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Blog entries posted during March 2013

James Conlon: Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman"

flying dutchman collage

By James Conlon

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Henry David Thoreau

Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music in them.
Oliver Wendell Holmes

The protagonist of The Flying Dutchman has led a (very long) life of desperation, but thanks to Richard Wagner, not a quiet one. He will go to his place in the universe (no grave) but, fortunately for us, will have left behind his “song.” His song is not just that of the protagonist of this opera, but that of one who will be omnipresent in the rest of all of Wagner’s music dramas: The Outsider.

This production marks LA Opera’s first tribute to the three composers who share an anniversary in 2013. They are, in order of their births, Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi and Benjamin Britten. The Outsider will be as ubiquitous in Wagner’s works as the plight of the tragic father in Verdi’s and the voice of outraged innocence in Britten’s.

Another key characteristic embodied in the Dutchman is that of “The Wanderer.”

I wander silently and am somewhat unhappy,
And my sighs always ask "Where?"
In a ghostly breath it calls back to me,
There, where you are not, there is your happiness.
(Translation by Paul Hindemith)

Franz Schubert’s rendition of this poem by George Philipp Schmidt (von Lübeck), from which Franz Liszt further developed his work for piano and orchestra, is a classic. Wagner draws from the ancient myth of the “Wandering Jew” and initiates a series of exiles who will appear in his subsequent music dramas: Tannhauser, Siegmund and Sieglinde, Wotan (who will actually be renamed “The Wanderer” in Siegfried) and Tristan. Even Lohengrin and Elsa, despite their enormous dissimilarity with the Dutchman and Senta, also tell a tale of a distant “mythical” figure who exists first in the imagination of a young woman and then in reality. Lohengrin and the Dutchman enter the real world, the former from the realm of the grail and the latter from that of the devil. Both women lose their earthly existence, Elsa as a victim and Senta as the first in a series of self-sacrificing women.

Senta represents a third motif that will be repeated constantly in Wagner’s works: the redemptive woman, who teaches the world true love by sacrificing her own life to save a masculine soul imprisoned in emotional and metaphysical torments. Although criticized for its male bias, Wagner’s vision of this figure implicitly suggests that the man, wracked by his own conflicts and longings, can never achieve what the woman possesses by birthright. She incarnates infinite and redemptive love, and is the core of the universe.

I believe that the full power of the union of Senta and the Dutchman can be understood more completely if interpreted as the mythical (re)union of two parts of a common soul, man and woman, like Siegmund and Sieglinde. Viewed in this manner, Wagner steps into the world of myth for the first time, opening up the future to the Ring.

The Dutchman, who made his Faustian pact with the Devil, has been condemned to sail the seas for centuries, to be released from his curse and allowed to die only if he can find a woman who is faithful to him. He has lived on the sea, lonely and increasingly bitter, apart from any other society, unable to have a home, unable to rest, unable to find serenity.

Even in the most settled and stable of us, there is a part that has known that sense of exile and separateness on some level. The Dutchman embodies the 19th- century German concept of “Sehnsucht” (yearning). The painful perception of the distance between an ideal world and the realities of life is a staple in the artistic environment of the German-speaking world of that time. It fueled the poetry and literature of its time, impregnated the music of Schubert and Schumann, and eventually was projected onto a cosmic screen by Wagner.

This yearning exists not just in the Dutchman, but also in Senta, the young woman who has grown up obsessed with the legend of the Dutchman. She lives in isolation within her community precisely because she has been drawn to the fate of this mythical outsider, whose picture hangs on the wall and through whose agency she becomes an outsider herself. Perhaps she recognizes her status as outsider early on, and bonds with the myth in a mystical union that only she can understand.

Even Erik, the young man who believes himself to be betrothed to Senta, is an outsider. As a hunter living in a community of sea-faring men, Erik is subject to the cultural tensions between the men of the sea and those of the land. Like Senta, he suffers the disdain of his community. The Dutchman wanders, Senta and Erik do not, but all three are equally isolated.

Finally, the power of the sea, in both its real and symbolic forms, competes for the status of protagonist. A perfect medium to express the tempestuous, oceanic emotions that characterize so many operas, it serves Wagner here as it will again in Tristan und Isolde as a metaphor for colossal emotional, metaphysical and erotic forces. Verdi will use it as a metaphor of exile for the Doge in Simon Boccanegra, landlocked as head of state while his heart is at sea. Britten also lives in dialogue with the sea, from Peter Grimes through Billy Budd to the end of his life with Death in Venice.

Thoreau’s “quiet desperation,” or Puccini’s writing the “tragedies of little souls” are nowhere to be found in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. He casts the mythical dimensions of his protagonist onto a cosmic panorama. There is despair and desperation, but there is also devotion and that central theme to all of Wagner’s work: redemptive love.


James Conlon: Returning to Bel Canto

By James Conlon

On the occasion of LA Opera’s production of Cinderella (La Cenerentola), and in a departure from my customary style, I am writing more personally; in particular, the story of my love for the music of Gioachino Rossini.

The bel canto operas (a term used to loosely denote the Italian operas of the first half of the 19th century) have an important place in the repertory of LA Opera. Every opera theater must produce works in many different styles, speaking to all tastes. It must offer a balance of known and unknown works in the Italian, German, French, Anglo-Saxon, English-American and Russo-Slavic repertories. It must include 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century works, along with contemporary opera. Beyond serving the public, we—all of us who are devoted to opera—are responsible in the long term for keeping the art form alive and healthy.

In the Italian repertory, the heart of the theater is a tripod consisting of bel canto, (Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini), Verdi and verismo (primarily Puccini). Whatever else is performed, any international opera company must be able to perform with appropriate stylistic sensibilities in each of these three categories.

I have been devoting myself to the bel canto repertory for the past several years, and will continue to do so. There are two reasons for this.

First, it is important that these operas be recognized as the great works that they are. The art of singing, conducting and playing bel canto operas must be learned and mastered.  Knowledge of both tradition and modern critical trends is necessary to conduct these works. The preservation of this now “classical” art and its style is highly important. For the orchestra, performing a Rossini opera demands the same elevated level of transparency, clarity and wit as a Haydn symphony. Whatever charms a theatrical production can provide for these marvelously entertaining and amusing works, nothing justifies mechanical or indifferent musical performances, whether emanating from the stage or the orchestra pit. No theatrical virtues can compensate for a rendition deficient in any of the demands of the bel canto style. Beauty of tone, limpidity of phrasing, brilliant fioratura and clarity of text are neither optional nor dispensable.

Second, in the many years of my professional life, I have largely missed out on the personal satisfaction of conducting much of this repertory. The fact is, at the tender age of 11, Rossini became my favorite composer after I saw The Barber of Seville. It was only the second opera I attended, but it, more than any other, was responsible for the rapid metamorphosis in my life, which drew me inextricably into the overwhelming embrace of classical music. To amuse myself in the summers, I twice organized little performances of the Barber with my friends.  Producing them with the limited means and abilities of youngsters, we made up in enthusiasm whatever else we lacked in ability and training (which was just about everything).

In the following years, as a sort of apprenticeship to learn the ropes in an opera theater, I volunteered to work backstage whenever the opportunity presented itself, including several bel canto operas: The Turk in Italy, Cinderella and The Elixir of Love. I came to know them from the inside out. I got my first opportunity to conduct Don Pasquale at the Juilliard Opera Theater when I was 22, and a year later, to my great joy, The Barber of Seville. My dream had come true, I was conducting the very opera that had set me on my path a little more than ten years before. Seven performances with a double cast (Frederica von Stade and Maria Ewing sharing the role of Rosina) in five days, conducting from the harpsichord at the Washington Opera, provided one of the high points in my life thus far. I thought to myself afterwards, “How wonderful, now that I know how to conduct The Barber, I can do so all of my life.” And then, irony of ironies… I never did again. In fact , until now, I had only conducted Rossini operas at 20-year intervals: Semiramide at the Metropolitan Opera (1990) with Marilyn Horne, June Anderson and Samuel Ramey, and LA Opera’s Turk in Italy (2011). Aside from the numerous concert performances of overtures, the Stabat Mater and the Petite messe solennelle, there were no more Rossini operas.

Spending so much time on the concert podium and plunging into “big” operatic repertory, the bel canto simply remained on the sidelines.  There were inevitable choices to be made: Boris Godunov or Norma? Pelléas et Mélisande or La Sonnambula? Tristan or I Puritani? The irresistible pull toward Wagner, Verdi, Mozart, Mussorgsky and Puccini had the effect of putting it all on hold.

Three seasons ago, when I conducted The Elixir of Love, I enjoyed myself so thoroughly, that I decided to personally oversee all the bel canto productions here at LA Opera. My decision, far from being merely practical, gave me the opportunity to reunite myself with several works that I have loved since childhood but never conducted. In doing so, I have rekindled a source of excitement and satisfaction within myself, a source neglected for far too many years.

To paraphrase Giuseppe Verdi, sometimes to make progress we have return to the beginning. I am, with Cinderella, reliving a part of my youth, and, who knows, maybe I will even conduct The Barber of Seville again.

 

 

 

 


Noah’s Flood Rehearsal = the pain, the agony, the achievement

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.


Recently, I heard a comic comparing a music rehearsal to the ER. Both are supposed to help you get better, both make you cry, and both are filled with excruciating pain. During Noah’s Flood rehearsal on Sunday, we experienced all three of these things.

For this rehearsal, only the animals, raindrops, waves, rainbows, and the raven and dove were called. I’m one of the fourteen waves. Basically, what we do is maneuver long strips of blue fabric, with two people per strip. I had a similar job during Opera Camp, so I thought I was prepared for this. However, I soon realized that there are two crucial differences between The White Bird of Poston and Noah’s Flood waves. Firstly, this wave scene goes on for 7 minutes, and secondly, while the Poston waves represented the Colorado River, these waves are supposed to make up a worldwide flood.

Flood #1

To help us achieve the desired effect, assistant director, Heather Lipson-Bell patiently and energetically taught us a bunch of different wave movements. I don’t want to give it all away before the performance, but I’ll just say that it involved incessant arm-pumping, duck-walking, and squats. Twenty minutes in, my wavemate and I were already hot and red-faced. By the end, we were ready to drown along with God’s condemned. I think my muscles hate me right now. 

After our exhausting wave movement session, we listened to the music for the storm and flood scene. When I heard the glorious, crashing music, it suddenly hit me: I’m actually in a Benjamin Britten opera. I’ll be singing something written by Benjamin Britten. Both that thought and the beauty of the music gave me chills. My eyes watered. There’s nothing like opera to bring on the tears.

Following this, we were released, but I didn’t want to leave yet. I’d been hearing the kids singing their animal parts upstairs, and I really wanted to get a glimpse of their rehearsal. Halfway there, I heard a huge, enthusiastic voice that almost sounded amplified. Turns out it was assistant director, Nathan Rifenburg – who happens to have twice the energy of an average human being.

When I walked into the classroom, he was animatedly demonstrating monkey movements, bouncing around and bending down to pick imaginary bugs out of a kid’s hair. I was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, but it was just too awesome not to giggle. The best part was that the kids weren’t laughing at all. They took it all so seriously. Whenever Nathan told them to stand up, they immediately sprang up like jack-in-the-boxes. And their ark entrance scene—wow. They were so focused, and even if I couldn’t immediately tell what animal they were, I saw that they believed in it, and so I did too. The rest of rehearsal was delightful: the best parts included an impromptu “Doe-A-Deer” and Nathan’s colorful description of well-supported singing as “throwing your guts on the table.”

Flood #3

The day ended on an exciting note: as we were leaving, we received Noah’s Flood posters. It includes the names of all participating choruses and orchestras. The fact that we’re on the same poster as James Conlon is way too awesome to handle. And I had no idea that Ronnita Nicole Miller will be Mrs. Noye. I started spazzing out. (download the poster here)

As for us ensemble members, though?  Improvement: check. Tears: check. Pain: double check. We know what that means: this production is on its way to becoming something incredible.


The Flying Dutchman: Technical Preparation

Numerous puzzle pieces of scenery for our new production of The Flying Dutchman are assembled to create one cohesive and spectacular vision. 

Flying Dutchman Technical Preparation

This is an early view from the auditorium looking through to the backstage. This bridge weighs nearly 5000 pounds and is an integral and dynamic element of the scenery. The bridge “flies” in and out on cue, controlled by a computerized chain motor console.

Flying Dutchman Technical Preparation

The deck is composed of hundreds of individual pieces of structural steel. When fully assembled with its mirrored surface, the deck becomes the playing area for dozens of cast members.  

Flying Dutchman Scenery Stage Lighting

The  scenery as designed is comprised of layers of vivid imagery  that only become apparent when completed with show lighting and effects. In this image, final preparations are made for the first onstage rehearsal.


Dulce Rosa's New Life -- By Isabel Allende

In l987 I fell in love with a Californian and moved to the United States. We started living together and soon I realized I had no room of my own to write. It was impossible to tackle the long project of a novel, so I tried my hand at short stories, which I could write waiting for my lover in coffee shops and parks. I came up with 23 stories. Given my state of mind (or state of heart) at the time, they were all love stories. Most of them were timeless and located in unnamed places in South America.

One of the stories was called “Revenge” and it was the tragedy of a young woman called Dulce Rosa who spent years planning how to punish the man who had raped her and killed her family. It doesn’t sound like a love theme, does it? Trust me, it is. The story came to me whole, like a gift. I wrote it down in a sort of trance, in one sitting. It was published in a collection with the title Stories of Eva Luna. I did the required book tours and promptly forgot about it, never imagining that, more than 20 years later, Dulce Rosa would come back in a new form thanks to a couple of visionary artists. And what a delightful form it is indeed!

When Richard Sparks and Lee Holdridge first contacted me about transforming my story into an opera, I loved the idea but was quite skeptical regarding its feasibility. An opera is a very ambitious endeavor; in fact, it is so ambitious that it would be an endangered form of art without a handful of passionate lovers of the genre and idealists like Richard and Lee. I reread my story and realized that it lends itself well for the stage, so I accepted their proposal. However, I had little hope that it would ever see the limelight. They left and once again I forgot about Dulce Rosa. But they didn’t. For years they worked on the script, the lyrics and the music, they assembled a formidable team of musicians and singers, and they got Plácido Domingo to conduct. Deep thanks to Plácido Domingo, LA Opera and the Broad Stage for making these performances possible. Although some changes were necessary for the stage, they respected the essence of the story, and I believe that they also enhanced it. For example, they added new characters who were needed to make the plot clearer and they changed the ending. Richard explained to me that an open ending, like the one in the book, would not work in an opera, and I did not object because he has a lifetime of experience in this matters.

By the end of 2012 Richard and Lee came to my house in Marin County to show me on their PCs the result of all those years of dreaming and creating. I was able to hear the beautiful music composed by Lee, discuss the libretto written by Richard, hear most of the singers rehearsing, and see, in amazement, the fantastic sets that Yael Pardess and Jenny Okun imagined for this opera. I was very impressed. All that talent and effort invested in bringing my story to life! By the end of that unforgettable day I was on the verge of tears. Since then I have not been able to get the music and some of the scenes out of my head; they haunt me, as I hope they will haunt everyone who sees it.

Isabel Allende


Domingo-Thornton Young Artists Advance to Met National Council Finals

Soprano Tracy Cox and bass Matthew Anchel have advanced to the final round of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, one of the most prestigious voice competitions in the world. The last stage of the competition will take place in New York on Sunday, March 10, 2013, at a Grand Finals Concert where the finalists will perform with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Tracy Cox

Tracy is in her third season as a member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. She made her LA Opera debut in 2010 as Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro and most recently performed the role of Pisana in the season-opening production of Verdi's The Two Foscari.

While spending the summer at the Music Academy of the West, she was named the 2012 winner of the Marilyn Horne Song Competition, and in 2012, she sang the role of the Second Lady in The Secret Kingdom, conducted by James Conlon at the Colburn School. A former member of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio, she will return to Wolf Trap later this year to sing the role of Alice Ford in Falstaff.

Matthew Anchel

Matthew Anchel was a member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program during the 2010/11 season. He made his LA Opera debut as the Fourth Noble in Lohengrin and went on to perform the role of Count Ceprano in Rigoletto, while also covering leading roles in The Marriage of Figaro and The Turk in Italy.

During his season in Los Angeles, he created the role of Dr. Chasuble in the world premiere of Gerald Barry's The Importance of Being Earnest at the LA Philharmonic. He subsequently joined the ensemble of the Leipzig Opera, where he performed numerous roles. Earlier this year, he made his debut with Opera San Jose as Ferrando in Il Trovatore. In April, he will debut with Knoxville Opera as Alidoro in Cinderella (La Cenerentola), and he will return to Opera San Jose next season as Leporello in Don Giovanni and as the Bonze in Madama Butterfly.

The Grand Finals Concert will be hosted by soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, a past National Council Auditions winner is returning to LA Opera in May in the title role of Tosca. Last year, soprano Janai Brugger, who was a member of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program at the time, was one of the winners of the finals.

The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, which are celebrating their 60th anniversary this year, have been an important stepping stone in the career of many of the opera world’s leading artists. Twenty gifted young singers from around the country arrived in New York on February 28 to prepare for a March 3 semi-final round, in which they sang on the Met stage for the first time in their careers before a panel of judges. After deliberations, the panel narrowed the field to ten singers who move to the final phase of the competition on Sunday.

This year’s finalists, all between the ages of 20 and 30 years old, will compete for individual cash prizes of $15,000 each. The finalists were chosen from nearly 1500 singers who participated in the auditions held in 40 districts and 13 regions throughout the United States and Canada, 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 in North America for singers seeking to launch an operatic career.


Cinderella's Kate Lindsey Chats with Local Educators

Soprano Kate Lindsey, who will be stepping into the title role of Cinderella later this month, stopped by this weekend's Opera for Educators session to talk to local teachers about her role in the Rossini masterpiece.

Kate Lindsey/Cinderella

The award-winning Opera for Educators series explores opera from an interdisciplinary point of view allowing teachers to gain insight about opera and the historical context in which it was created.

Kate Lindsey/Cinderella

From time to time, they are also treated with visits from the stars of the opera's they are learning about, rehearsals and recitals. 

kate Lindsey/Cinderella

Additionally, teachers recieve up to two LAUSD salary points for their participation in the program.

Visit LA Opera.com for more information on Opera for Educators.


Noah's Flood Rehearsal: When the Opera Pixies Take Over

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Tickets become available tomorrow, March 14 at 10am.
 

With five upcoming tests, an essay to write, and a lost hour of sleep, I really didn't want to go to Noah’s Flood rehearsal on Sunday. I’d spent the weekend studying, sneezing, and wallowing in self-pity. When I finally dragged myself out of the house, though, everything changed. The opera pixies took over: the moment I signed myself in, all the stress disappeared, and I was ready to sing.

NF - Floyd coaching

Assistant Conductor Paul Floyd leads the adults in a music rehearsal.

The day started with a change of scenery. Instead of practicing in the auditorium as usual, we switched places with the children and went into the upstairs classroom. There, we reviewed the opening scene with assistant director Heather. Before I could get totally wrapped up in it, though, a few of us were pulled out for costume fitting. The group of us went into a small room, and we were greeted by costume designer Paula Higgins. After taking our measurements, she gave us costumes to try on. I loved mine immediately—it really looked and felt like water. I was reluctant to take it off, but I knew I’d see it a lot in the coming weeks, so I put it back on the hanger and returned to rehearsal.

Heather Lipson Bell

Assistant Director Heather Lipson-Bell

When we got back, we practiced the choreography with the singing and moved onto the storm scene. We waves didn’t have to learn the movements, so we stood off to the side and observed. It was so cool to just watch the scene develop—it gave us an idea of how it'll look to the audience.

After trooping downstairs and refining the opening a little more, most of the ensemble took a break. Those of us working with props, though, stepped up to rehearse with Heather and director Eli. Eli distributed wave fabric to each pair and determined our positions and cues. Then, we went over our movements and practiced engulfing the doomed. My and my wave-mate’s “victim” is absolutely terrifying when she begins drowning. To me, it looked like something out of a horror movie. Eli’s take on it was much different: he told our drownee that she’s supposed to look like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Whoever talks about opera and Star Wars in the same sentence is automatically my hero.

NF Adults Rehearsing 

Director Eli Villanueva leads the adults in a staging rehearsal.

With Eli’s instructions in mind, we put it all together, running through the whole storm scene with music. Since my wave-mate and I are standing at the front, we could watch the entire scene unfolding behind us. The effect is just astonishing. Enraptured as I was, I wouldn’t have minded staying longer, but time was up. Rehearsal ended with a few final announcements.

I signed myself out and walked through the door. As I left, I started remembering all that homework that lay in wait, and all that studying that had to be done. Somehow, though, it no longer looked so bad. I guess the opera pixies hadn’t abandoned me.


Tickets Available Now For Noah's Flood (Noye's Fludde)

Noah's Flood Key Art

LA Opera artists will collaborate with more than 300 members of the greater Los Angeles community for two performances of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood (Noye's Fludde) this spring at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Conducted by LA Opera Music Director James Conlon and presented as part of the Britten 100/LA celebration, the performances will take place at 7:30pm on Friday, April 19, and at 7:30pm on Saturday, April 20.

Thanks to generous longtime support from the Dan Murphy Foundation, LA Opera is able to produce Noah's Flood and offer it free of charge as a special gift to the community. Advance tickets are required for admission; there will be a $1 per order handling fee and a four-ticket limit per household. Tickets are available now and can be reserved online at www.laopera.org or by phone at 213.972.8001. But hurry, they won’t last long!

Noah's Flood is presented as part of Britten 100/LA: A Celebration, a series of events taking place to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of British composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). One of several Britten operas on Biblical subjects, Noah's Flood (Op. 59, 1958) is a colorful pageant where children play all the animal roles, parading two-by-two into the ark. Regarded as Britten’s most lovable work, the opera is based on one of the famous medieval Chester mystery plays, dating back to the 15th century.

Scored for a combination of both student orchestra musicians and a professional chamber ensemble, the opera features inspired and delightful musical innovations; for example, the raindrops are represented by the sound of a series of mugs of varying sizes slung on string and struck by wooden spoons.

Bass-baritone Yohan Yi will perform the role of Noah and mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller will be Mrs. Noah. Mr. Yi and Ms. Miller are former members of LA Opera's Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. Actor Jamieson K. Price will be heard as the Voice of God. The orchestra will include musicians from the LA Opera Orchestra performing alongside the Hamilton High School Academy of Music Orchestra and the Celebration Ringers of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. The performers will include teachers from LA Opera’s Opera for Educators program and students from LA Opera' annual Opera Camp, as well as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels Choir, the Beverly Vista Middle School Choir, students from the East LA Performing Arts Academy, the Holy Family Filipino Chorale and Children’s Concert Chorus, the Mariachi Conservatory, Pueri Cantores San Gabriel Valley, the Sacred Heart School Choir and Schola Cantorum, and participants in LA Opera's Zarzuela Project.

The stage director will be Eli Villanueva. The scenic designer is Carolina Angulo and the costume designer is Paula Higgins. The lighting designer is Tantris Hernandez. The sound designer is Jon Gottlieb and the prop designer is Melissa Ficociello.

Noah's Flood is part of the LA Opera Off Grand initiative, dedicated to presenting a wide variety of artistic exploration throughout a broad geographical area.

This production made possible by a generous grant from the Dan Murphy Foundation.

Special production support also received from the Britten-Pears Foundation, the City of Los Angeles, Department of Cultural Affairs, and Mr. and Mrs. Joseph A. Saunders.


Noah's Flood Rehearsal: "I Need a Stunt Double"

Muse Lee, our favorite high school blogger, has returned for a series on her participation in the Community Opera production of Benjamin Britten's Noah's Flood.  Performances are April 19 and 20 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Last week Friday, a miracle of biblical proportions took place: school finally ended. A long, glorious spring break stretched before me like the rainbow after the flood. The perfect way to celebrate its arrival was going to Noah’s Flood rehearsal stress-free.

And what a celebration it was. This was the most rewarding rehearsal yet: on Sunday, everything began to come together. For the first time, the ark was brought in. With it there, we went over our wave movements, and we confirmed our various cues. As we did, the “doomed” practiced getting engulfed. I said before that their drowning looked like a horror film scene, but during this rehearsal, director Eli changed it a bit. It just got a whole lot scarier. Now, it involves the drowned rolling around on the ground. I think the situation was summed up best by one of the victims: “I need a stunt double.”

Muse

While we worked the waves, the four guardian angels practiced maneuvering the ark for the first time. I almost lost focus on my movements because I couldn’t take my eyes off the ship. With our blue strips billowing around it, it sailed and rocked and veered. Later, I went up close to the ark, and I realized that it was only a frame with fabric. Though one of my fellow waves joked that we needed CGI, I heard one lady marveling at how incredibly well it worked. She was saying that this really shows the beauty of theater: the audience is not only given a story, but is also invited to fill in the gaps and complete it. It’s kind of like how when a tree falls in a forest, it technically only makes a sound if people are there to hear it. Or maybe it’s more like a coloring book. We provide the outline, and each audience member can fill the blank spaces with his or her own colors.

Ark far

After a short break, Eli got us back on our feet. It was now time to start working on the final scene. We figured out our entrances and exits and got a rough idea of the music. As we practiced, the people manipulating the rainbow sent it streaking back and forth over our heads. It was absolutely gorgeous, but as a wave, I could only imagine their pain once we hit the forty-minute mark.

Doomed

As usual, the three hours of rehearsal went by quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to go home. With rehearsal over, spring break officially began. I can’t ask for a more wonderful start!


Noah’s Flood Rehearsal: It’s All Coming Together

During a field trip last week, I mentioned rehearsal to one of my teachers. She asked me what show I’m doing, and I told her that it’s Noah’s Flood. “By Benjamin Britten?” she asked. “I did that show about 20 years ago!” She went on to tell me about her experience. It’s almost scary to think that in 2033, we’ll be talking about our production like that.

However, I decided to slow down and take it one rehearsal at a time — I mean, we haven’t even started rehearsing in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels yet. Rehearsal #5 took place on Saturday, instead of our usual Sunday. Because of the wicked L.A. traffic, it took a while for all of us to get to East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy. When almost everyone had arrived, though, we began rehearsal.

There was something new in the building that day: tape markings on the floor to delineate the Cathedral’s stage area. We knew what that meant. It was time to really get down to business. Sure enough, director Eli Villanueva announced that today would be our first stumble-through rehearsal, in which we’d put all the scenes we’d learned in sequence.

Muse and Eli

After some warm-up, we dispersed to our opening positions. All of us enter from different locations, and originally, a small group of us had to run halfway around the stage area to get to our initial positions.  A few injuries later, we found our number reduced to only two. Eli greeted us with the additional happy news that he had made an executive decision: by his decree, we now had to run around the entire stage. When we finally made it to our spots a geologic era later, we ended up gasping instead of singing. I didn’t know that I had signed up for operatic boot camp!  

After Eli worked with us on the physical, assistant conductor Paul Floyd gave us tips for the singing. He told us to really think about the verbs and to energize them. Now, it sounds less like a practiced mantra, and more like a sincere prayer. With all those repeating phrases, it’s easy to simply chant the words, but Paul helped us really find the color and intention in each one.

Katie and Eli

We transitioned from the opening scene to the ark entrance. The kids came downstairs to rehearse this, and since the adult ensemble isn’t in the scene, we got to sit down and watch. What a treat! Playing various types of animals, including birds, cats, and deer, the children paraded out, swooping, prowling, or prancing up the ramp and into the ark. My wavemate and I alternated between happily singing along with the animals and going insane because of the cuteness. By the time the mice came out, we were literally dying.

NF Lions

Luckily, break came next, so we had time to recover. We bonded over Shakespeare, dying oranges, and free verse about cement. As cheesy as it sounds, theater really brings people together and makes them bond over the most random things!

After break, we continued from right where we left off. With our animals in the ark, we proceeded to the flood scene. With all of us together for the first time, the power of the music ballooned us up, infusing the scene with an incredible collective energy. Instead of simply being the manipulator of a fabric strip, I keenly felt my own role in the drama. My wave and I had become a living, breathing character.

Birds

It’s really all coming together now. I can’t believe that we’re already halfway through the program, and only about three weeks away from the performance. And I can see it already—with each rehearsal, we’re also a little closer to 2033, when we’ll be talking on and on about Britten’s centennial year and that amazing production we put together.


jay Hunter Morris Returns to The Flying Dutchman for Final Two Performances

jay Hunter Morris

Jay Hunter Morris, one of today's tenors in the Wagnerian repertory, will return to LA Opera to perform the role of Erik in the final two performances of The Flying Dutchman on March 27 and 30. Mr. Morris had originally been scheduled to appear as Erik, but was forced to cancel his appearance when a severe case of gastroenteritis made it impossible for him to begin rehearsals in February. Corey Bix subsequently replaced Mr. Morris as Erik for the first two performances of The Flying Dutchman, but has had to withdraw from the production himself due to illness; the role was performed on March 21 and 24 by tenor John Pickle, who will remain in Los Angeles to cover the role. 

Jay Hunter Morris has previously appeared with LA Opera in 2006 as Unferth in the world premiere of Elliot Goldenthal's Grendel and in 2008 as Marky in the U.S. premiere of Howard Shore's The Fly. After 2011 appearances in the title role of Siegfried with San Francisco Opera, he has since performed that role in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung at the Metropolitan Opera. He will perform Siegfried again with the Met later this spring and he will appear in the 2016 Ring cycle at Houston Grand Opera.

He will reprise the role of Erik in The Flying Dutchman this summer at Glimmerglass Opera. He has previously performed Erik at Seattle Opera, Opera Australia, Arizona Opera and Atlanta Opera.  Other recent appearances include Captain Ahab in Jake Heggie's Moby Dick at San Francisco Opera, San Diego Opera and at the Adelaide Festival, and Tristan in Tristan und Isolde for Welsh National Opera and at the Edinburgh Festival. For more information about Mr. Morris, please visit www.JayHunterMorris.com.

The final two performances of Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman will take place on Wednesday, March 27, and on Saturday, March 30. Both performances will take place at 7:30pm. Tickets start at $19 and can be purchased in person at the LA Opera Box Office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, by phone at 213.972.8001 or online at www.laopera.org.



How to Design an LA Opera Production

Reposted from LA Weekly's Public Spectacle Arts & Culture Blog:

Cinderella (La Cenerentola)

LA Opera's current production of Rossini's La Cenerentola (aka Cinderella) has no glass slippers, no coach that turns into a pumpkin, no evil stepmother and absolutely no bippity boppity boo. But it is a fun visual feast, a comic opera in cartoon colors, thanks largely to the work of set and costume designer Joan Guillén. Guillén, who has taught set design in Barcelona for 40 years, makes his LA Opera debut with La Cenerentola, which opened to a sold-out house at the Dorothy Chandler on March 23.

Cinderella (La Cenerentola) - Alidoro Sketches

Gioachino Rossini, known especially for The Barber of Seville, was only in his twenties when he and his librettist pal Jacopo Ferretti cranked out La Cenerentola in three weeks, but he had already established himself as an innovative composer adept at mixing comedy with moments of pathos. Ferretti replaced the glass slipper with two sparkly bracelets and the fairy godmother with a Dumbledore-esque tutor/wizard. But otherwise, La Cenerentola, which premiered in 1817, has the catchy tunes and rapid-fire alliterative articulation for which Rossini is loved.Guillén, the LA Opera production's designer, is also a cartoonist, illustrator and sculptor, and he brought all of these sensibilities into play when designing the costumes and sets for La Cenerentola, incorporating animated colors and geometric forms into his pieces. He cites as influences Constructivism (an industrial, angular style with geometric elements) and, more recently, Minimalism (a design philosophy in which the simplest and fewest elements are used to create the maximum effect).

In La Cenerentola, large bustles and wirework give the designs a sculptural quality, and bold, primary costume colors illustrate character. "All of my scenic work is characterized by the use of a rich palette," Guillén says in an interview, translated from Spanish. "As a viewer, I'm tired of the abuse of black and white in many of the productions I see. It seems that scenic designers have a fear of using color."

However, Guillén says he distinguishes "between the use of vivid colors that illuminate personality in the characters from the color that I utilize in the scenery. In La Cenerentola, the scenery is at first gray, and later the light transforms into color planes. That always makes it a neutral background for the vivid colors worn by the characters, since they are the real stars."

For example, the hammy evil stepsisters sport Marge Simpson hair in nearly neon pink and yellow, with tiny feathered hats perched comically on top. The prince's courtiers wear cobalt blue wigs, the hems of their multi-tiered, multi-colored coats held out in a circle with wire.

Cinderella at the Ball

Inspired by the world of cartoons, he says, "I have incorporated in my scenic designs just the essential features needed to understand the character that's being portrayed or an element of the scene...In the operas of Rossini, the characters are direct, and show their souls as they appear. It's not a psychological theater, where you need to explain the whole opera to understand how a character is."My designs have to be clear and emphatic as they appear onstage," he adds. "For example, the use of the color violet to draw Don Magnifico [Cinderella's stepfather]: this color is a pale reflection of the former glory of another era, but shows he is still resisting fading away definitively."

As a reflection of her innocence, Cinderella is always clothed in pale, neutral colors, from her gray and beige rags to her shiny white ballgown, virginal veil and curled wig. Her only spot of color is her vibrant red hair, displaying that her "color" is a natural part of her, not an affectation like her garishly dressed stepsisters.

Although he says he gets "excited about any job," Guillén confesses that he would love to be able to apply his talents to a Wagner opera, with their drama and psychological complexity. "It would be a beautiful challenge."