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Blog entries posted during 2012

Los Angeles Opera Presents “The Story of La Bohème”

The Story of La Boheme

Opera can be as enchanting as a fairy tale, as raucous as the circus, or as dramatic as Harry Potter’s quest.  And better still, the action is set to some of the world’s most glorious music.  It seems to me to be the perfect entertainment for a child, and introducing children to the delights of opera is what SING ME A STORY is all about.

Dispel the notion that opera is “too difficult” for a child and present to your son or daughter an art form that encompasses all the arts: drama, music, and the visual arts through sets and costumes.  I wrote and illustrated SING ME A STORY to stimulate a child’s interest in opera by recreating, as fully as possible, the experience of a live performance.  With public schools steadily cutting arts programs, books on the performing and visual arts are more crucial than ever to educating our children.

To prepare your youngster for Puccini’s dazzling La Bohème, take a look at my retelling from SING ME A STORY.  If possible, play some musical highlights.  And if available, pop in a DVD of one of the many recorded performances.  You’ll be surprised at the richness and pure fun your child will experience when attending La Bohème, as he or she approaches the production with all the anticipation and wonder of an opera enthusiast, reveling in the gaiety and hardship that is the Paris of Puccini’s band of Bohemians.

Christopher Koelsch Named President and CEO of LA Opera

LA Opera is pleased to announce that Christopher Koelsch  has been appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Company, effective September 15, 2012.

The Company’s current Chief Executive Officer, Stephen Rountree, who has served LA Opera in an interim basis since late 2008 while also serving as President and CEO of the Music Center of Los Angeles County, will continue as the head of the Music Center and will join the LA Opera Board of Directors.

Eli and Edythe Broad General Director Plácido Domingo said, “We are very grateful for Steve Rountree’s guidance and leadership during the past few years. He has helped provide the Company with a solid foundation from which to build and grow. His guidance was strong and steady and will be missed. The time has come for LA Opera to have its own full-time business leader to join with me in continuing to advance the Company’s central artistic position, not only in Los Angeles but in the world of music. I cannot think of anyone more appropriate than Christopher Koelsch. Christopher is one of the most skilled professionals I have worked with and it gives me great pleasure to have him take on more responsibility as President and CEO of LA Opera. I embrace our future together at this wonderful company.”

Christopher Koelsch joined the company in 1997. He was named Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in 2010.  In his current role, and prior to that as Vice President for Artistic Planning, Mr. Koelsch has demonstrated exemplary leadership of the LA Opera team.  Under the guidance of Plácido Domingo, he has helped produce over 30 new productions, including four world premieres, and seven television recordings including the two-time Grammy winning Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny . Additionally, he has been responsible for all aspects of artistic and strategic planning, overseeing the Company’s music administration, production, marketing, public relations and educational administration.

We are excited that his role within the Company is expanding and can’t wait to see what the future holds for LA Opera under Mr. Koelsch’s leadership.

El Armario de Musetta

Sólo faltan cuatro semanas para la gran apertura de Boheme del compositor Giacomo Puccini, y el vestuario de Musetta va a estar justo en tiempo, o eso esperamos!

Les presento el equipo responsable de todo el vestuario magnífico de Musetta.  La líder es Leslie Ann Smith, una de nuestros talentosas constructora de vestuario de damas en el Taller de la Opera de Los Angeles.  Leslie Ann ha trabajado con nosotros durante doce años, en realidad es la tercera vez que ha trabajado en esta producción de La Boheme, y ella me dice que es una de sus operas favoritas. A ella le encanta hacer vestuario del siglo XIX hasta la primera mitad del siglo XX.  Asi que este espectáculo esta a la altura de su mundo favorito.

Leslie Ann trabaja en estrecha colaboración con su asistenta, Jennifer Shaw. La Fashionista del equipo, Jennifer ha estado con la Opera de Los Angeles desde 2005. Ella se graduo con especialicion en la moda, pero prefiere trabajar con el vestuario de la opera y el teatro y le encanta ponérselos también.  Jennifer me dice “no hay problema con los trajes de epoca, tambien estaban de moda en su día!

Una vez que Leslie Ann ha estudiado los diseños, toma las medidas de la artista, luego hace los patrones.  Jennifer transfiere los patrones a las hermosas telas propias para el escenario,  corta todas las piezas y se las entrega a las costureras del equipo, Hortencia Santos y Ana Wong, que meticulosamente cosen todo y añaden los toques finales.

No podemos olvidarnos de Hallie Dufresne nuestra artesana principal en el taller.   Todos sabemos que no podemos completar el modelo sin los accesorios. Hallie completa el “look” de Musetta con sombreros y joyas.  Gracias Hallie .. Con todo este trabajo del  equipo, estoy seguro que Musetta será fabulosamente vestida con sus nuevos diseños.

Si no, entonces creo que Musetta en el desnudo también será un Grand éxito!  La Boheme abre 12 de mayo hasta 02 de junio .. nos vemos en el teatro ..

May is “Opera Month” in Los Angeles

Tourists come to LA to experience starry Hollywood, bubbling La Brea Tar pits, and great weather of course, but opera?   Well, that could all change in May when

Los Angeles’s young and thriving operatic culture takes to the stage in four very different productions.

Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez - La Boheme

In addition to LA Opera’s grand Herb Ross production of La Boheme opening May 12 starring Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez and conducted by Patrick Summers,  three other diverse operatic events will be presented in venues throughout Los Angeles during the month of May.

Mariusz Kwiecien as Don Giovanni (photo courtesy of Seattle Opera)

The Los Angeles Philharmonic will present Mozart’s Don Giovanni from May 18 to 26 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Conducted by Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, LA Phil’s epic three-year Mozart/ Da Ponte Trilogy begins with the duo’s masterwork Don Giovanni starring baritone Mariusz Kwiecien and  featuring costumes by Rodarte designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy and stage design by WDCH architect Frank Gehry.  (www.LAPhil.com)

Garcia Lorca- Solo la muerte

On May 19 and 26, Long Beach Opera will present the west coast premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar with libretto by David Henry Hwang.  Based on the life of Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, Ainadamar tells the writer’s story who was executed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. A gripping reflection on the undying faith of a people, Aindamar ponders the moral duty of the artist and the relationship between artistic and political freedom.  (www.LongBeachOpera.org)

Crescent City - The Industry

A new experimental opera company, The Industry, will present its inaugural production from May 10 through 27: the Los Angeles premiere of Crescent City by composer Anne LeBarron and Douglas Kearney, staged at Atwater Crossing, an industrial space in Atwater Village. Featured twice in New York City Opera’s VOX showcase of new American opera, Crescent City tells a fantastical tale of a mythical city destroyed by one hurricane and the voodoo priestess determined to save it.

The Industry’s production takes place in an industrial space and immerses the audience in a 360-degree landscape comprised of visual artists’ responses to the six chief locations of the opera.(www.TheIndustryLA.org)

So, grab your surfboard, sunblock and opera glasses and come to LA and experience OPERA!



Trainer, Carmen Recker, leads a Community Educator workshop

Do you have a passion for opera and a desire to share the excitement and drama with your community? If so, join LA Opera’s dynamic team of Community Educators! LA Opera is recruiting new volunteers and will be offering a Summer Training Program that will take you through a variety of workshops, seminars, and behind-the-scenes activities. The program will provide you with the skills and experiences needed to facilitate amazing opera talks and workshops in libraries, schools, and community centers throughout Los Angeles County. Not only will you get to share your love of opera, you will get the opportunity to work closely with LA Opera, one of the country’s great opera companies. These talks will allow you to share your passions with community members of all ages, from young children to the elderly. A love of opera is a must, and a desire to work with children is preferred.


Applicants must provide a completed application, 5 minute presentation, and a personal interview. To obtain an application, please contact Garrett Collins, Community Programs Assistant, by e-mail at gcollins@laopera.org or by phone at (213) 972-8016.  The Application Deadline is April 20, 2012.



Color, Costumes and The Two Foscari

Costume design by Mattie Ullrich

Artist Georgia O’Keefe said “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.”  Whether it is a conscious choice or something you unknowingly do, we all assign feelings, emotions, and moods to colors. Some nights we want to feel elegant, and we throw on that little black dress or suit, while during the day maybe a playful palette of pastels is necessary. Many people believe that colors can even be healing. Dating back to the 900s, “color therapy” has even been used to treat illness and disease. Color clearly plays an important role in our lives and throughout history. Costume design is no different. Color helps set the mood, move the piece along, and it unifies the production.

As you may know by now, next season The LA Opera will be doing a production of Verdi’s The Two Foscari . The costume designer is Mattie Ullrich, who is based out of New York, so I sat and talked to the costume supervisor Misty Ayres about the production.

Misty informed me that Mattie’s design concept is a mixture of medieval and modern runway fashion. Mattie prefers to use solid colors rather than texture, pattern, and print. Misty excitedly told me that personally she sees this production as a “dark comic book.”

In any production, whether it has a “comic book feel” or is a strict period piece, the designer has to consider many different aspects before settling on the color palette. The colors of each costume must be complementary (or intentionally not complementary) to the other colors in the ensemble. In addition every character’s costume on stage must work together to convey a mood and bring out the essence of the piece. Color is also a great way to show the social ranking of a character. For example, during Act I of Foscari, the chorus men will be in red and black because they are “noble” and “wise”.

Colors can shift throughout the show, taking the audience on a visual journey and showing the transformation, evolution, or de-evolution of the characters.  You will be able to see the shift of Lucrezia’s mental state reflected through the changing of her color palette.

Color can also be a great way to change focus onto different characters or groups of characters. In Foscari during Act III most of the onstage cast will be in muted tones which will blend into the set. The exception will be the band of “players” who will be in a mostly jewel-toned palette so they stand out from the scenery and the other performers.

Misty also informed me of a fun fact: Mattie does not like buttons. (Your mission as the audience: see if you can spot any sort of closures on the garment during the production.)

The Two Foscari opens September 15, 2012.

Ana Maria Martinez Speaks to Vocal Students at Cortines High School

Music students at Ramón C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts were treated to a surprise visit and discussion with soprano Ana María Martínez, currently co-starring with Placido Domingo in Simon Boccanegra .

We asked Ms. Martinez about her experience with the students and what she hopes impress upon them. Her answers follow:

Why do you enjoy talking to students?

I am very interested in connecting with the students, at any age, what matters to them—their existential angst, their curiosities—and to share with them my perspective of the wonder of the theater/operatic world. They are our future on all levels and we must reach out to them, in their environment, in order to bring them closer to the arts.

What was the most intriguing question asked?

When I mentioned to the class that each voice is unique and requires a lifelong dedication in order to cultivate, nurture, and train, one young lady asked me, referring to a voice, “How do you know when a piece of charcoal can become a diamond?”

What would you want to impart to the students?

To dream BIG! Discover what your greatest passions are in life. Spend your life developing the gifts you were given, in order to reach your highest potential.

The Festival Play of Daniel Through the Eyes of Community Ensemble Participant, Rachel Staples (#2)

I love going to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for my Sunday afternoon rehearsals for the Festival Play of Daniel.  First of all, I must say that I think it is very appropriate that you exit at off the freeway and then merge onto Hope Street because working with the LA Opera gives me a lot of hope!

As I go into the Artists Entrance on Grand Avenue, I appreciate the strategically placed directional signs.  This is very helpful because The Music Center is HUGE!

The signage leads me to the elevator where I get to hang out with Plácido Domingo (or at least his photo).  What an honor!

After checking in and grabbing my name tag, I finally arrive in the rehearsal room…

…where I have the privilege of learning from some of the most amazingly talented directors and choreographers I have ever known, like Eli Villaneuva and Leslie Stevens.  See how Eli is very approachable and Leslie always wears a gorgeous smile!

Director Eli Villanueva talking to ensemble member

At this rehearsal, the props were introduced. It was really fun watching the young cast members explore their assigned props. Props and costumes always help you get into character and help paint the image of the scene we are creating. I love watching the imagination and excitement begin to spark.

This year, the ensemble is very large.  It is amazing how much we can accomplish with so many people in only a few hours.  Just in case we missed anything, there is always a re-cap at the end (kind of like in music, there are recapitulations)!  The wonderful staff always make sure we have all our notes and are prepared for the next rehearsal!

Growing Up at LA Opera

Johnathan McCullough is a sophomore at the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia, where he is pursuing his Bachelor of Music degree in the opera program. As a youth in Los Angeles, he was deeply involved in LA Opera’s Education and Community Programs, as well as the Music Center Spotlight Awards. He is returning to LA this March and will appear in The Festival Play of Daniel as the Second Noble/Messenger. What follows are some of Johnathan’s recollections about those early experiences with LA Opera.

After I saw my first opera , LA Opera’s production of Pagliacci , I wanted to find out if there were any programs available for young singers. I had been a Paulist Chorister (now known as The National Children’s Choir) until  my voice changed, and I missed singing classical music. My grandfather encouraged me to learn some Italian songs, which I enjoyed, but I wanted to be part of a program. I called the opera’s Education and Community Programs department and Anthony Jones, community programs tour manager, suggested that I  audition for Opera Camp and the Cathedral Project.

I first joined Opera Camp at 15, where I was cast as Count Almaviva in Figaro’s American Adventure. The whole production pulled together so quickly, and those weeks of Opera Camp laid a foundation that I use to this day when preparing for roles. I fell in love with the whole process, and I’ve been studying ever since.

The most amazing experience I had in the program was singing the role of Brundibár in the Opera Camp production of Brundibár the following year (2008). I was in awe of the fact that we were working directly with Maestro James Conlon as we prepared our roles. That was another turning point for me. His encouragement gave me the confidence to commit to studying opera. Also, meeting Ela Weissberger, who played the Cat in the original production of Brundibár during the holocaust, had a huge impact on all of us. I can’t think of a better example of the importance of an arts education than the role that opera played in the lives of the original cast.

During high school, I also took part in all the other LA Opera Education programs. I entered the LA Opera 90012 essay contest, and I was able to attend pre-opera talks and to see four operas. As well, I participated in the Cathedral Project ensembles of Judas Maccabaeus in 2008 and Noye’s Fludde in 2009.  Meanwhile, both Eli Villanueva and Josh Winograde continued to answer my many questions about the art and business of opera and to advise me when it came time to audition for colleges. In many ways, I was growing up in the opera house.

One of the greatest events in my life was to be given the part of a Noble in the premiere of The Festival Play of Daniel in 2010. The fact that it was my first professional role was amazing. It was really special to me because Eli Villanueva, my director from Opera Camp and mentor, translated the libretto, scored the opera and directed the production. It was also an honor to have another chance to work with Maestro Conlon conducting. It was right before my college auditions in New York and Philadelphia, so I left Los Angeles feeling incredibly happy, which I’m sure helped me through that process.

When I won the Spotlight Award for Classical Voice in 2010, my  opera family were there in force to celebrate with me:  Stacy Brightman, Anthony Jones and Jennifer Babcock. That was a big weekend because the next day was the Winners Concert for The Cerritos Friends of the Arts Competition. After performing, we were presented with our awards, and Stacy surprised me by coming on stage to present mine. It was amazing to have her there!

I believe that these opportunities could only have come about  because of the education we received at LA Opera. My journey with LAO makes me a great believer in the importance of arts education programs, because I know that my conservatory education is a direct result of LA Opera’s Education and Community Programs department. I will always be grateful for the training, the mentorship, and especially the friendship of everyone at LA Opera, which is why I’m really excited to come home to Los Angeles to be part of The Festival Play of Daniel again this March!

Simon Boccanegra Action Benches

When an onstage action requires a specialty object, it is the job of the props department to create whatever is required.

This past week, members of our stage crew have been busy in our theater’s scene shop constructing four new benches for Simon Boccanegra. These new benches will function as ‘stunt-doubles’ to sustain the abuse of being tossed around in the choreographed action during the Council Chamber fight scene.

Los Angeles Opera Technical Department Simon Boccanegra Props

Custom aluminum castings and turned leg fixtures

Each bench has over one hundred and fifty individual components made from a variety of materials including custom aluminum castings, turned leg fixtures, raw pine materials, and ornamental details improvised from bits of rope, egg and dart molding, wooden appliqués and large upholstery tacks.

Simon Boccanegra Props Los Angeles Opera

Stage Technician adds final decorative elements

After the props department completes the construction, the benches are delivered to the scenic department for painting and surface treatment. The performers will then use these benches in the rehearsal hall and onstage for the production.


LA Opera Tech Department Simon Boccanegra props

The finished benches ready for use onstage

Tickets for “The Festival Play of Daniel” Available January 1

LA Opera’s Education and Community Programs department is proud to present two performances of The Festival Play of Daniel at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Friday, March 16, and Saturday, March 17, at 7:30 pm. As a special gift to the community, these performances are free to the public. However, advance tickets are required for admission. (Note: there will be a $1 handling fee for tickets reserved by phone or online and a four-ticket limit per household, subject to availability.) The Festival Play of Daniel will be conducted by Richard Seaver Music Director James Conlon and will bring several hundred volunteer and professional performers together to tell the story of the courageous Old Testament prophet Daniel.

The Festival Play of Daniel replaces a previously announced world premiere production of Jonah and the Whale by composer Alexander Prior and librettist Velina Hasu Houston, which has been postponed until 2014 in order to give the creators more time to complete their work.

Tickets can be reserved online by clicking here or by phone at (213) 972-8001 beginning on Wednesday, February 1, at 10am.

The Festival Play of Daniel Through the eyes of Community Ensemble Participant, Rachel Staples

Community Ensemble Member Rachel Staples rehearsing for The Festival Play of Daniel

When you are a budding performing artist, the small perks are big perks!  Even though I live in the valley, it is totally worth the drive to downtown to rehearse at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Something about being there inspires me, gives me hope, and encourages me on my performing artist journey.  Having my name on the comp list for parking at the Music Center downtown is always so thrilling, even though that may seem silly.  I feel really special driving in and putting my initials next to my name so I can park, as an artist, for free.  This is a small personal joy that embellishes my heart and makes me feel truly appreciated.  As we all piled into Rehearsal Room 4 for our first official rehearsal of The Festival Play of Daniel, I felt an exciting thrill. There were faces from last year’s opera, new faces I had never seen before, as well as faces of alumni from the performing arts college I work for.  This was very awesome to see.  I am very impressed by the young dancers, actor and singers.  The community ensemble is filled with all levels of talent, age, and experience.  It is an honor to be among such a group.

I must admit, one of the most exciting parts about the first rehearsal was hearing the main stage opera chorus rehearsing.  As we were going over the beginning announcements, we kept hearing impeccable voices echoing through the floors of the Dorothy Chandler.  Hearing these astonishing voices was especially enthralling to me as a young performing artist.  I love opera!  I love the powerhouse of sound!  Hearing the main stage chorus rehearsing was like getting a fast-blast-backstage-pass.  It was the icing on the cake for our first rehearsal.  Everyone in the room responded to these sounds.  Everyone smiled as their voices ticked our eardrums.

Listening to the Director of the LA Opera Education Programs, Stacy Brightman, speak about the integrity of the show and the expectations all of the performers was a confirmation of why I love being an opera singer – because I get to work with some of the most amazingly accomplished professionals in the performing arts industry.  Stacy sure knows her stuff and I love hearing her speak!  She has a remarkable poise that could get anyone in the world excited about opera.

Eli Villanueva directing Rachel and the cast of The Festival Play of Daniel

When we began to work with Eli Villanueva, the Stage Director, my passion for opera was once again strengthened and renewed.  Eli has a way of articulating direction that ignites the fire inside each person in his cast.  Eli speaks in ways that everyone (even the smallest of roles) feels appreciated, included, and important.  We all learn from his exemplified professional demeanor, and it is such an honor to be a part of his cast.  I am always on the edge of my seat to hear each resonant word he speaks.

I cannot wait until the next rehearsal, and I most especially cannot wait to be a part of the experience of the final community product – The Play of Daniel!

Announcing General Auditions for Education & Community Programs Department


LA Opera’s Education & Community Programs Department is holding general auditions Thursday, May 31, 2012 and Friday, June 1, 2012 each day from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

We are seeking soloists for our acclaimed outreach programs.  Programs include in-school opera residencies, touring community recitals/demonstration tours as-well-as school assemblies.

Artists should be prepared to sing at least two contrasting arias and one musical theater selection (in English). We are looking for personality so be sure to pick songs that showcase you best.

To request an appointment, please send a resume and headshot (Snail Mail) to:

Jennifer Babcock, Associate Director of Education & Community Programs
Los Angeles Opera
135 North Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90012

or by e-mail (Go Green!) to: mailto:http://laopera.adagetechnologies.com/news/blog/Admin/Dates/2012/5/The-story-of-Dulce-Rosa/

Those accepted will be called to schedule an audition appointment. Please note that artists must be current members of AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists) or willing to join AGMA in order to accept a role, if offered.

This is an audition notice. Applicants must be 18 years of age. If employment is offered, the offer is contingent upon artists providing documents to demonstrate eligibility to work in the United States.

Musetta’s New Clothes

Only four more weeks until the opening of Puccini’s La Bohème and Musetta’s wardrobe seems to be right on schedule, or so we hope!

Meet the team responsible for all of Musetta’s magnificent costumes:   The team leader is Leslie Ann Smith, one of our talented Drapers here at the LA Opera Costume Shop.  Leslie Ann has been with the company for twelve years. This is actually the third time she’s worked on this particular production of La Bohème, and says it’s one of her favorite shows. She loves making costumes from the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, so this show is right up her alley.

Leslie Ann works closely with her Assistant Draper, Jennifer Shaw. The Fashionista of the team, Jennifer has been with the LA Opera since 2005. She holds a degree in fashion, but prefers to work with costumes (and wear them too). What’s wrong with wearing period clothes, they were fashionable in their day!  Mrs. Shaw provides great support to the team.

Once Leslie Ann has studied the designs, she measures the performer, and then makes the patterns.  Jennifer transfers the patterns onto the beautiful stage worthy fabrics, cuts it, then hands it to the team’s Seamstresses, Hortencia Santos and Anna Wong, who meticulously stitch everything together and add the finishing touches.

Let’s not forget Hallie Dufresne (Senior Craftsperson), we all know you can’t complete an outfit without the accessories. Thanks Hallie! With the work of this team, I’m sure Musetta will be fabulously dressed in her new designs.

If not, then I guess Musetta in the nude will also be a great hit! La Bohème opens May 12 and runs through June 2nd. See you at the theater!


Followspots are bright long-throw lighting fixtures manually operated by members of our stage crew and are used to highlight performers as they move around stage.

For almost all of the productions at Los Angeles Opera, we utilize between two and eight followspots in various locations. Most commonly these are located in the followspot booth at the top of the auditorium, at the back of the upper balcony.

View from stage looking at the followspot booth

View looking directly into followspots

It is over one hundred and thirty-five feet from the followspot booth to the front edge of the stage, at greater than a thirty-degree angle. The geometry of this makes movement highly sensitive, so with a few inches of action at the followspot, the beam moves dozens of feet onstage.

Operator point of view from followspot booth

The lead followspot operator works with the lighting designer during the rehearsal process to develop cues which are then conveyed to the additional followspot operators. Our followspot operators have many years of experience for this deceptively difficult task.

A followspot operator at work in the booth

A followspot operator at work in the booth

The story of “Dulce Rosa”

Based on the short story “Una Venganza” by Chilean author Isabel Allende (above), Dulce Rosa is a tale of romance and ruin, of revenge and redemption. In a South American country, in the early 1950s, times are troubled. Former Senator Orellano is the only leader who could unite the land, but he intends to stay in retirement, on his country estate, with his beloved daughter Rosa. In the jungle, in the Capital City, plots are woven, alliances are forged, and the fate of the House of Orellano is sealed. Led by the notorious outlaw, Tadeo Cespedes, the raiders attack at night. Wounded, Orellano comes to kill Rosa, who is hidden in the family chapel, because he knows what they will do to her. As does she. But Rosa is a true Orellano, her father’s daughter. She pleads for her life. “I can take it, whatever happens. Let me live, and I will avenge you.” Orellano dies as the raiders burst in. Tadeo saves Rosa from his men. But only for himself.
From the depths of her despair, as she recovers from her ordeal, Rosa summons the strength to step into her father’s shoes. In the Capital City, at the side of the new President whom he helped to power, General Tadeo Cespedes cannot forget the girl in the chapel, and what he did to her. Rosa haunts his waking hours, his sleepless nights.
Over the months in which the Orellano hacienda re-emerges from its ashes, Rosa calls Tadeo to her. He has no choice but to return to her for the merciful bullet. But Rosa’s obsession with Tadeo has changed her. She discovers that she does not hate him. The unthinkable has happened. Appalled, uncomprehending why God has punished her in this way, Rosa comes to see the truth, when she realizes with sudden clarity that she has forgiven the unforgivable. Her love for Tadeo is not a punishment for her pride, but a reward for her suffering. Fate, though, is implacable, and death takes Rosa from Tadeo forever, before they can even begin to understand the wholly unexpected happiness that lies before them.

LA Opera and Broad Stage to Co-Produce World Premiere of Dulce Rosa

Preliminary set design for "Dulce Rosa" by Yael Pardess

LA Opera and The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage are joining forces to co-produce the world premiere of Dulce Rosa, a new opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks. Based on the Isabel Allende short story “Una Venganza” (An Act of Vengeance), Dulce Rose will be conducted by Plácido Domingo and will have six performances at The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, from May 19 through June 9, 2013.

Dulce Rosa relates the aftermath of a violent political uprising, as a young woman plans her revenge against a merciless attacker. The title role will be performed by Uruguayan soprano María Eugenia Antúnez. The production will feature the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The media art director and set designer is Yael Pardess, with costumes by Durinda Wood, lighting by Anne Militello and projections by Jenny Okun.

Dulce Rosa will be the inaugural presentation of LA Opera Off Grand, a new initiative developed to bring performances to a wider geographical area, increase audience diversity, and expand the range of experiences for the Company’s existing attendees. Many LA Opera Off Grand performances will be in neighborhoods that are not easily accessible to downtown Los Angeles; others will expand the traditional opera experience by experimenting with performance spaces, creative artists new to the genre and a variety of musical styles.
Tickets range in price from $20 to $150 and will be available in The Broad Stage’s “create-your own” subscription packages beginning June 25. Single tickets to Dulce Rosa will be available for sale to the public beginning July 30. For ticket information, please call The Broad Stage box office at 310-434-3200 or visit www.TheBroadStage.com.

To Youth: With Memories, Regrets, and Love

By Mary Jane Matz
At the end of January in 1893, Giacomo Puccini, then 34 years old, was still a struggling composer, still hoping for a hit. Neither of his first two operas had become popular, but he had hopes for the future; and they were fully realized a few days later with the triumphant world premiere of Manon Lescaut. It made him famous almost overnight, boosted by the popularity of opera at the time. Within a week, Puccini was planning La Bohème.
The Source of the Opera
For the third time, Puccini chose a French story as his source, which is not surprising, since he always had an international eye and a broad point of view. After all, he traveled extensively all over Europe and visited South America once and New York twice and took side trips to places like Malta and Egypt! As for his operas, most were not based on Italian sources. In addition to his first three “French” works, he used French subjects for Tosca, taken from Victorien Sardou’s melodrama, and Il Tabarro, from a play about bargemen on the Seine. With its strong Grand Guignol underpinnings, it exuded French local color. From the American cultural scene he used plays by David Belasco, a Broadway producer who wrote Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West. It became Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Next came La Rondine, with its origins in Vienna. Beyond all this, Puccini admired Richard Wagner and actually saw Wagner operas in Bayreuth. In sum, he was never a purely “Italian” composer. That was something the Italian critics could never forgive, so they often railed at him for not being “national” enough and not hewing to Italian practice. None of the criticism mattered, for early and late Puccini paid no attention at all.
So it was that in 1893 he became interested in Henri Mürger’s popular Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, a series of little stories about Latin Quarter artists, their poverty, and their loves. Having first published these very personal accounts in installments in a French periodical, Mürger had then made them into a play and a novel. Puccini used both for his opera.
Creating La BohèmeTo transform this French material into a libretto, the composer turned first to Luigi Illica, one of several men who had collaborated with him in the problem-ridden development of Manon Lescaut. It had been nothing short of chaotic, with six or even seven people writing a text, and Puccini rejecting one act, one scene or one line after another. In the end the libretto of Manon Lescaut had to be published with no one listed as its author. But the hot-headed Illica could meet Puccini head-to-head, however demanding the composer might be.
From 1893 to 1896, Illica worked steadily on the project with the composer and with Giulio Ricordi, the powerful publisher who was Puccini’s mentor and sponsor. The first step: Illica wrote a scenario and then a drama based on the original play and novel. The poetic lines (required at that time by operatic convention) were then created by a revered poet-playwright, Giuseppe Giacosa, with Puccini and Ricordi adding their contributions to the text. This “four-man team” met often to discuss the work, batting around ideas and introducing new characters or new scenes. They also removed things that did not work, and Puccini even cut out one whole act! It was a process, not a single, lightning-flash act of creation. This same team of Puccini, Illica, Giacosa, and Ricordi later created Tosca and Madama Butterfly, which later joined La Bohème to make up the “trilogy” of Puccini’s most popular operas.
Puccini’s Bohemian Life in Milan and Tuscany
La Bohème became a window on the Left Bank culture of Paris, but it also opened windows on Puccini’s own life-experience. First it reflected what he had survived as an impoverished composer in the 1880s and early 1890s. “Miseria!” he would gripe in letters to his sister. So in the libretto, when the poet Rodolfo described the wretched conditions in his flat, Puccini could write about something he had actually lived through.
For years he rented cheap furnished rooms or tiny apartments, most in desperate condition. He pawned personal things, then had to ask his sister for money to get them out of hock. In the freezing winters of Northern Italy, he often had no heat. Nor was there enough money for a decent meal. In fact, we know what he ate: a couple of helpings of soup, with bread, cheese and wine; a simple plate of Tuscan beans and onions with bread and wine; or fried eggs, cooked on a spirit stove that he perched on top of his upright piano. Once when friends dropped in, Puccini and his mistress and his brother (all crowded into two or three rooms) had to sell and trade household items to scrape together enough money for grungy meat to make a stew!
Nor was all that miseria left behind in Milan. Parts of Manon Lescaut and most of La Bohème were written in Puccini’s bare-bones lodgings in Torre del Lago, a raw and primitive fishing village on a lake in Tuscany. On the day he moved in, all his possessions could fit on a single donkey-cart; and his mistress said, “We don’t have enough to eat!”

  Among the fishermen and their families in Torre del Lago were several young artists who soon became Puccini’s friends. Together they hunted, fished, drank, ate, staged mock heroic battles, dressed up in sheets and acted like ancient Romans, and played cards — tresette and scopa and briscola. Their refuge and sanctuary was a wooden hut roofed with dried reeds from the lake. They called it their Club la Bohème, and their antics and shared life certainly provided Puccini with material for his depiction of the artists in La Bohème. Three of these men were even identified with three of the principal male characters in the opera.
One of them, Ferruccio Pagni, who was closer to Puccini than the others, wrote later that when Puccini finished La Bohème, they were all together, for he often composed at night, with people talking or playing cards as he worked. On that occasion, Pagni said, Puccini was “just writing the last bars [of the opera]” while he and their cronies played cards nearby.

  “Be quiet, boys!” Puccini said. “I have finished!” Pagni and the others got up from the table and went over to the piano. “Now I’ll let you hear it. . . . This ending is good.” And he started to play Mimì’s last lines: “Sono andati.” As he played on and sang the words, Pagni said, they all had a sensation of “the eternal substance: Sorrow.” At the end, they were all crying.
So Puccini never had to invent any “Bohemian life.” These descriptions of his years in Milan and Torre del Lago come from real letters — Puccini’s own and those of friends and relatives. This means that La Bohème, for all its romantic haze, is basically a realistic work, a snapshot of Puccini’s early years. Nor did he ever forget those terrible days. Many years later, when he was the richest and most famous opera composer in the world, he remembered one of those plain meals, and he remembered it when he was in middle of the Atlantic Ocean, sitting in his private parlor in the Imperial Suite of a luxury liner. In a flash it all came back to him, and he longed to smell beef stewing on a rickety stove, as it had in those long-gone days.
The World Premiere of La Bohème
Far, far from being a series of star-turns, this is an ensemble opera about simple people who are almost destitute. As the first act opens we meet the four Latin Quarter artists: Rodolfo, a poet and journalist; Marcello, a painter; Schaunard, a musician; and Colline, a literary man and philosopher. They live from hand to mouth. The two women of the plot are Mimì, a frail girl who embroiders artificial flowers for a living, and Musetta, who sings for her living in cafes. When she is not with Marcello, Musetta trolls for elderly lovers; but in Act III, when she and Marcello are living together in an inn near the gates of Paris, they are broke, so she gives singing lessons to people who stay there, and Marcello “pays” for their room by painting murals on the outside wall.
These, then, are the people Puccini dearly loved. As he once said, he cared most about “little people with big sorrows.” Yet La Bohème is a full-scale opera, not a short verismo work about Sicilian peasants (as in Cavalleria Rusticana) or itinerant actors traveling in Calabria (as in Pagliacci). It would also be hard to imagine anything farther removed from the grandeur of the earlier operas of the 1800s: Donizetti’s shows about English royalty and nobility, for example; or Verdi’s Don Carlos, set in the court of Philip II of Spain, or Aida, set in the Egypt of the pharaohs. That is why La Bohème transformed its whole field, its genre.
The world premiere of La Bohème took place in the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1896, with young Arturo Toscanini conducting. Its cast was solid professionals, not queens and kings of the stage, so they were cut to the proper dimensions for this opera. In the end, its success swept everything else aside. It was everything Puccini had hoped for: a composer’s dream, for La Bohème is his opera, utterly and forever his.
Mary Jane Matz is the author of numerous books including Puccini: A Biography (2002) and Verdi: A Biography (1996). She is a frequent contributor to Opera News and many other publications.

LA Opera and Broad Stage to Co-Produce World Premiere of Dulce Rosa

Preliminary set design for "Dulce Rosa" by Yael Pardess

LA Opera and The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage are joining forces to co-produce the world premiere of Dulce Rosa, a new opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks. Based on the Isabel Allende short story “Una Venganza” (An Act of Vengeance), Dulce Rose will be conducted by Plácido Domingo and will have six performances at The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, from May 19 through June 9, 2013.

Dulce Rosa relates the aftermath of a violent political uprising, as a young woman plans her revenge against a merciless attacker. The title role will be performed by Uruguayan soprano María Eugenia Antúnez. The production will feature the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The media art director and set designer is Yael Pardess, with costumes by Durinda Wood, lighting by Anne Militello and projections by Jenny Okun.

Dulce Rosa will be the inaugural presentation of LA Opera Off Grand, a new initiative developed to bring performances to a wider geographical area, increase audience diversity, and expand the range of experiences for the Company’s existing attendees. Many LA Opera Off Grand performances will be in neighborhoods that are not easily accessible to downtown Los Angeles; others will expand the traditional opera experience by experimenting with performance spaces, creative artists new to the genre and a variety of musical styles.
Tickets range in price from $20 to $150 and will be available in The Broad Stage’s “create-your own” subscription packages beginning June 25. Single tickets to Dulce Rosa will be available for sale to the public beginning July 30. For ticket information, please call The Broad Stage box office at 310-434-3200 or visit www.TheBroadStage.com.

To Youth: With Memories, Regrets, And Love

By Mary Jane Matz
At the end of January in 1893, Giacomo Puccini, then 34 years old, was still a struggling composer, still hoping for a hit. Neither of his first two operas had become popular, but he had hopes for the future; and they were fully realized a few days later with the triumphant world premiere of Manon Lescaut. It made him famous almost overnight, boosted by the popularity of opera at the time. Within a week, Puccini was planning La Bohème.
The Source of the Opera
For the third time, Puccini chose a French story as his source, which is not surprising, since he always had an international eye and a broad point of view. After all, he traveled extensively all over Europe and visited South America once and New York twice and took side trips to places like Malta and Egypt! As for his operas, most were not based on Italian sources. In addition to his first three “French” works, he used French subjects for Tosca, taken from Victorien Sardou’s melodrama, and Il Tabarro, from a play about bargemen on the Seine. With its strong Grand Guignol underpinnings, it exuded French local color. From the American cultural scene he used plays by David Belasco, a Broadway producer who wrote Madame Butterfly and The Girl of the Golden West. It became Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Next came La Rondine, with its origins in Vienna. Beyond all this, Puccini admired Richard Wagner and actually saw Wagner operas in Bayreuth. In sum, he was never a purely “Italian” composer. That was something the Italian critics could never forgive, so they often railed at him for not being “national” enough and not hewing to Italian practice. None of the criticism mattered, for early and late Puccini paid no attention at all.
So it was that in 1893 he became interested in Henri Mürger’s popular Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, a series of little stories about Latin Quarter artists, their poverty, and their loves. Having first published these very personal accounts in installments in a French periodical, Mürger had then made them into a play and a novel. Puccini used both for his opera.
Creating La BohèmeTo transform this French material into a libretto, the composer turned first to Luigi Illica, one of several men who had collaborated with him in the problem-ridden development of Manon Lescaut. It had been nothing short of chaotic, with six or even seven people writing a text, and Puccini rejecting one act, one scene or one line after another. In the end the libretto of Manon Lescaut had to be published with no one listed as its author. But the hot-headed Illica could meet Puccini head-to-head, however demanding the composer might be.
From 1893 to 1896, Illica worked steadily on the project with the composer and with Giulio Ricordi, the powerful publisher who was Puccini’s mentor and sponsor. The first step: Illica wrote a scenario and then a drama based on the original play and novel. The poetic lines (required at that time by operatic convention) were then created by a revered poet-playwright, Giuseppe Giacosa, with Puccini and Ricordi adding their contributions to the text. This “four-man team” met often to discuss the work, batting around ideas and introducing new characters or new scenes. They also removed things that did not work, and Puccini even cut out one whole act! It was a process, not a single, lightning-flash act of creation. This same team of Puccini, Illica, Giacosa, and Ricordi later created Tosca and Madama Butterfly, which later joined La Bohème to make up the “trilogy” of Puccini’s most popular operas.
Puccini’s Bohemian Life in Milan and Tuscany
La Bohème became a window on the Left Bank culture of Paris, but it also opened windows on Puccini’s own life-experience. First it reflected what he had survived as an impoverished composer in the 1880s and early 1890s. “Miseria!” he would gripe in letters to his sister. So in the libretto, when the poet Rodolfo described the wretched conditions in his flat, Puccini could write about something he had actually lived through.
For years he rented cheap furnished rooms or tiny apartments, most in desperate condition. He pawned personal things, then had to ask his sister for money to get them out of hock. In the freezing winters of Northern Italy, he often had no heat. Nor was there enough money for a decent meal. In fact, we know what he ate: a couple of helpings of soup, with bread, cheese and wine; a simple plate of Tuscan beans and onions with bread and wine; or fried eggs, cooked on a spirit stove that he perched on top of his upright piano. Once when friends dropped in, Puccini and his mistress and his brother (all crowded into two or three rooms) had to sell and trade household items to scrape together enough money for grungy meat to make a stew!
Nor was all that miseria left behind in Milan. Parts of Manon Lescaut and most of La Bohème were written in Puccini’s bare-bones lodgings in Torre del Lago, a raw and primitive fishing village on a lake in Tuscany. On the day he moved in, all his possessions could fit on a single donkey-cart; and his mistress said, “We don’t have enough to eat!”

  Among the fishermen and their families in Torre del Lago were several young artists who soon became Puccini’s friends. Together they hunted, fished, drank, ate, staged mock heroic battles, dressed up in sheets and acted like ancient Romans, and played cards — tresette and scopa and briscola. Their refuge and sanctuary was a wooden hut roofed with dried reeds from the lake. They called it their Club la Bohème, and their antics and shared life certainly provided Puccini with material for his depiction of the artists in La Bohème. Three of these men were even identified with three of the principal male characters in the opera.
One of them, Ferruccio Pagni, who was closer to Puccini than the others, wrote later that when Puccini finished La Bohème, they were all together, for he often composed at night, with people talking or playing cards as he worked. On that occasion, Pagni said, Puccini was “just writing the last bars [of the opera]” while he and their cronies played cards nearby.

  “Be quiet, boys!” Puccini said. “I have finished!” Pagni and the others got up from the table and went over to the piano. “Now I’ll let you hear it. . . . This ending is good.” And he started to play Mimì’s last lines: “Sono andati.” As he played on and sang the words, Pagni said, they all had a sensation of “the eternal substance: Sorrow.” At the end, they were all crying.
So Puccini never had to invent any “Bohemian life.” These descriptions of his years in Milan and Torre del Lago come from real letters — Puccini’s own and those of friends and relatives. This means that La Bohème, for all its romantic haze, is basically a realistic work, a snapshot of Puccini’s early years. Nor did he ever forget those terrible days. Many years later, when he was the richest and most famous opera composer in the world, he remembered one of those plain meals, and he remembered it when he was in middle of the Atlantic Ocean, sitting in his private parlor in the Imperial Suite of a luxury liner. In a flash it all came back to him, and he longed to smell beef stewing on a rickety stove, as it had in those long-gone days.
The World Premiere of La Bohème
Far, far from being a series of star-turns, this is an ensemble opera about simple people who are almost destitute. As the first act opens we meet the four Latin Quarter artists: Rodolfo, a poet and journalist; Marcello, a painter; Schaunard, a musician; and Colline, a literary man and philosopher. They live from hand to mouth. The two women of the plot are Mimì, a frail girl who embroiders artificial flowers for a living, and Musetta, who sings for her living in cafes. When she is not with Marcello, Musetta trolls for elderly lovers; but in Act III, when she and Marcello are living together in an inn near the gates of Paris, they are broke, so she gives singing lessons to people who stay there, and Marcello “pays” for their room by painting murals on the outside wall.
These, then, are the people Puccini dearly loved. As he once said, he cared most about “little people with big sorrows.” Yet La Bohème is a full-scale opera, not a short verismo work about Sicilian peasants (as in Cavalleria Rusticana) or itinerant actors traveling in Calabria (as in Pagliacci). It would also be hard to imagine anything farther removed from the grandeur of the earlier operas of the 1800s: Donizetti’s shows about English royalty and nobility, for example; or Verdi’s Don Carlos, set in the court of Philip II of Spain, or Aida, set in the Egypt of the pharaohs. That is why La Bohème transformed its whole field, its genre.
The world premiere of La Bohème took place in the Teatro Regio in Turin on February 1, 1896, with young Arturo Toscanini conducting. Its cast was solid professionals, not queens and kings of the stage, so they were cut to the proper dimensions for this opera. In the end, its success swept everything else aside. It was everything Puccini had hoped for: a composer’s dream, for La Bohème is his opera, utterly and forever his.
Mary Jane Matz is the author of numerous books including Puccini: A Biography (2002) and Verdi: A Biography (1996). She is a frequent contributor to Opera News and many other publications.

La Bohème: Puccini’s “One for the Heart”

By Basil De Pinto
Comparisons are odious but we indulge in them anyway. Where the arts are concerned, we have to discipline ourselves to take each work and judge it for its own individual worth. Because a Botticelli is “pretty,” we cannot disparage it with reference to an El Greco, which is anything but. Although Don Pasquale is not Otello, we can still appreciate its bel canto splendors. La Bohème is one of the masterpieces of the Italian lyric tradition and rightly deserves its place in the canon. It is also well loved, as it should be. A work is not good because it is popular, but popular because it is good. Think of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or the waltzes of Johann Strauss. Verdi thought that the public was the supreme judge in these matters and he was right.

Puccini was not an “intellectual” composer, but he was extraordinarily intelligent. He was a man of the theater, he knew how to appeal to his public and, of course, he was a very astute businessman. He also understood the sentiment of his time, namely that a human interest story about believable people was the surest way to captivate an audience. But what he achieved in La Bohème reaches far beyond clever tactics. The emotional content of this opera, simply put, touches the heart in the most fundamental way. It is an irresistible tale, like that of Romeo and Juliet, where young love and a tragic end reach across historical and social boundaries to sweep us up and hold us fascinated.

In 1896 Puccini was already an experienced composer, but he had only one surefire hit behind him, Manon Lescaut. He would go on to write many other fine works but La Bohème is the unique example of his art at its finest. Why is that so? First of all he paints a large canvas with extraordinary economy of means. The score of La Bohème, without intermissions, takes barely two hours to perform. Sir Thomas Beecham, a famous interpreter of the opera, said he loved it because “Puccini gets right to it,” with no dallying along the way (and remember that Beecham was also a distinguished conductor of Wagner, who tends to dally quite a bit). There is an almost headlong movement in the first two acts from the lovers’ first meeting and the Christmas Eve celebration with their friends to the bittersweet row in the third act and the tragic music at the close. The pace has to do not with rushing anything, but with an inevitability that is both understandable and heartbreaking.

But if the composer’s strokes are few they are sure and clear. The characters in La Bohème are at once instantly recognizable and completely unforgettable. The two sets of lovers, whose Act 3 quartet is the musical and emotional heart of the opera, appeal to us not because we might meet them every day on the street—poets, painters, streetwalkers—but as real persons whose human traits might belong to anybody. Rodolfo is impetuous, dreamy, given to flights of fancy, sketching those “castles in the air” he sings of when he tells Mimì who he is. His next-door neighbor is frail and sickly, the kind of person easily overlooked until she bares her soul and reveals a poetic sensibility to match Rodolfo’s. Her opposite number is the extrovert Musetta, loquacious and vivacious and wily in the ways of the world. Marcello the painter, warm and outgoing, sees his mirror image in Rodolfo, the two of them capable of both generous loving and destructive jealousy.

The other persons of the drama are not minor, but skillfully crafted pieces of the overall mosaic: Schaunard, the savvy musician who brings home the bacon, and Colline, the reserved philosopher who cracks an off-color joke in Latin at the Café Momus and who gets a small but touching aria to grace the final scene. The buffo roles of Benoit and Alcindoro complete the muster of large-as-life characters that everybody knows, precisely, by heart.

Puccini’s musical palette does not have as yet the symphonic richness to come in The Girl of the Golden West or the game attempt at oriental exoticism in Turandot but it is amply endowed with the secure touch of a composer completely in command of his idiom. The score of Bohème is, unlike the libretto, the work of a single hand, steady, committed, moving with a sure touch from one scene to the next, enveloping the characters and situations with living and breathing musical form.

Think of the familiar opening rumble in the orchestra and the ascent to a swaying sound in the strings: even if we were not looking at the stage we would know that the curtain is going up, action is about to happen. And it starts right in: Rodolfo and Marcello, joking about the cold; the burning of the manuscript one act at a time, then the whole play; the flare-up and the warmth, the predictable heap of ashes. The other friends enter, then the landlord demanding the rent and his summary dismissal—all of it proceeding in rollicking fashion to bright, perpetual motion music.

With Mimì’s entrance a whole new mood transpires. Suddenly there is a quiet hesitancy in the music that depicts the shy, timid creature who immediately enchants Rodolfo, revealing something about him as well, a softer, more reflective side. They exchange intimate portraits of themselves and then join in the rapturous duet that fully illustrates the exorbitant, and perhaps rash, nature of their total immersion in one another. They proceed at once from the cramped garret to the big crowded space before the Café Momus, full of color and life, where Musetta and the hapless Alcindoro join them, she to catch Marcello in her snare, he left to pay the bill for everybody else’s party. The whole scene lasts barely a few minutes but it is an ingenious depiction of a riotous and carefree way of life that carries within it the seeds of conflict to come.

If we have been observing carefully, we notice a quiet exchange between Mimì and Rodolfo in the midst of all the noise and gaiety: he gently but surprisingly firmly tells her never to play the coquette like the scandalous Musetta, and she rather limply reassures him. As the curtain rises on the crucial third act we sense that the personal qualities of these two will lead them down a road that will tear them apart.

There is a brusque, almost brutal opening measure. The melancholy sound of a pair of flutes depicts the snow falling on a cold dawn at the entrance to the city. This is no longer the Paris of bright lights and exuberant laughter, but a place of darkness and poverty where street sweepers and peasant women hawk their meager wares. Her lovely theme ushers in an exhausted, failing Mimì, who calls for Marcello. She tells him of the intolerable strain of living with Rodolfo, who loves her but rails at her every movement that is not completely wrapped up in him. Marcello, warm and caring, understands what the central issue is: Can the lovers remain together in such a state?

Mimì hides as Rodolfo enters, blustering to his friend that he is sick of Mimì’s flirtatious ways. Marcello berates him, but then the real truth emerges. Rodolfo knows that Mimì is deathly ill; he is overcome with remorse that his poverty is making her illness worse; grief, not jealousy, is the basis of his roughness toward her. Mimì, coming forward, has the courage to say, in her touching farewell, that they must separate. What follows is an astonishing piece of musical and dramatic composition. Marcello re-enters, dragging along the ever rebellious Musetta. In the quartet that ensues, these two lovers are bickering and insulting one another, while Mimì and Rodolfo affirm both their love and their need to say goodbye. The soaring lyricism of the one pair merges with the half comic byplay of the other. The composer’s achievement lies in the contrast that keeps both musical lines intact so that they contrast but never obscure one another. We hear with great clarity a diptych combining both rage and sweetness. This is musical ingenuity of the highest order.

But the technique is there to serve the dramatic need. Because Puccini understood so deeply the psychological traits of his characters he was able to invest them with a musical form that expressed exactly the torrent of emotion on display. That is perhaps the most salient feature of the opera as a whole. At every turn the music heightens and enhances the drama as it unfolds. Raucous laughter, holiday merrymaking, the rush of first love, the sadness of parting, and the gaze into the abyss of death: Puccini’s music embraces it and exposes it with realistic precision but, more importantly, with deep compassion and empathy for the people and events he transcribes for us to experience vicariously. The end of the scene echoes the beginning: the stage is empty, the snow begins to fall again, and the same ominous chords come crashing down once more. This scene has to rank with the most moving of any in opera. Again, although brief it encompasses powerful emotion along with musical means that enhance the action and draw the audience into its wrenching intensity.

Interestingly, the last act does not come as an anticlimax after this great scene, but rather as a dramatic necessity. Mimì comes home to the garret where she and Rodolfo first met. Again the scene opens to comic horseplay that quickly gives way to the pathos of the heroine’s last moments. Briefly left alone the lovers recall the joy of discovery in this place, their self-revelation and their pledges of fidelity. All together, the Bohemians support one another, sharing a common loss. Perhaps each of them is thinking of the heights and depths that all must face, and finding courage in the sorrow that envelops them all.

Puccini gave the world at least a half-dozen masterpieces and put his characteristic marks of musical invention and dramatic incisiveness into one each of them. But no matter how much we enjoy and esteem them all, La Bohème has a unique hold on the operatic public. It has spawned stage and screen approaches like Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway version and the rock incarnation Rent. It has been the showcase for established stars and for hopeful beginners. It is indestructible because its inherent greatness both defies mediocrity and encourages artistic excellence. More than anything else Puccini knew the human heart and in La Bohème he mastered it once and for all.

Basil De Pinto is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A frequent contributor to LA Opera programs, he has also written for the opera companies of Washington, Seattle, Atlanta and Fort Worth.

Stories + Music = Opera! ‘Opera Tales’ goes on tour in May!

There’s nothing like a good story, and luckily, the best operas always begin with a good story. Where, you might ask, would you find a good story from a good opera? Why, your local County Library!


LA Opera’s Opera Tales program celebrates the power of story and the joy of music.  Each spring, a squad of “opera pals” travel to eleven County of Los Angeles Public Libraries to bring a fun, high energy show for free family performances.


This year’s show, Verdi Opera Tales features four professional opera singers as the “opera pals” who perform musical moments from such Verdi opera stories as Falstaff, Simon Boccanegra, Rigoletto, La Traviata, Il Trovatore, and La Forza del Destino in celebration of the composer’s 200th birthday. Our tour begins on Tuesday, May 15, and continues through Wednesday, May 30.

Check it out! Click here for the full schedule.

View the Verdi Opera Tales Map in full screen.

The Opera Tales partnership between LA Opera and the County of Los Angeles Public Library was established by Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, Fourth District. Generous funding for the 2012 Opera Tales program is provided by Supervisor Don Knabe and the Flora L. Thornton Foundation.

Ailyn Perez Wins The 2012 Richard Tucker Award

Congratulations are in order for Ailyn Pérez who was awarded the 2012 Richard Tucker Award. This prestigious prize, with a cash award of $30,000, is presented annually by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation to an American opera singer at the threshold of a major international career. Previous winners are a who’s who of the Opera world, including Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, David Daniels, Joyce DiDonato, Richard Leech, Patricia Racette and Dolora Zajick.

Ailyn also has the distinction of being the first Hispanic singer to receive the award in its 34 year history! Speaking on the phone from Atlanta, where she is making her debut with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra singing Poulenc’s Gloria, Ms. Peréz commented: “The Richard Tucker Music Foundation is extraordinary: it enriches American operatic culture and promotes and connects young American artists. Watching the Richard Tucker gala performance when my husband was announced the winner, and seeing international opera stars come together to honor the memory of one of America’s legendary artists at these galas are an incredible source of inspiration to me. I am truly grateful and thrilled to receive such an honor, and I am excited to be another voice to carry on his legacy.”

The 2009 Richard Tucker Award, which has been called “the Heisman Trophy of Opera,” went to Ms. Pérez’s husband and frequent collaborator, tenor Stephen Costello, so her award renders the couple dubbed “America’s fastest-rising husband-and-wife opera stars” (Associated Press) the first to have two Richard Tucker Awards on the mantelpiece – one for each.

Ailyn Perez first appeared with LA Opera in 2006, in the world premiere of Lee Holdridge’s multi-media concert work Concierto para Mendez. She returns to LA Opera as Mimi in La Bohème (May 12 through June 2), the final production of LA Opera’s 2011/12 season, appearing opposite the Rodolfo of her husband, Stephen Costello, who will make his Company debut.

Backstage Magic: April 2, 2012

An excerpt from the Los Angeles Opera League event called Backstage Magic 2012.  This year’s event showcased pyrotechnic and smoke effects.

In this clip Technical Director Jeff Kleeman talks about the company’s historic use of pyrotechnics and describes what goes into producing a 4th of July-style fireworks display on the LA Opera stage. Pyrotechnician Tom Newman sets up and operates the display.

Musetta’s New Look for La Bohème

We often find that the stage is a reflection of real life. Though Puccini’s “La Bohème” is set in Paris in the mid-1800’s, most of us can identify and even empathize with Mimi and Rodolfo’s struggles in life and in love. Period pieces are great reminders that throughout the ages, no matter the time or location, we are all united in having similar concerns, wants and needs.  But as French classical author François de la Rochefoucauld said, “The only thing constant in life is change.”  While our upcoming production of “La Bohème” is the same classic love story, it will be undergoing some small changes and evolving into a more updated version of the timeless tale.

Original Musetta Costume - LA Bohème

One of the principal characters, Musetta, will be getting a new wardrobe.  The new costume designer Jeannique Prospere (who also doubles as the costume supervisor for the show) had this to say, “We’ve focused on the details for Musetta’s new costumes. Her character is as multi-layered as her costume and each item is a glimpse into her story and her personality.”

Musetta's New Dress for Act 2 - La Bohème

Jeannique re-designed Musetta using a palette of colors that stay true to the time period that “La Bohème” is set in. We will be seeing Musetta in fiery orange, burgundy, gold, and off-white. Part of Jeannique’s job is to make sure that the re-designs she does will keep to the original designer’s vision for the production so that the show works as a whole.

Musetta's New Coat - La Bohème

In general, the whole show will be getting “refreshed”.  There will be more accents and subtle sparks of color that will breathe a new life into the classic production that we know and love. “Viva La Vie Bohème”!”

Musetta's New Dress for Act 4 - La Bohème

“La Bohème” opens Saturday May 12 and runs through June 2.

Musetta’s New Look in La Bohème (en Español)

A menudo encontramos que el escenario es un reflejo de la vida real.  París, 1800, la mayoría de nosotros nos podemos identificar y empatizar con Mimì y Rodolfo en la lucha de la vida y el amor.  Un autor clásico francés, Francois de La Rochefoucauld, dijo, “lo único constante en la vida es el cambio”.  Nuestra próxima producción de La Bohème de Puccini es la misma historia clásica de amor, con varios cambios, más actualizada.

Original Musetta Costume - LA Boheme

Jeannique Prospere, nuestra diseñadora del vestuario me dice que Musetta en nuestras ultimas producciones, con su vestido amarillo, su vestuario era mas como una cantante de cabaret.  El director, Greg Fortner, tiene una nueva visión para Musetta.  El interpreta a Musetta menos cabaret y mas como una chica rica..

New Musetta costume from Act 2 - La Boheme

Con la visión de Greg, Jeannique a diseñado un nuevo vestuario para Mussetta manteniendo el sabor de la epoca.  Utilizando una gama de colores más cálidos, vamos a ver a Mussetta vestida en color naranja intenso, rojo vino, tonos dorados y crema  Parte del trabajo de Jeannique es mantener los diseños originales integrando la visión del nuevo director.

Musetta's New Coat - La Boheme

En general, todo el espectáculo va a obtener una apariencia más fresca, habrá más detalles, con chispas sutiles de color, dando nueva vida a la producción clásica que conocemos y amamos, Viva la vie boheme!.

Musetta's New Dress for Act 4 - La Boheme

La Boheme abre el sábado 12 de mayo y se extenderá hasta 02 de junio .. nos vemos en el teatro.

Color, Costumes and The Two Foscari (Spanish Version)


Costume design by Mattie Ullrich

Artista Geogia O’Keeffe Dijo “encontre una forma de comunicarme con colores y figuras  que no puedo explicar con palabras” Concientemente o sin darnos cuenta  usamos color como una manera de expresar como nos sentimos dia a dia.. Color claramente juega un papel importante en nuestras vidas, diseño de vestuario no es diferente..

Si ya saben o no las noticias de la  proximo temporada.. L.A Opera va a presentar una production del compositor Verdi, Los Dos Foscari. La disenadora de vestuario es Mattie Ullrich, que tiene su sede fuera de Nueva York.   Me communiqué con Misty Ayres supervisora de vestuario, para platicar un poco de la production.

Misty me informa que los diseños de Mattie son una mezcla de la epoca de la edad media y la moda que esta ocurriendo hoy. Mattie prefiere los colores solidos, trabajando junto con textura y figuras.. con entusiasmo Misty me dijo que la gama de colores del diseño le recuerdan de los libros comicos.

Los colores pueden cambiar durante todo el show, llevando a la audiencia en un viaje visual, que muestra la transformacion y evolucion de los personajes. Usteds seran capaz de ver el estado mental de Lucrezia reflejado a traves del cambio de la gama de colores en su vestuario.  El color es tambien una manera de mostrar  el estado social de un personaje. Por ejemplo, durante el acto 1 en foscari, los hombres del coro visten de rojo y negro porque son nobles y sabios.

Color tambien ayuda a destacar  ciertos grupos de personajes. En foscari durante el acto 3 la escenografia tiene tonos apagados, integrando el conjunto, a excepcion de los artistas del circo, que seran en colores llamativos, distinguiendolos de los otros artistas en el escenario.

Misty tambien me informa algo interesante y divertido de esta produccion.. a Mattie no le gustan los botones.  Cuando vengan a ver Foscari  a ver si detectan cualquier otro tipo de cierre en el vestuario..

Los Dos Foscari se abre el 15 de septiembre,, nos vemos en el teatro..

Janai Brugger Wins Met Auditions

Janai Brugger at the Met

Congratulations to soprano Janai Brugger, a member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, who was a winner at the 2012 National Council Auditions held Sunday, March 18 at the Metropolitan Opera. A second-year artist in the program, she will sing Musetta for three performances (May 12, 20, 23) of LA Opera’s upcoming production of La Boheme. On May 12, the Auditions Final Concert will be broadcast via Classical KUSC 91.5fm.

Janai is one of only five winners at this year’s highly competitive National Council Auditions final. Other winners include Anthony Clark Evans, a baritone from Owensboro, KY; Matthew Grills, a tenor from Newtown, CT; Margaret Mezzacappa, a mezzo-soprano from Euclid, OH; and Andrey Nemzer, a countertenor from Moscow, Russia. The winners were selected from nine finalists who performed arias with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Andrew Davis. Each winner receives a cash prize of $15,000 as well as invaluable career exposure: the audience for the auditions includes influential opera executives, artist managers and music critics.

Nearly 1,500 singers between the ages of 20 and 30 participated in this year’s auditions, which are held annually in 41 districts and 14 regions throughout the United States and Canada and are sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera National Council. Given the reach of the auditions, the number of applicants, and the long tradition associated with them, the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions are considered the most prestigious competition in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.

Some of the biggest stars in opera received their first major recognition as National Council winners. Past winners of the Met Auditions include Renée Fleming, Hei-Kyung Hong, Angela Meade, Sondra Radvanovsky, Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Stephanie Blythe, Dolora Zajick, Alek Shrader, Nathan Gunn, Lawrence Brownlee, Eric Owens, Thomas Hampson and Samuel Ramey. In 2007, the National Council Audition process was captured in an acclaimed documentary, The Audition, which was shown on PBS and released on DVD.

  •  janet says:

    You were so amazing to listen to. I enjoyed hearing you perform. I knew you would win. Best to you in the future. I know I will see you on stage at the Met. You will be a huge star aka Renee Flemming.

  • Albert Herring Smoke Effect

     At Los Angeles Opera when we need to provide smoke or fog effects we have a couple of options for available and safe technology. Most applications call for our liquid nitrogen (LN2) systems of which we have four machines. The machines are located in the basement or “trap room” beneath the stage. For this production of Albert Herring the staging requires a gas furnace “explosion”. In synchronization with an explosion sound effect we cue a two to three second blast of LN2 “smoke”.

    A stagehand tests the LN2 system prior to the performance

    Each LN2 machine is a large reservoir filled with purified water which is heated to near boiling. Operating the controls allows for precise integration of the LN2 gas into the reservoir. When this mixture takes place, the white cloud-like “smoke” is created. A series of valves and hoses are used to regulate and distribute the effect.
    The resultant effect product is a non-toxic mixture not dissimilar to the clouds in the sky. This provides for a spectacular effect that does not bother the singers.
    Albert Herring Los Angeles Opera Smoke Effect

    Albert opens the trap, throws a lit match in, and the “explosion” occurs

    In addition to Albert Herring, the effect will be used extensively in our upcoming production of La Boheme.
  • Margie Schnibbe says:

    Thank you for your comment. Please send your inquiry to Technical Director : Jeff Kleeman

  • “Albert Herring” live broadcast tonight!

    Tune in tonight for a special “L.A. Opera on Air” live broadcast of Albert Herring on Classical KUSC 91.5fm, starring Alek Shrader and Christine Brewer. Hosted by Duff Murphy and Kimberlea Daggy, the broadcast begins at 7:30pm, and will feature backstage interviews with conductor James Conlon and the stars of the opera. For opera lovers who live outside Southern California, you can listen via online streaming at www.kusc.org.

    Albert Herring Food Props

    Albert Herring has a number of expendable food items that are consumed by the performers and need to be replaced for every show. Variables that determine what real food items are used include the action, staging, set design, and a performer’s dietary restriction or personal preference.
    During the rehearsal process food items and quantities needed for each performance are determined. An expendable food list containing the items needed for each scene, how the food is used and all other relevant information is compiled by a Stage Manager and managed by the Props Coordinator.

    Albert Herring Los Angeles Opera Props Dept

    Prop lemonade bottles are filled with sugar-free lemonade

    Before each performance fresh food items are purchased by a production assistant and the food is prepared for the performance by a union Prop Master in a small kitchen backstage.
    Los Angeles Opera Technical Department Albert Herring

    Produce and hot foods in the backstage kitchen

    In the Grocer’s Shop scene the action requires real peaches, apples, cucumbers and turnips. These real fruits and vegetables are mixed in with the artificial produce onstage.
    Albert Herring Los Angeles Opera Tech Dept

    The Grocer's scene

    In the May Day Festival scene the singers drink lemonade and eat an assortment of finger foods including sausage rolls, ham sandwiches and cupcakes.
    Albert Herring Los Angeles Opera May Day scene

    The May Day scene

    Extra whip cream icing is added to Albert’s cupcake to support the action of the May Day scene.
    Albert Herring Food Props Los Angeles Opera

    Cupcakes and marshmallow “taffy”

    In the final scene the saltwater taffy is replaced with marshmallows wrapped in parchment paper to alleviate the noise made by the original hard candy hitting the floor.
    LA Opera Albert Herring Props Department

    The Final scene

    Calling All Opera Virgins – LA Opera Wants You!

    Albert Herring is a rollicking comedy about the only virgin left in a tiny English town, a meek mama’s boy who has a night he’ll never forget. Our upcoming production of Albert Herring (which opens Saturday, February 25), which is sung in English, is a perfect introduction to opera for those new to the experience. If you’re an “opera virgin,” you’re in for the time of your life, too!

    We’re offering $25 tickets to all “opera virgins!” If you’ve never been to the opera before, we hope you’ll take advantage of this special opportunity to see Albert Herring. You can even be a shining example of unblemished purity and bring along an additional opera neophyte for only $25 too! The three-day sale lasts from Wednesday, February 22 through Friday, February 24.

    The Albert Herring “opera virgins” offer is available for five performances only:

    Saturday, February 25, at 7:30pm
    Saturday, March 3, at 7:30pm
    Thursday, March 8, at 7:30pm
    Wednesday, March 14, at 7:30pm
    Saturday, March 17, at 2pm

    For tickets, visit the box office in person or call Audience Services at (213) 972-8001 or go online at www.laopera.org and use promo code: operavirgin.

    (Already a ticket holder or subscriber? Bring an Opera Virgin friend for $25! Just call Audience Services purchase tickets for your neophyte friends!)

    Albert Herring Projections

    Albert Herring is a rental from Santa Fe Opera where they did not use projections. Los Angeles Opera decided that this production would be enhanced with the addition of newly created projections. Members of the Technical Department worked for three months creating the imagery that would be projected onto the screen.
    The images are a combination of still pictures, moving images and animation, and are created on a computer using multiple software applications. The media is then transferred to media servers and control systems for the stage.

    Los Angeles Opera Albert Herring

    View from media control booth

    The media control booth is located at the rear of the orchestra level seating. The operator programs and cues the imagery into the production. Once the final version is programmed for the opening night, the subsequent performances operate simply with the push of a “go” button.
    Albert Herring Los Angeles Opera Technical Department

    View through Lady Billows set

    Los Angeles Opera Albert Herring media projections

    View from stage left with the Lady Billows set onstage

    The projections are designed to be in proportion to the existing sets. In these views the contoured landscape and miniature houses are seen downstage from the projection screen.

    View of 2 projectors from rear stage right (Simon Boccanegra scenery wall is in storage on the side)

     Two 18,000 lumen high definition video projectors are used together to project onto a forty-two foot high by seventy-four foot wide vinyl rear-projection screen. Ten layers of separate video elements were combined to create this one image. The two projectors are utilized to increase intensity and provide back-up in the event of a projector lamp burn out. The lenses are chosen in each case for the specific location of the projectors and the distance to the screen.

    Best. Letter. Ever.

    One of the things we’ve heard people buzzing about in the hallways  over and over again during Simon Boccanegra performances is how convincing Placido Domingo is as a young Boccanegra in the Prologue. In fact, one young man was overheard saying “I kept looking for Placido Domingo onstage when I heard his voice, but then I realized it was him – he WAS the young guy! How awesome is that?”

    So it came as no surprise when the following letter from a patron arrived:


    Dear Mr. Domingo,

    As a longtime supporter of LA Opera, I would like to thank you for your wonderful work.

    I attended the premiere of Simon Boccanegra last night… It seemed to me and my wife, as well as the people in the row in front of me and behind me that you did not appear in the Prologue. Who did play Simon Boccanegra in the Prologue? If a substitution was made, why wasn’t the audience notified?




    Definitely a testament to Mr. Domingo, his stellar acting ability, and his command of the material (as well as his incredible voice)! So we just wanted to reassure you all… every time you see Simon Boccanegra on stage – you are looking at the one, and only, Placido Domingo. Even in the Prologue. How awesome is that?

    Meet the Artists of Simon Boccanegra on March 1

    Got plans on Thursday, March 1? Well, drop them and come to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to see Simon Boccanegra instead! (And if you’ve already seen it, come back and see it again.) Immediately following the March 1 performance, we’re hosting a special reception for all ticket holders in the Oval Bar where you can meet the artists from this spectacular, critically and popularly acclaimed production!  Plácido Domingo, Maestro James Conlon, Ana Maria Martinez, members of the orchestra and chorus will all be on hand to meet and greet fans!

    There will be complimentary coffee and deserts and the bar will be open for additional purchases.

    For tickets, visit www.laopera.org and we’ll see you on March 1!

    Crew View: Simon Boccanegra Change-over to Albert Herring

    The day after Simon Boccanegra opened, our FOH (front of house) crewcam captured the scenery change-over to Albert Herring. When we do more one than one opera in rep (repertory), all of the settings, props and lights must be exchanged one production for the other. The production that has been in storage on the rear stage and side stages is moved to the main stage and prepared for performance.

    Saturday Mornings at the Opera

    As rain pours from the darkened heavens, the young hero, desperately trying to survive a pit of certain eradication, does the unbelievable and defeats the evil snake. Good defeats evil once again. Reconnecting with his forest friends, after his grand triumph, the bear, panther, and human live happily ever after with only the bare necessities

    At least I think that’s how I remember it.

    The audience erupts with youthful cheers in delight. The lights come up letting us know it is time to leave. We all shuffle out to the lobby only to be met by those heroes and villains that were just on stage. Flashes of light emit from handheld polaroids as hundreds of children pose with the main stage characters.  Out the main doors, and into the blazing sun, I look to my brother then up to my mother whose guiding hand leads us safely to our old Toyota van.

    That was the very first theatrical performance that I can recall attending. My mother took my brother and me to these plays in the summer, and I can remember, in a fuzzy recollection of my past, most of the shows: Babar the Elephant, Rapunzel, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and numerous others. The funny thing is, I remember this all through the eyes of a three year old. I remember they all occurred at the University of Houston. I remember the stage. I remember the entrance hallway. I remember the costumes. And I definitely remember, so clearly, Mowgli’s battle in the rainy pit with Kaa.

    When I was asked to write a blog for LA Opera Education and Community Programs Saturday Mornings at the Opera, my first inclination was to write about how much fun the program was, how many different activities we offered to families, or how music can “take you anywhere you want to go”, as it says in The Magic Dream (LA Opera’s children’s opera based on W. A. Mozart’s The Magic Flute). But as I wrote I recalled my summertime theatre adventures, my brother, my mother, a stage, lighting, costumes, audience members, and music – everything that encompasses theatre and everything that my life has revolved around since – kept flashing through my mind. I quickly called my mother to chat about these old performances and although we’re thousands of miles away, I could hear her voice light up. She remembered it just as I did, but from the perspective of a young mother. We shared a beautiful moment twenty years later doting on a seemingly insignificant moment in time. And it hit me… these experiences – theatre with family, with friends, in a communal experience, just like Saturday Mornings at the Opera and The Magic Dream, affect you. My experience with my mother and brother in the theatre affected me deeply. Not only a fond memory we can all relive together, but both my brother and I lived, and breathed, the theatre growing up and now it is a part of my job to bring theatre to families, students, teachers and communities. We may not realize it every day, but because we here at LA Opera have programs like this we are planting seeds for the future. We hope to effect change within the community that we serve. We hope to instill knowledge and a love for the art form we hold so dear to our hearts. Our objective is to show our Los Angeles community that opera encapsulates numerous art forms all on one stage… LA Opera truly is greater than the sum of its arts.

    The Reviews Are In!

    Were you here on Saturday for the company premiere of Simon Boccanegra? What a spectacular evening! Everything was perfect… from the orchestra, to the singers, to the crowd response. It was truly one amazing night of opera in Los Angeles. But don’t take my word for it… the reviews speak for themselves…

    From the LA Times:

    “[Placido] Domingo was a commanding vocal and dramatic presence…”

    “Ana Maria Martínez looked ravishing and sang with a slender, silvery soprano, negotiating the trills in the pleas for peace with confidence.”

    “Vitalij Kowaljow sang Jacopo Fiesco, Boccanegra’s implacable nemesis, with lustrous power and dignity…”

    “The hero of the evening was conductor James Conlon, who emphasized the transparency, grace and lyricism in the score…”

    From Out West Arts:

    “This is musically, and more importantly dramatically, compelling Verdi with more than just a pulse, but a raging earnest heartbeat that can be heard and felt at great distances. ”

    “James Conlon… led the orchestra in a propulsive, lusty performance…”

    From Variety:

    “ James Conlon navigates smoothly between Verdi’s outbursts of passion and his delicate impressionism, most beautifully rendered by [Ana Maria] Martinez, who easily dominates the big ensembles and displays a genuine trill.”

    There are 6 shows left and great seats are still available!

    More info on Simon Boccanegra 

    Moda en el Teatro

    Mas que nada el ensayo general de Simon Boccanerga el miercoles 8 de Febrero estuvo para chuparse los dedos. El maestro Placido Domingo (Simon Boccanegra) cantó como un angel.  Y no podemos olvidar a Paolo Gavanelli  (Paolo), Stefano Secco (Adorno), y la senorita Ana Maria Martinez (Amelia)… Wow… su voz como pajaritos enamorados… me volvi a enamorar…  no se pierdan SIMON BOCCANEGRA que abre el sabado 11 de Febrero y la ultima funcion es el 4 de Marzo. a las 2 de la tarde.

    A veces los que no han venido a la opera me preguntan que me pongo, como es el vestuario???

    Facil, si es una Gala, es otra historia… las Galas son un desfile de modas… pero un ensayo general o cualquiera otra funcion… un par de slacks o jeans de moda para los caballeros, no se les olvide la chaqueta.

    Para las damas, simple pero siempre elegantes… aqui les doy una muestra  de la moda en el  teatro…

    Nos vemos en el teatro, con mi chaqueta…

    Manuel Garcia
    Assistant Production and Stock Coordinator

    Albert Herring–A Note from the Conductor

    By James Conlon

    Albert Herring, Britten’s only true comic opera, is the second of his three “chamber” operas. The first of these, The Rape of Lucretia (1946), was written immediately after his first successful opera, Peter Grimes, permanently established his international reputation. Seven years and three operas separate Albert Herring (1947) from the last of the three chamber operas, The Turn of the Screw (1954).

    Despite the enormous success of Peter Grimes in 1945, the process of dealing with the human element of large orchestra and chorus, rules and regulations, resistance and intrigue had dampened his enthusiasm for writing for a large theater. His very solution was to write an opera for which he could personally control all of the elements. It was to be performed in a small theater, with a virtuoso orchestra of 13 players. The subject would be intimate with few characters and no chorus. By so doing, he liberated himself from any demands for convention emanating from the public as well as those of “star” singers. He had imposed conditions on the world to serve his operatic muse at an extraordinarily young age. Britten’s three chamber operas were premiered in small, but “established,” theaters: Glyndebourne for the first two, and Venice’s La Fenice for the third.

    Albert Herring is very funny, but it is not a farce. Like most great comedies, an underlying seriousness raises it to a higher level. Beneath its mirth and humanity is a delightful but stinging critique of the mores of Victorian England, which still were operative in the 1940s. Britten, who consistently espoused socially progressive political ideas, shows his capacity to serve up radical fare to an often oblivious conservative public. The work was, if anything, underestimated at the beginning. Dismissed by some as light-weight mirth, its deeper encoded messages, whether unrecognized or denied, eluded the public. In contrast, The Marriage of Figaro, which today threatens no one, was considered subversive in a world in the throes of the French Revolution. Albert Herring passed under the radar, but time has revealed it to be far more radical than first assumed.

    Albert Herring is the tale of the rite of passage and coming of age of the only son of Mrs. Herring, a grocer in an imaginary small market town in 1900. It satirizes the town’s leading lights. It dissects its social stratification, from Lady Billows, “an elderly autocrat” who leads a one-woman crusade to safeguard the town’s “morals,” down to three working-class children. Her clever servant, Florence Pike, is perched uncomfortably between her Mistress and the town. Her plaint is very Mozartian. The opera opens with her reflections on the difficulty of serving her mistress, recalling Figaro and Leporello’s grievances about their masters. The hypocrisies of small-town Victorian morality mirror those of their Mozartian predecessor. Beaumarchais and Da Ponte criticize the aristocracy’s claim on the sexuality of its servants and subjects; Britten and librettist Eric Crozier harpoon their hypocritical attempt to control it.

    Britten focuses his keen eye on those themes that were to recur repeatedly in his dramatic works: the outsider, the marginalization of the individual, outraged innocence and social inequities. His unlikely young hero cuts himself loose from his mother’s apron strings, defies the entire town on the eve of his ceremonial crowning as “May King.” His night of debauchery is also his achievement, part defiance and part affirmation of his new sexual identity. He comes of age after “a nightmare example of drunkenness, dirt and worse….” Albert’s triumph is in defining himself as he is or wishes to be, not as what society and his mother have has told him he should be.

    Britten enlightens and moves us, challenges and provokes us, while making us laugh, as Mozart, Wagner, Verdi and Puccini had done before him. Excepting early works, all but Mozart had virtually never written a comedy. In Verdi’s and Puccini’s cases, that overdue comedy was their last completed opera. The success of these great comic operas is partially explicable by these composers’ essential seriousness and vast theatrical experience. Through their profound gift for tragedy, drama and melodrama, they transformed that gravity for the comic stage.

    Going into the period of World War II, the standard repertory could count five perfect comic masterpieces: The Marriage of Figaro, The Barber of Seville, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Falstaff and Gianni Schicchi. After Benjamin Britten delivered Albert Herring to the world in 1947, there were six.

    James Conlon is the Richard Seaver Music Director of LA Opera

    Simon Boccanegra Action Props Onstage

    In addition to the fight benches, other action props used in Simon Boccanegra include paper maps, charts and letters, hand-held torches and decorative and stage combat swords.

    Maps, Charts and Letters
    When additional maps and charts were needed to support the onstage action, our props and scenic departments hand-crafted the items using a thirty-six inch laser-jet printer and hand-painted effects. The over-sized maps were photographed and printed at a high resolution on watercolor paper. After printing, the maps were sent to the scenic department for ‘aging’ with light washes of thinned acrylic paint.

    LA Opera scenic artist

    A scenic artist uses a sponge to apply color to the back of a map

    In each performance two laser-printed letters are used. New paper letters are added for the next performance. The maps and charts are replaced when they become soiled or damaged by the action.

    Los Angeles Opera Tech Department Simon Boccanegra props

    Numerous paper props are used in the Map Room scene

    behind the scenes Technical Department Los Angeles Opera

    Details of maps, charts and letters on the table in the Map Room

    Hand-Held Torches
    The self-extinguishing torches we have used at LA Opera throughout our history were developed for the original production of Otello in nineteen eighty-six.
    The torches use a non-toxic solid fuel. They burn for fifteen minutes with as much as a sixteen inch tall flame and weigh about two and a half pounds.

    special effects Los Angeles Opera Simon Boccanegra behind the scenes

    A Populace Fighter tightly grips the “dead-man” switch which if released extinguishes the flame

    At the start of each performance nearly thirty torches are preloaded by the prop crew to accommodate the duration of the performance without having to reload.

    Simon Boccanegra special effects Los Angeles opera technical department

    The final scene of Simon Boccanegra uses eight torches (detail)

    Decorative and Stage Combat Swords
    Medieval swords are used in the Council Chamber scene. The edges of the swords have been dulled for safety, and include six decorative and fifteen stage combat weapons.

    decorative swords la opera combat swords opera props stage combat

    Swords backstage in a special sword carrier/cart built by our prop crew

    The decorative swords are relatively inexpensive detailed reproductions. The stage combat swords are made of knifemaker’s steel by a bladesmith and are designed with structural integrity to sustain the impact of combat.

    Simon Boccanegra props stage combat props

    Swords in action during the Council Chamber scene

    The Magic Dream, Day 7 – Dress Rehearsal

    The Magic Dream, Day 7 – Dress Rehearsal Day! from LA Opera on Vimeo.

    Dress rehearsal day, at last! And with it, the addition of the rest of our orchestra, with Vivian on midi and Salpy on flute. Just these two instruments supplementing the piano add so much to our little show. With the midi we suddenly have magic wand sounds, mock-glock(enspiel), and even an “audience applause” for our game show scene. And of course, you can’t have The Magic Flute (or Dream, in this case) without, well, a flute.

    We sing through a few numbers with the band, tweaking a few musical cues here and there, and then we go right into our run. The cast is on fire – it’s amazing how a show tightens up when you get an orchestra and a few audience members in attendance. Suddenly new ideas pop into your head, the dialogue is snappy, and even singing feels better with more instrumental support.

    This show came together really fast – in just a week of rehearsals we’re ready to go. We’re still doing some of this on the fly, though. Tomorrow’s first performance will also be our first technical rehearsal, done live in front of hundreds of children (hopefully rapt with attention and joy). It will also be the first time we get to perform in our finished costumes.

    This afternoon the set will be loaded out by our capable crew and driven up to Malibu for our first two shows at the Smothers Theater at Pepperdine University in Malibu. Waking up at 5:30 AM aside, I can think of worse ways to prepare for a performance than winding my way through Las Virgenes Canyon as the sun burns off the last of the morning chill, waiting for the first sapphire gleam of the Pacific Ocean to strike my eye.

    See you on the flip side!

    Boots By any other color

    Since I started working in costumes over 10 years ago I have had a hard time accepting things for what they are. I have closets of clothing, shoes, and accessories that are the “wrong” size, “wrong” color, and “wrong “ shape and style. That is nothing though compared to the “other side”…when you cross the dark divide of my closet area into the land of desperation. A land inhabited by clothes that have lived a hard life and show it. This is where I store away items requiring a little more love, serious repair, and encouraging words. I refuse to give up on any of them. It’s not hoarding, at least not in my eyes.

    Every now and then there is a beautiful, joyous moment when a situation calls for one of the items that I’ve been clinging to, and I get to declare that this not a disorder or something that my friends should worry themselves about, but rather, this quirky attribute is actually an asset. This moment occurs a lot more in the costume shop where we have ample storage space, but in both situations, it is a satisfying feeling.

    In the upcoming “Simon Boccanegra,” the designer’s vision called for red boots, (Cordovan to be exact), for the character “Pietro.” Of course they are a specific type of period boot, and they needed to be a men’s boots, no less, in a certain size. Lucky for us we found the exact boot we needed in our stock…but they were white.

    That is where Sondra in our crafts department stepped in. She began by removing all existing finishes already on the boot, and then she re-painted the boots with an acrylic based leather paint that she had to mix herself.

    After letting the boot dry, she had to dull down the shine, and go back in and add depth.

    Throughout the process Sondra had to check the color of the boots under stage lights that we have set up in one of the fitting rooms.  Our shop is lit with fluorescent lighting which adds different tones and makes colors read differently than the warm stage lighting does. The whole process only took an expert like her 45 minutes.

    On a side note, Sondra says she first thought of doing crafts when she was just a little kid dying Easter eggs.  Now her daily routine involves dying, painting, making hats, accessories, and anything else that may come her way, and believe me, a lot does.  I am hoping that she will pay a visit to my closet of misfit rags next.

    Simon Boccanegra opens February 11.

    Estas Botas Son Para Cantar (These Boots Were Made For Singing)

    El proseso de capturar el color exacto del diseño en nuestro taller de vestuarios.  Con el internet en las manos y poco tiempo y poco dinero, a veces no podemos encontrar las cosas que deseamos.. El diseño requiere botas rojas pero no cualquier rojo, un rojo que captura  el color de  SANGRE ..  ademas  las botas  necesitan capturar la epoca cuando los hombres usaban mallas… si mallas… Con suerte encontramos las botas en nuestro propio taller, pero las encontramos en color crema…..no rojas!

    Con la ayuda de Sondra Veldey (la asistente artesana ) capturamos los deseos del diseño..  2 tipos de rojo, una gota de café se convierte en sangre o el color Cordovan.   Le pregunto a Sondra cuanto tiempo le tomo el proseso de cambiar el color.  Sondra me dice 45 minutos, pero antes de aplicar el color, las botas necesitan un proceso.

    Primero hay que remover cualquier residuo y luego aplicar una crema de cuero para limpiar las manchas.  Finalmente  logramos el color sangre…o Cordovan.

    Digo, Sondra nos salvo de uno de nuestros diarios dilemas que suceden a menudo en el taller… No se lo pierdan!  Las botas color sangre y la production Simon Boccanegra, que se entrena febrebro 11..

    Nos vemos en el teatro..

    Simon Boccanegra Scenery Load-in on January 24

    Here in the Tech Department we are always excited on “load-in” day. This is the day when the scenery and props arrive at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and are moved into the backstage area of the theater.

    The Simon Boccanegra scenery traveled to Los Angeles from London’s Royal Opera House via ocean freight in five (5) forty-foot shipping containers. The route from the UK to Los Angeles included a sailing through the Panama Canal. The total distance traveled was 5500 miles with a transit time of about 30 days.

    After the arrival in the Port of Los Angeles, the containers were trucked to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and unloaded by a union (IATSE 33) stage crew. The unloading of the containers was completed in one day and the assembly of the set will be completed in three days. For Simon Boccanegra, by the fourth or fifth day we are focusing hundreds of stage lighting instruments. By the evening of day six, we will be ready to begin stage rehearsals.

    Los Angeles Opera Simon Boccanegra theatrical scenery  LA Opera carpenters stage crew

    LA Opera stage carpenters unloading structural scenery elements for Simon Boccanegra

    You can see more photos from the Simon Boccanegra load-in on the LAO Facebook page.

    The Magic Dream, Day 6 – In Which Katherine Finds her Funny

    The Magic Dream, Day 6 from LA Opera on Vimeo.

    I found my funny.

    I didn’t know I was looking for it, but this show has certainly brought it out in me.

    I had always been sort of serious growing up. Not that I didn’t have fun, but I was always a thinker, future-focused. When I went to theater school and received comment cards from my professors that read, “Katherine is a committed performer, but she seems serious in class,” I got so angry! “I’m just paying attention,” I would cry silently to myself.

    Then I got into opera, into roles like Pamina, Violetta, and I got to suffer. I love to suffer onstage! I told myself that I was okay at comedy, and great at suffering.

    I suffered happily for many years, until I was hired to play Gina in The Magic Dream, here at LA Opera. Gina is essentially a mash-up of three different characters in Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Papagena, First Lady, and First Spirit. That means she serves to forward the plot, deliver information, and act as comic relief.

    In our version of the story, she’s really a magician, and since it takes place inside a dream, anything goes. Perhaps it’s knowing that these performances are meant to be for children, but I’ve felt such a tremendous freedom in exploring this character in all of her aspects, especially her voice and her physicality.

    Most performers tend to have a “way in” to their character. Some create whole biographies for their characters, some need to find a quality they already possess in common with the character, and some don’t feel at home until they get into costume and make up. For me, it’s usually a mixture of all of the above, but something magical happened in the middle of our dress rehearsal when Eli, our director, walked onto stage in the middle of our kooky nightmare-gameshow scene and handed me a pair of diamond-encrusted, 1960s cat-eye glasses, à la Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire. Suddenly, I knew exactly who this crazy girl was, and my body naturally adopted her mannerisms: her extreme awkwardness with her limbs and her habit of pushing her glasses back up on her face when she’s excited.

    I know my performance is waaaaay over the top, but I think children naturally have a highly developed sense of the absurd. No matter how big I get though, I always try to mean it, which is what I think makes it funny for the adults in the room.

    I remember something else from theater school: comedic characters never think they’re funny. To them, everything is life-or-death.

    As you can see in the photo below, I just wish people would take me more seriously.

    Albert’s Wild Explosion

    By Gavin Plumley

    Benjamin Britten is often considered a severe composer. It is a somewhat myopic view of the man and his work. After all, his first opera was the 1941 American comedy Paul Bunyan. But it wasn’t until 1945 and the premiere of his searing tragedy Peter Grimes that Britten really made an impact. It was followed by an equally intense chamber opera, The Rape of Lucretia. In order to impress, Britten wrote serious operas about fundamental issues within society. So the choice to write a comedy next was somewhat surprising. Ringing the changes, Albert Herring first appeared in June 1947. Premiered within the sylvan surroundings of Glyndebourne and set in rural Suffolk, it eschews the death and high drama of Peter Grimes and The Rape of Lucretia. At its premiere, the critics and cognoscenti felt it was no more than mere entertainment. But nothing is ever quite what it seems. Although conceived as a comedy, Albert Herring is just as focused a study of society’s mores and morals as any of Britten’s operas. And through the smiles and high jinks of Albert’s drunken escapade we learn much about the world in which we live.


    It is perhaps most telling that, like Peter Grimes, Britten set his comic opera close to home. Britten was born in the Suffolk seaside town of Lowestoft. Now rather neglected due to the North Sea’s flagging oil industry, it was a smart provincial town back in 1913. His studies took him away to London but Britten remained devoted to his home county. Even while in America during the Second World War, thoughts of England remained. A broadcast by E.M. Forster about the Suffolk-born poet George Crabbe not only inspired Peter Grimes but also prompted a return home, when Britten bought a house near to Aldeburgh. Tapping into the wellspring of his creativity and identity, Peter Grimes proved to be an audacious and personal masterpiece. Its pessimistic look at provincial society was a surprisingly negative theme to explore in the months immediately following the end of the War. Yet despite its cynicism, the opera placed Britten on the international map as performances spread across Europe and into America. Commissions flowed and Britten became the darling of post-War music.


    A second string quartet, commissions for orchestral variations (“The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra”) and a new association with the opera house at Glyndebourne in rural Sussex followed after the premiere of the opera. Britten, keen to preserve individuality, quit the company at Sadler’s Wells where Peter Grimes had first met a dazzled public and made plans for his own English Opera Group. Working with the artist John Piper and the writer and director Eric Crozier, he was going to create his own work on his own terms. John Christie, the owner of Glyndebourne, was persuaded that his pet opera house would benefit from an association with these young movers and shakers, confirmed by the 1946 premiere there of The Rape of Lucretia. Like Grimes, this new opera was a bold tragedy of personal conviction in the face of societal pressure. A theme was emerging in Britten’s work.


    The choice of writing a comedy after Grimes and Lucretia offered welcome relief to audience and creators alike. Britten had been pondering an opera based on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and had discussed the idea with Ronald Duncan—the librettist of Lucretia—but it was dropped in favour of Eric Crozier’s cheeky new scheme:


    “I suggested a comic opera based on Maupassant’s short story, Le rosier de Madame Husson. Britten liked the idea, especially when he saw how easily the action could be translated from Maupassant’s France to his own native coast of East Suffolk. We made a brief sketch of how the story might be adapted as an opera, and, before I quite understood what was happening, it was agreed that I should undertake the libretto.”


    Britten worked fast, demanding intense concentration and rapid drafting. By October 1946 (just three months after the premiere of The Rape of Lucretia) Britten was already asking Crozier “How’s Albert?” Inspired by the performances of tenor Peter Pears, Britten’s partner, in Così fan tutte and Smetana’s The Bartered Bride at Sadler’s Wells during the war, Crozier and Britten knew that Pears had great comic potential for the central role. Crozier gifted Britten a Penguin Books translation of the Maupassant and, in return, Britten gave Crozier a copy of the libretto of Falstaff. Both were going to learn how to write operatic comedy from the very best.


    Britten added to this delightful mixture of Mozart, Smetana and Verdi with his own passion for Suffolk. And not only did Crozier transplant the whole tale from Normandy to seaside England, but everything within the libretto had direct signifiers within Britten’s world: the village of Loxford is an invention, but clearly linked to Yoxford just outside Aldeburgh; Albert Herring is named after a grocer from nearby Tunstall; Lady Billows got her surname from a colleague at the British Council; Florence was the soprano Joan Cross’s maid; Nancy was named after the mezzo-soprano Nancy Evans; and Harold Wood is a station on the way from Suffolk to London. It was a roman à clef of a libretto, though no direct comparisons or criticisms were intended. On the surface, Britten’s opera was a loving homage to his rural Suffolk and, with the advent of the motorcar, a landscape and society that was beginning to disappear.


    Britten wrote a charming score to match. The children in the village sing variants of folk songs and nursery rhymes. Lady Billows speaks in sub-Elgarian tones, while the local dignitaries, the mayor and the policeman, have all the hallmarks of Gilbert and Sullivan’s parodied Englishmen. On the surface, then, Albert Herring is a delicious comedy about English manners intended for easy consumption after the more difficult tragedies of Peter Grimes and The Rape of Lucretia. But like Così fan tutte, The Bartered Bride and Falstaff, there is a richer and more important seam that runs through the piece. Britten, as ever, digs beneath the surface. The village of Loxford is clearly a stuffy place. Rules are obeyed and nobody can step out of line. Albert’s mother, in particular, keeps a firm grip on society ways. Obsessed by the ticking of her clock (immediately apparent in the score), she is a rigid unbending moral force within the opera. Albert is desperate to break away.


    Despite his ambitions, Albert has no immediate musical personality. While the adults are rigid caricatures—familiar to anyone who knows BBC comedy or The Pirates of Penzance—the young freethinkers occupy a simple and carefree sound world. Albert is caught between them. Sid and Nancy are emblematic of the youngsters’ happy-go-lucky domain. So while Albert is the weary worker in the shop—“I’m sorry, but I’ve got a lot to do”—Sid is outwardly gleeful in his exclamations of “I’m busy too.” Dotted jig-like rhythms in the woodwinds show that nothing can get him down. His innocent love for Nancy is captured in equally uncomplicated terms—albeit with a dash of Englishman’s eroticism. But there’s clearly more to Albert than meets the eye and his Act 1 aria betrays previously unspoken emotions. The interlude after the scene in the marquee similarly portrays a split personality. Following the festivities, the village dance continues, but soon settles into a more existential musical passage. Albert is drunk, having had too much of Sid’s spiked lemonade (with a hint of Tristan und Isolde thrown in by Britten). He boasts and stumbles around the shop, accidentally ringing the bell hanging over the door. He calls out for his mother, even if his inebriated state mocks the propriety she craves. Her foursquare music lurks in the background, but Albert is “blowed if I’m ready for that.” The following scene may, on the surface, be a jokey dialogue between Albert’s good and bad conscience. But the music for “Why did she stare?”—his pondering of Nancy and Sid’s openhearted sincerity—is much more profound. Having seen a way out of the deadlock, Albert seizes his moment and escapes.


    After the manhunt, parodying a similar but truly shocking moment in Peter Grimes, Albert returns to the village ready to answer questions. His mother and Lady Billows are shaken by his absence. Capitalising on their disbelief, Albert boasts of his brawls at the Horse and Groom and his night of “drunkenness, dirt and worse.” In an unexpectedly audacious moment, Albert castigates the village and his mother for their repressive force:


    You know what drove me,
    You know how I could.
    It was all because
    You squashed me down and reined me in,
    Did up my instincts with safety pins,
    Kept me wrapped in cotton wool,
    Measure my life by a twelve-inch rule—
    Protected me with such devotion
    My only way out was a wild explosion!


    The timpani that had underpinned Mrs. Herring’s questions now drives through Albert’s response. He answers her determination with his own unbending will. For Britten, whose mother had equally mollycoddled him throughout his childhood and early adult life, Crozier’s words must have triggered significant memories. Together, Albert and Britten crave freedom from stuffy domesticity. That nursery life has taken its toll and Albert finds his voice in a highly personalised outburst. For someone who had little individuality to begin with, this is a bold statement indeed.


    Heard within the context of the opera as a whole, this moment has particular force. It follows one of the most touching threnodies in all of Britten’s output. The Book of Common Prayer tones of “In the midst of life is death,” the tolling bell and communal mourning prefigure the War Requiem, which followed some 15 years later. Coupled with Albert’s explosion, Britten indicates that, while the impetus for Albert Herring had been farce, the end result was much more serious. Musically, that shift is heard through Albert’s developing musical character. A mirror of the other people in the village, he eventually finds his own voice, as individualized and elegiac as that of Peter Grimes. And like that irrational and tragic figure, Albert speaks for a more liberal world of poetry, ambiguity and wider understanding.


    So, although Britten clearly intended a warm and sincere homage to his home, Albert Herring equally points out the flaws in provincial life. It was a comedic exploration of the tensions that lie at the heart of Peter Grimes. Despite that message, many couldn’t see beyond the surface. John Christie, obliged to take the piece for Glyndebourne, was heard damning it in front of the audience on opening night. The critics were equally dismissive. It was “a charade” which offered “no more than a snigger.” Now, thankfully, we realise that Albert Herring is as heartfelt as anything within Britten’s incredible output.


    © Gavin Plumley, 2012
    Gavin Plumley is a London-based writer and musicologist. He contributes programme notes to opera houses across the globe, including a number on the works of Benjamin Britten. You can read more about his work via his blog www.entartetemusik.blogspot.com.

    The Evolution of a Dark, Underestimated MasterpieceThe Evolution of a Dark, Underestimated Masterpiece

    By Thomas May

    The notorious travails of Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark on Broadway may represent an extreme case in our time, but there is a long, fascinating history to the artistic surgery otherwise known as rewriting a show. For Verdi in particular, mastery of this skill played a key role in the evolution of his mature style. While Mozart’s revisions tended for the most part to involve merely supplying new arias tailored to specific singers, Verdi spanned a considerable spectrum in his approach to rewrites. Some were quick touch-ups (La Traviata, following its initial flop) and others entailed reconceiving a work for an entirely new context (the 1865 rewrite of Macbeth for the Paris stage). But Simon Boccanegra inspired Verdi to undertake the most extensive overhaul of his entire career, almost a decade after he had officially “retired” from writing opera.

    Verdi’s decision to remold the work is often seen as a cautious testing of the waters before he was ready once again, confidence restored, to plunge all the way into the works of his twilight years, Otello and Falstaff. There is no doubt that the profounder exploration of character ventured in the revised Boccanegra helped enrich the composer’s palette for those later miracles.

    Yet in the rewritten form by which it has become best known (and which is the basis for most contemporary productions, including this one), Simon Boccanegra is not just an artistic stepping stone but a remarkable—if flawed—masterpiece in its own right. Verdi reclaimed a work that had already begun to sink into oblivion and transformed it into one of his most complex operatic visions. The challenges it poses for performers and audiences alike account for Boccanegra’s reputation as an opera for the Verdi connoisseur. While even drastic revision failed to solve all the underlying problems of dramatic structure and development, recent advocates have generated renewed interest in the work, along with wider admiration for the real magnitude of Verdi’s achievement here.

    The original version of Simon Boccanegra was already a challenging work for audiences. After a lukewarm premiere at La Fenice in Venice in March 1857, the composer remarked that he had written a score “that does not make its effect immediately.” A number of revivals took place throughout Italy later in the decade, but the reception was disappointingly mixed (including outright fiascos in Florence and Milan).

    Collaborating with his long-term librettist Francesco Maria Piave (and, to Piave’s chagrin, using revisions by the exiled revolutionary Giuseppe Montanelli), Verdi might well have thought he had just the right ingredients for success. After all, the story derived from a drama by Antonio García Gutiérrez, the Spanish playwright and emulator of Victor Hugo who had also been the source for Il Trovatore, a work that had furnished Verdi a resounding triumph from the moment it premiered in 1853. Simon Boccanegra in fact contains a number of noticeable musical echoes of Il Trovatore, such as the brief, mysterious ballad Paolo sings in the Prologue, divulging the doom-laden backstory of Simon’s love affair with Fiesco’s daughter, the interwoven offstage chants of the Miserere during Fiesco’s opening aria, or the troubadour-like romancing that introduces Gabriele in Act One.

    Nowadays we tend to get tripped up by the strained coincidences of the plot. It’s easy enough to imagine an Anna Russell-esque spoof of its convolutions: “You see, that old sourpuss Fiesco plays fatherly protector to Amelia, but both of them are living under feigned identities and don’t know they are in fact related. Her real father is Simon Boccanegra, but he lost track of her as a baby while gallivanting about at sea, which is one of the reasons Fiesco hates him so passionately, not realizing Amelia actually is his long-lost granddaughter…. I’m not making this up!”

    The device of lost-and-found identities which similarly (or, rather, even more outrageously) propels Il Trovatore’s tragedy obviously didn’t impede that opera’s popularity. But the relatively conservative musical framework in which it all plays out followed conventional expectations for Italian opera in the 1850s that Boccanegra challenged. While there is romantic entanglement, between Amelia and Gabriele, it’s eclipsed by the real love story: the one between father and daughter (and, secondarily, between Simon and the Genoese Republic). On a more abstract level, the predominance not just of male voices, but of male voices at the lower end of the register, might be seen as an emblem for the uniquely dark coloring that pervades its sound world. Verdi, a master of the tinta or sonic coloration that defines a particular dramatic essence, establishes a sense of lurking gloom that is quite distinct from Trovatore’s more romantically nocturnal atmosphere—not to mention the brooding pathos of Don Carlo and other Verdi operas.

    Verdi, in his bones, was a practical man of the theater—at a far remove from Wagner’s endlessly spun theories. The kinds of innovation he was undertaking in these years (usually seen as starting in earnest with Rigoletto in 1851) were, as Verdi authority Julian Budden aptly writes, part of an ongoing process of “self-renewal” that would ultimately extend into the period of Boccanegra’s thoroughgoing rewrite. Instead of revolutionary, all-or-nothing challenges to convention, the composer maintained a more realistic approach characterized by Budden as “a mixture of conservatism and a tendency to cautious reform.”

    At the same time, the material for Boccanegra seems to have drawn together several themes that Verdi found especially stimulating catalysts for his musico-dramatic imagination at its boldest. One is the intense emotional bond between father and daughter, an obsessively recurrent pattern throughout a number of Verdi’s operas which had autobiographical relevance. (The composer had lost his wife and two children to disease when he was only in his 20s.) Another is the way in which personal relationships become bound up in larger power struggles—yet another recurrent theme, as we find in the remarkable intersection of personal and political motivations that generate conflict in Aida and Don Carlo, for example.

    Simon himself only reluctantly agrees to consider the call to become Doge (“leader”) when he is led to believe the position will facilitate gaining access to his beloved (before he learns of her death at the end of the Prologue). The opera’s title character is based loosely on the historical first Doge of the Republic of Genoa, who was elected in 1339 to serve in that position for life on behalf of the populist party, in opposition to the entrenched nobility. (Simon’s earlier popularity won through feats as a state-sponsored pirate are a fictional elaboration.) Verdi wasn’t interested in using history as a pageant-filled spectacle for its own sake (in the manner that became standardized as French grand opera) but in the universally relevant implications of his characters and their plights.

    Yet the potential of Simon Boccanegra’s character as a visionary leader who is thwarted by the intractable jealousies and passions of human nature remained more or less dormant in the first version of the opera. There, Verdi had defied convention by resorting to declamation in place of arias for much of the musical characterization of his chief protagonist. But this untapped potential became the central focus for the composer’s revisions when he finally decided to tackle Simon Boccanegra again in 1880 for a revival at La Scala later that season. Along with his fine-tuning of many other aspects of the score, it was this fundamental recalibration that emphasized the Shakespearean complexity and ambivalence underlying the plot’s creaky melodrama.

    In fact, Shakespearean ambitions helped prompt Boccanegra’s revision in the first place. Verdi hadn’t composed any new operas since Aida in 1871, but Giulio Ricordi, who had taken over as the energetic young head of the music publisher responsible for his catalogue, was determined to lure him back to the stage. He eventually succeeded in reawakening Verdi’s desire to set the drama of Shakespeare to music by strategically piquing his curiosity in a libretto to Shakespeare’s Othello that would be prepared by Arrigo Boito. A composer and man of letters who was a generation younger than Verdi, the half-Italian, half-Polish Boito had been associated with the avant-garde and had even earned the elder composer’s contempt in previous years. But the new project proved irresistible.

    To help ensure a smooth collaboration, the idea of first revising Boccanegra—another preoccupation Ricordi had been urging on Verdi for over a decade, particularly since the public’s interest in that work had since vanished—seems to have at last taken hold. Verdi and Boito worked quickly, their efforts vindicated by a resounding success when the overhauled Boccanegra premiered in March 1881 (on the same stage that had treated the opera’s first incarnation so rudely in the 1850s).

    It was in fact Verdi’s own idea to overwrite the finale to act one, in which the most extensive revisions were concentrated, with a grand new scene set in the Council Chamber of the Doge’s palace. Here, Simon’s plea for peace with Genoa’s enemies and between its own citizens—the enlightened vision of a new order, symbolized by explicit reference to the humanist poet Petrarch—are inevitably drowned out by the archaic, fateful strains of the curse Paolo is forced to pronounce on the villain who kidnapped Amelia (which, in a brilliant stroke of irony, not only is against himself, Simon’s former close ally, but seals his desire to ensure the Doge’s downfall). Menacing unison fanfares from the brass reinforce the impression of dark, inescapable forces that have an interior, psychological aspect throughout the opera—in the form of the unassuageable guilt that haunts Simon over the loss of his beloved. Verdi brings home the point through his chilling juxtaposition of the images of the tomb and the throne at the end of the Prologue.

    All of these qualities make the title role an intimidating proving ground for the leading singer, both vocally and dramatically. Yet another significant revision was to intensify the role of Paolo as the Doge’s betrayer. His resentment here suggests the moral complexion that would be probed even further in the character of Iago in the new opera that was already incubating by this point. Paolo’s increased stature adds a powerful counterweight to the more conventional enmity represented by Fiesco, a character whose inflexibility toward Simon evoked what Verdi described as “a voice of steel.” In terms of the opera’s political conflict, Fiesco stands for the proudly aristocratic old order threatened by the winds of change. Yet it’s precisely this inflexibility that allows for the moving dramatic effect of his final reconciliation with the dying Doge. Fiesco retains his harshly pessimistic outlook even after making peace with his former enemy.

    Verdi also refined many other points in the score with nips and tucks and subtle adjustments to harmony and orchestration. Over the nearly quarter-century that had elapsed since the first version of Simon Boccanegra—roughly the very same period that separates the Prologue from the rest of the action, as it happens—many of the conventions Verdi was tweaking in the 1850s had become moot. The stylistic overlay of his middle-period work with the more sophisticated continuity of later Verdi can be jarring for those who insist on consistency. Much of the music for the lead tenor Gabriele, for example, remains relatively unchanged and thus brings back the clearest echoes of the composer’s earlier style. At the same time, this juxtaposition creates a fascinating color of its own, not unlike the stratification of styles found in Wagner’s Siegfried, whose composition spanned more than a decade. Budden memorably likens these various facets of the revised Boccanegra score to “turning a stage-coach into a steam train.”

    The thrilling climax created by the new first act, however, created a new set of dramaturgical challenges by reconfiguring the opera’s overall structure. A kind of lingering diminuendo seems to fall over the remaining two acts. The glimpses of promise and rebirth hinted in the first act—especially in the moving recognition scene between Simon and Amelia—are now overshadowed by a gradually thickening gloom. Musically, Verdi’s economy allows him to focus on ambience and internal states, making for an almost proto-modernist sense of drama beneath the linear progression of the plot. The undulating figurations he uses throughout the opera to suggest Genoa’s maritime character—at their brightest in Amelia’s first aria in act one—acquire a hallucinatory character as the poison takes effect and Simon seeks escape through memories of his beloved sea.

    But it’s another fundamental musical gesture of this score—the fatalistic, funereal tread first heard in the Miserere in the Prologue—that returns for the unrelenting bleakness of the final moments. Despite the reconciliation that seems to be enacted as the dying Simon passes on the leadership to Gabriele, Verdi’s orchestra ends the opera with sighing phrases and the starkly tolling echoes of the past. The composer’s earlier verdict had been that Simon Boccanegra is “too sad, too depressing.” But the powerful, striking contrasts that animate the revised opera ultimately underscore its dark vision.

    Thomas May is a frequent contributor to LA Opera programs.

    The Magic Dream, Day 5 – On Stage

    I have a confession to make: I snuck onto the main stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.

    Ok, well, I didn’t exactly sneak, I more ambled up the staircase on stage right, and poked my head around the corner to see if the stage was in use. It was empty, and the house lights were up, affording me a gaping view of the four-tiered hall.

    Apparently the second most common fear, after death, is public speaking. That’s right, death, and public speaking. For a performer who’s used to getting up in front of people, this can seem a little strange. But looking out into the dazzling ruby hall of the Chandler that afternoon, I was awestruck. I was tempted to try my voice out in the hall, but that seemed a little too much like a scene out of Fame, so instead I let the silence seep into me.

    Can you imagine the thrill and the profound responsibility that comes with being on a stage like that? The strange thing is, it’s usually scarier for a singer to perform in front of an intimate gathering than a darkened grand hall. When we step in front of an audience, we are gifted with the chance to be a conduit of divine transcendence. I don’t mean in a religious sense, but as a via of pure, sublime beauty. Or tragedy; or even humor. Every time I perform, it is my fervent wish that at least one person in the room walks out having lived, even for a moment, something outside of their regular experience.

    I know our little show isn’t necessarily grand; it’s a retelling of Mozart’s The Magic Flute designed to introduce children to opera. But it isn’t lost on me that one of those children might walk away with what could be the defining memory of the moment they fell in love with music. I know I’ve walked away from certain performances (or films or ballets or photography exhibitions) thinking, “I’ll never forget that.” I hope to do the same for someone else.

    I will never forget standing on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler.

    A Letter from Plácido Domingo

    Dear friends,

    It is a new year and the beginning of a new era for LA Opera. In the first 25 years of our existence, we quickly established ourselves as one of the world’s leading opera companies. Naturally, there have been obstacles along the way, but nevertheless we have been able to thrive and grow. We are proud of the leading role we play in our community, and grateful to every one of you for your continued support over the years.

    Like most arts organizations, we have seen challenges as a result of the global economy. While we are cautious in our planning and watching our budgets closely, I am proud that the artistic quality and musicality of our work has remained undiminished. Our past investments in backstage technology have turned out to help us in this regard, for we are now able to maintain a high artistic standard at a reduced cost.

    You may have noticed the new graphic addition to our logo. The sunburst is based on design elements in our beloved Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, our home in the iconic Music Center of Los Angeles County. We selected this imagery because it embodies a creative energy and pioneering spirit unique to Los Angeles. This new look signifies the next phase in our exciting journey to best serve the people of this dynamic and vibrant city.

    We recently conducted a major research campaign to learn how we could better serve our audience and have a bigger impact throughout our community. This has led to several new initiatives that we are proud to announce. First of all, we are implementing a new seating program that will enable us to invite more students, senior citizens and disadvantaged members of our community to experience the magic of opera. Tickets will be set aside for every performance, supplementing the extensive outreach opportunities that we already provide.

    Second, we will be offering affordable ticket packages to enable parents, grandparents, and other relatives to introduce their young family members to opera’s thrilling combination of music and theater. More information on both of these programs will be available in a few weeks, when we announce the full details of our 2012/13 Season.

    The final announcement I have today is perhaps of the most immediate interest. Next season, we will be lowering many of our prices and increasing the number of more affordable seats. We know that many people who want to attend our performances are facing tough choices about spending these days, and we want to make it easier for everyone to experience the work for

    I can’t wait to share the incredible new season that we have put together, and I am equally excited about the new changes that we have made as we plan for the future. I look forward to sharing with you the unique experience of LA Opera as we move into an exciting new era!

    Plácido Domingo
    Eli and Edythe Broad General Director

    Simon Boccanegra—A Note from the Conductor

    By James Conlon

    Simon Boccanegra is among Giuseppe Verdi’s most extraordinary creations. It is difficult for me to write on this subject divorced from my personal experience and feelings. I do so with conviction that reflects not just the practical experience of three productions and some 25 performances behind me, but also a lifetime’s passionate acquaintance.

    Pure chance led to my first encounter with this opera at the age of 13. It was among the first operas of Verdi that I knew from beginning to end. Recently, on SiriusXM radio, I heard a broadcast of a 1964 performance I attended from my perch in the standing room area of the old Metropolitan Opera House. Verdi aficionados know and love it, but many here will be hearing and seeing it for the first time. Given my young age when I first learned the opera, I did not differentiate it from Rigoletto, Traviata or Aida, and it was years before I realized it was less well known.

    I wondered why. It was not heard in the U.S. (at the Met) until January 28, 1932. (Lawrence Tibbett, Ezio Pinza, Giovanni Martinelli were in the cast with Tullio Serafin conducting). It had been premiered in Vienna just two years earlier in a translation by the eminent Franz Werfel. The so-called “political” operas of Verdi have often taken longer to be embraced by the greater public. The “love stories,” and those that are predominantly concerned with universal, human relations, were at an advantage. Tales of political struggle, lust for power and nations at war were slower to gain popularity.

    But can one really divide up his operas in two categories? In fact, there is not a single opera by Verdi that is not essentially about human relations. Not one! Whatever the historical context, the era in which a plot was placed, the composer always put matters of the heart at the core. At the same time Verdi, more than any other 19th-century Italian composer, was fascinated by the dramatic potential inherent in tales of power struggles. The early historical operas, written in the heat of the political upheavals of the 1840s destined to free Italy from foreign influence, constitute a significant part of his youthful works. The so-called Risorgimento operas are works in which national aspirations form a central theme. Whether biblical (Nabucco) or historical (Giovanna d’Arco, I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata and, most of all, La Battaglia di Legnano), they reverberated with the growing resentment of foreign domination. Increasingly sophisticated and subtle are Macbeth, I Vespri Siciliani, Simon Boccanegra and Don Carlo. It is significant that Verdi revised three of these works (two of these, Macbeth and Boccanegra, more than two decades after their first versions).

    Simon Boccanegra is a shining case in point of both the historical/personal drama dichotomy as well as the dynamics of aria-based scenes versus “through-composed” scenes and acts. It is a hybrid opera, resulting from the enormous time lag betweens its two versions (1857 and 1881). A stylistic chasm separates the passages written only four years after La Traviata from those created directly before Otello. And yet, amazingly it holds together with enormous tensile strength.

    In fact the results are seamless, while belying the colossal development that separates its elements. There is little stopping and starting. Only the tenor’s aria seems to beg for applause. By far the best-known aria from the opera is for the bass (Fiesco). Its postlude would seem to be drawn from Don Carlo, although it was written before it. In fact, one can appreciate Simon Boccanegra as a prelude to Don Carlo. It is a free adaptation of history based on real historical characters. Its color (tinta as Verdi called it) is dark and mysterious. It has a preponderance of low male voices (a baritone as protagonist, a bass-baritone and two basses versus a single tenor and soprano).

    The opera offers a great deal to all. For the baritone, the demanding title role is at the apex in the pantheon of Verdi roles, rivaling Macbeth, Rigoletto and Falstaff. The role Fiesco has the stature of King Philip the Second. The soprano role (Amelia) looks forward to Desdemona. Paolo, the villain is, particularly in the 1881 version, a study for Iago. For a great stage director, the opera’s setting in medieval Genoa provides a historical context rich in possibilities. Descriptions of Giorgio Strehler’s 1971 production defy comparisons—and superlatives. I would not hesitate to identify it as the single greatest opera production I have ever seen.

    For the conductor and orchestra, Boccanegra’s score is rich in layered textures, exquisite colors and dramatic intensity. It stands with Don Carlo, on the way to Otello and Falstaff. The sea is as omnipresent as in Wagner’s Tristan and Flying Dutchman or Britten’s Peter Grimes. It reflects the sea in the mysterious opening chords (which Liszt employed in his famous paraphrase for piano), the impressionistic panoramic introduction to Amelia’s introductory aria and in the poignant reflections of Simon in the last act. The eerily lugubrious prologue, the exquisitely moving Amelia/Simon scene (counterpart to the Violetta/Germont Act Two scene), Paolo’s concise Shakespearean “poison” soliloquy and the last act’s reconciliation duet between Fiesco and Simon are among the most moving of their genre.

    But by far the crown jewel of the opera is the Council Chamber Scene. It stands as one of Verdi’s greatest accomplishments. One step before Otello, he demonstrates the heights to which he and Arrigo Boito (whom he engaged to test a hypothetical future collaboration) will soar in Otello and Falstaff. For grandeur, depth, concision and inspiration it is second to none. Simon is portrayed as a fearless and visionary leader of his people. His appeal for peace with the enemy city-state of Venice and the conflicting political factions of the Plebeians and Patricians are eloquent avowals of the tenets of Italy’s recent unification. Finally, his brilliant manipulation of the guilty Paolo, shaming him publicly by forcing him to curse himself in front of the entire populace, provides one of the most hair-raising curtains in Verdi’s entire output.

    Simon Boccanegra, above all, is a man of peace, and the opera a tale of the power of reconciliation. Simon’s greatness as a leader resides in his valiant (if sometimes fruitless) efforts to promote harmony and understanding within the Italian peninsula—the republics of Venice and Genoa, the Patricians and the Plebeians, the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. The most moving scenes in the opera (Simon’s discovery of his long lost daughter, and his unexpected reunion with Fiesco after a quarter-century’s enmity) evoke profound feelings of joyous release from tragic separations and hostilities. In his dying moments, he blesses his daughter’s marriage to one who had been his lifelong enemy, and appoints him as his successor, in order to bring together the warring factions that had troubled his entire reign. He lives long enough (just barely) to fulfill the covenant with Fiesco to locate the missing Maria, and he dies having realized his two greatest desires: to find his daughter, and to deliver her to her mother’s father. His tragedy is to have died at the moment of his greatest happiness, enjoyed for only several hours at the end of a life lived in service to his people.

    James Conlon, conductor of Simon Boccanegra, is the Richard Seaver Music Director of LA Opera.

    The Magic Dream – Day 4

    The Magic Dream – Day 4 from LA Opera on Vimeo.


    Question: How many tenors does it take to change a lightbulb?
    Answer: One. He holds the lightbulb and the world revolves around him.


    Opera singers are often plagued with stereotypes, even within our profession. One could easily substitute “soprano” in the joke above (apparently mezzo-sopranos are less prone to ego trips).


    Scarves, Zicam, and water-with-no-ice aside, I wish for a moment to stand up for my fellow singers and address the most pernicious and cruel stereotype of all: singers are terrible musicians.


    I suspect this assertion often comes from conductors, pianists, or instrumentalists frustrated with singers’ frequent musical sloppiness. We drop beats, we mistake accidentals, we ignore cutoffs. Don’t ask us to honor or care about the harmonic context within which we are singing. We don’t care. In fact, all we really care about is “how do I sound?”


    Are we singers often guilty of this behavior? Sure. Is there any excuse for being a sloppy or careless musician? Absolutely not.


    But if I could put this into perspective for a moment: singers are operating on a different paradigm than that of many other musicians. Instrumentalists are specialists; singers are synthesists. Singers are multi-taskers. We have to deal with music, words (usually in a foreign language), stage business, acting and reacting to our fellow singers, creating a believable character, and watching the conductor. And we have to do it all from memory.


    Now, I’m not trying to belittle the work of the instrumentalist. On the contrary, I think we singers could take a cue from their attention to detail and the awe-inspiring commitment to hours upon hours of tireless practice, next to which most opera singers look downright lazy.


    But it’s also important to remember that, while most instrumentalists have been working their craft since they were children, most singers can’t begin real operatic training until they’re about eighteen. That means that when a thirty year-old singer performs with a thirty year-old pianist, the pianist probably has about ten years more of expertise under their belt. When a singer drops a beat or seems obsessed with their own voice, it’s probably because so much of their attention is still absorbed by just trying to make their voice work.


    Operatic singing is really hard. It takes most people about ten years before they can know with some certainty that the music that’s in their heads will come out of their mouths. Most singers I know have masters degrees, meaning they have committed at least six years of full time work on singing, language and diction, repertoire, stage craft, art song, theory, pedagogy, and rehearsal.


    Singers, to sing well, can’t be stupid. And, like any art form, the closer you get to the best singers in the world, the less likely you are to find sloppiness or carelessness of any kind.


    To make my point in a more lighthearted way, in the video above I put a camera on my head during rehearsal and noted how many separate events of stage business I had to accomplish in about 45 seconds of music. From memory. The count: 16. That’s an average of one move, which has to be synced to the music (meaning we have to listen and count!), every 3.5 seconds.


    I hope that by bringing non-singers inside our experience, even just this little bit, we can, through understanding, begin to dispel this stereotype. I also, just as fervently, encourage every singer out there to go out and take some lessons in an instrument besides the piano.


    In the end, singers and instrumentalists alike could be well-served by absorbing the best traits of the other.

    The Magic Dream – Day 3

    The Magic Dream – Day 3 from LA Opera on Vimeo.

    Three days of staging down, and we’re two numbers shy of having the whole show on its feet.

    Watching the video footage from today’s rehearsal, the word that kept coming into my mind was ensemble.

    Let’s face it, you can’t do opera by yourself. Singing in the shower aside, there’s very little you can accomplish without another person there. We need pianists, orchestras, conductors. And most importantly, audiences!!

    Part of the joy of staging an opera is that you get out of the (sometimes coffin-sized) practice room and into the rehearsal room. When you get a great group of people together, ideas start bursting like popcorn. The director guides, filters, shapes, the performers bounce off one-another (in this production, sometimes literally!), and a show begins to emerge. What you get is something greater than what any one person could conceive of by themselves.

    The other joy is that every show brings together a new group of people. Some faces will be familiar, some will be new. By the end of the show you have a handful of new acquaintances, and it’s safe to say at least one new true friend. As life goes on and career paths diverge, you find you have comrades all over the world. I know if I was traveling I would have a couch (or better yet, guest bedroom!) to crash on in at least seven countries. And the door swings both ways: I have two separate “opera” friends who will be staying with me in Los Angeles in February alone.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is this: what’s special about opera isn’t just what we give to the audience, it’s about what we give to each other as well.

    The Magic Dream – Day 2


    The Magic Dream, Day 2 – Meet the Cast from LA Opera on Vimeo.

    I know opera has a reputation for being “heavy,” “long,” “serious,” and – dare I say it? – BORING.
    I have to say though, that in the seven years that I have been part of this strange musical world, I have never met such a crew of boisterous, good-natured, good-humored, creative, silly, and passionate people. Maybe it’s because everything about this art form is so, well, BIG: big sets, big costumes, big voices. I guess it takes some pretty big personalities, too.
    Our little opera, The Magic Dream, is pretty silly, as you will see. I was going to write a little introduction of our cast and creative team, but I think, in this case, video speaks a thousand words.

    The Magic Dream, Day One – Rehearsal

    The Magic Dream – Rehearsal Day 1 from LA Opera on Vimeo.

    The Magic Dream
    Day 1

    There’s really nothing cooler than bypassing the towering glass facade of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, curving around towards the underbelly of the Music Center, and turning into the unassuming doors that are the artists’ entrance of LA Opera.

    This is the big time.

    In the room next door, Maestro Conlon is conducting the first sing-through of the upcoming Recovered Voices project. You get the sense of being part of something really big, really exciting.

    And then the fist sing-through starts, and you finally get to hear what were, until now, imagined voices in your head. You’re part of a team with a common cause – the music!

    Staging has already begun, and I can tell you now, this is a seriously talented – and seriously goofy – group of artists.

    This is going to be fun.

    Introducing: Guest Blogger Katherine Giaquinto

    Meet guest blogger/vlogger (and awesome soprano) soprano Katherine Giaquinto!


    Katherine is singing the role of Gina in The Magic Dream, a wildly imaginative and engaging retelling of Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute and the latest production from our Education and Community Programs department. She’s sharing her behind the scenes experiences from rehearsal to performance through her regular blog posts and we’re very excited about our collaboration!

    Originally from Canada, Katherine began her performing career as a child actor in film and TV, and moved to Los Angeles to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. A vocal injury prompted her to return to school for singing, where she discovered opera. She went on to complete her BA in Music at UCLA, and her Master of Music at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She now makes her home in Los Angeles, where she continues to passionately explore the intersection of classical music and drama through opera, recitals, concerts, film, and theater. Please visit www.katherinegiaquinto.com for more information.

    LA Opera Makes Early Payment on Loan

    Photo by Steve Cohn Photography

    At a time when performing arts companies across the country are grappling with budgetary issues, it’s great to hear good news. Today, General Director Plácido Domingo, Board Chairman Marc I. Stern and CEO Stephen D. Rountree appeared before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to announce that LA Opera has made an early payment of $7 million against a $14 million loan the Company received in 2009. The Board of Supervisors also recognized Mr. Domingo for his long history of support and leadership for the arts in Los Angeles. For more information, read all about it at LATimes.com and on LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s blog.

    Happy New Year!

    Now that we’ve celebrated the arrival of the new year and the midpoint of our season, we’ve been busily working on many exciting things coming up in 2012 (and beyond!). We can’t wait to share them with you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we thank you for your support, and wish every one of you a very happy 2012.

    La Boheme Technical Analysis

    After a one to two year process of working with the design team on the concept and creation of renderings and models for a new set, one of the tasks of the Technical Department is to analyze, draw, engineer and supervise construction of the scenery and props for that new production. Our popular production of La Boheme was built new in 1993 and has been presented repeatedly here and at other opera companies.

    Los Angeles Opera La Boheme

    Act 1: Los Angeles Opera production of La Boheme onstage in 2012

    Each time we revive the production, we meticulously study the technical drawings. This becomes especially critical since our productions often play in rep with other varying productions when they are revived. This package of archived drawings and documentation accompanies the production when it travels to another opera company.

    Los Angeles Opera La Boheme

    3D “exploded” view construction drawing of La Boheme set unit as built by Seattle Opera Scenic Studios. This illustrates how the individual components are assembled. (Click and zoom for large detailed image.)

    3D AutoCAD drawing: Act 1 La Boheme on DCP Stage (Click and zoom for large detailed image.)

    This short video captures some of the La Boheme scenery as it is unloaded from the trucks, assembled, and handled onstage.

    La Moda del Coro

    Pruebas, pruebas …Y mas pruebas!

    Durante las dos últimas semanas hemos estado probando el vestuario de los miembros del coro de Los Ángeles Ópera!  Ahora que las cosas se han  tranquilizado un poco, tengo tiempo de informarles todas las noticias por Blog.  Por lo tanto, estén atentos. No se pierdan nada.

    El objetivo de dos semanas de pruebas es capturar la visión de la diseñadora y no cambiar nada. Y hasta el momento todo va bien ..
    Acto 3, El Pueblo de Venecia, déjame decirte … FA.BU.LO.SO!

    Laina Babb y Reina Alirez están construyendo trajes para el coro de hombres, Leslie Ann Smith y Jennifer Shaw para el coro de mujer. Ambos equipos están haciendo ver a todos tan moderno que podríamos confundirlos con modelos de pasarela!  Pero todos sabemos que los modelos no cantan …

    En nuestro equipo de sasteria, Sharon McGunigle y Wing Cheung están construyendo trajes para el Consejo de los Diez y los miembros de la Giunta.  No se pierdan ver como están resueltas las estructuras para hacer que los personajes parezcan una obra de arte en movimiento.

    Las monjas de esta producción son fantasmales. Gracias a Heather Bair y Allison Achauer, que han captado la visión de la diseñadora tan bien que el público podría asustarse un poco, pero eso es lo que se pretende.

    Y, por supuesto, no nos olvidemos de nuestro equipo de artesanía, Hallie Dufresne y Camilla Hanson: Dónde estaríamos sin los accesorios? Incompleto!  Ahí es donde.  Estas dos chicas están construyendo todos los maravillosos sombreros, así como la capa  pintada a mano de Lucrecia que se vera en esta producción.

    Mattie Ullrich, la diseñadora de vestuario ha venido desde Nueva York para las pruebas del coro y se ha emocionado con cada pieza del vestuario. Todos están contentos al ver que el esfuerzo valió la pena.  Naturalmente habrá pequeños cambios aquí y allá, como en todo proceso creativo. Todo se está desarrollando en la fechas previstas, hasta el momento todo en orden … Los Dos Foscari se estrena el 15 de agosto 2012.

    Nos vemos en la Ópera!

    Music Center or Bust

    With the recent opening of the new portion of the Metro Expo Line, getting to Downtown LA is easier than ever. Writer Sarah Spitz found out how easy when she and a friend took the train to see the May 20 matinee of La Bohéme. In her first person report (originally published in the Santa Monica Daily Press, she shares how easy and convenient it was to take the train to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Read on…


    by Sarah Spitz

    My friend and I managed to avoid a zoo of a completely different sort on Sunday, as we made our way to downtown L.A. during a day of apocalyptic predictions about traffic. Three sports playoffs, a bike race and a parade were all scheduled for the same day, and rather than tempt fate and try to drive, let alone park downtown with all the street closures, we decided to take the Metro Rail to see “La Bohéme” at L.A. Opera.

    Save these tips for future use, they’ll save you time and frustration. The Expo line runs every 12 minutes or so. Pick it up at Jefferson and La Cienega boulevards (parking is free) and ride to the end at Metro Center/Seventh Street. Then grab a Red or Purple line toward Union Station, hop off at the Civic Center exit, and walk two blocks — OK, I admit it, uphill — from First and Hill streets to Grand Avenue. Maybe they’ll put in a mini-funicular some day.

    We bought day passes for only $5 (parking alone at the Music Center is $9), left the Westside at 11:12 a.m., arrived at around 11:40 a.m., took an eight-block walk to Cole’s for lunch (they still claim the mantle of the original French dip and I believe them since the restaurant’s been there since 1908), walked back to Metro Center and arrived at the Music Center at 1:20 p.m., with plenty of time for a leisurely drink on the plaza before the 2 p.m. matinee.

    And here’s the best part: no hassle with the traffic getting out of the parking lot, and the walk to the Civic Center station is downhill from The Music Center!

    Oh, how was the opera? Well, come on, it’s “La Bohéme!” One of the most recognizable, tragic romantic stories, popularized on film (Baz Luhrmannn’s spectacular “Moulin Rouge”) and in countless opera productions, and this one is sumptuous.

    How can you go wrong when a real-life husband and wife play the lovers? Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello are as lovely to look at as they are to hear, and the supporting cast is stellar.

    As Musetta, Janai Brugger stole the show. In March, she competed against 1,500 other singers to win the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and is a member of L.A. Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist program. And Artur Rucinski, making his L.A. Opera debut, as Musetta’s hot-headed jealous lover, Marcello, sings and acts the role to perfection.

    Although I agree with New York Times theatre critic Ben Brantley that standing ovations have become almost meaningless, this opera deserves the lengthy standing ovation it received. There are only three more performances through June 2; visit laopera.org

    Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for L.A. Opening Nights.

    La Boheme: New Props for an Enhanced Revival

    1890 Peugeot Replica
    For this remount of our signature production of La Boheme, there was a desire to bring the props and set dressing into the appropriate period of the 1890s. The car was built as a replica of an 1890 Peugeot two-seater. This would have been faithful to the vehicle available in Paris at that time. Months of research, design, engineering and hundreds of hours of fabrication were required for this prop to come to life.

    Los Angeles Opera Technical Dept La Boheme

    Replica of 1890 Peugeot two seat automobile

    Los Angeles Opera La Boheme

    Musetta (soprano Janai Brugger) and Alcindoro (bass-baritone Philip Cokorinos) on the Peugeot

    Fake Fish
    Although we do have a variety of fake fish in our prop inventory, a higher level of realism was required for the “Fish Seller’s” buckets. We experimented with different casting formulations and paint treatments to get a more realistic appearance.
    Los Angeles Opera La Boheme props

    Fake fish dry on racks after painting

    Confetti Drop
    A confetti drop was added to create a greater spectacle as the cast marches with French flags. One hundred and fifteen pounds of confetti was purchased for the run of the production. A “sling” is tied between two pipes above the stage and on cue the “sling” is rolled back and forth and the confetti spills though slits in the fabric.

    Abundant confetti falls on the Banda (orchestral musicians who perform onstage or backstage), chorus and supers for the finale of Act II

    In keeping with the attention to period, the production required bicycles that appear to be from the 1890s. For this reason and for ease of use with elaborate staging, we created “stylized” versions of 1890s bicycles.
    La Boheme props

    Two new stylized bicycles were added to La Boheme

    For safety and staging purposes, coaster brakes were utilized that do not require the pedals to rotate while turning corners. The foot operation of the brakes leaves the performers hands free for props and actions.
    La Boheme Los Angeles Opera

    Schaunard (baritone Museop Kim) rides new bicycle in the last act of La Boheme

    And The Winner Is… Janai Brugger and the National Council Finals

    by Gail Eichenthal, KUSC

    My name is Gail Eichenthal and I am a Metropolitan Opera Western Region auditions junkie.

    Perhaps, given KUSC’s close involvement in broadcasting the finals concert each year, this was inevitable. My great late friend and former colleague Gene Parrish had forged a wonderful bond with the organization and its remarkably talented contestants going back more than 20 years.  Rich Capparela has effortlessly (well, it’s actually quite challenging work!) taken over for the past three years, and our association with the Western Region has only grown closer; they even honored KUSC at the 2011 Finals Concert in the fall. On top of that, I’m a lifelong choral singer and the proud (stage) mom of a fledgling baritone studying voice in college.

    Still that warm Saturday afternoon of October 22 was more thrilling than usual, even for an admitted Western Region groupie.  I had previously heard some of the phenomenally gifted singers the year before; they had also made it to the 2010 Finals. One of them, a brilliant L.A. soprano and alumnus of the Merola program, had stolen the show at the USC Thornton School’s glittering Charles Dickens Dinner, its grand yearly Christmas benefit at the Biltmore’s Crystal Room: you know who you are, Marina Boudart Harris.

    As always, all the singers were exquisitely polished and professional; none exhibited the slightest sign of the tremendous pressure they no doubt felt. It was beginning to seem an impossible task for the judges to eliminate even one of these gifted artists from contention. Then, as the invincible longtime Western Region leader Molly Siefert put it later that day, the contestants ran into “a buzzsaw”, a beautiful beaming buzzsaw named Janai Brugger. The soprano, originally from Illinois, broke hearts, pulled tears, provoked gasps, and, well— won.  Her sheer unmitigated joy in singing was infectious. Her pure, soaring tones, almost defied belief.

    To none of our surprise, but to all of our delight, she went on to the National Metropolitan Opera Finals this past March. (Go Western Region! Baritone Joseph Lim, another Thornton alum, won the year before, as well!) The 2012 National Met Finals concert airs tomorrow at 10am on Classical KUSC.  Don’t miss it! As for me? I’ve been waiting by the radio for days.

    P.S. Please cry no tears for Marina Harris, one of the buzzsaw-afflicted! The Thornton alum has landed a coveted spot in the San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Adler Fellows program. And if my stage mom instincts are right, hers is also a name you will soon come to know on the KUSC airwaves, as both her voice and her major career take flight.)

    P.P.S.  Catch soprano Janai Brugger, an LA Opera Domingo-Thornton Young Artist, currently singing the role of Musetta at several performances of the company’s current production of Puccini’s La Boheme. She carried us away at the dress rehearsal, and will do the same tomorrow (May 12) evening and on Sunday, May 20 at 2pm. The May 20 performance of Boheme, conducted by Patrick Summers, will be broadcast live by KUSC, a special edition of LA Opera on Air.

    Janai Brugger
    Soprano (Darien, IL. Winner of the Western Region)
    Age 29

    Janai Brugger

    Janai Brugger is a second-year artist with Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. This season’s highlights include Musetta in La Bohème with the Los Angeles Opera, Juliette in Roméo et Juliette for her debut with the Palm Beach Opera, and the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte at the Ravinia Festival with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Last season she appeared in Los Angeles as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro and the Page in Rigoletto. She holds a bachelor’s degree from De Paul University and recently received her master’s degree from the University of Michigan (where she sang Tatiana in Eugene Onegin).

    In 2009 she sang Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the “Opera in the Neighborhoods” Program and the following year joined the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Opera Program. She was a 2011 finalist in the Loren Zachary Competition and a Midwest Regional (Detroit district) winner of the 2008 Met National Council Auditions.

    The Many Faces of Opera in LA

    We are excited that there is a vital conversation about opera in Los Angeles. We welcome the ongoing dialogue about which operas should be produced and how – it helps inform our future seasons and speaks to the strength and continuing popularity of opera as an art form. It is exciting to see so many organizations putting their spin on this timeless and enduring art form.

    LA Opera is known around the world for our innovative pursuit of perfection in opera. Regardless of whether it is a world premiere or a 150-year-old classic, we approach each piece with artistic integrity and a commitment to creating a heightened emotional and cultural experience for our audiences. We are proud stewards of an art form which allows for multiple aesthetic perspectives. We also select operas based on their artistic value without regard to the year they are composed. The hallmark of a great story or artwork is its ability to transcend generations — the popularity of our recent La Bohème is a perfect example of this.

    That being said, opera is a rich and diverse art form and we strongly support the creation of new works and the exploration of varied repertory. Our track record proves this. For example, we enthusiastically supported The Industry's production of "Crescent City" by providing casting, lighting and sound equipment, media relations support and marketing. On our own stage, we have often been accused of being too adventurous.

    The onset of the recession, coinciding with a bold and ambitious Ring cycle,  led to a slight and temporary shift toward less modern repertory. It was a financially responsible course that allowed us to continue to produce opera of the highest caliber, bring in new audiences and weather the recession. Best of all: it worked. We are well on our way to being debt free — an amazing accomplishment considering the challenging economy.

    We continue to value diversity in programming and already have several world premieres and modern operas in the planning stages. In the meantime, however, we invite you to partake of opera — LA Opera style — in all of its glory: elaborate, evocative scenery, fully-staged drama, a entire symphony orchestra in the pit, unamplified singing, world-class couture...unrivaled stagecraft and musicianship.

    Firebreather from The Tow Foscari

     From LA Opera’s upcoming The Two Foscari — a brand new production (of a 168-year-old opera) starring Plácido Domingo.

    Quote of the day!

    Gianni Sachi, Woody Allen, James Conlon and Saimir Pirgu

    How the times change…from Woody Allen, director of LA Opera’s 2008 production of Gianni Schicchi, to promoting To Rome With Love opening in Los Angeles on Friday, June 29. In the film, Woody Allen plays an opera director crippled by his fear of death.  "I'm not anti–Los Angeles," Allen says today. "I couldn't live here because I don't like a place where I have to drive everyplace, and I don't like sunshine. But I love coming out here for a couple of days. I have a lot of friends here, and the town has, over the years, really come on very strong. When I first came out here years ago, you couldn't get a decent meal in Los Angeles. Now it's full of great restaurants, great museums; the opera's wonderful."

    To read the entire article, visit LA Weekly.com.

    Opera's Next Supercommittee

    or: "How the LA Opera College Advisory Committee Prepares Young People to be the Next Generation of Opera-Lovers and Shows That The Company is Serious About a Very Modern Approach to Marketing Opera."

    by Johannes Schmitt, LA Opera College Advisory Committee

    In December 2011, I joined the inaugural LA Opera College Advisory Committee. Committee members are encouraged not only to be ambassadors for the art form, but also to act as sounding boards for LA Opera’s general strategy to engage and connect with a variety of audiences - many of them non-traditional. Most are potential opera-goers who have maybe attended a big musical (like Cats or Wicked), but have yet to be introduced to the pleasures of watching Don Giovanni brag about his promiscuity or hear Isolde mourn the loss of her lover Tristan.

    Johannes Schmitt (pictured right) and a fellow LAO Commege Advisoty Committee member at the LA Times Festival of Books

    I should note that I am neither a vocal student, nor performing arts professional (my background is in philosophy). I simply like opera in the way other people like knitting, baking cupcakes and watching NHL hockey games. Even though I recently went all the way to the Bay Area just to see John Adams' Nixon in China at San Francisco Opera (a rewarding experience), I usually don't travel around the country just to see the most hyped opera productions or stalk my favorite opera singers.  So why did someone like me, who simply likes opera, decide to join the College Advisory committee?

    I think opera is not just a great art form (as we know from the new LA opera branding campaign, it is more than the sum of its (p)arts), but its special role in the arts raises a lot of interesting and sometimes challenging questions. I was and continue to be interested in the refreshingly pragmatic way in which LA Opera approaches these questions.

    LAO College Advisory Committee working at the LA Times Festival of Books

    For example, is the whole art form aesthetically past its prime? Are there ever going to be contemporary operas that parallel the great masterpieces of the 18th, 19th and early 20th century?  Does opera (unlike modern musical theater) resist innovation? And finally, is opera inherently elitist or bourgeois because opera subscriptions, just like expensive sports cars, tend to be associated with social status and prestige?

    These questions seem daunting. But I think the answer can be very simple: The most effective way of showing that opera is not obsolete, irrelevant or elitist is getting new people - especially young people - from every zip code between Whittier and Westchester to be equally excited about new productions.

    And a great way of getting young people excited about the arts is giving them an opportunity to experience them from the inside. That’s where LA Opera's College Advisory Committee comes in. Students gain insight into the carefully and meticulously managed operations required to produce an opera. They quickly learn to appreciate the hard work behind the seemingly effortless singing and acting. And they come to identify with their local opera company, which may make them more likely to be involved in their own (smaller-scale) community opera productions, volunteer their time for outreach campaigns and think about opera as a genre in new and creative ways.

    LAO College Advisoty Committee with tenor Stephen Costello after LA Boheme Q&A

    Like any other cause, opera needs to make an effort to recruit people who care about it. It is wrong to think that opera companies should not be concerned with recruiting (and also training) future stakeholders. Opera is not a sacred cow. The view that it is somehow blissfully immune to changing societal demands is as unfortunate as it is widespread.

    On the bright side, just like we don't worry about other 'genres' of performing arts that are able to excite audiences (a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas, say), we don't have to worry about the future of opera as long as it continues to draw new audiences. And just like other art forms, opera needs to be marketed intelligently. It needs fans, sponsors, subscribers, advocates, Twitter hashtags and Facebook likes. The leadership of the LA Opera College Advisory Committee does a great job of equipping young people with the tools (and the unforgettable moments) to share their personal stories and anecdotes about opera and spread the excitement. 'Hey, guess who I had a chat with last night? Mimi and Rodolfo from La Bohème!’  At the end of the day, that is what opera is all about: Great stories, experienced through music, and shared between generations of performers and audiences.

    LA Opera On Air Begins July 7 on WFMT

    LA Opera is collaborating with Classical KUSC to produce the sixth consecutive season of LA Opera on Air, a weekly broadcast series of performances recorded live at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Hosted by Duff Murphy, the series will feature all six operas from LA Opera’s 2011/12 season.

    The series will syndicated throughout the United States and internationally on the WFMT Radio Network. Broadcast dates and times on the WFMT Radio Network vary in differing media markets; please visit WFMT for more information.

    Broadcast Schedule
    Eugene Onegin
    WFMT: Saturday, July 7, 12pm CDT
    Young and impassioned, Tatiana (soprano Oksana Dyka) hastily writes a love letter to the brooding aristocrat Onegin (baritone Dalibor Jenis). She unwittingly sets off an unstoppable series of events, leaving Onegin forever regretting the love he so casually spurned.

    Così fan tutteWFMT: Saturday, July 14, 12pm CDT
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s delightfully comic battle of the sexes comes to life with ravishingly beautiful music and sparkling wit. The cast includes soprano Aleksandra Kurzak and bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.  

    Roméo et Juliette
    WFMT: Saturday, July 21, 12pm CDT
    Soprano Nino Machaidze and tenor Vittorio Grigolo star as the world’s most famous lovers.  

    Simon Boccanegra
    WFMT: Saturday, July 28, 12pm CDT
    Plácido Domingo sings the title role of Giuseppe Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, a grand-scale study of power and treachery that finds an emotional center in the tender bond between father and daughter. 

    Albert Herring
    WFMT: Saturday, August 4, 12pm CDT
    Benjamin Britten’s comedy takes place in the English countryside, where meek mama’s boy Albert (tenor Alek Shrader) reluctantly becomes his village’s first May King when no maidens of sufficient virtue can be found. Soprano Christine Brewer stars as the formidable Lady Billows.  

    La Bohème
    WFMT: Saturday, August 11, 12pm CDT
    In this rebroadcast, a poet discovers true romance with a lovely, fragile seamstress among the evocative rooftops, cafés and garrets of Paris. Soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello, fast-rising young singers who are married in real life, star as Mimi and Rodolfo.  

    LA Opera on Air is made possible by generous grants from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, spearheaded by the efforts of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, and from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

    LA Opera Off Grand Presents "The Two Foscari - In Concert" at the Segerstrom Center October 1

    Firebreather from The Two Foscari

    In our ongoing mission to bring the artistry of LA Opera to a wider audience, we’ve joined forces with the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to present a special LA Opera Off Grand performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s The Two Foscari (I Due Foscari) in Orange County.  On Monday, October 1 at 7:30pm, Plácido Domingo and the cast of our fully staged production, as well as the LA Opera Orchestra and Chorus, will present the rarely performed early Verdi masterpiece in a special concert performance under the baton of LA Opera Music Director James Conlon at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall (615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa CA 92626). Mr. Conlon will also speak at the free Preview Talk prior to the performance at 7:00pm. 

    Tickets to the concert performance of The Two Foscari start at $40 and will go on sale to the public at www.SCFTA.org on August 5.

    For more information about the concert performance or purchasing tickets, visit LA Opera.com

    Plácido Domingo Featured in Opera Now

    July/August 2012 cover of Opera Now

    Opera Now celebrates the 2012 Summer Olympics with an exciting feature on the life and work of 10 living legends of the operatic stage, including an exclusive interview with our own operatic Gold medalist, Plácido Domingo. Read the full article by clicking on the image above. 

    Opera Camp Through the Eyes of A Summer Camper

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    I'll be completely honest. On the first day of Opera Camp, I was terrified.
    I have no singing experience besides school choir several years back—in fact, I was deathly afraid of singing in public. I wished to join Opera Camp solely because I love the art form and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of it.

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    The first day of camp started out with the parent-student orientation. The orientation gave an overview of the camp schedule and briefed us on The White Bird of Poston, the opera we're going to perform: set during World War II, the opera focuses on Akiko, a Japanese American girl sent to an internment camp. Also, we watched a video about the Japanese Internment, which included accounts of survivors and activists. Most importantly, though, we were assured that it doesn't matter if you're brand new to singing.

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    After the orientation was a movement session which warmed up our bodies. Next, we had the Chorus Rehearsal, during which we went over the Finale of the opera. Actually singing is what I had been anxious about all along. Somehow, though, when we all opened our mouths, the notes came out so easily and naturally. It was almost a let-down. I had spent over six years with an awful fright of singing and here I was, suddenly singing comfortably with the rest of the chorus. Where was the attack of muteness and silent sweating? Singing was actually...fun. I knew it then and there—camp would be absolutely awesome.

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    The day only got better. While some of the principals remained behind for coaching, the LA Opera stage manager treated the rest of us to a wonderful backstage tour of the Dorothy Chandler. She explained how productions are set up and how props are moved back and forth. We got the chance to ask about the stage, about theater in general, and about specific moments in LA Opera productions. I'm happy to say that I got one burning questions answered. (No, Plácido Domingo did not have any hidden padding or protection during his terrifying Boccanegra death fall.)  Afterwards, she gave us a demonstration of stage managing, calling out corresponding cues for lights and props as we watched an archival clip from Hansel and Gretel. A lot of us really didn't realize how complex the backstage world is, and it was fascinating to witness the interplay between onstage and off.

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    After our lunch break, we learned more about the Japanese Internment and about Poston Camp, where our opera takes place. Then, we began choreographing the finale. It was a bit challenging for the uncoordinated (*cough* me *cough*), but we had a blast!

    The second day followed a similar schedule as the first. We reviewed yesterday's work and forged ahead to a new scene—a riot in Poston. Even though it was our first time working on it, the scene was absolutely incredible. With the high energy and intensity, all the kicking, fist-waving, and ad lib shouting, it was impossible not to believe what we were singing. We also had most of the set assembled, with the barbed wire fence and all, so we really got into the mindset of caged, infuriated prisoners.

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    A highlight of Day Two was the tech workshop, during which an expert taught us about props and stage tricks. He talked about effects ranging from fog to fire to snow, and spoke at length about fake weapons. He had a lot to demonstrate with, too—one of the children got to smash a bottle over his head. It was a breakaway bottle, so it shattered easily and without those lethal edges. I think everyone's favorite (and least favorite) part was when he flourished a stage knife, told us it wasn't real, and to prove it, dragged it down his arm. Blood slashed through his skin. Everyone screamed. He laughed and revealed that there was a pipette of red liquid hidden in the weapon. I wish I could say that I knew he was faking, but I swear, my heart refused to calm down for another minute or so.

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    Today, Day Three, was equally exciting and intriguing. Other than the usual movement, singing, and staging work, we also had a special guest, a member of the Blackfeet tribe. He guided us through a movement class based on traditional dances. We imitated elements of nature, including tumbleweeds, wind, and desert animals. In The White Bird of Poston, Akiko runs into the desert and encounters the creatures of the wilderness, as well as a Mojave boy, so the lesson with him was a perfect supplement to what we're doing. After lunch, we walked to the Japanese American National Museum, where we delved deeper into the history of Japanese Americans. The guide of my group actually lived through the internment. During the tour, we got to see the remnants of an internment camp barrack and artifacts from various points in Japanese American history.  

    LAO Opera Camp 2012

    Tomorrow will only be the fourth day, and I can already declare that I'm in love with this camp. And I'm not the only one! It's incredible how deeply we're going into all aspects of opera production: we're learning about the story's time period, about sets and props, about stage movement, and of course, about singing...now is that epic or what?

    To see more photos from LA Opera's 2012 Summer Camp, click here!

    Opera Camp: "Like A Constant Sugar Rush..."

    If I had to describe the feeling of being an Opera Camper, I'd liken it to a constant sugar rush. Just when I think that camp can't get any better, it does. So many awesome things have happened just in the last three days.

    LA Opera Summer Camp 2012 Singing

    On Day 4 of camp, we had our morning movement session as usual, followed by the vocal rehearsal. During this one, we learned one of the main chorus sections of the opera. It's the song of the desert animals, who gather and speak of the unity of living creatures. My friend and I had to miss part of the rehearsal: we campers get called a few at a time to costume fittings, and it was our turn. The dress they chose for me, reminiscent of a lime-green picnic blanket, is something I wouldn't be caught dead wearing at school. In context of the opera, though, it's absolutely perfect. What I love about this camp is that they let us chorus members develop individual identities. We're not just members of a large blob. Now that I've seen what I'm going to wear, I feel like I have a defined part to play. I can't wait to rehearse with costumes--I know that it'll bring us to a whole new level of focus, intensity, and most of all, belief in what we're singing.

    LA Opera Summer Camp 2012 Masks

    The mask making workshop came after our fitting. Along with playing an internee, each chorus member also plays a desert creature. We all chose which desert animals we wished to represent. Then, we got the corresponding mask templates, along with decorative fabrics, feathers, and other ornaments. Unfortunately, some of us chorus members didn't participate in the mask creation. A few campers, including me and my aforementioned friend, had volunteered to be "waves.” We manipulate the river, which is made of two blue strips. We waves joined a coaching session with the principals to learn what we were to do. By the end, our arms ached like crazy from making river ripples. It was awesome to see the coaching session, though. We watched the principals rehearse a key scene in the opera. It was like getting a sneak preview.

    LAO Summer Camp 2012

    Day 4 ended with the staging rehearsal of the desert animals scene. Through most of it, we stand either in a half-lunge or a sumo wrestler position. It set our legs on fire. The scene has countless action cues, with animals constantly dashing on, off, or across the stage, as well as shifting into various positions—yes, all while singing. Other than being complex staging-wise, the scene also is pretty complicated musically. The scene features strange rhythms such as 11/8 and 5/8, reflecting the nonconforming, almost lawless nature of the wilderness. Thus, I had some trouble counting beats and figuring out when to start and stop singing. The scene altogether went brilliantly, though, even though it was confusing and tedious to put together. I wish I could watch this scene as an audience member. I've only seen the action from a corner of the stage. I can only imagine what it looks like as a whole!

    The day after that—I don't know how to begin talking about the day after that. I have an urge to skip ahead and write all about what happened after lunch, but I'll start from the beginning. Of course, there was a movement session and a choral rehearsal, as usual. We learned one of the opera's early scenes, in which the internees attempt to cope with their awful situation. I'm beginning to feel more and more comfortable with hearing my own voice, and I'm learning all sorts of ways to improve my technique, which is making me really happy.

    What followed the rehearsal was just epic. It was a timed scavenger hunt at the Music Center. A scavenger hunt. At. The. Music Center. Our group leaders received sheets with riddle-like “I am...” questions. Each group's mission was to find the object or location each question described and to take a picture of it as proof. The prize for the winning team? LA Opera tote bags that transform into backpacks. That did it. My group decided then and there that we had to win. We raced through the plaza, snapping photos as we went, and then flew into the Dorothy Chandler. Really, as I ran up those stairs, I felt like I was soaring—we were in my favorite place in the world, and we had it all to ourselves. Pure bliss.

    Our happiness was short-lived. Unfortunately, though we correctly answered all the questions, another group completed the hunt quicker than we had. The youngest kids snagged the prizes. I'm glad that the little ones won—it tears my heart when children cry over games. Plus, if the other teenage group had beaten us, we never would have lived it down.

    LAO Summer Camp 2012

    We returned to Colburn School, our rehearsal building, and ate lunch. When we came back from the break, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz. She herself had lived through the internment, and her chronicle of those times, the illustrated book Camp Days, served as an inspiration for the very opera we're performing. She played us a documentary that displayed her vivid, striking watercolors, accompanied with her narration of her experiences. She then spoke about her life in the camps and of how her family coped after liberation. Then, she took questions from us. When it came time for her to leave, we thanked her by performing the opera's finale, the Bon Odori dance. Knowing that it actually linked to her family history, we were anxious to execute the scene perfectly. It was a matter of respect. Sure enough, we performed it better than ever before. I think she liked it—she was smiling broadly and clapping. What a relief!

    My heart is speeding up because I'm getting to the highlight of the whole camp. When she left, we were visited by a group of a few more special guests. The group just happened to include Maestro James Conlon.

    LA Opera Summer Campers with James Conlon

    We were told the previous day that he would come, but still, I nearly screamed when I turned around and saw him there. After we took a group picture with the Maestro, we practiced the Poston riot scene with  our guests watching. Needless to say, being brand-new to singing and having James Conlon right in front of me was terrifying. I had an awful feeling that of all days, this would be the day I would sing at the wrong time or make some other glaring mistake. Everyone else was feeling the same. Just like a few minutes ago, we were determined to present a flawless, seamless performance. The scene started, and we plunged ourselves into the action and the music. We shouted louder than ever, our notes hot and raw, as if only born in that instant—THE James Conlon was watching. It's ironic that we did it all for him, and yet, we got so into it that we almost forgot that he was there. When it was time for the chorus to retreat offstage, I actually had to blink and look around. I realized that I was on the verge of tears--since I had thrown myself so fully into the action, I was starting to cry from real rage. I left camp that day a bit dazed, both from the Maestro's visit and from the riot scene we performed.

    Though today is Saturday, we still had camp. I felt a bit dorky. It was the weekend, and there I was,  heading out the door with my backpack and sack lunch. Like our director said, though, this camp is supposed to make us feel dorky, so I'll embrace it.

    We've finally gone through the entire chorus part of the opera. We learned the last bit today. Then, unlike any other day, we had three staging rehearsals, which pretty much constituted our whole schedule. We ran through the entire desert scene, perfecting our animal movements and memorizing our cues to shift, enter, or exit. All together, we rehearsed a scene that the principals had previously only practiced on their own. It's a pivotal moment in the opera, when Akiko encounters the spirit of her grandmother.  For us chorus members, it was the first time watching it and learning our roles in it. The production is really all coming together.

    I've never been disappointed about having Sunday off before. I guess this is the camp of firsts for me: first time singing in an opera, first time singing at all, in fact...Of course, it's challenging and even scary, but that's why I love it. I'm already stoked for Monday—the constant sugar rush from Opera Camp shows no signs of stopping.

    Tenor David Lomeli returns to LA and visits with LA Opera

    Photo Credit: DavidLomeli.com

    Tenor David Lomelì, a stellar alumnus of LA Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, has enjoyed break-out career success since his 2006 first-place finish in Operalia. The young singer returns to Los Angeles this Sunday, as the Duke of Mantua in Rigoletto at the Hollywood Bowl, and found some time to catch us up on his latest news.

    LA Opera’s General Director, Placido Domingo, was very influential in helping you get started with your operatic career – can you tell us a bit about how you met him and how his support has helped you?

    It was a very lucky thing.  I was part of SIVAM, a program for young Mexican singers that Maestro Domingo supports very much. Some of the singers were auditioning for him in New York after his performance of Rigoletto at the MET where he conducted Anna Netrebko and Rolando Villazon.  It was so quick that I had to ask for help from sponsors in Monterrey, Mexico, to get me a ticket.  When the Maestro heard me sing “Che gelida manina”, he immediately asked if I wanted to come with him to Los Angeles and then shortly after he helped get me a last minute invitation to participate in Operalia. I am blessed to have him as a mentor and a beautiful guide. He has been so kind, supportive and passionate about helping me.  I love and respect him and his family very much; they are so kind and passionate about helping people like me.

    Los Angeles audiences know you well from your participation in the Company’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program.  Tell us how your experience here as a young artist has prepared you for the rigors of a professional opera career? 

     Participating in this program was a life-changing time for me. It was truly the time of my life.  When I first came, I really did not know how important this was.  I came with the arrogance of naiveté but perhaps that was good, because if I really did know how important it was and much it would change me, I would have been afraid.  With each new role I approach, I go back to things I learned in the program – it really gave me the push to get serious, to study, to get passionate about improving.  It was my first real lesson that singing was much more than going for my high notes.   I had to work to improve all my singing, to be persuasive as an actor and to really represent the music as a total performer.  I still keep all these lessons near to my heart. 

    Photo Credit: DavidLomeli.com

    You were the first person ever to win first prize in both the opera and zarzuela competitions in Domingo’s international opera competition, Operalia.  How has winning this competition opened doors in your life and career?

    Well is such a prestigious title and I am so proud of being part of the Operalia winners group. Of course, winning the competition has opened many doors to auditions and jobs.  But because you are known as a winner, there is now always pressure because there are high expectations. 

    Photo Credit: DavidLomeli.com

    You recently made your debut at the storied summer opera festival in Glyndebourne, England.  What was your experience there?

    It was fantastic.  Imagine – I sang the 100th performance of my career of Rodolfo there in that glorious setting with audiences that truly love opera. We were the last performers to sing in the magical David McVicar production of La Bohème.  I had so much fun with my partners on the stage and I love every moment in the castle and the gardens – there is so much history surrounding you on the estate.  It is not very often you get to sing with sheep singing with you in rehearsals and get to picnic in the intermission. The crowds were really nice and very enthusiastic. 

    Your character in this Sunday’s Hollywood Bowl performance with the LA Philharmonic and San Francisco Opera’s season opening production of Rigoletto in September is not a very likable guy.  How do you transition from nice guys like Nemorino and Rodolfo to more nasty characters such as the Duke of Mantua.

     I normally I am more of a method actor. So usually I like to live a lot inside my characters. With the Duke of Mantua, I have to live a bit out of my comfort zone of method acting.  This role requires a lot of make believe, with grand panache! I have to find the animalistic side within myself to play this Don Giovanni-ish type man.  But I don’t mind playing such a bad man when I get to sing "La Donna e Mobile!"

    This will be your second time working with Gustavo Dudamel, the first being a Verdi Requiem a few years ago.  What’s it like working with him?

    It’s actually my third time with Maestro Dudamel as I worked with him in Monterrey with his Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and then we had a Verdi Requiem with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  Maestro Dudamel is a fantastic talent – full of passion and energy --  but also so humble and so nice and so generous with his time.  I have been looking forward to this week back in my second hometown all the year. 

    Over the past few years, you’ve had some very big successes in your career. What stands out as the most memorable success and what has been the most significant challenge?

    There have been so many wonderful times in the last few years.  I think two stand out perhaps in my mind.  Performing Nemorino at New York City Opera was truly magical – I felt the energy of the city and the audience behind me for those performances.  And then, working with the Berlin Philharmonic for the Verdi Requiem where we had a live recording and HD transmission.  For a kid from Mexico to be standing on the stage with one of the world’s greatest orchestras preparing for a worldwide broadcast was pretty humbling and pretty amazing.

    Singing opera is such a great gift but there are challenging moments.  When you are waking up in a foreign city and you are checking your voice early in the morning to see how the day will go, that is sometimes lonely.  Audiences don’t really realize what the life is like.  Sometimes it can be sad, because in order to sing well, you have to take care of yourself with lots of rest and appropriate exercise.  You can be in a wonderful place like Glyndebourne or Los Angeles but really you have to be in your own bubble taking care for yourself and your art.  You are not a tourist.  I try and live life wherever I am but also my main focus has to be on my singing and performing.

    What’s in store for you next season – are you bringing any new roles into your repertoire? 

    This Rigoletto with Maestro Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl gives my season a great start.  I then get to work with Nicola Luisotti in San Francisco singing the same role in their season opening production – which is wonderful for me as I also participated in the Merola Opera Program and the Adler Fellowship.  So it is another homecoming. I have two new roles this season --Leicester in Maria Stuarda that I will do in Frankfurt and Percy in Anna Bolena that I will do in Cologne. I will sing a concert in New Orleans with Maestro Domingo and also the Verdi Requiem in Essen.  And I will close my opera year with a new production of Rigoletto in Berlin with my friend Pablo Heras Casado in the podium. One of the most exciting things I have this season is my first solo recital tour that I will start in the Bay Area in the beautiful hall on the campus of UC Davis and then also perform in Munich and Mexico. 

    Peter DaSilva for The New York Times

    There have been some exciting events in your personal life recently - we read about your recent marriage to soprano Sara Gartland in the New York Times wedding section.   How do the two of you plan to combine your careers and personal life?

    We are very blessed and she is quite a catch!  She is a beautiful woman with a gorgeous voice and a spectacular spirit.  I confess that I am a normal man – I just got married and I would like nothing more than to be a regular husband at home with my beautiful wife making dinner and sitting by the fire.  But, we are both performers and we know that separation will be a big part of our lives.  Just after the honeymoon, we spent 3 months apart.  Skype and Facetime are our friends – they should sign us up as sponsors!! 

    When you’re NOT singing opera, what do you MOST like to do?

    This is a complicated question.  When I am not singing opera, I most like to hang out with my beautiful new wife, eating tacos al pastor, and watching my team – Barcelona – play soccer.  This is perhaps the only area where Placido Domingo and I disagree – he supports Real Madrid not Barcelona!!!  But the reality is that I am studying and practicing at the same time as I am watching soccer and being with Sara.  In my relaxed time, I can enjoy being quiet and romantic and just being still in one place with Sara. This is a dream.

    Also, let’s ask the question…What’s the absolute best thing about being married to a soprano? 

    Well, some of the greatest music in the world for lovers is written for soprano and tenor – so singing in the shower is perhaps more fun for us than others. 

    Opera Camp: "The production is seriously almost there!"

    When I think about where we were on Day 1, clumsily going through the Bon Odori motions, and in my case, cringing in fear at the prospect of singing—really, it's kind of hilarious. The production is seriously almost there.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - Rehearsal

     On Day 7 of Opera Camp, Kalani, the Blackfeet tribe member, came to work with us again. His lesson was truly a gift: he explained that the tribal movements had long been passed down from teacher to student. His mentors had granted him special permission to impart his knowledge to us. At the beginning of the session, Kalani taught us a chant, and then organized us into concentric circles. As we strode around and around, with him singing one phrase and us singing the next, one camper asked what the words meant. Kalani replied that it didn't matter. We were creating our own intention.

     In my opinion, that was the main lesson he bestowed upon us. After the chant, Kalani went one by one to each group of desert animals, helping us develop more convincing portrayals. At that time, since we weren't even wearing masks, we felt that we had to try extra hard to make sure we were understood. Thus, we ended up creating caricatures of the animals: those playing winged creatures dramatically flailed their arms, and others, representing coyotes, made a big show of wrinkling their noses and snarling. Kalani noticed this, of course. He told us that we didn't have to behave as our animals. Instead, we had to really get inside the animal. Our actions should spring from that, not from an idea of how our chosen creature “should” look. The audience might not understand the meanings of our gestures and glances, but they will believe it because we believe it. Again, we have to create an intention.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - Rehearsal

     We gave Kalani a huge thank you for the great lesson. The rest of Day 7 consisted of rigorous rehearsals. We didn't get as much staged as we would have liked. Our director, Eli Villanueva, then reminded us that this isn't really a “camp,” where children run free screaming. This is a professional production.

     We took this message to heart. Four rehearsal sessions later on Day 8, we had finished staging the entire opera. Sure, we were a bit shaky on cues and transitions, but as Eli said, we had all the puzzle pieces completed. Now, we had to fit the pieces together to form a tight, cohesive whole.

     That day, Day 8, was also our last day in our wonderful rehearsal space, the Colburn School. It was a bit sad to say goodbye. However, we were all excited to finally practice in the Barnsdall Gallery Theater the next day.

     Today, which is Day 9, everyone arrived at the theater a bit too early. I guess I wasn't the only one paranoid about getting lost and missing the upcoming field trip. (For the record, that didn't end up happening to anyone.) Around nine o'clock, we squeezed into the bus and headed off for the Autry National Center of the American West.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - At the Autry Museum

     Unfortunately, when we arrived there, it hadn't opened yet, and the temperature was already climbing higher and higher. To pass the time, one of our counselors, Garrett, organized us in a circle, sat us all down on the grass, and announced that we were going to play a fun game: Duck, Duck, Goose. Luckily, we were saved by someone's decision to take a group photo.

     We waited a little while more after that then entered the museum. Our group was split up. The younger children went one way, and we older campers the other. First, my group's docents presented a demonstration of Native American instruments. They were mostly percussion, as the emphasis of Native American music is rhythm, not melody. There were drums, clapping sticks, and many, many rattles, including a turtle-shell one to be tied to one's waist. One of our campers had to demonstrate. He strapped on the shell, dancing and shaking his hips to coax out a noise. I have to say, it was wonderful entertainment. After the lecture was over, we made our own clapping sticks with two pieces of wood, cardboard, yarn, and beads. They don't look like much, but when tapped on one's palm, they make a surprisingly loud noise. Rhythmically slapping the sticks got so enjoyable that our creations almost had to be confiscated.

     Next, we went upstairs to tour a special exhibition: The Katsina in Hopi Life. Besides getting a glimpse of the Hopi daily life, learning about the Katsinam was also extraordinarily intriguing. (Yes, the plural is Katsinam.) The Hopi believe that the Katsinam are spirits who visit during a certain season, participate in festivals, educate the people, then return to their homes in the clouds, reverting to non-corporeal forms. Of course, we campers had many questions for the docents, mostly fed by skepticism. Our docent declined to answer some of our inquiries out of respect for the culture. I guess I'll have to wonder about the Katsinam for the rest of my life. I think we invoked some sort of spirit, though--when we returned to the bus to fetch our lunches, we found our belongings rearranged, with some bags even slightly open. It was probably just a staff member clearing up the space, or perhaps the bus driver, but I like to believe it was the Katsinam, angered that we doubted their existence.

    I'll be honest: after the tour, a lot of us were wondering about the connections between our field trip and the opera. I thought about it a little, and I realized that there are many. First of all, learning about the purpose of Native American music pretty much explains the 5/8, 12/8, and 11/8 in the opera's score. The unusual meter draws equal focus to the rhythm as to the melody. The docents also told us that Native American songs often repeat the same musical phrase over and over again, as their purpose is not storytelling. Only now have I realized that the animals, which partially reflect Native American culture, pretty much sing a single line throughout the opera: “Everything breathes with the Great Spirit. We all breathe as one.” Come to think of it, I'm glad we've gotten the Native American perspective on the not only the music, but also the plot. Since the opera mostly follows Akiko and her experiences in the camp, we never really see the Mojave Boy's story. The Opera Camp staff members explained to us early on that Poston is essentially an internment camp in an internment camp. Situated in a Native American reserve, the camp was actually run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I feel like I've grasped that concept more, now that I've gotten a taste of Native American life. In the opera, the Native Americans no longer seem vague and elusive to me.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

    We ate lunch at the museum's picnic tables, and then rode the stuffy, sweltering bus back to the Barnsdall Gallery Theater. I swear, the cool air conditioning in the building felt like a gift from the gods. We went through the lobby and finally saw the space we'd perform in. I instantly loved it, from the mellow blue color scheme of the auditorium to the inviting stage, already housing the assembled set. 

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp - Rehearsal

    As I stepped onto the stage and looked out, I already began to feel nervous. Nothing can prepare you for the sensation of being onstage singing for the first time. No matter how much you practice, you almost forget everything when you feel the shifting heat of the lights, or stare into the black hole of the auditorium. Also, the dimensions of the space disoriented me. While in Colburn's rehearsal room we could ooze all over the place once “offstage,” it wasn't so in Barnsdall. The wings are extremely small at Barnsdall, and they clog up very easily. We had to constantly remind ourselves to get out of the wings, pack together tightly, and retreat all the way into the dressing room. I'm glad I've pretty much figured it out. Though we didn't review the entire opera today, I at least feel like I've gotten to know the place.

    The performance is only the day after tomorrow. The last puzzle pieces of the production are settling into place. It's time to review everything, quit speaking, and hope for the best.

    Opera Camp: It's A Wrap!

    Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

    I've been staring at a blank screen for the past ten minutes, trying to devise a clever opening sentence. It hasn't quite registered that Opera Camp is really over. So, for lack of a better introduction, I'll just start from Day 10.

    First thing in the morning, we had special visitors who came to speak to us. Not one, not two, but ten Japanese-Americans came to speak to us about their internment camps experiences. Some of them even had been in Poston, the setting of our opera. We campers split up, the younger children going with five of our guests and the older campers going with the rest. Our guests took turns speaking, sharing their backstories and describing their lives in the camps. Their accounts really intrigued us. One of our guests explained how students took tests: they would go outside and write their answers in the sand. Another former internee had a father who fell ill. He had to be transported to another camp, so his family couldn't even visit him. He passed away among strangers. What struck me the most, though, is how one  former internee persisted in calling the camps “concentration camps.” Sometimes, history seems very cold and distant, with facts, dates, and statistics. When I heard the personal accounts, though, I kept wondering what I would do if I had been there with them, and how I would feel. That's how the Japanese Internment became real.

    After all five of our guests had spoken, they took questions from us. We had so much to ask that a few campers skipped break time to talk to them personally.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

    They then stayed to watch part of our rehearsal. Our instructors had to stop us multiple times to backtrack and redo. I started feeling nervous, knowing that the performance was only the next day. After that bump-through rehearsal, we ate lunch on the grass outside the theater. Unfortunately, some people got only around ten minutes to devour their food: they were calling us in group by group to get into costumes. My group, the White Group, got called last. We got the entire lunch period to eat. Cue evil chuckle.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

    Somehow, after lunch, we fit in time to run through the entire opera twice. For the first time, the full orchestra accompanied us, not just the piano. Some musical cues sounded different on the added instruments, throwing us off. Also, it was our first time running with costumes. We had no idea how rapid some of the changes are. During the riot scene, only about eight people emerged from the quick-change on time. Since the set movers hadn't arrived, a whole piece of the fence was missing. Still backstage struggling into costumes, none of the soldiers rushed to shove them back, so the small group of internees stood there awkwardly rocking back and forth, waving fists at nonexistent barbed wire and looking altogether quite ridiculous. Luckily, we sorted it out by the second run-through, and almost nobody missed cues.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

    We got to sleep in the next morning, as the call-time was a little after noon. Still, I woke up earlier than I would have. I had to sort out my hair. They had given us guidelines about 1940s styles, accompanied with example pictures. After looking through them, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that I'd have to curl my hair. I nearly screamed when I saw the result in the mirror, but I reminded myself that I was playing a part. Nobody cared what I really thought about my hair. Deciding that I would survive, I headed for the Barnsdall Gallery Theater.

    As a group of us walked into the building, my heart jarred in my chest. That day was the invited dress rehearsal and the opening night performance. Remembering the previous day's mishaps, I began going into worst-case scenario mode. When we did our routine stretches and vocal warm-up, I started to calm down. Soon, our audience arrived. All went quiet backstage. Before I knew it, we launched into the performance.

    LA Opera 2012 Summer Camp

    We had rehearsed so many times that everything just flowed. The lines and the actions had become instinct. We hardly noticed the opera going by because it was all so natural.

    There's nothing like the curtain call after a performance. We gave the audience our energy and they replied with focus and investment. The applause is when the silent communication, the unspoken dialogue, becomes physical.

    An exhausting performance inevitably leaves one hungry. We all headed off to lunch at the loading dock, where they served us pizza and drinks. While we ate, our instructors gave us notes on things to improve. Performance #1 commenced afterward: the Opening Night performance. It grew even more fluid and intense than before. The audience rewarded us with a rush of applause.

    It all ended around eight thirty. By the time we returned home, we pretty much straggled to our beds and collapsed. Besides, we had to rest well for the following two performances.

    Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

    The next day followed a similar pattern as the first. It's funny how quickly it settled into a routine: curl hair, go to Barnsdall, warm up body, warm up voice, review some scenes, start performance. We poured out all the energy and emotion that we could. During lunch afterward, our director Eli told us that the opera was beginning to touch excellence. He explained that there is no such thing as perfection—there must always be something we can improve, a new aspect we can explore. Our final performance was approaching, and we had to make the leap to excellence.

    I daresay, we did.

    Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

    You know, I'll admit—because there are young children participating in the program, I thought that The White Bird of Poston was a kiddy show. Also, because of my lack of musical experience, I was so afraid of somehow “failing” Opera Camp that I listened to the recording literally three times a day. Well, it goes without saying that it was pretty much impossible for me to get a fresh perspective on the piece. Even throughout the program, though I admired the opera, and though we put so much work into it, I still kept on believing that everyone would see it as a children's piece. After the performances, though, I heard people marveling at the complexity of the music and the staging. Audience members enthusiastically praised the performance, pronouncing that all aspects of it were so professional that it could actually make profit. I'm definitely not an expert, so I don't know about that. What I do know, though, is that it's certainly not a kiddy show. Opera Camp has surprised me until the end.

    After the last performance, when I hung up my costume for good, I felt surprisingly calm. It just wouldn't sink in that Opera Camp was over and that we had performed White Bird for the last time. I headed out to the loading dock with my friends. As a farewell present, each camper received a mounted group photograph and a copy of Camp Days by Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz, signed by the author and illustrator herself. A while later, we all went out to the grass, munching on cake and cookies and chatting. Of course, the inevitable time came, and we all said our goodbyes.

    Opera Camp 2012 - The White Bird of PostonPhoto by Taso Papadakis310.619.3563taso@tasophoto.com

    Twelve days. Opera Camp was only twelve days total—less than two weeks. Somehow, the first day of Opera Camp, when I couldn't sing to save my life, seems geologic eons ago. And somehow, in the space of twelve days, we assembled a beautiful performance from scratch. I'm wandering into the mawkish and moralistic here, so I'd better conclude now, by saying this: during one of the final rehearsals, when we got a bit chatty and goofy, Eli sternly told us that we aren't here to have fun. We're here to be fulfilled by making art. Well, now that camp is over, do I feel fulfilled? Of course—I'm still slightly dazed. And don't tell Eli—but did I have a blast while I was at it? Oh, yes.

    Domingo-Dudamel Caption Contest*

    AND THE WINNER IS: Abdiel Gonzalez from the fantastic LA Opera Chorus with:

    “Don Quixote thought his golden helmet of Mambrino could save him from Medusa....he was wrong...”  

    Caption this!

    Congratulations and enjoy the concert! 





    The Employee who writes the funniest caption for the above photo will win 2 Terrace-level tickets to Dudamel & Domingo! at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 7:30pm.

    Leave your caption in the comments below. Diane Rhodes Bergman, LA Opera VP of Marketing and Communications, will be picking the best caption – so good luck! And be sure to keep it clean! 

    IMPORTANT: Contest open only to LA Opera Employees. The tickets will be left in your name at the Box Office; you will need to pick them up between 10-6 on Friday or Saturday. Deadline to enter is noon on Friday, August 17, 2012. The winner will be notified by via email by 3pm on Friday, August 17.

    Don Giovanni: Women—and Men—in Love (by Basil De Pinto)

    By Basil De Pinto

    Is Mozart’s great opera about the amorous adventures of a licentious Spanish nobleman and his downfall: il dissoluto punito? Yes, but so much more as well. It is about social class and its divisions, indicated by titles (or lack thereof): Don Ottavio, Donna Elvira and Donna Anna as opposed to Masetto and Zerlina. In the very first scene Leporello complains of his servitude to a high-living employer. Mozart continues here what he elaborated so well in The Marriage of Figaro. The opera is also about important character traits like truthfulness and loyalty. Don Giovanni and Leporello are inveterate liars; Ottavio and Masetto, whatever their weaknesses, are also sincere people, committed to those they love.

    But more than anything else Don Giovanni is concerned with the ambiguity in human relations, where love and death are intricately connected. The opera begins with one death and ends with another. The Commendatore is murdered by Giovanni, and at the end he returns to drag his murderer down to hell. Between those grim events we find a constant tension between love as a life force and the threat of its extinction: Anna’s love for Ottavio smothered by her lust to avenge her father’s death; Zerlina and Masetto divided by her flirting and his jealousy; Elvira half crazed by her obsession with Giovanni.

    And just who is the eponymous hero, or anti-hero? He is clearly an inveterate “lover” or, more precisely, a seducer. Love, in the sense of deep personal intimacy and lasting affection, plays no part in his continuous, unending quest for another name to be added to the catalogue that Leporello displays to Elvira and to us. Is he then a personal cipher, a theatrical device or peg on which to hang a moral lesson? The fine quality of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto alone eliminates that idea, but the decisive factor is Mozart’s music. The composer has delineated with utmost precision every facet of the story and each of the characters in it.

    Rather than begin with a character analysis of Giovanni, it will be worthwhile to consider the women in his life, since he invests so much energy in them. Each of them is interesting both in her own right and in the light they cast on Giovanni.

    In the first scene Donna Anna appears in full flight from her attacker with no introduction as to her situation except that she is the victim of a would-be rapist. Her personal identity emerges gradually in the course of the opera, whereas Elvira and Zerlina are recognizable almost at once. So Anna is more of a mystery. Her grief at her father’s murder is understandable, but it is so total that she ignores, even repulses, Ottavio’s loving attempts to console her. Her immediate reaction is the desire for revenge, which she maintains unflinchingly to the end of the opera. No undue psychologizing is necessary to observe the unhealthy bond the daughter has with the father: she claims she would rather die than live without him.

    As throughout the opera, Mozart’s music here does as much as the narrative to show us Anna’s plight. She is a woman at first frightened and then grief-stricken, intent on revenge; later a softer, calmer side of her is revealed. Her two big arias, “Or sai chi l’onore” in Act One and “Non mi dir” in Act Two illustrate these character traits.

    In the introduction to the first, she sketches for Ottavio her encounter with her masked attacker whom, moments before this, she has recognized by his voice. She then launches into her great musical cry for vengeance. It is one of the supreme outpourings for the soprano voice. Her music depicts Anna as every inch the noblewoman, conscious of her dignity and secure in her position of command over the meek Ottavio (about whom more later). The soaring phrases with which she identifies the murderer call for a powerful upper register in the voice combined with clarity of verbal projection. This intensity hardly tapers off in the middle section of the aria, normally a place of some repose for the singer—she goes right on with her clarion call and then segues into a repetition of the opening.

    Happily, this is not all there is to Anna. In her Act 2 aria we find another, softer side. The ever patient Ottavio tries to calm her incessant moaning over her loss of her father with a firm protestation of his unfailing love and devotion. She initially brushes this aside, but suddenly she realizes how callously she has used and abused him. He calls her cruel and gives her the cue for an aria of melting lyricism and regret: “Non mi dir, bel idol mio”—no, my love, do not call me cruel. She is not totally self-absorbed and insensitive; she is also capable of generosity and gratitude. The strings of the orchestra intone a melody of unparalleled sweetness and repeat it as she begins her aria. Now it is Anna’s turn to plead for calm, to console her lover and assure him of her return of his constancy and devotion. Thus we have a more rounded picture of this tormented woman; there is a light that promises to dispel the darkness that has thus far engulfed her.

    A word here for the much maligned figure of Ottavio. Compared with the other men in the opera, his is a rather bland persona, always following, never leading the distracted Anna. Only towards the end does he voice some complaint at his treatment by the woman he so faithfully accompanies through all her woes, and even then he gives way to her. But Mozart treats him very well from a musical point of view. When the tenor at the premiere found “Il mio tesoro” too difficult, the composer gave him a simpler, but far more lyrical aria, the melting “Dalla sua pace.” Now the lucky singer gets two important pieces. Whatever his dramatic slimness, Ottavio has admirable musical depth.      

    Eroticism is plainly the subtext of Don Giovanni and it is abundantly displayed in the opera (without the removal of a single item of clothing) and Donna Elvira is its focal point. Consonant with her mental state, her entrance aria is scored for brief, halting phrases, and her complaint about betrayal is interrupted twice by Giovanni and Leporello, aside, who have not yet recognized her. The only thing certain is that she is aflame with fury. Like Anna she wants vengeance, but solely because of her personal grievance; it is clear that she is still in love with the man who has cast her off. Later she joins Anna and Ottavio in confronting Giovanni and takes part in denouncing him. It is only in the second act that Elvira has her big solo, “Mi tradì, quell’alma ingrata,” and by her own account reveals the confusion that tears her apart. She wants to despise him for his hateful behavior and at the same time the very thought of him revives her yearning for him.

    This is what Giovanni does to women: he sets them on fire, then he douses the flames by his indifference and/or endless quest for still another object of his insatiable desire. His next victim comes not from the aristocratic world of Anna and Elvira, but in the form of the peasant girl Zerlina, about to be married to the oafish but lovable Masetto. She is momentarily drawn to Giovanni in the famous duet, “Là ci darem,” but her common sense and moral clarity fend off the temptation. Zerlina reminds us of Figaro’s Susanna (just barely missing the inimitable sparkle of that uniquely winsome character), a wholesome, intelligent woman whose inner calm serves to bring order out of near-chaos. Her two arias are full of down to earth warmth and charm, complimented by an uncomplicated but clear-sighted inner life.

    So these are the three current lovelies in Giovanni’s life, conveniently extracted from the other thousand Spanish women that Leporello has kept track of. What do they tell us about the man who has pursued them so vigorously? First of all, they conform to the description Leporello has given in his catalogue aria: Anna, strength of character; Elvira, unflinching constancy; Zerlina, the youth that can be molded. What this actually reveals is Giovanni’s opposite qualities. He is morally weak, incapable of commitment, and deeply mired in his addiction to passionate romance.

    And yet, Mozart paints him in brilliant musical colors and makes him as attractive to us as to the ladies he is courting, setting up in keen psychological fashion our understanding of his charm and at the same time the elusive quality of his relations with these women. There is an ambiguous hollow at the core of his amorous attention to them, an emptiness that his personal bravado can never mask, and this hollowness is clearly shown in the musical picture of this fascinating man. 

    First, the absence of an aria for Giovanni is remarkable. The lively “Champagne” song in Act One and the charming serenade in Act Two suit the particular moment in which they appear and show his socially attractive nature, but they in no way correspond to the introspective quality we find in the arias for Anna and Elvira. There is no room in Giovanni for depth of self-scrutiny; he is entirely outward oriented. But his responses to others speak volumes.              

    Of course Giovanni shares some crucial extended musical passages with others. In the quartet with Elvira, Anna and Ottavio in Act One, Giovanni sings in quick, fractured snatches of melody as he tries to extricate himself from a sticky situation, while Elvira denounces him and the other two express their confusion. In the graveyard, after an extended recitative, Giovanni and Leporello sing of their respective viewpoints, the servant trembling in fear, the master contemptuous even in the face of a ghostly presence.

    The end of the opera sums up and illustrates the meaning of dramma giocoso. The raucous feasting at Giovanni’s party is shut down as the heavy, portentous chords of the overture return with chilling insistence to announce the appearance of the Stone Guest. No call to repentance can alter Giovanni’s ironclad resistance and demonic forces finally drag him to his doom. A chilling finale to the drama certainly, but then—the scene changes and the rest of the characters in the play come forward to comment on what has happened. This is the final stroke of genius of both librettist and composer. Don Giovanni is not a tragedy; at the end of a tragedy there is nothing more to be done or said: “The rest is silence.” But at the end of this opera, life goes on. Each of the characters has in some way been affected by contact with Giovanni and now each has to find a new way to go on with life. None of the solutions is perfect; rather each one, like the character who inhabits it, is perfectly ambiguous, in keeping with the central concept of the work as a whole. With the end must come a new beginning. And we realize that giocoso means comedy in the Dantean sense.

    The totality of Mozart’s power as a composer is evident in Don Giovanni. Of his greatest operas, only The Magic Flute had as yet to appear, and of his greatest symphonies only the last, “Jupiter,” was yet to come. In the end we are simply in awe of the prodigious accomplishment of this amazing man. Throughout his work there is such keen insight into human behavior, and such mastery in expressing it by the most resourceful musical means, that every attempt at adequately explaining it falls short. It is enough to be thankful that this glorious achievement will be celebrated, enjoyed and loved as long as we have ears to hear it.

    Basil De Pinto has written for the opera companies of Washington, D.C., Seattle, Atlanta and Fort Worth.



    Venice, Verdi and "The Two Foscari" (by Mary Jane Phillips)

    On the Grand Canal in Venice, the city operates boats as buses for public transportation. On the right and left banks of the Canal are rows of gorgeous houses, the celebrated palazzi, rising miraculously out of the water. Many have private docks and water-entrances, with gondolas and other vessels tied up at the piers. Dozens of other boats vie for space in the canal’s mainstream.

    Suddenly, amid these wonders there stands a large palazzo, Ca’ Foscari, the marvel built on the Canal in the 1400s by Francesco Foscari, the Doge or ruler of Venice. He is a main character in Giuseppe Verdi’s opera The Two Foscari (I Due Foscari).

    The Foscari palazzo, Ca’ Foscari, stands at the far right in this photograph by Carlo Naya, taken circa 1875.

    (The Foscari palazzo, Ca’ Foscari, stands at the far right in this photograph by Carlo Naya, circa 1875.)

    This seems like history, but for me Ca’ Foscari was a workplace. Living in Venice in the 1970s, I was teaching English as a second language in Adult Education in the palazzo. My students were several dozen pilots, sailors, dockhands, ticket-takers, janitors and other employees of the public boat system. I’m not sure what they learned, but from them I learned to speak Venetian, which is very different from Italian; and the Venetian language was also one of the first languages that four of my children learned.

    Giuseppe Verdi and the Creation of The Two Foscari
    Between 1842 and 1844, Verdi’s operas Nabucco, I Lombardi della Prima Crociata and Ernani won over audiences. And because of Verdi’s growing popularity, it was virtually certain that he would be invited to compose a work for one of Rome’s theaters. His commission for The Two Foscari came from the impresario of the Teatro Argentina.

    Verdi had a great success in the early 1840s with Ernani, in part because Francesco Maria Piave, his librettist, a Venetian, was an experienced professional, having written texts for other composers. Piave’s librettos for Verdi and others contain transparent and remarkably beautiful lines. Indeed, few can match his texts for Rigoletto and La Traviata, to say nothing of La Forza del Destino. His lines are also found at their best in the heartbreaking phrase of young Jacopo Foscari, “Ecco la mia Venezia,” as he, dragged from a windowless prison cell, sees the city and the lagoon. In fact, nostalgia and grief over leaving Venice and his family eventually kill this character as he is being sent into exile. Another main character in the opera is Jacopo’s father Francesco Foscari, the Doge who is the ruler of Venice. Remarkably, a sculpture of Francesco still adorns the entrance to the Doge’s Palace where he is shown kneeling before the Lion of Saint Mark. To make the meaning of the image absolutely clear, the Lion has its paw on a large book that reads: “Peace be unto you, Mark, my evangelist.” (Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus.)

    Francesco Foscari kneels before the Lion of Venice in a sculpture at the entrance of the Doge’s Palace.

    (Photo by Richard Fischer)

    The opera was created for the Teatro Argentina in Rome, and it had its world premiere on November 3, 1844. Verdi and Piave both were there to oversee rehearsals and early performances. Both were concerned with the production of the opera. Verdi disliked a lot about cities. When this opera was written, he dismissively referred to them as “capitals.” And he would say: “You, who live in the capitals.” He also sometimes would address friends or colleagues, accusing them of not understanding the problems of ordinary people because they lived in cities.

    Piave was already familiar with Rome, where he had studied philosophy and rhetoric, and where his family had an extraordinary personal connection with Pope Gregory XVI. In fact, the librettist made a real name for himself in Roman literary and poetry societies, publishing essays and short novels and even translating some of the psalms. Loyal and good-natured, he was known as “that Goth from Venice,” with an unruly mop of auburn hair, a shaggy beard and a loud voice. All this meant that he was a big asset to Verdi.

    The idea for writing The Two Foscari was Verdi’s. The composer described the subject as “beautiful, very beautiful, super-beautiful.” Work was already well underway in May 1844 when Piave sent Verdi the scenario he had written.

    Then a revised version had to be sent to Rome to get the approval of the Pope’s censors, who virtually ruled the theaters. The papal censors were likely to veto any text that included regicide, treason against the state, offenses against God, the clergy or the church and, of course, adulterous love, “bawdiness and lewdness” and suicide. The censors would change characters as they liked, and rip plots apart. Poetic lines and even whole scenes were cut or rewritten or wrenched out of context. To Verdi’s and Piave’s relief, the censors approved the scenario of The Two Foscari without changing anything.

    This was not an easy time for Verdi who had been ill and was often tired. Having tried to recover at home, he left for Rome, taking the ship from Livorno to Civitavecchia and riding out “a bad sea.” He arrived during the first week of October 1844. With him was Piave, who was returning to familiar territory. Up to then Verdi’s experience of cities had been limited to Milan, Genoa, Venice and Parma, so Piave and his connections gave Verdi an essential entrée to Roman literary and theatrical circles

    One of Piave’s friends and mentors in Rome was Jacopo Ferretti, a respected older librettist and poet. He remained a man of sterling literary reputation as the author of librettos for Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola) and Donizetti’s L’Ajo nell’Imbarazzo, Il Furioso all’Isola di San Domingo and Torquato Tasso, among other works.

    He knew Roman theaters at first hand and was therefore the right person to help Verdi and Piave in their situation.

    The challenge can hardly be overstated. Virtually all the great Italian composers had presented successful premieres in Rome, many at the Teatro Torodinona, the Teatro Valle and the Teatro Argentina, so they could not afford to have a fiasco. The kind of fame that Donizetti and Rossini had won in the city was exactly what was needed in 1844. There can be no doubt that the support of Ferretti helped set the stage for a significant personal triumph for Verdi.

    A letter from Rome, dated October 5, 1844, described the censors’ final clearance for the production. Verdi visited Ferretti and was about to begin rehearsals, and he reported that two other works were to precede The Two Foscari at the Argentina. And like every tourist, Verdi was impressed by the city: “I am going all around Rome and am astonished.”

    On October 21, Piave sent news to a colleague in Venice: “Here we are, rehearsing Foscari, which will go onstage on the evening of November 3 and not before. The music (it seems to me) is worthy of Verdi and of his fame.” Artistically the composer was very much at an advantage, with a cast that included the versatile dramatic soprano Marianna Barbieri-Nini, who was later his Lady Macbeth, and Achille De Bassini, a reliable singer whom Verdi used in other productions.

    From everything we know about the premiere of The Two Foscari, it seems the Roman audience did not give Verdi the success he was hoping for. People were critical of singers who “shouted,” the critics said, and even a fine artist like Barbieri-Nini was taken to task. According to one review, cited by Marcello Conati in La Bottega della Musica, the first-night audience did not applaud all the pieces in the opera; it particularly disapproved of one number in the first act, when the singers seemed in poor form, and the tenor so distressed that people wondered whether he could even finish the opera. As Julian Budden pointed out in his book The Operas of Verdi, the operagoers were also upset by the fact that the theater had raised the price of the tickets. Verdi got only seven curtain calls when he often got 20 or 30 in other places. The second night went better than the first because by then the singers were in control of their roles.

    The greatest risk was that the opera was too tragic. Verdi’s later, well-known opinion was: “In operas that are inherently sad, if you aren’t careful, you end up in a mortuary.” Fortunately that is not what happened here. While Verdi was in Rome, he was honored by such dignitaries as Prince Don Alessandro Torlonia, who gave a sumptuous dinner party for him; and the City of Rome struck gold medals to mark his visit.

    Mary Jane Phillips is the author of numerous books including Puccini: A Biography (2002) and the award-winning Verdi: A Biography (1996). She is a frequent contributor to Opera News and many other publications.

    Acknowledgements: Julian Budden, Clare Ann Matz, Margaret Matz, Charles Matz III, the Royal Opera Convent Garden, William Weaver and Andrew Porter.


    Don Giovanni Scenery Load-In

    The Don Giovanni set has arrived! Seven (7) forty-foot shipping containers (over 16,000 cubic feet) of scenery and props traveled to Los Angeles from Chicago via rail and truck. Our union stage crew of approximately 50 stagehands has been extremely busy this week. By day five the crew is sixty hours into assembling the set, hanging lights, building and repairing props, touching up scenery and prepping all aspects of technical production. 

    Don Giovanni stage crew

    Stage crew unloading a spectacular silk flame effect which will rise through the Giovanni stage floor on cue

    LA Opera scenic painters

    Scenic painters applying new artwork to a Giovanni backdrop at the request of the set designer

    LA Opera stage with lighting  equipment

    The stage looks empty early in the process of hanging more than 700 lighting fixtures at stage level. Lighting equipment is lowered on ‘battens’ that are lifted 40 feet in the air for the production.

    LA Opera shop

    Carpenters building platforms for use as mock-up scenery in the rehearsal room

    The Best Day of College You Ever Had

    Having graduated in 2010 there is something that I realized. I miss college.

    Many may share the same sentiment, but I know my pining is for more than the social surroundings and unparalleled freedom. My longing comes from my absence from the classroom: learning, growing, constantly challenging one’s self, and the influx of brand new ideas (or old ones presented with a new twist).

    The classroom is a beautiful entity that I know we all take for granted while sitting in them. The communal experience where minds - no two exactly alike - listen, contemplate, share ideas, challenge thoughts, and take something with them by the end of the day that they didn’t have before – knowledge.

    With that said, I am excited for the new season ahead because of the wonderful program here at LA Opera, spearheaded by our Education Manager, Jill Burnham, known as Opera for Educators.  It's like the best day of college you ever had!

    Opera for Educators

    This program takes place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where hundreds of teachers take seven Saturdays throughout our season to learn about opera.

    Actually, “learn about opera” does this class no justice. This is a program that creates strategies for integrating art and the multidisciplinary art form of opera into teacher’s curriculum to reinforce important historical, cultural and socio/political events. Teachers develop and discuss strategies for making curriculum connections between opera and literature, language studies, cultural diversity, geography and the science of sound. Opera for Educators is a home for those teachers who seek to better their minds, better their classrooms and better themselves.

    Opera for Educators

    I was lucky enough to help Jill out during the course of Opera for Educators during the 2011-2012 season and my world view on opera dramatically shifted. Jill creates such a fun learning environment by inviting some of the most renowned minds to lecture on the music, history, and literature surrounding the opera in discussion. Every so often Jill even surprises her teachers by bringing in professional artists to give recitals singing pieces from the opera or other pieces by the composer. She’s also been known to nab directors, stage managers, costume designers, orchestra players and stars of the main stage.

    If you are a teacher – and we all take the role of teacher, just as we all take on the role of student – then this is a program you should not miss out on.

    To register and/or get more information, click here.

    We look forward to seeing you at the Opera!

    Verdi: Pater Familias (by James Conlon)

    1813: The birth year of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner

    1913: The birth year of Benjamin Britten

    2013: The year LA Opera and the classical music world will mark these three anniversaries. Actually, 2013 will serve as the center line for observing these birthdates. We have already begun this process, and it will extend into 2014.

    One could barely think of three composers who were personally and artistically so different. And yet, aside from their centenary celebrations, they have one enormous attribute in common. All three unquestionably stand at the zenith of their respective operatic cultures. In presenting The Two Foscari (I Due Foscari), in its first production in a major American opera house in 40 years, LA Opera brings to light an essential work from Verdi’s early period, which will be especially appreciated by Verdi lovers. This opera represents an important step in the development of Verdi’s style and musical vocabulary, in which he gradually transforms the inherited culture of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini into a language of his own, quintessentially defining and personifying the Italian 19th century.

    Composer Giuseppe Verdi

    I Due Foscari is the sixth opera of Verdi’s 26 theatrical works (not counting several revised versions). Between his first opera, Oberto (1839), and Falstaff (1893) are 54 years. Foscari (1844) was written five years into that trajectory—in terms of works written, not yet a quarter of his ultimate output and in terms of years, less than ten percent of the way. It may be, by our standards, an “old-fashioned” opera. It certainly would have been considered as such by the composer himself. But we have come to measure the sophistication of Italian opera precisely by the yardstick Verdi has provided us through his extraordinary life’s productivity.

    What it is easy for us to miss, in a first hearing, is actually how much there is that was new and significant at the time, starting with Verdi’s choice of subject. He recounts the story of the forced abdication of a great Venetian statesman (Francesco Foscari) resulting from an unseemly, clandestine intrigue by other Venetian nobles. (The Doge of the Venetian Republic was the head of state, and the word Doge is the Venetian form of the Latin word Dux, whence the English word duke and Mussolini’s self-appellation Duce). Considering that the work was intended to be premiered in Venice, this constituted an unacceptable affront to the nobility at large and to the still-prominent Foscari family. It was rejected as unsuitable, and Verdi later substituted it for a commission in Rome, where it was premiered.

    After dispensing raw energy and occasional bombast in his early operas, he took a decisive step toward elegance and refinement. His third opera, Nabucco (1842), catapulted him to prominence as a daring young composer and, almost simultaneously, into a political hero.

    Nabucco is to Verdi what Idomeneo is to Mozart, the “Eroica” Symphony to Beethoven, The Flying Dutchman to Wagner, and The Rite of Spring to Stravinsky: a quantum leap into the future. Verdi would continue a pattern of pushing his vocabulary forward with new forms and compositional procedures, followed by a work of consolidation. Foscari is a determined step towards intimate drama following larger-scaled works. It demonstrates a pattern he was to repeat nine years later, following the medieval and stormy Il Trovatore with the elegant Parisian “drawing room” romance of La Traviata.

    Verdi concentrates the action of Foscari within a tight family unit: the aging Doge Francesco, his son Jacopo, persecuted by the intriguing nobles, and Jacopo’s devoted and courageous wife, Lucrezia Contarini (herself of noble blood). Venice is an alternatingly colorful and lugubrious background, one of the first examples of Verdi’s fascination with the political world and the ambiance of power. The first two words of the opera, an example of Verdi’s famous “parola scenica” (“the scenic word”), are “silenzio …mistero” (silence and mystery), which are said to reign over and to have protected Venice since its infancy. In contrast, the populace sings to Venice, the daughter, wife and mistress of the sea, as a mirror; the blue lagoon reflects the brightness of day, and the moon transforms its night into silver.

    Verdi uses identifying motifs for his principal characters in a more consistent way than in his previous operas. His characteristic devotion to concision produces one of his shortest operas.

    But by far the most important aspect of Foscari is the subject and the primacy of the father-son relationship. There is no question that the plight of the father is the single most central theme spanning Verdi’s entire output. Its absence in an opera is the exception rather than the rule. Psychobiography is a highly unreliable, if not an entirely unworthy, approach to analyzing works of art, but it is tempting to state the obvious. Verdi’s loss of his first wife and two infant children within 22 months between 1838 and 1840 clearly left its mark on the composer as well as the man.

    His fathers are complex and multi-dimensional; few are stick figures of good or bad. Many of the fathers are unsympathetic by their actions, but win our compassion through their own sufferings, or incapacity to prevent their own tragic fates and/or those of their children: Nabucco, Count Walter (Luisa Miller), Rigoletto, Germont (La Traviata), Monfort (I Vespri Siciliani) King Phillip II (Don Carlo) and even the comic and blustering Mr. Ford, outdone along with Falstaff by his clearly superior-witted wife.

    One might consider Miller, father of Luisa, and Simon Boccanegra to be the most enlightened and evolved fathers in the Verdian pantheon. Conversely, Amonasro (father of Aida) is the least sympathetic father, perhaps because he puts his role as king ahead of his role as father. He shares this dilemma with the father Foscari. In fact, one can see in Foscari the kernel of the future tragedies: the conflict between love and duty. Whether it is opposing national loyalties, as in Aida or I Vespri Siciliani, duties of state as in Un Ballo in Maschera, or Violetta’s choice between the dictates of her heart and the demands of the father of her beloved to conform to provincial bourgeois values, the polar forces of love and duty will be omnipresent throughout most of the Verdi corpus.

    The Two Foscari is the first of the series of complex father-son relations, passing through I Masnadieri (with a good and bad son) and Luisa Miller (which will present a clear contrast between the “good” and the “bad” father­) on through Monfort and his son Henri until it finds its apotheosis in the portrayal of the monumentality failed relationship between King Philip II of Spain and his son Don Carlo.

    Rare is the Italian opera that lacks the triangular love stories that provided the stuff of generations of competing sopranos, bleating tenors and vindictive, thwarted baritones. But Foscari foreshadows Macbeth in its total absence of love conflicts. It is significant that in Macbeth, a tale of regicide, the good King Duncan and the good father Banquo are murdered, but the story of their sons takes on great significance. The role of Macduff is essentially reduced to one aria, devoted to mourning his murdered children. Leonora’s father in La Forza del Destino appears only for several moments at the beginning of the opera, but his accidental death sets the entire drama that follows in motion.

    Verdi’s lifelong preoccupation with and failed attempts to set King Lear may have many explanations, but it is noteworthy that the greatest of all tragic fathers in Shakespeare plays intimidated even the genius who had placed so many fathers on the stage. Of the tantalizing “what ifs” of operatic history, Verdi’s unwritten King Lear is the most frustrating.

    The Foscari family trio is a unified and tragic entity, bound together by their implacable enemies’ thirst for vengeance. The conflict between paternal love and the demands of the crown break the will of the aging father; the death (murder) of his son breaks his heart. Only the commanding presence of Lucrezia remains alive at the end of the Foscari reign to face the victorious enemies of her family. Brought to its end by the silent and mysterious forces that ruled “la Serenissima,” the “Most Serene Republic of Venice,” the demise of the Foscari family shows that the “daughter, wife and mistress of the sea” was all but serene.

    James Conlon is the Richard Seaver Music Director of LA Opera.




    Community Educator Training: Grading the Presentors

    Community Educators and Student Guest

    The first time I heard about the Community Educators program was on Facebook. The post described what it was: a training program for speakers who would share their opera-love with audiences. Applying to join went down on my adult life to-do list.

    The second time I heard about the program was by e-mail notification. “We are seeking middle and high-school students who would be able to give feedback during these presentation training sessions (for example: what works, suggestions for ways to improve their project/presentation, etc).” It looked like I didn't have to wait to get a taste of the program. I was punching in a reply and hitting “Send” before it all really registered in my mind.

    So, a few days later, I arrived at the Dorothy Chandler and headed for the Artists' Entrance. Every time I walk through that door, a small thrill tickles me. I always imagine all the incredible people who have graced that threshold. It got even more awesome when I signed in and saw that some of my Opera Camp friends would also be there. And even going up the elevator to Rehearsal Room 1 was exciting. I mean, being in the elevator with (a framed portrait of) Plácido Domingo doesn't exactly soothe the nerves.

    It only got better. Afraid that I'd be late, I had arrived a bit too early. It turned out to be a good thing—I was allowed to have a glimpse of some Foscari things in another rehearsal room. Believe me, when I saw the costumes labeled with the names “Domingo” and “Poplavskaya,” my heart nearly fell through the floor.

    I managed to stay intact as I walked back to Rehearsal Room 1. People slowly trickled in, and I had a happy reunion with my awesome 90012 friends. After a while, the lady who's teaching the program, Carmen Recker, greeted us, thanked us for coming, and told us what the session would be all about. She explained that the educators had been training for weeks. At this point, each educator had selected an opera to present about, and had developed a corresponding activity. Alongside the other educators, we would act as their audience and try these activities out. Our job was to give feedback, providing the teenage student perspective.

    I could hardly believe my ears. I was going to get community service hours for testing opera games? Gosh, I would have paid to get this opportunity to participate.

    We launched into the night's program. First, Jessica Gonzales-Rodriguez stepped up before her audience of fellow educators and volunteers. Her task was to introduce Tosca to 8th graders. When she started talking, I noted on my paper the strong, assured way she addressed us. She told us what the upcoming activity was: we would get into three teams, Tosca, Mario, and yes—Scarpia. Each team got to choose a scene to act out. The catch was that we couldn't speak while acting. We could only use body language and facial expressions. Plus, we only had a minute for the scene. I was in the Tosca group. We did the scene when Tosca goes crazy about the way her boyfriend, Mario, painted Mary Magdalene's eyes. They looked suspiciously similar to the eyes of a girl who had visited the church... And I got to play Tosca! It was fun being an exploding diva for sixty seconds. Also, I think the activity as a whole will really let students get “inside” the opera. It'll probably make them curious about Tosca so that they can watch the scenes they acted out, to see the context, the singers' interpretations, everything. And, during the actual presentations, Ms. Gonzales-Rodriguez will also play the corresponding music of each scene in the background. Can I disguise myself as an eighth grader and join her teaching sessions?!

    When the activity was over, we gave our feedback and then moved on. Next up: Annie Austin speaking about The Flying Dutchman, her presentation molded for AP 12th grade.  She was both humorous and matter-of-fact. She distributed packs of M&Ms into the crowd and then explained the activity: While excerpts from Dutchman played, we would have to keep passing along the M&Ms. When she paused the music, we would stop. Whoever ended up with a pack in their hands would have to answer a question—a question about the opera, about ghost stories, and about how the two connected. It sounded simple enough. Let me tell you now, though—her activity was one of the most stressful games I've ever experienced. We were unevenly spaced, so people were rushing frantically across the room to rid themselves of the M&Ms. Packs went flying and skidding everywhere. And all this was happening with Wagner roaring and bellowing in the background. Really, the epic-ness of the game could rival anything in his oeuvre.

    Of course, we all gave positive remarks while we “recovered.” The next activity was a little quieter, so we started to calm down. The speaker was Judith Hyman, with a Madame Butterfly presentation intended for grade 8. The activity was one of the most thought-provoking of all of them so far. We had to put both Pinkerton and Butterfly on trial and determine: Innocent or Guilty? Just the notion of Butterfly being guilty startled my brain gears. Since Pinkerton was the one who left her, not the other way around, I had never considered that she may be the one in the wrong. We were divided into four groups: Butterfly Innocent, Butterfly Guilty, Pinkerton Innocent, Pinkerton Guilty. My group got one of the harder stances, Pinkerton Innocent. When we started discussing, we realized that the notion wasn't all that ridiculous. Maybe Pinkerton was just a product of his time. Maybe he didn't know how devastated Butterfly would be. Maybe Butterfly was just dumb to really think it was true love...After all four groups voiced their viewpoints, we were freed from our assigned stances. We all took a vote. Of course, Butterfly Innocent won. Still, I have to give Butterfly Guilty the prize for the funniest statement of the trial: “Butterfly was a spoiled, immature BRAT.”

    The trial activity will be really effective with the students, I think. They'll want to go see the opera to deliver the final verdict for themselves. And plus, the idea itself of Butterfly being guilty destroys that stereotype of the innocent, wronged, heartbroken soprano. It'll definitely make teenagers think twice about opera itself.

    We took a break after the Butterfly activity. Then, we all transformed into elementary school kids for Dorothy Mathious' presentation of The Magic Flute, created for second graders. First, she told us all about the character Papageno, a bubbly bird catcher. Then, we all picked some colorful feathers. Getting into the spirit of elementary school, we started whining, “I want the blue one!” “I want the red one!” Garrett Collins, Communications Coordinator, grabbed a whole bunch of feathers and started taunting the rest of us with “I got all the feathers! I got all the feathers!” We somehow remembered our maturity, though, and divided the rest of the feathers in a civilized manner. She told us to think of our favorite birds and to imagine that we were those birds. As Mozart's jubilant, airy music played, we flapped and paraded in a circle around the room, and whenever we heard Papageno's pipes, we leapt into the air and reversed directions. I have to admit that I was having the time of my life. I mean, I was starting school the next day, so it was nice to be a second grader again.

    The fun couldn't last forever, though. Soon, the music ended, and since the next activity was geared right at my actual grade level—grade ten—I had grown up all over again. It was worth it, though. Erika Nadir presentation was wonderful. I really liked the way she spoke. She was very energetic, enthusiastic, and, most of all, natural. I have trouble being natural in public speaking, so I admired that a lot. Her activity was incredible, too. She split us into groups and gave each group one line from Tosca: Mario's delirious “Vittoria! Vittoria!” (Victory! Victory!), Tosca's grim, vengeful “Io quella lama gli piantai nel cor” (I planted that dagger in his heart), and Scarpia's thoroughly creepy “Tosca, mi fai dimenticare Iddio!” (Tosca, you make me forget God). We said or sang the line the way we thought it would sound, and then we heard the actual thing. I really thought it was such a wonderful activity. It put you in a composer's mindset.

    The last presentation of the night was Elizabeth Burke's on Cinderella, aimed towards eighth graders. I got the sense that she really knew her material. It was very interesting to compare and contrast the fairytale with the opera. For one thing, there was no evil step-mother—it was a step-father. In the opera, the fairy godmother became a philosopher instead. And gone was the glass slipper. Rossini made it a bracelet. After we got the low-down on Cinderella, we did an awesome activity. We got called up to the front of the room, chose which character we wanted to be, and then answered audience questions as the character. Luckily, we had small fact sheets about our selected person to help us. After the questioning was over, we each got a mounted picture of Cinderella, or more precisely, of the Cecilia Bartoli recording. A lot of middle schoolers like role-play games and especially tangible rewards, so I think it'll work really well with eighth graders.

    I really wouldn't have minded staying all night playing opera games, but unfortunately, that was the last presentation of the night. I left with a whole lot of things buzzing through my head: new insights, funny things people said...It was truly one fine day.

    Don Giovanni, the Unknowable (by James Conlon)

    “Donna folle! indarno gridi, Chi son io tu non saprai!”
    (Crazed woman!, you scream in vain; who I am, you will never know!”)

    Writing on the subject of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s and Lorenzo Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni is easy, because the subject is vast and fascinating. It is also unnecessary. Primarily, the music speaks for itself. Secondarily, so much has been written and said about it, that it is virtually impossible to avoid redundancy. Thirdly, almost any position the writer might take on the subject, including all the thoughts set forth in this article, can immediately be challenged and dismissed by an infinite number of equally valid or invalid viewpoints.

    This holds equally true for performing the opera. Despite routine claims of innovation and fresh “insight,” performances that actually bring something new to this work are the exception, not the rule. But fortunately, the genius of the work is such that it trumps any attempt to “illuminate” its inner workings. Its substance is fully present in any competent performance. The work is unfathomable in its depths, uncontainable in its breadth, and inexhaustible in its essence.

    A saying, often attributed to Artur Schnabel, holds that “A masterpiece is a work that is better than any of its possible performances.” That statement, which can make one’s head spin in its implications, unquestionably can apply to Don Giovanni. Might that partially explain why one of the greatest operas ever written lends itself, paradoxically, to more productions that fail dismally than other works of lesser quality?

    Or could it be the constant enticement to artists to attempt to “say” something special or unique, to have a “take” on its meaning all one’s own? Or perhaps to apply some reductionist interpretation that decides for the public how it should think and feel, and react? Have too many tried too hard? Could it be that simply performing and not interpreting the work (however unfashionable that notion might be at this moment in history) is to render to it the greatest service possible?

    The story seems to have originated with a play attributed to the Spanish monk Tirso de Molina, who curiously never acknowledged his authorship. It was entitled El Burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de Piedra (“The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest”). Don Juan, as it came to be known, would have many new settings—by certain counts over 1,720 in the centuries following its creation—mostly in France in the 17th century and most notably by Moliére. Da Ponte knew and borrowed from an operatic version called Don Juan Tenorio—referred to as a dramma giocoso (jocular or playful drama), the ambiguous appellation retained by Mozart and Da Ponte—with a libretto by one Giovanni Bertati. By the end of the 18th century the subject of Don Juan seemed to be exhausting itself when Mozart and Da Ponte alighted on it. Had it not been for them, the story might have disappeared altogether. But they produced a work of transcendent genius, transformed the story of Don Juan and, whether intentionally or not, gave birth to Don Giovanni, a modern myth.

    The “new” Don Giovanni captured the imagination of the some of the greatest writers of the next two centuries. The list is long, but its most prominent exponents were Lord Byron, Alexander Pushkin, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Søren Kierkegaard at first, to be followed later by Charles Baudelaire, George Bernard Shaw and Albert Camus. When they wrote about Don Giovanni, it was no longer about a literary character, but Mozart’s Don. Through his music and dramatic genius, the protagonist was no longer just a vulgar profligate of bestial sensuality, but an enigmatic force of nature who continues to fascinate us into the present day.

    With his new status of myth, each age has seen him through its particular lens. As the 19th century gradually lost interest in sin and salvation and reshaped itself, it saw him as a reflection of its own yearnings and search thirst for knowledge. Goethe’s Faust had his quest, it was said, and Don Giovanni his conquest. He was now an “antihero” who, through the excesses of his prodigious strivings, drove himself to self-destruction. He became, in the eyes of others, a melancholy hero who represents a romanticized visionary, in search of an unattainable ideal.

    In the 20th century he was to undergo a radically different evaluation under the microscope of Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis. The assessment of a flawed, but almost superhuman defiant hero gave way to a psychiatric outpatient, personifying every form of neurosis and pathology imaginable.

    And so on. Each age, including our own, sees in him and his story a reflection of its own worldview. This is why, to return to my earlier statement, so many productions fail. The impulse to reduce the myth to specifics and/or a demonstration of relevance to a contemporary world actually impoverishes the richness of its mythic proportions. All approaches are simultaneously right and wrong, fruitful and sterile, expanding and limiting. The whole is greater than the parts, and by reducing it to an “interpretation” we, perforce, limit its infinite scope.

    Although Mozart’s framework for this drama resides in the supernatural and in the rendering of divine justice it should be understood that the abundant freedom with which he and Da Ponte create this theatrical drama has less to do with religious dogma than the infinite variety of the human experience. Don Giovanni and the Commendatore provide the pillars which hold up the edifice that houses all of the other characters. Neither is fully human nor pure incarnation of abstract principles. They have a human life but are simultaneously symbols, manifestations of powerful forces, polar antagonists. That the latter is, if not the arbiter, at least the messenger for a divine judge is an easy conclusion to reach.

    But, who is the real Don Giovanni? Even the birth of his story, whose author has never been confirmed, is still mysterious. Kierkegaard defined him as a theoretical construction that never rises above the category of “pure” sensuousness. In this view, Don Juan never existed nor can he, in reality, do so. Taken literally, his story seems almost ludicrous in its dimensions, unless he is seen as a force of nature rather than a real human being. His raison d’être is to arouse sexuality in everyone with whom he comes into contact, thus subverting society. To try to explain why he does so is, in a way, pointless: he simply does so.

    “Motiveless malignancy,” Coleridge’s famous description of Iago’s character, leaves the “why” unanswered, and is a potent point of departure for the enduring mythical proportions of Don Giovanni. We meet both the Don and the Commendatore on their last day because, in a peculiar way, their past histories are not important (however fascinating and titillating the former’s might be). On that last day, they both meet their terrestrial deaths, and fulfill their function in the otherworldly drama of defiance and retribution. Divine justice is meted out.

    Don Giovanni has no core to his personality. Mozart purposely deprives him of a self-revelatory or confessional aria. Unlike Verdi’s Iago, who explains himself in the Credo, the Don never reveals anything. His three solo numbers are one-dimensional extensions of his principal lusts: wine (the drinking song), women (the serenade) and violence (as he prepares to beat Masetto).

    All the other characters are fully human. Tomes are written, justifiably, discussing the three women. They have produced a rich and ever developing literature on their own. These fascinatingly diverse characters, Anna and Elvira (the aristocrats), and Zerlina (the peasant), are bound together on this fatal day and have one important experience in common: they have all had their erotic impulses awakened, magnified and irrevocably changed by their encounter with this mythical seducer. One assumes that the lives of all of the 2065 women inscribed in Leporello’s catalog (whose list includes Donna Elvira) have been similarly impacted. Each woman’s character develops in the course of events, and each is allotted arias in both acts to chart that growth. At the end of the opera, the servant-class men, Leporello and Masetto, in their very practical way, will continue on seamlessly with their lives. Don Ottavio, the aristocrat, will as well, although Don Giovanni has struck closer to home for him, and one wonders if his marriage to Donna Anna will actually materialize. But the women’s lives are irrevocably changed; whether for better or for worse is a question that is left up in the air.

    Together they all try, and fail, to retaliate against the Don. Retribution is the province of the divine. “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord,” we are told in both the Old and New Testaments, and so it is for our “hero.” Greeks of antiquity were punished by the gods, not because they were necessarily bad, but because their actions represented defiance to those gods. The sin of Adam has been variously interpreted, but is essentially that of disobedience. On the day portrayed in the opera, the Don, who has seemingly been allowed to ride herd on society through his legion sexual misdeeds, has become a murderer, and there, it seems, a line has been crossed.

    Mozart’s Don Giovanni has been, is, and will be seen as all things to all people: seducer, iconoclast, devil, pioneer, agent of atheism, impiety and sacrilege, defender of Rationalism, mentally deranged psychopath. The list could be endless. Through Mozart’s masterpiece, he came a long way from the burlesque libertine of the original and will have eternal life in the minds and imaginations of opera lovers. Who he is, is unknowable, and what he represents a matter of perpetual disagreement. And so it should be. He has always given us the slip, and always will. He himself told us so while escaping from Donna Anna in his opening line of the opera, uttering words as prophetic as they are emblematic:

     “Chi son io tu non saprai!”

    James Conlon is the Richard Seaver Music Director of LA Opera.







    It's all fun and opera games...more Community Educators Training

    LA Opera Community Educator Training

    Every day, I reaffirm how strange life really is. Take my first volunteering session. I flew into a diva rage, flung M&M packs everywhere, slammed Cio-Cio San, pranced around the room like a bird, declared that I had stabbed someone, morphed into Cinderella's step-sister, and then, for all of that, got community service hours. And I'll admit: I had the time of my life. So, it goes without saying that I returned for the second volunteering session.

    My fellow Opera Campers weren't there this time, but Mariana Silva, the Education Programs Assistant, brought in a whole bunch of teenaged friends. Carmen Recker thanked all of us for being there and briefed us on what would happen that night. In the background, we could hear some singers rehearsing in another room, which was getting me really excited.

    I soon diverted my attention from the voices, though, because the presentations were starting. The first one was Sean Mulstein's about one of my favorite operas, Tosca. It was created for in-school Opera Clubs. He was enthusiastic and well-paced. He talked a little about Tosca, and then moved onto the activity: Tosca jeopardy. He divided us into three teams: Team Tosca, Team Mario, and Team Scarpia. For every question, each team would send a representative up to the front. If their teams knew the answer, the representatives would raise their hands. It sounds relatively docile, but the intensity skyrocketed. We were dashing back and forth to communicate, not-so-discreetly whispering answers. The highlight was the Daily Double. The slide pronounced, “Name this aria.” As he hit Play, we braced ourselves for the gloomy blue chords of “E Lucevan le Stelle or the crisp notes of “Recondita Armonia.” Then, without warning, Carly Rae Jepsen bleated out of the speakers, “Hey, I just met you, And this is crazy, But here's my number, So call me, maybe?” I was simultaneously thoroughly confused and laughing my heart out. Needless to say, we all loved the activity. It was interactive, and the questions were challenging—well, aside from “Name this aria.”

    We then moved on to the seedier world of Don Giovanni, as presented to us by Stephanie Wilson. The presentation is for eighth graders, and she spoke in a very direct, natural, candid manner. As for the activity, it was hilarious. Again, we got into groups, and each group was assigned a character. Our task was to write messages to any characters we wanted to. (We can text Don Giovanni! We can Facebook message Donna Elvira! Who says opera is stuffy and pretentious?) My group was poor Donna Anna. After briefly staring at the blank page, we composed an e-mail regarding funereal arrangements for Il Commendatore. After some more thought, we wrote a Facebook message directed to the other women, warning them to stay away from Don Giovanni—apparently because he's dangerous, but actually because he's ours. Lastly, we wrote a tweet to the big cheese himself, and it went like this: “@Don Giovanni: You're a jerk. #JustKidding #TiAmo.” All done with our messages, we read them out loud. 

    For me, though, the activity didn't end there. It got me thinking about what nasty things I would say if I could text opera villains. And that, I think, is why the game was so effective. It made me continue thinking. (But seriously. Somebody give me Pinkerton's number.)

    After the Don Giovanni presentation, David Yaroslavsky stepped up to deliver his presentation about The Flying Dutchman, intended for tenth graders. He was clear and casual as he introduced the opera and the activity. His game worked like this: there was a basket filled with slips of paper. Each of the slips had a word or phrase related to the opera, like “Seven years,” “German,” and even “Pirates of the Caribbean.” We would get into three groups. The groups would take turns sending up a person, who would draw out a slip and describe the word or phrase on it. Once his or her group guessed the word or phrase correctly, he or she would draw another slip. This would keep going until time ran out. Each slip the group had gotten through would count as a point. The group with the most points would win. The first round went on until we ran out of slips. Then, Mr. Yaroslavsky tossed all of the slips back in and began Round 2. The rules for Round 2, he explained, would be different. When describing what was on the slips, we could only use one word. Well, we started getting very confused, using vague hand gestures and glancing around helplessly. Some of us were really clever, though. One person up front glanced at the slip and called out “Heavy!” Miraculously, a group member immediately answered “Leitmotif!” Just when we thought we were getting good at it, though, Round 3 started. And in Round 3, no words were allowed. At all. We flailed our arms and twisted our faces into various expressions, going crazy trying to make ourselves understood. One of the funniest moments was when someone read the slip and then pointed at Ray Busmann, one of the educators. We started rapid-fire guessing, but every single answer received a shaking head. In despair, someone called out, “Johnny Depp?” Finally, another person got the correct answer: German. Mr. Busmann, though, was too elated to hear. “Who said Johnny Depp?” he gloated. “Who said Johnny Depp?!”

    Community Educator Training

    Since we had gotten through three presentations, it was time to take a break. After that, it was back to work with Mr. Busmann's presentation on Don Giovanni. Its target audience was tenth grade. He was absolutely hilarious—confident, assured, and humorously raw. He chose several of us to be Don Giovanni characters and proceeded with his Jerry Springer-style “talk show.” First, he gave a dramatic speech about the lives and loves of men and women. Then, he called the characters up one by one, playing corresponding music as they sat down. As the audience, we got to cheer or boo as he put them through merciless questioning. “Would you ever be faithful to one woman forever?” he asked our Don Giovanni at one point. Giovanni replied with a grin, “If there were only one fish left in the sea.” Of course, we howled with studio laughter. At last, with only two minutes left, Mr. Busmann thanked his interviewees and delivered his closing speech. He pontificated once more about the sorry romances of mortals and said goodbye to the audience.

    The whole thing was so funny that it's impossible to forget, but there are several other elements that I think made the presentation so effective. It engaged the audience the whole time, since we got to react to everything that happened. Also, Mr. Busmann chose marvelous selections from Don Giovanni to introduce the characters, and as the participants strode up to their seats, they started moving to the melody. They had gotten inside the music and the music had gotten inside them.

    The next activity was on Madame Butterfly. It was created by Eduardo Mollinedo-Pinon, and the target audience was sixth grade. After speaking for a minute or so, he gave us our imaginary scenario: we had to explain a certain Madame Butterfly character to a friend via messaging. The message would be in haiku format, with five syllables in the first and third lines and seven syllables in the second. He divided us into small groups and assigned each group a character. Our group got Butterfly, and the others got either Pinkerton or his American wife, Kate. Mr. Mollinedo-Pinon's assignment seemed pretty simple, since there were only three lines. But that was exactly the problem. How to summarize that huge, complex story in only seventeen syllables? We stared at the paper for a long time. Eventually, we managed the task of reduction, conceiving a very depressing poem. We all read our finished haikus out loud. I really didn't expect that wide variety of style, content, and word choice—some poems were casual and lighthearted; others, like ours, were just tragic. I didn't realize how open the project really is. I think it'll work wonderfully with sixth graders.

    Like the previous volunteering night, this night closed with a Cinderella activity. This one, though, was created by Rachel Staples for AP level 12th graders. And this one just happened to be a dating game. Before the main activity began, she talked a little about Cinderella, her speaking both candid and matter-of-fact. Then, she asked the men to imagine that they were the prince of Los Angeles—what kind of girl would they take to prom? She turned to the ladies and asked us what traits we would like in a man. When we finished this exercise, she picked one of us volunteers to be Prince Ramiro, and selected three more of us, including me, to be Cinderella and her stepsisters. Without our Prince hearing, we sorted out who would be which character. Prince Ramiro, back turned and oblivious to our identities, began questioning us: he asked about matters such as what we'd do with large sums of money and how we would treat a beggar. Finally, at the end, he was asked to guess which one of us was Cinderella. Yes—it was me.

    And thus ended my beautifully strange day. Echoing Cinderella, I couldn't stay at the LA Opera palace for long—I had to get home before midnight. And echoing Mario Cavaradossi, I could also say this: “E non ho amato mai tanto la vita!”

    Why We Sing - LA Opera and City of Hope

    Ashley Faatoalia at City of Hope

    I've been fortunate enough to sing at several of the LA Opera's City of Hope concerts. While it's always an honor to participate as an artist, I have never received the response I did yesterday afternoon. 

    Following the concert, I stayed outside the auditorium with my fellow artists to greet our audience. After several exchanges with people asking for photos, thanking us for coming, and asking about the company, I headed inside for a few photos with the ensemble. Just as I walked away, a lady approached me with tears in her eyes. She told me that she was a cancer patient receiving treatment on campus. She told me that things had not been easy, and that she almost didn't come to the concert. Then she took my hands and thanked me for "making time stop for a little while" and taking her mind off her illness. We hugged and I gave her my best wishes for recovery. 

    Ashley Faatoalia at City of Hope

    I don't share this often, but my father passed away in 2006 after a two year fight with pancreatic cancer. Whenever people ask who my heroes are, I always list him because he lived and fought against his disease for two years after the Doctors told him he'd be gone in a matter of weeks. I was raised by my mom, and my father and I didn't always have the closest relationship, but his illness brought us together in a strange way. I watched him have good days as well as awful ones. Even when he was at his worst, he found ways to take his mind off things (usually through laughter or music). One of my last memories with him is from my senior recital at Chapman University. He was clearly ill, the cancer was spreading, and he was not himself. In spite of all this he came and shared one of the most important musical events of my life with me and waited afterwards to hug me and tell me that I had done well. I cherish that moment. 

    When this lady spoke to me so sincerely and openly, it touched me in a profound way and brought back memories of my dad. I feel proud to be a part of the Education and Commuity Programs department and the work that we do and blessed for the ability to change someone's day and make it a little brighter. 

    Opera for Educators in one word: Enthralling

     If I had to sum up what Opera for Educators was like in one word, it would be “enthralling.”

    The 2012-13 season at LA Opera has it all, intrigue, political upheaval, sex, murder, pirates, black curses, eternal and tragic love and, of course the occasional annoying step-sister or two. This season is filled with classics, celebrating Verdi and Wagner’s 200th birthday; throw in a little Rossini here and little Mozart there, and you have a sensational season.

    Michael Hackett and Mitchell Morris

    Two weeks ago we held our season’s first Opera for Educators class focused on our first production of the season, Verdi’s The Two Foscari. I had an early start to the day coming in around 7 in the morning to set up tech for our speakers. Jill Burnham, our wonderful Education Manager, had Dr. Michael Hackett, chair of the Theater department at UCLA, Dr. Mitchell Morris (always a crowd favorite), professor of musicology at UCLA and the incomparable Maestro James Conlon come to speak to our educators!

    As a college student, it just doesn’t get any better than this: an entire day devoted entirely to the study of one opera from experts in the field! Dr. Hackett gave an introduction to the opera, its setting, its direction, its roots in Byron’s play, and how the music reflected the libretto. After Dr. Hackett, Dr. Morris introduced Verdi in the realm of the Bel Canto conventions, as Verdi was the last composer of this style. Dr. Morris has an incredible ability to distill the essence of his talks into vocabulary that is accessible to people of all musical or non-musical backgrounds. His vibrant personality and clever humor is always a hit with the crowd. It’s always a treat to listen to him. He is an extremely generous speaker and one who shares his passion eagerly. His incredible insight into opera is all the more enriching because he is a professor of musicology. Analyzing the music, the melody, harmony, the texture of the orchestration or how the rhythm of an aria reflects a vital aspect of the character is getting to the meat of it. Connecting the dots between the music and the drama makes the picture all the more vivid.

    Now, by the time Dr. Morris began his lecture, I saw Maestro Conlon silently walk into the room and take a chair in the back to listen. It is quite humbling to see masters in their respective fields become students, if only for an hour or so, and open their hearts and minds to a fellow colleague. Following Dr. Morris, Maestro Conlon came up to the podium to speak about conducting The Two Foscari. I sat next to him barely comprehending the reality unfolding in front of me. He, like Maestro Plácido Domingo, is a monumental figure in the music world! Music directing the fourth largest opera company in the nation is no easy task and here stood next to me that very man. I could barely contain my excitement. I sat there mesmerized for the hour and a half he spoke. I, along with the hundred or so in the room, hung on his every word. He spoke zealously about the importance of arts education and opera in children’s lives and it was like a religious experience for some of us, I’m sure.

    “I was once blind, but now I see,” has never meant something until now.

    James Conlon at Opera for Educators meeting

    He spoke from his heart and to hear so great a man share the same thoughts and feelings about a subject so near to everyone’s hearts, was a powerful experience.

    To top it off, each Opera for Educators class usually includes a mini-recital usually given by one or more artists! The wonderful Christopher Allen, Assistant Conductor at LA Opera accompanied baritone Randall Gremillion from LA Opera's Chorus with excerpts from Verdi’s Rigoletto among other pieces.

    Every time there is an Opera for Educators class, I come out with a renewed and reinvigorated spirit. I am reminded of why I am pursuing music, why I work at LA Opera and why we’re all here. LA Opera’s purpose is simple: to bring the highest quality productions to everyone. In this way, I believe LA Opera is unique in its continuous and active involvement with the members its large and dynamic community.

    Opera for Educators

    As Maria Callas once put it, “an opera begins long before the curtain goes up and ends long after it has come down. It starts in my imagination, it becomes my life, and it stays part of my life long after I've left the opera house.”

    Our second Opera for Educators class on Don Giovanni is this Saturday, September 8th, and we still have space available! Register online by clicking HERE, or we will be taking walk-up registration on Saturday.

    I hope to see you there!

    LA Opera Launches New Season with Ignite!

    LA Opera opened its 2012/13 Season on September 15 with the Company Premiere of Giuseppe Verdi's The Two Foscari, starring General Director Plácido Domingo (performing his 140th role and celebrating his 45th season in Los Angeles) and conducted by Music Director James Conlon. The evening was generously underwritten for the eleventh year by the Milan Panic Family with special production support from Barbara Augusta Teichert. Rolex continued their corporate commitment to LA Opera as the 2012/2013 Season Opening Sponsor and Official Timepiece of LA Opera.

    Taking a cue from the fire breather who appears in the opera’s carnival scene, the Company celebrated the launch of the new season with a gala dubbed Ignite!, created by Gala Chair Jill Baldauf and Honorary Chair Mary Hayley, which raised more than $1.5 million for the Company

    After arrivals on the red carpet, the festivities began with a cocktail reception and seated dinner for 320 guests on the Music Center Plaza. Guests were welcomed into a red- and orange-draped outdoor environment designed by Special Occasions Event Planning, with flame-shaped floral arrangements by Flaming Flower Productions. Wines were provided courtesy of Laetitia, LA Opera's still wine sponsor.

    All audience members attending the performance were greeted at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with complimentary champagne courtesy of the Henry Wine Group, LA Opera’s sparkling wine sponsor.

    After the performance, the Ignite! theme continued with an after-party for 430 guests featuring fire dancers from Zen Arts, fire pits, a s’more station, and dancing on the Music Center Plaza. Specialty cocktails, incorporating juice donated by POM Wonderful and presented by servers in flame-colored tutus, were created by Crave Cocktail Catering and Shotgun Promotions, and Urth Caffé provided a specialty coffee bar. The lighting was designed by Chris Werner Design, and music was provided by Wayne Foster Entertainment. Gift bags were provided by Bloomingdale's and designer Sue Wong.

    The evening was hosted by Plácido Domingo, who welcomed Stana Katic, the star of ABC’s Castle, as the evening’s Honorary Gala Chair for ARIA, LA Opera’s group for young professionals. Other guests included Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz, actress Anna Gunn of AMC’s Breaking Bad and fashion designer Sue Wong. Gala guests included many of LA Opera’s most dedicated supporters, including Board Chairman Marc I. Stern and his wife Eva Stern, Chairman of the Executive Committee Carol Henry and her husband Vice Chairman Warner Henry, production underwriter Milan Panic, Barbara Augusta Teichert, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Marilyn Ziering, Alfred and Claude Mann, Ambassador Frank and Kathy Baxter, Aubrey and Joyce Chernick, Em Green, Kenneth and Beth Karmin, Susan Disney Lord and Scott R. Lord, Nancy and Barry Sanders, Catherine and Paul Tosetti, Christopher V. Walker, Esther and Abe Zarem, and Diane and Michael Ziering.

    The Two Foscari: Fire Breather

    A lot of attention has been given to the fire breather effect in our new production of The Two Foscari.

    The fire breather, an experienced professional, enters the stage with a lit self-extinguishing torch. On a pre-determined musical cue he fills his mouth with liquid, then blows the liquid through the flame of the torch. 

    The Two Foscari Fire Breather

    The size of the fire ball is determined by the quantity of  liquid the fire breather expels. 

    The Two Foscari Fire Breather

    Development and testing of this effect have been taking place for months here at the LA Opera. LA Opera works closely with the Los Angeles Fire Department and acquires special permits for all open-flame effects like this. Extensive time was invested at the costume shop to optimize the fire breather’s costume.

    The Two Foscari Fire Breather

    At the conclusion of the effect the fire breather extinguishes the torch by releasing the “dead-man” switch on the handle of the torch. He then exits the stage, hands the torch to a union prop person and rinses his mouth. 

    San Gennaro Italian Festival - What a Treat!

    When asked to sing at the annual San Gennaro Italian Festival on September 29th, 2012, in the heart of LA, Hollywood California on the Jimmy Kimmel stage, I considered myself both blessed and honored to represent LA Opera! Although, secretly I was also nervous to deliver every doubled consonant correctly, roll every "R" accurately, and communicate the true Italian spirit of each aria successfully for an Italian audience.

    San Gennaro Festival

    Luckily, maestro for the event and pianist extraordinaire, Daniel Faltus, organized a truly Italian program full of flavor, authenticity, and passion that any audience was sure to love. Singing alongside brilliant musicians such as tenor Ashley Faatoalia and baritone LeRoy Villanueva to promote this season’s production of  Don Giovanni was thrilling already, but to have the audience know the words to the excerpts was the real treat. We encouraged them along and truly got to sing with the ensemble that was the audience of the San Gennaro Italian Festival. This fortifies my belief that singing is truly a community activity and we are always trying to harmonize together in life.

    David Faltus

    In return for the audience's gifted voices, LeRoy, playing the dashing Don Giovanni, serenaded them with his "Deh, vieni alla finestra" singing especially to an elderly woman in a wheel cheer who couldn't stop blushing – I don't blame her! We topped off the program with the Italian favorite 'O Sole Mio' and tried our very best to express even a fragment of the passion that LA Opera's own Plácido Domingo once did with the legendary three tenors. The applause and smiling faces of the crowd makes me think we succeeded as a group in our outreach goals for the community. 

    San Gennaro Festival

    A good friend of mine once said, "Many would admit they spend most of their time in life struggling. Struggling to overcome fears, worries, conflicts, troubled pasts and presents, and potentially troubling futures. But along the way, you'll get these moments where you pause everything and ask yourself, ‘Is everything I'm fighting for truly worth it all in the end?’ When you can smile to yourself and answer ‘Yes,’ I would call you blessed." Well, after singing for the San Gennaro Italian Festival representing an opera company that devotes itself to promoting awareness of the arts in the community and having my voice be a part of that, I would most definitely consider myself blessed and this experience a blessing.

    San Gennaro Festival

    What a treat, thank you San Gennaro!

    Mary Jane Phillips: The Miracle of Butterfly

    Today, when Giacomo Puccini’s operas are popular as never before, it is difficult to imagine a time when he was a failure, yet he struggled for nearly ten start-up years before he could score a solid success. In that period he often fell into depression. He once seriously considered leaving Italy for South America, where he could earn a living as a music teacher. In another low moment he talked of going back to his old job as an organist in village churches. A “third-rate organist,” he wryly described himself.

    In the mid-1800s his first opera, Le Villi, won praise from critics and survived, though it was never widely popular, and his next work, Edgar, was such a fiasco that he despaired of it altogether and warned a friend about it, saying, “May God save you from this opera!”

    All this meant that from 1883 to 1893, he fought a running battle against poverty. Living in unheated apartments, he could barely scrape together enough for rent and food. In fact, he was so poor that one evening when friends dropped in, he had to sell his pet bird and its cage to get enough money to buy meat for a stew.

    On the all-important night of the premiere of Le Villi, he took his bows wearing his only decent suit. In a word, he lived meanly, getting older and watching his rivals become famous. Puccini was such a late starter that he was almost 35 when he scored his first big commercial success with Manon Lescaut (1893). Then La Bohème (1896) and Tosca (1900) catapulted him to the top of his profession, bringing in a steady stream of royalties and lending him much-needed confidence. After 1901, when Giuseppe Verdi died, Puccini was even seen as “Il Successore,” the venerate composer’s successor.

    Finding a Subject
    Seeing how popular Tosca was, Puccini knew he had to start another opera quickly to capitalize on it. A composer’s first task—sometimes the most difficult task—is finding a subject or a source for a new work: a novel, play, story or poem that a librettist can turn into a viable theater piece. Composers often said they had to “see” a potential source as a drama and “feel” the music in a subject before deciding on it. And if that posed challenges for such practiced and confident musicians as Rossini, Donizetti and Verdi, it sometimes utterly defeated Puccini, plagued as he was with self doubt. Over the course of his career, he became positively notorious for changing his mind about projects and forcing his librettists to revise finished work, even work that he had had redone three times or more. Several major projects were abandoned. He almost gave up on La Bohème and played “Yes and No” with Tosca for several years. At the end of his life, when work on Turandot was well along, he even considered dropping it and looking for something else. Surprisingly, though, he had few doubts about Madama Butterfly.

    The source of Puccini’s opera is a one-act play called Madame Butterfly, which two Italian friends took him to see in London in 1900. Its author and producer was the American impresario David Belasco, then on tour abroad. Although Puccini understood no English, his sharply honed intuition about theater told him all he needed to know about the geisha. In the course of his career, he depended on this instinct all the time, most notably in the 1890s, when he saw Sarah Bernhardt in the French-language play La Tosca, and in 1907, when he saw Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West in English in New York City, understood almost none of the dialogue, and still knew it was right for him. La Fanciulla del West was the result.

    Real People, Real Tragedy
    Belasco’s literary source for Madame Butterfly was a short story by an American writer, John Luther Long. Surprisingly, the characters are based on real people, the plot on actual events. Long’s sister, Jennie Correll, a former Methodist Episcopal missionary in Nagasaki, told him about the geisha known as “O-Cho” or “Cho-San, Miss Butterfly,” a “Tea-House Girl” who had taken a lover, a “young man” who was a ship’s officer and a foreigner. He “married” Cho-San but had no intention of remaining faithful to her. However, when he had to ship out, he promised to return and send her a signal when his ship entered the harbor. Cho-San bore his child and waited for him “for many nights,” watching the port from behind a screen, but he never returned.

    Fascinating recent research on this historical source of Butterfly has been done by Arthur Groos, whose article “The Story Behind the Story” appeared in the program of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, London, in September 2003. The resourceful Groos identified the man most likely to have been Miss Butterfly’s American husband as Ensign William B. Franklin, a ship’s officer. In the opera the character is called Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton. Groos has even found which years Ensign Franklin was in Nagasaki, 1892 and 1893, thus establishing the correct historical frame of the opera. If Puccini’s Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton seem real to us, it is because they were. And, one must add, because Puccini made them truer to life than life itself.

    Creating the Opera
    The two expert librettists who wrote Madama Butterfly had worked earlier with Puccini on the text for La Bohème and Tosca. One of them, the brilliant but hotheaded Luigi Illica, had also saved Manon Lescaut after three other writers abandoned it and Puccini. The other, Giuseppe Giacosa, the poet of the team, was one of Italy’s most serious and respected men of letters. As was customary, Illica wrote the scenario or first draft of the drama, and Giacosa wrote the poetry that made the libretto “sing.” In practice, however, both men worked with the composer from beginning to end—“slaved for” Puccini, as Giacosa once complained—and he often drove them to desperation.

    A story as simple as Butterfly’s might easily have been turned into a short, workable libretto, but expanding a one-act play into a full evening of opera meant inventing new scenes or even whole acts, which the composer had to cover with about two hours of music. In fact, Act I of Madama Butterfly is Illica’s creation, as Puccini readily acknowledged. It worked; but other disputes with the librettists delayed the new opera’s progress. Among them was the composer’s decision to cut an important scene set in the American consulate. It had been put into Act II then moved to Act III. Both Illica and Giacosa thought it heightened the drama and moved the story along, but Puccini took it out all the same. A much larger problem was his extraordinary reorganization of the drama into two long acts with only one intermission. Thus the last act would be Act II, lasting an hour and a half without a break and including the present second act, the “Humming Chorus,” the orchestral intermezzo and the present third act. At that time, Italian audiences were not likely to tolerate anything that long. Giacosa, a successful playwright with decades of experience, raised all kinds of objections, warning Puccini that his long Act II would wreck Butterfly. To no avail. Puccini kept his two-act scheme, although the changes he made slowed his work and at times almost brought it to a halt.

    In the end, though, it was an accident rather than composer-librettist disputes that came close to bringing Butterfly down. Puccini was in two automobile crashes while he was working on the opera. The first left him with nothing more than small scrapes and bruises, but the second, in 1903, almost killed him after he was trapped under his overturned car. He suffered a broken leg, which did not heal and had to be re-broken and re-set. Then, in the course of a long, agonizing recovery, he discovered he was diabetic.

    An even bigger and more wrenching change affected his emotional life in this same period. During his convalescence he was forced to break off his passionate three-year-long affair with Corinna (the only name by which she is known), a young woman from Turin. Puccini, who was unmarried, was legally free to marry her, and he may have promised to do so. However, he had a long term bond with someone else, a very angry woman, Elvira Gemignani, who lived with him, had been his mistress for nearly 17 years and had borne him a son. In all that time, he and Elvira could not marry because her husband, whom she had abandoned, was still alive. This is not to say that she and Puccini were happy. Over the decades, Elvira’s insane jealousy constantly threatened their peace of mind, even though he tried to reassure her, describing his flirts as “cultivating my little gardens.”

    In fact, he had very few serious affairs, but Corinna was certainly one of them, and Elvira was furious about her. While Puccini was recovering from the crash, he came under unremitting pressure from her, other family members, and his publisher to stop seeing Corinna. Moreover, everyone wanted him to marry Elvira, whose husband had died. Giving in, he very reluctantly agreed; but Corinna—contrary to what everyone expected of her—did not go away quietly. Instead when she learned that Puccini was breaking off their romance, she handed his love letters to an attorney, who then threatened to publish them. This put the composer at risk for public exposure, scandal, a lawsuit (possibly for breach of promise) and other more dire legal woes, so he had to settle out of court. As part of the agreement, he also had to declare that he intended to marry Elvira. That he did, in January of 1904.

    It was the worst of all possible outcomes. Imagine Puccini after the auto crash. Age: forty-five; in atrocious pain, confined to bed for months, then moving into a wheelchair and on to crutches and canes; suffering with diabetes; unable to sit at his piano, but driven to finish Madama Butterfly and get it onstage; fending off criticism and fearing scandal; separated from Corinna; and, in the end, standing at the altar of the parish church and exchanging vows with Elvira, with whom he had such a tumultuous relationship. In one desperate letter to his foster daughter he wrote, “The life we live, Elvira and I, is simply terrible.”

    It is simply a miracle that he ever finished Butterfly, but he did, and he was even optimistic about its chance for success.

    A Fiasco of Monumental Proportion
    Among all of Puccini’s operas, none came closer to ruin and even oblivion than Madama Butterfly, because its world premiere was a total debacle. The fatal night was February 17, 1904. From the very start the La Scala audience, rarely sympathetic to Puccini, seemed prepared to destroy the opera. Even during the first act, they jeered at him, shouted abuse and gave him only two curtain calls—a very bad sign. Worse, when he came to the footlights leaning on a cane, someone laughed. Nor was the soprano spared. “Butterfly is pregnant,” one man shouted, and at the point there were so many hoots and so much laughter that she could not hear the orchestra and began to cry.

    The worst moment, however, came exactly as Giacosa had predicted it would: when the long second act stretched on and on. During Butterfly’s vigil, some people began to applaud, thinking the act was over, but when the lights failed to go up and the orchestra went on playing, the whole theater simply erupted. As one critic wrote, it was this long intermezzo that started the downhill slide to the opera’s wretched end.

    Giacosa, of course, was fully vindicated. The extent of the catastrophe is clear from this review: “Groans, roars, moos, laughs, bellows, sneers, the usual cries for encores that were intended to inflame the audience even more—that in brief, is how the public at La Scala welcomed the new opera by Maestro Giacomo Puccini. After this pandemonium, during which almost nothing could be heard, people walked out of the theater, as contented as lambs! Never have we seen so many happy faces...in the lobby... The show in the [audience] was as well organized as the one onstage, beginning just when the curtain went up.” This meant that at least part of the demonstration was staged by Puccini’s rivals and carried out by a hired claque.

    Saving the Opera
    Puccini described that night as a lynching, and he was so demoralized that he might well have tossed the score on the junk heap. Indeed, a healthy, self-confident artist could have put aside a work that had had such a bad start. And in Puccini’s case, this blow came as he was trying to survive the shipwreck of his private life. It is very much to his credit that—sick as he was—he stayed the course, going back to work with Illica and Giacosa the very morning after the premiere. They made major revisions; and finally, when Puccini was satisfied, he saw Madama Butterfly get a fair hearing at last, in May 1904, when it rang up an absolute triumph in Brescia. In effect, then, he saved this opera himself, simply by believing so strongly in it; and his greatest act of courage lay in facing its ruin and finding the strength to create a masterpiece.

    Credits and acknowledgments: William Ashbrook, The Operas of Puccini; Julian Budden, Puccini: His Life and Works; Eugenio Gara, Carteggi puccinani; and Arnaldo Marchette, Puccini com’era.

    Mary Jane Phillips is the author of books including Puccini: A Biography, Rosa Ponselle: American Diva, and the definitive Verdi: A Biography, which won the Royal Philharmonic Prize, the ASCAPDeems Taylor Award, and the New York Governor’s Award of Excellence.

    It Came from the Opera (Revisited)

    (an update from a post originally published last Halloween)

    I’m what you’d call a lifelong horror geek, and this time of the year my DVR and Blu-ray deck overheat with the likes of The Abominable Dr. Phibes and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Drive-in fare like I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, The Killer Shrews and War of the Colossal Beast are personal faves from a childhood reared on WLVI Boston’s Creature Double Feature, and I’ve literally worn out a VHS of the long out-of-print The Incredible Melting Man.

    But let me tell you something… the video collection can’t compete with some of the LIVE eerie effects, creepy costumes and monster moments this company has put on stage in the past decade. Here are a few highlights:

    LAO's most recent example of (literal) stage fright was in The Two Foscari, wherein this dream-haunting skull-clown jauntily danced its way into my psyche. A close-up of this creepy headgear was the desktop wallpaper on my computer for a month. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr....

    The rest of the carnivale scene was loaded with outre costuming and creatures, too.

    From steampunk torture chamber manipulators to...

    ...this floating gas-masked angel. Just amazing.

    This wasn't, by any means, the first airborne otherworldly menace seen haunting the DCP stage though.

    Denyce Graves is haunted by puppets and projections in DUKE BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE (2002)

    From La Damnation de Faust in 2002 to The Turn of the Screw just last season, I’ve been treated to all sorts of ghostly images and visitors from the underworld, all in grand operatic scale. I’m not all that into ghost movies, but huge skull-headed spectral puppets live and in-person on stage are absolutely breathtaking.

    The massive reaper from DON CARLO (2006), which looked like it stood over eight feet, was way more intimidating in person than anything portrayed on screen in LORD OF THE RINGS.

    The statue-come-to-life in DON GIOVANNI (03 and 07) is downright zombie-like, as are the lost souls who drag him to the Underworld soon after.

    2010's THE TURN OF THE SCREW featured both classic-style specters and nightmares right out of modern Japanese cinema.

    The scares don’t stop at haunting spirits, we’ve put some pretty astounding MONSTERS on the stage, too.

    In my opinion, LAO's 1990 production of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE had better practical costumes than the expensive digital creations of the recent film.

    The Douglas Fitch-designed woodland creatures from HANSEL AND GRETEL (2006) were either whimsical or downright creepy, depending on how you felt about the electronic 'screen' eyes.

    Despite their colorful execution, fairytale creations can be as scary as circus clowns are to some of us (and isn’t Pagliacci just a step away from being a slasher movie anyway?), but the nightmarish creatures of Julie Taymor’s Grendel left no room for interpretation. They were unnervingly inhuman and grotesquely asymmetrical.

    These primitive abominations spawn the more man-like Grendel. The monster-as-protagonist was not only more humanoid, he was the most human character in the opera. It’s a widely popular theme in monster movies, going back to King Kong and Boris Karloff’s child-like monster in Frankenstein in the 1930s. We’re the creature. The marginalized, misfits and misunderstood of the world relate to the lagoon monsters and transformed un-men spurned by damsels in distress and hostile villagers alike.

    Of course, the more singing a creature has to do, the more free the face has to be. Denyce Graves’ dragon, with three supporting vocalists as the tail, was actually more of a traditional opera costume.

    But no one… and I mean NO ONE… did more heroic above-and-beyond singing in a monster suit than Daniel Okulitch in 2008's The Fly!

    David Cronenberg’s first foray into opera was technically a reinterpretation of his landmark 1986 film, but it had a firm foot in the 1958 original as well. The Fly is an evolution of the familiar mad scientist theme, but with a more sympathetic lead. Seth Brundle isn’t a hand-gnashing madman cackling like a lunatic in his ominous lab. He’s brilliant, he’s onto something big, and in a very human moment of weakness and impatience makes a small mistake with unimaginably profound consequences. (Hmm, sounds like opera, doesn’t it?) All he tries to do from there is get back to being human, but the paths he takes go more and more wrong until the ultimate tragic conclusion.

    Two latex-based creature suits, created by Mark Rappaport/Creature Effects, turned baritone into beast in The Fly. The first being simple lab clothes with lumpy semi-insectoid arms and head attached. This half-way creature look (lovingly referred to as “pants monsters” by the fan community) evoked the classic dirt-cheap B-movies of the 50s and 60s – The Hideous Sun Demon coming immediately to mind.

    The stage-two transformation was a full-body suit. Now as any monster movie buff knows, all full-body suits harken back to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the opera’s costume did its pedigree proud. But this suit had some special needs no movie gear ever had to deal with: the wearer had to sing in it. And sing suspended upside down from a scaffolding!

    The Fly ended with a cinema-quality puppet/suit emerging from a smoking piece of retro lab tech. The man succumbed to monster, and the monster met its end, returning the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage to the relative tranquility of crazed knife-wielding lovers and bloody political intrigue.

    And while I fully realize it is not The Fly, but Butterfly that keeps us open, as a monster movie buff I’m honored to have been here to see some amazing live stuff on stage.

    Keith J. Rainville
    LA Opera Brand Manager and graphic designer
    (Creature from the Black Lagoon figure on desk)

    Madame Butterfly Scenery Load-in and Assemble

    Madame Butterfly is a rental production new to Los Angeles. This production has come to us from San Francisco Opera via multiple 53-foot tractor trailers. 

    Stagehands Unloading Madame Butterfly Scenery

    On day one, the scenery is unloaded from the trucks by the Carpenter Department, who will later assemble the many pieces.

    In addition to the scenic elements that arrive with a rental production, we use a combination of different soft goods from the LA Opera stock. 

    carpenter hangs a stock black velour masking leg

    In this photo, a carpenter hangs a stock black velour masking leg. The masking serves the purpose of finishing out the edges of the scenery to obscure the backstage architecture and the lighting fixtures. All of the rigging systems onstage can be lowered to the floor for ease of assembling.  

    hardwall flats

    This image of the Butterfly scenery shows some of the hardwall (wood) flats. The piece in the foreground (show portal 1) weighs 1470 pounds and is suspended on two batten pipes. 

    Except for the floor, all of the Madame Butterfly scenery is rigged from a grid overhead and will "fly" in and out of view on cue.

    Taking Our Show On The Road: LAO's Secondary In-School Opera Program

    LA Opera Educational Residency Program from William Ohanesian on Vimeo.

    Each year, LA Opera takes the show offstage in into the classroom with our Secondary In-School Opera Program. This year, seven Southern California schools from South East High School in South Gate to Leichman High School in Reseda, LAO’s Education and Community Programs department worked with nine classrooms to teach students all of the elements of presenting youth opera, including music, staging, costumes and the technical aspects of theater production.

    This season’s In-School Opera, The Letter by composer and librettist Shane Cadman, was specifically commissioned by LA Opera for the program, was inspired by the classic drama Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand and follows a group of students as they grapple with the same issues of unrequited love, language and perception as in the masterpiece that served as its inspiration.

    Learn more about our Secondary In-School Opera Program, the Education & Community Programs team, the educators and students involved in this incredible awe-inspiring program short film news clip produced by videographer William Ohanesian.

    For additional information, please contact Stacy Brightman, Senior Director of Education and Community Programs, at 213.972.3157.

    LA Opera Pays Off 2009 Loan

    It's great to be able to close a chapter and look forward to a bright future. Earlier this year, LA Opera began to turn the page when we repaid half of a $14 million bridge loan from Banc of America, guaranteed by Los Angeles County, that stabilized the Company in 2009. This week, we’re proud to say that we made the final payment on the loan, a major step towards our long-term stability and growth.  

    This is a direct testament to the generosity of our Board, donors, and the dedication of our ticket buyers. Because of this ongoing support and commitment, LA Opera will continue to grow and thrive.  We are profoundly grateful to the Board of Supervisors for their longstanding trust and confidence in LA Opera, and for recognizing the important and prestigious role that a world-class opera company plays in the greater Los Angeles community.

    June 7 Concert / Placido Domingo Award

    The music of Spain and Latin American comes to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on a gala night! As a special addition to the 2012/13 season, LA Opera will present An Evening of Spanish Zarzuela and Latin American Music, a June 7 concert to be followed by the presentation of Hispanics for Los Angeles Opera’s annual Plácido Domingo Award. This year’s award will be presented to soprano Ailyn Pérez, who last appeared with LA Opera as Mimi in La Bohème.

    Ailyn PerezSoprano Ailyn Perez

    Plácido Domingo, whose parents were celebrated singers of zarzuela—the popular Spanish form of operetta—will perform as both singer and as conductor, leading the LA Opera Orchestra. The concert will also feature singers from LA Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program and from Operalia, the international vocal competition founded by Mr. Domingo. Soloists will include soprano Janai Brugger, a former member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program whose recent appearances include her Metropolitan Opera debut as Liu in Turandot and Musetta in La Bohème with LA Opera. She will be joined by tenor Joshua Guerrero, a first-year member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, and by Uruguayan soprano María Eugenia Antúnez, a 2011 Operalia semi-finalist who will create the title role in the May 2013 world premiere of Dulce Rosa by Lee Holdridge.

    The concert will be followed by the 15th annual Plácido Domingo Awards Gala, presented by Hispanics for Los Angeles Opera, taking place in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall immediately after the concert. The annual event, chaired by HLAO founder Alicia Garcia Clark, celebrates the accomplishments of Hispanic artists as well as those who contribute to the awareness of opera and its educational value in the Latino community of Los Angeles.

    This year’s recipient of the Domingo Award, soprano Ailyn Pérez, most recently appeared with LA Opera as Mimi in La Bohème. Born to Mexican parents, she is the 2012 winner of the prestigious Richard Tucker Award – the first Hispanic to win the award in its history. The Richard Tucker Foundation Gala, which took place November 11 at Avery Fisher Hall in New York, will be televised nationally on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center on Thursday, December 13. In Los Angeles, the program airs at 8:30pm on PBS SoCal. (In other locations, click here to check local listings for broadcast information.) 

    Tickets to the concert will go on sale to the public on December 18. Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased in person at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion box office, by telephone at 213.972.8001 or online at www.laopera.org. For disability access, call 213.972.0777 or email laopera@laopera.org.

    Invitations to the Plácido Domingo Awards Dinner will be sent in early spring. For more information, please call LA Opera’s special events department at 213.972.3664. For more information about Hispanics for Los Angeles Opera, please visit www.hispanicsforlaopera.org.