned for our upcoming 2016/2017 season announcement on January 26; you may be pleasantly surprised.
In 1986, LA Opera’s inaugural season opened with Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello, starring Plácido Domingo. Of the opera, director Götz Friedrich said, “The theme [of Otello] is eternal and current: The Soldier, shoved into peacetime, proves to be defenseless and helpless in the face of the attacks of everyday life, the persecutions of injured vanity. In ancient tragedy, the heroes fell because of the gods. With Shakespeare and Verdi, it is the envy of men which destroys the outsider.” This would become one of the company’s iconic productions.
Since its successful premiere in 1887, Otello has catapulted audiences to the Shakespeare of Verdi. This is a world where all the essentials of storytelling meet the heightened emotions of an operatic score. Take, for example, the below duet between Otello (Domingo) and Iago (Sherrill Milnes), “Si, pel ciel.”
“Everyone cried out at the idea of putting a hunchback on the stage; well, there you are. I was very happy to write Rigoletto…and it is my best opera.” – Giuseppe Verdi, July 26, 1852
Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto is Victor Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse on steroids. Verdi’s music energizes the story’s tragic drama, a father-daughter tale that ends unhappily. In the opera, the title character is a court jester to the womanizing Duke of Mantua, who openly mocks his social superiors in order to please the Duke. One day, he mocks the wrong man – the Count Monterone, whose daughter has been seduced and discarded by the Duke. The Count warns him never to make light of a father’s grief, a threat which haunts Rigoletto, as he is father to the beautiful Gilda, whom he keeps secluded from eyes of lecherous men like the Duke. When Gilda falls in love with the Duke, Rigoletto decides to have him murdered, but his plans go awry and Gilda ends up dying as a result.
Rigoletto’s most famous aria is the Duke’s Act IV show of callousness in the form of “La donna e mobile” (women are fickle), an unforgettable tune that returns—to heart wrenching effect—at the very end of the opera. The main point of the aria? Women are flighty and untrue, but men still need their love. (Warning: This may change your perspective on your favorite pasta commercial.)
Plácido Domingo as Rigoletto and Vittorio Grigolo as The Duke
Before seeing Erwin Schrott’s live concert, Cuba Amiga, this Saturday, take a journey through LA Opera history and check out Schrott in Don Giovanni. He’s sung the title role in Mozart’s “Don Juan” opera 17 times here in Los Angeles, most recently in 2007.
Can’t get enough of Erwin Schrott? Learn more about his latest concert, Cuba Amiga, below and make sure to snag your tickets before they’re gone.