Tag Archives: Peter Hemmings
Hispanics for LA Opera was launched in February 1992 at the request of Peter Hemmings, then general director of LA Opera, with the enthusiastic support of Plácido Domingo. They were interested in engaging this vibrant, growing segment of the Los Angeles community education and welcoming them to the opera. Hemmings reached out to LA Opera subscribers and patrons Alicia and Ed Clark, who stepped forward to lead this effort by founding HLAO. Their leadership initiated an effort that has been an integral source of support for building the understanding and awareness of the operatic art form in Hispanic communities throughout Los Angeles.
Over the past 25 years, HLAO volunteers have enthusiastically promoted opera throughout the Hispanic community, encouraging attendance at performances and coordinating social activities that offer opportunities to learn more about the art form while getting to know other opera enthusiasts. They have enjoyed a large measure of success. In 1992, Hispanic attendees at LA Opera performances made up just 1% of the overall audience; today that figure is more than 14%. This is more than a tenfold increase!
In addition to promoting opera throughout the Hispanic community, HLAO hosts the annual Plácido Domingo Awards. This special event honors great Hispanic opera artists and civic leaders for their community service and support of the mission of HLAO. Over the years, a number of legendary artists have been the recipients of the award including Ramón Vargas, Ana María Martínez, Erwin Schrott, Juan Diego Flórez, Rolando Villazón, Suzanna Guzmán and Ailyn Pérez.
Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera’s President and Chief Executive Officer, is either astonishingly modest or tremendously reverential to those who have gone before him… or both.
Mr. Koelsch is this year’s recipient of the Opera League’s Peter Hemmings Award – given to individuals “who have made significant contributions to the development of opera in the greater Los Angeles area.” He speaks of the achievements of LA Opera in his four years at the helm as little more than the naturalension of ideas and programs put forth by his predecessors – and by “the incredible team we have here.”
Thirty years after its founding, the opera legacy first established by Peter Hemmings lives on – literally.
That sweet, albeit heartbreaking and starved face you’ll see at the center of the Scottish Refugee’s chorus in Act IV is Amelia Hemmings, granddaughter of the late Hemmings.
By day, Amelia is your regular 7th grader. Besides singing, dancing and performing, she loves baking mini cupcakes (plain vanilla especially) and crafts (she even has her own glue gun). But then again, she might not be so regular after all. In LA Opera’s last two seasons, she’s been in several productions, carrying on the family’s opera tradition. (Her older brother Rory made his LA Opera solo debut as the Cabin Boy in Billy Budd in 2014 and has also appeared in several other productions.)
The curtain first rose at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for an LA Opera production in 1986, but our roots trace back four decades earlier. Steeped in tradition and celebrating the spirit of the city we call home, LA Opera’s history is worth exploring.
Check out the articles below to learn about the staging of our opera company.
Minutes before the curtain rose on LA Opera’s 1986 production of Otello, Plácido Domingo stood in the wings, ready to make his entrance in one of his signature roles. He had triumphantly sung Verdi’s tragic hero for audiences around the world, and was widely renowned as the preeminent Otello of his generation. Yet this performance carried a special significance for the tenor. It would be the very first performance in LA Opera’s inaugural season. Full of anticipation, Domingo was eager to showcase to the Los Angeles community, and the greater opera world, what this city could create.
LA Opera ushered in the new millennium with astounding vitality. Now led by Plácido Domingo as artistic director, the young company was poised to build upon the remarkable growth that had marked its first 14 years under the direction of Peter Hemmings. While the 2000/01 season had largely been planned in advance by the now-retired Hemmings, Domingo’s impact was big, bold and immediate.
To open the 2000/01 season, Plácido Domingo conducted the company premiere of Aida, Verdi’s grandest opera, featuring a high-powered cast: soprano Deborah Voigt as Aida, tenor Johan Botha as Radames and bass-baritone Simon Estes as Amonasro, all making their LA Opera debuts. Just days later, Domingo held a press conference to announce his ambitious future plans, which represented nothing less than a radical rethinking of what LA Opera could be. He envisioned fashioning LA Opera into an opera company that would push the artistic boundaries of the medium, bringing it squarely into the popular culture of Los Angeles in the new millennium. His plans included a multi-season collaboration with the dynamic leader of the Kirov Opera, conductor Valery Gergiev; an enormous expansion of the company’s repertoire to emphasize new operas and works not previously presented in Los Angeles; and even a new production of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, the first ever created in Los Angeles. Domingo’s star power would not only attract the most prominent singers, directors and designers of the time, it would also inspire a new wave of funding, through initiatives such as the Domingo’s Angels, essential to realize his plans. At Domingo’s side was a man who shared his artistic ambition: Kent Nagano, newly announced as LA Opera’s first-ever principal conductor, a position he would take up the following summer.
LA Opera’s partnership with Valery Gergiev had begun on the evening before that remarkable press conference. To expand upon the repertoire planned by Hemmings, Domingo had added a remarkable series of Wagner concerts, showcasing the Kirov Orchestra and its celebrated conductor in their first performances in Los Angeles. It was also the first time for L.A. audiences to experience Domingo singing Wagner, as the concert featured Act One of Die Walküre and Act Three of Parsifal. The soloists included Linda Watson, who would become the company’s Wagnerian soprano of choice for the next decade, and a young soprano on the verge of superstardom, Anna Netrebko.
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.