We spoke to Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera's President and CEO, about director Barrie Kosky's double bill of Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. The two operas, written more than two centuries apart, come to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage for six performances from October 25 through November 15.
This is such an unusual pairing of operas. When did you become aware of Barrie Kosky’s production of this double bill?
I encountered Dido and Bluebeard at the Edinburgh Festival in 2012. My compelling interest in seeing the production was that I’m excited about Barrie Kosky and his work. His recent contract extension in Berlin speaks to his success in transforming what had been considered Berlin’s “third” opera house into one of the most exciting, and talked about, opera companies in the world. Last season, after seeing his staging of The Magic Flute in Berlin, we made quick work of offering Barrie’s U.S. debut by bringing that production to Los Angeles, where it was a sensation and became the talk of the town.
Barrie is a revolutionary figure in the opera world; while many directors and designers have a “fixed” aesthetic, Barrie rarely works with the same design team. Barrie is almost unique in this approach, and his idea of recruiting a creative team that is specific to his perspective on a particular work is fascinating. He thinks deeply about the material. For The Magic Flute, for example, Barrie went outside the world of opera and reached into British experimental theater for his team. Dido/Bluebeard has an entirely different aesthetic.
Why did LA Opera decide to include the production in the current season?
When there are artists that we find exciting—whether they are singers, designers or directors—we try to create opportunities for them to work with LA Opera and then work to hasten the process of bringing them here as often as possible. Barrie is one of those artists with whom we’re excited to embark on multi-year journey of exploration.
Dido and Aeneas will be a company premiere, and we hadn’t done a Baroque opera since Tamerlano in 2009. Its pairing with Bluebeard’s Castle made it even more appealing, because it gave us the opportunity to present a 20th-century masterpiece as well, and to demonstrate the full range of expression of both the art form in general and our company in particular.
Other than the idea of obsessive love leading to destruction, the two operas seem to be more different than alike.
There is a huge contrast between the musical modes of expression in this pairing. We start with a small Baroque orchestra for Dido, which is replaced by a Wagnerian-size orchestra for Bluebeard. Although the two operas have completely separate stagings, they do have this in common: they are presented with minimum scenery and maximum emotional impact.
The Dido and Aeneas scenery consists almost entirely of a long bench near the front edge of the stage. It provides a level of intimacy with the audience that is nearly unprecedented. It is a minimalist expression, but the effect is anything but minimalist.
Dido and Aeneas
Bluebeard’s Castle also appears minimalist, with a set consisting entirely of a large cantilevered turntable raked toward the audience, but it’s actually one of the largest scenic pieces that we’ve ever used. It’s packed with party tricks that express what’s behind each of the seven doors that Judith opens during the course of the opera. Doubles of the two soloists—three men for Bluebeard and three women for Judith—are also used as a means of expression. It’s a very intense experience, in addition to being one of opera’s greatest masterpieces.
How do you think audiences will respond to these unconventional stagings?
LA Opera has always been fairly revolutionary. The way we look at the art form, there is a growing confidence that opera can take different kinds of interpretations, which is one reason why it is both sublime and entertaining. Opera is living and breathing art form that constantly needs to move forward; at the same time we are also guardians of tradition. Since there wasn’t a home tradition of opera when we came on the scene in 1986, our audiences have always been open to the new. Of course, there are traditionalists in our audiences as well as experimentalists, but I think that both factions will find much to admire and enjoy in this production. I urge everyone to come see for yourself.