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Placido Domingo extends contract through 2019

LA Opera Board Chairman Marc Stern announced today that the Board of Directors has extended Plácido Domingo’s contract as the company’s Eli and Edythe Broad General Director through the end of the 2018/19 season.

“Plácido Domingo has transformed Los Angeles into a world-class operatic capital,” said Mr. Stern. “I am continually astounded by his inspired artistic vision, his boundless energy, and his passionate advocacy for music, the arts and education. I am equally honored and excited for LA Opera to continue collaborating with him in the seasons to come.”

“I love Los Angeles and I am proud to continue leading LA Opera well into the future,” said Mr. Domingo. “It is enormously gratifying to have been part of this company from its earliest years, but I am even more excited about what we can achieve as we continue to build an opera company for the 21st century.”

Plácido Domingo has been an important and vital presence in LA Opera’s administration since the Company’s formation, having served as Artistic Consultant (since 1984) and Artistic Director (2001-2003) before he was named General Director in 2003. Under his leadership and artistic vision, LA Opera has rapidly grown to become a company of international stature. As a performer, he first appeared in Los Angeles in 1967, starring in a New York City Opera tour of Alberto Ginastera’s Don Rodrigo at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with additional appearances on subsequent tours with New York City Opera as well as with the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden) and Deutsche Oper Berlin. He sang the title role in LA Opera’s inaugural production of Otello in 1986 and he has appeared regularly with the company since then; his appearance later this month as Giorgio Germont in La Traviata will be his 26th different role with LA Opera, and he has also conducted 15 different operas to date with the company. His keen interest in helping young singers led to the 2006 formation of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program.

Enjoy Yourself! A student's impression of Operalia

Guest blogger Ellie Johnson, a 10th grader and Amabassor in LA Opera’s 90012 program, shares her impression of this year's Operalia finale.

Opera Buddies 

L-R: Ellie Johnson, Muse Lee, Spencer Hart, Sarah Toutounchian


Like many 15 year olds, I love spending time with my friends gossiping and gushing about the latest episode of “Sherlock.”  However, I also love opera and watching opera competitions.  When I heard LA Opera was making tickets available for Opera Camp members to attend Operalia at a discounted price,  I literally died on the inside from happiness.  Immediately, I texted my two opera buddies.

When August 30th arrived, I kept looking at the clock to see if it was too early to start getting ready.  The car ride felt too long as I daydreamed about the greatest singers in the world.  Waiting outside of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, I spotted one of my music teachers, Mrs. Manfredi.  As we exchanged simple chit chat and excited comments about the competition,  I learned this competition might never be in Los Angeles again.  It dawned on me this might be the only time I could see Operalia. LIVE. After finding Opera Camp buddies and reminiscing about the summer show, the bell rang for Operalia to start. I hurried over to my seat, through door 31.  

I wish I could write about my experience watching the competition, but it would take up at least 20 pages.  So, I will write about the singers I voted for:  Joshua Guerrero singing "Torna ai felici di" from Le Villi, and Amanda Woodbury singing "A vos jeux, mes amis"from Hamlet.

I’m sure Joshua does not remember me, but I performed with him in LA Opera’s community opera, Jonah and the Whale.  It was exciting to see a familiar face on stage. Once he took that first breath and started singing, I could hardly contain my excitement, because he was singing the exact song he performed in a Master Class I attended a year a half ago!  I was practically shoving the binoculars into my eye sockets so I could see his face.  

Sorry Joshua, but I have to say, I liked Amanda’s performance the most. Watching the emotion she brought onto stage is what I hope to bring every time I sing a role. Her quality and power are definitely one of a kind.  

Before the final winners were announced, we watched a video about Operalia that included interviews from past winners.  I will never forget what Placido Domingo told Joyce DiDonato before going on stage when she won in 1998… “Enjoy yourself!”  I did enjoy myself at my first Operalia, and I hope this isn’t my last.

Operalia 2014 winners

After a week of competition that brought 40 young singers from 17 nations to Los Angeles, Plácido Domingo announced that Rachel Willis-Sørensen, an American soprano who sang "Dich teure Halle" from Tannhauser at the finals, and Mario Chang, a Guatemalan tenor whose finals selection was "Ella mi fu rapita" from Rigoletto, took the top prizes in the 22nd edition of Operalia, the World Opera Competition. Hosted by LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the weeklong contest culminated on August 30 in a Gala Finals Concert—featuring the LA Opera Orchestra conducted by Mr. Domingo at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The concert was streamed live on Medici TV, and if you missed Saturday, you can watch the Grand Finals Concert here.

Operalia winners
Mario Chang and Rachel Willis-Sørensen

The complete competition results of Operalia 2014:
Two first prizes of $30,000:
Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano, USA) and Mario Chang (tenor, Guatemala)

Two second prizes of $20,000:
Amanda Woodbury (soprano, USA) and Joshua Guerrero (tenor, USA/Mexico)

Four third prizes of $10,000:
Tie: Anaïs Constans (soprano, France) and Mariangela Sicilia (soprano, Italy)
Tie: John Holiday (countertenor, USA) and Andrey Nemzer (countertenor, Russia)

The Birgit Nilsson Prize for Wagner/Strauss repertoire:
Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano, USA)

The Pepita Embil Domingo Zarzuela Prize of $10,000:
Rachel Willis-Sørensen (soprano, USA)

The Don Placido Domingo, Sr., Zarzuela Prize of $10,000:
Mario Chang (tenor, Guatemala)

Two Audience Prizes, watches offered by Rolex:
Amanda Woodbury (soprano, USA) and Mario Chang (tenor, Guatemala)

The CulturArte Prize of $10,000:
Joshua Guerrero (tenor, USA/Mexico)


Left to right: Andrey Nemzer, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Mario Chang, Mariangela Sicilia,
Plácido Domingo, Anaïs Constans, Joshua Guerrero, Amanda Woodbury, John Holiday.

Inspiration for an Art Deco Traviata

LA Opera’s 2014/15 season begins September 13 with an Art Deco-inspired production of La Traviata directed and designed by Marta Domingo. Mrs. Domingo took a break from rehearsals to talk to us about her inspiration and influences for this beloved Verdi masterpiece.

What inspired you to set La Traviata in the Art Deco era?
Art Deco and the Roaring Twenties have always fascinated me. Both of these—one an artistic movement, the other a social phenomenon—flourished at the same time. Art Deco represented elegance and glamour—think of Hollywood's sophisticated women and mysterious vamps—but also modernism and industrial progress. The era of speed had begun.

What had changed during this period?
A brutal war had left the nation in mourning for a lost generation of men, so young people took up the motto “Enjoy today to the fullest, for tomorrow may never arrive.” No moral or social barriers could stop them. They indulged in scandalous behavior—drinking in Prohibition-era speakeasies, sometimes drinking absinthe, the “Green Curse” of France; smoking cigarettes in public through long holders; and dancing wildly in dark clubs to the shocking rhythms of the Charleston played by jazz bands. And then there were cars, still relatively new at the time, perfect and comfortable for practicing the new sexual sport: petting.

Violetta's first entrance in La Traviata.

What influenced your designs for the production?
In the third act, Flora's party takes place in a private nightclub decorated with the characteristic geometric lines and predominant colors of Art Deco: black and gold. When I started thinking about the costumes and choreography for this part of the opera, Josephine Baker with her famous skirt of bananas first came to my mind. But I suddenly realized that I had my inspiration right in front of me: a little statuette of an oriental dancer, whose delicate body is made of ivory and her brief costume made of bronze. It’s one of my most precious belongings, and even if it is not signed by the great Romanian Art Deco sculptor Chiparus, it is as exquisite as any of his dancers. A fascination with exotic cultures was a defining characteristic of Art Deco, after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1921.

The bronze and ivory sculptures of Demétre Chiparus (1886-1947) embody the spirit of the Art Deco epoch. When the art of ancient Egypt came into fashion during the 1920s, Chiparus created numerous decorative figures that represented Egyptian dancers, like this one.

The new fashions of the 1920s were also fascinating to me. Wild and frenetic popular dances—such as the Charleston, Black Bottom and Shimmy—demanded total freedom of movement. Corsets were abolished, and with lighter undergarments such as the “step-ins,” a new woman emerged: slim, stylish, refined and reckless. On one side the new fashion called “the Garçon Look” made women look very girlish; on the other hand, the pale skin and black-lined eyes created the fascinating American “vamp” and the French “femme fatale.”

From obscene Trivialità to Traviata (by James Conlon)

A Note from Music Director James Conlon
The third of Giuseppe Verdi’s so-called “middle-period trilogy” of masterpieces, La Traviata is arguably not only Verdi’s most popular opera, but one of a handful of the world’s most beloved operas. Several years after the trilogy was completed, when he was asked what his best opera was thus far, he answered: “Speaking as a professional, Rigoletto; speaking as an amateur, La Traviata.

I have often mused on what he meant by this statement. La Traviata (the inoffensive title can be translated as “a woman led astray” or “corrupted”) has always spoken directly to the hearts of opera lovers. Its wealth of melodic invention and expressive vocalism, so perfectly wed to the touching and tragic love story, reverberated on a personal level with its creator.


Giuseppe Verdi

This middle-period trilogy (a posthumous term) consists of Rigoletto (premiered on March 11, 1851), Il Trovatore (January 19, 1853) and La Traviata (March 6, 1853). I cite the dates of the premieres lest anyone overlook the fact that Verdi wrote them in an astonishingly short time, two of them virtually simultaneously. Not surprisingly, the music of each of the three works resembles the others. Yet hidden amongst the similarities, Rigoletto and La Traviata, each in its own way, inaugurate the future, whereas Il Trovatore is the crowning achievement of the past, the Verdian melodrama par excellence of the preceding 14 years. That Trovatore and Traviata, written so closely together, are so different is remarkable. Their brand of romanticism captured both a sense of completion and of summing up the previous hundred years of operatic theater, and is the vestibule to the future, which Verdi himself sets out in these works. Like the head of Janus, these works look backward—in some ways for the last time—but irrevocably point forward.

I would like to isolate one aspect of a common characteristic of the three masterpieces which is sometimes overlooked by those who might consider these works to be “old fashioned.” In fact, in the context of Italian theater of the early 1850s, they are not just daring, bold and shocking, but in their way, revolutionary.

Verdi’s theatrical genius led him ceaselessly to search for interesting dramatic material. Europe had been rocked by political upheaval and revolution in 1848, and the composer keenly felt the shock waves. His lifelong pursuit of popular appeal led him to eschew much of the formulaic opera libretti of the previous century. He foreswore mythology, ancient Greece, Rome and even Italian subjects. French, English, German and Spanish sources abound, and it is from Victor Hugo, Antonio García Gutiérrez and Alexandre Dumas that he found the sources for this extraordinary trilogy.

The common thread that weaves through these works is the presentation of protagonists who belong to categories of contemporary society’s cast-offs. Verdi saw the potential for explosive dramatic material in the lives and fates of a misanthropic hunchbacked jester, a tragically crazed gypsy woman (her race still despised and marginalized throughout Europe) and a Parisian courtesan.

The genius is not only in the choice, but also in the rendering. We empathize with Rigoletto despite his physical and moral ugliness, because of his tender love for his daughter. Azucena’s plight (however farfetched the plot of Il Trovatore) wins our hearts, despite her degraded and reviled origins. Verdi allows both of them to point an accusatory finger at their societies for their abject existences, blaming their own wickedness on their surroundings.

Violetta accuses no one, admirably assumes total responsibility for her life, and dies of consumption. She turns her society’s hypocrisy on its head, proving that a woman of “fallen virtue” can be far more capable of genuine love than the proponents of bourgeois morality. Verdi, by portraying a consumptive courtesan as a heroine, a symbol and incarnation of generous and boundless love, struck an unexpected chord in the history of Italian opera.

As Verdi dashed off Il Trovatore and La Traviata for their premieres separated by only five weeks, Richard Wagner was finishing the text of The Ring of the Nibelung. Verdi’s Teutonic contemporary posited that myths were the strongest subjects for music dramas. Verdi’s brand of Italian melodrama was rooted in realism. Yet while choosing a contemporary subject (the only time he did so in his 26 operas) that could have been played in contemporary dress (though Verdi backdated it 150 years, to the beginning of the 18th century), he in fact evoked an old mythical/biblical theme of the fallen woman and her redemption. Verdi elevated her to the level of myth, as Mozart and Da Ponte had done for Don Juan.

From the historical inhabitant of the Parisian demimonde Marie Duplessis (Franz Liszt was among her countless lovers), to the fictional heroine Marguerite Gautier of Alexandre Dumas fils’ (another of her lovers) novel and play La Dame aux camélias, to Violetta Valéry of Verdi’s opera, this complex, contradictory and intriguing personality has fascinated many. Since the first film version in 1911 there have been more than a dozen major renditions on screen, including those featuring Sarah Bernhardt, Greta Garbo and Isabelle Huppert.

The tragedy of La Traviata is essentially that of premature death, whose omnipresence is established in the first bar of the prelude. Violetta (violet is the traditional color of death in the Roman Catholic Church), condemned by incurable tuberculosis, has risen from a childhood of abuse and misery, to become a cultivated young woman with depth and a genuine capacity for love.

It is also the tragedy of the collision of the values of authentic love with the rigidity of provincial bourgeois values. Verdi was no stranger to these conflicts. It is another Verdian drama of the conflicting demands of love and duty. As in many Verdi operas, there is, in the end, a suffering father. The well meaning guardian of conventional morals, the father, Germont, in opposing the union of his son with a (now former) courtesan, would expel her from the “Garden of Eden” of committed love and banish her to return to the world of prostitution. He breaks her heart and will, and destroys the quality of life for what little time is left to her, all with the assurance that he is doing God’s will. “Dio mi guidò (God guided me)" he sings; “Dio m'esaudì (God heard me)". He recognizes his own culpability only at the moment of Violetta’s death.

Without endorsing psychobiography as the source of the composer’s inspiration, one also cannot ignore the long history of Verdi’s resentment of authority, the severance of his relationship to his own father, the conflicts with the provincial mentality of his native city of Buseto, the occasional difficulty with his beloved ex-father-in-law and patron Antonio Barezzi, and the undignified and bigoted denigration of his (not yet) wife Giuseppina on account of their open relationship and her “problematic” past. That Verdi intended in any way to portray this on the stage, I would strongly refute. But that he knew, first hand, the world that he was describing in La Traviata, there can be no doubt. His daring to bring such matters to the Italian stage was remarkable in the context of his time.

Similarly Verdi knew Paris, a city with which he had a love-hate relationship all his life. His ambivalent feelings ran deep. He wanted its approbation and admiration, but deeply disliked working in the theaters there. When Violetta refers to Paris as a popoloso deserto (a populated desert) she is using a phrase to be found in one of the composer’s own letters.

The degree of Verdi’s courage and boldness can be measured by the reaction of the authorities. Two years earlier, when Verdi submitted the libretto to what would become Rigoletto, the Venetian censors deplored that the composer and his poet Francesco Maria Piave were not able to find a better vehicle for their talents than a libretto of “repulsive immorality and obscene triviality.” They could well have repeated that accusation against La Traviata but didn’t. Accustomed now to the composer’s intransigence and mindful of his increasing prestige, they settled for changing its title from Amore e morte (Love and Death) to La Traviata—a subtle but tempered bit of moralizing.

Could it be that they tacitly recognized not only the repulsive immorality of the Parisian drawing rooms, complete with carousing and gambling, but also that of Father Germont’s worldview? Might it be that they had recognized the moral triumph of the heroine, the woman “led astray,” who passed through a world of obscene triviality to become a symbol of selfless love? Did they realize that Verdi had exalted a woman who transformed herself from a life of “obscene triviality” to “The Woman” who conquered the world’s heart as “La Traviata”?

James Conlon, conductor of La Traviata, is the Richard Seaver Music Director of LA Opera.