Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Season's Greetings

January 27, 2010

Nino Machaidze in the Christof Loy production of Il Turco in Italia
Photo: Armin Bardel

I must admit I was rather pleased to read the press release from the Los Angeles Opera today about plans for the upcoming 2010/2011 season. Not that it was incredibly surprising or that it avoided the economic realities that all arts organizations have had to face up to. It’s a markedly smaller season than in recent years with fewer performances of fewer operas. What I was most pleased about was that it felt like a great big “screw you” to all the forces who have been talking shit about LA Opera over the last year. The slings and arrows have been numerous from many quarters mostly focused on the company’s daring, beautiful, and totally unique Ring cycle which will take place this Spring. East coast critics feel it isn’t “human” enough apparently wanting something more akin to a sentimental Hollywood melodrama. Everyone from the once-musically-relevant David Byrne on down can’t believe it cost so much. All kinds of critics don’t like that L.A. County underwrote a loan to make it happen when the cash ran short, and one of the local supervisors and his cadre of idiot supporters can’t stand that it was written by Wagner. Besides this, the company’s management, including director Placido Domingo, are regular targets of the press. (A number of folks including Anne Midgette have postulated how relieved Washington National Opera’s board members must have been after canceling their own Ring cycle and hearing about L.A. Opera’s loan guarantees to maintain their own. Somehow I seem to think that actually having the entire Ring cycle instead of bailing on it after shelling out for 3/4ths of the whole thing—with no payoff of consecutive cycles—would be more humiliating, but I guess I just don’t get that whole East Coast mentality.)

So while it hasn’t come to pass as of yet, L.A. Opera stepped out today with what is likely the most interesting proposal of any company in the U.S. so far for the 2010/2011 season. Oh sure, it has some popular fare including Le Nozze di Figaro and a borrowed production of Rigoletto from San Francisco. But it’s also got at least one thing nobody else has been willing to do so far for next season - a world premiere opera, Catán’s Il Postino, which will star Domingo and Charles Castronovo among others. Then there is a spectacularly cast revival of the company’s own Lohengrin with Ben Heppner and Dolora Zajick. And not to be overlooked is an equally well-cast Il Turco in Italia with Paolo Gavanelli and Nino Machaidze. Furthermore, the Turco production is a modern dress affair from Christof Loy and the Hamburg State Opera. Rounding things out is Britten’s Turn of the Screw in Jonathan Kent's well-received Glyndebourne staging with Patricia Racette. Granted this is not radical programming. But it would have been far easier for the company to remount Butterfly, Boheme, or Carmen yet again in the place of any number of these other choices.

So, while San Francisco, Washington, and Chicago shroud themselves in star-studded crowd pleasers in 10/11, Los Angeles is stepping forward to continue to take some risks even in a challenging environment. So kudos to our local company for not going completely into retreat and keeping something lively on the plate.


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