PREVIEW: L.A. Opera unveils new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff” at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
This article was first published today in the above papers.

Los Angeles Opera: Verdi’s Falstaff
Nov. 13, 16 and 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 at 2 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Concert performance: Nov. 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Falstaff Piano Dress _November 2, 2013 -
Roberto Frontali stars in a new production of Verdi’s “Falstaff,” which opened last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

One of the hardest jobs for any opera company is to retire a beloved production for a new one. One has only to look at recent events at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera to realize how fraught with peril such a change can be.

For its opening production in 2009, the Met retired a beloved (by most) 20-year-old Franco Zeffirelli production of Tosca that was a sumptuous, literal recreation of Puccini’s concept. In its place went a stark, symbolized rendering by Swiss director Luc Bondy. The headline for Alex Ross’ review in “The New Yorker” of that opening night summed up many people’s feelings: “Fiasco.” Time has softened attitudes only slightly.

Likewise, when the Met replaced its decades-old, literal production of Wagner’s Ring cycle with a quirky new one by Robert Lepage, the results were even more disastrous, to say nothing of far more expensive.

So it must be with a bit of baited breath that Los Angeles Opera introduced a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff last night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the first of six performances with others occurring through Dec. 1. There will also be a concert performance on Nov. 26 at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa.

The production of Verdi’s final opera — based on Shakespeare’s play, The Merry Wives of Windsor — is being directed by Lee Blakeley, with scenery and costumes designed by Adrian Linford; both are making their LA Opera debuts. Rick Fisher is the lighting designer and Nicola Bowie is the choreographer.

This replaces an historic production that originated not with LA Opera but with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1982. What made that production special was that the Phil’s Music Director, Carlo Maria Giulini, was conducting the opera, something that he had not done for 14 years.

Donal Henahan the New York Times music critic wrote of that night, “For one golden moment, at least, this opera-starved city has become the center of the opera universe.” LA Opera took over the production and revived it three over the succeeding decades.

However in this bicennial year of Verdi’s birth LAO General Director Plácido Domingo and Music Director James Conlon elected to mount an entirely new effort. Conlon will conduct all six Los Angeles performances and the concert performance in Orange County.

Italian baritone Roberto Frontali will appear in the title role as Falstaff, along with soprano Carmen Giannattasio as Alice Ford and Marco Caria as Ford. Other cast members are Ronnita Nicole Miller and Erica Brookhyser, alumnae of LA Opera’s young artist program, as Mistress Quickly and as Meg Page; tenor Robert Brubaker as Dr. Caius.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera opens Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” last night at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily



Los Angeles Opera:
Verd’s Simon Boccanegra

February 11, 2012 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: Feb. 15, 21 and March 1 at 7:30 p.m.;
Feb. 19, 26 and March 4 at 2 p.m.



Plcido Domingo and Ana Maria Martinez star in Los Angeles
Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra,
which opened last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo for LAO by
Robert Millard.



Simon Boccanegra
isn’t the least performed of Verdi’s operas but it’s not at the top of the list
of the Italian composer’s favorites, either. It was given, to quote Thomas
May’s article in the printed program, “a lukewarm premiere” when it debuted in
Venice in 1857 and, again according to May, subsequent performances in Florence
and Milan were “outright fiascos.” In 1881, Verdi — who had by then ostensibly
retired from the writing opera — revised the work, and the success of that
revival led him to write his final two — and greatest — operas: Otello and Falstaff.


What Verdi created in Boccanegra
was somewhat formulaic; even though the two plots are different, I had the
feeling I was reliving last season’s Rigoletto
all over again. Part of the reason for the familiarity may be that Michael
Yeargan designed both productions, Rigoletto
originally for San Francisco and Simon
for Royal Opera, Covent Garden.


Nonetheless, wonderful music pours out of every page of Boccanegra and the ensembles he wrote —
trios, quartets and, in particular, a marvelous sextet to conclude the first
Act — the famous “Council Chamber” scene — are quite special.


For Los Angeles Opera, the major reason for mounting Simon Boccanegra is that Plcido Domingo
wanted to undertake the title role. After a century as one of the world’s great
tenors, Domingo (who turned 71 on Jan. 21) has discovered the joys of once
again being a baritone (he actually began that way as a young adult). Actually,
it’s quite a rare feat; normally a tenor voice doesn’t have the heft necessary
for baritone roles but Domingo has always been unique.


Last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Domingo’s lower
register wasn’t as deep as many who have been baritones all of their adult
lives, but the glorious ring that has characterized his more than 130 tenor
roles remains very much in evidence. Moreover, he brought an anguished pathos to
the role of an elder statesman struggling to unite his country while wrestling
with personal demons, as well.


So, if you’re hesitating whether to attend one of the six
remaining performances, hearing and seeing Domingo’s riveting performance in
his “new life” is worth the price of a ticket. Besides, there’s no guarantee
that he can keep going; Domingo has already announced that he’ll perform in
Verdi’s even more rarely heard I Due
to open LAO’s 2012-2013 season in September (yet another baritone role),
but the clock is, regrettably, ticking.


Fortunately, Domingo is not the only reason for making the
trip to downtown Los Angeles; the balance of the cast is uniformly strong and,
in a couple of cases, better than that. For me, the highlight of the evening
was soprano Ana Maria Martinez, who in her fourth appearance with LAO sang the
role of Amelia with a rich, lustrous tone and tossed off a spiffy trill at the
end of the sextet to boot. She also brought deep emotion to her acting.


Vatalij Kowalijow’s portrayal of Jacpo Fiesco echoed the
nobility that the Ukranian bass brought to his portrayal of Wotan in LAO’s Ring cycle three years ago, Stefano
Secco made an impressive LAO debut as Gabriele Adorno a gleaming top tenor
range. The balance of the cast included Paolo Gavanelli as Paolo Albiani (and
didn’t have to worry about remembering his first name), Robert Pomakov as
Pietro, Sara Campbell as Amelia’s maid, and Todd Strange as a captain. The LA Opera Chorus was effective in the crowd scenes.


To no one’s great surprise — he has conducted 25
performances of three productions of Boccanegra
before last night — James Conlon conducted with assurance and sensitivity and
the LA Opera Orchestra played beautifully; it would be a shock if either were
otherwise but such skill is not to be taken lightly or for granted. David Washburn sparkled as a one-man banda.


The production features a simple unit set with columns to
symbolize Italy and a moveable back wall alternating two different styles of
graffiti with Trajan-style letters, each trying to figure out clever ways to
slip Simon Boccanegra’s name among the other words. The costumes, originally by
Peter J. Hall, ranged from colorful to nondescript and the lighting design by
Duane Schuler was suitably atmospheric for the most part. Elijah Moshinsky
directed the six scenes skillfully.




The opera ran just under three hours including one

Conlon revealed in his printed-program article that Simon Boccanegra was among the first
operas he saw, at age 13 from the standing-room area of the old Metropolitan
Opera House in New York City.

The large banners of Domingo and Conlon that used to hang
from atop the Pavilion are no longer present. They were destroyed in big
windstorms in December.

In addition to the remaining Simon Boccanegra performances, LAO’s production of Britten’s Albert Herring opens Feb. 25 for six
performances through March 17. Information:



(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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