Los Angeles Opera / Music News & Info: Classical

My $0.02 on the 2018/19 LA Opera season

 (Photo credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera)Los Angeles Opera and Plácido Domingo, their General Director, issued a press release last week announcing details of their 2018/19 (full details are below).  In short, here’s what we’ve got to look forward to:

Mainstage (Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)
Six performances each of:

    1. Don Carlo (Verdi):  September 22 through October 14, 2018; revival.
      James Conlon conducts. Ramón Vargas (Don Carlo), Ana María Martínez (Elisabeth de Valois), Anna Smirnova (Princess Eboli), Ferruccio Furlanetto (King Philip II, Sep 22 & 29 only), and Plácido Domingo (Rodrigo).
    2. Satyagraha (Glass):  October 20 through November 11, 2018; company premiere.
      Grant Gershon conducts.  Sean Panikkar (Gandhi), J’Nai Bridges (Kasturbai).  Phelim McDermott (director).
    3. Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck):  November 17 through December 15, 2018; revival.
      James Conlon conducts. Sasha Cooke (Hansel), Liv Redpath (Gretel), Susan Graham (The Witch).  Doug Fitch (director).
    4. La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) (Mozart):  March 2 through 24, 2019; company premiere; new production.
      James Conlon conducts. Russell Thomas (Titus), Guanqun Yu (Vitellia), Elizabeth DeShong (Sextus), Janai Brugger (Servilia), James Creswell (Publius).  Thaddeus Strassberger (director).
    5. El Gato Montés: The Wildcat (Penella):  April 27 through May 19, 2019; production new to Los Angeles.
      Jordi Bernàcer conducts.  Ana María Martínez (Solea), Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Rafael Ruiz), Plácido Domingo (Juanillo, the Wildcat). José Carlos Plaza (director).
    6. La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi):  June 1 through 22, 2019; revival.
      James Conlon conducts.  Adela Zaharai (Violetta), Rame Lahaj (Alfredo: June 1, 9, & 13), Charles Castronovo (Alfredo:  June 16, 19, & 22), Igor Golovatenko (Germont: June 16, 19, & 22).

My first reaction? I’m “whelmed” — neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed — so I’ll grade it as a “C” on an absolute scale, and a “C+/B-” if I’m grading on a curve (compared to LA Opera’s recent history).  At a minimum, it’s definitely an improvement over the current 2017/18 season, thank goodness.

There are many things to like when you get up close.    I’m happy to see that a long-ignored Mozart opera is finally getting performed and that a work by a living composer makes it to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  They’re presenting interesting works in their Off Grand series.  Cast lists are more compelling in general, and Mr. Domingo himself is appearing in two different productions. Bravi for all that.

And yet, at a 30,000 foot view, it still looks like an opera company that is painfully cautious. It’s worthwhile to recall that back in 2011, the Los Angeles Times described a conversation with Mr. Domingo where he mentioned that “the company ‘has to be careful’ financially going forward but added that he would like to see a return to as many as eight productions by the 2012-13 season.” . . . Yeah, not so much.

Instead, Mr. Domingo et al are seemingly content with an “if the minimum weren’t good enough, it wouldn’t be the minimum” kind of status quo, and satisfied with smaller achievements when others around them — from the juggernaut of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to the nimble Los Angeles Master Chorale, the always adventurous Long Beach Opera, and the creative and convention-defying work by The Industry —  have turned boldness into the new normal.

Yes, LA Opera is taking steps forward.  It’s just that everyone else is moving leaps and bounds ahead in both quantity and quality, and making LA Opera seem more pedestrian every year by comparison.

Still, it can be worse — it has been worse.  We’ll take what we can get for now and pray that the company keeps moving in the right direction.

Here’s an analysis of the season:

The Numbers

  • 36 = mainstage performances (six operas, each performed six times), same as last year.  Six performances per opera has become normal around these parts, even for warhorses.
  • 26 = total performances conducted by James Conlon, LA Opera’s Music Director.  Regardless of what’s happening on stage or what music is sitting on the orchestra’s stands, you can rest assured that the sounds coming out of the pit will be reliably top-notch whenever Maestro Conlon is on the podium.
  • 12 = times Plácido Domingo appears on stage as part of the cast (six each  in Don Carlo and El Gato Montés).  Say what you will about his artistic choices or the fact that his vocal chops aren’t quite what they used to be, the legendary tenor-cum-baritone still sings better at 77 years old than most folks out there do in their prime AND he reliably puts butts in seats.
  • 8 = Off Grand performances.  The company likes to take their biggest risks away from the Dorothy Chandler, and this series has been interesting.
  • 5 = LA Opera seasons — going back to 2013/14 — since they’ve presented more than six mainstage productions, and that’s counting the short runs that season for Einstein on the Beach and A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • 3 = world premieres. Two as part of the Off Grand series, one as part of their ongoing Outreach and Family Performance efforts:
    • Vampyr:  two performances at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel of the 1932 Carl Theodor Dreyer film with new music by Joby Talbot
    • Prism: four performances at REDCAT of a new work by the up-and-coming Ellen Reid (yes, a woman, for those who track such things) in a partnership with Beth Morrison Projects
    • Moses: a new opera composed by Henry Mollicone and librettist Shishir Kurup, “created for audiences of all ages, and featuring more than 400 professional, amateur and student performers.”  James Conlon conducts two performances at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
  • 2 = number of mainstage operas NOT sung in Italian:  Satyagraha is in Sanskrit; Hansel & Gretel is in . . . well, um . . . neither LA Opera’s press release nor its website specify whether Hansel & Gretel will be sung in the original German or the commonly-performed English translation, but we can be pretty confident that it won’t be done in Italian.
  • 0 = number of operas by Wagner or Puccini.  That’s either a good or bad thing, depending on one’s point of view.  It’s also the number of times LA Opera has ever presented The Rake’s Progress by Stravinsky — someday, maybe.  Someday, hopefully.

Other Observations

  • Favorite parts of the season:
    • Finally FINALLY getting La Clemenza di Tito onto the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage.  Throughout its history, despite all the down years and setbacks, LA Opera has always done a very nice job with Mozart operas.  Last season’s Abduction from the Seraglio was loads of fun, the 2D expressionistic Magic Flute of the recent past has rightly become a fan and critical favorite, and even the tongue-in-cheek  ¡Figaro 90210! from the 2014-15 Off Grand season was a delight.  Perhaps Idomeneo will make it back in the near future too.
    • Satyagraha:  I’m ambivalent about Glass’s music in general, but positive impressions of Einstein on the Beachv still resonate with me many years later, and although I didn’t see LA Opera’s 2016 Akhnaten, I heard consistently excellent things from those whose opinion I trust.  Moreover, for as little as this company does 20th or 21st Century opera in recent years, they’ve had many compelling productions (Bluebeard’s Castle and The Ghosts of Versailles were particularly strong).  Finally, putting Grant Gershon on the podium for any contemporary music work virtually guarantees that the music will be presented in the best possible light, regardless of how thorny the score may be.
    • La Traviata:  As operatic warhorses go, this one’s my favorite.  The Prohibition-era updating is certainly quirky, but I am not turned off by it as many others are.  The cast is respectable, and whenever a soprano (in this case, Adela Zaharai) makes her company debut as Violetta, it becomes a great opportunity to take measure of her skills.
  • Guest singers we’re especially happy to have back (roughly in order of appearance):  Ramón Vargas,  Ana María Martínez,  Ferruccio Furlanetto,  Susan Graham,  Russell Thomas,  Elizabeth DeShong,  Janai Brugger,  Charles Castronovo, and  Rod Gilfry (in the West Coast premiere of David Lang’s the loser, the third production in the Off Grand series, with two performances at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel on Feb 22 & 23, 2019)
  • Singer who we’re most looking forward to seeing in her LA Opera debut:   Sasha Cooke
  • Singer who isn’t on any cast lists for the 2018/19 season whom I’m hoping finds her way back to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion soon:  the incomparable Sondra Radvanovsky
  • If you go to LA Opera’s website specifically to look at the cast and crew for any individual production, you’re likely to find that some of the names have various symbolic suffixes, specifically:  *, +, and ++.  Yet if you look for a key describing the meaning of those symbols, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one.  With that in mind, dear readers, let me add some extra value to your life by helping decipher this code:
    • * = company debut
    • + = a member of the company’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program
    • ++ = an alumnus of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program
  • Lisa Hirsch of Iron Tongue of Midnight makes an amusing and pointed observation regarding the production art for Don Carlo.





LA Opera Announces
2018/19 Season


(Los Angeles) January 18, 2018 –  Eli and Edythe Broad General Director Plácido Domingo has announced the repertory and artist roster for the company’s 2018/19 season, planned by Mr. Domingo in collaboration with Richard Seaver Music Director James Conlon and Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and CEO Christopher Koelsch. The season will include six mainstage productions presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, with additional performances presented elsewhere through the company’s Off Grand initiative.

The season opens with a revival of Verdi’s Don Carlo, conducted by James Conlon and starring Mr. Domingo as Rodrigo. This is followed by the company premiere of Satyagraha by Philip Glass, conducted by Grant Gershon; a revival of Hansel and Gretel, conducted by Mr. Conlon and featuring Susan Graham as the Witch; the company premiere of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) in a new production conducted by Mr. Conlon and directed by Thaddeus Strassberger; a production (new to Los Angeles) of Penella’s El Gato Montés: The Wildcat starring Mr. Domingo in the title role and conducted by Jordi Bernàcer; and a revival of La Traviata conducted by Mr. Conlon and starring 2017 Operalia winner Adela Zaharia. Complete casting and additional information can be found at LAOpera.org.

“The 2018/19 season will be a wonderful adventure for our community,” said Mr. Domingo. “It is so exciting to be a part of this journey, because opera is an art form that never fails to astonish me. For example, the two mainstage works that are completely new to our repertoire—Satyagraha and The Clemency of Titus, written nearly two centuries apart—could not be more different from each other aesthetically, but their powerful themes of justice and humanity resonate in the present day. Indeed, all of the season’s repertory offers opportunities for audiences to experience opera’s unique ability to access and express the otherwise inexpressible range of human emotion. Personally, I am particularly looking forward to my first Los Angeles performances of Rodrigo in Don Carlo, my sixth Verdi baritone role here with James Conlon, as well as reintroducing our audiences to El Gato Montés: The Wildcat, a work that has long held a special place in my heart. The combination of large-scale operas on our main stage along with a particularly exciting range of Off Grand presentations means that there is something for everyone this season, regardless of their experience of opera.”

“As I look ahead to the coming season, I relish the opportunity to introduce the company premiere of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus),” said Mr. Conlon. “LA Opera has never produced this unquestionable masterpiece, which was composed virtually simultaneously with The Magic Flute in the last months of Mozart’s short life. It will be a great and important experience for our audiences. Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel has entranced audiences of all ages for its entire 125-year history. It is a work of enormous charm and accessibility, speaking from its deep roots in our fairy tale tradition. It features a Wagnerian-scaled score that is especially gratifying for the orchestra and conductor. Finally, I am of course particularly looking forward to revisiting two essential Verdi masterpieces—La Traviata and Don Carlo—that I conducted on successive nights of the first weekend of my debut season in Los Angeles. Bookending the coming season, they will provide two excellent occasions to celebrated the extraordinary strides the orchestra and chorus have made over the past 12 years. I’m also extremely proud to offer the second world premiere in our Cathedral Project series, with Moses by Henry Mollicone and Shishir Kurup, a project that annually brings together hundreds of members of the community for a deeply immersive experience of the transformative power of opera. Together with the exceptionally talented musicians of the LA Opera Orchestra and Chorus and the magnificent casts we have assembled, I anticipate that our audiences are in for a season of extraordinary performances.”


(presented at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)

Don Carlo (Giuseppe Verdi)
September 22 through October 14, 2018; revival
James Conlon conducts a cast led by Ramón Vargas in the title role, with Ana María Martínez as Elisabeth de Valois, Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli, Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Philip II, and Plácido Domingo as Rodrigo. The production by Ian Judge returns to Los Angeles for the first time since 2006.

Satyagraha (Philip Glass)
October 20 through November 11, 2018; company premiere
Following the extraordinary success of Einstein on the Beach (2013) and Akhnaten (2016), LA Opera completes the Philip Glass operatic trilogy about great thinkers who changed the world. Satyagraha (Sanskrit for “truth force”) is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, where he developed the radical new idea of nonviolent political resistance. Grant Gershon conducts a production created by Phelim McDermott (director of Akhnaten) for the Metropolitan Opera and English National Opera, starring Sean Panikkar as Gandhi.

Hansel and Gretel (Engelbert Humperdinck)
November 17 through December 15, 2018; revival
James Conlon conducts a revival of Doug Fitch’s dreamlike production, full of fantastical sets and elaborate special effects. Sasha Cooke and Liv Redpath sing the title roles, with diva extraordinaire Susan Graham as the uproariously wicked witch, eager to lure her young victims into a delicious trap.

La Clemenza di Tito (The Clemency of Titus) (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
March 2 through 24, 2019; company premiere; new production
James Conlon conducts La Clemenza di Tito,  Mozart’s final opera seria, written simultaneously with The Magic Flute in the last months of the composer’s life. The new production is directed and designed by Thaddeus Strassberger, who previously staged LA Opera productions of The Two Foscari (2012) and Nabucco (2017). Russell Thomas stars as the imperiled emperor whose generosity and compassion point the way to a brighter future.

El Gato Montés: The Wildcat (Manuel Penella)
April 27 through May 19, 2019; production new to Los Angeles
In one of the greatest masterpieces of the Spanish lyrical theater, a beautiful gypsy (Ana María Martínez) unwittingly inspires a fatal rivalry between a renowned bullfighter (Arturo Chacón-Cruz) and a bandit on the run (Plácido Domingo). The quintessentially Spanish tale unfolds with passionate melodies, dazzling choreography and an atmospheric staging. Spanish conductor Jordi Bernàcer leads a production created by director José Carlos Plaza for Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela.

La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi)
June 1 through 22, 2019; revival
James Conlon conducts a revival of Marta Domingo’s popular Art Deco-inspired update of the Verdi classic. In the face of certain death, a beautiful courtesan dedicates her remaining time to decadent pleasures, dazzling parties and wealthy admirers. But she is transformed when a devoted suitor declares his true love, and demonstrates her great humanity with a heart-breaking sacrifice before her premature passing. Romanian soprano Adela Zaharai, the 2017 winner of Operalia, makes her company debut as the glamorous Violetta, with Rame Lahaj (a 2016 Operalia winner) and Charles Castronovo sharing the role of Alfredo.


(presented in various venues)


Vampyr (Joby Talbot)
October 27 through 31, 2018; world premiere
Our annual Halloween mash-up of opera and cinema returns to the spectacular Theatre at Ace Hotel with filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer’s surreal 1932 masterwork, underestimated for decades but now regarded as an important landmark of the horror genre. Composer Joby Talbot creates a compelling new score for chamber orchestra and singers, performed live with a rare screening of this cinematic gem, and conducted by Matthew Aucoin, LA Opera’s Artist in Residence.
Presented at the Theatre at Ace Hotel (929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, 90015)

Prism (Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins)
November 29 through December 2, 2018; world premiere
A mother and daughter lock themselves away from the world to protect themselves from the dangers lurking outside. Prism explores the viscosity of memory after trauma, and the lengths one will go to feel better—no matter the cost. Marking LA Opera’s fifth season of collaborations with Beth Morrison Projects, the Los Angeles world premiere presentation of Prism will be followed by performances at the Prototype Festival in New York.
Presented at REDCAT (631 W. Second Street, Los Angeles, 90012)

the loser (David Lang)
February 22 and 23, 2019; West Coast premiere
Two piano prodigies at a master class encounter an even greater talent: the virtuoso Glenn Gould, on the cusp of superstardom. The devastating realization that they will never approach their new rival’s level of artistry changes their lives forever. A painful meditation on dreams forsaken and hopes unrealized unfolds, with Rod Gilfry starring in an intimate staging that incorporates multiple levels of the spectacular Theatre at Ace Hotel.

Presented at the Theatre at Ace Hotel (929 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, 90015)

For more information about LA Opera’s Off Grand initiative, visit LAOpera.org/OffGrand.


(presented in the Founders Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion)

Hosted and curated by Artist in Residence Matthew Aucoin, LA Opera’s post-show concert series is back for a third season. Presented free of charge immediately following selected performances, After Hours  gives audience members and the public the opportunity to mingle with cast and crew members while enjoying special performances by LA Opera artists in the intimate setting of the Founders Room. Musical selections include everything from Schubert, Mahler and Poulenc to Bruce Springsteen, Nick Drake and Radiohead. After Hours  concerts will take place on November 11, 2018; November 25, 2018; March 16, 2019; and March 24, 2019. For more information, visit LAOpera.org/AfterHours.


(presented in various venues)

LA Opera performances are experienced by vast numbers of Angelenos throughout the year, and not just through the musical events mentioned above. In its longstanding belief that the arts are essential to building our community, the company strives to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to experience or participate in opera. To that end, LA Opera presents a robust variety of outreach and family offerings, experienced by more than 135,000 people of all ages each season. Highlights of these initiatives include (to mention just a few):

Saturday Mornings at the Opera (Feb 2 and May 4, 2019)
LA Opera presents two Saturday morning, hour-long, interactive performances, preceded by fun and creative workshops for children that prepare the audience with art and music-making activities. On February 2, 2019, The Magic Dream a  wildly imaginative celebration of Mozart’s beloved The Magic Flute. On May 4, German Opera Tales is a high-energy show featuring musical moments from operas like Wagner’s Das Rheingold, Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.
Presented in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, 90012)

Moses (Henry Mollicone and Shishir Kurup)
March 22 and 23, 2019; world premiere
James Conlon conducts a new work by two distinguished California artists: composer Henry Mollicone and librettist Shishir Kurup. The opera traces the incredible journey of Moses, who stands up to his Egyptian oppressors and ultimately leads his people to freedom. Created for audiences of all ages, and featuring more than 400 professional, amateur and student performers, the opera is presented free of charge as a gift to the community.
Presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (555 W. Temple Street, Los Angeles, 90012)

Community Circle  (ongoing through the season)
The Community Circle seating program enables LA Opera to increase service to students, low-income senior centers, nonprofit service organizations and underserved community groups. Carefully selected groups can experience opera at a significantly reduced price (and even, at times, no cost). Over 150 tickets are set aside in the orchestra section for every mainstage performance to accommodate these special groups, who can apply online to be considered for the program. These tickets are not available for sale to the public. For information about Community Circle, please visit LAOpera.org/CommunityCircle.


Subscription Ticket Information

Season subscription tickets for the 2018/19 season are now available, starting at $106 for all six mainstage operas. Tickets for Prism, Vampyr and the loser are currently for sale only with subscription packages. For further information, please visit LA Opera’s website at LAOpera.org or call LA Opera’s box office at 213.972.8001.

Unless otherwise specified, performances take place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, 90012).

Please visit LAOpera.org for updated casting information and performance dates.

Artist headshots and production photographs are available on the LA Opera Press Gallery: LAOpera.org/press/Press-Photos

All programs, artists and dates are subject to change.


Additional Quotes

“The depth of our commitment to the operas and composers of our time is unique among the major American opera houses and is reflective of a moment of potent creativity in the artistic community,” said Christopher Koelsch, LA Opera’s Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and Chief Executive Officer. “I am excited about the dialogue that is created by the contrasts and commonalities between contemporary pieces and the canonical works that have influenced them, and I am proud that LA Opera is leading the way in giving our audiences so many different ways to experience the incredible power and artistic diversity of what opera can be.”

“As a non-profit organization, LA Opera relies on the generosity, dedication and commitment of thousands of donors who make it possible for us to present world-class performances here in Los Angeles” said Marc Stern, chairman of the company’s board of directors. “I am grateful to all of these supporters, with special thanks to our incredibly devoted board of directors, whose guidance and leadership has proven essential as we continue to move LA Opera forward.”

About LA Opera

In just over three decades of existence, LA Opera has become one of America’s most exciting and ambitious opera companies, dedicated to staging imaginative new productions, world premiere commissions and inventive stagings of the classics that preserve the foundational works while making them feel fresh and compelling. The company also explores unusual repertoire and new works through the Off Grand initiative, performed in a variety of venues throughout Los Angeles. As a non-profit organization, LA Opera depends on philanthropic support to ensure that opera thrives in Los Angeles for generations to come. Sharing the arts is part of the company’s civic responsibility, and LA Opera deepens community involvement with this rich art form through many wide-ranging initiatives.

LA Opera recently honored two of its most important supporters by renaming the title held by Christopher Koelsch as “Sebastian Paul and Marybelle Musco President and CEO.” This new title recognizes the extraordinary leadership, inspiring generosity and tireless commitment of Mr. and Mrs. Musco, who have been crucial to LA Opera’s artistic success for many years. Through their extraordinary leadership and generosity, they have been powerful advocates for the arts for a broad range of audiences throughout Southern California. Paul Musco was elected to the LA Opera board of directors in 2004 and currently serves as a vice chairman.

LA Opera is a non-profit organization
dedicated to serving the greater Los Angeles community.

Yamaha is the Official Piano of LA Opera.


LA Opera Press Office


4 thoughts on “My $0.02 on the 2018/19 LA Opera season

  1. Yes, Placido Domingo is a unique performer who defies age and various other laws of nature, but i am not sure that even he can make 6 plus 6 equal 16… Unless of course i am missing something there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to hear your take on the 2020-2021 season. While LA Opera’s programming is fairly conservative as usual, their upcoming season is more interesting than San Francisco’s, IMO.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.