Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Seasonal Mechandise

February 10, 2012

Peter Eötvös Photo: Priska Ketterer
Music lovers in Los Angeles got an earful of the near future this week as two of our major local companies announced what they hope to bring to the stages over the next year a half. Both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera revealed seasons that contained surprises both good and bad. The Los Angeles Philharmonic unveiled their most exciting post-Salonen season to date with more great evenings on offer than I care to count. I for one have spent a lot of time fretting on these pages about the orchestra’s commitment to new and recent music in the last few seasons. And while there are few things in the world that are likely to shut me up, this upcoming season prospectus has.

Where to begin? The most exciting event is undoubtedly a week of programming in January 2013 devoted to Peter Eötvös whose opera Angels in America will be presented as part of the Green Umbrella series with, among others, Measha Brueggergrosman as Harper Pitt. Later that week Eötvös will premiere a new violin concerto written for Midori with both evenings conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado. And then there are a pair of programs in April featuring works by several of the much talked about cadre of young composers currently living and working in Brooklyn. Alan Pierson will lead an evening of works by Samuel Adams, Tyondai Braxton, and Matt Marks to be followed that weekend by a new work from Ted Hearne. Meanwhile, Esa-Pekka Salonen will return to the house he built in November for two weeks of programs featuring his own music as well as that of Lutoslawski, Bruckner, and Magnus Lindberg. Of course the hottest ticket with Salonen’s name on it may actually be his one-night-only appearance with his new outfit, the Philharmonia Orchestra, who’ll perform a concert version of Wozzeck on Nov. 13.

Of course, John Adams will be in town leading another Green Umbrella Program including work from Nico Muhly and Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason on the 16th of October. And as much as I’ve not been a big fan of music director Gustavo Dudamel, he will have a significant hand in the new(er) music programming this year with such works occupying nearly a third of his over two dozen appearances. He’ll lead a new commission from Unsuk Chin as well as Oliver Knussen’s treatment of Where the Wild Things Are. He’ll also open the season with a new work from Steven Stucky and reprise this coming spring’s performances of Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary but with a full staging directed by Peter Sellars the second time around. There are many big stars and plenty of wonderful old music, as well that I won’t go through here, but the Countess of Dorothea Röschmann opposite Christopher Maltman in the company’s concert version of Le Nozze di Figaro in May is an absolute highlight.

With all of this good fortune across the street, it’s hard not to be disappointed by one of the softest Los Angeles Opera seasons in years, which was announced by General Director Placido Domingo on Thursday. (In fact taking the four operas mentioned above plus performances of Falla's La vida breve under Fruhbeck de Burgos with the L.A. Phil and you already have a superior opera season to what LAO has planned.) I suppose the glass-half-full way to look at things is that after some tough economic times, L.A. still has an operational opera company producing quality work and is managing to resolve its debts. The casting is reasonable and the season will kick off with the unquestionable highlight of the year, a new production of Verdi’s I Due Foscari with maestro Domingo doing his baritone trick for the second time in L.A. in 2012 in a new role for him. James Conlon will conduct four of the six productions again including Foscari as well as less ambitious Wagner (Der Fliegende Hollander), and requsite bel canto (La Cenerentola). The other half of the company's 36 performances however will be dedicated to three operas they have overly relied upon over the last decade: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca both of which were last seen in 2008 and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which last appeared in December of 2007. To their credit, none of the season's operas will be seen in prodcutions Los Angeles has staged before, but its hard to see the attraction in these plans for longer-standing subscribers who will udnoutedly be struck with a been-there, done-that feeling. With only six operas on the budgetarily constricted schedule, every show carries more weight and while these six operas might seem like a good basis for an 8 opera season, they seem like boilerplate introduction to opera fare as the only six.

But perhaps the bigger question facing the company isn’t just finances or programming, but what this season might suggest about the company’s near future. Given that the contracts of both Placido Domingo and music director James Conlon expire in 2013 the questions remains whether or not this schedule is exit music for the current administration, or if it’s an economic blip for an organization that has abandoned plans as quickly as they’ve made them around the operas of Benjamin Britten or James Conlon's "Recovered Voices" project. Hopefully the new season will seem attractive to new audience members who may be drawn by works they've heard of and a new pricing scheme that makes more affordable seats available than ever before.

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Brian, to me it's bad enough that they've all but abandoned the Recovered Voices project even though they only had Die Tote Stadt left to complete the originally planned series. No, concert performances of chamber operas at Colburn isn't a satisfactory substitute for full productions of evening length pieces. They could at least have marketed Korngold-as-film-composer. It's annoying that the Britten series won't even make it to BB's centenary, but it's the whif of total incompetence that really rankles.

The "tough economic times" were largely self-inflicted via the Ring and it's annoying that the two special projects have to suffer as a result. This quote in the Times article about the announcement is simply offensive:

The company said it was a question of balance and finding operas more popular with audiences

They have the chutzpah to talk about "balance" while announcing two Puccini warhorses in the same season, not long after they did *3* in one season?

And "operas more popular with audiences". Gosh, who knew that Britten and the RV project were going to be tough sells! That's just risible. Why not program the Britten operas that *have* drawn a crowd here despite the extra cost in producing them: Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and A Midsummer's Night Dream? No, we get two chamber operas in the barn called the Dot.

Sorry if you've read these bits before on other blogs, but Domingo/whatever puppet replaced Edgar Baitzel is to me as Dudamel is to you, I can't wait for him to leave.
Yes the new season is undoubtedly uninspired, with the exception of Foscari. Hollander is always an event wherever so let's hope the cast is good.

However, the Recovered Voices project, though well-intentioned, only turned up second-rate material that was never much good. With the exception of The Dwarf, they all have been very dreary. Die Tote Stadt is schlag-y junk, just like the rest of Korngold, except for the film scores where he is properly placed.

Hopefully they will get their act together like in the earlier years where not only balanced seasons occurred but adventurous ones as well.
The new season of Los Angeles Opera is stunningly bleak and uninspired. Too bad, really.

However, I am looking forward to seeing a few concerts with the LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall. Being a Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" fanatic, I'll be catching the opening week performances with Dudamel on the podium, just to see how it compares to those I've seen in the past with Boulez, Chailly (with the mighty LSO), Mehta, and Salonen. It's also terrific to see Zubin Mehta returning for a week of Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" which I've never seen live, and Charles Dutoit conducting Strauss' Don Quixote. Berg's Wozzeck is not a piece that I've ever liked, so I'll have to miss Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Philharmonia. Too bad.

Still wish that we could see people like Muti, Haitink, Chailly, Masur, Jurowski, Tilson Thomas, Maazel, and Dohnanyi visiting here for a week -- but no such luck.

I'm a bit curious about Robin Ticciati now that's he is going to assume control of Glyndebourne Opera for Vladimir Jurowski. What's the word on this kid? Any good? Or is he vastly overrated?
Ticciati has, as you may know, made at least one prior appearance with the L.A. Phil in March of 2010 leading Elgar, Sibelius, Lindberg, and Grieg.


I was really pleased with the show and certainly feel there is justification to be excited about him. As for whether or not he is overrated, even if he is, it is nothing on the scale of the amount our current music director Gustavo Dudamel is overrated. So no matter how you slice it, I think Ticciati's performances are worth hearing.
Thanks Brian.

I missed his previous appearance and have read a lot about him since, so I was a bit curious. I'll definitely check out Ticciati's concert with the Phil on your recommendation.

By the way, the Rite of Spring concert will be my first with Gustavo Dudamel. Overall, I haven't been too impressed with either his recordings or videotaped performances with the LA Philharmonic. But I thought maybe I was being too harsh on him and should see a live concert before making any sort of judgment as to whether the hoopla is justified or not.
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