Los Angeles Opera

Il Turco in Italia LA Opera

La-opera-turco * Notes *
The opening performance of Il Turco in Italia at Los Angeles Opera was delightful. The production originates from Hamburgische Staatsoper, directed there by Christof Loy, with attractive costumes and sets from Herbert Mauerauer. Here Axel Weidauer directed the amusing action to good effect, the audience certainly was engaged. Even though the specifics of immigration and Orientalism are different between Hamburg and Los Angeles, the production still made sense to an American viewer. For example, the fear of both the Romani and the Turks is more keenly felt in Germany than the United States, but this did not detract from the our understanding of the opera.

As usual, the Los Angeles Opera orchestra was sounding its best under Music Director James Conlon. The brass soli were a bit tentative, perhaps occasionally sour, but not bad. The chorus had a particularly transparent sound.

Kate Lindsey made her Los Angeles Opera debut as Zaida, she was awfully spunky and sang with zest. Maxim Mironov's light, pretty tenor suited Narciso, though there were times when he was not audible over the orchestra. Paolo Gavanelli was most impressive as Don Geronio. His voice is luminous and warm, and he always embodied the role convincingly. Thomas Allen was charming as Prosdocimo, his comic timing perfect.

As Fiorella, Nino Machaidze looked stunning, and sang well. Her voice has a penetrating quality to it, just bordering on shrill. Simone Alberghini (Selim), the Turk of this opera, was comic and his voice had good volume. He does have a lot of vibrato, but this was fine for this role.

* Tattling * 
The performance was dedicated to Maria Altmann, who died last Monday.

There was some light talking from the audience on the orchestra level, but otherwise, everyone behaved acceptably. The slow moving zombie dancers in the background of many scenes were given great applause, though so were the singers, and Machaidze received a standing ovation.


LA Opera's 2011-2012 Season

September 17- October 9 2011: Eugene Onegin
September 18- October 8 2011: Così fan tutte
November 6-26 2011: Roméo et Juliette
February 11- March 4 2012: Simon Boccanegra
February 25- March 14 2012: Albert Herring
February 25- March 14 2012: La Bohème

Vittorio Grigolo has his LA Opera premiere in Roméo et Juliette opposite Nino Machaidze. Alek Shrader and Daniela Mack star in Albert Herring, while Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello sing in La Bohème. Plácido Domingo sings Simon Boccanegra, with Vitalij Kowaljow and Paolo Gavanelli. Sadly, the Recovered Voices program is still on hiatus.

2011-2012 Season | Official Site


LA Opera's Lohengrin

La-opera-lohengrin * Notes *
Yesterday's matinée performance of Lohengrin opened at Los Angeles Opera was the second of six. The new production, designed by Dirk Hofacker and directed by Lydia Steier, is exceedingly silly. The set is on a turntable and appears to be set amidst German ruins in a Prussian army camp. One especially enjoyed the fact that the swan that brings Lohengrin is a bed covered tent (pictured left with Soile Isokoski and Ben Heppner, photograph by Robert Millard). The choreography was not well-motivated and perhaps merely served the set, which was rotated at various points. At times it seemed that people rushed aimlessly around the stage and ended up at their marks too early.

Maestro Conlon kept the music going at a good pace. For the most part the woodwinds sounded pretty. The brass make a few mistakes, especially in Act II, but managed to be effective. The chorus was lovely, though again, as with Rigoletto, there were a few times when synchronization was a problem. "Treulich geführt" came off beautifully, sounding clear and together.

There were many familiar faces in the cast. Robert MacNeil and Greg Fedderly were the First and Second Noblemen, while Domingo-Thornton Young Artists Matthew Anchel and Museop Kim were the Third and Fourth. Baritone Eike Wilm Schulte was the Herald. All sang nicely.

Most of the principal singers were impressive. Dolora Zajick made for the perfect Ortrud, she sang with strength, richness, and with appropriate haughtiness. James Johnson played a tormented Friedrich von Telramund, his voice too is robust. Kristinn Sigmundsson sounded noble as King Heinrich.

Soile Isokoski gleamed as Elsa, and sounded particularly sublime in "Einsam in trüben Tage." Some of her lower notes in Act II were not as lucid as her high ones. In the title role, Ben Heppner struggled. From the start the production did not make him seem heroic. When he emerged from the tent he hardly cut a fine figure, as his coat was unbuttoned, which was not a flattering look. If Heppner was in good voice, this would not have mattered, but unfortunately this was not the case. He had a few good moments, his voice has a warmth to it, and volume. However, he wailed his way up to high notes that were strained and rough. It was painful to hear him hail Elsa in Act II and he even cracked badly in the last act.

* Tattling * 
Nearly every type of unpleasant behavior was on display from the audience members in Balcony B. The couple in K 40 and 41 talked nearly every time a soloist was not singing, so even during the famous Bridal March. The woman in L 37 unwrapped cough drops and incessantly scratched herself during Act I, but had the good sense to leave, as she clearly was not feeling well. Someone in Row M tapped her stiletto heels against the concrete floor distractedly, while someone else in Row L quietly sang along. A mobile phone rang during Act II, but it was on so low that he or she did not even hear it, and did not turn it off. There was periodic beeping, perhaps from a recording device. Flash photographs were taken during the ovation. The worst offender was a person at the back of the house with a very loud phone, which rang at the end of the opera on four separate occasions.


LA Opera's Rigoletto

La-opera-rigoletto * Notes *
Rigoletto opened at Los Angeles Opera last night. San Francisco Opera's production, designed by Michael Yeargan and directed by Mark Lamos, takes inspiration from the painter Giorgio de Chirico. The stage looked clean, and Mark McCullough's lighting was effective in defining the various spaces, but garish at times. Constance Hoffman's attractive costumes did not seem to take as much from the scuola metafisica art movement founded by De Chirico, except for the color palette, perhaps.

Music Director James Conlon kept the orchestra together, and the brass sounded more focused than usual. The flute may have had some harsh moments, particularly in "Caro nome," but the oboe was sweet and clear, especially in "Tutte le feste al tempio." The cello solo in "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" was also strong. The chorus sounded clear, but was not always with the orchestra.

Many of the smaller roles were filled by Domingo-Thornton Young Artists, including Matthew Anchel (Count Ceprano), Janai Brugger-Orman (A Page), Valentina Fleer (Countess Ceprano), Carin Gilfry (Giovanna), and Museop Kim (Marullo). All aquitted themselves well, but Carin Gilfry's lustrous voice stood out, even against Sarah Coburn's brilliant Gilda.

As Maddalena, Kendall Gladen acted convincingly, but was somewhat difficult to hear in the quartet of Act III, her voice blended too well with the orchestra. Andrea Silvestrelli was threatening as Sparafucile, his voice has such an endless richness to it. Daniel Sumegi sounded in character for the elderly Count Monterone, gravelly and shaky. Sarah Coburn had a burnished warmth as Gilda, but also a pleasing bird-like quality. She hit a sour note in "Caro Nome," but was otherwise great. Gianluca Terranova was dashing as the Duke of Mantua, he did started off barking a bit too much, but sang more legato as the night wore on. His voice is not meaty, but he sparkled above the orchestra effectively without screaming. George Gagnidze was fairly subtle in the title role. He was behind the orchestra in the "la ra, la ra" part of Act II. He was moving in the final scene, the duet ("V'ho ingannato!") with Coburn was beautiful.

* Tattling * 
One was amused to see that the dancers in the opening scene had their bosoms revealed again, as they had been covered up in San Francisco's last revival. There was not a huge amount of talking from the audience in Balcony B. I had a coughing fit during Act I Scene 2, and someone was kind enough to give me a cough drop. The woman next to me in J36 had her leather jacket draped over the arm rest. I should have said something but it was difficult to get her attention, she was ill and engaged in conversation with her companion. After the performance ended, she swung her jacket against me as she put it on, and I could only laugh at how ridiculous this was.


On the Upcoming Fortnight (Terfel & Heppner)

Tonight I am off to the third performance of San Francisco Opera's The Makropulos Case. It is so wonderful, I regret not being able to attend every performance. During the fourth performance on next Saturday I will be in Berkeley hearing Bryn Terfel sing Schumann, Finzi, and Ibert. Since I have never heard Terfel before, I am making an exception about recitals, which I generally disdain. For the last performance of Makropulos I will be hearing at Los Angeles Opera for Lohengrin. The cast includes Ben Heppner in the title role, and as I have never heard him live either, it may be worth missing the Janáček.

Byrn Terfel at Cal Performances | Lohengrin at LA Opera


LA Opera's Figaro

Figaro Act I, photo by Robert Millard * Notes * 
A revival of Le Nozze di Figaro at LA Opera opened this afternoon. Plácido Domingo kept the orchestra at a good clip, though not exactly brisk, the tempi were comfortable. There were many synchronization problems with singers and the orchestra. The bridesmaid duet in Act III went especially awry, either the singers were out of tune, or the brass was. The chorus held together, however, and the character roles were all perfectly fine. Daniel Montenegro was all but unrecognizable as an elderly Don Curzio, Philip Cokorinos seemed suitably confused as Antonio. Valentina Fleer made for a girlish Barbarina, and her "L'ho perduta, me meschina" was lovely and mournful. Christopher Gillett (Don Basilio) was reedy and unctous, Alessandro Guerzoni (Doctor Bartolo) was stuffy and silly, and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Marcellina) was sassy and a touch too youthful.

Renata Pokupic was winsome as Cherubino, breathlessly enamored. Her "Non so più cosa son" was slightly quiet, but her "Voi che sapete" was clear. In contrast, Martina Serafin sounded loud and full as the Countess and her "Dove sono i bei momenti" lacked a sense of yearning. She could overpower the other singers, but did rein in her volume in "Sull'aria...Che soave zeffiretto." Bo Skovhus was delightful as the Count, his voice is warm but not too heavy. Marlis Petersen was sweet and airy as Susanna, but always audible and her Figaro, Daniel Okulitch, sounded robust and facile.

The production was odd, Ian Judge's direction involved a lot of pacing and reclining. The big dance number in Act III was a hybrid of flamenco and lindy hop that was funny and well-excuted, but it did not really tie together with the rest of the choreography. Some of the costumes were Rococo and some of them looked very fifties. Tim Goodchild's set made for seamless set changes, and looked clean and pretty until the last act. For some reason, this last scene has a wide open stage, so that timing for the ensembles was compromised, as there is nowhere to stand without being seen. Then there was a haunted house in the background with a giant moon, completely at odds with the sleek elegance of the other scenery. At least the spectacle ended with onstage fireworks.

* Tattling * 
The audience talked, but at least people were quiet when hushed. Watch alarms were heard at each hour. A cellular phone rang three times during Act I starting from when Figaro says "Chi suona? La Contessa."

The production garnered much laughter at inappropriate moments, sometimes simply because of the timing of the supertitles. I, for one, laughed very hard at the fireworks.

I had the good fortune to be invited backstage after the performance, and was able to deliver a commissioned cupcake pirate painting.


World Premiere of Il Postino at LA Opera

La-opera-il-postino * Notes *
The Los Angeles Opera 2010-2011 season opened with the world premiere of Daniel Catán's Il Postino. The music is lush and ornate, has soaring lyrical lines, and is pretty enough to not scare those wary of new music. Though the action takes place in Italy, and the title is Italian, the libretto is in Spanish. This was amusing, a sort of inversion of famous operas like Carmen or Il Barbiere. Neruda's poetry is used in the text, especially the poem "Mañana XXVII."

The set and costumes, both designed by Riccardo Hernandez, likewise were attractive. The tiled turquoise and cobalt floor was especially stunning, though one imagines the effect is better from the balcony than the orchestra. Jennifer Tipton's lighting designed featured many spotlights, and the those projections by Philip Bussmann that were visible in the balcony involved many words and water.

Grant Gershon conducted the orchestra, the sound was full, the brass blurred. The onstage banda was charming, and the accordion was particularly wonderful. The chorus sounded lovely in Act III, this was one of the most moving parts of the piece. The clear standout in the smaller roles was Gabriel Lautaro Osuna (Mario's father), who sang a gorgeous a cappella aria in the wedding scene of Act II. The music here was poignant.

Nancy Fabiola Herrera was hilarious as Donna Rosa, Beatrice's suspicious and protective aunt. Her warm voice betrayed no strain. In contrast, Cristina Gallardo-Domâs trembled her way through Matilde Neruda, and the Act II duet with Plácido Domingo (Pablo Neruda) was not flattering to her. Amanda Squitieri (Beatrice Russo) was icy and piercing, at first perhaps a bit shrill, but she sounded strong in the last act.

Charles Castronovo was winsome in the title role, he projected the earnest, often abashed nature of Mario Ruoppolo clearly. Though he has a very pleasing sound, vocally he could not compete with Domingo. The latter sang with vigor and youth, despite having not sung in the final dress rehearsal because of a sore throat.

* Tattling * 
The audience was better behaved than usual. There was some speaking and unwrapping of cough drops during the music. A few watch alarms were also heard. The worst noise seemed to come from the lighting booth at the very back of the house.

The crowd at the stage door after the performance was formidible. One person was heard to joke that he had could not believe someone made an opera of Kevin Costner's post-apocalyptic film. A pair of immodest girls in revealing gowns were seen congratulating tenor Daniel Montenegro (1st Thug).


Götterdämmerung at LA Opera

LA Opera's Götterdämmerung, Photo by: Monika Rittershaus/LA Opera * Notes * 
The first cycle of LA Opera's Ring Festival concluded with Götterdämmerung last night. James Conlon kept the orchestra at a controlled pace, and the volume was never overwhelming. The brass was not terribly secure, even sounding chaotic at times. The horn calls were respectable, albeit very careful and slow. The chorus sounded lovely and together, even whilst fluttering their hands and doing choreographed stretches. The Norns were ominous, with Jill Grove sounding slightly strained, Michelle DeYoung sweet, and Melissa Citro a tad shrill. The Rheintöchter were enticing: Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) did well. Jennifer Wilson sang Gutrune with silvery ease, while Michelle DeYoung was a jarring Waltraute.

Richard Paul Fink was sinister as Alberich, ruthless but in the end helpless. Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) sounded merciless, his full, rich voice was still very beautiful. Alan Held was quite loud as Gunther, he sang without strain. Linda Watson remained dignified as Brünnhilde, her upper register can be harsh, but she conveys the emotional content of her text clearly. John Treleaven had a rough, quiet start, improved, but then had some trouble with the end of Act II. He pulled through for his last scene.

Achim Freyer's production was a continual delight, his vision carried through to the very end. Though not focused on the human aspects of the narrative, his ideas are clearly reasoned and fully committed to throughout. I was particularly amused by the enormous red bendy straw shaped into a triangle that was the thread of fate, and by the red balloons that were lowered on wires, then lifted, then popped at the end of Act II. Hagen's very special garage door opener that blinked and flashed in different colors was also highly entertaining. On a more serious note, the staging for when Siegfried takes on Gunther's shape was very effective, and more convincing than any of the others I have seen.

* Tattling * 
The orchestra level was more crowded than during Siegfried or Die Walküre, and the talking was not as loud. The usual watch alarms sounded at each hour. Someone was crinkling a plastic bag during the last two acts. The man in Row M Seat 12 booed loudly at James Conlon, and screamed "Go back to school, read the score." There were also boos for the production team, but these too where mostly drowned out by cheers.

LA Opera's marketing department sponsored a Tweetup Meetup with Jon Caves, Philip Horváth, Cody Melcher, Katherine M. Talley, and various others. We went to the press reception and got to go back stage to meet Maestro Conlon. We also ran into Achim Freyer, and I managed to speak with him a little, even getting out a few words of German. To my great delight, I found some of my favorite opera fans hanging around back stage as well, including Dr. Tamara Sanikidze, currently an Adler Fellow.


Siegfried at LA Opera

LA Opera's Siegfried, Photo by: Monika Rittershaus/LA Opera * Notes * 
Siegfried was performed yesterday as part of Los Angeles Opera's Ring Festival. James Conlon kept the orchestra sounding fairly restrained, the brass continued to have rough patches, but the singing and playing was more synchronized than in the first two operas. Stacey Tappan shimmered as the Waldvogel, her fluttery voice is suited to the role. Jill Grove sounded rather nice as Erda, earthy but not overly pretty. Eric Halfvarson's Fafner was remarkably sympathetic, especially in his death scene. Graham Clark likewise was fine as Mime, his voice is bright, his acting was clear and strong.

Again, both Richard Paul Fink (Alberich) and Vitalij Kowaljow (Wotan) continued to impress, embodying their roles with vigor. The two leads fared less well, though both were maddening in that sometimes their voices were extraordinarily lovely. Linda Watson could sound harsh as Brünnhilde, but her "Heil dir, Sonne! Heil dir, Licht!" was splendidly beautiful. John Treleaven also could sound brilliant and sweet, but more often he was just getting through this very difficult music, and was still standing at the end, at least.

Achim Freyer's production is consistent in its absurdity. The dragon was especially hilarious, it looked like a tiny puppet on wires, and had plumes of red lights attached to its mouth. One imagines that we are seeing Fafner from Siegfried's fearless point of view here. Siegfried is a clowns around, and his buffoonery is on full display. Though flawed, he somehow did not seem very human, so it was a bit hard to relate to him. Also, the way Fafner's wounding was staged was somewhat confusing if one has not read the libretto, given that the beast we see is so small.

* Tattling * 
The talking was at a minimum for Act I, though a cellular phone rang during the overture. More electronic noise followed in the middle act, a watch alarm rang at least 20 times. There was much speaking from the audience in Act II, and the person next to me in Row H of the orchestra had to implore the woman and girl behind him to be silent. They apologized during the second intermission, and were silent the rest of the opera. Unfortunately this was not the case for the German-speaking couple closer to the middle of Row J, they spoke openly without the slightest bit of embarrassment.

There was a press reception that I had the pleasure of attending. Evidently Quentin Tarantino was also present.


Die Walküre at LA Opera

LA Opera's Walkuere, photo by Monika Rittershaus/LA Opera * Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera's Ring cycle continued with Die Walküre yesterday evening. The orchestra sounded fairly good under James Conlon, though at times they did play gingerly, carefully hitting each note. The cello solo in the beginning of Act I Scene 1 was lovely, but the brass did not sound clean for Hunding's Leitmotiv. There was a painful brass mistake as Siegmund sang in Act I Scene 3, but otherwise only a few stray sour notes and haziness. The playing was mournful and together for the end. The singing was gorgeous, particularly in Act I, with Eric Halfvarson (Hunding), Michelle DeYoung (Sieglinde), and Plácido Domingo (Siegmund). All three have such beautiful voices, with enough heft to be heard over the orchestra. DeYoung sounded silvery and young, rather different than her role as Fricka the previous evening. Domingo did admirably, considering he had surgery for colon cancer just in March. At times it was difficult to discern exactly what words he was singing, but the prettiness of his voice came through. Ekaterina Semenchuk was strong as Fricka, very rich and stirring. Linda Watson fared less well as Brünnhilde, sounding shrill in Act II, but did have some tender moments in Act III. Her sister Walküren sounded hale and hearty, they even managed their choreography convincingly and no one fell. Vitalij Kowaljow was believable as Wotan, especially during Wotans Abschied von Brünnhilde und Feuerzauber.

The production, from Achim Freyer, is a stylized riot of color and movement, including clown makeup, light sabers, contortionists, dancing, spinning horse/bicycle hybrids, and the like. Sieglinde and Siegmund do spend a lot of their time in Act I singing from across the stage from each other, and it was a palpable relief to see them actually in contact with one another in Act II. The staging is novel, the end of Act II was especially stunning, and the Walküren scene (Act III Scene 1) was amusing.

* Tattling * 
The audience was embarrassingly ill-behaved, talking even during the singing. Watches were heard not only at the hour, but one went off for 10-12 rings as an alarm during Act II. One person's cellular phone rang on at least 3 occasions, once before the watch alarm and twice afterward, and there was yet another phone heard at the end of the act. Cough drops in cellophane seemed to be unwrapped at every quiet moment. On the orchestra level, a certain visitor from New York made her own announcement before Act II about this, and thus managed to enjoy some respite from the crinkling for the rest of the opera.


Das Rheingold at LA Opera

Rheingold-la-opera * Notes * 
Los Angeles Opera's first Ring cycle began with Das Rheingold last night. James Conlon had the orchestra sounding cohesive and supportive, though the musicians and singers were not always perfectly together. There were a few sour notes from the brass, but for the most part the playing was not bad. The voices of Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), and Ronnita Nicole Miller (Floßhilde) were pretty set against each other. Tappan was particularly fluttery in Scene 1, one could immediately imagine her as the Waldvogel in Siegfried. The three Rheintöchter sounded mournful and beautiful at the end of the opera. Jill Grove has improved as Erda, the role still does not seem easy for her, but she did hit her notes. Ellie Dehn was especially brilliant as Freia, and I am curious to hear her as the Countess in San Francisco Opera's Le Nozze di Figaro later the year. Michelle DeYoung's Fricka was appropriately shrewish and almost biting at first, but her pleasantly metallic voice is beautiful. Morris Robinson had the volume for Fasolt, but lacked the full resonance of Eric Halfvarson (Fafner). Beau Gibson and Wayne Tigges spent much of their time far upstage as Froh and Donner, respectively. It was difficult to gage the weight and heft of their voices. Richard Paul Fink continues to be a convincing Alberich, he snarls and acts even through his mask. Arnold Bezuyen (Loge) was caustic at times, but also could sound sycophantic or even unctuously caressing. As Wotan, Vitalij Kowaljow, sounded authoritative and displayed his great command of his low range.

Achim Freyer's production has an entertaining circus element to it, as far as costumes and effects. It also is a strange cross of Star Wars, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Neil Gaiman's Sandman graphic novels. There really were light sabers in the production, for instance. The steep rake was a challenge, Richard Paul Fink fell after Scene 1, and the other singers had similar problems. All of the scenes were quite arresting, much was going on, but for the most part it all made some sort of internal sense. However, the very last part, when the Gods are to go to Valhalla, a nondescript object suspended from wires swept across the stage. The audience in Balcony B clearly could not discern what this was meant to represent and many people started talking at this point.

* Tattling * 
There was no applause during the music, but there was a lot of talking during the overture and the transitions. At least two watch alarms were heard at 8pm and 9pm. My seat in Balcony B was ideally situated on the aisle, but in the middle section and in the front, so I was glad that the Wagner Society of Northern California pulled through for me in this case. The person next to me either took a nap during parts of Scenes 2 and 3, or was meditating on the music with great concentration. His regular breathing was quiet but noticeable.