“I want to infect you [with classical music], it's contagious, (and healthy) and I want you to love music for the rest of your life.”
An hour before an opera production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, opera connoisseurs and those who are curious about the sophisticated yet ever-youthful and vivacious art form, graciously walk up to the second floor, which is so elegantly decorated with breathtaking chandeliers and a view that overlooks the city. They make their way to the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall where hundreds of chairs are in place for a pre-performance talk, generously sponsored by the Opera League of Los Angeles.
For the first onstage production of the year, The Marriage of Figaro, one of classical music’s greatest conductors and LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director, Maestro James Conlon, is once again leading the series of pre-performance talks. “My history of the pre-performance talks here in LA goes back now 12 or 13 years, and I've been very happy with the massive attendance that has been shown over the years,” says Conlon. “It all got interrupted by COVID, and that was disappointing, but it allowed us to explore different media like recording podcasts. However, I am thrilled because it's live again.” Conlon’s pre-show talks are instrumental in putting the composer, the work, history, and the music in context as he takes audiences through an experience that sets the excitement and curiosity in place for the performance. He believes that sharing context about the works with the public increases their interest and their involvement. “I’ve talked to some people,” he says, “who feel that if they don’t have an education or knowledge of classical music, they can’t appreciate it; the truth is you don’t have to have any education. You can love listening to classical music without knowing anything.”
The Marriage of Figaro is one of Mozart’s more popular compositions as it is referred to as opera’s romantic comedy and is a great place for those who aren’t familiar with the operatic art form to start. “In planning my talks, I include a lot of music when the work or the vocabulary of the composer is unfamiliar. In the case of Mozart, I concentrate on the rich context of the play and its times, and its deep relevance more than 200 years later. Mozart's music is so accessible, even on first hearing, that I prefer to draw attention to the structure and characteristics of a Mozart opera,” Conlon explains.
Read Maestro Conlon’s analysis of The Marriage of Figaro: Mozart and Da Ponte's Battle of the Sexes and the Class Struggle here.
Above: James Conlon conducts the LA Opera Orchestra in the pit during a rehearsal of The Marriage of Figaro, as Ana Maria Martinez performs the role of the Countess onstage.
“I always ask people at the beginning of the talk, ‘how many of you are seeing this for first time?’ or ‘how many of you have never been to the opera?’” He does this because he has a message for them: “You're particularly welcome because I want to infect you [with classical music]. I want you to get this, and it's contagious (and healthy) and then I want you to love music for the rest of your life. That's what I've got on my mind.”
For those who have already gained a love and understanding of opera, Maestro Conlon takes a deeper dive into the mind of Mozart and his complex work that on the surface provides a jovial story, but underneath explores the realities of human nature and conditioning. With his charismatic personality and snippets of music embedded in the talks, he leaves audiences with a breadth of knowledge in an engaging and captivating way.
Over the years, James Conlon has created a wealth of content for LA Opera audiences that includes videos, essays, podcasts and more. For a deep dive, check out LAOpera.org/Conlon.