LA Opera presents two one-act rarities: William Grant Still's Highway 1, USA and Alexander Zemlinsky's The Dwarf
Music Director James Conlon conducts the double bill, directed respectively by Kaneza Schaal and Darko Tresnjak
(Los Angeles) January 23, 2024 — From February 24 through March 17, LA Opera will present a unique double bill conducted by Music Director James Conlon: the company premiere of William Grant Still's Highway 1, USA in a new production directed by Kaneza Schaal, and Alexander Zemlinsky's The Dwarf, presented in a revival of the company's acclaimed production directed by Darko Tresnjak.
"In a long-awaited return to the groundbreaking Recovered Voices initiative we launched in 2007, our double bill presents operas by major composers whose work, lauded in their time, fell into obscurity as a result of oppression," said Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera's president and CEO. "With our new production of Highway 1, USA, we hope to help establish a permanent place in the operatic repertoire for the music of William Grant Still. Alexander Zemlinsky's The Dwarf was a major artistic success for us in 2008, and I welcome its return to our stage in a highly anticipated revival. Each of these operas takes a unique approach to unrequited love and both stories are told through powerful, emotional music. I'm eager for Angelenos to experience these wonderful works."
About Highway 1, USA
The long-neglected opera by trailblazing composer William Grant Still (1895-1978) receives its Los Angeles premiere in a new production. Hailed as "the dean of African-American composers," Still was the first Black composer to have a symphony performed by a major American symphony orchestra (Symphony No. 1, "Afro-American," at the Rochester Philharmonic in 1931) and the first to have an opera produced by a major American opera company (Troubled Island at New York City Opera in 1949). He became the first Black conductor to conduct a major American symphony orchestra when he led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a 1936 concert of his own compositions at the Hollywood Bowl. He wrote more than 150 works, including operas, ballets, symphonies and chamber pieces.
Despite his successes and the quality of his work, his compositions, especially his operas, became less frequently performed over time. Composed in the 1940s, Highway 1, USA wasn't performed until 1963 and received its professional premiere only in 1972. The opera didn't have a major professional production until it was presented by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2021.
The story of Highway 1, USA follows a hardworking Black couple, Bob and Mary, who have scrimped and saved to put Bob's younger brother through college. After the ne'er-do-well Nate attacks Mary for refusing his advances, the couple come together to focus on building a better life for themselves.
The leading roles of Bob and Mary are performed by baritone Norman Garrett, who made his company debut as Abdul in Omar in 2022, and soprano Nicole Heaston, who first appeared with the company as Musetta in La Bohème in 2007. Tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali makes his company debut as Nate.
The cast also includes mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel as Aunt Lou and bass-baritone Alan Williams, a member of the company's Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, as the Sheriff.
The creative team for Highway 1, USA reunites several artists from the company's 2022 hit production of Omar: director Kaneza Schaal, production designer Christopher Myers, co-scenic designer Amy Rubin and lighting designer Pablo Santiago. They are joined by co-scenic designer Cheyanne Williams and costume designer Charlese Antoinette, who are making their company debuts. Jeremy Frank is the chorus director.
About The Dwarf
The Viennese composer Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942) had written four operas by 1910. From 1911 to 1927, he lived in Prague where he conducted operas at the Deutsches Landestheater. His opera The Dwarf, dating from this period, is one of the highlights of his œuvre. Beginning in 1931, he taught at the Music Academy in Berlin, but he was forced to resign after the seizure of power by the Nazis. After Hitler's invasion, he fled with his family to New York where he died in 1942, a broken man. After his death, his music was more or less disregarded, and it was not until the 1970s that his central works began to be rediscovered.
Based on the story The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde—a story of unrequited love that Zemlinsky felt personally connected to—The Dwarf premiered in Cologne in 1922. LA Opera's current presentation is a revival of a production first seen in Los Angeles in 2008. The story revolves around a birthday celebration for a young Spanish princess. Along with her gifts, she is presented with a Dwarf, who falls in love with her. She toys with his affection before callously rejecting him. Devastated, he dies of a broken heart.
Tenor Rodrick Dixon returns to sing the title role of the Dwarf, a role he performed in LA Opera's 2008 performances of the opera. Soprano Erica Petrocelli, a former member of the company's Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, performs the role of the princess, Donna Clara. The cast also includes bass Kristinn Sigmundsson as the court chamberlain Don Estoban and soprano Emily Magee as Ghita, Donna Clara's favorite maid.
The creative team is led by director Darko Tresnjak, scenic designer Ralph Funicello, costume designer Linda Cho, lighting designer Pablo Santiago, chorus director Jeremy Frank and choreographer Bill Burns.
Click here to download production photos and artist headshots.
Performance Dates, Times and Address
There will be six performances of the double bill presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012:
- Saturday, February 24, 2024, at 7:30pm
- Sunday, March 3, 2024, at 2pm
- Wednesday, March 6 , 2024, at 7:30pm
- Saturday, March 9, 2024, at 7:30pm
- Thursday, March 14, 2024, at 7:30pm
- Sunday, March 17, 2024, at 2pm
Tickets begin at $29 and are on sale now. Tickets can be purchased online at LAOpera.org, by phone at 213.972.8001, or in person at the LA Opera box office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90012). For disability access, call 213.972.0777 or email LAOpera@LAOpera.org.
More information about the production is available at LAOpera.org/RecoveredVoices.
Highway 1, USA is sung in English. The Dwarf is sung in German. Both operas will feature projected subtitles in English.
About the Recovered Voices initiative
With its racist ideology and systematic suppression—particularly (although not exclusively) of Jewish musicians, artists and writers—the Nazi regime silenced two generations of composers and, with them, an entire musical heritage. The suppression of these composers and musicians caused the greatest single rupture in what had been a seamless transmittal of German classical music. Music Director James Conlon has made it his personal mission to bring the works of these lesser known composers to the stage for much-deserved recognition.
LA Opera’s Recovered Voices initiative, launched in 2007, is one of the company's most important and celebrated artistic achievements. Through it, LA Opera became the only major American opera company to regularly program the works of composers affected by the rise of the Third Reich. Made possible thanks to generous support from Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation, Recovered Voices has not only been a welcome journey into the supercharged emotions and lush imagery of late Romantic music, it has been a critical step in bringing some of the great lost masters of opera to light. Through the initiative, LA Opera programmed important presentations of Alexander Zemlinsky's A Florentine Tragedy and The Dwarf, the West Coast premiere of Walter Braunfels's The Birds and the U.S. premieres of Viktor Ullmann's The Broken Jug and Franz Schreker's The Stigmatized.
About LA Opera
Los Angeles is a city of enormous diversity and creativity, and LA Opera is dedicated to reflecting that vibrancy by redefining what opera can be. Through imaginative new productions, world premiere commissions, and inventive performances that preserve foundational works while making them feel fresh and compelling, LA Opera has become one of America’s most exciting and ambitious opera companies.
In addition to its mainstage performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the company explores unusual repertoire each season through the LA Opera Off Grand initiative, featuring performances in a variety of venues throughout Los Angeles. The LA Opera Connects initiative offers a robust variety of educational programming and community engagement offerings that reaches people throughout every corner of Los Angeles County. The company also offers a multitude of online content via its LA Opera On Now digital offerings, which launched in 2020. Learn more at LAOpera.org.
LA Opera Media Contact
Director of Communications
Production made possible by generous support from Gregory Annenberg Weingarten, GRoW @ Annenberg
Founding and ongoing leadership support for the Recovered Voices project provided by Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation
Principal underwriting support provided by a generous anonymous gift
Special additional support from Thurmond Smithgall and The Lanie & Ethel Foundation
With special appreciation to Régina and Gregory Annenberg Weingarten
Special additional support for Highway 1, USA from National Endowment for the Arts
Kaneza Schaal’s direction of Highway 1, USA generously underwritten by a gift from The Piera Barbaglia Shaheen Next Generation Artist Award
LA Opera Orchestra generously underwritten by Terri and Jerry Kohl
LA Opera is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the greater Los Angeles community.