LA Opera presents The Anonymous Lover
James Conlon conducts the online stream of a long neglected 1780 comic romance by pioneering Black composer Joseph Bologne, directed by Bruce Lemon, Jr.
(Los Angeles) October 14, 2020 — On November 14, 2020, LA Opera will present the company premiere of The Anonymous Lover (L'Amant Anonyme), a 1780 opera by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), who is widely regarded as the first Black classical composer known to history.
Conducted by James Conlon, the company's Richard Seaver Music Director, and directed by Bruce Lemon, Jr., in a socially distanced stage setting at the Colburn School, the performance will be streamed online for free to reach a wide audience.
The Anonymous Lover will be the inaugural presentation of the company's new LA Opera On Now platform. After becoming the first major American opera company to respond to stay-at-home orders by launching an acclaimed series of unique LA Opera At Home online offerings, the company is now making streaming a permanent part of its programming. Under the On Now banner, the company will shine the spotlight on new and innovative interpretations of opera that viewers in Los Angeles and beyond can enjoy on screens, even after stay-at-home recommendations are lifted. To date, the company reports more than 750,000 views of its online programming since its launch on March 17, 2020, demonstrating a clear demand for such content.
According to Christopher Koelsch, the company's Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and CEO, "This presentation of The Anonymous Lover gives us many reasons for celebration. An unjustly neglected piece long overdue for a return to the opera stage, the opera reminds us that artists of color have created, performed and worked in the field of classical music for centuries, too often facing insurmountable odds. I'm thrilled to work with stage director Bruce Lemon, Jr., for the first time, in our efforts to help bring this remarkable work back to its rightful place in the repertoire."
Not only does The Anonymous Lover launch the new On Now initiative, it's also the company's first stage production since the stay-at-home orders began. "I know that our soloists and orchestra members are eager to return to doing what they love," continued Koelsch. "It's important to note, first and foremost, that LA Opera is committed to the health and well-being of our artists, audiences and employees. We have been working closely with COVID compliance officers to ensure everyone's safety. Our team has had to reimagine virtually every aspect of this production, and I'm delighted to see the creativity and enthusiasm that the entire company has brought to the project."
"I have long taken a special interest in music by composers whose names and works have been virtually eliminated from history," said Conlon. "LA Opera audiences know this well; the Recovered Voices project introduced them to a part of the extraordinary literature of works by composers whose music was banned and whose lives were disrupted—or worse—by the Third Reich. Our presentation of The Anonymous Lover, by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, is a worthy extension of that mission. Both the opera and the composer, born in Guadeloupe of a French father and a Senegalese mother, have been essentially ignored over more than two centuries, unquestionably because of the composer's race. It is worth noting that he was celebrated in his time as a Renaissance man: a prodigious fencing champion and master, overall sportsman, violinist, conductor and composer. Although there is much of his life that is incompletely documented, it is known that he lived under the same roof with Mozart when the younger composer came to Paris for the third time and there is suggestive evidence that Mozart took some very important ideas from the elder Saint-Georges. Just as important, it was Saint-Georges himself who traveled to meet Haydn in Esterhazy, commissioned six symphonies from him (later to become known as Haydn's Paris Symphonies), edited them for publication and conducted the premieres with his own orchestra. With this special online performance, I hope that opera lovers throughout Los Angeles, and well beyond, will enjoy this opportunity to hear music whose music, a quintessential product of the Classical period, is ripe for rediscovery."
"The opera is about a fear of expressing love, a breakdown in communication, something that we're all dealing with right now," said Lemon. "The entire world is having a shared experience of not being able to communicate in the ways we used to do. There's something special about people finding ways to connect with each other, even when everything is against them. Even when all we know is on fire, we're still finding ways to connect more honestly and intimately than ever before. Of course, there is no way to do this opera without talking about why we don't know Joseph Bologne or his work today. It's an opera by a Black composer who died in relative obscurity. And this is because of racism, period; facts are facts. Aside from his art, he was a soldier, fighting for the revolution. Throughout history and around the world, many of the creations and accomplishments of Black people have been erased or buried, so for us to elevate this work to the public consciousness, especially now, against the backdrop of our current revolution, feels important and timely. Just to know someone like Joseph existed and thrived against such opposition is inspiring."
The Anonymous Lover is produced and streamed in partnership with the Colburn School, which will concurrently and collaboratively engage in a performance-based exploration of the works and legacy of Joseph Bologne. Colburn Conservatory students will perform works by Bologne and other Black composers during an LA Opera Connects seminar on November 7, as part of a session exploring the lost music of composers of color led by Colburn faculty member Dr. Tiffany Kuo. The Viano String Quartet will perform Bologne's String Quartet Op. 6, No. 1, as part of their December 20 Colburn Artist Series performance.
How to Watch
Free digital tickets for The Anonymous Lover are now available at LAOpera.org/Lover. The stream will premiere at 5pm on Saturday, November 14.
About the Opera
The comic romance tells the story of Léontine, a beautiful young widow who has become disillusioned with the idea of love. For years, she has received a steady stream of love letters and gifts from an unknown man who professes his undying passion. This amuses her friend Valcour, who also claims to have no interest in affairs of the heart. But now, after hiding his true feelings for so long, Valcour finally works up the courage to reveal that he himself is Léontine's devoted secret admirer. Will his awkward confession sway a heart sworn to resist all affection?
The Anonymous Lover premiered on March 8, 1780, in the private theater of the Marquise de Montesson, wife of the Duke of Orléans, who appointed composer Joseph Bologne as the music director of her theater and gave him a residence in the ducal palace. The libretto was adapted from a play by the celebrated writer Madame de Genlis. It is the only one of his operas that survives in complete form.
The opera follows the conventions of 18th-century French opéra-comique, which include spoken dialogues between the arias and ensembles, as well as prominent dance numbers. LA Opera's performance will be sung in the original French (with English subtitles), with the dialogues spoken in English translation.
As a musical bonus, LA Opera's performance will incorporate an aria from Bologne's first opera, Ernestine, of which only fragments exist today. The aria has been given to the character Dorothée, originally a spoken (non-singing) role.
The cast is made up of singers from the company's young artist program. Tenor Robert Stahley sings the title role of Valcour, the secret admirer. Soprano Tiffany Townsend portrays Léontine, the woman who has captured Valcour's heart.
Soprano Alaysha Fox appears as Léontine's friend Dorothée and baritone Michael J. Hawk appear as Ophémon, enlisted by Valcour to assist in the deception.
Mezzo-soprano Gabriela Flores and countertenor Jacob Ingbar portray the young lovers Jeannette and Colin, whose wedding provides a delightful backdrop for the opera's happy ending.
The Creative Team
Music Director James Conlon will conduct the LA Opera Orchestra. The production is directed by Bruce Lemon, Jr., who makes his company debut. A Los Angeles native, Lemon is the Artistic Director of Watts Village, Associate Artistic Director/Ensemble Member with Cornerstone Theater Company and an Illyrian Player.
Sets and projections are designed by Hana S. Kim, whose previous LAO credits include Wonderful Town. Costumes are designed by Misty Ayres and lighting is designed by Pablo Santiago. The choreographer is Andrea Beasom Lindgren. Ariane Helou serves as dramaturg for the production, which takes place at the Colburn School's Zipper Hall (with no audience members physically present).
Joseph Bologne was born in 1745 on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, the son of an enslaved woman of Senegalese origin and a French plantation owner. When Joseph was eight, his father sent him to France to be educated, and he remained there for most of his life.
He first came to fame as the best fencer in France. At the age of 17, Joseph was made an officer of the king’s guard and given the title “Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges.” He began his professional career as a musician with Les Concerts des Amateurs. He made a sensational debut as a soloist with that orchestra in 1772, playing two violin concerti of his own composition. The following year, he was named the orchestra's conductor. Under his leadership, it became regarded as the finest orchestra in Paris and one of the finest in all Europe. In 1781, Bologne became director of a newly formed orchestra, Le Concert Olympique. He notably conducted the world premieres of Haydn's six "Paris Symphonies" with that orchestra in 1786. Throughout this decade, he composed string quartets, violin concertos, symphonies concertantes, operas and other works.
When the French Revolution broke out, he distinguished himself as a war hero. In 1791 he was appointed the colonel of the Légion Franche de Cavalerie des Américains (American Free Legion of Calvary), which was comprised mostly of men of color; it soon became known as the Légion Saint-Georges. After the Revolution, his close ties to the aristocracy made him the object of suspicion. He was jailed without a trial in 1793, on false charges, for nearly a year.
In the final two years of his life, he was the director of a new orchestra, Le Cercle de l'Harmonie.
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 with thrilling performances, thought-provoking productions and innovative programming. The communal and curative power of opera is needed now more than ever before, especially given the extraordinary challenges of the time. As LA Opera awaits its cue to return to the stage with world-class productions in person, the company is offering a multitude of opera content including live recitals, opera broadcasts and learning opportunities via its LA Opera On Now (formerly At Home) digital offerings, which have accumulated over 750,000 views since its launch on March 17, 2020. The company is grateful to its supporters for helping to ensure that it has the resources needed to get through this unprecedented period through the LA Opera Relief Fund. Those wanting to support LA Opera can visit LAOpera.org/donate.
About the Colburn School
The Colburn School comprises four academic units united by a single philosophy: that all who desire to study music and dance should have access to top-level instruction. Units of the School are: The diploma- and degree-granting Conservatory of Music, a preeminent training ground for professional musicians; the Music Academy, a pre-college program preparing musicians to study at top conservatories; Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, a comprehensive dance program including the elite pre-professional Dance Academy; and the Community School of Performing Arts, offering a graded curriculum of private lessons and group instruction in music performance, appreciation, and theory for everyone, from the youngest children to adults. Together, these units provide performing arts instruction to more than 2,000 students from around the world, with a renowned artist faculty who serve as invaluable mentors guiding the students’ artistic development.
LA Opera Media Contact
Vanessa Flores Waite
Director of Communications
Production made possible with generous support from the Colburn Foundation.
LA Opera's Young Artist Program is generously underwritten by the Colburn Foundation, Eugene and Marilyn Stein, and Richard and Lenore Wayne.
LA Opera is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving the greater Los Angeles community.