Posted by: operatheaterink | September 17, 2019

Review of Proceedings of LA Opera’s Opening, ‘La Bohème,’ Sept. 17, 2019

The Night that Should Have Been Plácido Domingo’s

Café Momus – Photo by Cory Weaver

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I get so angry when I read reviews that insinuate that Los Angeles Opera will do just fine without its general director, Plácido Domingo, as if he has already gone. The press is deciding his exit.

That is what happened to some degree regarding LA Opera’s opening night performance of “La Bohème” in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sept. 14 and the festivities afterwards on the newly renovated Music Center Plaza. Either critics acted like Domingo was gone and that LA Opera would survive, or some didn’t talk about him at all or included comments somewhere in between.

Domingo hasn’t left, and if he does, the company will struggle because Plácido Domingo has been the driving force behind LA Opera for years. He is responsible for its rise in ranking. He is responsible for much of the casting and fundraising. He is even responsible for recruiting the company’s musical director and conductor, James Conlon. One has to ask, if Domingo leaves, will Conlon stay? And if he does, for how long?

The review of “La Bohème” in the LA Times, published the day after the opening of LA Opera’s season on Sept. 15, raves about the production directed by Barrie Kosky, and toward the end, the critic writes that oh, by the way, Kosky wasn’t even in Los Angeles to direct. He was in Germany but had his associate direct instead.

The LA Times critic raves about the singers, then says that one of them shouldn’t have rolled her “Rs” in a modern production, apparently not realizing that rolling her “Rs” might help her bring her voice forward. After all, this still is opera, and the singers “do” learn technique. Opera is not only about the production.

The critic then added that many of the singers were cast as a result of either being or having been in the company’s young artist program, or that they were winners of Domingo’s Operalia competition. Mark Swed wrote that they had admirable voices and seemed to like them, especially the potential of the soprano; but then he compared them to the singers in the production in Germany and wrote that their acting wasn’t quite up to snuff.

Anyhow, I was not going to write a review of the actual performance because I wasn’t there. I just read the first review published by the LA Times, to learn if Domingo was in attendance. He wasn’t. He should have been. He deserves a standing ovation.

LA Opera will probably take out the complimentary parts of the Times review as sound bites for the purpose of advertising. But clearly, the LA Times appears to be trying to sway LA Opera to take action, and then the Times critic adds that the company will survive and move forward.

The press seems to be leading the discussion. Nothing has been proven in a court of law. And so far, the women accusers who are not anonymous don’t appear to have much to say. The press has published the accusations of the two accusers who spoke on the record. What exactly were the other accusers’ accusations? So far, there has been nothing published but air. The only one who might have a case would be Domingo if his attorneys could prove intent in a defamation libel lawsuit against the Associated Press and other press organizations for damages.

I get angry when I think that Los Angeles Opera is investigating sexual harassment allegations of its own general director, Domingo. What an affront to him. It is like the company is doing it all for appearances, to show that it is being politically correct.

The LA Times has written in the lines and in between the lines that the company is independent and can stand on its own.

But the truth remains that all of LA Opera’s successes are directly related to Domingo’s presence as general director. He is even the source behind the fundraising. The company has always been dependent on Domingo.

He may not have been at the opening on Saturday night (Sept. 14) at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, where the focus was on the production of “La Bohème” and the ball afterwards on the newly re-constructed Music Center Plaza. But he was there in spirit, and every person at the ball probably bought a ticket due to Domingo being a part of LA Opera.

I wasn’t there but could see from a post by one of my Facebook friends that the ball was patterned visually after the production. Lots of color and avant-garde costumes and props.

Although Giacomo Puccini composed “La Bohème” to take place in approximately the 1830s, Kosky, whose associate carried out his directions, moved the date up slightly and added color, with almost grotesque wigs and makeup, especially noticeable in the Café Momus scene. Just enough spectacle to give the opera some modernization without going over the top.

LA Opera has written that this production is the first new production of “La Bohème” by LA Opera since 1993. I have read that it is an LA Opera production. I have read that it is a co-production, and now I see that it is a production by Kosky for the Komische Oper Berlin which has been transported to Los Angeles Opera.

Kosky is the artistic director “intendant” of the Komische Oper Berlin. There are only three major companies in Berlin: the Deutsch Oper Berlin, the Berlin State Opera and the Komische Oper, which is the smallest and the most experimental in nature, sometimes known for Eurotrash.

Eurotrash opera or Regietheater is director’s theater, when the production is more important than even the music. When characters become spiders, like the Queen of the Night in Kosky’s “Magic Flute,” I have to draw the line. I like modernization if the composer’s intent is honored. Most of the whimsical changes may work for “Flute,” to be revived later in the LA Opera run. I did attend and review that one, but frankly, I like seeing the opera I know, not a new one, and I like to put emphasis on the singers and their voices, not focus on a spider singing one of the most known arias in opera. I think I would like this “Bohème,” though. It doesn’t go as far as “Flute.” It is still Puccini’s opera. But it has a decidedly dark, grotesque tone to it which I find creatively fascinating.

But I am not writing a review here of the operas being performed by LA Opera this season, but rather of the opening night proceedings. I am only trying to show how the press can manipulate words.

Kosky is an upcoming director in Europe, who is quoted as having said that he likes to come to Los Angeles. I would have thought that Domingo had something to do with Kosky’s involvement with LA Opera, but the LA Times says that Christopher Koelsch has been the moving force. More about that later.

LA Opera has never been an independent company like most others in the United States, where general directors come and go. LA Opera was a struggling company, and when Domingo took it under his wing, the company began to blossom.

Yes, I am sure it could survive without him with a strong replacement. But survive or thrive — That is the question.

I wish Domingo had been at the after-party and ball of LA Opera’s season opener of “La Bohème.” I was hoping he would fly in to surprise everyone and would venture to say that everyone would have stood up and given him a standing ovation.

The LA Times can write that LA Opera is a strong company that would survive on its own merits if Domingo left. That is a possibility, but the fact remains that the company has been dependent on its leader Domingo, and owes him much gratitude. Not a slap on the face. Whether or not he did what he is accused of doing, he deserves much applause. I repeat from previous writings: You “can” separate the man from his art, and in Domingo’s case, he is a good man as well as a brilliant artist.

Domingo could have even made a video of himself speaking to those present at the ball, and the company could have projected it on a large screen. Once again, I presume that applause and a standing ovation would have ensued. But I am only speculating. LA Opera and its board of directors might not have wanted to speculate. I am only writing that Domingo deserves that standing ovation.

So it is all very nice that the new production of “Bohème” is creative and unique. But Domingo has been involved in every aspect of the creative process as it applies to LA Opera. And even though the company says that Domingo is not involved in the operations of the company pending the results of the investigation — the company cannot just suddenly delete him when productions are contracted years in advance.

I hope that what the public sees is all part of a strategy to make LA Opera appear independent.

Domingo is owed much gratitude by everyone working at LA Opera — everyone behind the scenes, including the board of directors. I cannot believe that they would throw him away with the dirty dishwater, not after all he has done to nurture the company and put it on the map. Domingo was always the primary speaker representing the company at the press conferences I attended.

Members of the board are not talking. I want to hear from Chairman Marc Stern, Carol Henry and others who have forged long friendships with Domingo.

So although no one knows what the future will bring — I think it is premature to talk about the company as if it were totally independent. I have never been one to stress loyalty. But “loyalty” is what LA Opera owes Plácido Domingo.

Years ago I wrote an article stating that Domingo was far too busy as a singer and conductor to run the day-to-day operations of LA Opera and should make way for a general director who could, and stay on only as an artistic advisor. He started off with the company as an artistic advisor. But as Domingo graduated to general director, he slowly decided to have a day-to-day person carry out those duties.

Years ago Edgar Baitzel had that job. He was respected and admired, but after he died, no one was there to take his place. Stephen Rountree took over the slack for awhile. Finally Domingo was general director and Christopher Koelsch moved up from his positions to become chief executive and president. I would stipulate that Domingo had quite a bit to do with Koelsch’s promotions.

So now certain newspapers are quoting Koelsch and have virtually removed Domingo from their memory banks. Not so. Everything is a fabrication almost to the degree of having become a figment of the imagination. The reality is quite different from what the press is portraying.

The press has almost forced LA Opera to do what it is doing to be able to move forward as an independent company.

Domingo recruited James Conlon to be the company’s music director. He has not commented, probably because he wants to keep silent and is loyal to Domingo.

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham is an advisor, most probably due to Domingo. Renée Fleming will be the star of the upcoming production of “Light in the Piazza.” How did that happen? Fleming is one of the few opera stars who has graced the LA Opera stage numerous times: as Violetta, Blanche, and in recital.

Koelsch has even sat on the jury and was a judge of Domingo’s Operalia competition. There are bonding ties that are evident and cannot or should not be severed.

I am sure that Koelsch had a lot to do with everything. But so did Domingo. The press is trying to separate the two. That is an impossibility. The separation here between church and state could even be a strategy by LA Opera to show its independent strength. But I read on the LA Opera website that Domingo, Conlon and Koelsch are a team on the artistic front.

Again, Domingo is suddenly not taking part in the operations of LA Opera pending the results of the investigation, according to numerous articles. The company’s schedule is worked on for at least two years in advance or more. I would speculate that Domingo had to approve everything and put his mark on the line before anything moved forward regarding this season.

I just read another review by Maria Nockin for “Broadway World.” Quite different than the one in the Times. Nockin focuses on the opera, “La Boheme,” and its music, singers, crew and production equally. No Domingo problems. She did what LA Opera wanted — she focused on the opera. Nockin wrote about the pathos in the opera, which the LA Times critic tried to minimize. Her review balances all of the aspects she saw on stage, which were positive to her. Whether or not I would agree, she showed that she has knowledge of the music, aria-by-aria, and showed her credibility.

Another review in “Classical Voice” is not so kind, but still puts the focus on the opera at hand and how its darkness relates to what the composer envisioned.

With “La Boheme,” there is plenty of darkness for the two lovers as Mimi dies. The romance and then tragic ending is what Puccini envisioned. LA Opera is correct in saying that it is okay for the audience to cry in the dark. So if the LA Times critic says that it is not okay to cry but rather, to act, some of the pathos may have dwindled. And if there are nude prostitutes in the Café Momus scene, Kosby may have carried the production too far. You can go pretty far with a production before it becomes Eurotrash. I don’t personally believe that LA Opera should become another Komische Oper Berlin with all its experimentation. But I know that the LA Opera staff and board want to reach out to the diverse cultures in Los Angeles and give Angelenos an array of flavors to taste.

I am not making excuses for not having been at the opening, to write a proper review. I wish I could have gone but couldn’t for good reason. My goal here is to shed light on the horrible move by the press, to “denigrate” Plácido Domingo’s career, as stated by Domingo’s spokesperson.

From what I can see thus far, now that I have read a fourth review focusing on “La Bohème” in “Opera Warhorses,” some press organizations are not dwelling on the Domingo issue. But then it is like he died or never existed.

I was critical of the LA Times critique, but at least Mark Swed didn’t delete LA Opera’s general director completely, and neither did Jim Farber who wrote still another review for “San Francisco Classical Voice,” which included all of the necessary components to show that Farber is in the know.

Domingo has helped countless singers expand their careers. Right now at the Metropolitan Opera, Angel Blue is opening the season with “Porgy and Bess.” Blue was part of the LA Opera young artist program, and Domingo has nurtured her career and sung with her all over the world in concert, to ready her for this wonderful moment. “That” is the tearjerker for me.

At least Domingo is moving forward. He has been engaged to sing in Moscow.

Let’s hope that behind the scenes, Domingo is being given the accolades he deserves from members of LA Opera and other companies, the board of directors, present and previous supporters, and opera singers. I wish he had been at the ball to receive the standing ovation he so well-deserves.