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Extreme Sports Opera

by Tom Lady

You ever been on a rollercoaster ride that’s lasted three decades? Jeff Kleeman has.

As the Technical Director for LA Opera, Jeff regularly clocks in 80 or a hundred hours a week, sometimes even more if you can fathom that. Grinning through that ZZ Top beard, he says, “It’s like a rollercoaster ride. Once you’re strapped in, you’re on for the full ride. Around these parts we call it extreme sports opera.”

Jeff is a rarity. First off, how many other people do you know who not only can say they witnessed the birth of an opera company, but then stayed and grew up with said opera company? That’s right. The then recent graduate of Cal Arts interned with LA Opera during its first season in 1986-1987 to help with special effects. And the rest, as they say…

With a team that includes two full-timers plus the seasonal stage crew that can number between 50 and 70, Jeff is archiving the past, performing in the present or, as he says with another grin, “Hopefully proper planning for the future.” And when Jeff says future, he doesn’t mean the next opera. He means the next season.

Click here to read the full article posted on OperaLeague.org in Spring 2015.

Tom Lady sits on the Executive Committee of the Opera League of Los Angeles and is the editor of BRAVO, the League's newsletter. By day he works at Yahoo while at night he toils over his own writing projects.

#MusicMonday: Streetcar Edition

When Renée Fleming starred as Blanche DuBois in André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire, she wowed audiences with her many showstopper arias.  Start your week off right by listening to the blues-inspired opera, particularly Blanche’s radiant Act III aria, “I Want Magic,” in which she reveals her innermost desires.

Renée’s LA Opera portrayal of the doomed southern belle occurred in 2014. Look out for her return to Los Angeles in concert with Plácido Domingo March 18, 2016.

From Zarzuela To Opera Camp

Jesus and Diego Lopez (17 and 10, respectively) wanted nothing to do with classical music. When their mother, Beatriz Zaragoza, played classical music in the car, the boys complained. This all changed when the family discovered LA Opera’s Zarzuela Project.

With the Community Opera Choruses Network, LA Opera engages people from around LA County (with a concentrated focus on East LA) to explore opera. The Zarzuela Project is a key component of this network. Led by a team of LA Opera teaching artists, the project accepts all ages and weekly rehearsals are held at Salesian High School in East LA. Fernandez’s students rehearse various Zarzuelas and perform them at partner venues around the community. It is a project that is very dear to LA Opera General Director Plácido Domingo, whose parents were both Zarzuela singers.

Diego was the first to express interest in the project, because he loves to sing. Beatriz and Jesus eventually joined and the family noticed how much closer it brought them to the community. For the family, it is also a way to give back to their community. The group often performs at the local hospital and senior center. It’s a wonderful feeling for the family to bring joy and cultural history to other people through Zarzuela. Additionally, it gave them the experience of a lifetime – performing Zarzuela at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and singing with Plácido Domingo.

The Zarzuela Project has also led Jesus and Diego to join Opera Camp at LA Opera for the past few summers. The camp has extended their love of opera and music (particularly for Jesus who plays multiple instruments). Now when Beatriz plays classical music, the boys no longer complain; they like it.

Throwback Thursday: Radvanovsky In Tosca

The best on-stage moments occur when a singer can so perfectly capture the essence of a character through vocals and performance. Throughout her career, Sondra Radvanovsky has delivered many of these moments to audiences around the world. Radvanovsky played the title role in Puccini’s Tosca, during our 2012/2013 Season. Look out for more Puccini this September with our production of Gianni Schicchi.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Tosca

5 Classic Opera Cartoon Episodes

Patricia Bardon as Carmen

Imagine yourself at the opera for the first time. You're sitting in the orchestra and the curtain rises to the sounds of the overture from Bizet's Carmen. Suddenly, you realize that you've heard these notes before. But, where? 

Opera has inspired artists in all mediums from fine art to literature to cartoon television. It may very well be that the first time you heard Carmen, you were watching a Tom and Jerry episode. 

Here's our list of 5 Classic Opera Cartoon Episodes. 

1. Ever wonder what would happen if you cross Bugs Bunny with Wagner's Ring cycle? Chuck Jones did. The result is his and writer Michael Maltese's classic 1957 short, "What's Opera, Doc" where Elmer stars as Siegfried and pursues the beautiful Brunnhilde (Bugs in disguise). 

2. Arnold and Helga do Carmen in Hey Arnold's, "What's Opera, Arnold?" Other operas (including Pagliacci, the Ring cycle and The Marriage of Figaro) also make cameo appearances. 

3. Everyone loves Carmen in "Carmen Get It," the quintessential Tom and Jerry opera parody. 

4. Bugs Bunny turns the tables on Elmer Fudd as the barber in "The Rabbit of Seville." 

5. The Simpson's Sideshow Bob puts his Pavarotti cap on to perform "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.