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Blog entries posted during May 2014

LA Opera On Air Begins May 17 on KUSC 91.5FM and KUSC.org

For the 7th consecutive year, LA Opera and Classical KUSC have joined forces for LA Opera on Air, a weekly broadcast series of LA Opera performances recorded live at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Beginning with Bizet’s Carmen at 10am on Saturday, May 17, 2014, the weekly series will be hosted by KUSC’s Duff Murphy and features six operas from our 2013/14 season. Listen locally on Classical KUSC 91.5FM or internationally at www.KUSC.org

LA Opera on Air is made possible by a generous grant from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, spearheaded by the efforts of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. 

LA OPERA ON AIR WEEKLY BROADCAST SCHEDULE

Carmen (Georges Bizet) | May 17, 10am
No man can resist Carmen’s charms, but when she’s ready to move on, watch out! Mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon stars as the alluring Carmen, with tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Don José, the naïve soldier caught in her trap. Bass-baritone Ildebrando D'Arcangelo is Escamillo and soprano Pretty Yende is Micaëla. A riveting drama of love and jealousy, filled with famously alluring melodies and captivating dances, Carmen is one of the world’s most popular operas. Conducted by Plácido Domingo and sung in French. For artist bios, synopsis and more information, click here.  

Falstaff (Giuseppe Verdi) | May 24, 10am
Italian baritone Robert Frontali heads a top-notch cast in this unabashed celebration of Merrie Olde England’s lusty days and bawdy nights. When Shakespeare’s portly knight of Windsor hatches a plot to improve his love life by courting two different married women, he launches a flood of comic chaos and romantic misadventure. The cast also includes soprano Carmen Giannattasio and baritone Marco Caria. Conducted by James Conlon and sung in Italian. For artist bios, synopsis and more information, click here.  

The Magic Flute (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) | May 31, 10am 
A celebration of true love conquering all, The Magic Flute transports us into an enchanted world where good faces the forces of darkness. The world-class cast is led by tenor Lawrence Brownlee as Tamino, fast-rising soprano Janai Brugger as Pamina, and the dazzling Erika Miklósa as the Queen of the Night. Conducted by James Conlon and sung in German. For artist bios, synopsis and more information, click here.  

Billy Budd (Benjamin Britten) | June 7, 10am
Based on Herman Melville’s classic American tale, Billy Budd tells the story of the persecution and destruction of a pure-hearted sailor by a predatory master-at-arms. It's a tragedy of "sexual discharge gone evil," as librettist E.M. Forster described it, and a work that has captivated audiences around the world since its 1951 world premiere. Leading the all-male cast, baritone Liam Bonner is Billy, with tenor Richard Croft as Captain Vere. Bass Greer Grimsley is the evil John Claggart. Conducted by James Conlon and sung in English. For artist bios, synopsis and more information, click here.

Lucia di Lammermoor (Gaetano Donizetti) | June 14, 10am 
Forced by her family to marry against her will, Lucia descends into madness. Her chilling blood-spattered reappearance at the wedding reception has become one of the most iconic scenes in all opera. The extraordinary coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova shines in this tour-de-force of bel canto opera at its most powerful and dramatic, with tenor Saimir Pirgu as her secret lover Edgardo. Conducted by James Conlon and sung in Italian. For artist bios, synopsis and more information, click here.

Thaïs (Jules Massenet) | June 21, 10am
Thaïs, the most beautiful courtesan in Alexandria, holds the entire city in her thrall as she embraces life’s most sensual delights. One man alone, the monk Athanaël, weeps for her sins, but his pilgrimage to save the sinner’s soul becomes a tortured journey of erotic obsession. One of LA Opera’s favorite leading ladies, soprano Nino Machaidze returns as Thaïs, with Plácido Domingo as her would-be savior. Conducted by Patrick Fournillier and sung in French. For artist bios, synopsis and more information, click here.


"Streetcar" changes conductor

Evan Rogister

Evan Rogister will conduct LA Opera’s upcoming performances of André Previn’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Mr. Rogister replaces Patrick Summers, who has been withdrawn from the production due to a back injury, from which doctors expect a full recovery.

Mr. Rogister, a young American conductor who will make his LA Opera debut in this production, is no stranger to the work: he conducted A Streetcar Named Desire last year at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, in performances that starred Renée Fleming as Blanche DuBois. 

Click here to learn more about Evan Rogister.


7 Questions for Ryan McKinny

Ryan McKinny

Ryan McKinny made his LA Opera debut in 2008 as Montano in Otello, and has also appeared as the Servant in The Broken Jug, Dr. Grenvil in La Traviata, Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville and Leone in Tamerlano. (He'll also be back next season as Count Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro.) This month, you can see him as 

We sat down with Ryan to talk about how he prepared for the iconic role of Stanley Kowalski and what he does when he's not on stage.

How did the opportunity to sing Stanley Kowalski in come up?
I have worked with our conductor Patrick Summers many times and he has been a great mentor to me in my career. Also, the folks at LA Opera and I have been looking for a way to get me back for a few years now, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I have never worked with Renée before, and I am just so excited! She is truly the singular star of the opera world.  

Had you seen the 1951 film?  Did you watch (or rewatch) it after accepting the role of Stanley, or is that something that you have consciously avoided?
I had seen the film many years ago, and over the last six months have rewatched it several times. I don’t shy away from learning from other people’s work. The character of Stanley in the opera is written quite differently than the one in the play, so there is not a lot of danger of “copying,” but watching Brando’s approach and the choices he makes is inspiring.

Was this a role that had been on your radar as something you might want to do?
I first saw this opera on PBS when it premiered in San Francisco with Renée as Blanche and the great Rod Gilfry as Stanley. I was in college at the time and I never dreamed I would get to sing Stanley, much less with Renée Fleming and in my hometown of Los Angeles! It truly is a dream come true.

Do you have a dream role that you hope to sing someday?
I have already sung several dream roles: the title roles in The Flying Dutchman and in Rigoletto, for example. I still haven’t ever sung Don Giovanni which I’d love to do. Someday, if my voice develops in the right way, I would love to be able to sing Wotan and Hans Sachs. 

What do you like to do when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
I love spending time with my family. I am incredibly grateful that they are able to travel with me most of the time. We homeschool our kids so we can travel together and I take on some of the teaching responsibilities so that keeps me pretty busy. Other than that, I love baseball.  

When you’re not listening to opera, what’s your music of choice?
Currently my favorite playlist contains Heartless Bastards, The White Stripes, Rupa & the April Fishes, and Adele. But I love all kinds of music: bluegrass, jazz, hip-hop, pretty much anything done really well. 

What is your favorite thing to do while you are in Los Angeles?
Seeing friends and family, the beach, Disneyland, Dodger games, eating at In-N-Out. Sorry, I can’t pick just one. Oh, and also, singing.


Spotlight: Composer André Previn

Andre Previn

André Previn composed A Streetcar Named Desire in 1997, with Renée Fleming creating the role of Blanche DuBois. Last year, in connection with performances at Lyric Opera of Chicaco, Jack Zimmerman spoke to Mr. Previn and Ms. Fleming about composing and performing an opera based on the iconic Tennessee Williams play.

You came late to composing operas. Why was that?
Because nobody asked me to write one! I’ll tell you very frankly, I had a couple of ideas given to me by the intendants of various opera companies, but they never interested me. One guy who runs a very good opera house in France offered me a commission and sent me the libretto. I read it and then I called him up and told him, “This thing is going to come out sounding unmusical and ridiculous.” I can’t write a two- or three-hour opera where everybody onstage is in a toga. I don’t know how people in togas think or how they feel. So then I had a call from San Francisco a couple of months afterwards and Lotfi Mansouri, who was the general director there, asked if I’d be interested in A Streetcar Named Desire. “That’s something I really want!” I told him. The play, in its own way, is already an opera—just without the singing.

How do you start writing an opera?
I just start. The world’s worst feeling is to look at a blank page, but once you get a couple of pages done, things start to go. I knew I wasn’t going to have a real overture, and I wanted to have something that would set the scene. I realized Blanche would need a couple of honest-to-God arias, but I didn’t write those first—that’s always a bad idea. I’m rather primitive. I just go from the beginning and keep going.

Do you write at the piano?
No, I check at the piano. In other words, I write and then every once in awhile, if there’s something I doubt, I’ll play a little bit at the piano. But I don’t write at the piano.

What was the most pleasurable part of writing for Renée Fleming’s voice?
Just imagining how it would sound! I know her voice very well. I’ve done not only Streetcar with her, but also quite a lot of songs—song cycles and things, so I know what she likes and where she’s most comfortable. She can really sing absolutely anywhere. I remember one of the other people who sang Blanche. I went backstage after a rehearsal and I said, “Listen, this is just a question, but you know that B-flat up on top of that one aria—can you sing that pianissimo?” And she said, “No!” I thought that was extremely smart of her, and very sweet. She said, “If you want a pianissimo high B-flat, then go talk to Renée. I can’t do that.”

What was the most challenging scene to write?
I think the ending, from the rape on out. That was very hard. Once I got the idea that she should disappear upstage with just one trumpet playing, then I was okay, but I didn’t have that thought right away.

Do you set aside time every day to composeto sit down and write something?
That’s exactly the way to put it—write something. I don’t pretend that it’s going to be great. I don’t pretend that it’s even going to be good. But I want to write something every day.

Do you have a favorite opera or a favorite opera composer?
Yes [silence].

And it is…?
It depends on what century we’re talking about. Nobody ever wrote anything as good as Mozart. And when it comes to the last 100 years, I tend to be conservative. I love Benjamin Britten’s operas. Peter Grimes is really a masterpiece. I can hear it an endless number of times. I like most everything of Richard Strauss, too. But I’m not crazy about twelve-tone operas. Twelve-tone doesn’t sing, as far as I’m concerned. When I hear Don Giovanni or Figaro, I feel like waving the white flag and saying, “OK, forget it—I give up.”


Director's Note: Brad Dalton on A Streetcar Named Desire

Brad Dalton

How did your association with A Streetcar Named Desire begin?
My production originated at Austin Lyric Opera, where they wanted a less realistic approach. Streetcar has such incredibly descriptive, highly emotional music—to put it into two realistic rooms, going back and forth all night, seemed a mistake. The production was a little hallucinogenic and on the edge. The operatic gestures of the piece could come alive through huge, saturated light. I adapted those ideas for the 2003 performances by the London Symphony Orchestra, with Renée Fleming as Blanche and André Previn conducting, and for Chicago in 2013. At Washington National Opera, my staging was based on what I’d done in Austin.

How is this production different from the London version?
They were able to create an orchestra pit in London, so the setup was like a normal opera staging. Here, the orchestra is upstage at the back, with the singers downstage. The orchestra is also surrounded by a shell upstage, which can be used to create colors through lighting. Downstage is a huge platform that’s a little raked and leaning into the orchestra pit, and singers make entrances through the orchestra upstage.

This version must make certain stage directions tricky to present—for example, the drunken Stanley throwing the radio out the window.
It’s very necessary to see the violent side of Stanley. They make radios out of wood that can be smashed, and one of the poker players has a baseball bat, so Stanley takes the bat and smashes the radio with it onstage. That’s stronger than having him throw it out the window.

What other important directorial decisions figure in your staging?
The piece doesn’t have a chorus, but I have a group of seven actors, all of them believable as “Stanley types” with that kind of brutal sensibility, while also giving a sense of New Orleans onstage.

The singer playing the young collector doubles as the ghost of Blanche’s husband who died. He actually appears at the beginning of Act Two, but only in Blanche’s mind. She’s holding his love letters, and he just walks by her. The payoff is that later, in her monologue, the two of them come face to face and she can look him in the eye and say, “I know, I saw, you disgust me,” at which he runs out of the room.

I also have onstage an old relative from Belle Reve, who appears at the very beginning wearing a tiara. Then, at the end, when Blanche is going crazy in her monologue, the relative dresses her in an old Victorian gown and places the tiara on her head, as if she’s saying “Come back to Belle Reve.”

It’s hard to imagine an audience not feeling deeply for Blanche.
People want her to survive. Everyone can relate to that sense of injury, whether from some moment in our childhood, from our parents, or in our development as human beings. We have our inner version of ourselves that always feels underappreciated, misunderstood, and we long to express ourselves emotionally and completely, yet something in the world batters that and holds it back. Blanche is trying to remake herself. Maybe she’s lying about her past, but she tries to live civilly—as an English teacher who knows poetry and manners—to create a harmless illusion.

If Stanley hadn’t looked into Blanche’s past, she probably would have married Mitch, but he had to look back into her past and then drive her insane. Mitch throws her out, so there she is, trying to hang on to everything—this illusion she wants to present.

Stella becomes a more vibrant and complicated figure in the opera."Growing up at Belle Reve was full of trauma for Stella, and I think she simply ran away from that world of propriety and manners—from Blanche standing by the old relatives, staying with them until they died. The opposite of that, of course, is desire. Stella doesn’t mind getting down and dirty. “Why do you live in this place? It’s horrible,” says Blanche. The answer is, “I live here because this is who we are. You don’t know that yet?”

Roger Pines is the dramaturg of Lyric Opera of Chicago. Reprinted with permission.


A Streetcar Named Desire: What to Listen For

The tense opening of the opera plunges right into the chaotic New Orleans setting. Listen for the wide dissonant chords at the very beginning—they’ll recur frequently—with the brass instruments bending the pitch whenever they’re played. Bluesy and boozy, these chords suggest the shame Blanche feels at her own desires. In her scene with Eunice, for example, when Blanche mentions Belle Reve, these chords intrude on the gentle string orchestration; the memories of the home she has lost are forever tainted. We hear it moments later, when she searches for liquor in the apartment.

Blanche is the unambiguous vocal focus of the opera. She rarely leaves the stage, and has the first and last lines in the opera. But the first aria goes to her sister. In Stella’s aria (“I can hardly stand it when he’s away”), she describes her achingly physical need for Stanley. A gentle five-note melody, heard at her opening words, is repeated several times. It will return at the end of the act, when she reconciles with Stanley.

Blanche’s arias and monologues are riveting showpieces. Her first monologue (“I took the blows on my face”) is a dramatic recounting of the misfortunes leading to the loss of Belle Reve. An intrusive brass motive—the players are instructed to make it “vulgar”—reflects the torment she has endured. In contrast, her brief Act Two aria (“Soft people have got to shimmer and glow”) surrounds her with diaphanous orchestral radiance.

Near the end of Act Two, Mitch’s aria (“I’m not a boy, she says”) establishes his great capacity for love. It’s reminiscent of the music of Strauss, with appealingly chromatic harmonies in the strings balanced by a gentle horn solo.

Blanche’s particularly lovely first aria in Act Three (“I want magic”) is another showstopper, full of exquisite high notes, as she reveals her truest essence—too late, as it turns out.

Stanley, the least reflective character, doesn’t have an aria, making his impact through straightforward language and forceful declamation. The four-minute orchestral interlude when he rapes Blanche is a musical illustration of his brutality, with off-kilter rhythms, leering saxophone and brass, and aggressive percussion.

Blanche’s final aria (“I can smell the sea air”) is a mad scene of sorts, as she envisions the fantasy journey she is about to take. Listen for an aura of resignation.

Although Streetcar isn’t a jazz opera per se, André Previn’s years of playing jazz and scoring films shine through in the elements of jazz infused in the score. A striking example occurs in the aftermath of the violence at the end of Act One, in Stella’s wordless melody accompanied by plucked string bass. There’s an evocative noir touch in the trumpet solo that begins and ends Act Three; Blanche takes up this haunting melody for her famous last words.


Spotlight: Renée Fleming

Renee Fleming

Renée Fleming returns to LA Opera (May 18, 21, 24) as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

What is it about Streetcar and the role of Blanche DuBois that you find so appealing?
A lot of opera heroines are either glorious victims or virtuous saints. To be able to play somebody as complex as Blanche DuBois, even for an actress in the theater, is a real gift. We so rarely have characters like that in opera! I feel that the plays of Tennessee Williams are operas. All of them have a sort of melodrama that seems musical.

Then what does music bring to this?
What does the music bring to Otello? It enhances the story, creates drama and tension, and when there’s a moment of repose, the music fills in the blanks because music is not concrete – it’s completely abstract, so it adds another dimension. And André’s musical language is perfect for this story. He has the jazz element in his background and the late Romantic European tradition, too.

André Previn wrote the score of Streetcar with you in mind. Did you have any special requests for him?

I asked André if I could I have a set piece or two that I could perform in concert. Well, he gave me six! That was a lot. Several of them are really stunning and they work very well. I’ve been singing them ever since—“I want magic” and “Sea air” are pieces people absolutely love. There’s another one I’ve been singing lately—“Soft people.” It’s short, but it’s so beautiful.

Do you have a favorite spot in the opera?
The powerful scene at the end of Act Two, the duet with Mitch. These two people come together and decide to offer each other some comfort. And her explanation of why she’s in trouble and her confession about what happened with her young husband is incredibly powerful when it’s set to music. That’s such a wonderful scene!

What was it like working with André Previn during the rehearsal process?
The wonderful thing about André is that he’s so experienced in music and art in so many ways. He had no qualms, for instance, about cutting the orchestration so that we could be fully heard and understood – that was no problem for him. Other composers, particularly those who are new to opera, don’t want to give up any notes or any orchestra colors. André would say, “I couldn’t hear that word, so I’m cutting five instruments from the orchestration.” So pretty soon, we had a sparse and nimble orchestration that always lets the singers shine through.

Interviews with André Previn and Renée Fleming by Jack Zimmerman for Lyric Opera News, originally published in May 2013. Reprinted with permission.


See Opera's Two Greatest Stars at LA Opera This Weekend

Renee Fleming and Placido Domingo

No one ever seems to mention the opera in their lists of the best things about Los Angeles. But, really, there aren't a lot of cities in the U.S. or any place else where you can go see opera's two greatest stars, Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming, on consecutive days, as you could have on Saturday and Sunday this past weekend, and can again this coming weekend, in two L.A. Opera productions at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (Throw in Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky's recital this Thursday at the Chandler and the Philharmonic's staged "Così fan Tutte" conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at Disney Concert Hall over the next two weekends, and you've got a strong argument that, for a moment at least, L.A. really is once again the opera capital of the world.)...

Read the rest of this article and learn more about this incredible weekend of opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, Thais, Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming on LAist.com.


Grant Gershon renews contract as Resident Conductor

Grant Gershon

General Director Plácido Domingo announced today that Grant Gershon has renewed his contract at LA Opera’s Resident Conductor, effective through June of 2017.

“I could not be happier with Grant’s extraordinary work in Los Angeles,” said Mr. Domingo. “He is a superb and insightful conductor who has led some of our most unforgettable productions. His exemplary work with the LA Opera Chorus over the past seven seasons has made our chorus, without question, equal to that of the finest opera houses in the world. We are fortunate to have a musician of his caliber as a colleague and friend, and I am thrilled that we will be able to continue our remarkable partnership well into the future.”

“I’m delighted to continue working closely with Plácido Domingo and James Conlon in this capacity” said Mr. Gershon. “Many of my most profound musical experiences have been with LA Opera, both on the podium and ‘behind the scenes.’ It is extraordinarily gratifying for me to have a role in the powerful artistic growth of this company. As Resident Conductor of the LA Opera and Artistic Director of the LA Master Chorale, I am honored and humbled to play a part in the musical leadership of my native city.”

“Grant's contributions to the musical standards of the house have been enormous, and his great musicianship and warm positive personality have helped us all in continually improving the level of performances,” said James Conlon. “The mark of a great opera company is not measured in the stars who pass through, but by those who are its residents and perform night after night, season after season. The standards of the orchestra and chorus define the musical level of the theater. I could not have a better partner than Grant in pursuing our artistic goals.”

About Grant Gershon
Mr. Gershon was first named Resident Conductor of LA Opera in 2012, having served as Associate Conductor and Chorus Master since 2007. He made his LA Opera debut as conductor in 2009 with La Traviata. He also conducted the world premiere of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino in 2010, which was filmed for a subsequent telecast on PBS’s “Great Performances” and DVD release. In 2011, he conducted LA Opera’s presentation of Handel’s L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, choreographed by Mark Morris. Since then, he has also conducted LA Opera productions of Madame Butterfly (2012), Lee Holdridge’s Dulce Rosa (2013) and Carmen (2013). In the coming season, he will conduct LA Opera’s December 2014 revival of Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas.