Posted by: operatheaterink | October 2, 2019

Commentary: A Love Letter to LA Opera, Oct. 1, 2019

A Love Letter to LA Opera
Will He Stay? Or Won’t He Stay? That Is the Question.
Please do the right thing, LA Opera. Your life depends on it.

Arturo Chacon-Cruz, Ana Maria Martinez, Placido Domingo
in LA Opera’s “El Gato Montes: The Wildcat”
(Photo: Cory Weaver)

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I don’t know how the Los Angeles Opera should approach the ending to the Plácido Domingo scandal in the United States, but I hope the company leaders do it correctly and are not pressured by anyone, including the press, politicians, and even the results of their own investigation by an attorney.

So far, the company is batting zero with me because I believe that the investigation was uncalled for and is a slap in the face to the great artist, Plácido Domingo, who is in the company’s general director.

The investigation must have been a front so that LA Opera could show the world that it is doing the right thing with a politically correct approach. The company could have let others do the investigation, like the union. It is a slap in the face to Domingo who has led the company for years. It is a slap in the face to the general director they have revered.

After what has happened at the Metropolitan Opera, with Domingo’s exit from that company, and after other companies canceled his engagements, he has decided most likely to perform out of the United States, which has wronged him on many levels.

But he is still scheduled to sing “Roberto Devereux” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with LA Opera the end of February. I would say that whether or not he sings has a great deal to do with whether or not he remains the general director of LA Opera.

Many scenarios could be in the works. He could remain general director and sing in February. He could retire as general director and still sing in February. He could retire as general director and not sing in February. But the main aspect for LA Opera to consider is “how” he leaves when and if he leaves.

Right now, the investigation is underway. And Domingo has been removed from his duties as general director even though he was involved in the scheduling and casting for this season and for upcoming seasons as well, since opera contracts are signed sometimes years in advance. So that action by LA Opera was another front to show the world that the company is proactive.

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times has Domingo gone. He even has the new general director chosen — with the current president and chief executive officer of the company becoming its general director.

LA Opera needs to think hard, very hard about the company’s history and future.

I spoke to a former member of the board of directors, wanting to know why he left the board. I didn’t get much of a response, but I did hear the sentence: “Everyone knows that Christopher Koelsch has been running LA Opera for years.” Or maybe it was: “Everyone knows that Christopher Koelsch runs LA Opera.”

Yes, well, I go way back, too. And I believe that I have outlined LA Opera’s history in other commentaries.

Briefly, LA Opera was run by Edgar Baitzel. He died and there was no one to run the company on a day-to-day basis. Stephen Rountree gave up some of his tasks with the Music Center to become the interim person to run the company.

Plácido Domingo had been the artistic director and then became the general director.

But LA Opera is not like other companies. Other companies usually do not have a general director who is a major artist whose name helps the company succeed. So when a general director normally leaves a company, if the next general director has a good record of management, that general director can enhance that companies stature.

But in the case of LA Opera, there is NO ONE who can do for the company what Plácido Domingo has done for it.

I wrote a story years ago that Domingo should become artistic consultant and that another person should run the day-to-day operations of the company since Domingo is out singing and conducting for much of the year. LA Opera kept Domingo as general director and Christopher Koelsch eventually moved up the ranks to be that day-to-day person with the title of president and chief executive. Problem solved. And I hear he is doing an excellent job.

But there have been other problems along the way.

The “Ring” with “Ring Festival LA” was a drain to the company’s budget.

People like Eli Broad and others were giving millions of dollars to make the production of the “Ring” possible. As I wrote previously, once a company has produced the “Ring,” it has arrived. The festival was a means to enhance tourism in Los Angeles and was billed as the largest festival Los Angeles has ever had. I thought the festival was a separate entity to the “Ring” production, but the production became part of the festival somewhere along the way.

I discovered that the festival was basically a Richard Wagner festival, since it basically honored the composer of the “Ring,” who was a known anti-Semite and racist.

I thought that the opera people didn’t know about the politicians’ intolerance of anti-Semitism and racism in Los Angeles, and that the politicians didn’t know about Wagner and his views. I wanted to help, but I got a swift kick in the pants.

I first went to a major political consulting firm in Los Angeles for help. The firm’s head was interested but learned that another PR firm had been contracted.

I wanted to see the biggest arts festival in Los Angeles that the city had ever had. I wanted to see banners up and down La Cienega Boulevard which, at the time, had numerous art galleries. I wanted all the little theaters to also be involved with their shows and I wanted the theater companies to decorate their theaters with banners that read: “Ring Festival LA.” I wanted all the arts to come together to create this massive festival that would have brought in tourists.

But somewhere along the way, I was branded as being out-of-touch.

Retired LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich was sensitive to my concerns since LA County finances the Music Center. But he limited what I had in my mind as an arts festival and only presented a motion to include other composers with Wagner as part of the festivities.

Well, the press heard that and went to town on the supervisor who meant well and was headed in the right direction, but just didn’t quite hit enough of the right notes.

Just about the only fair press I got was when David Suissa of the Jewish Journal interviewed me. He lived up the street and came over to my house for an interview. He didn’t take notes like other reporters do but appeared extremely relaxed as he lounged on my sofa. I wondered what kind of an article would result, but the article was very fair. Suissa wrote that any major arts festival should be about more than one person. I guess he didn’t need a notepad for that.

Then LA Opera didn’t have the money to finance the production and went to the LA County Board of Supervisors for a loan.

The company paid back the loan and has been adhering to a tight budget ever since.

LA Opera did alter the festival, however, by revealing Wagner’s warts in all the lectures. That worked. But in my estimation, Los Angeles could have utilized the kind of festival I was envisioning. I would still like to see such an arts festival in Los Angeles in the summer months, which would bring tourism to the city.

Why did I write all this regarding the Domingo scandal, you ask?

I wrote it because I do not know what the LA Opera board is contemplating right now. So far, the Met has made major mistakes with how the company handled its situation.

I just do not want LA Opera to do the same. I ask LA Opera to be very careful as the options are weighed.

The company has already slapped Domingo in the face with its investigation.

It would be nice if the results would turn out positive for Domingo. But if I were him, that would still anger me since LA Opera didn’t need to doubt him. And if some of the results turn out to be negative, then both Domingo and the company end up unhappy so that no one wins.

LA Opera has moved up the ranks as a company in the United States. But for Mark Swed at the LA Times to say that the company will be just fine with Koelsch at the helm borders on ludicrous.

The company was so small years ago when I was a teacher at a Highland Park school, that one of my co-teachers always told me that her husband was going to San Francisco Opera to hear opera. That woman is now one of the ladies who volunteers in the booth at the Opera League table in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Again, LA Opera is unlike any other company in the United States. It has Plácido Domingo as its general director. Koelsch may run the company on a daily basis, but it is Domingo who can bring in the funding. It is Domingo who can bring in the stars. And it is Domingo who can bring in the named artists to act as advisors, consultants, and even coaches.

Domingo recruited James Conlon to be the company’s music director and conductor. Conlon has worked tirelessly in that capacity. Not only has he conducted the orchestra with more enthusiasm than a firecracker spreading its light over the ceiling of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but he has been committed to explaining to audiences the critical factors inherent in each production by means of talks before the performances.

So I don’t know what the answer is or what LA Opera should do or what Domingo “will” do after what has happened throughout the United States. I doubt he will remain as a fixture with the company. But it is Plácido Domingo who has been at the forefront of LA Opera for years.

NO ONE can replace Plácido Domingo. No one. And now we are supposed to wait more months to hear the outcome of the investigation.

There should have never been an investigation. After the Associated Press story broke, LA Opera should have immediately said Domingo is the general director of LA Opera. He will sing in “Roberto Devereux” in February, and that should have been that.

He was not accused of a federal crime. Even if he likes women, so what? As he said, times were different years ago. And one woman wrote online that Latins are more touchy anyhow than other cultures. So what?

The #MeToo movement has gone too far.

The board of directors is not talking. Well some of the members ought to come out and defend Domingo.

At this point, if I were him, I would retire and move to Europe where he is treated with respect.

But if LA Opera wants to save itself, the board should quickly start defending Domingo, no questions asked.

More singers should start defending him. What about Renée Fleming who will be performing later this month? What about Susan Graham, who is a consultant with the young artist program? What about James Conlon?

I can see it now. Domingo will leave. Someone will become the company’s general director like with other companies. And later, James Conlon will leave as well. He is not so young anymore either.

So then Los Angeles will have the type of opera company it had before.

Nobody will care about the company and instead of it keeping its ranking and moving upward, it will start declining. After all, where will the money come from to finance the productions? I doubt that Christopher Koelsch could keep the company afloat as general director or president and chief executive even if he works 24 hours a day.

LA Opera owes so much gratitude to Plácido Domingo that it isn’t even funny. So what has the company done to show its appreciation? It has alienated him in the name of being politically correct.

LA Opera’s board better think very hard as it takes its next steps. If the company declines and fails, it will be because of the company’s inflexibility and adherence to trying to appease groups like the press and politicians.

It is time for LA Opera to assess what it has now, and what could happen if Plácido Domingo is no longer part of the company. In my mind, LA Opera can never recoup what it has with Domingo as general director. He is irreplaceable. I would like to see Domingo remain in his current capacity, but would understand if he chose not to. Second would be for him to remain as possibly an artistic director instead. But he should remain attached to LA Opera in some capacity, and the decision should be his.

Domingo did nothing so terrible as to warrant this outcry in the United States. He is a great, great artist. He is the world’s greatest living tenor. He didn’t deserve any of this. Los Angeles is lucky to have him at the helm of its opera company.

I beseech the board members and leaders of LA Opera to think hard before doing the wrong thing.