NEWS: Domingo, Koelsch ink long-term extensions with LA Opera

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

Barring unforeseen circumstances (e.g., illness, death or artist pique), Los Angeles Opera has solidified its senior management core for the next five years by announcing long-term contract extensions for General Director Plácido Domingo and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Koelsch.

Domingo, who has been in his present position since 2003 but whose tenure traces to the company’s founding in 1986 when he sang the title role in LAO’s inaugural production of Verdi’s Otello, has extended his contract through the 2018-2019 season. Koelsch, who joined the LAO staff in 1997 and was named CEO in 2012, has extended through 2018.

They join Music Director James Conlon, who has a contract through June 2018, and Resident Conductor Grant Gershon, who recently extended his contract through June 2017. In today’s announcement, the company also named John Nuckols, who has been with LAO since 2002, to the new position of Executive Vice President through June 2018.

The executive staff includes Faith Raiguel, who has been Vice President and Chief Financial Officer since 2008, and Diane Rhodes Bergman, who has been Vice President of Marketing and Communications since 2011.

Domingo, now 73, continues to be a workhorse. This month he will appear as Giorgio Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata, his 26th different role with LAO. He has also conducted 15 operas to date with the company and continues to appear as singer and conductor all over the world. During his role as LAO General Director, he founded what is now the Domingo-Colburn-Stern Young Artist Program and recently oversaw the 22nd Operalia vocal competition (for good measure, he conducted the LAO Orchestra in the final round). LINK

Koelsch oversees all aspects of artistic planning for the company, including repertoire development, music administration, the casting of artists, and the selection of guest conductors. He has overseen the creation of more than 32 new productions, including five world premieres, and seven television recordings for LA Opera, including Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, which won two Grammy Awards upon its DVD release. He is also in charge of every aspect of the company’s strategic resources, including board development, fundraising, branding, marketing, public relations and educational administration.

My qualifiers in the first paragraph are worth noting. I’m sure the Vienna State Opera thought it was in fine administrative shape until its General Music Director, Franz Welser-Möst, resigned abruptly today LINK. Nothing is for sure in the music world.

Read the complete LAO media release HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Mario Chang win top prizes at Operalia

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

Chang-Sorensen4Web
Mario Chang of Guatemala and Rachel Willis-Sørensen of the United States won the top prizes at Operalia last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Craig Mathew/LA Opera.

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American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen and Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang each won the two top prizes in the 22nd annual Operalia, the world opera competition founded by Plácido Domingo that concluded last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Søorensen and Chang won the male and female overall first prizes of $30,000 and the top Zarzuela prizes of $10,000 each. This marked just the third time since Operalia began a Zarzuela competition in 1995 that the same two singers won both portions of the contest; the others were in 2008 in Quebec and 2011 in Moscow.

Sørensen, 30, who is an alumna of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Program, also took home the Birgit Nilsson Price for Wagner/Strauss singing for her rich, soaring performance of Dich, teure Halle, from Wagner’s Tannhäuser Saturday night. That prize was a forgone conclusion since she was the only singer to choose an aria from those composers.

Second prizes of $20,000 each went to American soprano Amanda Woodbury and Mexican-American tenor Joshua Guerrero. Third prizes of $10,000 each were awarded to sopranos Anaïs Constans, 26, of France and Mariangela Sicillia, 28, of Italy and counternors John Holiday, 29, of the U.S. and and Andrey Nemzer, 31, of Russia after scores from the 15 judges were tied for third place.

Chang, 28, who recently completed his third year in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, also won the male audience prize, while Woodbury was the voted the female audience favorite. Each won a watch from Rolex, the competition sponsor. Guerrero, a member of Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program, also captured the CulturArte Prize of $10,000. Chang became just the fourth singer to win the top two prizes plus the audience prize.

In addition to her Tannhaüser aria, Søorensen — a statuesque blond wearing a bright red gown who had to overcome what is often a liability of being chosen as the first singer in the final round — was equally opulent in her Zarzuela aria, Tres horas antes del dia from Frederico Moreno Torroba’s La Marchenera.

Chang’s gripping rendition of Ella mi fu rapita! from Verdi’s Rigoletto elicited one of the biggest audience ovations of the evening and he backed it up with a heartfelt offering of No puede ser from Pablo Sorozábal’s La tabemera del puerto in the Zarzuela portion.

The 13 finalists came from 40 singers, ages 18-32, who represented 17 nations. The field was trimmed to 22 semifinalists earlier last week and then to 13 finalists for the concluding round. Five singers sang in the Zarzuela portion. This was the first year that no bass or baritone singer made the finals.

Domingo, who in addition to being Operalia’s founder is LA Opera’s general director, conducted the LA Opera Orchestra for the final round and presented the prizes at the conclusion of the evening. Each of the singers sang in front of a backdrop representing their chosen opera. In addition to the audience in the Pavilion, the competition was streamed live via medici.tv.

This year marked the third time that Operalia has been held in Los Angeles (the others were 2000 and 2004). The competition also was held in 2001 in Washington D.C. and 1999 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Information: www.operaliacompetition.org

Hemidemisemiquavers:
• Unlike major instrumental competitions, which require quite extensive repertoire of contestants, Operalia singers were required only to prepare four arias in their original language, plus two Zarzuela pieces if they desired. Thus it was disappointing that all but one of the arias sung in the finals were from the 19th century (the exception was a Handel aria, which of course, was from the 18th). Nothing was selected from the 20th or 21st centuries.
• Except for countertenor Andrey Nemzer singing an aria from Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila and soprano Rachael Willis Sørenson’s number from Wagner’s Tannhauser, everything else was in French or Italian.
• Following the competition, all 40 singers joined Domingo and the orchestra in singing the Operalia Hymn, which was composed by Plácido Domingo, Jr. Although none of the songs had supertranslations, one might have expected that the hymn lyric translations would have been projected.
• The names and numbers for the first two singers weren’t projected (and since the house lights were down you couldn’t read the program). By the third singer the issue had been rectified.
• Thank goodness for women! While men were in black tie or white tie (not a single red bow tie in evidence), the women offered a pleasing array of gowns, different in style and color.
• Operalia took place at the same time as the first night of “Made in America,” the rock concert in nearby Grand Park. Fortunately, nothing — not even the heavily reverberant bass amps on the Grand Park stage — was evident in the Pavilion.
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(c) Copyright 2014, 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
News

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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.

Information: www.losangelesopera.com

58450-Domingo-Martinez.jpg

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.

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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
Boccanegra
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
Foscari
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.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

The opera ran just under three hours including one
intermission.

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: www.losangelesopera.com

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

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STORY AND LINKS: LA Opera announced 2012-2013 season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

With three big anniversaries occurring in 2013 — the
bicentennials of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner and the
centennial of Benjamin Britten — hopes were high that Los Angeles Opera’s
2012-2013 season might move beyond the current one, which continues with
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, opening
Saturday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

 

No such luck. The upcoming season will have 37 performances
of six operas, the same as 2011-2012 and down considerably from the 2006-07
high of 10 productions and 75 performances. Unlike the previous two seasons,
there will be no Britten operas next season and LAO’s “Recovered Voices”
project of music and composers suppressed and/or murdered by the Nazis remains
on hiatus (although a version of the latter surfaced at The Colburn School
earlier this year). The company also added some details to its new “dynamic
pricing policy.

 

LAO continues to cite the economic downturn and the
financial effects of its production of Wagner’s Ring cycle in 2009 as reasons
for its cautious stance “Our mission to present world-class performances is
matched by our need to be fiscally sound,” says CEO Stephen D. Rountree in the
media release. “We have been conscientious about maintaining our artistic
standards while adhering strictly to our budgets. We have even been able to
repay–a year ahead of schedule–half of the Bank of America loan, guaranteed by
the County of Los Angeles, that helped to stabilize the Company during the
worst part of the economic downturn.”

 

Also continuing a recent trend, five of the six 2012-2013 productions
will be imported from other companies — Lyric Opera, Chicago, San Francisco
Opera, Houston Grand Opera figure heavily into the mix. The one “new”
production is the opening opera, Verdi’s rarely heard The Two Foscari (l Due Foscari), which
is a coproduction between LAO and companies in Valencia (Spain, not Calif.),
Vienna and London. The opera offers Plcido Domingo another baritone role
suited to his age (the character is described as “an aging head of state).
James Conlon will conduct, one of four productions he will lead next season.
Thaddeus Strassberger makes his company debut directing.

 

The Two Foscari (which
will be sung in Italian with English supertitles) will open on Sept. 15 in the
first of six performances. It will run in tandem with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which will open Sept. 22
and run for seven performances. Conlon will conduct the first five performances
and Domingo will conduct the last two. The production is from Lyric Opera,
Chicago, first seen in 2004.

 

Other offerings are:

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, beginning Nov. 17 for six performances.
Soprano Oksana Dyka (Tatiana in this season’s production of Eugene Onegin) sings the title role. The
other notable cast name is Eric Owens (Grendel in 2006) as Sharpless. Grant
Gershon, who was recently promoted to LAO’s resident conductor, will lead the
LAO orchestra for six performances beginning Nov. 17. Ron Daniels directs a
production he created originally for San Francisco Opera.

 

Wagner’s Der Flieglende Hollnder (The Flying
Dutchman)
opens March 9,
2013, for six performances. Conlon conducts and, rather than exhume its own
Julie Taymor-created production, LAO is importing one from San Francisco Opera.
Icelandic baritone Tmas Tmasson makes his company in the title role,
Elisabete Matos (also in her LAO debut) will portray Senta and, most
interestingly, Jay Hunter Morris, who has sung the role of Siegfried in the
Met’s current Ring cycle to great
acclaim, returns as Erik.

 

Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which begins
March 23, 2013 and runs for six performances. Conlon conducts and, again,
rather than use its own previous production (which, unlike Taymor’s Flying Dutchman, was very well received
when it appeared in 2000) will import one, this time a co-production of Houston
Grand Opera and Gran Teatro de Liceu of Barcelona directed by Joan Font.
Perhaps it’s cheaper to rent than renovate.

 

Puccini’s Tosca opens May 18 and plays
(somewhat surprisingly for such a warhorse) for just six dates. Sondra
Radvanovsky will perform the title role and Domingo conducts. Again bypassing
its own production, this one will come from Houston Grand Opera, first seen in
2007.

 

The company will also present soprano Rene Fleming and
mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in recital on Jan. 19 but at Walt Disney Concert
Hall rather than the Pavilion, which will host all of the operas.

 

LAO also formally announced several new pricing initiatives.
The company is remapping the Pavilion’s seating plan to make more seats
available at “affordable” prices (described in the release as $99 or less). The
statement also said that the number of tickets priced at $50 or less has been
increased by 10 percent, although it did not give an actual number. LAO is also
instituting a program where seats are allocated for every performance for
students, seniors and “underserved groups” so they can attend at “minimal
cost.”

 

On the other side of the coin (literally and figuratively),
the company will institute a “demand-based pricing” system whereby when ticket
sales reach certain unspecified levels, prices will be reset upward (the
release used as an example popular Sunday matinee performances). However,
prices will not be lowered if a particular performance tanks in ticket sales
(although venues such as Gold Star often offer discounted ticket prices).
“Season subscribers will always pay the lowest ticket prices,” the release
emphasized, “at a discount from the base price.”

 

Subscriptions are now sale; single tickets will go on sale
later in the year. Information: www.laopera.com

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 9, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Each Thursday, I list five events that pique my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive
tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.,
Zipper Hall, Los Angeles

Tuesday at 8 p.m. at
Huntington Library, San Marino

Camerata Pacifica

This traveling group (each concert plays in venues in four
different cities) brings its latest program to Zipper Hall at The Colburn
School in downtown Los Angeles tonight and to the Huntington Tuesday night. The
program is a mixture of old and new: John Harbison’s Variations for Clarinet, Violin and Piano; Sheng’s Seven Tunes Heard in China for Cello; Schuman’s
 Mrchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), for Viola and Piano, Op. 113;
and Beethoven’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op.
11, Gassenhauer. Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

 

Saturday at 9:00
a.m. in local movie theatres

Metropolitan Opera in
HD: Wagner’s Gotterdamerung

If you’ve wondered what has caused all the kvetching
vis–vis the Met’s new Ring cycle,
here’s your chance to see the last part of the cycle: Gotterdamerung. The reviews have been generally negative not only
of this production but also pretty much of all four productions, although
there’s been lots of praise for Fabio Luisi’s work in the pit leading the Met
Orchestra. However, as we learned from Siegfried,
what comes across on the big screen may be quite different from the
experience in the Met. Personally, I’d vote for L.A. Opera’s production of
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (see below)
but if you’re a glutton for punishment, you have time to do both with dinner in
between. Also, take note that Gotterdamerung
runs six hours. An “Encore” date has not been announced. Information: www.metoperafamily.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera:
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra

Plcido Domingo performs the title role, which was written
for a baritone and fits Domingo’s voice at this stage of his career. James
Conlon conducts and gives a pre-concert lecture one hour before the
performance. Elijah Moshinsky directs this production from Royal Opera, Covent
Garden (Brian in Out West Arts has
one of his informative “10 Questions” features on Moshinsky HERE). There are
six other performances, beginning Wednesday. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale: Bruckner and Stravinsky

Music Director Grant Gershon leads 115 members of his
Chorale and a wind orchestra in Anton Bruckner Mass in E Minor and the motet Os Justi, along with Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Should be a real
treat in the Disney Hall acoustics.  Information: www.lamc.org

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Sunday at 6 at St.
James Episcopal Church, Los Angeles

Edward Tipton, who from 1989-2010 was Canon of Music at the
American Cathedral in Paris and is now Minister of Music for St. John’s
Pro-Cathedral in Los Angeles, appears on St. James International Organ Laureate
Series. The recital will follow an Evensong service at 4:30 p.m. and will be
played on a historically important instrument (read about it HERE). The church
is located on Wilshire Blvd., two blocks west of Western Ave. and is reachable
via a short walk from the Metro Purple Line’s Wilshire/Western station. Information: www.saintjamesla.org

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

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