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:
- 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).
- Satyagraha (Glass): October 20 through November 11, 2018; company premiere.
Grant Gershon conducts. Sean Panikkar (Gandhi), J’Nai Bridges (Kasturbai). Phelim McDermott (director).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).
- Don Carlo (Verdi): September 22 through October 14, 2018; revival.
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:
- 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.
- 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