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Finding Light in 2020

Posted on: December 16, 2020

In our 35 years of bringing opera to Los Angeles, this last year was definitely one of the most challenging. For us and for everyone else... for a lot of different reasons. But we’re not here to relive that. Instead, we’re finding a bit of light through all the darkness and sharing a moment of gratitude for those few moments (and people) at LAO that helped shape our 2020. 

1. The world premiere of Eurydice

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John Holiday as Orpheus Double (left), Joshua Hopkins as Orpheus (center), and Danielle de Niese as Eurydice (right) in a scene from "Eurydice" (Photo: Cory Weaver)

Our 2020 started off with a world premiere fit for the gods. The mythological heroine Eurydice stepped out of Orpheus’s shadows and into a national spotlight on February 1st. Three MacArthur Geniusescomposer Matthew Aucoin, librettist Sarah Ruhl and director Mary Zimmermanteamed up with an incredibly talented cast and crew to create an opera entirely from scratch. This world premiere had it all: dramatic sets with flying elevators, hundreds of handmade asphodel blooms, stunningly crafted costumes for stones and gods alike and beautiful performances from everyone on the bill. Eurydice was certainly a production to remember and one worth lots of celebrations (sans a trip to the Underworld). 

2. Roberto Devereux 

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A scene from "Roberto Devereux" (Photo: Cory Weaver)

Roberto Devereux was our second (and final) live mainstage production of 2020. And trust us when we tell you it took a lot for it to get there. But a few unexpected cast changes aren’t enough to keep the Queen out of Court (aka, off our stage). When Angela Meade, Ramón Vargas, and Quinn Kelsey finally made their royal entrances, Bachtrack told audiences to “run, not walk, to snatch up tickets.” 

3. LAO at Home and LA Opera On Now 

Once our stage went dark, we knew we had to keep the music going. After all, opera is bigger than any one theater. We were the first major opera company to bring you a weekly schedule of online programming you could enjoy from the comfort of your couch, aptly called LAO at Home. 

Living room recitals full of sweet lullabies sent your little ones (and, truthfully, us) off into a calming, blissful dreamland at the start of all this uncertainty. We got the opportunity to see and interact with some of our favorite artists in new—and more personalways (like getting a tour of Rod Gilfry’s home cocktail bar or Lawrence Brownlee’s impromptu guitar-playing encore). We shared more cocktails with Jeremy Frank, as well as coffee with Maestro Conlon, and lively conversation with both. Esther the Opera Dog made her big debut while Jamie Chamberlain and Nathan Granner taught our kids how to sing out loud.  

And the best part? 

You stuck with us while we worked out the kinks of our first live streams, planned all different kinds of offerings and figured out the best ways to bring you all the opera you want—at the artistic caliber you expect—to your favorite home screen. And through those first months of trial and error, we reimagined our at home opera experience to one even better: LA Opera On Now 

Through this new initiative, we’re able to connect with you like never before and share all different kinds of new opera in new ways. You can explore all it has to offer here. 

4. Lift Every Voice 

In June, long overdue conversations about racism and injustice were taking place all over the country. Classical music, one of the oldest genres around, needed to address its longstanding history of Black oppression in the art form. To start explicitly and seriously addressing these historic issues, we teamed up with acclaimed mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges to host a conversation focused on opera, Lift Every Voice. J'Nai Bridges moderated the panel, discussing these important issues with a group of renowned artists including Julia Bullock, Lawrence Brownlee, Russell Thomas, Karen Slack and Morris Robinson. These six artists spoke openly, eloquently and bluntly about their experiences as Black Americans in the opera industry. We are extraordinarily grateful for their time, grace and candor in participating in this profound and necessary conversation.

5. Your Support 

Nothing in 2020 went according to plan. But one thing that really didn’t go according to the original plan was our 35th Anniversary Gala. Our milestone celebration, and biggest fundraiser of the year, was supposed to take place on the plaza during a cool autumn night after a spellbinding performance of Il Trovatore; everyone dressed in their glamorous best with an abundance of bubbly and festivities abound. Obviously, those plans got scrapped and we had to start from scratch. The bright side? We were able to put together an entirely new gala experience that ended up being our most successful yet. 

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While we’re here, we just want to say again how incredibly thankful we are for all of your support. There’s no way we would’ve made it this far without it. Whether you’ve been with us long before the pandemic, had your love of opera blossom during shutdown or find yourself tuning in to a recital or two every now and then, we’re eternally grateful for all of it. And for all of you. Thanks to the generous support of opera lovers like you, we were able to raise $2.6 million for the LA Opera Relief Fund since the beginning of March.

6. The Anonymous Lover  

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Tiffany Townsend (left) as Léontine and Robert Stahley (right) as Valcour, with dancers Andrea Beasom and Daniel Lindgren, in a scene from "The Anonymous Lover" (Photo: Lawrence K. Ho)

Who doesn’t love a good rom-com? Even more so when it’s a musical work of art that’s gone unnoticed for far too long. The Anonymous Lover was a triumphant moment for us for a lot of different reasons: it was our first full-scale production since the Dorothy Chandler closed its doors back in March; it gave us the opportunity to work with a ton of new talented faces (and rekindle our partnership with the Colburn School); it gave pioneering Black composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, some well-deserved time in the spotlight after centuries of unjust neglect; and it was the inaugural presentation of our LA Opera On Now initiative. To see just how much we had to overcome to make this happen, take a look at this video here.  

7. The Five Moons of Lorca  

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Choreographer and dancer Irene Rodríguez in a scene from "The Five Moons of Lorca"

Digital Shorts, our newest inventive operatic endeavor, kicked off December 11th with a reimagining of Gabriela Lena Frank’s 2016 choral work The Five Moons of Lorca (Las Cinco Lunas de Lorca). Featuring original text by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz, this piece takes its inspiration from the real-life story of poet Federico García Lorca. The beauty of Lorca’s life, as well as its tragic end, was captured in a powerful performance featuring choreographer and dancer Irene Rodríguez, countertenor Jacob Ingbar, members of the LA Opera Chorus and pianist Nicholas Roehler. These elements all came together under the direction of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Matthew Diamond in a haunting short film filled with drama and mystery. You can still watch this beautiful work for free here through December 25th. 

8. Our Team 

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You know the phrase “It takes a village?” Our LAO team is the best village we know. It takes every member of our 300+ team to ensure opera’s future in Los Angeles in spite of all of the odds stacked against us. Whether we’re answering your phone call in the box office, recording music at home, planning the next livestream, spec'ing out our return to the stage, or a million other things, we are determined not only to keep this operatic ship afloat, but to keep serving you with the amazing opera you’re used to.  

From all of us at LA Opera, have a safe and healthy holiday season and thank you for sticking with us through the ups and downs (and more downs) of 2020.