Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

And now for something
(almost) completely familiar

January 19, 2007

The frustrating thing about Los Angeles Opera is that the company tends to take a "two steps forward, one step back" approach to productions. Innovative and exciting things happen, but often at a frustratingly disjointed and slow pace. Often each new season oscillates between the exciting and the predictable. Given that the 06/07 season has started off to be a big winner with great productions with superior casts, it is no surprise that today’s announcement of the 07/08 season represents a retreat of sorts. Of the nine productions, five are revivals of LA Opera productions. Two of these La Bohème and Tosca have been revived here within the last 3 years. With this roster, it’s a wonder that they didn’t find some way to mount Figaro and/or Butterfly yet again. The other revivals include Don Giovanni, Tristan und Isolde and La Rondine. There is some significant vocal talent across all the productions, but after the star studded A-list we’ve had this year it’s hard not to feel a little bit of a let-down even with names like Karita Mattila and John Treleaven.

Of the four non-revival productions, three are new to LA that have been seen elsewhere including the Met’s Jenufa complete with Mattila, a Fidelio from Valencia, Spain, and an Otello with (gasp) Cristina Gallardo-Damas. (Now the down side to the Sirius radio broadcasts: after hearing repeated botched Cio-Cio Sans, is it possible to think about Desdemona without a significant element of dread?)

Of course all of this amounts to what Domingo calls a “season of giants.” Frankly however, I fail to see how every season at every opera house in the US isn’t always a “season of giants.” (Where’s that giant-destroying Ring when you need it anyway?) However, there is some light here, and as fate would have it, it’s a dwarf - Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg to be exact. As part of LA Opera and music director James Conlon’s "Recovered Voices" initiative, early '08 will see a double bill, paring this opera with Ullmann’s Der Zebrochene Krug. Both of these US premieres should be exciting given Conlon’s track record with these works. He conducted a semi-staged version of Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis here with members of the LA Phil that is fondly remembered by all who experienced it. Conlon will also conduct a majority of the other productions, but is managing to steer clear of all the Puccini – not an easy feat when his works represent 1/3 of the productions and nearly 40% of all the performances.

Oh, and just in case we weren’t paying attention, there was a time-delayed bomb dropped at the new conference concerning the renovation of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Apparently, this will require at least a year’s closure of the hall and the Board wants to start softening up everyone now for this event that may take place as soon as 2011. LA Opera is apparently also getting into the radio broadcast game as well not to be left out of the new national trend.

Still, given LA Opera’s tradition of multiple last minute changes, who knows how much of this will come to pass. Probably most of it will and, as with two years ago, all one can hope for is that some of these saved dollars this season apparently intends to generate will go toward something exciting like the new ring cycle starting in 2008.

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