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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

Pagliacci

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.

Cast:
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

Production:
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.

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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.

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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.

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Photos By Bonnie Perkinson

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

Cast:
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

Production:
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.

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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: UCLA Opera’s “The Two Figaros” at Freud Playhouse

February 22, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles is in the midst of a citywide celebration of all things Figaro. Courtesy of the LA Opera we have The Ghosts of Versailles, soon to be followed by The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Even LA Theaterworks jumped into the mix with a semi-staged production of The Guilty Mother, Beaumarchais’ lesser-known sequel to his two more famous creations. But the delightful surprise of this feast of Figaro is a little known opera by Saverio Mercadante, The Two Figaros (I due Figaro) as performed by the students and faculty of Opera UCLA and the UCLA Philharmonia.

Figaro, following in the scheming footsteps of Hermes, the trickster god and his protégé Harlequin, immediately became an iconic character. It’s no wonder that Mozart and Rossini tried their hands at Beaumarchais’ material. In fact, Figaro was so potent a creation that a French actor and author, Honoré Richard Martelly, penned a sequel to the plots set by Rossini and Mozart. The play was so full of mirth and cunning that it was ripe source material for yet another opera.

Saverio Mercadante took to the challenge, employing the talents of librettist, Felice Romani. Mercadante, who composed fifty-nine operas, was as highly regarded as his contemporaries, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi. Unfortunately his reputation plummeted after his death in 1870 and today his works are rarely performed. But there is plenty to admire in this opera buffo, which was composed in 1826 and premiered in 1835. Though some passages seem extracted directly from Rossini’s operas, there are a number of arias of bel canto beauty, fiery cabalettas, and thunderous ensembles, along with Spanish touches à la Boccherini, which lend charm.

"Two Figaros"

“The Two Figaros (I due Figaro)”

The usual suspects are here: Count and Countess Almaviva, Figaro and his wife, Susanna, and the always lovesick, Cherubino. Rosina and her husband, the count, have a daughter, Inès. Figaro, in league with Don Alvaro, has persuaded the count to give Inès’ hand and dowry to Alvaro, who has promised to divide the spoils with Figaro. Inès, however, is in love with Cherubino, no longer a teenager and now a colonel. Cherubino sneaks into the household, presenting himself as a servant whose name he says is also Figaro – hence two Figaros.

 Joanna Lynn-Jacobs as Countess Almaviva, Annie Sherman as Inès, Terri Richter as Susanna

Joanna Lynn-Jacobs as Countess Almaviva, Annie Sherman as Inès, Terri Richter as Susanna

With the three women in the household plotting together to wed Inès to Cherubino, and Almaviva and Figaro favoring Alvaro, a battle of wits ensues. The outcome? After whispered conversations, characters hiding in closets, multiple disguises, feigned tears, and stolen kisses, Cherubino prevails. It turns out Alvaro is none other than Cherubino’s servant in disguise. With the ruse revealed, Count Almaviva relents and gives his blessing to the young couple, even forgiving the deceitful Figaro. With the addition of Plagio, a young playwright, to document the goings-on, we have all the ingredients of a satisfying opera-buffo.

On the stage of the intimate Freud Playhouse, a whimsical interpretation of Almaviva’s villa and courtyard outside Seville was prettily brought to life with tiled staircases, stuccoed walls, potted palms, floating clouds in a Mediterranean sky, and period costumes worthy of any grand opera house. The winning cast of students (and a handful of professionals) both on stage and in the pit, conducted by Joseph Colaneri, conveyed the exuberance of Mercadante’s score with surprising artistry. And under Peter Kazaras’ able direction, the comedic hi-jinks were delivered with spot-on timing.

Teri Richter was both piquant and imposing all at once, her character as the imperturbable Susanna sung with a bright and flexible coloratura. The count was superbly performed by LA Opera tenor, Arnold Geis, his supple voice able to navigate both highs and lows. In the second act, we moved into Donizetti territory and the duet sung by Geis and Richter shone with complexity both musically and dramatically and was, perhaps, the highlight of the evening.

As Figaro, Gregorio Gonzalez was a winning trickster, infectiously conspiratorial in his recitatives and robust in the cabalettas, though the lower end of his baritone was often overpowered by the orchestra. Annie Sherman as Inès was consistently adorable, funny, and musically adept at the intricacies of the soprano role. Meagan Martin’s Cherubino had all the necessary swagger and guile, but she had difficulty projecting in the lower registers. The Countess of Joanna Lynn-Jacobs sung her mezzo part with warmth and color. The part of Plagio, well sung by an endearing Ian Walker, had a guileless sincerity to it, making me wonder if someday he might make an engaging Papageno.

Take a group of young, talented, and enthusiastic musicians and singers, add a good director and a sensitive conductor, then set the opera on an intimate stage. It’s a recipe for a delightful evening well spent.

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Cast (for Feb.15 and 20, alternate cast Feb. 13 and 22)
Count Almaviva: Arnold Geis
Countess Almaviva: Joanna Lynn-Jacobs
Inès: Annie Sherman
Cherubino: Meagan Martin
Figaro: Gregorio Gonzalez
Susanna: Terri Richter
Don Alvaro: Gregory Sliskovich
Plagio: Ian Walker
Servo: Myron Aguilar

Production:
Composer: Saverio Mercadante
Librettist: Felice Romani
Conductor: Joseph Colaneri
Director: Peter Kazaras
Scenic Designer: Adam Alonso
Lighting Designer: Ginevra Lombardo
Choreographer: Kevin Williamson

Photos by Jeff Lorch courtesy of U.C.L.A. Opera.

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

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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: John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (through March 1)

February 9, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles.  In an achingly beautiful LA Opera production, the ghosts of monarchies and revolutions past materialize before our eyes at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. We are enveloped in an exquisite postmodern version of Marie Antoinette’s little theatre at Versailles, awash in dusty blues and pearlescent greens. It is the world of John Corigliano’s opera, The Ghosts of Versailles.

The eerie chords of an illusive melody open the scene. Dancers in white courtly attire, their heads shrouded in black to suggest decapitation, glide across the stage. Singers dressed in eighteenth century black gowns and suits, their faces and hair ashen white, give voice to the “headless” figures. Aerial performers float by, balconies harbor spectral characters. Though we are two hundred years in the future, these aristocratic ghosts remain trapped in the horrific past, haunted by the guillotine.

The Ghosts of Versailles

Loosely based on The Guilty Mother (La Mère Coupable), Beaumarchais’ final play of The Figaro Trilogy, Corigliano and his librettist, William M. Hoffman, create a complex wraparound story involving the ghost of Beaumarchais along with the beheaded spirits of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and their court. In order to cheer the sorrowful queen, whom Beaumarchais loves, the playwright produces an entertainment starring that irrepressible jack-of-all-trades, Figaro.

Beaumarchais (Christopher Maltman, in white) Marie Antoinette (Patricia Racette, far right), Cherubino and Rosina (Renee Rapier and Guanqun Yu, rear left)

The aristocracy sits attentively before the proscenium of Marie’s stage on which the play, The Guilty Mother, unfolds. Comments from the audience pepper the performance. The play within a play structure brings to mind the delightfully anarchistic Prokofiev opera, The Love for Three Oranges, where Tragedians, Comedians, Romanticists, and Empty Heads quibble over the plot. One wishes the similarities were more pronounced. Where Prokofiev’s structure involves watching a wacky fairytale unfold, Hoffman’s unfolding tale is so complicated that in attempting to understand the whys and wherefores, one is occasionally distracted from the music.

The Beaumarchais story, as it appears on Marie’s stage, goes like this: While Count Almaviva was in South America for three years, his wife, Rosina, slept with her former page, Cherubino. The result was a son, Léon. Almaviva, also unfaithful, had a daughter, Florestine. Of course the two children meet and fall in love. But Almaviva has promised a Tartuffe-like toady, Begearss, the hand of Florestine. Begearss is up to no good. He is a revolutionary with the heart of a greedy monster. Figaro and his wife, Susanna, must save the day.

Figaro (Lucas Meachem, center) Susanna (Lucy Schaufer, far left), Count Almaviva (Joshua Guerrero, far right) and Florestine (Stacey Tappan, second from right

So goes the outline of Beaumarchais’ plot, but this is no simple play within a play or opera within an opera. Another storyline involving Marie’s diamond necklace, which finds its way from the ghost world into the play world, becomes a pivotal element. Figaro rebels from the confines of the plot. Beaumarchais must enter the play to tame his characters. Marie, joining him, winds up being imprisoned again, and is rescued by Figaro and Beaumarchais.

Christopher Maltman as Beaumarchais

Nostalgic, melancholy, hilarious, tragic, and carnival-esque all at once, we appear to be in a postmodern universe, long on whimsy and likability but short on logic. Beaumarchais, calling himself a god, tells Marie he has the power to alter history – the power to save her from the guillotine and take her to America. Here we have the artist as god/creator. If we were in the throes of subtler storytelling, perhaps this notion would grow on us organically and would feel less like a contrivance.

The staging, directed by Darko Tresnjak, tries to avoid pitfalls by separating the world of the play from the ghost world. Beaumarchais’ characters live in a full-colored universe of bright costumes and vivid lighting. The proscenium of Marie’s little theatre becomes a jewel box and picture window onto this other dimension. Particularly effective are the various video projections (designed by Aaron Rhyne), which are framed by the proscenium: clouds rolling by, constellations in the night sky, a hot air balloon floating away.

Corigliano’s music is like a fragrant bouquet: Wisps of Neoclassical, ethereal melodies interspersed with Modernist dissonances, hints of Mozart and Rossini mingled with Richard Strauss. Layered and complex, the score is yet approachable and moving. Corigliano even conjures Gilbert and Sullivan in Figaro’s Act One aria, hilariously rendered by the lyric baritone of Lucas Meachem, who delights at every turn.

Perhaps the most hauntingly beautiful melody in the opera is Act One’s “Come Now, My Darling.” The song begins with Cherubino, expands into a luxurious duet with Rosina, then as the music subtly unwinds into ghostly echoes, Beaumarchais adds his voice. We regain the melody only to have Marie’s suffering cries come to the foreground. Beaumarchais reprises the theme and the four sing a spellbinding quartet.

Corig Marie antoniette

Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette

With his fluid and commanding baritone, Christopher Maltman as Beaumarchais is every inch the impresario/author. As Rosina, Guanqun Yu delights the eye and ear with her lustrous soprano. She is courted by the impish Cherubino of mezzo Renée Rapier. Patricia Racette, singing Marie Antoinette, brings a tragic dignity to her role, especially heartbreaking in her aria “Once There Was A Golden Bird.”

The Count Almaviva of Joshua Guerrero is suitably grouchy for most of the opera but lacking in the charm that caught Rosina’s attention in the first place. As the conniving Begearss, Robert Brubaker is deliciously Dickensian, reveling in his “Aria of the Worm.” Figaro’s wife, Susanna, is winningly sung by mezzo-soprano, Lucy Schaufer.

The always luminous Stacey Tappan as Florestine and Brenton Ryan as an earnest Léon make a delightful pair of star crossed lovers. Ironic and irresistible, Kristinn Sigmundsson as Louis XVI brings a booming bass and great comedic timing to his curmudgeonly king.

Patti LuPone as Samira

The comedic prize of the evening, however, goes to Patti LuPone as Samira the Entertainer. It’s an eight minute cameo of memorable proportions as LuPone is carried in on a giant pink elephant to sing, mug, wiggle, and cavort across the stage to Philip Cokorinos Pasha. Inspired by Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers, the role originated at the Met with the great mezzo Marilyn Horne. Though LuPone, unlike Horne, needs amplification, her skills more than compensate for the intrusion.

This West coast premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles is a coup for LA Opera, which has put together a production team of unparalleled skill and originality. It was Maestro James Conlon’s long held hope to bring this shimmering work, first commissioned by the Met, back to life in all its splendor. With his impeccable musicians, Conlon has once again added to the prestige of LA Opera.

* * * * * * * *

Cast:
Marie Antoinette: Patricia Racette
Samira: Patti LuPone
Beaumarchais: Christopher Maltman
Begearss: Robert Brubaker
Figaro: Lucas Meachem
Susanna: Lucy Schaufer
Count Almaviva: Joshua Guerrero
Rosina (Countess Almaviva): Guanqun Yu
Florestine: Stacey Tappan
Léon: Brenton Ryan
Louis XVI: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marquis: Scott Scully
Wilhelm: Joel Sorensen
Cherubino: Renée Rapier
Woman in a Hat: Victoria Livengood
Suleyman Pasha: Philip Cokorinos
English Ambassador: Museop Kim

Production:
Composer: John Corigliano
Librettist: William M. Hoffman
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Scenery Designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer: Linda Cho
Lighting Designer: York Kennedy
Projection Designer: Aaron Rhyne
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Peggy Hickey

Photos courtesy of LA Opera.

* * * * * * * *

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

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

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

 

 


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