Live Opera: LA Opera’s “Gianni Schicchi” and “Pagliacci”

September 25, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Love and greed are the passions at work in the LA Opera’s double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci on stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through October 3. In Puccini’s comedy Gianni Schicchi, we have the grasping relatives of Buoso Donati scheming to change his will, as his corpse lies prostrate before them. Love enters the picture by way of Buoso’s young cousin, Rinuccio, who hopes for an inheritance so he can marry his sweetheart, Lauretta. Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci speaks of another kind of greed. Greedy for the love of his wife, Canio will do anything to keep her from running away with her lover, even if it means murder.

It’s an intriguing opera pairing, made even more satisfying by the Italian cityscapes gracing both sets. Though on the surface a Woody Allen conceived production of Gianni Schicchi might seem light years away from a Zeffirelli extravaganza, they have a filmic quality in common. They are also united, in this 2015 revival of both operas (Allen’s from 2008, Zeffirelli’s from 1996), by the undiminished enthusiasm and talents of LAO’s general director, Plácido Domingo, who sings the title role of Schicchi and then moves into the pit to conduct Pagliacci. It’s certainly a singular way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Los Angeles Opera, a relatively young but thriving company and the fourth largest in the country.

Puccini’s comic opera in the hands of Woody Allen has enough slapstick and sly innuendo to keep the action rolling along. The production opens with a giant film screen emblazoned with production and cast credits – such illustrious stars of cinema as Vitello Tonnato and Cesare Insalata. We’re off to the races and primed for laughs as we enter a muted, neo-realist, black and white cinema world of the late nineteen-forties.

L A Opera's "Gianni Schicchi"

L A Opera’s “Gianni Schicchi”

Feigning grief, the nine members of the Donati family anguish over their patriarch’s will. Rumor has it that he has left all his wealth to a monastery. Searching the house, the family turns it inside out until at last Rinuccio, Donati’s twenty-four year old cousin, finds the document. Before handing it over he extracts a promise from Zita, his bossy aunt, that he may marry Lauretta, the daughter of Gianni Schicchi. Sure enough the will leaves all the dead man’s assets to the monks. What to do? Rinuccio sends for the wily Schicchi, who conceives a solution: Cart away the dead man, pretend he is still alive, replace his body with the living Schicchi, and rewrite the will. All agree and while the clan contrives to deceive the doctor and notary, Rinuccio and Schicchi’s daughter, Lauretta, sing of love and marriage.

The only puzzle in this entertaining production, conducted by Grant Gershon, who brings out both the piquancy and the sweep of the score, is the interior of the Donati residence. Why does a wealthy Florentine live in a ramshackle home with laundry hanging overhead and pasta boiling on the stove? The family scorns Schicchi who, from their perspective is low born, yet why are most of the Donati men dressed like thugs and the women like housewives? It is the grandeur of a black and white cinematic backdrop of Florence that saves the set and adds a sense of place appropriate to the opera.

Placido Domingo as Gianni Schicchi

Domingo, singing the title role and famously making a career change from tenor to baritone parts, is deliciously cunning as Schicchi. He draws us into an intimate relationship with his character and we feel like flies on the wall, spying on his every move and gesture. The cast is uniformly adept from the smallest role to the grandest: As Zita, Meredith Arwady has a megawatt presence and a potent contralto, rich and nuanced. Andriana Churchman as Lauretta delights with her shimmering soprano and her beautiful rendering of the famous “O Mio Bambino Caro.” As her lover, Rinuccio, Arturo Chacón-Cruz sings with expressive warmth, creating a believable character who risks all for love.

Zeffirelli’s sumptuous productions were a treat in their day, and though beautifully conceived, featuring singers, front and center, never seemed a priority in his stagings. In an intimate story such as Pagliacci, one loses focus time and again, distracted by the jam-packed stage replete with acrobats, jugglers, a stilt walker, clowns on unicycles, flashing lights, and enthusiastic townspeople who often cavort about in scenes where one would prefer stillness. That said, all the stage business entertains as we enter a world set in a vague time period, somewhere between the nineteen-fifties and today. The female chorus is clothed in everything from drab, fifties’ housecoats to modern denim mini skirts, while the men wear a cross section of styles, from fifties’ street attire to contemporary biker leather.

LA Opera’s “Pagliacci”

Nothing can distract from the passionate music of Leoncavallo, however, and Maestro Domingo leads with a sure hand, from the brisk exuberance of the opening to the stirring, climatic moments. Marco Berti’s Canio has its problems and its successes. Though he’s believable as the jealous husband, his acting is all rage and vengeance. We never see a tender side and so our sympathies lie almost exclusively with his wife, Nedda, and her lover Silvio. Berti sings the thrilling “Vesti la giubba” with commitment and ardor, and this is the only time we empathize with the character.

Ana Maria Martinez is a convincing Nedda and in the impassioned duet of Act One, she and Liam Bonner’s Silvio envelope us in their love and desperation, singing with a soaring lyricism. Liam Bonner, whose talent and charisma elevate any production, performs double duty as Marco in Gianni Schicchi and as the doomed lover in Pagliacci.

The robust voiced George Gagnidze is an ominous presence as Tonio, the spurned suitor for Nedda’s affection whose spying precipitates the violence. Brenton Ryan proves a tender Beppe, singing with a bright, pleasing tenor.

All in all, it’s a fun filled night of opera, and with just two performances left, grab a pair of tickets for a vacation in Italy, airfare included.

Gianni Schicchi
Gianni Schicchi: Plácido Domingo
Rinuccio: Arturo Chacón-Cruz
Lauretta: Andriana Chuchman
Zita: Meredith Arwady
Gherardo: Greg Fedderly
Nella: Stacey Tappan
Simone: Craig Colclough
La Ciesca: Peabody Southwell
Betto di Signa: Philip Cokorinos
Marco: Liam Bonner
Maestro Spinellocio: E. Scott Levin
Ser Amantio di Nicolao: Kihun Yoon
Pinellino: Daniel Armstrong
Guccio: Gabriel Vamvulescu
Gherardino: Isaiah Morgan

Conductor: Grant Gershon
Production: Woody Allen
Director: Kathleen Smith Belcher
Set and Costume Designer: Santo Loquasto

Canio: Marco Berti
Canio: Yusif Eyvazov on October 3
Nedda: Ana Maria Martinez
Tonio: George Gagnidze
Silvio: Liam Bonner
Beppe: Brenton Ryan

Conductor: Plácido Domingo
Production / Set Designer: Franco Zeffirelli
Director: Stefano Trespidi
Costume Designer: Raimonda Gaetani
Lighting Designer: York Kennedy

Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of LA Opera

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

Picks of the Week: Sept. 21 – 27 in Los Angeles, Oregon, Chicago, New York, London, Copenhagen, Milan and Tokyo.

September 21, 2015

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Laura Dickinson

Laura Dickinson

– Sept. 23. (Wed.) Laura Dickinson. She’s probably your nine year-old daughter’s favorite singer, her voice familiar from the Disney Channel’s animated hits Phineas and Ferb and Sofia The First. But Dickinson’s vocal skills also include far-reaching jazz abilities, as well. She will offer them in an evening that celebrates her birthday with the introduction of her new big band. In addition, the opening set will be provided by the Eliot Deutsch Big Band. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

Denise Donatelli


– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) Denise Donatelli. Grammy-nominated Donatelli – with her warm, embracing voice, her lively sense of swing and her irresistible musical storytelling – celebrates the release of her new CD, Find A Heart, in a performance and party at Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) :Gianni Schicci. LA Opera presents a rare opportunity to experience Placido Domingo in a prime production of Puccini’s one act comic opera based on an incident in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The Music Center. The LA Opera at the Music Center.  (213) 972-0777.

Bob Sheppard

Bob Sheppard

– Sept. 24. (Thurs.) Bob Sheppard. Straight Ahead. The Southland music world’s busiest, most in demand saxophonist steps to the front of the stage in a rare evening as a front man. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear and see Sheppard in the spotlight with keyboardist Otmaro Ruiz, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Christian Euman. The Baked Potato. . (818) 980-1615.

– Sept. 25 – Oct. 11. (Fri. – Sun.) The Angel City Jazz Festival. Rapidly establishing itself as one of the jazz world’s most creatively ambitious events. The ACJF justifiably prides itself as the expanding stage for the discovery of new, gifted talent. This year’s program takes place in such varied locations around Los Angeles as Barnsdall Art Parker, Blue Whale, LACMA, REDCAT and more. For more information and a list of artists, click HERE. / (323) 573-2110.

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Master Chorale. The gifted vocal artists of the L.A. Master Chorale bring their vocal versatility to a performance titled “The Russian Evolution.” The program encompasses a century of great Russian works from composers such as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Grechaninov, Ilyashenko and more. Walt Disney Hall.  (877) 689-2356.

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) The Isley Bros. One of the great veteran r&b groups, the Isleys’ stellar career reaches back to the early ’60s. Don’t miss this rare chance to hear the current line up of brothers Ronald and Ernie.  Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts. (562) 916-8500.

Carmen Lundy

Carmen Lundy

– Sept. 26. (Sat.) Carmen Lundy. Carmen is a jazz vocalist who much deserves her frequent rave reviews. But she’s also a gifted songwriter, arranger, actress and painter. Like all imaginative musicians, she’s always a pleasure to hear in a live setting. Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.


Sept. 23. (Wed.) Ashland. The Parisian Musette Trio. “Musette Explosion.” French musette music is an irresistible blend of French folk and cabaret, American jazz and Italian instrumentation. The result is utterly compelling. And the Parisian Musette TrioWill Holshouser on accordion, Ron Horton on trumpet and tuba and David Phillips on bass – have made the most of all those elements. “Musette Explosion,” noted Down Beat, “has respectfully reclaimed 1930’s Paris for the 21st century.” The program is another prime entry in the 2015 Siskiyou Music Project series. It takes place in the unlikely elegance of Ashland’s Old Siskiyou Barn. The Parisian Musette Trio at The Skiskiyou Music Project.  (541) 488-3869.

New York City

Steve Kuhn

– Sept. 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) Coltrane Revisited. What would have been Coltrane’s 89th birthday is celebrated by a band led by his former pianist, Steve Kuhn, along with Coltrane-influenced saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer .Steve Smith, and bassist Lonnie Plaxico. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.


– Sept. 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) The Ravi Coltrane Quartet. Tenor saxophonist Coltrane has convincingly taken his impressive skills well beyond the far-reaching shadow of his iconic father. The Jazz Showcase.  (312) 360-0234.


– Sept. 21 & 22. (Mon. & Tues.) The Music of Charlie Parker. Gilad Atzmon. Israeli alto saxophinst Atzmon revives the classic Parker with Strings performances. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.


Ronnie Cuber

– Sept. 24 & 25. (Fri. & Sat.) Ronnie Cuber and the Nikolaj Bentzon Trio. American baritone saxophonist Cuber gets together with Danish pianist Bentzon’s Danish/Hungarian trio. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.



Bebel Gilberto

Bebel Gilberto

– Sept. 23 – 26. (Wed. – Sat.) Bebel Gilberto. The daughter of Brazilian bossa nova master Joao Gilberto, Bebel has built a major career on her own impressive vocal skills. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


– Sept. 23 & 24. (Wed. & Thurs.) Dave Weckl with Makoto Ozone lead a band underscoring the truly international qualities of contemporary jazz. Featuring Tom Kennedy and Gary Meek. Tokyo Blue Note. +81 3-5485-0088.

The 2015-16 Season of Dance and Classical Music at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills

August 28, 2015

The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills opens their 2015-2016 season of dance programming on October 1-3 with:

Twyla Tharp: a 50th Anniversary Celebration, a program of new work by Ms. Tharp, co-commissioned by The Wallis (in partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The Joyce Theatre, Ravina Festival Association & Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and Texas International Theatrical Arts Society).

Twyla Tharp dancers Matthew Dibble and Rika Okamoto in Yowzie costumes

L.A. Dance Project follows on January 29-30, featuring Hearts and Arrows by LADP Founder Benjamin Millepied with music by Philip Glass; the U.S. premiere of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Harbor Me; and Murder Ballades by Justin Peck.

Ezralow Dance Company performs OPEN on April 29-30, marking the “hometown debut” of Daniel Ezralow’s new dance company. Ezralow has created dances for Hubbard Street Dance Company, Batsheva Dance Company, London Contemporary Dance Theatre, the Cirque du Soleil/Beatles show LOVE, Julie Taymor’s film Across the Universe, and the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.


The Wallis’ diverse classical musical programming – encompassing 17 concerts – starts with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, under the esteemed leadership of Zubin Mehta (November 10 and 11) with two different programs. A gala fundraising performance on November 10 will feature the Dvorak New World Symphony and the Vivaldi Concerto for 3 Violins (Semion Gavrikov, Dumitru Pocitari and Asaf Maoz soloists); a second subscription concert will include Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Ravel’s La Valse.

Other artists include cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han with The Passionate Cello (January 8), Eagle Rock-based Santa Cecilia Orchestra (January 16) led by Sonia Marie De Leon de Vega, with a program featuring Latino and American composers; the return of Keyboard Conversations® with Jeffrey Siegel performing An American Salute celebrating our country’s most beloved composers (February 27); The Jerusalem Quartet (April 14); and Grammy Award-winning violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner (March 26).

A new East/West: Merging Music & Cultures music series will include Wu Man & The Shanghai Quartet (January 23); violinist Cho Liang Lin with Jon Kimura Parker (February 13) and Bing Wang and Ben Hong (February 20).

The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Jerusalem Quartet also make up The Soul of Israel series, which is completed by David Olowsky Trio’s The Soul of Klezmer, a masterful expansion of the Klezmer folk music tradition (March 25).


Colburn at The Wallis: A Concert Series partners The Wallis with the Colburn School, one of the nation’s highest ranked educators of students pursuing rigorous performance training, for an exciting series of concerts throughout the 2015-2016 Season. Featuring rising stars from the Colburn Conservatory of Music alongside celebrated concert artists and Colburn’s renowned faculty, the concerts include Colburn School artist-in-residence, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (October 30), cellist Gary Hoffman (November 7), Music Director and Conductor Yehuda Gilad and Mikyung Soung, double bass (March 6); and the principal brass players of the New York Philharmonic (April 10).


In an expansion of programming to fulfill its mission to support and celebrate young artists, The Wallis will begin Next Generation @ The Wallis, featuring Taiwanese-American pianist Steven Lin (March 11), jazz pianist Justin Kauflin (January 22) and Sean Chen (February 19), recent winner of UPenn’s eminent 2015 Annenberg arts fellowship for artists – all pianists on the verge of breakthrough.


The Jazz Bakery will also be presenting concerts at The Wallis with a new partnership, The Jazz Bakery @ The Wallis. As one of the premiere presenters of jazz in Los Angeles, The Jazz Bakery brings a long history of curating and presenting jazz to this new concert series at The Wallis.

For more information about the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts click HERE.

Photo by Ruven Afanador

LA Opera Announces its 2015/16 Season

August 21, 2015

LA Opera Opens the 2015/16 Season with Gianni Schicchi, Staged by Woody Allen

LA Opera’s thirtieth anniversary season opens with the double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci (September 12 through October 3, 2015). Placido Domingo, LA Opera’s general director, will sing the title role in Woody Allen’s staging of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

Wody Allen rehearses Gianni Schicchi

The opera will be conducted by Grant Gershon, the company’s resident conductor, and will feature Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rinuccio, Andriana Chuchman as Lauretta, and Meredith Arwady as Zita. After the intermission, Mr. Domingo will move to the orchestra pit to conduct Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, starring Marco Berti as Canio, Ana María Martínez as Nedda, and George Gagnidze as Tonio.


Gianni Schicchi


LA Opera’s music director James Conlon had this to say: “I’m proud to be part of LA Opera for this thirtieth anniversary season, and to mark the occasion by conducting the celebratory gala with Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming. I am also thrilled to welcome my colleague and friend Gustavo Dudamel, who is making his debut with our company. As part of our commitment to contemporary opera, I relish the opportunity to conduct Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick. I also look forward to collaborating again with Barrie Kosky for The Magic Flute as well as welcoming back Ana María Martínez and Stefano Secco in Madame Butterfly, after their previous successes in our 2012 Simon Boccanegra. As part of LA Opera’s expanding bel canto repertory, the return of Norma for the first time since 1996 is an important event.”

Jake Heggie’s Moby-Dick comes to Los Angeles October 31 through November 28, 2015. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris stars as Captain Ahab in performances conducted by James Conlon and directed by Leonard Foglia. The cast also includes tenor Joshua Guerrero in the leading role of Greenhorn as well as baritone Morgan Smith as Starbuck, a role he created at the work’s 2010 premiere.

LA Opera will present Vincenzo Bellini’s bel canto masterpiece, Norma, (November 21 through December 13, 2015) in a production conducted by James Conlon and directed by Anne Bogart. Soprano Angela Meade, who made her LAO debut in 2012 as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, returns to lead a quartet of principals that includes mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton as Adalgisa, along with tenor Russell Thomas as Pollione, and bass Morris Robinson as Oroveso.

Conducted by James Conlon, The Magic Flute returns (February 13 through March 6, 2016) with its evocation of the silent film era. The production is directed by Barrie Kosky and by Suzanne Andrade of the British theater company 1927. Onstage performers, including tenor Benjamin Bliss as Tamino, interact with projected hand-drawn animation, to capture Mozart’s delightful blend of high comedy and fairy tale.

In a production new to Los Angeles, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (March 12 through April 3, 2016) will be conducted by James Conlon and directed by Lee Blakeley. In her second leading appearance in the season, soprano Ana María Martínez stars as Cio-Cio-San, one of her signature roles, with tenor Stefano Secco as the faithless Pinkerton and mezzo-soprano Milena Kitic as Suzuki.

Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze returns for her sixth leading role at LA Opera, singing her first performances as Mimi in La Bohème (May 14 through June 12, 2016). Speranza Scappucci will make her LAO debut conducting six of the eight performances. The final two performances will feature the company debut of conductor Gustavo Dudamel, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This revival of the Herbert Ross production features Abdellah Lasri and Mario Chang sharing the role of Rodolfo and Janai Brugger and Amanda Woodbury sharing the role of Musetta. Moldavian soprano Olga Busuioc performs the role of Mimi on May 19 and 25.

On March 18, 2016, LA Opera presents a 30th Anniversary Concert starring Plácido Domingo and Renée Fleming. Conducted by James Conlon, the concert features many of opera’s greatest arias and duets.

Off Grand

LA Opera’s Off Grand initiative was developed to expand on traditional ideas of the operatic experience by experimenting with performance spaces, creative artists new to the genre, and a variety of musical styles. Here is a look at the 2015/16 Season:

  • The West coast premiere of Song from the Uproar, by composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek, explores the fascinating life and death of adventurer Isabelle Eberhardt and will be performed at REDCAT from October 8 through 11, 2015.
  • Philip Glass’s contemporary score for Bela Lugosi’s classic 1931 film Dracula will be performed live by the composer, joined by the Kronos Quartet, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, a 1927 Spanish Gothic movie palace, from October 29 through 31, 2015.
  • On December 12, 2015, Erwin Schrott returns in Rojotango in Concert, a tribute to the music of his native South America in a program featuring tangos by Astor Piazzola and Pablo Ziegler as well as Argentinean and Brazilian folk songs.
  • Free performances of a community opera for families, The Festival Play of Daniel, will be conducted by James Conlon and performed at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on March 4 and 5, 2016.

The season concludes with the world premiere of Anatomy Theater by composer David Lang and visual artist Mark Dion, presented at REDCAT. Based on actual 18th-century texts, Anatomy Theater follows the progression of an English murderess from confession to execution and, ultimately, public dissection before a paying audience of fascinated onlookers.*

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Photos courtesy of LA Opera.

Opera: LA Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 23, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles.  Before there was Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, before Renoir’s Rules of the Game or Sturges’s The Lady Eve, there was Mozart and Da Ponte’s The Marriage of Figaro. Through beautifully delineated characterizations, both musically and poetically, Mozart’s tender and often hilarious opera reminds us what it is to be human – to love, to rage, and to accept our weaknesses.

Though we may marvel at the machinations of the plot, which contains more confusion, deception, and disguises than an episode of I Love Lucy, like all heartfelt comedy, love and reason finally prevail: Figaro, Susanna, and Countess Almaviva foil the count’s attempted seduction of Susanna on the night of Figaro and Susanna’s wedding; the lustful Cherubino escapes punishment to love another day; and Rosina and the count reconcile.

The cast of “Marriage of Figaro”

A gifted cast, assembled for LA Opera’s revival of an earlier production, was supported by the sublime colors and textures fashioned by James Conlon and his musicians. The evening was a true symbiosis of voice and orchestra.

Though the opera’s title bespeaks Figaro as the driving force behind the chicanery, it is really the two women, Susanna and Countess Almaviva, who unite to bring about the happy conclusion they so richly deserve.

Guanqun Yu as the Countess and Pretty Yende as Susanna.

Nowhere else in the opera is the class equality that Beaumarchais advocated so apparent as in the relationship of the two women. For all Figaro’s intelligence and interference, Almaviva still remains the master – Figaro and the household tiptoeing around him at every turn. However, between Susanna and the countess Rosina there is no power struggle but rather sisterhood. They deeply understand the workings of the human heart and it is their alliance that makes all things right.

Pretty Yende as Susanna.

In her debut as Susanna, Pretty Yende, first impressing LA audiences as Micaëla in Carmen in 2013, brought a warmth and richness to her singing, which underscored the humor and intelligence of her characterization. With her agile voice, she was particularly beguiling in her Act Four aria, “Deh, vieni, non tardar.”

Guanqun Yu, as Rosina, appeared here this season as the same character in Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles. Affecting in both operas, she was a lustrous presence capable of soaring top notes contrasting with the darker harmonies needed to express her pain over her husband’s philandering, so keenly illustrated in her second aria “Dove sono.” And together Yende and Yu melted hearts in the Act Three letter duet.

Renee Rapier as Cherubino and Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro.

A bass baritone working primarily in Europe, Roberto Tagliavini’s warm, shaded, and expressive instrument had the power to convey all of Figaro’s dynamics from smooth patter to simmering rage. His acting, however, could use some fine-tuning in a role where one expected wily grace and a bit of swagger.

Ryan McKinny, however, never falls short in the acting department (apparent also in his portrayal of Stanley in Streetcar Named Desire seen here in 2014). He is all the arrogant, entitled count – handsome, sensual, and duplicitous – which made his comic sequences all the funnier. Nor did his singing disappoint with his pleasing, lyrical baritone.

As Cherubino, Renee Rapier was appropriately lustful, bringing a goofy, awkward, adolescent quality to the role and was affecting in her Act Two canzone, “Voi che sapete.”

Setting the piece in the 1950’s neither detracted from nor added to the opera’s enjoyment, though one felt a slight uneasiness when Almaviva donned a military uniform. Was he a member of Franco’s regime? The circle skirted dresses of Rosina and Susanna, and the highly styled, extravagant ensembles of Marcellina were certainly a nod to the fifties and in keeping with their characters. The attractive interior sets of Act One, Two, and Three, gave way to the sparse outdoor set of Act Four. The lack of a lush garden was compensated for by the colorful fireworks display both vocal and pyrotechnic at the opera’s conclusion.

Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo.

As Marcellina, who is foiled in her attempt to wed Figaro when she discovers he is none other than her lost child, Lucy Schaufer (seen here as Berta in The Barber of Seville and as Susanna in The Ghosts of Versailles) proved again that she is a marvelous comedic actress and singer of considerable power and finesse. The rest of the cast, including Kristinn Sigmundsson as Doctor Bartolo, Robert Brubaker as Don Basilio, So Young Park as Barbarina, and Philip Cokorinos as Antonio, were delightful.

With The Marriage of Figaro LA Opera, under the superb direction of Maestro Conlon, has completed its Figaro trilogy, an enlightening and warmhearted gift to Los Angeles.

The LA Opera production of The Marriage of Figaro continues through April 12.

Figaro: Roberto Tagliavini
Susanna: Pretty Yende
Count Almaviva: Ryan McKinny
Countess Almaviva: Guanqun Yu
Cherubino: Renée Rapier
Doctor Bartolo: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marcellina: Lucy Schaufer
Don Basilio: Robert Brubaker
Don Curzio: Joel Sorensen
Barbarina: (3/21 – 4/4) So Young Park
Barbarina: (4/9 – 4/12) Vanessa Becerra
Antonio: Philip Cokorinos

Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Librettist: Lorenzo Da Ponte
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Ian Judge
Scenery Designer: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday
Costume Designer: Deirdre Clancy
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Original Choreographer: Sergio Trujillo
Choreographer: Chad Everett Allen

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Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of LA Opera.

To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  




Backstage Magic Tricks at LA Opera’s “The Marriage of Figaro”

March 13, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

If you like a little flash and dazzle with your Marriage of Figaro, Los Angeles Opera’s production, opening March 21, has it. After all who wouldn’t enjoy a pyrotechnical display at the end of one’s wedding festivities? And that’s exactly what Figaro and his bride Susanna have in store. Following the scheming to keep Susanna out of the clutches of Count Almaviva, following the disguises, the flirting, the jealousies, and the mistaken identities, and after the moment when everyone is restored to their rightful partners, we have Mozart’s touching conclusion followed by the onstage landscape ablaze with the light, color, and thunderous crackling of fireworks.


Members of the press were treated to a preview on Friday morning courtesy of LA Opera’s Technical Director Jeff Kleeman and Pyrotechnician Tom Newman. According to Newman, the fireworks at the finale of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro are similar to those sports fans see at Dodger Stadium. At the stadium, aerials can rocket to one hundred feet. On the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion amidst the topiary and cypress trees, which dot Count Almaviva’s estate, the aerials shoot a more modest twenty-five feet. Nevertheless, it should be enough to please the roughly three thousand spectators in the audience and rouse the hearts of the forever scheming and always-exuberant Figaro and Susanna on the evening of their nuptials.

Timed to the musical finale, two dozen pyrotechnic devices are set to explode at the back of the Pavilion’s stage. With a sharp perspective created by lining the stage with dramatically receding cypresses and topiary, and with a large full moon beaming down on the Count’s villa, the fireworks erupt as if on the distant grounds of the estate. So move over Hollywood Bowl and the 1812 Overture, and make room for the sparkling sound and light show of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.


Photos By Bonnie Perkinson

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  



Opera: Los Angeles Opera’s “The Barber of Seville”

March 2, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

With characterizations so vivid, musicianship so accomplished, and comedy so sublime that it raises the spirits, Los Angeles Opera’s The Barber of Seville is a triumph. The cast is splendid, from the smallest role to the knockout performance of Elizabeth DeShong’s Rosina.

At every turn, this Barber delivered. From the opening chords of Rossini’s bubbling score to the last note, we were held in thrall by the LA Opera Orchestra and Maestro James Conlon’s superb rendering of this beloved music.

Trevore Ross’ direction, after the original concept by Emilio Sagi for Teatro Real Madrid, was sensitive to every nuance of human behavior, so essential in achieving true comedy. Although Beaumarchais’ characters exist on a rarified plateau where the everyday turns into myth and Rossini’s opera buffa is revered, nevertheless it still takes a talented director and a great cast to bring the poetry of this work into hearts and minds.

In brief: Doctor Bartolo wants to marry his ward, Rosina, to get his hands on her dowry. Rosina is in love with Lindoro, who is Count Almaviva in disguise. Her old guardian keeps Rosina under lock and key, so Figaro must scheme to get Almaviva into the house. In classic fashion, Bartolo is duped and the lovers prevail.

“The Barber of Seville” Overture

The hilarity started with the overture as a horde of black suited Rossinis emerged from a trap door and began assembling the scenery. A classic Commedia dell’Arte street scene unfolded: a narrow avenue receding in the distance and flanked by buildings on both sides, covered in a wash of creamy carved stucco representing a simplified version of the architecture of Seville.

Everything in this production honored the opera’s roots in Commedia dell’Arte, the theatre of ordinary people, with its stock characters and insolent tricksters who outwit the masters and prevail. In glorious black and white, the costume designs of Renata Schussheim made reference to Harlequin-esque patterned suits, with graphic stripes, dots, and checkerboards. Humor was in every detail of the wardrobe, oozing into the personality and body language of the wearer. In fact, it was such a fully realized world on stage, with striking sets by Llorenç Corbella, that I had an overwhelming desire to jump in and join the fun.

Elizabeth DeShong as Rosina and Rodion Pogossov as Figaro.

And what fun! If the effervescence of Rodion Pogossov’s dapper Figaro could be bottled, no one would need Cava or Prosecco (we’re in Spain, after all, with music by an Italian). Honestly, this Russian baritone can move with the grace of Astaire and the charm of Chaplin. As wily as Figaro, Elizabeth DeShong’s Rosina was a gleaming presence – her feisty character bursting through with every note of her brilliant coloratura. Her disgust for Bartolo was palpable in every scene as was her girlish delight in Lindoro. René Barbera was convincing in his ardor as Lindoro/Count Almaviva, particularly touching in his first act aria, “Ecco ridente in cielo,” putting me in mind of the lyric tenor of Alfredo Kraus.

Alessandro Corbelli as Doctor Bartolo

The Doctor Bartolo of Alessandro Corbelli was every inch the greedy cuckold, from his round belly clothed in horizontal stripes to his delicate prancing feet. He gave us the intricate patter of Rossini’s score, huffing and sputtering as needed. The part of Don Basilio, the music teacher, is often overshadowed by the more prominent principals of the cast, but in this production, Don Basilio was given room to expand, literally. As he stood on a tabletop, singing to Bartolo that the best way to discredit Almaviva is through scandal (“La calunnia e un venticello”), the tablecloth literally unfurled like a parachute. It billowed and rolled, oozing across the stage like the poison of scandal.


Kristinn Sigmundsson as Don Basilio

With unadulterated glee, the Icelandic bass, Kristinn Sigmundsson brought megawatt vocal power to the aria and looked like a drawing come to life from the Nineteenth century pen of Daumier or Granville.

As Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello, Jonathan Michie was notable. And as the snuff-snorting, sneezing maid Berta, Lucy Schaufer was a slapstick delight. The men’s chorus, whether clamoring across the stage as serenading townsfolk or stomping into Bartolo’s house in military regalia, were excellent. With the addition of peasant women dancing Flamenco style in the streets, Seville was brought to life, becoming a character in its own right. The clever choreography of Nuria Castejón was on display throughout the opera. Dancers, whether acting as townspeople or servants, became the silent audience for the antics of Bartolo’s household.

With the orchestral storm of Act Two, what was once a black and white world turned into a rain of color as confetti and lighting effects simulated a downpour. From that moment on, everyone’s costumes burst into delirious pinks, reds, greens, and yellows.


The finale of “The Barber of Seville.”

No Rapunzel trapped helplessly in a tower, Rosina, at the end of the act, made ready to flee with the count. With Almaviva disclosing his true identity and Bartolo consoled with the offer of Rosina’s dowry, the lovers, amidst a riotous celebration of dance and song, ascended in a hot air balloon, waving to a grateful audience. I resisted the temptation to wave back. It was an infectiously joyful night at the opera.

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The LA Opera production of The Barber of Seville opened Feb. 28 and continues through March 22.

Figaro: Rodion Pogossov
Rosina: Elizabeth DeShong
Count Almaviva: René Barbera
Doctor Bartolo: Alessandro Corbelli
Doctor Bartolo: (March 22) Philip Cokorinos
Don Basilio: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Berta: Lucy Schaufer
Fiorello: Jonathan Michie
Officer: Frederick Ballentine

Conductor: James Conlon
Production: Emilio Sagi
Director: Trevore Ross
Scenery Designer: Llorenç Corbella
Costume Designer: Renata Schussheim
Lighting Designer: Eduardo Bravo
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Nuria Castejón

Photos by Craig T. Mathew courtesy of L A Opera

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To read more opera, dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  



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