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Blog entries posted during February 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!

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!