Los Angeles Opera

LA Opera's La Belle et la Bête

Laopera-belle-bete* Notes *
LA Opera just did a short but sweet run of Philip Glass' La Belle et la Bête with the Jean Cocteau film at the ACE Hotel Theatre. It is hard to imagine a cooler venue for the production, the flagship movie house of United Artists is glorious in its 1920s splendor, decked out in Halloween finery.

Seven members of the accomplished Philip Glass Ensemble, including music director and conductor Michael Riesman, played from the stage along with the four fine singers. There were moments when the singing of the score did not synchronize with the lips of the actors, but this is to be expected, since speaking and singing take different amounts of time. Perhaps Cocteau's 1946 film hasn't aged very gracefully, there is a bit of a kitsch factor here and this produced a fair amount of giggles from the audience, especially the first glimpse we get of the Beast and his transformation to Price Ardent at the end.

The singers navigated the difficult music very nicely, everyone but La Belle has to sing more than one role. I liked the contrast of the two female singers and the parallel contrast of the two male ones as well, even though it was hard judge the weight of their voices given all the amplification. Mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn had a honeyed sound as La Belle, with throaty richness and ethereal high notes. Soprano Marie Mascari was suitably shrewish as mean sisters Félicie and Adélaïde, but her voice was not too shrill or unpleasant. Baritone Gregory Purnhagen (La Bête, Officiel du Port, Avenant, and Ardent) sounded bright and flexible, while baritone Peter Stewart (La Père and Ludovic) sounded plusher and mellower.

This was certainly immersive theater, and it is easy to see why LA Opera chose the piece for its Off Grand series, which aims to attract new audiences.

* Tattling *
I only barely made it to DTLA in time for the Sunday matinée, as the Burbank airport was fogged in. My morning flight from Oakland was in a holding pattern for about an hour, then diverted to Las Vegas where more people were boarded, and arrived where we needed to be around noon.

The audience was much more well-behaved than at the opera house, I heard hardly any talking at all.


LA Opera's 2017-2018 Season

Chandler_balconiesSeptember 9-23 2017: Carmen
October 7-28 2017: The Pearl Fishers
October 14-November 19 2017: Nabucco
October 28-31 2017: La Belle et la Bete
November 9-12 2017: Keeril Makan's Persona
January 27- February 18 2018 Bernstein's Candide
March 10-25 2018: Orpheus and Eurydice
May 12- 31 2018: Rigoletto
May 26 2018: Matthew Aucoin's Crossing
June 22-24 2018: Gordon Getty's Usher House and Canterville Ghost

Los Angeles Opera announced its next season on Facebook Live this evening at 6:30pm. Domingo sings the title role of Nabucco, Morris Robinson sings Zaccaria. Robinson returns as Sparafucile in Rigoletto. Maxim Mironov and Lisette Oropesa star in Orpheus and Eurydice with the dancers of the Joffrey Ballet. Oropesa also sings Gilda in one of the Rigoletto casts, sharing the role with Irina Lungu. Of local interest, Sara Jobin conducts the Gordon Getty operas and Brian Staufenbiel of Opera Parallèle directs.

Official Site


LA Opera's Akhnaten

Akhnaten* Notes *
Los Angeles Opera's recent Akhnaten, which closed last Sunday with a matinee performance, was nothing short of spectacular. With Philip Glass' hypnotic score, an excellent cast, and a grand production featuring acrobats and a flexible, multi-level set, it was hard to look away from the stage for even a second.

This is the third of three biographical operas by Glass, the first two being Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha, which focus on Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi. This opera deals with the life of pharaoh Akhenaten, who abandoned polytheism in favor of worshipping Aten, a sun deity. The text of the opera is in Ancient Egyptian, Biblical Hebrew, and Akkadian.

The music features many arpeggios and no violins, it is not as surreal as Einstein and not as austere as Satyagraha. The music does seem difficult to perform, and though not perfectly precise, the LA Opera orchestra did admirably under the direction of Matthew Aucoin. The chorus members looked like they were all concentrating very hard as well, especially when they had to throw balls as they sang.

The main character is sung by a countertenor, in this case by the very talented Anthony Roth Constanzo, who is a regular at the Met and also had a star turn in San Francisco Opera's Partenope a few years ago. Constanzo has a beautiful, pure tone. He did sound somewhat shrill in Act II Scene 2, his duet with Nefertiti, but he was incredible in the rest of the piece. The epilogue was especially gorgeous, and certainly soprano Stacey Tappan (Queen Tye) and mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges (Nefertiti) made strong contributions here as well. Tappan has a clear, sweet sound and Bridges is powerful without dominating the other voices.

The smaller roles were all beautifully cast. Baritone Kihun Yoon (Horemhab), bass-baritone Patrick Blackwell (Aye), and tenor Frederick Ballentine (High Priest of Amon) sang with an unparalleled cohesion. The six daughters of Akhnaten sounded elegant and lovely, particularly sopranos So Young Park and Summer Hassan. Even the non-singing role of the scribe, who narrates the scenes in lieu of supertitles, was expertly performed by bass Zachary James, a imposing presence with an attractive voice, even if he didn't sing here.

The striking co-production with English National Opera opened at that opera house last March. The set, which looks to be made of metal and is designed by Tom Pye, features three levels and sliding doors, it is contemporary and easily moved but still formidable, especially when populated by the chorus and the supers. Kevin Pollard's costumes make nods at Ancient Egypt but also reference other eras. The look is a bit Steampunk and also a bit H.R. Giger. Akhnaten's robes have baby doll heads on them, for instance.

Director Phelim McDermott makes use of ten jugglers, an acknowledgement of the earliest known depiction of juggling being found in Egypt and of Philip Glass' music, which requires similar adroit, well-timed skill. The jugglers, dressed for the most part as cracked statues, add to both the spectacle and otherworldly quality of the piece. McDermott never lacks for ideas, there was a huge hamster wheel in Act I and Contanzo is completely naked for much of this act as he is slowly maneuvered into his pharaoh clothing. Act II Scene 4 has a giant balloon aloft mid-stage, prettily lit different colors until it clearly represents the sun. The six daughters have blue dreadlocks that all tie together, and the scene in which they are drawn into the crowd is very effective and disturbing. The production has a coherence that never detracts from the music.

* Tattling *
This final performance looked completely full, and I made a point of trying to sit near the stage, as I had heard the visual aspect of the production was very compelling. Also, one would think being so close to the performers would make one embarrassed to talk. This was not completely true, the women in Row C Seats 9 and 10, the second row, made a lot of comments, but at least they were about the action, however uninsightful ("Pretty" or "Like Cirque du Soleil") they sometimes were.


LA Opera's 2016-2017 Season

F1_1_Dorothy-Chandler-PavilionSeptember 17- October 16 2016: Macbeth
October 19-23 2016: Ted Hearne's The Source
October 29-31 2016: Nosferatu with score from Matthew Aucoin
November 5-27 2016: Akhnaten
December 2-5 2016 Bernstein's Wonderful Town (semi-staged)
January 28- February 19 2017: The Abduction from the Seraglio
February 18- March 19 2017: Salome
March 25- April 8 2017: The Tales of Hoffmann
April 22- May 13 2017: Tosca
June 15-18 2017: Kamala Sankaram's Thumbprint

Official Site


LA Opera's 2015-2016 Season

F1_1_Dorothy-Chandler-PavilionSeptember 12- October 3 2015: Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci
October 8-11 2015: Song From the Uproar
October 30-31 2015: Dracula
October 31- November 28 2015: Moby-Dick
November 21- December 13 2015: Norma
February 13- March 6 2016: Die Zauberflöte
March 12- April 3 2016: Madama Butterfly
May 14- June 12 2016: La bohème
June 16-19 2016: Anatomy Theater

Official Site


LA Opera's Dido & Bluebeard

La-opera-dido-2014* Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera presented a double bill of Dido and Aeneas (Paula Murrihy and Liam Bonner in the title roles pictured left, photograph by Craig Matthew) and Bluebeard's Castle last night. The juxtaposition of these two works is pleasantly odd. Conducted by Steven Sloane, the orchestra could have sounded slightly crisper in the first piece, but the lushness of playing for the second piece suited its atmospheric score.

Director Barrie Kosky's production is from Frankfurt Opera, and certainly looks it. The set is attractively minimal, a pleated wall and long bench rather far downstage for the Purcell, and a rotating slanted circular platform for the Bartók. The use of lighting and choreography rather than video projections is welcome.

Kosky certainly did not lack for ideas, though some were unsettling, especially in the first offering. Countertenors are employed as the Sorceress and Witches, and it is disconcerting that all three happen to be bearded African American men in unflattering gowns, while the protagonist is a trim, blond white woman. Dido stayed on stage for the last chorus and gasped as all the singers and orchestra members left the pit one by one. This is, of course, opposed to the text of Dido's last aria but certainly commands attention.

The singing for Dido and Aeneas was good. The chorus sounded sprightly. G. Thomas Allen (First Witch) sounded warm. John Holiday's countertenor is also rather resonant, and he made for a disturbing Sorceress. Kateryna Kasper sang Belinda with much clarity. Liam Bonner was a prettily reedy Aeneas. Paula Murrihy sang Dido with conviction. Her voice is lucid and beautiful.

The staging of Bluebeard is a similar mixture of concrete and abstract depictions. We see blood, tears, gold, and foliage, all referred to in the libretto. There are not, however, any actual doors. Instead three identically suited men show up at different points and all sorts of theatrics ensue. It is impressive how much glitter pours from one man's sleeves for the third door. All three men drip water from their jackets as a representation of the lake of tears behind the sixth door. All rather imaginative, but the movements for the two principals required a great deal of physicality, and seemed a lot to ask for as the piece has serious vocal demands as well.

Robert Hayward was a plaintive Bluebeard. There were brief moments when he was difficult to hear given the volume of the orchestra and how he was facing as the stage turned. Claudia Mahnke makes for a sympathetic Judith. Her voice is strong and piercing without being harsh.

* Tattling * 
I was shamefully late for the performance, but was seated during "Ah! Belinda, I am prest with torment."


LA Opera's 2014-2015 Season

F1_1_Dorothy-Chandler-PavilionSeptember 13-28 2014: La Traviata
October 25- November 15 2014: Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard's Castle
November 22- December 20 2014: Florencia en Amazonas
February 7- March 1 2015: The Ghosts of Versailles
February 28- March 22 2015: The Barber of Seville
March 21- April 12 2015: The Marriage of Figaro
April 23-26 2015: Hercules vs Vampires
June 11-14 2015: Dog Days

Official Site


LA Opera's I Due Foscari

I-due-foscari-la-opera* Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera gave a third performance of I due Foscari (Act II pictured left with Francesco Meli as Jacopo Foscari and Plácido Domingo as Francesco Foscari, photograph by Robert Millard) Sunday afternoon. The orchestra seemed comfortable playing under the direction of James Conlon. The clarinet was especially pretty. The chorus sounded full.

The cast seems ideal, rendering the opera rather engaging. Ievgen Orlov radiated evil as Loredano, so much so he was enthusiastically booed by the audience when he took his first bow. Though Marina Poplavskaya does have a gasping quality to her voice, it worked to her advantage as the fiercely angry Lucrezia Contarini. Francesco Meli sounded bright and plaintive as Jacopo Foscari. There was a certain rawness to his singing that had the right appeal for the character. Plácido Domingo was convincing in the baritone role of Francesco Foscari.

The production features an elaborate set with many moving parts. At times the direction seemed hampered and constrained by all that was on stage. On the other hand, the circus-like scene that opened Act III was spectacular, and the ending effective and disturbing.

* Tattling * 
There was some light talking in the Grand Circle, but mostly from one rather elderly person who probably had no idea he could be heard. A woman in the Founders Circle caused more than once disturbance during Act II as she climbed over several people to exit the hall.


LA Opera's Don Giovanni

Don-giovanni-la-opera-2012* Notes * 
Peter Stein's production of Don Giovanni (Act II pictured left with Soile Isokoski as Donna Elvira, David Bizic as Leporello, Roxana Constantinescu as Zerlina, Joshua Bloom as Masetto, Julianna Di Giacomo as Donna Anna, and Andrej Dunaev as Don Ottavio; photograph by Robert Millard) for Lyric Opera opened at Los Angeles Opera yesterday. The direction, from Gregory A. Fortner, is sensible, but entertaining. The entrances and exits of various characters on stage are clearly motivated. Relying heavily on drawn curtains to change scenes, Ferdinand Wögerbauer's set is stark and serviceable. Moidele Bickel's costumes share this neat simplicity.

James Conlon had the orchestra zipping along, often ahead of the singers. The brass sounded exposed at one point in the overture, but was otherwise satisfactory. The chorus members made for cheerful peasants in Act I, and sang heartily in Act II.

The cast has many charming singers. Joshua Bloom is convincing as Masetto, oafish and silly, but with a pretty voice. Roxana Constantinescu is a lusty, vivid Zerlina, yet sang "Batti, batti" with tender appeal. Soile Isokoski has a mellifluous voice, but could sound perfectly hysterical as Don Elvira, as the role requires. Ievgen Orlov could have sung The Commendatore with more authority, as his voice seems fairly strong. Andrej Dunaev impressed as Don Ottavio, singing both his arias with good volume. Julianna Di Giacomo (Donna Anna) sounded bright but silvery. In fact, all the female voices were very distinct from one another.

David Bizic's Leporello was more charismatic than Ildebrando D'Arcangelo's Don Giovanni. Bizic and D'Arcangelo sounded somewhat similar, perhaps because the latter is a bass-baritone. D'Arcangelo lacked appeal in "Là ci darem la mano," and sang "Fin ch'han dal vino" without verve. He was extremely funny in Act II whilst pretending to be Leporello, and he did sing "Deh, vieni alla finestra" with beauty and sweetness.

* Tattling * 
There was a tiresome amount of talking, singing, and snoring in the Grand Circle. The couple in Row P Seats 30 and 31 spoke to each other without regard to music or singing.


La Bohème at LA Opera

La-opera-la-boheme-2012* Notes *
A revival of La Bohème (Act IV pictured left, photograph by Robert Millard) opened Saturday night in Los Angeles. The performance marked the Los Angeles Opera debut of conductor Patrick Summers, and the orchestra played clearly, with only a slight harshness in the brass at one point in Act II. The chorus sang perfectly well, as was the children's chorus, though the singers may not have been exactly together at all times.

Museop Kim moved gracefully as Schaunard, his baritone is pleasingly light. Colline was sung convincingly by Robert Pomakov, his voice has quite a lot of vibrato, but warmth and volume. Janai Brugger's Musetta was appropriately coy, but with a lovely bird-like sweetness. Though she maintained her composure, she did have some troubles with her train in Act II. Artur Ruciński (Marcello) sounds nice in the lower part of his voice and looked comfortable in his role. Stephen Costello strained a couple of times in Act I, however, his portrayal of Rodolfo was strong otherwise. Costello was particularly moving in the Act III quartet and at the end. Ailyn Pérez never sounded like she had to reach for notes as Mimi. She was not overpowering and had a certain delicate quality even though her bright voice could always be heard.

The production, created by Herbert Ross and directed by Gregory A. Fortner, is fairly conventional. Some of the direction was a lot of fun, as with the quartet in Act IV, in which Schaunard and Colline joust with brooms on bicycles. Other moments made less sense, as when Schaunard comes out on the roof at the end of Colline's "Vecchia zimarra." Colline has his back to Schaunard without facing him, somehow the former has divined that the latter is there. Gerard Howland's set makes use of vertical space without detracting from the voices.

* Tattling * 
The parents and brother (Founders Circle Row P Seats 31-33) of one of the Los Angeles Children's Chorus members talked a great deal as she was on stage. I was grateful they decided not to return after intermission, and remained undisturbed for the second half of the opera.


Albert Herring at LA Opera

Albert-herring-la-opera

* Notes *
The fourth performance of Los Angeles Opera's Albert Herring (Act II Scene 1 pictured left, photograph by Robert Millard) on Sunday boasted a balanced ensemble cast and fine musicianship all around. Conducted by Maestro James Conlon, the playing in the pit sounded taut and clear. The horn only made one slight error, but otherwise sounded quite agreeable. The singers all seemed perfect for their roles, and distinct enough from one another in sound. The diction was clear.

Liam Bonner (Sid) and Daniela Mack (Nancy) made for a nice, youthful pair. The various pillars of society sang humorously together, or against one another, as need be. As Superintendent Budd, Richard Bernstein was warm in contrast to Robert McPherson's rather bright Mr. Upfold. Jonathan Michie sang nimbly as Mr. Gedge. Though Stacey Tappan's voice is pretty and bird-like, her Miss Wordsworth still managed to be convincing. Ronnita Miller's acting as Florence Pike was confident, and her singing hearty. Janis Kelly played Lady Billows with the right amount of self-importance and hysteria. Her cold, brilliant voice is piercing. As for Albert Herring himself, Alek Shrader seemed ideal, it is hard to imagine a more suitable tenor for this role. Shrader's voice is lovely.

The production, directed by Paul Curran, was first seen at Santa Fe Opera last summer. The set and costumes, designed by Kevin Knight, are charming and sweet. The use of supernumeraries to change the scenes in various cunning ways made for good laughs.

* Tattling * 
The performance was not particularly full. There was light talking in the Founders Circle, especially in the first half of the opera.


Simon Boccanegra at LA Opera

Simon-boccanegra-la-opera

* Notes *
The third performance of Simon Boccanegra (Act I Scene 2 pictured left, photograph by Robert Millard) at Los Angeles Opera on Sunday was quite good. The production originates from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and is directed here by Elijah Moshinsky. Michael Yeargan's set is sleek, and Duane Schuler's lighting did help frame the many scenes. The late Peter J. Hall's costumes are lavish and are a fine counterpoint for the relative simplicity of set.

The tempi taken by Maestro James Conlon were brisk, and occasionally the orchestra seemed somewhat rushed. The brass was fairly clean, there were no obvious sour notes. The chorus was not always right on top of the beat, but sang with passion.

The singing was solid. Stefano Secco (Gabriele) was uncharacteristically fervent, perhaps being broadcast live and sharing the stage with Plácido Domingo (Simon Boccanegra) brought out the best in the former. Domingo sounded rather like a tenor in the title role, his voice is, of course, just so resonant and beautiful. Some of his lower notes were not particularly rich. Ana María Martínez made for an ethereal yet girlish Amelia. Paolo Gavanelli made for a convincing Paolo, his voice is sumptuous. Vitalij Kowaljow (Fiesco) also has a weighty sound, and seems bottomless.

* Tattling * 
Watch alarms were heard at 3pm and 5 pm. A mobile phone rang in the middle of Act II from the Loge. The audience talked during the scene changes. A woman in Row E Seat 53 was especially loud, commenting that Domingo sounded "the same" as he always does as he was singing, and making other accurate but unhelpful comments to her husband in 54 and friend in 55.

During a pause, this friend mentioned that "in San Francisco we would have had five intermissions already" and that concessions must generate much income for that opera. An odd statement, given that this production has been performed in San Francisco twice (in 2001 and 2008), both times in two acts with one intermission. One will also note that Patina provides food and beverage for LA Opera and SF Opera.


LA Opera's 2012-2013 Season

September 15- October 9 2012: I due Foscari
September 22- October 14 2012: Don Giovanni
November 17- December 9 2012: Madama Butterfly
March 9-30 2013: Der fliegende Holländer
March 23- April 13 2013: Cenerentola
May 18- June 8 2013: Tosca

Plácido Domingo stars in I due Foscari. Oksana Dyka sings Butterfly with Brandon Jovanovich as Pinkerton and Eric Owens as Sharpless. Jay Hunter Morris is Erik in Der fliegende Holländer. Kate Lindsey and Ketevan Kemoklidze share the title role of Cenerentola. Sondra Radvanovsky is Tosca. Again, the Recovered Voices program seems to still be on hiatus.

2012-2013 Season | Official Site