MEMOIR: Thoughts on LA Opera’s 2014-2015 season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

After contemplating the recently announced 2014-2015 season of Los Angeles Opera, it’s hard to decide how much of a push forward — if any — the season represents for the company. If you’re a “glass full” person, the upcoming schedule represents several exciting new ventures; if you’re in the “glass empty” category, you may not be as excited. I tend to accentuate the future possibilities that next season represent for LAO.

The 2014-2015 includes six “main stage” productions at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (seven, if you want to consider the pairing of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle by Bela Bartok as two productions) for a total of 41 performances. That compares with seven productions and 42 performances that were announced at this time for what is now the current season. However, last spring the company announced that it would also offer three semi-staged productions of André Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, which will take place May 18, 21 and 24. We’ll see if that “late arrival” notice becomes a trend.

“OFF-GRAND SERIES” EXPANDS
As part of next season, the company also announced an expansion of its “Off Grand” initiative, although the words “expansion” and “Off Grand” need to be taken with a grain of salt. True, there were three productions announced, an increase of one from this season: performances of new mounting of the family-oriented opera, Jonah and the Whale at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels March 21 and 22 and two performances of a concert setting of Massenet’s Thais in Orange County on May 27.

However, one of next season’s “Off Grand” productions is a revival of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (a title now updated to Noah’s Flood) at the Roman Catholic cathedral, which continues a several-years tradition of using the cathedral for operas aimed at children and families in that expansive space.

A second production is what’s being termed a “mash-up” (one of the current “hot” terms in classical music circles) of opera and film entitled Hercules and the Vampire, which pairs an operatic score by composer Patrick Morganelli, performed live by members of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, with Mario Bava’s 1961 film Hercules in the Haunted World. LAO terms the movie a “cult-fantasy film, and the evenings are being presented in partnership with American Cinematheque in April 2015 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

The third offering is the West Coast premiere of Dog Days by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Varek, which will be presented in June 2015 in partnership with REDCAT, the “black box” theatre that is part of the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. This is scheduled to be the first production of a multi-year partnership with Beth Morrison Projects. The opera earned several rave reviews when it premiered in 2012 in New Jersey.

Some of this rates in the “intriguing” category but calling it “Off Grand” seems somewhat curious since (a) all three venues are located on Grand Avenue and (b) two of them — the Cathedral and the Pavilion are regular homes for LAO productions. It would have been far more stimulating if, for example, Hercules and the Vampire had been scheduled at the Wiltern Theatre, the renovated Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles or at a venue in another part of the region.

As to the “regular” LAO 2014-2015 season:

”FIGARO UNBOUND”
Half of the season is devoted to what the company is calling its “Figaro Unbound” venture (“unbound” is another of those words currently in vogue in the classical music world). The mini-series will feature three operas based on the character originally created by French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. All three operas will be conducted by LAO Music Director James Conlon.

The first of the company’s “Figaro Trilogy” offerings will be the West Coast premiere of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles in six evenings running from Feb. 7 through March 1, 2015. The opera was premiered in a lavish production at the Metropolitan Opera in 1991 but since then “Ghost” has essentially vanished. Lyric Opera of Chicago presented it in its 1995/1996 season and a “chamber version” of the opera took place at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera in 2008, but that’s it. Darko Tresnjak will direct a new production in Los Angeles, with Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette and Patti LuPone playing the Turkish entertainer Samira.

The second “Figaro Unbound” opera is Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, using a production from Teatro Real Madrid that last played here in 2009. This time around, LAO will present six offerings from Feb. 28 through March 22, 2015. Russian baritone Rodion Pogssov will sing the title role.

The trilogy concludes with a revival of the company’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in six evenings from March 21-April 12, 2015. South African soprano Pretty Yende will portray Susanna while Nicola Alaimo will play the title role.

OTHER SEASON OFFERINGS:
• Australian director Barrie Kosky, who led LAO’s acclaimed production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute earlier this season, returns to stage the double bill of Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle using a production that originated at the Frankfurt Opera. Steven Sloan, who was born in Los Angeles in 1958 and conducted LAO’s world premiere production of Grendel in 2006, will conduct the double bill.

• A revised version of the company’s production of Daniel Catán’s opera, Florencia en el Amazonas will be presented in six performances from Nov. 22-Dec. 20. Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor and music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, will conduct. Francesca Zambello is scheduled to direct this revised production, which was first presented in 1997.

• The season’s opening production will be revival of the company’s staging of Verdi’s La Traviata in six evenings from Sept. 13-28. Plácido Domingo continues his traversal of baritone roles by portraying Giorgio Germont, while Nino Machaidze will star in the role of Violetta. Conlon will conduct and Marta Domingo (Plácido’s wife) will re-create her staging. Of note: in the media release Conlon stated that La Traviata and The Barber of Seville were the first operas he saw as a child more than 50 years ago.

Information: www.laopera.org

Season tickets: www.laopera.org

Single tickets go on sale June 22.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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