PREVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” sets sail Saturday in Los Angeles

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
Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

Opening night: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Other performances: March 21, 27 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. March 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.
(Best seating availability: March 9, 17 and 27)
Preconcert lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
Tickets: $19-$287
To say that Los Angeles Opera’s decision to present Richard Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman was the result of a perfect storm would be to use a perhaps-too-obvious metaphor. Nonetheless, the legendary captain and his ghost ship — doomed to sail the seas endlessly until a curse is lifted by a woman’s love — drop anchor Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the first of six performances.

James Conlon, who recently extended his contract as LA Opera’s music director through the 2017-2018 season, will conduct the production, which comes to Los Angeles via Lyric Opera Chicago and San Francisco Opera, where it was created by noted German director Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Daniel Dooner will direct this offering with sets by Raimud Bauer and costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer (all three are making their company debuts).

Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson (pictured) will make his LAO debut in the title role. Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos will also appear with the company for the first time as Senta, the young woman whose devotion offers the Dutchman a hope for salvation. Tenor Corey Blix will portray Erik; he replaces Jay Hunter Morris, who had to pull out due to illness.

Given Conlon’s often-expressed desire to make LA Opera a Wagner mecca and the fact that 2013 marks the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth,The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer to be more accurate, since the work will be sung in German with English supertitles) was one of the obvious candidates to present this year.Dutchman will be the eighth Wagner opera that Conlon has conducted at LAO; the only missing link of the composer’s major works from LAO’s repertory isDie Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

MountingDutchman in 2013 also continues a company policy of presenting major works approximately every 10 years, explains Christopher Koelsch, LAO’s president and chief executive officer.

When LA Opera first presentedDutchman in 1993, Julie Taymor (in the days before she gained fame for her production ofThe Lion King) created a unique, albeit controversial production that the company revived a decade later.

This time around, says Koelsch, the opportunity to present Lenhoff’s production was too good to pass up. “I saw the original production in Chicago,” recalls Koelsch. “It was a powerful, moving experience. With this production, we continue a trend this year of presenting masters of the directing craft to our audiences, artists of great intellect and heft.”

Last fall, LAO eschewed a respectable homegrown production ofDon Giovanni to introduce director German Peter Stein to local audiences. Later this month when the company presents Rossini’sCinderella, it will lay aside its own colorful, playful production of a decade ago for an entirely new creative team (to local audiences, at any rate) headed by Director Joan Funt that will re-create what was originally a co-production of Houston Grand Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona.

Flying Dutchman marked a turning point in Wagner’s life when it debuted in 1843 in Dresden. Many of elements that would permeate his later operas first appeared inDutchman, including the use ofleitmotifsleading motives that allowed Wagner to delve deeply into psychological aspects of his characters and audiences with what amounted tosignature tunes.

Thoseleitmotifs show up immediately in the work’s overture, one of the great musical depictions of a storm at sea. Woven throughout the storm are motives for the Dutchman, Senta (the woman who can break the curse) and, finally redemption itself. This ability to weave motives into an extended orchestral writing would appear often in Wagner’s later operas.

Dutchman was revolutionary in another way. Although it contains three acts, Wagner’s concept was that all three should be performed as a single unit, and although some companies do insert one or two intermissions, LAO will honor the composer’s instructions by playing the entire work — two hours and 20 minutes — without a break.

The subject matter itself proved to be a prelude to themes that would emerge in Wagner’s later operas. Musicologist Thomas May writes, “Wagner discovered in the Dutchman the first of his mythic figures, ambivalent in nature, who have the flexibility to accommodate multiple meanings. His (unnamed) hero acquires the resonance of an archetype or myth as timeless as the wandering Odysseus and that, according to the composer, expresses ‘the longing for peace from the storms of life.’ “

In his official memoirs, Wagner wrote that the inspiration forDutchman came from a storm-tossed sea trip he made from Riga to Paris in 1838. However, the legend of the wandering, doomed sea captain was quite popular in the 19th century including an account by German poet Heinrich Heine who, like Wagner, was exiled from his homeland to Paris.

While Heine set his tale in Scotland, Wagner transplanted the locale to Norway. However, the essential elements of the myth — in particular, the concept of man’s redemption through love — would makeThe Flying Dutchman a major success for Wagner and point the way to his later operas, includingTristan und Isolde,Parsifal and, especially, his massive four-opera cycle,Der Ring des Nibelungen.

• James Conlon’s commentary in the printed program is HERE.
* Thomas May’s article in the printed program is HERE.

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

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Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 23, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



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., Tomorrow
at 11 a.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

We’ll soon find out whether the Los Angeles Philharmonic has
jet lag after returning from Caracas following a very hectic week playing in
the Venezuelan portion of “The Mahler Project.” The Phil returns to be led by a
familiar guest conductor, Charles Duoit (currently finishing up his tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years music director
of the Montreal Symphony). This weekend’s program is mostly familiar Dutoit
fare: Stravinsky’s Symphony of Wind
Debussy’s La Mer, and
a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.


Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)

Wroclaw Philharmonic
Orchestra; Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Artistic Director Jacek Kaspszyk leads The National Forum of
Music Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra (to give the ensemble its formal name) at
VPAC on tour with a program that includes Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and Chopin’s
Piano Concerto No. 2, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. Information:


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

Los Angeles Opera: Albert Herring

Los Angeles Opera brings this “coming of age” work by
Benjamin Britten, using a production from Santa Fe Opera that will be conducted
by James Conlon, who will also deliver a lecture one hour before each
performance. Tenor Alex Shrader makes his Los Angeles debut in the title role.
Brian in “Out West Arts” has one of his familiar “10 Questions” profile with
Shrader HERE. David Mermelstein previews the opera in his Los Angeles Times article HERE. Information:


Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

For the past several years in what he calls the “Discover
Series,” Music Director Jeffrey Kahane has picked a single piece to first
discuss and then perform. The choice Saturday night is one of the landmarks of
choral repertoire: Bach’s Magnificat,
with a text drawn from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.


Joining Kahane and LACO are The University of Southern California
Thornton Chamber Singers, directed by Jo-Michael Scheibe; and five soloists:
Charlotte Dobbs, soprano, Zanaida Robles, soprano, Janelle DeStefano, mezzo
soprano, Ben Bliss, tenor, and Daniel Armstrong, baritone.




Two of the other
offerings are opera holdovers:

San Diego Opera’s production of Moby-Dick wraps up its
run on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the San Diego Civic Theatre. My
review is HERE. Information:


LA Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra plays Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion. My review is HERE. Information:


Also, the “encore performance” of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s Mahler 8 concert in
Caracas earlier this month will be shown Wednesday at 7 p.m. (local time) in
four Los Angeles-area theaters along with a couple in Orange County. Information:


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Tuesday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Vor Frue Kirkes
Drenge-Mandskor and Vanse Guttekor-Deo Gloria

Two internationally renowned boys’ choirs appear as part of
a Southland tour with a selection of Norwegian, Danish and American music
concluding with Jonah — a Liturgical



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

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NEWS AND LINKS: LA Opera offers new ticket deal for “Albert Herring”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


Give LA Opera an “A” for effort when it comes to drumming up
interest for its upcoming production of Albert
by Benjamin Britten, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion.


The company is offering tickets at $25 for those who have
already purchased tickets for the production or are going to do so. The offer
aimed at encouraging patron to invite someone who has never attended an opera
before (“opera virgins,” in LAO parlance, a play on the title character).


The offer — which runs for three days only (Wednesday
through Friday) is good for five of the six performances (Feb. 25, March 3,
March 8, March 14 and March 17), but not for the March 11 performance.
Tickets can be purchased at the box office, online, or via phone
(213/972-8001). There’s a limit of two $25 tickets per order and you can’t cash
in previously bought tickets to take advantage of the offer.


Why “opera virgins”? Albert
is about a country village trying to crown a May queen and needing
a virgin to qualify. Turns out the only virgin in the village is a meek mama’s
boy named Albert Herring, who will have a night he won’t forget (to quote the
LAO publicity). Tenor Alek Shrader makes his company debut in the title role
and James Conlon conducts the production, which comes by way of Santa Fe Opera.


Get details on the ticket offer HERE. Opera information:



(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera’s “Romo et Juliette” at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



LA Opera: Gounod’s Romo et Juliette

Saturday, November 12, 2011 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: November 17 at 7:30 p.m. November 19 and
20 at 2 p.m.



56623-Romeo image.jpg

Nino Machaidze and Vittorio Grigolo play the lead roles in
LA Opera’s production of Gounod’s Romo
et Juliette,
now playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.



I’m not sure exactly when it hit me — probably somewhere
near the end of the balcony scene of Gounod’s Romo et Juiette last night — but it sort of crept up on me that
it’s been several years since LA Opera mounted a really bad production. If
you liked the company’s presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (which I emphatically did), then the
weakest evening in quite some time was last season’s presentation of Lohengrin and even if you didn’t think
much of the production concept (which I didn’t), that performance had much to
recommend it.


Last season began with the scintillating production of
Daniel Catn’s Il Postino and also
included The Marriage of Figaro,
Rigoletto, Il Turco in Italia
and The
Turn of the Screw —
all top-notch presentation. This season opened with Eugene
and Cosi Fan Tutte, the former
(as I wrote) often riveting, the latter one of the best things that LAO has
ever done. That’s quite an impressive run and Romo et Juliette, a revival of LA Opera’s 2005 production, certainly
adds to that list.


At least some of the reason for the success has been the
company’s ability to cast imaginatively with singers who have either been
relatively unknown (e.g., Charles Castronovo in Il Postino) or taking on a role for the first time (e.g., Patricia
Racette in The Turn of the Screw). Tonight
was yet another chapter in that ongoing story.


Gounod’s retelling of the famous Shakespeare tale isn’t a
great opera (although it isn’t as bad as some critics think). Considering that
(as Michael Hackett noted in his preconcert lecture) Gounod and his librettists,
Jules Barbier and Michael Carre, were translating Shakespeare’s 16th
century English play about a story set in 15th century Verona into a
in 19th century opera in France that we’re viewing in the 21st
century, it’s a wonder that it works as well as it does.


However, there’s no real reason to mount this opera unless
you have two special singer-actors in the starring roles. In 2005, LAO led with
Rolando Villazn and Anna Netrebko who were just emerging as the hottest couple
in the operatic firmament.


In his program-book letter, LAO General Director Plcido
Domingo wrote, “Although I have been eager to revive Romo, I was willing to wait until I could find the perfect duo for
the title roles.” The wait was worth it, and if you haven’t seen Vittorio
Grigolo and Nino Machaidze as the star-crossed lovers, you should certainly get
yourself to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for one of the last three
performances because they are special. Although it’s always risky to make these
sort of predictions, you may one day look back and say, “I was there.”


In view of the fact that the lead characters are supposed to
be adolescents who can pour out miles of mature adult singing, Gounod was
seeking the impossible, roughly equivalent to Wagner’s troubles in casting the
title role of Siegfried (the two
operas were written at about the same time; Romo
et Juliette
premiered in 1867, nine years before Siegfried).


However, the 34-year-old Grigolo and the 28-year-old
Machaidze are about as close to the ideal as we’re going to get and that’s a
good thing on several fronts. For one thing, John Gunther’s imaginative sets —
sort of a cross between an erector set and Disneyland’s New Orleans Square —
require Grigolo to scamper up and down metal ladders, often while singing his
heart out. For another, the two genuinely seem inflamed with each other, always
a good thing when portraying these most famous lovers — in fact, they couldn’t
seem to keep their hands off each other once they first met (well, don’t you
remember what it was like to be a teenager with hormones raging?).


More importantly, Grigolo and Machaidze sing gorgeously —
boy, do they ever. Gounod gives them five love duets and plenty of other opportunities
and they take full advantage. Grigolo — who is making his LAO debut with this
role — exudes power with virtually every note; in fact, one wished for an
occasional lighter touch just as a change of pace but that’s a very minor kvetch. Machaidze, who we’ve seen twice
before with LAO, was more nuanced in her singing. However, she could match
Grigolo note for note in volume and was even more smoldering than he was.


The other parts are far less fulfilling — blame Gounod. The
most impressive last night were Vitalij Kowalijow (Wotan in LAO’s Ring) as a noble Friar Laurence and Rene
Rapier, a University of Iowa grad who had a saucy, scene-stealing turn as
Stephano. Rapier is part of the company’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artists
Program, one of six current or former DTYAP members in the cast.


Ian Judge, who directed the original production in 2005,
came back for the revival. Gunther’s set slid, turned and revolved enough to
allow Gounod’s five acts to be played as just two (the evening clocked in at
about 3:15). The fight choreography by Ed Douglas and the lighting design by
Nigel Levings were particularly effective.


Domingo accompanied his singers sensitively, although his
overall concept could have done with a bit more Gallic flare and nuance. James
Conlon he isn’t but this was a solid performance and, frankly, nobody comes to
this opera solely to hear the orchestra, which continues to be one of the
company’s strong points. The LAO chorus sang strongly thoroughly the evening.


Ultimately, as noted earlier, this was another in a string
of strong LAO productions over the past three seasons. As the company moves
into its second quarter-century, that’s healthy sign and one that bodes well
for the future.



(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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(Revised) NEWS AND LINK: Composer Daniel Catn dies unexpectedly at age 62

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


NOTE: This post has been amended to include a quote from Charles Castronovo at the end and a link to the LA Opera Web site.

Daniel Catn, the most significant Mexican-American
classical music composer of the last 25 years, died unexpectedly Saturday in
Austin, TX at the age of 62. Catn, who lived in South Pasadena, was best known
for his opera Il Postino, which was
premiered last September to great acclaim and sold-out audiences at Los Angeles


 Il Postino starred Placido Domingo as
Pablo Neruda and Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruppolo (The Postman of the
title). In my review (LINK), I called the work “a stunning new opera … one of those
all-too-rare nights when every individual element melded marvelously… a
performance that reminded us that opera — at its best — can touch emotions and
tell stories like no other medium.” Many other critics were equally laudatory
in their reviews. (LINK)

Il Postino went on
to performances in Vienna and will be presented at the Theatre du Chtelet in
Paris on June 20. Another production was mounted last week by the University of
Houston’s Moores Opera Center.


Catn’s death is obviously a tragedy for his family and friends
(he is survived by his wife Andrea Puente, three children Chloe, Tom, and Alan,
and four grandchildren). However, it’s also a great loss for all who love opera
and particularly those in Southern California, with its large and growing
Latino population. Part of what made Il
distinctive was that it was written in Spanish.


Although Catn’s lyrical style was likened to Puccini — most
notably in Il Postino — what made Catn
unique was his ability to infuse his works with a Mexican flavor without being
too obvious about it (Catn was born in Mexico City and later became a U.S.


When San Diego Opera produced his Rappacini’s Daughter in 1994, Catn became the first Mexican
composer to have an opera produced in the U.S. Two years later, Houston Grand
Opera commissioned Florencia en el
which was subsequently produced by LA Opera. It was the first
opera written in Spanish underwritten by a major opera company.


Catn was also notable for creating in Il Postino an opera that was as memorable as its sources: the 1985
novella Ardiente Pacienca (Burning
by Antonio Skrmeta and the Academy-award-winning 1994 film, Il Postino (The Postman), by Michael
Radford. Few operas, or motion pictures, for that matter, are able to translate
its source material as well as did Catn in Il
In the process Catn created something that was, on the one hand,
familiar and, on the other, totally different.


Catn had recently written a new chamber version of his
first opera (now called La Hija de
and was currently at work on his fifth opera, Meet John Doe, which was due to premiere
in October 2012.


Catn studied philosophy at the University of Sussex in
England before enrolling at Princeton University as a PhD student in composition.
Following his studies he served as music administrator at Mexico City’s Palace
of Fine Arts (1983-89). Catn was also a writer on music and the arts. His
honors include the Plcido Domingo Award in 1998 for his contribution to opera
and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000.


Catn was on leave from his position on the faculty of
College of the Canyons in Valencia when he died. The Los Angeles Times is reporting (LINK) that the composer died in
his sleep in his apartment in Austin, and no foul play is suspected, according
to a spokeswoman for the university. The composer’s representative said that he
wasn’t suffering from any known illnesses.


Marc Stern, chairman of LA Opera, issued the following
statement: “On behalf of Plcido Domingo and the entire company, we are shocked
and grief-stricken at this terrible loss. (since it is the middle of the night
in Japan at present, Plcido is not yet aware of this heartbreaking news; I
know he will be devastated). All of us at LA Opera were truly fortunate to have
worked very closely with Daniel as he prepared “Il Postino” for its world premiere in
Los Angeles last year … and Daniel became a beloved and respected member of the
LA Opera family in recent seasons.


“The incredible success of Il Postino should have marked the beginning of a new era of
artistic achievement for him,” continued Stern. “He was unquestionably one of
the most important opera composers of our time as well as one of the most
popular, and his sudden passing is a terrible loss to the world of classical
music. I know that his operas will continue to move audiences with their beauty
and emotional power. We send our deepest, heartfelt sympathies to his wife and
family on their terrible, sudden loss.”

From Rome, where he is performing, Castronovo wrote: “It was a rare opportunity  to be able to create the role of Mario in Il Postino with Daniel Catan. His  wonderful music was only one view into a man that was so warm, giving and accepting all at the same time. He made me feel that I was part of his musical process, putting my own personality and musical instincts into a piece of art that he dreamt up with all his love. It was a great honor to know him and create music with him. I know future performances of Il Postino will be full of all the casts love and respect for this wonderful man.”

Click HERE for the LA Opera Web site information on Catn.



(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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