The “Moo-Cow Serenade” is like
Vi-Jon’s Magnesium Citrate Recall

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The “Moo—Cow Serenade”
is being composed right now by me at the same time I am writing this opinion piece on the magnesium citrate solution recall by Vi-Jon, for the Vi-Jon company is actually the lone cow.

Vi-Jon LLC has recalled thousands of bottles of magnesium citrate saline solution throughout the world. Yet only three instances of bacterial contamination from gluconacetobacter liquefaciens have been reported to date, but the company has declared a voluntary recall of all flavors and most lot numbers, to show its consumer concern and advocacy. The recall began more than a month ago with expanded lot numbers and flavors added—and no replacement dates included.

Vi-Jon LLC seems to have a monopoly on the product, as if it were a lone cow with a monopoly on all the milk production in the land, for the company has recalled all the magnesium citrate solution it produces from all the major drug stores and pharmacies it services, where the product has been placed in bottles with brand names featured on the bottles, including CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, as well as Major, Leader, Swan, Equate, Equaline, Good Sense, Kroger, Sunmark, and others, which are distributed to markets and smaller pharmacies throughout the United States, Panama and Canada.

Can you imagine one cow producing so much milk that it is packaged in cartons reading Knudsen’s, Horizon, Organic Valley, Stonyfield, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and more — so that if ONE brand were contaminated, so would they all be?

Those may be hypothetical comparisons, but think about it: Many poor little babies would be deprived of their milk.

Well, that is exactly what Vi-Jon has done with magnesium citrate solution. It is simply not available.

I am a 75-year-old consumer with Parkinson’s Disease. Magnesium Citrate solution was recommended to me by my gastroenterologist five years ago when I was in the hospital. The product is used as a prep before procedures or by taking a reduced amount when necessary. Magnesium is good for muscles, bones and nerves,, and for flexibility.

As a senior citizen taking Carbidopa-Levodopa, to reduce my ongoing motor symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, the recall has impacted me greatly, but I have not been sick from any contamination.

I have tried to find a substitute brand, but cannot. Most pharmacists have returned the recalled bottles. One actually told me that she would send her remaining bottles back to Vi-Jon rather than risk losing her license by selling them to me. As a consumer, I would rather risk the side-effects of taking the recalled item than risk the challenges of not taking it when indicated, or experimenting with a new product altogether.

So I therefore must ask: Why does one company have a monopoly on the distribution of one product? Especially when it is a simple and inexpensive product like magnesium citrate solution, which could be purchased uncontaminated if produced by more companies?

I have not gotten sick after injesting more than 10 recalled bottles that were in my possession. I “have” had difficulties opening the caps on some of the bottles, however, and have used steaming hot water and knives to screw off the tops. The hot water could have created the contamination, I assume. But then I am not a scientist and do not know the reasons inherent in my dilemma.

I only know that with all of the modern-day drugs and cures and Covid vaccines, I “should” be able to buy something as simple as pure, uncontaminated magnesium citrate solution somewhere. But after calling half the drug stores in Los Angeles County and beyond—I cannot.



Long Beach Opera is a Creative Company that Honors Diversity

Photo: Long Beach Opera – Artistic Director, James Darrah

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Now that we are in the anti-racism phase of American history after the horrible murder of George Floyd and countless rallies shouting in support of Black Lives Matter — there has been an attempt to level the playing field and honor diversity in the American work force by enabling people of all races and religions to have equal job opportunities. Yet it appears that some of the people who have attained the jobs, don’t want them.

Yes, it has been a rough road, especially for blacks, who have a history in slavery. But they are now finally on every television show and in every film. And they are talented.

Still, now I have read about three articles in the L.A. Times on Long Beach Opera, which has hired black people in various positions, yet some have left their jobs because they find it difficult to work on the job site. They believe they were hired simply to meet some kind of quota, rather than for what they can offer the company due to their talents.

Yes, change is difficult and very slow-moving. These staff members might not like my response, but just a few years ago, they might not have been given the opportunities they have been given recently. So in my opinion, and this is an opinion-kind of article by someone who is an opera-lover and opera critic — I believe that no one should throw away any opportunity because times change, and each of us must grab on to opportunities when they arise because they may not come again. New members to the Long Beach Opera staff should not have quit their jobs, but should have embraced them. They should have worked hard to prove that they are the most valuable artists to the company, and the most qualified for their jobs.

I know that Long Beach Opera is one of the most creative companies in existence. The operas presented are usually not the norm. The company rarely presents operas that the attendees probably have heard of. And then these operas usually are presented in a very creative manner that some other company might not be able to perform.

The production design is always extremely creative and sometimes gorgeous. Which brings me to the new artistic head of the company, James Darrah.
I read that he is again Caucasian and will not talk to members of the press— that he is halting the diversity of the company.

I have known James Darrah for about 12 years. I met him at UCLA where he was a graduate student at a performance in MacGowen Hall. I read that he had married a talented mezzo-soprano there, who has graduated and gone on to sing at LA Opera and Long Beach Opera under its former director, Andreas Mitisek. At any rate, it appears that James Darrah now lives with someone else and is bi-sexual. So does not Mr. Darrah now meet the qualifications for diversifying the staff?

He, Mr. Darrah, is a quiet man, from what I remember, and no one could be better-suited or more qualified as an artistic director than he is, because his set design is usually stunning. So although Jennifer Rivera is quoted as having said that she did not plan to hire a Caucasian as the next artistic director of Long Beach Opera when Mr. Mitisek left and went to Chicago — in my mind, she has chosen the best possible person for the job. And he “has“ diversified the company.

So please readers — if you want to see something different, please drive out to see a production at Long Beach Opera. If you look hard enough, you may even find a production close-by in a parking lot of your local synagogue, or you may see a reading of a play being performed by actors in a local theater as a pre-curser to one of the upcoming Long Beach Opera productions, like I once did, which starred the renowned actor, Michael York, who is, by-the-way, an opera buff.

So I ask all people of all races and religions to embrace their new-found opportunities in the workplace, and to work hard to maintain them.

I am a minority as I am the daughter of Viennese Holocaust survivors. I am also a semi-retired opera critic. What can I say? I love opera. I love hearing the best artist for every role, and I loved hearing the voice of Leontyne Price singing “Aida,” and the voice of Marian Anderson when she sang Schubert Lieder, including the song about the little trout, “Die Forelle,” which I heard her sing so many times as a child, that I sat on the record and broke it.

Plus nothing could please me more than to hear “Porgy and Bess” sung with a black cast of main characters like Eric Owens and Angel Blue.

Now is the time to be black in America. Do not throw away any opportunity because you think you are entitled. Every opportunity is a gift. Believe me, at 75, I know. So embrace them.


Posted by: operatheaterink | March 11, 2020

Commentary: LA Opera Came Up with Nothing, March 11, 2020

LA Opera Came Up with Nothing. Yet the Press Makes it Look Like They Did.

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Plácido Domingo is a Winner! Yet you’d never know it if you read the newspapers.

Los Angeles Opera came up with nothing to warrant his resignation, and nothing to warrant any company to cancel his performances. The LA Opera investigation report was released Tuesday, March 10 — with nothing in it.

The report said that basically 44 women had been interviewed and that 10 of the stories were “credible” based on the fact that they were all similar in nature. I somehow do not believe that makes the stories “credible,” but what do I know.

The report said that no accusers said that Domingo had ever used his position to make advances toward them. Whatever they thought was their own business.

The report said that Domingo had been sincere with the women and even a bit unknowing or “unaware” about what was implied by their responses.

The report said that most of the women would remain anonymous to be protected and that much of the information would remain private as well.

The Los Angeles Times and New York Times wrote stories stating that the one woman that accused him of making advances at Washington National Opera, singer Angela Turner Wilson, had accused him of something that took place 20 years ago, but the makeup artist in the room couldn’t recall the event.

And finally, the investigation, carried out by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Debra Wong Yang, recommended that LA Opera improve its policies regarding sexual harassment. Apparently women have not communicated much dismay to the management of the company, and the procedures were found to be lacking.

With all of these parts listed, I believe that Plácido Domingo has been exonerated. He was treated as guilty until proven innocent rather than the other way around.

Domingo is a warm good-hearted human being. Whether or not he flirted with women or wanted their company after performances hardly warrants that opera companies ban him from his art.

Domingo has worked very hard to remain at the top of his game in the opera world. He has sung more roles than any other tenor. His technique is perfection or he could not still be singing at the age of 79. He has worked to further his art and has mentored countless singers. He is a conductor and administrator. He did not deserve what he received from these companies that canceled or pushed him out with their doubts.

He is owed major apologies from those in the opera world, and he is owed a return to the companies that had their doubts. He is owed his life and career back.

Domingo has proven that the #MeToo movement has gone too far. Just because women “can” doesn’t mean that they “should.” Each case is different, but Domingo shows that he was prosecuted without due process.

Peter Gelb should be held accountable for his actions. The Metropolitan Opera is the biggest company in the United States, and Gelb caved in to pressure, not only from employees, but from a senator who threatened him with his job. Frankly, now I believe that Gelb’s job should be in jeopardy due to his lack of faith in the one man who had shown his artistry to the Met for so many years.

Domingo was at the Met years before Gelb was at the helm. Whether or not Domingo ever sings at the Met or in the United States again for that matter, he deserves a big celebration of gratitude for his years at the Metropolitan Opera. And the celebration should be initiated by Peter Gelb and should be at the Met.

All of those who plagued Domingo now have egg on their faces. I do not know if there is any way to right the horrible wrong that was imposed upon Domingo, but every company and every board member of every company, and every employee of every company should try to apologize for this horrible wrongdoing and injustice to a great artist.

I believe that Domingo should sing in Europe, but should only accept engagements in the United States from the company managers of his choosing. Maybe in a few years, if he is still singing, he might consider some of the companies that wronged him if the casting directors approach him. We in the United States want him back here. As for LA Opera, the company stated that it has no plans for Domingo’s comeback at the moment. I think a resting period between the two might be wise. I believe other companies might be more worthy of Domingo’s participation.

He should not speak to the press. The press started this fiasco and continues to interpret the words of the investigation to its advantage. Domingo should issue a statement. And the statement should not be apologetic. Now it is time for Domingo to get even. The problem is that he is not a vengeful person. So he should simply verbalize that he always told the truth, that there was no story to report, and that the press expanded and fabricated the stories so that he had been in jeopardy of losing his career. But he should add that this final report has exonerated him.

After reading stories published the morning after the release of the results of the LA Opera investigation, there continues to be a trend of the press pushing to oust Domingo from the opera world. The report states that the claims were “credible.” The LA Times changed its original headline and made the claims “valid.” After looking the definition up in Webster’s dictionary, I see that the two words are not synonymous. “Credible” would mean “plausible” whereas “valid” implies more truth to the accusations. The Times talks about Domingo’s “dramatic downfall” and how his future in opera “remains in the balance.” The Times is editorializing to reach its aims. Its news story is really an opinion piece. But the power of the press is strong as well as its freedoms from harm. In the instance of Domingo, I do not know what he should say or do to ward off the liberal press. What matters is not whether or not the press is liberal. What matters is that the press is not honest, and the publications slant stories to meet their own ends. The press is interpreting the words so that they do not follow the straight and narrow but curve on a wiggly line.

As for Domingo’s accusers, most remain anonymous and accused him of acts that happened many years ago in a different political climate. They too owe him apologies for their tactics of revenge.

I believe that LA Opera was trying to almost apologize to Domingo while at the same time protect its employees from feeling uncomfortable and safe from harassment. I do not think that is doable. At least the company has acknowledged that its board has never held people back from complaining, but that a freer means of communication might be in order.

I believe that Domingo will be able to rise above what has happened if his attorneys and public relations people can figure out how to make the press more accountable for its writings so there is less room for interpretation. Journalists are wordsmiths, and that is the problem.

Domingo’s career should be resurrected. But don’t start the celebrations quite yet.

Posted by: operatheaterink | March 11, 2020

Commentary: Plácido Domingo vs. the Union, March 8, 2020

Plácido Domingo vs. the Union in a #MeToo Era of Revenge

Photo: Cory Weaver

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Famous tenor, conductor and general director Plácido Domingo does not deserve all the nonsense that is ruining his career just because the #MeToo movement has taken over society and women are now going nuts for revenge.

I am a 73-year-old woman and opera critic, a nobody to many, but a somebody to me and my hundreds of readers and Facebook friends. I should be on the side of the women who have accused Domingo of sexual harassment and abuse, but I absolutely am not.

I did my share of dating when younger, when men would be men and boys would be boys. That was the culture we lived in. Women didn’t know how to react when men “came on” to them. When dating, a woman didn’t know when to give in or when not to.

“If I don’t do this, will he ask me out again?”

“If I do do this, will he ask me out again?”

Women had to contemplate in silence as men, married and unmarried, became more aggressive because they seemed to have the upper hand on the matter and seemed to come out on top, if you get my pun.

Now many years later, the #MeToo movement has been erected. Women can now stand up for all the misdeeds that have befallen them. The problem is that they are seeking revenge for things that happened to them in a different time and era. For the most part, they wouldn’t even know how to reach the men now, to even the score.

So the rich and famous seem to be getting the brunt of the revenge.

But in many cases, these rich and famous men have changed as well as the women accusers due to the times we live in. They have aged and matured. So why attack them now? Let’s keep the #MeToo era, but let’s use it to the advantage of the men and women of today, not the elderly who couldn’t care less about their heartbeat rate now when they are near a woman, but only care when their heart rate signals a trip to the cardiologist.

Plácido Domingo is in that camp. He refuses “to rust” and wants to run opera companies and help young singers instead.

But society won’t let him. Women have come out of the woodwork to accuse him of flirting with them and making sexual advances. However, the names of most of the women remain anonymous as well as their accusations. Some have apparently said that they gave in because they feared their careers as singers would diminish if they didn’t. But maybe that was in their own minds. Did Domingo mention to them that one had anything to do with the other? Not according to what I am reading in the press by such media organizations as the Associated Press, NPR, the LA Times, The New York Times, and others.

Domingo asked one woman singer if she had to go home that night. She did, so that ended that. One singer now sells real estate, and has for many years. I guess her career was always at stake. She should have been glad to sing with a master.

But various news organizations, including the Associated Press, call these instances news and write about Domingo and his accusers from the side of the accusers.

It is difficult for me to decipher what Domingo did or did not do and even what he is being accused of.

So let’s cut to the chase.

The union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, has held a private investigation. Domingo was found to have flirted and made sexual advances to women while he was general director of Washington National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. Hmm. Advances can mean little more than flirting. A sin, no doubt.

To make matters worse, a vice president of AGMA resigned because he was unsympathetic to the union’s handling of the situation. The problem is that nobody knows what the real truth is. Did Domingo offer money to cover up the situation? How could he have? The union said it would keep the findings of the investigation private anyhow. But then someone leaked and shared the information with some of the members of the press. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

Domingo apologized for hurting any women who might have felt hurt. But then when some of his engagements were canceled in Europe, the one part of the world that still welcomed him, Domingo took back his apology and denied the accusations once again.

So now because the vice president of AGMA resigned due to the comments made by the union board and the waffling between what Domingo asked of the union or didn’t ask, and what the union is professing to have asked vs. what it didn’t ask — everyone is confused, and the union has decided to hold hearings.

No one knows if Domingo was fined and the money was to pay the fine. Or if Domingo used the money which the union would have accepted, to pay for the costs of the investigation or provide harassment education. At this point, I am utterly confused, and so is the union.

So now the union has stated that hearings will take place to determine the consequences of Domingo’s actions.

But so far the public remains in the dark about most of the data and consequences, which are not spelled out by the courts. Yet during this insecurity, WNO has taken Domingo’s name off its young artist program title. He still founded the program, but now his name is mud.

In my mind, this whole situation is absurd and almost childish.

This cannot be tried in a court of law since Domingo did not break the law.

What can the union do? Censure Domingo or remove his membership, which has already been done temporarily, I think?

I think it is time to leave Plácido Domingo alone. When I hear Domingo, I am wrapped up in listening to his voice and technique since my father was an opera singer and I studied voice. My father and I talked about technique when listening to records. Nowadays all anyone thinks about is did he or didn’t he.

The only way for anyone to be sure about anything related to this happening is to have confidence in the union’s findings and in the process used to arrive at the conclusions.

A union should represent ALL of its members, and in this case, Plácido Domingo is one of them. Before anything can be cleared up regarding sexual harassment accusations against Domingo, it is important that the union investigate itself.

Clearly, the procedures used to investigate a member need to be revised. The consequences regarding certain offenses need to be spelled out. The process cannot change day-to-day based on what is said in the press or due to what the accused and accusers say that prompts board members to change the process temporarily on a given day. Nothing is set in place. No one can trust anyone now, it seems. With that in mind, the results of the investigation have little if any validity. So how can opera companies in the United States and now in Europe cancel an artist’s engagements based on findings that are not truthful? Maestro Domingo is so worried that he drops out of performances at companies that do not even have doubts, including the Royal Opera House. Soon he won’t have a career at all.

His fans are not being heard by the press since the press has a one-sided agenda. The public could never profess to know what is going on behind the scenes. Nothing should be taken at face value. Domingo no doubt has many professionals feeding him words or concepts to say. He doesn’t waffle. He no doubt is listening to a lot of professional people and trying to respond as they advise. But sometimes their advice backfires, and then he is no doubt reverting back to what he thought in the first place. The public will never know. Nor will the press.

Since the #MeToo movement is politically motivated, politicians may have gotten into the action. Some may want votes and although do not know much about opera — they may want votes from some of those who do.

Company directors want subscribers, many who echo the views of the accusers. Newspapers want to sell ads. What appears to be a simple issue has turned into a complicated circus with multiple acts moving simultaneously.

But for now, I think that the union needs to clean up its act before Domingo is tied to a stake.

I also think it is abominable that another investigation is under way by the Los Angeles Opera, where Domingo was general director from 2003 until he recently resigned under pressure. Domingo has given his life to that opera company. He planned to run the company after he retired from performing. And how did the company thank him? By pressuring him to resign with an investigation in place.

I personally am curious. But I know that Domingo is being harassed here far more than any of his women accusers say they have been harassed or abused by him. Sour grapes is all I can think of to describe the situation. No big-named star singers have accused Domingo of a thing. The women accusers just seem to want their minute of fame. Well, they got their time in the spotlight and will probably go down in history as the Witches of the #MeToo movement and AGMA.

So clear your name, AGMA, or you will be buried alive by your witches.

Posted by: operatheaterink | January 28, 2020

Commentary: LA Opera’s 2020-21 Season Without Domingo, Jan. 28, 2020

Gone With the Wind: Not Quite

Placido Domingo in LA Opera’s “Luisa Fernanda” in 2007

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

It is amazing to me that the artist who has given his life to the Los Angeles Opera could be totally and utterly “Gone With the Wind” to the company that owes most of its successes to him. How soon we forget!

Just four months ago, Plácido Domingo announced that he would be stepping down as the general director of LA Opera when he was accused of harassing some women at various companies, with only a few of the women giving their names out or going on record. Most of the cited occurrences happened many years ago, but since the birth of the #MeToo movement, the occurrences now seemed pertinent for the Associated Press, the LA Times and some American opera companies to address.

I have written numerous commentaries on the issue.

Domingo is an artist and is being unduly almost banned from singing in the United States, whereas in Europe, he is welcomed as the artist he is and praised for his operatic accomplishments.

Unlike Domingo, other opera singers have been labeled with similar lusts, including a non-singer, the president of the United States, but their careers have not been affected.

Domingo has not been charged with any crimes. Verbally asking a woman if she had to go home that night, is hardly an offense. Nothing has been proven, and Domingo has denied a great deal of the accusations.

What matters to me is that Plácido Domingo is a great, great tenor. He will go down in the history books as such. LA Opera owes him more than can be described here, yet as the company announced its 2020-2021 season on a press release dated Jan. 26, it is as if Domingo had died. And the strange thing is that opera season schedules are planned years in advance, so four months hardly would be enough time to delete Domingo from the 2020-21 season at hand. Yet the CEO of LA Opera, Christopher Koelsch, spoke about the upcoming season as if he was the responsible planner on the press release. At least that is what the LA Times wrote, since I was not in attendance when Koelsch announced the season but read the information on a press release. Koelsch did plan and has been responsible for the day-to-day operations of LA Opera for years, but he was not the visual focal point of the company to the public. Domingo was. So I would assume that Domingo was responsible for bringing various star performers to the company’s 2020-2021 roster, and for selecting some of the works scheduled to be performed.

So I guess that when artists die or have been accused of something, they are forgotten. Not so in the case of so many of Domingo’s peers, one being Luciano Pavarotti. But then it may be even more difficult to be alive and see what is happening to your own career in the light of injustice. I personally am grateful to the opera goers in the European countries for their loyalty to Maestro Domingo.

THE 2020-2021 SEASON:

That said, the upcoming LA Opera season looks inventive, creative and extensive.

The new production of “Il Trovatore” starring soprano Angel Blue promises to be a winning opening. Blue is said to be a “superstar soprano” in the press release.

Not yet, but almost.

Blue will have many audience members applauding her because she has really come full circle. I met Blue when she was studying voice from great baritone Vladimir Chernov at UCLA. She went on to be mentored by Domingo in the LA Opera young artist program. Domingo took her under his wing and sang with her all over Europe. She has garnered much support along the way over the last 10 years from artists who saw her potential. She has worked hard and recently sang Bess in “Porgy and Bess” at the Metropolitan Opera to rave reviews in newspapers including the New York Times. Now she is coming home to LA Opera to star in its opening of “Il Trovatore” in the 2020-21 season. Her potential is great, and she is on the road to becoming a soprano superstar. She is a young talented soprano who is a beautiful person and singer both inside and out, and everyone who knows her and has followed her career is very proud of her.

Other artists of the season include tenor Gregory Kunde, Issacheh Savage in Wagner’s “Tannhäuser,” Roberto Abbado conducting Stefan Herheim’s production of “La Cenerentola,” Ildebrando D’Arcangelo starring in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Francesca Zambello directing Verdi’s “Aida,” Harry Bicket conducting the revival of Handel’s baroque “Tamerlano,” and Missy Mazzoli breaking the bounds of new opera with her “Breaking the Waves.”

In addition, longtime great soprano Renée Fleming, a regular at LA Opera, will sing in concert with baritone Rod Gilfry in “The Brightness of Light.” Other performances Off Grand and where LA Opera Connects will also be performed, including “In Our Daughter’s Eyes,” with baritone Nathan Gunn who hasn’t received much acknowledgement on this press release roster, but whose singing and acting were magnificent in LA Opera’s “Magic Flute” a number of years back. He was one of the best Papaganos I have ever heard or seen .

With that said, it is an exciting season to be sure, filled with the old and new. James Conlon will once again conduct a brilliant revival of “Tannhäuser.” The production as I recall it was artistically arresting.

“Breaking the Waves” will be conducted by Grant Gershon and directed by the innovative and creatively masterful James Darrah.

But who really is responsible for the exciting LA Opera season is not discernable: maybe a combination of both Koelsch and Domingo with a little bit of Conlon mixed in. Domingo has said often that he loves LA Opera. It is possible that he has chosen to stay in the background so that the company will move forward in his absence. I cannot imagine the pressures he must have had when he felt obliged to step away from the company he nurtured to maturity.

I only know one thing: Plácido Domingo cannot be forgotten in Los Angeles or by LA Opera. He has left his artistic imprint on the walls of the Music Center and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and they cannot be erased.

For more information about the LA Opera 2020-21 season, go to

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 3, 2019

Commentary: Plácido Domingo Leaves LA Opera, Oct. 3, 2019


Placido Domingo in LA Opera’s
“El Gato Montes: The Wildcat”
(Photo: Cory Weaver)

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Almost immediately after my “Love Letter to LA Opera” was posted, Plácido Domingo resigned as general director of the Los Angeles Opera. He also will not be performing in “Roberto Devereux” in February.

He did the only thing he could have done. He wrote a beautiful statement to the New York Times virtually thanking LA Opera and wishing the company well. He will concentrate his efforts in Europe. I am very sad, but he did the right thing.

President and Chief Executive Christopher Koelsch will stay to handle the operations of LA Opera.

The investigation will remain in force, which in my mind was a slap in the face to Domingo in the first place. But the fact that it is continuing enrages me even more. It remains a front so that LA Opera can 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 supposedly revered.

Domingo was removed from his duties as general director soon after the Associated Press came out with the first story of accusations pending the results of the investigation. Another slap in the face. He was involved in the scheduling and casting of this season and subsequent seasons since calendars are scheduled years in advance. This was another front by LA Opera to show that the company was being proactive.

After other companies in the United States wrongfully canceled his engagements, he was forced to leave the Metropolitan Opera last week. The Met handled the situation all wrong. Please read my prior commentary on Peter Gelb, who held a meeting of chorus singers and orchestra members who complained they felt “awkward” performing with Domingo on the stage. Domingo was pushed out and according to a statement by the Met, “agreed” to leave.

He is right to never again perform in Los Angeles and probably anywhere in the United States. It was like he was attacked by a bunch of ravishing dogs. The women accusers were not the only vultures. The press was. The first woman barely accused him of anything, and AP went in for the kill. Then the second woman accused him and AP went in for the kill again. All the news organizations ran with the story. And, voilà, Domingo’s career was in flames after more than 50 years of being Plácido Domingo.

He had worked so hard to raise the status of LA Opera. He had planned to remain general director of the company after he retired from singing. What a jolt when all his hard work just seemed to go up in smoke unexpectedly after AP ran with the mostly anonymous accusers’ story.

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times had Domingo gone in his commentary almost two weeks ago. He even had the new general director chosen. How dare the press act as a human resources department and create the news.

And the photos on the LA Opera website of “Roberto Devereux” show that they were from a production at San Francisco Opera. Yes, the LA Opera brochure says it is a company premiere, but it is not an LA Opera production. In tiny letters at the bottom of the page in the brochure, it says it is a Canadian Opera Company production originally owned by the Dallas Opera. Stephen Lawless staged the production in San Francisco and is set to direct the one in Los Angeles. Both San Francisco Opera and Dallas Opera canceled Domingo’s engagements almost the day the AP story broke.

Yes, Domingo did the right thing. I would want to spit venom on the LA Opera stage rather than perform in that production on that stage.

But Domingo took the high road with his statement. I don’t have to. What has happened to Domingo is a travesty and a horrible comment on the press and our society.

Now that Domingo has done what the Times wanted, Swed wrote a front-page story that reads like an obituary. It is all very nice and lists Domingo’s roles throughout the years, and points out his landmark positions in Los Angeles history. It was so clear early on that the LA Times was leading Domingo to the watering trough, but with this article, which is a look back at his career with a few lackluster compliments mixed in, I think that the Times has probably covered itself from encountering any potential illegalities.

I do not know if Domingo has grounds for a defamation libel lawsuit against various press organizations and the state senator who called for his removal from the Met without cause. He would have to prove damages based on intent. I wish he would have grounds, but that is between him and his attorneys.

He was accused with anonymous accusations. The press ran with the juicy story that fit conveniently into the goals of the #MeToo movement with anonymous attributions. And LA Opera has no qualms about continuing with its agenda. Bravo to Domingo for getting out in such a timely fashion.

And if LA Opera thinks it will rise to the occasion, its board members are wrong. Oh, yes, the LA Times will say that LA Opera will thrive, but it won’t. Mark my words. The company will never get another named artist like Plácido Domingo to act as its general director. Even if an artist with a name were considering the position, that artist would look disloyal to Domingo and would most likely never apply.

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, the contributors are giving the money to LA Opera because of Domingo, not Koelsch. And this particular ex-board member told me that he got tired of spending the money it took to remain on the board due to the amount of productions being performed.

Briefly, to recap LA Opera’s history: 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 has not been 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 was 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. The problem was solved.

But there have been other problems along the way.

The “Ring” with “Ring Festival LA” was a drain on 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. Had that motion passed, the supervisor would have no doubt expanded the original version to include more of the arts, but it didn’t pass.

Just about the only fair press I received 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, went over-budget, 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 here, when the focus is the Domingo resignation, you might ask?

I wrote it because LA Opera is now in hot water. It was on a tight budget before Domingo announced his exit, but now the funding will spiral way down into the orchestra pit.

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 elementary school, that one of my co-teachers told me that her husband was traveling 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 had Plácido Domingo as its general director. Koelsch may run the company on a daily basis, but it was Domingo who brought in the funding. It was Domingo who brought in the stars. And it was Domingo who brought 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.

How long will James Conlon stay on? He is getting up in age and conducting all over the world. If he leaves, and he will, that will be another big blow to LA Opera. So what will be left?

There should have never been an investigation by LA Opera. 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. And one woman wrote online that Latins are more touchy than other cultures anyhow. Plus the groundless accusations supposedly happened years ago.

The #MeToo movement has been carried too far.

If LA Opera wanted to save itself, the board could have quickly started defending Domingo, no questions asked. But, alas, that never happened.

More singers should have defended him like Renée Fleming who will be performing later this month in “The Light in the Piazza.” What about Susan Graham, who is a consultant with the young artist program? Why didn’t she defend Domingo? What about James Conlon? I know he must be sick about the turn of events and does defend his recruiter. But why didn’t he speak out?

Frankly, by staying at LA Opera, Conlon is not sending the right message of loyalty to the man that originally recruited him. He must leave in my mind whenever his contract ends, or sooner. And then LA Opera will be the LA Opera it once was, without much support.

I can see it now. Domingo will leave. Someone will become the company’s general director like with other companies. And James Conlon will leave as well.

And what about Marc Stern and Carol Henry — two leaders of the board of directors? What words can they offer to appease the situation? Maybe they will leave, too.

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 quickly 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 worked 24 hours a day. The only way the company could be saved from spiraling downward would be if a great artist signed on, which is very unlikely now since that would send the wrong message.

LA Opera owes so much gratitude to Plácido Domingo. So what has the company done to show its appreciation? It has alienated him in the name of being politically correct so that he felt the need to resign.

LA Opera can never recoup what it had with Domingo as general director. He is irreplaceable.

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 was lucky to have him at the helm of its opera company.

Good luck, LA Opera. You are going to need it.

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.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 30, 2019

Commentary: Should Peter Gelb be Fired? Sept 30, 2019

Maybe He Just Needs Management Training

Peter Gelb at the Peabody Awards

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Metropolitan Opera General Manager Peter Gelb clearly did not handle the removal of Plácido Domingo from the cast of “Macbeth” very well. In fact, he handled it so poorly that now, maybe it is Gelb who should go.

Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman wrote on Twitter: “Plácido Domingo should be removed from the show — and if he isn’t, the director of the Met should be removed too.”

So Gelb pushed Domingo out, and now I think that it is time to figure out what to do about Gelb.

I do not believe that politicians should dictate to opera company managers how they should run their companies. Does the senator know anything about opera? Does the senator know anything about Plácido Domingo? I somehow doubt it. It is more likely that he wants to appeal to his #MeToo constituents so that they will vote for him during his next re-election campaign.

And Gelb fell into his trap.

I thought that Gelb was doing a fair job until he ousted Domingo. Gelb had said that Domingo would go onstage as planned for the opening of “Macbeth,” since Gelb said he lacked information and was waiting for the Los Angeles Opera investigation to conclude. The accusations from the accusers were mostly anonymous and Domingo should have been allowed due process under the law, although nothing he was accused of was illegal. The information was not corroborated, Gelb said.

I thought Gelb was going in the right direction. But then after the “Macbeth” dress rehearsal, he met with some of the women in the chorus and orchestra who had complained that they felt awkward with Domingo on the stage while performing. After that meeting, Gelb caved in. Apparently the women felt a power struggle between them and the higher-ups. They felt that they deserved to be considered equally with Domingo even though he has sung as a star at the Met for more than 40 years and has a history they could not even come close to achieving. But Gelb caved in.

Domingo was very kind and announced that he would be leaving the production and subsequent productions at the Met. And Gelb wrote that Domingo had “agreed” to resign.

Now that is loyalty for you. Frankly, the Metropolitan Opera owes a lot more to Domingo than to Gelb. Gelb’s history at the Met is many years less than Domingo’s. The chorus and orchestra members should have been thrilled to sing with such an admired and esteemed artist in the cast of “Macbeth.” Supposedly Domingo has been acting the way the accusers accused beginning 30 years ago or more, and now he has slowed down to a stop. So do you mean to tell me that “now” they feel awkward and that this is something new? I don’t think so.

This was not like the situation with James Levine. Levine was part of the Met’s leadership. He was the music director and he had been accused of offenses that did involve the law.

So Gelb did not use his brain when it came to handling the situation at the Met last week.

Frankly, it is his job to handle such situations admirably. Maybe Gelb should not be “out.” But he certainly needs some management training for a situation handled poorly that will affect Domingo and his family for the rest of their lives.

Yes, it started with the press. Then it continued with a senator to Gelb.

But now, finally, Domingo is getting support from some of his peers: Anna Netrebko, Olga Borodina, and Maria Guleghina. Plus a woman in the chorus announced that she did not attend the Saturday meeting and had no idea who the chorus singers were that were complaining. She had nothing but admirable remarks to say about singing with Domingo.

In addition, Gelb’s wife conducted a production a few years ago at the Los Angeles Opera, the company that Domingo heads. I wonder how that happened. I am not saying that Gelb’s wife was not qualified. I am saying that Domingo goes out of his way to help artists further their careers.

Peter Gelb owes Domingo a major apology. I don’t expect that Domingo will change his mind and will ever sing at the Met again. But Gelb should go down on his knees and apologize to Domingo, and then a big gala should be held, not with Domingo singing, but in honor of Domingo for all the years he has sung at the Met.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 25, 2019

Commentary: Domingo Steps Back, Sept. 25, 2019

Shock Waves Hit the Internet
It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over

Next stop: Opernhaus Zurich

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Upon hearing the devastating news that Plácido Domingo stepped down from ever performing at the Metropolitan Opera again, and will no longer be singing “Macbeth” with Anna Netrebko at the Met but will be replaced by Zeljko Lucic for his scheduled three performances — I sat on the chair in front of my computer in shock.

Since I have been writing on the subject, I have received overwhelming support for my commentaries by hundreds of Domingo fans because they feel they are in a minority, are not being covered by the press, and need a voice in print. Sadly, some of them have written me phrases like, “It’s over,” and “The mob has won.”

I was trying to find a way out for Domingo when I first heard the news and talked for the first time to a number of these Domingo supporters. I do not want to really call them fans because I think of fans as being naive young people outside of the situation. But that is not the case with those who have started and maintain a group Facebook page in support of Domingo. They are not young naive fans. They are mostly women, with some men included, who are older and intelligent. They live all over the world and support Domingo for his artistry. One woman that I talked to had even been at the Salzburg Festival when Domingo received a standing ovation before he even had uttered a note this summer. The woman told me that he had tears in his eyes. I was extremely moved.

The women are trying to think of solutions. The only way that Domingo could still be redeemed, they think, is if no one shows up for the opening of “Macbeth.” But that scenario is very unlikely. I will be writing on the evening in another commentary.

According to the New York Times and NPR, Domingo issued a statement which was very gracious. He stated that he was thankful for having been able to sing at the Met for so many years, but didn’t want to detract from those in the production.

NPR wrote that Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, also issued a statement which read that Domingo “agreed” to step down. The word “agreed” implies that Domingo was forced out. The Times stated that state Sen. Brad Hoylman called for Domingo to be removed from the performances, and if he wasn’t, Hoylman called for the removal of Peter Gelb. The Met had no choice.

But can the senator do that? I doubt that even if a senator calls for the removal of someone from a job, the company does not have to oblige him. I believe the call to oust Domingo by the senator was totally a political maneuver so that he would secure votes during the next election from members of the #MeToo movement.

I am far too upset by the cause of events to write. If my readers want the details of the Domingo scandal, I hope they will read my previous commentaries.

My heart goes out to the Domingos. The press and a senator have pushed Domingo out. The companies have tried to be sensitive to the #MeToo movement and in so doing, the companies have pushed the greatest living tenor out of their theaters. I find their acts reprehensible.

Domingo has been tried by the press, not a court of law. The accusers were anonymous except for two who described no acts that were illegal. And if any women agreed to Domingo’s accused advances, their actions were consensual.

The Los Angeles Times commentary by Mark Swed clearly showed that the LA Times wanted Domingo to resign as general director from Los Angeles Opera. The Times already had his successor picked out. So now the Times will most probably get its wish.

I believe that Domingo has wrongfully been tried by the press when the press didn’t really even have a story.

The Associated Press started the scandal, and the Los Angeles Times followed suit. A senator tried to influence an opera company by exerting pressure. It worked, but after I slept, I woke up with a start. It was because Domingo may not sing in America very much anymore after this scandal, and he may not be the general director of LA Opera for too much longer. But I believe the decisions must be his decisions to make, and I believe this incident is far from over.

Domingo spoke of “due process” in his statement. I believe he has been speaking to his attorneys, therefore. So although he may not be singing in “Macbeth,” I believe that lawsuits will result because Mr. Domingo did not have due process under the law and was canceled by the Met as well as other companies in the United States. So far nothing has been tried in a court of law, and nothing that Domingo is accused of doing was illegal and worthy of a lawsuit against him, but since I am not an attorney, I do not really know. However I do think that Domingo has grounds for a defamation libel lawsuit, with Domingo as the plaintiff, against possibly AP, the LA Times, the state Senator, and the companies that canceled him without proper evidence. Domingo used the words “due process” in his statement for a reason. He could file a lawsuit and the people and organizations that have plotted his professional demise could still be punished if damages are proven with intent. I pray that Domingo will continue the fight to restore his good name while singing in Europe where he is accepted and appreciated. As Americans, we do have the right to due process, and Domingo was pressured and continues to be pressured, without due process, which has forced him to resign from companies including the Met.

Going Back Before the Final Blow

On Monday, Sept. 23, it seems that the press focus should have been on the opening of the Metropolitan Opera season with Plácido Domingo protégèe Angel Blue in the leading role as Bess in “Porgy and Bess.” The focus was on the Plácido Domingo allegations instead.

Angel Blue was a student at the LA County High School for the Arts. I met her at UCLA when she was studying with the great baritone, Vladimir Chernov, while securing a graduate degree at UCLA where he is a professor. Then she moved to the young artist program at the Los Angeles Opera, and has continued under the direction of Domingo, singing all over the world in concert with him, to reach the wonderful moment for her as Bess in “Porgy and Bess” at the Met.

That was yet another generous act that Domingo has accomplished. He nurtures young singers to success.

Nothing will take away my undying respect for the man who has devoted his whole life to further the art of opera.

The Old News

Before Domingo’s resignation, the union held a seminar in Los Angeles to address what to do if singers or chorus members are harassed or have been harassed and are employees of an opera company.

And Peter Gelb held a session with chorus and orchestra members of the Met on Sept. 21, to explain his rationale for not taking actions regarding the Domingo scandal at the time. Much of what I have been surmising is similar. He did not have sufficient evidence to act on, and there was no corroborating evidence, he said. He said earlier that he was waiting for the results of LA Opera’s investigation.

Plus the makeup artist who was applying makeup on Angela Turner Wilson and Domingo in the same dressing room when Wilson said he groped her — the makeup artist has denied what Wilson said happened. He originally said that he could not remember the incident, but on Sept. 23, his denial was printed online.

I repeat that all of this stemmed from one story which began in the Associated Press and continued with another story which acted as a springboard to still other news organizations that then included the AP story in their coverage .

The #MeToo movement might have started the flood of accusations that now are plaguing the opera world about Plácido Domingo. But it is not the accusations that are the worst part. The worst part is that members of the press and media have pushed Domingo out, as Domingo said in his statement, without due process. The press ran stories without attributions. Domingo has been pushed out by the press. This is not the end of the story, but possibly just the beginning. I see a lawsuit in Domingo’s future. He will not be a victim, but the Plaintiff.

However the state senator was the last straw. What right does a senator have to dictate to a company who they should hire or fire. When politicians get involved to prove their worth to their constituents, to assure their next election, I find that very sad. But what can I do about it?

Flooding calls to the editors of newspapers might help. Writing other officeholders might help as well.

But the press is responsible for ruining this family’s lives, with the help of a state senator who added pressure without the power to do much of anything except to go to the press for reinforcement.

What’s In a Name

I am the daughter of a father who was an opera singer in Vienna and Prague in the late 1930s. He was forced to give up singing after fleeing from Prague at the time of the Holocaust, and then he lost his voice in Cuba where he and my mother were stranded in an internment camp. Once out of Triscornia, they lived in Havana until they could attain visas to come to the United States. The trauma weighed heavily on my father, and he was forced to learn a new profession to support my mother and me.

I was raised like a normal American child because that is what my immigrant parents wanted. They spoke German at home, but they didn’t want me to learn the language because they didn’t want me to develop an accent. My father gave me voice lessons, and my mother carted me off for acting, dancing, swimming and tennis lessons after school. I was a spoiled American non-brat.

My parents did not talk much about their past to me, but after my mother died, I felt the need to write a book about their love story. That is when I went delving. My father taped the story of his life for me. I would sit and listen with him to his favorite operas and Lieder for hours.

But this story is not about him. That is the point. No one asked him about his life at the Neues Wiener Konservatorium when he was a student there. No one asked him about his life at the Volksoper in Vienna when he sang there. No one asked him about his life at the German Theater in Prague or at the Stadttheater in Aussig when he sang there under the baton of Kurt Herbert Adler, or when he sang Lieder for the Gauleiter who didn’t know that he was Jewish when the Nazis were infiltrating the border.

All everyone was concerned about was how my father sounded. And when he could no longer produce that sound in Havana, he felt that his life had ended. Once in the United States, he went to the best doctors in New York, Knoxville, and at Mayo Clinic. My father loved my mother and was faithful to her, but nobody asked or cared. It was all about restoring the sound of his voice.

When I go to hear opera, I always focus on the voices. I went and still go to opera based on the cast I will hear. That is what is so wonderful about opera. You can hear an opera hundreds of times, and each time the opera is different because the singers are different as well as the production.

Nowadays, the productions are important. But to me, opera will always be about the voice.

Where I am leading with this story is that people go to hear certain opera singers. They go to hear Plácido Domingo. I don’t want to go to a performance only to learn that the cover will be singing the role. I buy tickets based on who the opera singer is that is singing that role. So if I had bought a ticket to hear “Macbeth” with Domingo and Anna Netrebko, I would be very upset if he wasn’t singing. I don’t care about his private life in that context. I just want to hear Plácido Domingo sing. No one else will do.

I feel the same way about Luciano Pavarotti and Jussi Björling. If I could hear Björling now, I would run like lightening to the theater and probably cry when he walked on the stage. He wasn’t perfect. He had an alcohol problem outlined in the biography written by his wife. But I don’t care. Opera has always been about the voice to me. Opera singers are human beings, too.

When Los Angeles Opera had Ferruccio Furlanetto on the bill of “Don Carlo,” I went two times to hear him sing. I could have gone a third time. Plus I love the opera.

I went early on as a child to hear Renata Tebaldi at the Shrine Auditorium sing “Madama Butterfly.” My father took me to hear her when I was about 8. I went to hear Renata Tebaldi and no one else.

Domingo sang Pinkerton on a video I own. He did such a convincing job with the acting that I didn’t want to go to that opera for years. I just hated his character.

Again, I may be straying from the subject. But what I am trying to say is that people are buying tickets to hear Plácido Domingo and no one else. So if a company cancels him due to anonymous unproven accusations, I have no use for that kind of company, not even the Met.

The Three Tenors came about by a wonderful promoter who knew how to get them over the threshold into the living rooms of the normal person.

There are many tenors, bass-baritones, baritones and basses with gorgeous voices, but so far, that type of phenomenon has never occurred since. So those who love opera know who the current voices are and who they want to hear, but the rest of the world continues to be intimidated by the art form that they know so little about.

Domingo is probably the only person left who can draw in a cross-over crowd en masse. He also can still bring in the opera-goer who has loved him for years. He is going down in history as a legend in opera whether the #MeToo people like it or not.

The #MeToo movement seems to be in the way. Now suddenly the press runs with every story due to its impact, even if the story is totally opposite of what the reporters know as ethical journalism. They develop stories with anonymous accusations that occurred years ago when the times were different. Yes: Fake News.

Various companies canceled Domingo’s engagements, and now he is not singing at the Met. Even though the chorus members have not been affected by his accused advances, they contributed to the witch’s brew when carrying on that they felt awkward around him, and the press called that a story.

I am so appalled that I can barely think about anything else. Here is a man who is loved within the opera business. He is cultured and refined, and he presents himself as being noble and kind.

If he is different in other circumstances when he is not performing, I don’t care. I cannot attest to whether or not he has gotten a bit carried away with women in the past or not. Some believe him to be innocent. Others do not. I personally don’t care one way or the other because his advances were minimal in nature, although it was nice to learn that the makeup artist denied Wilson’s story, since he was there as a witness.

I go to opera to hear Domingo because he is a brilliant tenor, the only one left of his generation who is bigger than life. I grew up hearing his sound and hearing his name. The first time I heard him live, which was late in the game, was at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I was excited to simply be in the same room with him. Later when I began writing reviews, I went to opera performances so that I could write the reviews. But I still focus on the voice and the singer who is singing — young, new or old. But my general trend is still to go to an opera based on the singers in the cast.

Talk about replacing the general director of Los Angeles Opera? I am afraid after this, the LA Times will get its wish, but the revenues will fall drastically in Los Angeles. People donate big money to opera companies based on name ID.

Europe seems to be more open and flexible than the United States. The public in various cities in Europe has been raised knowing that culture is important. The people value theater, dance, classical music and opera. When I go to Vienna and ask the concierge of my hotel where to go, he tells me to go to the Wiener Staatsoper. In Los Angeles, the concierge tells me to go to Disneyland.

No one really cares about whether or not Domingo smiled at a woman, or even asked her if she had to go home that night. He is Plácido Domingo, and after he leaves the scene, there will be no one else to fill his shoes.

Yes, opera singers do reach high depths sometimes in the modern era today. Soprano Anna Netrebko has managed to climb to the top of the ladder.

So now people had the opportunity to hear both stars on the same bill at the Met, but the chorus members felt awkward.

I am sorry. There is something wrong with this picture. I was wrong in a former piece I wrote that everyone is dispensable in life. Plácido Domingo is not. He is irreplaceable. There will never be another Caruso, Gigli or Björling. There will never be another Pavarotti, and there will never be another Plácido Domingo.

So I advise the press and companies who have canceled his performances, including the Met, to stop harassing him. I advise those who know nothing about opera who have latched on to the #MeToo movement, to stop harassing him.

I fear that the only thing left for Domingo and Marta to do is to retire to Europe where he can sing with acceptance. His next scheduled performance is at the Opernhaus Zürich in “Nabucco.” Hopefully, he will sing in the United States to a smaller degree, so that we can still be graced with his presence.

So, go hear him while you still can. Go hear him and feel honored that you are in the same room with him. And give him a standing ovation for his loyalty to you in the audience.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 23, 2019

Commentary: Sing Domingo Sing, Sept. 23, 2019

Sing Domingo Sing! Go to the Met and Sing!

Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Now that the press is running with the NPR story, another article has come out on Opera Wire about the poor women in the chorus who feel awkward with Plácido Domingo onstage at the Metropolitan Opera before his opening of “Macbeth” with Anna Netrebko on Wednesday (Sept. 25). The women are expressing how they feel during rehearsals, and they don’t want to share the stage with Domingo for the performance. They say they have never been approached by him, and it all started 40 years ago but has tapered off from slow to almost or maybe stop. Yet it is now that they are making waves because they can, and the press has hooked on to them since they are a story.

How obnoxious.

Just because men can no longer get away with sexual harassment while women stayed silent years ago, women think they can get back at the men now and get their revenge. There should be a statute of limitations on this type of thing because it is reverse harassment.

And it isn’t news. For the women complaining now, nothing happened to them. They said Domingo’s womanizing was an open secret. Well, it has all stopped now and almost all of the accusers and complainers are anonymous.

The press ought to be ashamed of itself for running with the story. Members of the press and media must really be hard up for a story if they don’t use real attributions.

Domingo is not Harvey Weinstein or Epstein or Bill Cosby or even James Levine. He is a man who just wants to sing for as long as he can and then continue to contribute to the opera world as a conductor and administrator. He has children and grandchildren. His wife is directing opera as well. It appears that the press doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as those reporting get their story. However, the LA Times commentary by Mark Swed is different. The commentary shows direct intent to oust Domingo. The LA Times is starting to show a distinct trend of thought with each article, and I hope that Domingo’s attorneys are noting the trend because it leads toward intent to damage a career.

And we in the public are just reading the stories with anonymous accusations and a couple that are on the record which are very insignificant advances if they happened as described at all.

The women had the opportunity to reject Domingo’s supposed advances. If they didn’t, that is their fault, not Domingo’s. Even if they were afraid of retribution, it was their decision to either walk away or not walk away. The real secret is who the women are and what they are saying to the press that happened. The press is running stories full of secrets.

I therefore think that the press is flying with a bunch of nothing. Almost everything being written on this topic is unethical news. The attributions are anonymous. The press just needs a story. And the press is damaging the lives of families in the process, in this case, Domingo’s family, which includes his children and grandchildren.

This may be one of the biggest challenges of Plácido Domingo’s career. He is known for being a hard worker who believes that if you don’t work, you rust. He has been singing, conducting, being an administrator, and conducting his Operalia competition, literally.

But now he is set to open “Macbeth” at the Met. He has always been liked at the Met, but now the female chorus members and some in the orchestra have changed all of that. It is incomprehensible to me that women in the pit could be saying they feel awkward with Domingo on the stage. They are down, and he is a level up. Unbelievable.

I am writing this commentary to tell Domingo to sing like he has never sung before.

It might be easier just to have the cover do the covering, but I believe that Domingo is a strong man with a strong constitution and will sing on Sept. 25 and hopefully for the rest of his run.

In my estimation, now is the time for Domingo to sing, to show that he will not be intimidated by the chorus members at the Met who never had problems singing with him before: last season or the seasons before. Maybe the audience should give Domingo a standing ovation when he comes out and boo the chorus. Strike that last part. I am just perturbed. When on stage, the chorus members will perform as directed.

A cover should be in the wings in case there is a demonstration. But Domingo should not be canceled under any circumstances. He is a true musician who has done nothing to warrant this revenge from women who have gone on with their lives and probably never even thought about any of this until the #MeToo movement started.

So Mr. Domingo! Stay in your dressing room, and then go out on the stage and let the audience know that you are the singer we know you to be.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 20, 2019

Commentary: NPR on Domingo at the Met, Sept. 20, 2019

Plácido Domingo: Courageous



By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I woke up again to another story by NPR on Plácido Domingo at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

Frankly, everyone is writing how much courage it has taken for the accusers to come forth. In the NPR story, the accusations are simply from staff members who “feel awkward” being around Domingo as he rehearses for his upcoming engagement of “Macbeth” with star Anna Netrebko, who has called him “fantastic.” Is this truly a story? Has the world gone mad?

Now he is being hampered because these people feel awkward being around him. Frankly, Domingo is the one with the courage to get up every morning and go to rehearsal. Domingo is the courageous one. These staffers are again anonymous. The story says that his advances started 40 years ago and have slowed down, probably come to a halt. Yes, the only courageous one is Domingo. The man is almost 80 years old. His wife is 84. Far too late to come down on him now, and all because they feel awkward.

And they say that the negative work environment is in part due to memories of the James Levine scandal. Well, that was quite different. Levine’s offenses were by underage boys and there were legal proceedings that went with the accusations, and Domingo and Levine are totally different people as well. Plus, Levine, who was the Met’s music director for many years, was at the Met every day when he was healthy. Domingo sings there when engaged. So why should anonymous staffers at the Met feel threatened by Domingo being in the house? Totally different situations with totally different accusers and involving totally different men.

It is the press that has gone mad as well. These complainers are going to the press, not to attorneys, because there is nothing there. Why have they waited all these years to go to the management? And even now, they could have gone to the management before rehearsals started and solved the problems internally. Instead, it seems the press is seeking out the complainers, and the complainers are going to the press.

They are being called courageous, when the only courageous person among them is Plácido Domingo.

They say there has been an awkward power dynamic going on between employees and the powerful ones like Domingo, Levine and Peter Gelb, the general manager. Well, I have news for them. There is a power dynamic between managers and employees in every work place in this country and in the land.

Plus it is now convenient and in vogue to be anonymous based on fearing retribution. These staffers may have feared that Domingo is liked at the Met and that if they went to upper management, nothing would be done and they could lose their jobs for trying, since Domingo is more important to the board at the Met than they are, so they went to the press instead. After all, Domingo sells tickets and he is loved by his supporters, so maybe the complainers thought they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they complained.

That said: I think that fearing that the art form of opera would be in jeopardy if they went on the record is pushing it. Excuses. Excuses.

I have no idea how to resolve this. It appears that the opera companies read the newspapers and then cancel Domingo’s engagements in the United States. Frankly, I look down on those companies for acting so quickly with insignificant information. I think that in this case, it is the staffers at the Met who are causing the problem if they actually went to NPR to complain. And if NPR came to them and they played along by answering questions, then it is their fault, too, for not handling the problems internally.

The only solution to this problem is probably for everyone to stay quiet. I look like I am changing my mind here. It is one thing to respond to stories that are outwardly damaging one’s career, like the Mark Swed commentary in the LA Times. It is another thing when anonymous people go to a newspaper to try a case in the press because they feel awkward and cannot go anywhere else since there is nothing there and they fear that nothing would come of their complaints if they went to the powers that be at their company.

The press doesn’t look too good either because the press is turning the complaints into stories that could be resolved internally and not in a newspaper, or on a radio or television show. The news is being fabricated.

The complainers feel awkward? Well, how do they think Domingo must feel about now: awkward.

I think that members of the press should stop the offensive reporting, and I think that all of these accusers and complainers should stop talking to the press.

The latest complaints could have been handled internally.

All of this is making the complainers, accusers and news organizations lack credibility. This round of complainers should realize that it is “they” who are making people feel awkward at the Met. Their gripes may or may not have been known. Yet after this story, they are.

Domingo is the only one truly suffering from the whole frenzy. The anonymous accusers and complaining staffers are the ones creating the difficult work environment, not Domingo. If anything, the only courageous one in the bunch is Domingo himself.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 19, 2019

Commentary: In Response to LA Times on Domingo & Plan B, Sept. 19, 2019

The Most Obnoxious Slanted News to Date
The LA Times is Attempting to Oust Domingo with Plan B

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I was going to sit back for awhile and see what develops regarding the story on the Plácido Domingo sexual harassment accusations. But I cannot keep my mouth shut after reading one of the most obnoxious pieces I have ever read, a piece so weak in news and full of hypocrisy that I can barely breathe.

In a commentary by classical music critic Mark Swed on Plan B for both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and LA Opera in the LA Times on Sept. 18, I can only focus on the Los Angeles Opera half because that is where my expertise lies, but I could speculate that the LA Philharmonic half is just as outrageous. All I can say is that this latest commentary by the LA Times classical music critic may be worthy of a defamation libel lawsuit. But then, I am not an attorney. However now I would advise Domingo’s attorneys to step in and take action. And if not now but later, it is time for the board of directors to speak out and not be silent. Silence might have worked before, but it would be a sign of weakness now. That is just my opinion.

At the beginning of this media blitz, I wasn’t quite sure about the LA Times role in denigrating Domingo’s career. I was sure that the Associated Press had begun a developing story on harassment allegations by women who had claimed Domingo sexually harassed them years ago, and other press organizations were running with the story.

As I read articles over the last few days, I could see that the LA Times was pushing for action. A news reporter and the classical music critic have been writing reviews and stories that spell out their prognosis for LA Opera if it follows their recipe. But the Sept. 18 commentary is outwardly pointing and virtually spells out the direction LA Opera should take in the eyes of the LA Times, and the commentary has Domingo OUT no matter what the results of the investigations underway are, no matter what the board decides, and no matter what Domingo wants himself. The LA Times has become the all-knowing God here, and the paper now appears to be owned and led by Hitler. No, we don’t live in a dictatorship yet. We need another voice in Los Angeles. The LA Times will no longer do.

The LA Times has determined the outcome of the news. The LA Times editors think that if the Times actually describes Plan B, that is what will occur. If LA Opera doesn’t know what to do, the board should just read the LA Times. All the answers are there. It is like the LA Times is saying what will happen, and so it will be.

Voodoo 101 and a crystal ball: That better not be the case.

Yes, we have freedom of speech and press in this country. But when a newspaper abuses that freedom, it is time to take action.

What the Times Said

I have to begin this section by stating that the piece I read first in the LA Times on Sept. 18 was edited by afternoon. No Plan B anymore. Now the headline reads: “What does a post-Plácido Domingo future look like for LA Opera and the LA Phil?”

How can the LA Times speculate about a post-Domingo future? I think that would be a little premature. However after reading this story, if I were Domingo, I would flee from the United States and live in Europe in peace as fast as I could. I would miss him, though.

Just a few weeks ago, Domingo had completed his Operalia competition and was treated with utter respect. Then, out-of-the-blue, the Associated Press started its stories on the sexual harassment accusations. My other pieces describe the timeline in depth. Mostly anonymous women were the accusers, with two saying on the record what he did years ago: Very little.

The newspapers reported the news, and now the LA Times clearly has a vendetta out to end Domingo’s career.

It no longer matters what the results of the investigations are. It no longer matters that Domingo has worked tirelessly on behalf of LA Opera and had planned to remain as general director of the company after he retires from singing. The LA Times has put him in a position where he probably would be embarrassed to remain general director of LA Opera, and the Times apparently would be glad.

The LA Times says what it thinks in the commentary through the mouth of Mark Swed. How much of the commentary is Swed’s opinion vs. how much is the LA Times opinion is an unknown. But the editors rule, not the reporters and critics. I have first-hand experience and know this to be true since I was a reporter and have worked for a number of news organizations. Of course, I don’t know the inner workings of the LA Times, especially since the paper was sold and many of old-time reporters no longer have jobs there.

We have freedom of press in this country, so the press and media can virtually say or write anything and get away with it, unless intent can be proven to go along with damages.

That said: the commentary says that Domingo “seems to have little hope of remaining at the company” and that LA Opera has found “a controversial counsel who all but assures Domingo’s exit.”

Some of my quotes may be out of order, but they come directly from the commentaries published on Sept. 18.

It is not the place of the LA Times to dictate what will happen. It is not the newspaper’s job to devise the outcome. That is neither opinion nor commentary.

Even Mark Swed’s review of “La Bohème” is two-faced and waffles. He wrote how good the singers were in his review, then wrote that the singers were better in Germany. Now he writes that Domingo “championed young singers incapable of conveying the modern theater that the production promised.”

Domingo has been trying to help young singers. They may lack the experience of older singers, but the company in Germany had much more rehearsal time due to government subsidies, and the director was there to direct, unlike in Los Angeles, where his associate did the directing while he, the director, remained in Germany. Swed seems to think that seasoned singers could do a better job than those who have recently graduated from the young artist program or placed in Operalia. Yet he praised the singers in his “La Bohème” review, writing that one was “impressive” with a “glorious” voice, and that there wasn’t a bad voice among them. Then suddenly he got critical.

Swed wrote that Christopher Koelsch, president and chief executive of LA Opera, is the man of “imaginative ideas” whereas Domingo represents the “conventional.”

Pardon me, the beauty of opera is the conventional with a little imagination mixed in — with new opera on the bill for variety. Domingo has always championed new opera as well as conventional, singing in or promoting new operas including “Il Postino,” “The Fly,” “Grendel,” “Dulce Rosa” and others. He has been at the helm of the company when producing gorgeous broad-minded productions like “Tannhäuser,” conducted by James Conlon.

Swed likes modern theater, not traditional opera in the old sense of the word. So he is pushing for more Regietheater in Los Angeles. He clearly wants a new general director to produce more avant-garde productions. But the truth remains that LA Opera had gone over-budget when it produced the “Ring” and went to the LA County Board of Supervisors for a loan. Since then, the company has been very budget-conscious and has learned to produce what the public wants to see, which includes some of the old standard operas with conventional productions. Repetition of productions is also cost-saving. Yet, variety is the spice of life, so Domingo has sparingly introduced new opera to the company’s palette. Young singers cost less, too, and they keep opera youthful.

I wonder what Koelsch would say now. Does he stay loyal to LA Opera and Domingo or push for himself since the LA Times seems to be promoting him? It is a difficult position to be in for sure. He should stick by the company in my mind. Period. Let the Times surmise the hypothetical with its unethical news.

Swed also wrote that Koelsch and the other LA Phil hopeful are “trailblazers” who have already “proved themselves to be indispensable in making their companies what they are today.”

He speculated that they will become the new heads and are “the obvious candidates.”

He wrote that they are capable of taking the company to the next level and that they are “visionary stars” for the next generation.

Swed wrote all of this to show that Koelsch is wonderful and Domingo is archaic. If Koelsch is doing such a wonderful job, then it must directly be related to Domingo who was probably involved in Koelsch’s hiring and/or promotions since Edgar Baitzel died. Koelsch may have been a good hire, but no one is indispensable in this life. The Times has its nerve to be the judge of anything or to tell any organization who it should hire. If I were the head of the board of LA Opera and needed to find a general director, I would conduct a search to find the most credible person, and Koelsch would no doubt be part of that search — part of the competition. But the LA Times cannot dictate what it wants and exert influence due to irresponsible journalism. The LA Times is totally unethical.

The Times has also written — quite obviously, just to write something — that the Metropolitan Opera is not taking action pending the results of the LA Opera investigation. Domingo is set to sing “Macbeth” with Anna Netrebko on Sept. 25, and the results will most probably not be available by then. I assume that Domingo will sing since Netrebko has come to his defense. Yet, the Times is still trying to put a fly in the ointment, which isn’t even worthy of a mention. Domingo is rehearsing in New York. We will see if he sings. I hope so.

The union for opera artists is holding a separate investigation. Swed has written that the investigation is being carried out because the union does not have faith in LA Opera’s investigation.

There is no indication of that rationale. I just went on the union’s website, and I could not find anything about that assumption. It appears that the union simply wants to investigate sexual harassment because its board wants to learn how such behaviors could have existed for years in general without its knowledge. As a union, those on the board want to keep all female opera singers safe.

And finally: “LA Opera’s next option has to be to rebrand for a newer generation,” the commentary says.

The commentary has been edited and may be edited again for all I know, to ensure there are no grounds for a lawsuit, I presume.

“With leadership in flux, it’s time to look at group No. 2s stars of a new generation.” That was a sub-headline on the commentary I read first. Frankly, I fail to see anything wrong with Group 1.

Domingo is scheduled to sing in “Roberto Devereux” at LA Opera in February and March. That is a long way off. Much can happen until then.

I personally think that the LA Times has no credibility as a news organization. I cry for the Domingos and for anyone who has had to undergo the wrath exhibited in the this commentary.


Christopher Koelsch

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.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 12, 2019

Commentary-Opinion, Domingo Legalities, Sept. 12, 2019

There’s Nothing New in the News.
Why Now? And On What Grounds?

Domingo and the Law


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The stunning part about the Plácido Domingo scandal is that it all started with one story written by a reporter at the Associated Press. Almost all of the accusers have been anonymous, and even the accusers that spoke on the record had very little to say except that Domingo flirted with them.

The other media organizations have latched on to the story. The latest accuser was having makeup applied with Domingo when she says he slipped his hand under her robe and touched her breast, and that was years ago. That was one notch above flirting. I would have just grabbed his hand and flirted back at him with, “No, no, no.” Or maybe she should have slapped him. End of story.

As a result, two companies and an orchestra have canceled Domingo’s engagements. Based on what? I ask.

AP surely was after a story, but there is nothing new here.

Books have been written in the past about Domingo’s roving eye as I wrote in a previous commentary: “Molto Agitato” for one, written by Johanna Fiedler; and another written by Monica Lewinsky’s mother Marcia Lewis, on the private lives of The Three Tenors. The first is more accurate and valid than the second, but still, there is really nothing new in the news. So why go after Domingo now?

The sad part for me is that Domingo has methodically been planning for his retirement from singing for years. He started conducting, then as the general director of Washington National Opera and now Los Angeles Opera, became an administrator. The board of directors of LA Opera has been dependent on his leadership. Now the board must assert its independence, which is not fair to Domingo. And now Domingo must re-evaluate his future and what he wants to accomplish. This whole turn of events is very sad to me. And it all seems to have come from out-of-the-blue.

I would assume that lawyers must be involved for a company to cancel a contract. Not one reporter has gone to Domingo’s attorney, to my knowledge, for comments. That is because there are no grounds for anything that is happening. The press is running on air.

Number One: The press is clearly after a good story, and AP apparently thinks it has one. But the problem is that so far, there are no grounds for this big story that could ruin the career of one of the greatest tenors of this generation. That could end up being a story in itself, as well as a defamation lawsuit. But I don’t know much about the law. It might be difficult to prove intent.

LA Opera may have gone to an attorney to lead an investigation, but none of the reporters have gone to Domingo’s attorney, probably because the attorney probably would not talk to the press, probably because there is nothing there. But I am only guessing. What do I know?

Second: I have no idea why any company would cancel Domingo’s engagements based on stories in the newspapers that have no legal grounds. To my knowledge, he might have flirted. Is that abuse?

If Domingo had been involved in a lawsuit, then maybe a company would have grounds. But so far there is nothing in the legal arena to my knowledge.

Plus the second element has to do with contract law. What did the contracts that were broken look like? Was there a clause in them that enabled them to be broken — a loophole? The great reporters in the press did not interview the companies with respect to the law. Was Domingo just being nice by not taking legal action against the companies regarding contract law? So much is still unknown. And the press doesn’t even show that its members have much journalism expertise if they have left out these important legal aspects to their story.

Or maybe the reporters aren’t so dumb after all. They simply know that there is nothing there. Are they trying to “denigrate” Domingo, as his spokesperson Nancy Seltzer has said, based on hot air? Maybe.

Also, Domingo has a contract to head LA Opera through the 2021-2022 season. That is another contract. Again are their clauses or loopholes in the contract that either Domingo or LA Opera can utilize? Could LA Opera force Domingo to resign as general director? Could LA Opera fire him? Or could he retire if he desires?

So to me, the latest aspects include the books that show that there is no new real news in the news. The generalities are the same.

And nothing legal has occurred which would render Domingo guilty of anything more than flirting, so his attorneys have not been questioned by the media. And he has been extremely nice by not pursuing anything legal himself regarding contract law.

There may or may not be anything there since so much is unknown. Only the future will tell.

So the press has no or few grounds for their attack on the tenor who is currently the greatest tenor alive. If anything, he may have legal grounds to sue due to the breaking of his contracts.

The press has not reported that it has gone to his attorney for comment and to learn the facts. The press is basing its stories on hot air.

I am sure that Domingo has gone to his attorney and is laying low, waiting for further developments.

All I know is there is no basis for what the press is trying to do to Domingo at this present time.

Bad and unethical reporting has led to a story that all the media organizations have latched on to.

In the end, if this vein of reporting keeps moving forward, Domingo will be exonerated and the media organizations and companies who have canceled his engagements will have egg on their faces and will have to either apologize or could face legal actions against them as a result.

Only time will tell. But as the spokesperson for Domingo said, this whole press spectacle is the result of “unethical” journalism meant to “denigrate” Domingo.

Yes, we do live in a free press society, but the press better be careful, specifically AP. This irresponsible reporting could turn around to bite them.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 10, 2019

Opinion and Commentary: The Domingo Media Frenzy, Sept. 10, 2019

The Media is Taking the Domingo Allegations Too Far

Plácido Domingo & Nino Machaidze
(Photo: Craig Mathew)

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

How do you separate the man from his art?

That has been a question directed at composer Richard Wagner for decades, but now it applies to Plácido Domingo as well.

Years ago, Los Angeles Opera was about to perform the “Ring” by Richard Wagner. If a company can mount such a production, it has arrived.

Yet Richard Wagner was a controversial figure because he wrote essays that were racist and anti-Semitic, and he incorporated characters into his operas and words into his librettos that followed that trend.

So when LA Opera wanted to have a “festival” to celebrate its production of his music, which I thought was a separate entity, I thought okay. But when the festival brochure described events that would celebrate the man, I decided the festival needed to be more multi-dimensional, to enhance Wagner’s celebrity as a composer and detract from his views as a man.

The festival moved forward as planned, although Wagner was examined and analyzed with all his warts included, a different approach that worked.

Enter Plácido Domingo: another genius musician who has nurtured the careers of many, yet apparently has a weakness for women that has tinged his image.

“Heartbroken” is how one anonymous person who has been touched by Domingo feels. That is the only word he wrote on a new post on his Facebook page, and it has generated numerous supportive comments from Facebook friends. Frankly, it almost brought tears to my eyes because it says so much.

Domingo is loved by those in the opera world: not all of them, naturally, but many. He is respected as well for his stamina and ability to keep singing at the age of 78, conduct, and serve as the general director of the Los Angeles Opera.

If a young person in the young artist program has the talent, Domingo works tirelessly to help that singer thrive. If a young artist has the talent but must give up singing for some reason, he acts as a counselor and helps that singer find another place in the opera world. He is a genuinely good person, but his lust for women may have finally become his downfall when he should be receiving accolades.

Nothing has been proven, and he is being tried by the press, specifically the Associated Press. But AP has enough power to act as a springboard for other stories, including a front-page article in the LA Times.

There has been no legal action placed against Domingo thus far. The Associated Press published a story in August based on the accusations of nine women who say that they were sexually harassed by him.

Now AP has published another story because there are more.

At the onset, all of the allegations were from anonymous women except for one by Patricia Wulf, who claims that Domingo had corralled her and asked her if she had to go home that night. She refused his advances, he did not touch her, and she walked away a little bit ruffled. That was at the Washington National Opera where Domingo was general director, and the incident happened years ago. He left the company as an administrator in 2011.

The AP story on Sept. 5 states that more women have made accusations. Angela Turner Wilson said on the record that Domingo reached down her robe and grabbed her breast before a performance almost 19 years ago at the same company.

San Francisco Opera and the Philadelphia Orchestra have canceled upcoming engagements with Domingo. Dallas Opera has canceled its gala in honor of Domingo who made his US début there more than 50 years ago.

Women of the #MeToo movement in America have banded together with the hopes of attaining justice due to harassment abuses, even if the harassment took place many years ago. So Domingo has had a thriving career for more than 50 years, yet that career is now in jeopardy due to what happened years earlier.

In Europe, Domingo received standing ovations at the Salzburg Festival recently, where people seem more willing to separate the man from his opera career, and focus on the latter. His appearance in Tokyo at the Olympics is still undecided.

A scheduled documentary film was shown at approximately 300 theaters in the United States on Sept. 7, distributed by Fathom Events. I could not reach anyone at Fathom Events but did reach the managers of two local theaters. Both told me that the showings went off without a hitch and without their knowledge of any presence of the press. The managers I spoke to were in theaters in downtown Los Angeles and Universal City. The focus, a gala from Verona, was produced and scheduled before the accusations surfaced. The Hollywood Reporter reported that the turnout and proceeds were poor.

Every news outlet seems to have run with the AP story. LA Opera refuses to comment except to say that it wants to keep its employees and singers safe, and Domingo issued a statement that says the accusations are “inaccurate,” that he thought his relationships were “consensual,” and that the social climate was different many years ago. LA Opera is using outside counsel to investigate the situation.

Domingo is in New York before performing at the Metropolitan Opera with soprano Anna Netrebko, who has come to his defense. LA Opera has not taken actions. The opening of the upcoming season is on Sept. 14 with “La Bohème.” Domingo has no role in the opera.

In addition, Nancy Seltzer has recently been quoted as a spokesperson for Domingo. Seltzer heads a private public relations firm for many opera singers and is not the general spokesperson for LA Opera. She has said that the ongoing campaign by AP “to denigrate Plácido Domingo” is “inaccurate” and “unethical,” and the claims are “riddled with inconsistencies.”

And the new general director of Seattle Opera, Christina Scheppelmann, is singled out on “Slipped Disc” as having told another news organization that Domingo had no role in casting when at Washington National Opera. Scheppelmann was working at WNO at the time as his deputy and knew. Her comment is important since the accusers have said that they did not speak out earlier because they feared for their careers.

The chain reaction from the media to the opera companies is phenomenal when the majority of information is supposedly unknown due to the anonymous accusers, and the accusers who are not anonymous are citing unprofessional accusations that are still not legal offences, although I am not an attorney and do not know much about the law. I am sure that Domingo must have an attorney in the wings.

So, I ask: Where were these women at the time of the accusations and for years afterwards?

They remained silent.

The union for musical artists is pursuing an investigation to determine how sexual harassment could have prevailed for so long without the union’s knowledge. Executive director Len Egert has said that the investigation will “examine the systemic failures within the industry.” Naturally AP wrote a story on Sept. 8 on that news as well.

So — Wagner was and is celebrated no matter what he said or did many years ago, possibly because he is no longer alive. His music lives on.

Yet, one company after the other in the United States is canceling Domingo’s engagements when there is still so much unknown information. He is a legendary tenor. Most of the accusers have stated that the harassment occurred years ago when times were different.

With Domingo, it appears that due to the times, his music and art are not being separated from his persona. The events show that times are indeed different and that differences also exist due to locale: the United States vs. Europe.

I maintain that it is wrong to attempt to ruin the career of an opera legend years after such events occurred, whether or not they occurred and whether or not the accusations are accurate. Nothing has been proven in a court of law, and you “can” separate the man from his art.

People mature and change. Just as the accusers suddenly feel the need to divulge their stories and cleanse now — maybe the accused also has changed. Nothing is simple in today’s world.

Boys may have been boys years ago, but can no longer boast about their advances to their peers in the framework of today’s society. Look at Donald Trump. He boasted to Billy Bush about his conquests, and he was elected president of the United States while Bush lost his job for not reacting appropriately.

Still, I would never dream of delving back into my past and seeking out those who may not have shown respect to me. I would never dream of ruining careers based on the immaturity of both parties many years prior.

It has long been known that film directors and producers have a casting couch mentality for young female actors. Men have acted out through the centuries, but that doesn’t mean that they lost their careers and livelihoods.

I am glad that men no longer can do what they did in the past, but that doesn’t mean that we should go out of our way to ruin their lives, especially when the happenings occurred in years past and when their lives are edging toward retirement.

No, you cannot go back home again, but that is exactly what the accusers are attempting to do now.

I have just now discovered as I come to the end of this commentary that there really is nothing new here. Some of Domingo’s behavior has been described in the book, “Molto Agitato.” And then there is Marcia Lewis’s book on the private lives of the Three Tenors. The specifics may be different, but the generalities are not. So why make such a media frenzy out of this now? Just because it is fashionable and the times are different? Is this just a good story so that AP and the rest of the press decided to run with it and ruin lives?

Domingo should be praised for his tireless efforts to help young singers forge careers. He should be praised for his continuing ability to sing after the age of 78, conduct and administer LA Opera.

Whenever he retires as general director of LA Opera, he should leave of his own accord and with the board’s good will. The board has always held him in high esteem, and it would be tragic if the members were to turn against him now that he is 78 and his wife, Marta, is 84.

He will go down in history as a great tenor just as Wagner was a great composer. Can’t we celebrate both of them for their genius?

I ask the companies around the world, especially those in the United States, to show some compassion.

It is time to stop the finger-pointing and leave the man and his family at peace. It is time to help Domingo celebrate his enduring career, not harass him. He deserves far better than that.

Posted by: operatheaterink | August 27, 2019

Opinion and Commentary: LA Opera & Domingo in Salzburg, Aug. 27, 2019

The Marriage of LA Opera and Domingo:
Is It Headed for Divorce?
Response to LA Times Review and Commentary

Placido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival – Photo: SF/Marco Borrelli

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I am incensed by the commentary I just read by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times about Plácido Domingo at the Salzburg Festival after sexual harassment accusations have surfaced against him. But although I am incensed, I do see the point.

The whole situation is about the marriage of Domingo to LA Opera and a possible divorce.

Is LA Opera just a pretty face that has undergone makeovers galore that has reached its pinnacle of success due to its almighty leader? Or is it a substantial company that will remain part of the Los Angeles landscape no matter who is at its helm? Or both?

While reading the LA Times commentary and review by Swed, I kept thinking, “So who’s side is he on? The MeToo movement harassed singers who want their due and maybe a bit of revenge? Or the opera world insiders who want to show a great tenor their appreciation for all his hard work and all he has done to further the art of opera?

I kept wondering if he’s on the side of Europe, some of whose citizens are willing to overlook Domingo’s unproven indiscretions, or on the side of the United States, some of whose citizens want to lampoon anything or anyone who insinuates abuse.

Then I realized that this commentary is not really about any of that or about what the author wrote, but is about what the editors want to communicate via the main newspaper in Los Angeles about Los Angeles and LA Opera’s role as part of the Los Angeles landscape.

While reading the commentary, I thought at first that it wasn’t focused.

“So why is he writing this? So why is he writing that?” I wondered.

He wrote some complimentary comments about Domingo and the singers at the onset, but his observations, although not truly offensive, did show that Domingo may not be at the top of his game right now, and conductor James Conlon may not be on the top of the heap either. He made it look once again like what is on the top of the heap in Los Angeles may not be rated the same in Europe.

So what’s the point? I thought.

Then Swed wrote about various in-vogue opera designers and production directors who have designed and directed prior LA Opera productions, and/or are set to direct productions in the future, including Achim Freyer, who designed and directed the LA Opera “Ring,” and Barrie Kosky, who designed Mozart’s “Flute” and is directing LA Opera’s opening in September of “La Bohème.”

By the conclusion of the commentary, I was beginning to understand all the components that led up to it, even though it would have been nice to have understood along the way instead of getting angry and feeling that the piece was a cop out and never focused on the issues at hand.

“Whatever housecleaning may wind up being necessary at LA Opera, we must not let Domingo be an all-consuming burn-the-house-down distraction,” Swed wrote as the concluding paragraph in his LA Times commentary. “Instead, we need to set sights on the way forward.

“A week in Salzburg is all it takes to witness just the kind of greatness, night after night, that is within our reach, whether or not Domingo remains in the picture.”

A Cop Out

So was the commentary a cop out that did not focus on the accusations made by the women who say they were sexually harassed by Domingo, or on Domingo’s comments on the change in attitudes throughout the years, and his belief that responses to his actions have always been “consensual”?

Was it an easy way out to evade addressing the scandal?

Or was it a way to show that this is Los Angeles, the home of the LA Times and the home of LA Opera? And no matter what happens in the future, Los Angeles Opera will thrive, even with another general director?

I have a combination of thoughts. First, I think it is far too early to focus on the fact that LA Opera will survive even with a new general director. It is disrespectful to Mr. Domingo, who has worked tirelessly on the company’s behalf. He is due much appreciation for his role as LA Opera’s leader and should not be tried by the press.

I too have observations, and these may only be observations and may not even be reality. But I believe that LA Opera revolved around Domingo until this scandal erupted. The employees and board of directors were gracious and grateful to have him as general director. The company was not a traditional company trying to stand on its own, independent of its general director. It thrived knowing that its general director was there.

Domingo has elevated the status and rank of the company as artistic director and then general director. Years ago, major singers did not sing in Los Angeles except on tour. People went to San Francisco Opera to hear opera. The top company in the United States has always been the Metropolitan Opera. Then ranking behind the Met has been Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, San Francisco Opera and other companies in Dallas and Houston. However, not one of them except the Met has ever come close to La Scala in Milan, the Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna, and other companies in Germany, Spain, Austria, Italy, France, Hungary, and the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Only now has LA Opera moved up in ranking so that it has become a major company in the United States, and that is due to the presence and hard work of Domingo, who sings, conducts, and is an administrator of the company.

LA Opera is only now attempting to show its independence and be politically correct with an investigation of the allegations. It is almost like the board is trying to put up a front, trying to make LA Opera a real company now, separate the company from its general director. But, frankly, I believe that even the investigation is uncalled for since no matter what conclusions result, the board owes a great deal to Domingo. He has brought top-ranking singers to Los Angeles and has cast LA Opera productions with young singers who have placed in his Operalia competition or are or were singers in the company’s young artist program. No matter what the investigation proves, he deserves the company’s veneration.

At first I thought Domingo should remain general director until his contract ends with the 2021-2022 season. Then I thought Domingo’s future should be determined behind closed doors between Domingo and the board of directors — without press interference.

But if the LA Times feels the need to separate LA Opera from Domingo and communicate that LA Opera will survive and be great with another administrator at the helm, I must repeat that maybe it is time for Mr. Domingo to leave the company as general director and sing and conduct where he is appreciated.

The whole hullabaloo scandal originated with one article in the Associated Press that created a media frenzy. Women who believe they have been sexually harassed were interviewed for the story, but many of the allegations happened years ago.

Now this commentary turned review adds more fire to the pot, which could sway the outcome. I continue to say that the press should keep its nose out of this.

The companies in Europe have not canceled Domingo’s performances like San Francisco Opera and Philadelphia Orchestra have. Even though Domingo may have had plans to remain in Los Angeles to lead LA Opera after his retirement from singing, maybe it is time for him to sing and retire to the country of his choice where he can find less criticism and live in peace as the opera legend that he is.

In conclusion, I understand the point-of-view of the commentary in the LA Times, whose main interest is in the city of Los Angeles and the arts organizations within its boundaries.

I understand the need for the LA Opera board to show the company’s independence as a company, to be able to thrive under different leadership in the future.

But I believe the view that LA Opera will prevail with another general director, even a good one, is a premature assumption made far too soon. Mark Swed didn’t need to go all the way to Salzburg to write that.

Posted by: operatheaterink | August 20, 2019

Opinion and Commentary: Plácido Domingo Accusations, Aug. 20, 2019

My Point of View: Leave Mr. Domingo Alone!

Placido Domingo – Credit: Kaori Suzuki.

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Different earlier version in Beverly Hills Courier

So far mostly news stories exist on the accusations made by nine women who say that Plácido Domingo sexually harassed them, not opinion pieces, and eight of the women remain anonymous at the time of this posting. Only one gave her name and described his advances, and apparently, he didn’t touch her because she refused.

I have distinct views on the matter. I don’t care if the investigations underway prove him innocent, guilty or somewhere in between — I believe he is getting a bad wrap. After all, this brouhaha originated via one article by the Associated Press.

I telephoned Marilyn Ziering last week. She has contributed millions of dollars to Los Angeles Opera, the company Domingo heads, and she declined to comment as the company is investigating the situation with outside counsel. Ziering is a vice chairman on the board of directors.

Frankly, I think the matter should be solved quietly without more press interference. Domingo’s contract as director of LA Opera continues through the 2021-2022 season. He should remain in his current position and then he and the board of directors should determine his path — not the press, and not the accusers.

Why did the accusers suddenly come out of the woodwork when supposedly Domingo’s advances occurred from 1988 until a number of years ago? Did reporters dig through to find out who they were, seek them out, and then interview them?

The AP story has already caused two companies to take Domingo off their schedules. He has not pleaded innocent or denied the charges, but has said the information is inaccurate and that any relationship he has undertaken has been, to his knowledge, consensual.

The board wants LA Opera employees to feel respected and safe, but also owes much to its general director, Domingo. Although I only met him a few times, I must defend him to a certain degree since I am 72 and know the difference between men’s behavior towards women years ago and now, which he alluded to in his response to the allegations. It would be sad in my mind for Domingo’s career to end on a tragic note when he has given so much to the opera world.

When I was in my 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, men often flirted with women, and their behavior was often disrespectful, even if both sexes were single and dating. But women were accustomed to men’s advances, and frankly, if men had not flirted with me, I would have wondered what was wrong with me. I have to admit that women during that era didn’t know how to act at the end of dates when single men were so aggressive. I don’t think that women talked about such circumstances to other women. They just navigated the waters silently, so the men were not hampered or reprimanded for their actions. In fact, if men did not pursue women as almost prey, they could not have boasted to other men about their conquests. And during that era, men did boast to other men to show their virility. That is why Donald Trump thought he could boast to Billy Bush during the last presidential campaign and still win. Think “Don Giovanni.”

The question is: Should women have taken such sexual harassment? No, of course not. I am so relieved to know that they no longer must. Men should never have gotten away with such behavior, but the fact remains that they did. Naturally, men who were married and exhibited this behavior added another dimension to their indiscretions.

And if men like Jeffrey Epstein actually entered into the domain of sex trafficking — that was a different matter deserving subsequent legal action.

So the levels of indiscretions vary.

But for a woman (Patricia Wulf) to come out and admit that a powerful man (Domingo) made advances toward her many years ago without barely touching her — well, maybe this woman simply wants a minute of fame.

It has been determined in a documentary on Luciano Pavarotti that he too had indiscretions and married his assistant, beginning the relationship while he was still married. Pavarotti was one of the Three Tenors along with Domingo.

So many people in every facet of life have done what Domingo is accused of doing. Domingo was and is a great opera singer who is now considered a legend. He has extended his passion for opera to nurture young singers. He has developed his Operalia competition, conducts, and is the general director of LA Opera. I have been to various press conferences where Domingo has introduced the upcoming seasons of the company. He is always very cultured and gracious as he interacts with those present. I have also seen him at the Broad Stage when singers from the LA Opera young artist program were presented in the small theater before the larger theater had its opening. Domingo goes one step beyond other singers in helping young people attain their dreams. He shows them what dedication is all about so that they can follow his lead.

Domingo is a force of nature, still singing when almost 80, conducting, and taking on casting and other administrative roles as general director of LA  Opera. And he doesn’t stop after winners are announced for his competition. He nurtures the winners, sings with them around the world, helps them with their careers, acting as their counselors.

He may not be singing much as a tenor anymore, but he is singing as a baritone to prolong his career. His legendary status is increasing. Yet one woman seeking one minute of fame is coming forth with accusations, and apparently, he never laid a hand on her. The picture in circulation with him by her side holding her son shows they were friends. He flirted. She said no. Is that a major offense, or even news?

I personally would like others to come forth without anonymity where the evidence suggests a more verbose physical contact. Who are the nine women mentioned anonymously in the Associated Press article that spearheaded this conversation? Without attributions, I remain in limbo.

So should a powerful singer such as Domingo make advances at all? No, of course not — not years ago or now. But he did, apparently, or might have. However, now he is not only a singer and administrator, but also a grandfather who has weathered colon cancer. Now when he is elderly is not the time to clear the slate and sink the ship.

It is time for the women who were victimized by real sexual advances to come forward out of anonymity. And if they succumbed to advances, then they are to blame just as much as the perpetrator, if, in fact, their actions were consensual as Domingo has stated he thought his relationships were.

Yes, we did live with a “boys will be boys” mentality 30 years ago. We have a president who was elected to office having described similar behaviors. Past presidents have done the same.

A former member of the board of directors who still speaks at events for the company wrote me that board members should not and would not speak to the press about the incidents at this time.

“It is in the investigation phase,” she wrote me on Aug. 17.

“Domingo has an incredible career. My personal and observed relationships with him have always been positive,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, many successful, powerful men (and women) have something negative in their pasts, or certainly claims against them, real or not. This is especially as judged by today’s standards versus past social norms.”

So my friend, who had no idea I would include her comments in this article since I had no idea she would address the issue, also acknowledges that the past was indeed different than the present with the “MeToo movement” in force.

Most of the accusations happened years ago. People change and mature. Wulf sang at the Washington Opera where Domingo was the general director until 2011. I question the motives of the accusers if they are living in the past and may have unfulfilled dreams. And I assume that the reporter who wrote the original AP story had to seek them out.

I am in no way saying that what may have happened is right or that it is okay to cheat on your wife. That is between a husband and wife. I would personally not stand for it, but know many wives who do. I simply do not believe that Domingo’s career should end on this tragic note. He should not be removed from the schedules of opera companies until his voice warrants retirement.  Although he has already been removed from performing at certain companies in America, European companies and many opera singers are standing by him or waiting to hear more. His position as general director might be in jeopardy due to unprofessional behavior if proven, but he has been the catalyst to LA Opera’s upward successes. Again, I believe his contract should be honored, and he should create his own timeline for the future.

I don’t even know the definition of sexual harassment anymore: a smile, a touch, or the act. I don’t think the accusers do either.

In conclusion, Domingo may be owed apologies or reprimands depending on the findings. He may want to apologize himself. But he has worked hard and most certainly has learned the boundaries in his profession at this juncture, and I believe he will adhere to them.

The whole media circus resulted from one article by AP that spurred other outlets to respond. I think that from now on, everything discussed should be behind closed doors. Even the results of the investigation by LA Opera should be kept quiet.

Domingo is known for saying “If I rest, I rust,” and has printed the quote on his website.

I don’t believe he is ready to rust.

I believe Domingo should sing, conduct and be an administrator for as long as he desires. He is the master of his ship.

Plácido Domingo is a legend, and his candle should not be blown out due to something that has nothing to do with his status as an opera singer.

Posted by: operatheaterink | July 30, 2019

Opera Review and Opinion: Operalia 2019, Prague, July 30, 2019

Operalia 2019: My Point of View

SEEN JULY 26, 2019

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I tend to not always agree with the judges regarding the designated winners of various competitions. In the case of Operalia 2019, which took place at the National Theatre in Prague, culminating with the final round on July 26 — I am not sure about what I think. There was so much talent in the room, so many singers with incredible voices, that I feel they should have been colleagues, not competitors.

Although I was not in the hall to hear the singers live –therefore could not decipher the size of their voices or if the voices carried into the hall — I know that my choice of winners would have been slightly different than the outcome. I specifically focused on the male voices since it seemed easier for me to delineate one from the other, and since, point blank, I love the sound of rich baritones and basses, and an occasional tenor with a unique timbre.

I would have made Gihoon Kim the first-place winner. He placed second. He has a baritone (almost bass-baritone) voice that resembles a chocolate truffle, and he has a dynamic emotional stage presence onstage.

I do not know if the jury was looking for diamonds in the rough or already fine-tuned emeralds. With Kim, they had the latter. Since members of the jury were general managers and others interested in casting, it is possible that they were not looking for raw talent but for singers ready to be cast.

But there was a diamond in the semi-rough that I believe should have placed: Mario Bahg, the tenor from South Korea. Although Xabier Anduaga received first place and displayed a fine tenor sound, Bahg has a unique lyric sound coupled with fine musicianship. He needs coaching to expand upon his demeanor as an actor. But the timbre of his voice is reminiscent of Gigli, Björling and now, Calleja. His tone has a rare beauty. He is not a diva (or divo) onstage, maybe not as secure as some of the others, but his musicianship allowed him to float high pianissimos which rendered me speechless. The winner was clearly king of the high C’s, but it is even rarer to find a tenor with the tonal beauty of Mario Bahg. I must add, however, that his “Faust” aria for the semifinals evoked my fervent commentary, not his performance for the finals. I have learned that repertoire and choice of arias is significant. It is possible that judges only focus on what they hear on the final day and do not hark back to prior performances. It is most possible that the jury changes between rounds. I am writing about Bahg because although he did not place, I believe that he deserves recognition and will one day shine if he expands upon his gift and remains persistent.

I also liked baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka from South Africa. Since Plácido Domingo nurtures the contestants in his competition, I hope to one day hear Kubheka as the elder Germont in “La Traviata” at LA Opera, and Kim as Posa in “Don Carlo.” Kim will also make a fine Boris one day.

The jury did an excellent job by making soprano Adriana Gonzalez the top all-round female opera winner. Mezzo-soprano Maria Kataeva deserved second place. Although not Latin, Mexican or Spanish, her Zarzuela performance showed energy, style and grace.

An overlapping of the first-place opera and Zarzuela winners occurred. Other worthy contestants might have been better served had there been less overlap.

The various Fach categories helped delineate the contestants so that, for example, the big-voiced Wagnerians could be separated for the Birgit Nilsson Prize, which was awarded to sopranos Felicia Moore and Christina Nilsson, who also placed third in the opera category.

Thank you Plácido Domingo for enabling young singers to be seen and heard by general managers and casting directors. You are giving back to the arts and enabling opera to remain at the forefront of the artistic world at a time when arts education is lacking in our public schools and must be restored.

Tenor Mario Bahg

Posted by: operatheaterink | June 21, 2019

Opera Review: ‘La Traviata,’ Los Angeles Opera, June 21, 2019

The Stars Sparkle in LA Opera’s ‘La Traviata.’

Adela Zaharia as Violetta in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “La Traviata.”


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Original for Beverly Hills Courier
New commentary and additions of second cast here

I have seen Marta Domingo’s Art Deco Los Angeles Opera production of “La Traviata” a number of times now, and it gets better each time I see it.

I may be an old-fashioned kind of girl who loves the older versions, like the LA Opera revival in 2006 starring Renée Fleming, but this updated version to the 1920s works, makes sense, and respects the composer’s music. It is in keeping with today’s worldwide need to modernize everything in society to keep up with modern technology. But this production does not hit you over the head with crazy new elements like cartoon characters or high-tech projections. It tells the old story, which was set in the 1800s but has often been staged back to the 1700s; however, instead of being about a French courtesan or “demimondaine,” Marta Domingo has made the story about a party girl during the flapper era.

I have roamed to the Music Center a number of times through the years to see this production. More kinks are removed with each run, and the production has been fine-tuned with colorful sets and costumes that dazzle.

Patterned after the real Marie Duplessis who became Marguerite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas’ “La Dame aux Camélias” and Violetta Valéry in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Violetta in the original opera is a French courtesan with beauty and class. Alfredo Germont meets, falls in love with her, and soon lives with her in a cottage on the French countryside.

Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, cannot fathom the idea that his son is cohabitating with a “demimondaine.” He explains to Violetta that her scandalous affair with his son will affect his daughter’s wedding plans and urges her to leave him. At first, Violetta is unwilling, then consents to honor Giorgio’s wishes. Since she cannot tell Alfredo the true reason for her departure, he scorns her at a party hosted by their friend, Flora. Ridden with guilt while Violetta is dying, Giorgio tells Alfredo the truth, and the two make their way to Violetta’s residence. The two lovers are reunited, but it is too late.

In Marta Domingo’s version, the party-like gathering in the first act is during the Roaring Twenties. Not only are the costumes and sets updated, but so are the reactions between the women and men. The flirting between Violetta and Alfredo is more overt, modern and blunt than what occurs in the traditional setting of the opera, which is more subtle.

The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave does not change from one production to the other, but the tone or acting of the singing dialogue does.

Alfredo (Rame Lahaj, June 1, 9, 13 and Charles Castronovo, June 16, 19, 22) sings a drinking song, “brindisi,” and flirts with Violetta with “Un dì, felice, eterea.” Violetta (Adela Zaharia) sings “Ah, fors’è lui” which flowers into the famous “Sempre libera” aria, “Ever Free.”

The first scene is cleverly staged with a large vintage automobile driven onstage. I don’t like its intrusiveness, but it does set the period with a jolt.

The sets allow us to suspend our imagination. We see an inside room with sparkling stars in the background. Nothing divides the inside from the outside. Poetic magic.

With a glitzy discotheque-type glimmering chandelier hanging from above and the dazzling costumes and Art Deco setting, Flora’s party scene keeps the audience wide-eyed and watching. The dancing is well-choreographed by Kitty McNamee and enacted by technically clean dancers, including Louis A. Williams Jr.

Flora (Peabody Southwell) becomes a significant character in a scene that rarely focuses on anyone but Alfredo, Violetta, and the scenery and spectacle. She is a focused singer-actress who is always in character whether acting or reacting.

Violetta sings a heartfelt “Addio, del passato” toward the end of the opera so that we in the audience hope that Alfredo makes it in time.

Baritones Vitaliy Bilyy and Igor Golovatenko share the role of the elder Germont. Golovatenko sings Alfredo’s father with authority and reserve.

In 2006, tenor Joseph Calleja displayed a gorgeous vocal ring in the role of Alfredo — I remember hearing tones that were reminiscent of Björling — but Calleja lacked the acting prowess to elicit the needed audience excitement. In 2014, Arturo Chacón-Cruz’s youthful Alfredo was apt, and he was well-cast opposite his elder Germont, sung by tenor Plácido Domingo in a baritonal role. But still, Chacón-Cruz’s overall performance did not sparkle enough to be memorable. Now, in 2019, Castronovo’s Alfredo sings with fluid lyric tones that flow from a virile exterior. The contrast between the ring of Castronovo and the chocolate of Golovatenko is just what Verdi intended.

In 2006, soprano Elizabeth Futral sang with verve, but her Violetta lacked soul. In 2014, Nino Machaidze sang with great lyricism and an ability to shade and color each note. Adela Zaharia’s sound has a warm vocal timbre with fullness during the coloratura and high notes.

However, the three main characters on June 19 (sung by Castronovo, Zaharia and Golovatenko) gave mind-directed performances that should have been rounder and warmer. As I walked out of the theatre, I was thinking exactly what the woman walking next to me was thinking. She told me that some of the scenes seemed “one-dimensional.” There was no flow, just a one-dimensional simplicity between the characters.

The characters didn’t communicate. There was nothing going on between Alfredo’s father and Violetta by the end of their scene in the second act. There should be. We should see that Giorgio is conflicted by what he has told Violetta because he is developing fatherly feelings for her and likes her. Everything is complicated, not simplistic. The two seemed to be singing to themselves.

The ensemble includes Christopher Job as Doctor Grenvil, Erica Petrocelli as Annina, Juan Carlos Heredia as Marquis d’Obigny, Alok Kumar as Gastone and Wayne Tigges as Baron Douphol. Good voices . . . Good ensemble.

As the wife of Plácido Domingo, who is the general director of LA Opera, Marta Domingo has had the luxury of time to perfect every aspect of this production so that it is near perfection. A number of the singers have won or placed in her husband’s Operalia competition. He is nurturing their careers and appropriate casting. He is giving back. As for his elder Germont with LA Opera in 2014, he sang with authority as did baritone Dwayne Croft in 2006 and Golovatenko in the current production. Whether baritone or baritonal, the appearance of age and stature help.

Domingo has sung the elder Germont with soprano Angel Blue at La Scala to rave reviews. I have followed the soprano’s career since she was a graduate student at UCLA. I would like to see this dynamic coupling at LA Opera.

Conductor James Conlon’s energy as the company’s music director always motivates the orchestra while he maintains a sensitivity toward the singers that few conductors can equal.

This production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is worthy of another run. The sets are bright and cheery. It is a unique and classic production of a classic opera, a must-see for those over the age of 16 to learn about opera, and for those who have loved this opera their whole lives long as I have.

Director and Designer: Marta Domingo
Conductor: James Conlon
Lighting: Alan Burrett
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon

Adela Zaharia as Violetta and Erica Petrocelli as Annina in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “La Traviata.”


Ron Howard’s ‘Pavarotti’ Documentary is a Gift to the Masses

Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland, 1976


SEEN JUNE 7, 2019

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I loved Ron Howard’s documentary on Luciano Pararotti. I rushed to see the film after some of my Facebook friends shared links to reviews by critics that didn’t. Boy was I surprised when I loved every minute of it.

The sound is stupendous for starters, and Ron Howard, who produced and directed the film, enables the viewer to adore this big bear of a man not only for his voice, but also for his lust for life. Ironically, Pavarotti passed away far too young in 2007 of pancreatic cancer.

Some opera buffs were offended that Pavarotti had abandoned them by leaving the opera house to sing in arenas. I don’t care. I don’t care that he sang with rock stars. I don’t care that he gave his money to charities. I don’t even care that he left his wife and married someone 30 years his junior. Ron Howard has humanized him

Pavarotti almost died when very young, and when he pulled through, he decided to live each day to its fullest. He was just a peasant who loved to cook pasta and be among people. But he was born with a gorgeous voice and gave his life to nurturing it.

Yes, Pavarotti deserves this documentary. Thank you, Ron Howard, for producing and directing it. Maybe Pavarotti brought opera to the masses, but you have brought the masses to Pavarotti.

I’d recognize his voice anywhere. When I was 16, my father offered me a sweet-sixteen party or a tape recorder, since I was studying voice from him and could record my lessons if I opted for the tape recorder. My father was an opera singer in Vienna and Prague in the 1930s but lost his ability to sing during the Holocaust.

I chose the tape recorder.

I listened to Pavarotti a lot on that tape recorder, and to soprano Joan Sutherland singing coloratura from “Lucia.” I once interviewed tenor Neil Shicoff, and he admitted to me that he often listened to Pavarotti before he sang. If you listen to someone who has near perfect technique, you then sing better yourself, my father often told me.

Legendary tenor Plácido Domingo said in the film that singing came easy to Pavarotti. He had a natural voice.

Pavarotti was a lyric tenor who could hit high focused notes easily. In the film, archival footage and footage from his family and widow are used to explain his technique. He describes how he learned breath control from soprano Joan Sutherland.

My father always told me to listen to Sutherland because she was a coloratura soprano who could sing anywhere on the keyboard with a rich quality that never thinned to a squeak. My father thought she learned her technique from her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, and that she sang soprano, but later became successful when she sang the roles of high coloraturas with singular fullness. I only know that Pavarotti gave her credit for his mastery of breath support.

Pavarotti sang with a relaxed and open throat so that he could place his tones wherever he wanted with a connection to the diaphragm. I could literally hear his tones vibrating in the mask. Some singers talk of tones floating on the breath or shooting forward into the auditorium. Some talk about physically moving parts of their vocal anatomy to achieve certain sounds. All I know is that Pavarotti was a master of technique and produced focused, glorious sound.

As I listened to the narration in this film, I felt like crying. I am not sure it was due to the familiar arias he sang that make me cry, or if it was due to his bittersweet story, but by the end of the film, I didn’t know if I could get up off my seat, or if I would need to sit and watch the credits to calm down.

Aside from family members and Pavarotti’s two wives, Adua and Nicoletta, contributors interviewed and seen in film clips include soprano Madelyn Renée Monti, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, Zubin Mehta, tenors José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, Carol Vaness, Princess Diana, Lang Lang, Andrea Griminelli, tenor Vittorio Grigòlo, Nelson Mandela, Bono, Phil Donahue and Johnny Carson, classical music critic and author Anne Midgette, and promoters and managers including Herb Breslin, Harvey Goldsmith and Tibor Rudas, plus others.

Some critics have written that the film does not depict the true man. I don’t care. Pavarotti is no longer alive. He was a great artist. I feel that through the film, I got to know him better.

Simply hearing Pavarotti sing arias from “La Bohème,” “Rigoletto,” “La Fille du Régiment,” “Manon,” “Tosca” and “Pagliacci” would have been enough for me to love this documentary. The film helps me to remember Pavarotti at the beginning of his career, the Pavarotti who acted and moved freely onstage, as the clip of him singing Nemorino in “L’Elisir d’Amore” achieves. The film also helps me to remember the man Pavarotti became at the end of his career. I do not know that he lost his way as some critics have said or written. Ron Howard simply shows how Pavarotti branched out in many directions while exploring the landscape.

Pavarotti’s friend Bono criticizes the critics for writing that Pavarotti’s voice was not at its peak during his later years, saying that Pavarotti’s life experiences had added to his presentation. Yes, that is true, but many singers develop vocal technical problems as they age. That is the reason having grounded technique at the beginning of one’s career is important to call upon later on, to prolong the longevity of the voice. Bono’s comments on the subject are the only ones that I would have edited out. Either they expose his lack of vocal technique knowledge, or he was simply trying to defend Pavarotti when criticized since Pavarotti is no longer here to speak for himself, which was indeed loyal and admirable of him.

Some critics are trying to compare Pavarotti to Plácido Domingo in the context of this film. The film is about Pavarotti, not Domingo. Domingo is cultured, refined and respectful when speaking of his deceased colleague in the film. The two may be tenors, but are completely different when it comes to vocal timbre, technique, personality, goals, accomplishments, and even in the roles they have chosen beyond the normal repertoire. Each has created his own legacy. Both are opera legends.

And although this documentary focuses on Pavarotti and makes him shine above all the rest, except for maybe Enrico Caruso with the beginning clip being on the Amazon — there were other great tenors, including the lyrical Beniamino Gigli; the one-and-only Jüssi Björling whose tones cried like a Stradivarius violin; and Domingo, a force of nature after the age of 70, who adds one character after another to his repertoire, conducts, and is the general director of LA Opera — to name a few. They are all opera legends, although Pavarotti did manage with the help of Herb Breslin and other promoters, to reach the masses more than any other tenor in recent memory.

The film makes it appear that Pavarotti was the leading tenor of the “Three Tenors.” As far as I can remember, he was not. The so-called marriage of the three tenors enabled José Carreras to sing and perform after his illness. The two remaining tenors — Plácido Domingo and Carreras — clearly respect Pavarotti’s artistry, as is evident in the clip where they are deciding which aria to perform. No rivalry is displayed, just camaraderie. Their bantering before singing “Nessun dorma” is enjoyable, and hearing the three tenors sing high notes in unison is a memory I will not soon forget.

Who knows, maybe Pavarotti was the leading tenor of the group, or maybe the leading tenor was Domingo. My deceased mother loved Domingo’s voice and acting. She didn’t like it when Pavarotti waved his big white handkerchief. Only now do I understand the reason for that handkerchief.

I loved this film. Take everyone you know to see it. And don’t forget to bring a big white handkerchief. You just might need it.

Director-Producer: Ron Howard
Writer: Mark Monroe
Sound: Chris Jenkins
Producers: Brian Grazer, Nigel Sinclair, Michael Rosenberg, Jeanne Elfant Festa
Executive Producers: David Blackman, Dickon Stainer, Nicholas Ferrall, Guy East, Paul Crowder, Lorenzo Mieli, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Gangarossa, Marc Ambrose
Distribution: CBS Films
Production Companies: Brian Grazer Imagine Entertainment, Polygram Entertainment, Decca Records, StudioCanal and White Horse Pictures
1 hour 54 minutes
At the AMC Century City and ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood
Multiple Theatres, June 14

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 12, 2018

Opera Review: ‘Don Carlo,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 2, 2018

Opera Review: ‘Don Carlo,’ Los Angeles Opera
Oct. 2, 2018

Ramon Vargas as Don Carlo and Ana Maria Martinez as Elisabeth de Valois in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Don Carlo.” (Photo: Cory Weaver / LA Opera)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2018
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Original in Beverly Hills Courier at

I really wanted to write a review of LA Opera’s current production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo” even though I am in the midst of moving from Beverlywood to Hidden Hills. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

I have been seeing signs adorn the streets near Beverly Hills and around Los Angeles
which brand tenor Plácido Domingo as the star of “Don Carlo.” He may be, but then so
may also be Ramón Vargas as Don Carlo, Ana María Martínez as Elisabeth de Valois,
Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli, and the magnificent Ferruccio Furlanetto as King
Philip II. Each singer has the ability to shine or be forgotten, to be a team member or a standout star. The two main roles and stars are usually Don Carlo and Elisabeth with King Philip close behind, and the other roles are secondary. But because Verdi wrote a score with exquisite arias for all, secondary roles can reach to new heights, and primary roles can fall by the way side. One thing is certain: Domingo is a draw, and he’s the general director of LA Opera.

I saw this production of “Don Carlo” twice in 2006, and had a ticket for Sept. 29 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I just love the music.

But as I said, I guess this review wasn’t in the cards. I have not been well, and I got all dressed up to drive downtown to hear this opera, but when I got into the garage, no one would help me find a spot to park, and I was there almost an hour early. I was directed to go to the fourth level where the disabled parking is, but no one there would help me. After trying and trying to find a spot, I finally gave up and left the parking lot and went to the valet parking area where the cars were lined up like canned sardines. So I drove onto the freeway and got lost since I had also lost my sense of direction. Then a young woman finally oriented me back toward Beverly Hills after I turned into a gas station and honked for help.

I made it home a bit frazzled, but I still really wanted to get my views out about the word, “star,” and what it means to star in “Don Carlo.” I also wanted to write about the role of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, and the type of singer I believe Posa should be. So I am still going to write some of my thoughts here, and I hope you will go to the opera and decide for yourselves.

Based on Friedrich von Schiller’s play of the same name, the action in “Don Carlo” takes place in Spain in the sixteenth century at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The political climate between France and Spain is such that Elisabeth marries King Philip II instead of her true love, Don Carlo, his son. Carlo’s friend, Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, entreats Carlo to go to the Netherlands to help restore religious freedoms for the Flemish, then oppressed by Spanish rule. Catholics vs. Protestants — Carlo goes against his father’s ideals to fight for the Protestants in Flanders. Posa dies for his friend Carlo, and Carlo continues to embark on his friend’s mission.

Domingo, a great tenor with ringing high notes, no longer has the high notes. Of course, the audience never hears them since rather than sing tenor roles at the age of 77, Domingo has chosen to continue in the grand profession he loves and has mastered, by both conducting and singing roles with lower tessituras. In some roles, baritones can be lyric baritones with voices that almost mimic tenors, while in other parts, they should have voices that can be chocolaty, rich and full, and almost have the sound of a bass-baritone in quality. Posa is just such a role. What makes “Don Carlo” such a melodic opera is that the timbres of the various voices blend to create beauty that surpasses the sounds inherent in many other operas. So although Domingo is able to sing some baritonal roles well, in this particular opera — even though he always sings with zest, vigor, youthfulness, and a flawless sound and technique — he still has the ring of a tenor, and nothing can make his Posa have the rich, sonorous quality that is usually required of the Verdi baritone. Yet, a novice to opera, not a true opera buff, can be very satisfied with Domingo as Posa since he sings with, as said before, flawless technique, ringing tones,and an acting ability rarely equaled by other tenors or baritones. Domingo is a force of nature although his age is evident in his voice and demeanor. I personally would rather
hear a tenor as Posa who has great vocal technique and acting ability than a baritonal Posa who has neither. But the ideal is to hear a Verdi baritone as Posa who can win the audience over with his characterization and voice.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is the perfect Philip II. As the Philip of choice throughout the world, Furlanetto sang the role in LA Opera’s 2006 production. His “Ella giammai m’amò” is seasoned and exquisite — beginning with deep introspection, then blooming into agonizing passion as he comes to the realization that he will never win the queen’s heart. Furlanetto inhabits the role. His voice is rich and deep. Every stare and hand gesture, although subtle, adds to the intensity of emotions Furlanetto is able to communicate. Furlanetto is truly a star.

Ramón Vargas’s arias and duets with Elisabeth and Posa support the fact that he should be the star of the opera that bears his character’s name, but other singers have the ability to take center stage.

Soprano Ana María Martínez is no stranger to LA Opera audiences. Her flexibility
enables her to sing numerous roles well, whether lyric or spinto. And finally, Anna
Smirnova’s Princess Eboli enables her to glide through arias like the “Veil Song” and a dynamic “O don fatale.”

Morris Robinson’s Grand Inquisitor and Soloman Howard’s Monk make the lower sounds
prevail. If you love the low voice timbre, this is the opera for you.

Ian Judge’s production has one basic set, with arches moving and rolling in and out on casters, designed by John Gunter. Various hues of light draw attention to the singers, and Tim Goodchild’s gorgeous period costumes add to the vision. Supernumeraries and a grand chorus led by Grant Gershon create a magnificent spectacle in the square when the heretics are condemned by the Inquisition. The scene was spectacular in 2006.

Conductor James Conlon always leads the LA Opera orchestra with bravura. He knows
how to make the orchestra shine with big sound when indicated and how to follow the
singers when desired, without overshadowing or drowning them out.

“Don Carlo” is an opera for stars, and LA Opera’s current production of “Don Carlo” has many.

Conductor: James Conlon
Production: Ian Judge
Stage Director: Louisa Muller
Set Design: John Gunter
Costume Design: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Design: Rick Fisher
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee

Alexander Vinogradov sings Philip from Oct. 4 to 14. Performances continue Thursdays, Oct. 4 and 11, at 7:30 pm and Sundays, Oct. 7 and 14, at 2 pm.

Carol Jean Delmar is the author of “Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love from Vienna
and Prague to Los Angeles, 1927 to World War II to 2012.” She writes opera and theater reviews for the BH Courier and, and currently lives in Beverlywood.


Ana María Martínez as Elisabeth de Valois, Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Philip II and Plácido Domingo as Rodrigo in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Don Carlo.” (photo: Cory Weaver)

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 30, 2017

Film Review: ‘The Quarrel,’ May 30, 2017

‘The Quarrel’ Film Remains Pertinent
and Thought-Evoking after Twenty Years.

DAVID BRANDES (Screenplay)
CHAIM GRADE (Original Short Story)
1991/’92 FILM, SEEN ON DVD MAY 24, 2017

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

“The Quarrel,” a 1991 film produced with care and sensitivity, is still pertinent today. Available on DVD, it remains a worthwhile vehicle for educational institutions and congregations to utilize for debates on a variety of issues facing the Jewish community.

I was made aware of the film by my neighbor in 2017. After seeing the film’s website, I decided to test my opinions since I have written a book about my parents’ journey to America during the Holocaust. Merely ninety minutes long, the film focuses on two friends (Chaim, a non-religious writer and poet; and Hersh, an Orthodox rabbi) who separate before the Holocaust after disagreeing on the role of God in their lives. Now, many years later in 1948, they meet by chance in a park in Montreal, Canada, or almost by fate, where they reminisce and discuss their present and past lives in Poland, and how being Holocaust survivors has influenced their current views.

The Canadian film is clearly focused for the Jewish community. Even the secular Chaim Kovler is clearly Jewish, simply doesn’t believe that God plays a role in people’s decisions and that they can work and create without religious involvement. Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner believes the opposite.

What makes this film so interesting is that this premise has branches that bring a myriad of topics to light for verbal discourse.

One is morality. The rabbi believes that man is not born noble and good. God and religion are what make man moral, he believes. Chaim, on the other hand, believes that humans are inherently good and must and do help each other.

The two men spend time together in the park, through sun and rain, talking about their roles in the fate of their families, their losses and guilts, and the Holocaust’s toll on their lives. They forgive each other, then stake out their claims.

A low-budget film, the few settings are cinematically artistic and fine; the costuming, appropriate in period and style; and the music and score interspersed with care. The actors — R. H. Thomson (Chaim) and Saul Rubinek (Hersh) — excel at their craft and turn the words into gems. The discourse between the two men is at times as if they are lecturing, but these actors often turn the dialogue into poetry. Therein lies the question as to whether or not the film is for a wide audience or is simply an excellent educational film for the Jewish community. In reality, people of all faiths can probably debate about the answers to the questions brought forth as they pertain to their own religions.

My favorite part is toward the end when the two men are dancing in a most creative fashion. This shows the sensitivity of the film’s makers. Even the spectators’ applause seems fitting, although somewhat jolting in execution. The ensuing story, although valuable but poorly positioned, ruins the moment for me.

The two men leave the park and each other, apparently without talk of reuniting again. The film shows their eternal bond toward each other and their roots in Jewish tradition. Yet it also shows that they have forged different paths, and although bonded for life with love for one another, life’s experiences have made them who they are, and they must continue to journey with their beliefs in tact. Ripe for discussion, I was hoping these men would delight in their reunion and vow to remain close.

A smorgasbord of ideas — one needs to see the film more than once to tune in, listen and digest. Still, not knowing its success-level in 1992, “The Quarrel” seems too focused on these two men often lecturing to each other to be embraced in general release by a wider youthful audience; yet it is far too eloquent and accomplished to be merely an educational film. It is a marvelous film for those who have the interest and want to debate on the topics brought forth. I recommend “The Quarrel” to them, and I congratulate the actors on their fine delivery.

Screenplay: David Brandes
Director: Eli Cohen
Produced by David Brandes, Kim Todd
Associate Producer: Joseph Telushkin
Executive Producers: Peter Sussman, Paul Bronfman, Lindsay Law
Principal Actors: R.H. Thomson, Saul Rubinek
Cinematography: John Berrie
Music: William Goldstein
Editing: Havelock Gradidge
Costumes: Francois Barbeau
Released in Canada, 1991; USA, 1992

DVD available at ( ) and on Amazon.

An American Playhouse Theatrical Films, Atlantis Releasing and Apple & Honey Film Corp. presentation in association with Comweb Productions Inc., The Ontario Film Development Corporation and Super Ecran. An Atlantis Films Limited and Apple & Honey Productions production. DVD: Fox Lorber and Winstar TV & Video.

Illustration: Photo of DVD front taken by Carol Jean Delmar.

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 29, 2014

Review: LA Dance Project, The Theatre at the Ace Hotel, Oct. 29, 2014

The Majestic Ace Hotel Played Host to a Modern Dance Extravaganza.
Dancers perform Benjamin Millepied's 'Untitled.'

Dancers perform Benjamin Millepied’s ‘Untitled.’


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I must thank my girlfriend for awakening within me the desire to explore the emerging dance scene in LA. Rekindling our friendship after many years, we have been reflecting on our youth when taking ballet lessons from the likes of David and Tania Lichine and Irina Kosmovska, who helped shape what is now considered to be the history of dance in LA. Although my focus remains on opera and theatre, for my birthday, I had a gay ol’ time discovering the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for starters. Why have I never been to this theatre? Why have I never heard of it? The former United Artists Theatre was built in 1927 in the Spanish Gothic tradition for United Artists, later to become part of the Texaco Building. Now part of the Ace Hotel, it is a vintage, majestic theatre that exudes historic old Hollywood charm. Think “Phantom of the Opera,” and you’ve got it.

But I wasn’t thinking “Phantom of the Opera” on Oct. 25. I was thinking about the LA Dance Project. I had heard that Benjamin Millepied, the new director of the Paris Opera Ballet, had started a modern dance company in LA. Although I generally prefer ballet to modern, I was curious because with his background, I hoped to see ballet movements laced with the unanticipated creative moves of modern.

I believe that ballet is the foundation for all of the genres in dance. The steps with their French names form the language of ballet. And the dancers’ bodies interpret the choreographed steps which are imposed over orchestrations. With modern dance, the choreography might be said to be even more creative than ballet because the steps are created by the choreographer, and the dancers, or athletes, must carry through the movements which are new inventions. In days of old, many modern dancers were not versed in ballet, and these newly invented positions often looked awkward. But in the case of the LA Dance Project, the invented movements are carried out by dancers who are versed in ballet and use their expertise to wield new creations that are well-oiled, smooth and unique, but remind us of what we have already seen. In ballet, the dancers’ seemingly jointless, flexible bodies and port de bras tell the story within the confines of the disciplined steps. The art of the dancers becomes the art of the dance. In modern dance, the creatively invented choreographed movements are duplicated by the athletes onstage. The choreography is more overtly visible as the art. The dancers, both athlete and artist, more readily facilitate the art.

The most balletic of the presentations was the 1993 “Quintett” choreographed by William Forsythe to the music of Gavin Bryars, where grand pliés, jetés, arabesque penchées and turned-out pirouettes were meshed with the modern unknown to create the themes of loss, hope, fear and joy.

With a similar flow of duets and solos, the first presentation, “Morgan’s Last Chug,” included staccato, syncopated and tumbling movements choreographed by Emanuel Gat to short excerpts of music by Bach, Purcell and others; movements to the spoken dialogue of Samuel Beckett; and a cappella dance with no music.

For actors, the text is the springboard for interpretation. In song, singers can draw from the text and musical composition. In dance, the dancer’s motivation comes from the music and choreography. The music incites motion and emotion. The presence of music in dance is significant.

The first presentation began without music. Then the music was interspersed at different volume levels throughout. Each selection’s style was unique. It was difficult to pinpoint what the piece was about. Neither I nor the person sitting next to me could, although we knew that the choreographer had given the piece meaning by abstractly infusing time and age. The music didn’t seem to be an integral part of the action. It didn’t seem to mold the presentation into a cohesive whole. The dance movements seemed to flip and flop. I wanted more creative patterning.

The third presentation, “Quintett,” had music set to Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.” But one lyric was repeated over and over again until I felt like I wanted to get off the plane. After all, I wasn’t waiting for Godot. The fluid balletic movements enthralled, but the music failed to enhance.

Only the second presentation, which I like to call a modern ballet, proved memorable to meet the demands of repertoire longevity. Choreographed by Millepied to Philip Glass’s tonally significant and descriptive String Quartet No. 3 — part of the soundtrack to the 1985 film, “Mishima” — the music and choreography of each selection urged the dancers on to an excited pitch which aroused in each of us a stirring thrill. Mixing modern dance with ballet, black-and-white costuming on both men and women alike — bodies wrapped together in modern pas de deux styles and patterns that enthralled. Always tasteful, this presentation of Millepied’s “Untitled” defined what modern dance should be.

Music is an integral part of dance, especially with minimalistic sets and costumes. To take work out of the classroom or rehearsal studio onto the stage, the musical pulse must become a defining essential. Glass’s variations on a theme culminated on a pitch of urgent beauty. The music alone incited the mind to imagine visions as in a dream. Millepied seized the opportunity to create dance narrative for Glass’s movements which resulted in a perfect marriage between music and dance that sensitively benefited both genres.

In modern dance, movement must be elevated so that a performance becomes more than merely an acrobatic showcase. The first and third presentations wavered between gymnastic sketches and art whereas Millepied’s contribution was creative artistry fulfilled.

The LA Dance Project is at its beginning stages and promotes the work of established and emerging artists. The company has tours set throughout the world. Millepied will continue to serve those in Los Angeles a palette of visual delights. The performance at the Ace Hotel was only an introduction. The company is participating in the 50th anniversary celebration of the Los Angeles Music Center in December.

The able dancers included Stephanie Amurao, Anthony Bryant, Aaron Carr, Randy Castillo, Charlie Hodges, Julia Eichten, Morgan Lugo, Nathan Makolandra and Rachelle Rafailedes. In addition to Millepied, the creative team includes founding producer Charles Fabius, composers Nicholas Britell and Nico Muhly, art consultant Matthieu Humery, and managing director James Fayette.

A benefit dinner at the Cooper Design Space in downtown LA took place after the performance. Those instrumental in lending support to the LA Dance Project include Millepied’s wife, actress Natalie Portman; Richard Mille, Catharine Soros, Eli and Edythe Broad, Lilly Tartikoff and many local organizations, radio stations, designers and supporters of the arts.

Modern dance is experimental in nature. I look forward to seeing the LA Dance Project expand as part of the growing cultural Renaissance occurring in the city of LA. It adds a vital contemporary dimension to the cultural landscape.

William Forsythe's 'Quintett'

William Forsythe’s ‘Quintett’

Choreographers: Benjamin Millepied, Emanuel Gat, William Forsythe
Ballet Masters: Sébastien Marcovici, Thomas McManus, Stephen Galloway, Jone San Martin
Costume Designers: Emanuel Gat, Janie Taylor, Stephen Galloway, Franco Martinez
Wardrobe Supervisor: Benita Elliott
Lighting Designers: Emanuel Gat, Roderick Murray, William Forsythe
Additional Lighting: Matt Philips, Ellie Rabinowitz
And others . . .
The performance included recorded music.
Photos of “Untitled” and “Quintett” by Rose Eichenbaum.

Theatre at the Ace Hotel

Theatre at the Ace Hotel

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 15, 2014

Review: ‘La Traviata,’ Los Angeles Opera, Sept. 15, 2014

LA Opera’s 1920’s Art Deco ‘La Traviata’ rates a 9.

Nino Machaidze & Arturo Chacon-Cruz.                       (Photo: Craig Mathew)

Nino Machaidze & Arturo Chacón-Cruz.
(Photo: Craig Mathew)


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The opening night of Los Angeles Opera’s 2014-15 season in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion had people rising from their seats before the production of “La Traviata” even began — to sing the national anthem under the direction of the honoree of the evening, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, for his continued support of LA Opera and the arts through the funding of radio, Web and video broadcasts on KUSC, WFMT and at the Santa Monica Pier. He also appeared as a non-speaking, non-singing supernumerary or extra. As a critic, I give him a 10.

But the evening was not about the political landscape of LA. It was about opera, and that rang true from the red carpet walk of celebrities and LA Opera patrons into the Pavilion to hear opera, and on to the patio of the Music Center Plaza after the performance — to celebrate the detail-perfect opening production of “La Traviata,” the contributions of Yaroslavsky, and frankly, even the warm weather. The patio was adorned with tables and decorations in the Art Deco tradition, a band for dancing, and lights. The Opera Ball matched the production, which is set in the flapper era.

Marta Domingo’s production of Verdi’s “La Traviata” is a fine-tuned, upgraded revival of her 2006 production. It is polished to perfection with all the old kinks removed. I can honestly say it is a beautiful, stylish production.

Still, I am an old-fashioned girl and just love the period of the original, which is in the 1800s but has been set as early as the 1700s. Yet I try to keep an open mind because this production in 1920’s America still captures what needs to be captured and enables those of us who have seen the opera multiple times, to see it in a new light that is respectful of the composer and provides a fresh look at the story.

Patterned after the real Marie Duplessis who became Marguerite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas’ “La Dame aux Camélias” and Violetta Valéry in “La Traviata,” Violetta is a French courtesan with beauty and class. Alfredo Germont meets, falls in love with her, and soon lives with her in a cottage on the French countryside. Georgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, cannot fathom the idea that his son is cohabitating with a “demimondaine.” He explains to Violetta that her scandalous affair with his son will affect his daughter’s wedding plans and urges her to leave him. At first, Violetta is unwilling, then consents to honor Georgio’s wishes. Since she cannot tell Alfredo the true reason for her departure, he scorns her at a party hosted by their friend, Flora.

Since Georgio is a good man and finally realizes the hurt he has caused, he tells Alfredo the truth, and the two make their way to Violetta’s residence. But it is too late. She is dying of consumption. At least the two lovers are reunited.

Analytically speaking, in the first act, we see a party-like gathering. Since this is now the Roaring Twenties in the United States, not only are the costumes and sets updated, but so are the reactions between the women and men. Violetta is free. Alfredo puts the make on her. This happens more as in the modern era than in the era of long ago. Courtisans were many cuts above prostitutes in the 1800s. Yet in the 1920s, they were more like high-priced prostitutes. So in this production, the flirting between Violetta and Alfredo seems more overt, modern, earthy and blunt than what occurs in the traditional setting of the opera, which is more subtle. Naturally, the libretto by Francesco Maria Piave does not change from one production to the other, but the tone or acting of the singing dialogue does. I am not sure I like the difference. I would rather imagine what is unsaid than see it right in front of me.

Alfredo, tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, sang a nice drinking song and did his share of flirting and persuasion with “Un dì, felice, eterea,” which flowed into “Di quell’amor ch’è palpito.” Soprano Nino Machaidze sang a lovely “Ah, fors’è lui” which flowered into “A quell’amor.” Her “Sempre libera” aria had flowing tones with musicality, excellent coloratura, and she was gracefully theatrical with unstilted movement. Many young sopranos sing these arias with stilted acting which is not believable. Machaidze’s singing becomes dialogue that meshes with her character so that those in the audience connect. Then we are able to forget ourselves and feel sympathy by the time she dies. Machaidze is more lyric than some sopranos who sing the role, which could be good or bad. A command of the coloratura is important, and Machaidze is a pro, but extreme thinness and exaggerated openness in the high register can be unpleasing, although sometimes necessary and unavoidable, so every soprano should watch out for the pitfall.

The first scene is cleverly staged at the beginning with a French streetlight downstage and some action between a high-priced hooker and solicitor. As the scrim is raised, a vintage 1929 Chrysler is driven onstage. I still don’t like its intrusiveness, but it does set the period with a jolt.

The sets allow us to suspend our imagination. We might see an inside room as well as the snow behind it without any indication of a window. Likewise, in the first scene, Violetta changes clothes in her salon with the help of her maid, Annina. She appears to be in a slip or something very casual. Then suddenly Alfredo enters with love in his eyes, as if he knows her intimately when the last time we saw him, the two had just met and were merely flirting. Usually this change does not occur. Some of the actions are difficult to believe. These two are fast workers. I suppose they were fast workers in the traditional setting as well, but some things are better left to the imagination.

In the second act, the new improved set, as compared to the 2006 production, flaunts some gorgeous autumn leaves and 1920’s Art Deco furniture.

Plácido Domingo has been billed as the main star of this “La Traviata,” playing the role of Georgio Germont. Normally, the two stars are the tenor and soprano with a significant baritone or bass-baritone playing Georgio. But since Domingo is the right age, has the right stature, and now sings baritone roles, he took on the elder Germont. I tried to adjust to the change. My mind was thinking that I wanted to hear a distinguished father with a lower, richer sound than the ring of a tenor. The type of vocal beauty of a tenor is quite different from the timbre of a baritone. It was difficult for my mind to adjust to the sound of a tenor in the duet, when Georgio urges Violetta to leave Alfredo. But Domingo sang and acted well, so I tried to adjust. But it was strange. Domingo sings as a baritone now, but he approaches his tones still more like a tenor. So I heard a different elder Germont than usual, but one that was realistic in presentation and clearly appreciated by the audience.

I also saw a different type of relationship occurring earlier in the act between father and son, which fully revealed itself in the following scene at the party given by Violetta’s friend Flora, sung by mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell.

Chacón-Cruz sang with a youthful approach to love and a vulnerability that was refreshing. With Domingo as his tenor-like father, here the two singers with a tenor sound seemed appropriate. I saw a more real relationship between the young Germont and the older father than usual, with parallel sound. I have never seen such a passionate relationship between father and son in “La Traviata.” It adds a new dimension to the opera.

Flora’s party proved that the production is visually stunning. With the glitzy discotheque-type glimmering chandelier hanging from above and the dazzling costumes and Art Deco setting, this scene keeps the audience wide-eyed and watching. The ballet is well-choreographed and enacted. In the past, a matador solo seemed somewhat out-of-place. This time, solo dancer Louis A. Williams Jr. adds an animalistic, virile group of balletic and modern-dance movements that are executed with precision and fit this party scene which defines the moral excesses of the period.

Peabody Southwell is a delight to behold as Flora. Flora often fades into the background and is hardly noticed. Although Southwell’s voice is mellow, this role can only become visual and memorable with other attributes applied. At the opening, Southwell was engaged as her character every minute she was onstage. Her facial expressions and statuesque movements were hard to overlook. Her costume, makeup and wig add to her characterization. She has become a significant character in a scene that rarely focuses on anyone but Alfredo, Violetta, and the scenery and spectacle.

In the last act, we find Violetta dying on a round bed with snowflakes falling from behind. There might be a window that is not visible. Again, imagination helps capture the moment because the beauty of this visual makes for a modernized theatricality that creates a picture of stunning imagery.

Machaidze sang a heartfelt “Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti.” We in the audience hoped that Alfredo would make it in time. Machaidze has great skill in her ability to color and shade tones whether high or low. She can crescendo or decrescendo a tone to add color that other sopranos sing straight. However, at some moments, her pianissimo tones were inaudible, but the acoustics in the Pavilion are not perfect. Although she sang more passionately than the soprano in 2006, at one moment we could see her dying actions while at the next, she seemed in prime health. Even if the actions mirror the libretto, the Anna Pavlova fragileness of Violetta throughout the act helps make the final collapse more devastating. Angela Gheorghiu accomplished this feat in her Royal Opera House, Covent Garden portrayal of Violetta under the direction of Sir Georg Solti in 1994. But as convincing as Machaidze’s portrayal was on opening night, it still needed more emotion and soul. Her sudden death seemed abrupt. The two lovers didn’t have extended passionate moments. Their connection and chemistry could have been stronger. The inevitable death was inevitable, but it wasn’t heartbreaking and didn’t make me see enough theatricality and dramatics during the moment. Marta Domingo could alter something here to enhance the effect. Machaidze is talented and should be able to follow through. I only know that the soprano must appear to be living the role.

Chacón-Cruz sang with excellent technique and sound with a youthful, real characterization. Was he as dynamic as some of the great tenors of this and the prior century? Did his sound ring forth memorably? His performance was adequate; his voice, solid; and we liked him.

Domingo sang well with the mature, weathered voice of an older artist who is able to stay on top of his technique and still create memorable characters, which is admirable and quite frankly, almost miraculous at his age of 73.

Bass Soloman Howard as Doctor Grenvil has a lush, rich sound. But he didn’t appear to be a doctor that anyone would have much confidence in. He was like a friend in the room and lacked the professionalism of an MD. Vanessa Becerra (Annina) was lovely and concerned. Daniel Armstrong as Marquis D’Obigny was engaged in voice and character. Brenton Ryan (Gastone) and Daniel Mobbs (Baron Douphol) faded into the ensemble.

Marta Domingo is the invisible star of this production. Her blocking was detailed and her directions to the singers were plentiful and specific, which has enabled them to portray their roles with developed characterizations. Her concept of production design matches her dedication to this production.

Conductor and LA Opera Music Director James Conlon keeps the orchestra moving swiftly with sensitivity toward the singers. During one sequence, I caught him mouthing the words from memory. His energy and dedication to the opera at hand motivates the orchestra.

Marta Domingo has created a lavish production. All of the singers gave solid performances. When each component is pieced together like a puzzle, the parts equal a successful whole. This “Traviata” is memorable and fulfilling and worthy of the standing ovation it received. I definitely recommend it to new opera goers because it exposes them to dazzling visuals and well-sung melodies. With more pathos, it could be a 10. Everything considered, this “Traviata” rates a 9.

Director and Production Designer: Marta Domingo
Conductor: James Conlon
Lighting Designer: Alan Burrett
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Costumes: LA Opera Costume Shop
Wigs: LA Opera Wig and Make-Up Department
Set constructed by San Diego Opera Scenic Studio

Plácido Domingo & Nino Machaidze                                      (Photo: Craig Mathew)

Plácido Domingo & Nino Machaidze
(Photo: Craig Mathew)

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 5, 2014

Opera Review and Opinion, Operalia 2014, Los Angeles, Sept. 5, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

Operalia Winners with Plácido Domingo. (Photo: Craig Mathew)

SEEN AUGUST 30, 2014

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

This is not a normal review from top to bottom. It is rather some observances that I made while watching the Operalia competition online on Medici.TV on Saturday night, Aug. 30, taped live from the Los Angeles Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

I must begin by saying that I was not in the Pavilion so I could be incorrect regarding some of my observations because voices need to be heard live to access them accurately, but I will articulate my views anyhow.

First and foremost, this was and is Plácido Domingo’s competition, so naturally, although he was not a judge, his input was coveted. The abundance of talented young artists made for some tough decisions. However I feel that some singers were destined to win, if not first place, then second or third. In fact, I believe that they were destined to win before the competition even began.

As for the performers’ popularity with the audience, that was also somewhat predetermined. Some of the singers are or have been participants in LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program and were known by many of the audience members who came to root for them. So naturally, this time around in Los Angeles, the popularity of the singers was a bit predetermined, and awards were granted for this popularity.

Even the performance order of the singers seemed to favor certain artists. When Joshua Guerrero, Amanda Woodbury and John Holiday were called upon to perform toward the end of the competition, I said, “Aha.” As part of the Young Artist Program, I assumed that Guerrero and Woodbury had worked with Domingo and were prepared and expected to be winners. I even saw a video of Domingo coaching Holiday to showcase the competition. But in the end, I thought that the award choices were basically fair. I think there were some unexpected winners which still enabled the predetermined artists to place. Still, I feel sorry for the 1000 contestants who entered the competition, and for the 40 who competed in Los Angeles, because the slate was not clean at the onset. Yet the first- and second-place winners were very obviously the most deserving.

The jury consisted of 15 distinguished judges. I won’t list them all here, but they included Marta Domingo, Plácido Domingo’s wife and the director of LA Opera’s “La Traviata”; LA Opera Music Director James Conlon; LA Opera CEO Christopher Koelsch; F. Paul Driscoll, Editor-in-Chief of “Opera News”; Anthony Freud, General Director of Lyric Opera of Chicago; Jonathan Friend, artistic administrator of the Met; Ioan Holender, artistic advisor of the Met and former general director of the Wiener Staatsoper; Peter Katona, casting director of the Royal Opera House, London; Joan Matabosch, artistic director, Teatro Real, Madrid; Andrés Rodriguez, General Director, Teatro Municipal de Santiago, Chile; Helga Schmidt, Intendente, Palau de les Arts, Valencia, Spain.

These are very significant names in the opera world. I would have liked to have seen some international singers in the mix as well, plus even some prominent voice teachers or professors. Some of the members of the jury had vocal backgrounds before switching to administration and casting, but some did not. Part of the purpose of Operalia is to showcase young opera talents so that they have the opportunity to be heard by those who cast for the leading opera companies. Still, to arrive at an unbiased appraisal, a few singers and teachers might have added positively to the mix.

That said, soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen sang Wagner’s “Dich, teure Halle” from “Tannhäuser.” Performing first is not an enviable position, but as the other sopranos performed, she proved clearly to be the winner for her clear vocality, secure professionality and stage presence. However, she not only won the female first-place prize, but also the Birgit Nilsson Prize as well as the prize for zarzuela. She was the only competitor to sing Wagner or Strauss who made it to the finals, so she was the only singer who could have secured the Nilsson prize. Maybe there should be a larger pool of Wagnerian singers in the future. They exist. Maybe Operalia could steal some from the Seattle Opera contest. Hopefully, as long as the award exists, there should be a larger pool to draw from.

Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang was an excellent choice for the male first-place winner. He sang “Ella mi fu rapita” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” I don’t believe he won for having necessarily the best voice, but rather for blending his solid tones with security, passion and charisma. When he walked out on the stage, he was a presence, and he was able to communicate the emotions of what we think of as an Italian tenor to the audience. He may need work technically if he wants to sustain a lasting career. He is not a natural tenor with a naturally focused tenor sound like Pavarotti’s was in his younger years. Chang’s tones didn’t seem as lyric and were not effortlessly placed naturally. Some slightly more baritonal tenors have to work harder to achieve a tenor’s resonance, but often become even more successful in the end. However, I must preface this observation by saying that I heard Chang had some sort of catarrh the week before the competition, so the ailment may have affected his delivery. He was bringing the tones up instead of relaxing the throat so that they could just “be there.” So by the end of the aria, vocal tension led to hoarseness. However the jury seemed to disregard the problem because it took great strength for this artist to compete against the caliber of singers in the competition when not in perfect health. So Chang was the male winner because he had the most charismatic presence and emotional musicality of the tenors, and there were no basses or baritones in the finals. Chang was also the winner of the male zarzuela and audience popularity prizes.

Joshua Guerrero sang Puccini’s “Torna ai felici di.” The audience seemed to want him to win, so he was singing with a fan club. He has a rare presence. Part of him seemed to be saying: “Here I am. I am ‘it.’ I am supposed to win.” And another part of him seemed surprised at all the attention. As he received applause at the end of the aria, he seemed to be saying: “You like me? I wanted you to like me. I know I was supposed to expect this, but I can’t quite believe this is real. You mean it is ‘me’ who is creating this applause? Gee, thank you.”

So with Joshua Guerrero, you get someone who sings with security but still is insecure. Did he have the best voice of the tenors? I don’t know. Maybe. Why did he win the male second-place prize and the CulturArte award? First, he is likeable. But mostly, of all the tenors, his technique was by far the best. He has no doubt spent time as a member of the LA Opera Young Artist Program receiving lots of in-depth individual attention. I have watched numerous classes in the studio of Vladimir Chernov at UCLA. Chernov often explains to students to be “mad like a dog” or some other rabid animal. I never quite understood what he was alluding to. Well, I was watching Guerrero, and suddenly I saw the mad dog trait in the way he projected a tone. I saw it on his face and heard it in his delivery. Only later did I see that he has studied in Austria with Chernov. What was so obvious was that his tones were up where they should be. They were focused so that they could ring forth with support and little tension. His body was grounded yet his tones were flying. He is preparing his voice for the long haul. For this competition, he might not have been as polished or charismatic or passionate as Chang, but he has the goods, and he will keep the goods for a very long time. I have to praise him for having the integrity to learn his craft. I still think that Chang was the right first-place winner, but maybe not if they were to compete together again in a couple of years.

Likewise, Amanda Woodbury, the female second-place winner, came out on the stage and knocked everyone alive with her bravura and polished performance of “A vos jeux, mes amis” from Ambroise Thomas’s “Hamlet.” She too has received much attention as a participant in the Young Artist Program and beyond, as Micaëla in a recent LA Opera production of “Carmen.” She is ready, and the audience liked her.

I feel badly for some of the other competitors, though. First, I must say that two countertenors won the male third-place award: Andrey Nemzer and John Holiday. I believe that Holiday was the predetermined singer to win. He will be singing in LA Opera’s upcoming “Dido & Aeneas.” However, when Nemzer proved to be quite extraordinary in voice and presentation, the jury had to do something. The result was a tie between both artists. Both were worthy, yet it seems that a choice should have been made.

The same thing happened with the third-place female singers. Anaïs Constans sang Bellini’s “O quante volte ti chiedo” and Mariangela Sicilia sang Gounod’s “Amour, ranime mon courage.” Sicilia, who was the more charismatic of the two talented women, positioned her face and mouth in a manner I have only seen with tenors. She sort of pouched her upper lip downwards and didn’t smile with an uplift to her cheeks. I knew a tenor who sang that way but quickly changed tactics. Neither soprano excited me as being phenomenal although both have trained well. Their top tones proved less than thrilling. Yet they tied for third place when others were also deserving.

The two mezzo-sopranos were quite special. Alisa Kolosova seemed a little lost on the stage as she sang “Cruda sorte” from Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri,” but I heard a unique quality in her voice from the onset. Carol Garcia sang Rossini’s “Nacqui all’affanno” from “La Cenerentola.” Technically, her voice crescendoed to the highs with richness that never sounded thin or metallic, and she had a wonderful chesty quality to her lows. There was no break in the passaggio area (which was admirable) and she navigated the coloratura well. Was she a perfect Angelina? Probably not. Was the aria even the most appropriate for her voice with its dramatic capabilities? That I don’t know. All I know is that she has the potential for a thriving career, and I didn’t like having to compare her voice to the voices of the sopranos who tied for third place. I believe that Garcia was ripe for a commendation.

The tenor finalists who did not win prizes had promising voices but were insecure, not as strong technically as they might have been, nor did they have strong stage presence. Strangely, both chose Massenet selections. Abdellah Lasri sang “Ah! Fuyez, douce image” from “Manon,” and Yi Li sang “Pourquoi me réveiller” from “Werther.” Singing from the French repertoire can often lead to nasal singing if a tenor is not careful, but it also enables the sound of a tear to flow forth. Yi Li sang with much sensitivity and feeling. I heard great potential.

Each artist in the competition was at a different stage of development. I suggest that maybe a fourth-place prize might be established to eliminate ties and to give more of the finalists the ability to achieve. I believe that all of the finalists were incredibly talented, including Christina Poulitsi, who could have easily tied with one of the third-place sopranos. All of the finalists should feel rewarded. Great artists have something singular that makes them special. It is that particular singular quality which should be nurtured. One singer should never try to sing like another to compete. Some of the artists still need to work more than others on technique or acting or stage presence, but they should all be extremely proud of their accomplishments. Bravo to all the winners — all 13 of them.

Concert Conducted by Plácido Domingo

Ages of Finalists: 26 to 32

First-Place Prize: $30,000
Second-Place: $20,000
Third-Place: $10,000
Birgit Nilsson Prize: $15,000
CulturArte Prize: $10,000
Zarzuela Prize: $10,000

Encore to Review

My Operalia review is on the finals concert. After posting it, I looked at the list of contestants and started searching for some of them on YouTube. I was not at the competition and do not know how some of competitors performed. A clip on YouTube may not be a valid indicator of an artist’s performance under pressure at a competition. But not one baritone, bass or bass-baritone made it to the final round. I thought that possibly no one could compete. Please listen to Germán Olvera who didn’t make the grade. I like what I hear.

Renée Fleming Was Magnificent in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’
But the Play Put to Music Raises Doubts.

Renée Fleming as Blanche,
Ryan McKinny as Stanley.
(Photo: Robert Millard)


SEEN MAY 24, 2014


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I have so many thoughts about LA Opera’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” — adapted to music by André Previn — that I will start with the one positive element that is not debatable: Soprano Renée Fleming was magnificent. Her voice glistened up the scale with shimmering tonality and luminescent pianissimos. Her Blanche DuBois was graceful, flirtatious, fragile, frightened and devastating.

The complete cast was excellent. Ryan McKinny made the role of Stanley Kowalski his own so that we did not compare him to Marlon Brando in the film. Whether an acting Stanley or a singing Stanley, McKinny was as good a Stanley as Stanleys get, and I rate him among the best. He displayed an animalistic, macho, virile physique coupled with a desperate organic need for his wife, Stella. He was able to mesh the music with the words so that all we saw was Stanley. His voice was almost incidental except that the sound was plush and interconnected with his being so that the sound and the being became one.

As for the story: Blanche DuBois visits her sister, Stella, in New Orleans because she has lost the family home and her job as a school teacher. She meets Stella’s husband, Stanley Kowalski, and the two immediately develop a disliking for each other. He is too crude and earthy for her. She is too phony and full of feminine airs for him. And Stella placates them both.

Blanche meets and hopes to marry one of Stanley’s poker buddies, Mitch, but the idea is shattered when Stanley shares the news with Mitch that Blanche was forced to leave the town of Laurel due to her immoral behavior with young men.

After Stanley takes a very pregnant Stella to the hospital, he returns home in the evening, finds himself alone with Blanche, and rapes her. Stella’s unwillingness to accept Blanche’s story leads Blanche into an abyss of despair. The inability of the three to live together finally incites Stella to have Blanche committed: a tragic fate for a woman unable to survive in an unkind world.

“A Streetcar Named Desire” is a classic play by Tennessee Williams. It is one of my favorite plays. The writing is poetic. In fact, if executed by a fine cast, the words become music. It is therefore a terrible burden on a composer to attempt to turn what is already music into music. I am surprised that the estate of Tennessee Williams authorized the endeavor. Yet although the resulting opera has merit, there is only one great “Streetcar Named Desire,” and it is the play by Tennessee Williams.

I believe that new operas can be more successful if the stories haven’t been told before so that the operas can stand on their own without comparison. The “Streetcar” opera follows the play’s story and includes Mr. Williams’ words.

Much like a singer, an actor’s spoken voice becomes an instrument of sound. It is the variation of color in the voice, for example, in Blanche’s Scene 6 monologue, that can bring an audience to tears. The actress can virtually become the character of Blanche as she tells Mitch the story of her gentle homosexual ex-husband who killed himself as a result of her unkind scrutiny, for which she feels responsible. The poetic words of the monologue don’t need music. The music in Previn’s score during the monologue only detracted from the monologue’s essence. It would take quite a composer to outdo Williams on Williams.

Although the singers performed eloquently, they could not reach us emotionally the way the great actors who have portrayed the same characters in the play have. Yet strangely, these singers were so expressive that at times they almost did — in spite of having to wade through the music to do it.

Tenor Anthony Dean Griffey brought more dimensions to Mitch than I have ever seen. Although his voice was on occasion slightly guttural on the vowels in words like “love,” for example, for the most part, his sound was up front and out in the hall much like his performance was. Raised in a crude environment, his Mitch remained the considerate son of an aged mother whose sympathetic, good-natured side mixed with his moral upbringing to make it impossible for him to accept Blanche as his wife. At the end of the opera, however, when Blanche was forced to leave her surroundings and was being led into her nightmarish hell, Mitch felt guilt and sorrow for Blanche because he had played a role in her disintegration. It was this empathy that Mitch displayed toward Blanche which was gratifying to watch and more evident in this opera than in the play due to Griffey’s sensitive portrayal.

Soprano Stacey Tappan sang Stella with ease and displayed a strong character with a freeness and willingness to execute any movement that would further the action. She made the audience understand her plight.

Mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood as Eunice was the character actor in this production. Although her voice had some noticeable vibrato, it boomed out to the rafters, and every time she came onstage, the energy level rose 100 degrees and we loved her.

The doctor, Robert Shampain, and the nurse, Cynthia Marty, somehow seemed visually miscast. He was somehow too slight of build or youthful to so quickly lure Blanche into his good graces, and the nurse didn’t exude enough intimidating authority. Cullen Gandy as the collector and Blanche’s ex-husband was perfect.

Brad Dalton’s direction was specific, detailed and creative. The minimalistic set included chairs, a table and a bed, with the orchestra placed upstage behind the singers, dynamically conducted by the young Evan Rogister.

This production from Lyric Opera of Chicago was cost-effective and diverged from the initial production, which had a traditional set and premiered in 1998 at the San Francisco Opera. 

The Stanley replicas who doubled as Stanley’s poker buddies began the action as the audience was being seated and during intermissions. There was no curtain. Only effective lighting brought us in and out of the action.

As for André Previn’s score, it seemed like a work in progress. I say that because I actually wanted to leave at the conclusion of Act 2 because I couldn’t weave the music with the characterizations to realize a work of art that was equal to or superior to the Williams play. The orchestration seemed like background music for the singers who were simply speaking on notes. Speech level singing came to mind, not really recitative, even though the performers were truly singing dialogue on notes, and sometimes the dialogue sounded mundane. Of course I wasn’t sitting with the play and libretto in front of me. But because I had put some of the dialogue to memory, I knew that the libretto followed the text of the play with some liberal variation.

The orchestral score seemed superior to the vocal score because at times, the two sopranos sounded like tweety birds due to the high tessitura which sometimes seemed stuck on one plane so that the vocal sound almost became annoying. I couldn’t even tell if the singers had quality voices even though I knew that they did. The composition just didn’t allow me to make the determination.

When Ryan McKinny was dramatic, his bass-baritone carried the drama. But Renée Fleming is a soprano known for her lyricism, and the high lyrical sound just didn’t work well with heightened hammered drama. It wasn’t her fault, though. She was wonderful. 

Modern operas are always filled with atonal dissonance, and this opera is no exception. But the dissonance in “Streetcar” seems amazingly appropriate. It is blended well with a bluesy jazzy feel and music reminiscent of Richard Strauss, George Gershwin, Benjamin Britten, Alban Berg and Leonard Bernstein’s “Westside Story.” With strings, woodwinds and a brassy quality heavy on the trumpet and trombone, the orchestration sounds like 1940’s-era New Orleans mood music with voices imposed on top of it.

Renée Fleming

Before writing more about Miss Fleming, it was necessary for me to explain why the opera seems like a work in progress and doesn’t reach its potential until Act 3.

Fleming was marvelous throughout, but she was still singing like an opera singer performing for an audience — unable to touch us emotionally like an actor would until Act 3. This was due to the vocal score which fits her tessitura, not to her performance. Her glimmering voice was mesmerizing with some rich mezzo-like accents. But none of the music, not even the arias of the other characters, enabled the audience to stop, as in Mozart, and think: “Wow, that was glorious.” 

For “Streetcar” to succeed as an opera, the music must enhance the telling of the story or should add something new to Williams’ text. If Williams’ words are better said by an actor in the play than sung, and if the music does not add anything unique to the opera genre, then the opera cannot work. That is why a poetic classic like “A Streetcar Named Desire” is difficult to adapt as an opera.

Finally in Act 3, the opera came into its own. During the first two acts, I was envisioning Vivien Leigh, Ann-Margret and Jessica Lange as Blanche — especially Jessica Lange who created a multi-dimensional character with emotional depth and artistry.

But then in Act 3, the rape scene was musically charged and emotionally riveting. Both Blanche and Stanley were alive and real. And finally, finally Miss Fleming sang “I Can Smell the Sea Air,” and the sound was gorgeous. Previn had given her a memorable aria that allowed the audience to hear the beauty of her resonant sound.

So to me, this opera is a work in progress because to make it equivalent to Williams’ poetic play, the opera version of “Streetcar” should include more lush melodic harmonies on the level of Blanche’s last aria, which is competitive with the music of the great opera composers of the past. Although we may not have seen Blanche’s true madness, we saw her drifting off into an ethereal world where she was no longer in touch with reality.

When the nurse kept repeating, “These fingernails have to be trimmed,” I died a thousand deaths. And as Fleming sang, “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Whoever you are . . . whoever you are” — Fleming finally became Blanche DuBois and reached us. She was magnificent. And that is when I realized that Williams, Previn and the librettist had finally created an opera.

Director: Brad Dalton
Conductor: Evan Rogister
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Costume Designer: Johann Stegmeir
Production: Lyric Opera of Chicago
Costumes: Provided by Washington National Opera
and Lyric Opera of Chicago

Critic’s Note: In deference to the composer and librettist, I need to write that my review is a review of the opera as it is, not as it could have been or could be. I realize that many factors contribute to a final composition. With a classic play like Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” when the words are music to begin with, it is difficult to insert the dialogue into the mouths of singers over an orchestration so that the words have the same impact they do in the play. Music has time signatures, and the length a note is held has an influence on the language. So if the word “perspiration” works in the play, for example, the same word held in the context of an operatic phrase could accentuate it quite differently so that it simply sounds out-of-place in the context of the opera. Alas, some of the words in the libretto sounded mundane with far too much focus on them.

Even translating an opera from one language to another is a cumbersome job because words and syllables do not always match the notes that must be sung. So attempting to match Tennessee Williams’ words with a score was no doubt a daunting compositional task for the composer and librettist.

I have read that the Williams estate had a permissions agreement to adapt the play to opera so that the opera would maintain the integrity of the play’s story and much of the text, which was adhered to by the producing company, the composer and the librettist. The conditions imposed on them therefore limited their creativity.

The opera would have been quite different with a libretto that did not have to follow the play’s text. It might have been less wordy, and the accents on the words might have been more adaptable to the singers’ voices. The text would not have been compared to the poetic dialogue of the play. And a better marriage between the libretto and the vocal and orchestral scores might have ensued. Even the breathing of the singers must be considered to create vocal lines that tell the story. 

So although I wrote that sometimes it is better to write new operas with plots that have never been told before so that the new operas will not be compared with the originals, it works to utilize an already existing story, but without attempting to create a carbon copy of the original by simply transferring the words to the different genre. If the original genre was successful, the opera genre should not have to compete. Each work should stand on its own.

Therefore, the opera “A Streetcar Named Desire” is what it is, and I have reviewed it as such. Had Previn and librettist Philip Littell started with a totally clean canvas except for the story, the result might have been quite different. 

However I am sure that both the estate and the composer and librettist were attempting to develop a work of art that the playwright would have approved of. Writers do not like their words altered. However in the case of opera, the writer or representative of the original work should have a knowledge of music to draw the most optimal parameters for the work being developed. If an opera is to be successful, there must be flexibility from genre to genre.

But by the same token, if the librettist is left to create his own dialogue and the play is as poetic as “Streetcar” — it seems futile to even try. How could any other words compete with those of Williams in the context of the same story?

So in essence, with “Streetcar,” it is probably impossible to please all the parties, so maybe it was an implausible idea on the part of the estate and the opera’s creative team to authorize the project in the first place.

However, if I didn’t know and love the play; if I hadn’t have put some of the dialogue to memory — I would have been very accepting of this opera. The singers were terrific actors with a superb director. Renée Fleming outdid herself vocally and physically, and even though she created a devastatingly tragic character, she seemed to love being on the stage throwing her all into the role just for us. She gave us a wonderful night at the theater to remember. So what could be wrong with that?     

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 23, 2014

Review: ‘Thaïs,’ Los Angeles Opera, May 23, 2014

Great Voices, Sets and Costumes: LA Opera’s ‘Thaïs’ Is a Pleaser.

Pläcido Domingo as Athanaël, Nino Machaidze as Thaïs.       Photo: Robert Millard

Plácido Domingo as Athanaël,
Nino Machaidze as Thaïs.
(Photo: Robert Millard)

SEEN MAY 17, 2014

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Los Angeles Opera’s production of Jules Massenet’s “Thaïs” drew roaring applause and a standing ovation from an appreciative audience on opening night. And all of the commotion was centered on the performances of superstar Plácido Domingo as a baritonal Athanaël and world-renowned soprano Nino Machaidze as Thaïs. The rest of the singers seemed incidental to the audience, but in reality, they were all quite excellent. I must make note of the violinist who deserved a standing ovation for playing the harmonically melodic “Méditation.” Roberto Cani was the masterful musician who almost stole the show.

As for the story: Athanaël, a fourth-century Egyptian Cenobite monk, sets out on a mission to Alexandria to tame a sinful city and save its most beautiful courtesan, Thaïs. But once he has succeeded, he discovers his own earthly passions for her and despairs. Repenting takes a toll on her body, and she dies while he cries out in anguish.

This production — designed by Johan Engels, directed by Nicola Raab, and imported from the Finnish National Opera, Helsinki and the Gothenburg Opera, Sweden — is elaborate and visual. A revolving stage keeps the audience watching. Whether looking at the principal singers ascending a spiral staircase; whether eyeing a theater bedecked with red draperies or the intricately decorated residence of Thaïs; whether viewing an oasis in the desert or a monastery garden — the meticulously executed set changes and visions are spectacular.

One minute we seem to be viewing an Egyptian harem during the Byzantine era; the next, an apartment at the turn of the 20th century in Paris à la the film, “Gigi.”

Engels’ costumes are exquisite no matter what period represented. Thaïs’s gold-beaded gown with a headdress and birdlike appendages is breathtaking, then equaled by a white-satin gown with gold ribbing and a crown bedecked with diamonds. Bright colored hues denote the lustier scenes in contrast with whites which signify purity. 

The sentiments communicated are not unlike those in Richard Wagner’s “Tannhäuser”: Venus and the bacchanal versus Elisabeth and purity. A tug and a pull — the characters are drawn in opposing directions in both operas. With a libretto by Louis Gallet, “Thaïs” is based on a novel by Anatole France.

As for the music, “Thaïs” is rarely performed, yet Renée Fleming has revived it to prominence. Although the music is at times inspiring, the arias are not plentiful and are included as part of the action. The most noteworthy melody is the “Méditation,” an orchestral intermezzo for violin and harp. The motif is repeated after being introduced, and each time it surfaces with vocality, it takes the opera to a higher plane.

Domingo sang Athanaël’s aria, “Voilà donc la terrible cite,” with strength and passion. At 73, his voice and technique remain strong; his charisma, powerful.

Yet Athanaël is labeled a baritone while Domingo is known as a tenor. So is Domingo a tenor singing baritonal roles now? Or is he a baritone? He still sounds like a tenor to me who has chosen not to sing the high notes. Does it matter? I don’t know. Would the composer mind? I don’t know. Rosina in “The Barber of Seville” is either a mezzo-soprano or soprano, and the only thing I care about is the caliber of her voice. Domingo began his career as a baritone, then developed his high tones. So as his voice ages, he is wise to simply sing roles where the tessitura is comfortable. His informed decision has enabled him to continue his career indefinitely to our delight. As Athanaël, he made up for any negligible losses of youthful ease with a strong, centered and secure vocal and physical characterization that defied age and made us, especially those of us over 60, want to stand up and cheer for him. When we see him passionately refusing to succumb to the effects of time, determined to maintain a high level of artistry by overcoming any obstacles — he motivates us to strive a little harder and do a little better, for we feel privileged to be in the same room with him as we watch him perform. Although there are many rising tenors on the horizon, so far, Domingo’s kingly crown remains untarnished.

As Thaïs, soprano Nino Machaidze proved her vocal agility from low notes to high. Her “Dis-moi que je suis belle” drew a well-deserved applause. Her lustrous voice was complemented with her grace of movement and beauty. The two final duets were memorable and moving.

Bass Valentin Anikin as Palémon had one of the best voices of the evening. In an unthankful role, he should not be overlooked for the unique quality of his sound. Tenor Paul Groves as Nicias added stature to the proceedings. LA Opera did some luxury casting with mezzo-soprano Milena Kitic as Albine. The mezzo gave a stand-out performance earlier in the season as Carmen.

Hae Ji Chang, Cassandra Zoé Velasco and Kihun Yoon sang with gusto. And the LA Opera Orchestra was led skillfully under the baton of Massenet specialist Patrick Fournillier.

Yet in spite of all the raves this “Thaïs” well deserves, I still found something lacking that I was unable to describe. What makes opera so enthralling for me is that I can watch different singers portray one particular character over and over again without tiring. The more I hear and see an opera, the more I want to see and hear it. The melodies become more memorable for me, and I find the different interpretations enlightening. So after the LA Opera performance, I went home and clicked onto YouTube where I discovered Renée Fleming singing “Thaïs” with Thomas Hampson. I watched the final duet and felt the needed poignancy. “Thaïs” premiered in 1894 Paris. Fleming and Hampson mastered the French accent, the French sound, and, most importantly, the emotionalism and style:  

But I don’t want to detract from the many fine attributes of this deliciously innovative Domingo-Machaidze “Thaïs.”

Plácido Domingo is an amazing artist to be admired for his unheard of vocal longevity. Machaidze is a star on the rise. And this “Thaïs” is a production to be seen, remembered, savored, and revived.

Conductor: Patrick Fournillier
Director: Nicola Raab
Scenery Design: Johan Engels
Costume Designer: Johan Engels
Lighting Designer: Linus Fellbom
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon

 Nino Machaidze.                              Photo: Robert Millard

Nino Machaidze.
(Photo: Robert Millard)

The Wallis Breaks In Opera with the Great Frederica von Stade.

Frederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe

Frederica von Stade as Myrtle Bledsoe
(Photo by Lynn Lane)

SEEN APRIL 25, 2014

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

It was my first time at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills on April 25. What a relief it was for me not to have to travel to hear opera. “A Coffin in Egypt” was the first opera to be performed at the Wallis, and it was the opera’s West Coast premiere.

But the reason I wanted to write this short review is totally due to the bravura performance of the opera’s star: the legendary mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade. Although she is technically retired, “A Coffin in Egypt” has given her the opportunity to literally perform a one-woman show, and every one of her almost 90 minutes onstage was brilliant.

A chamber opera, “A Coffin in Egypt” was composed by Ricky Ian Gordon with a libretto by Leonard Foglia, who is directing it. I say “is” because the opera had its world premiere with the Houston Grand Opera, traveled to Beverly Hills to the Wallis on April 23, 25 and 27, and it goes to Opera Philadelphia next.

Von Stade has graced the world with her magnificent vocal cords for many years. But most singers are not actors with the range of Helen Mirren or Judi Dench. Singers concentrate on singing, but von Stade not only sings to perfection, her fine acting enables her to create a tour-de-force character study as well.

She plays Myrtle Bledsoe, a 90-year-old woman from Egypt, Texas, who reminisces about the challenges of her life and missed opportunities, portrayed in flashback. Her husband, Hunter Bledsoe, has spent the majority of their married life being unfaithful to her. He has killed the father of one of his mistresses and gets away with it.

So Myrtle travels to Europe, is romanced by an Algerian sheik, waltzes elegantly with a captain in uniform, and almost goes to Hollywood to become an actress. She raises two daughters who have marriage problems of their own. Her husband and daughters have died. Only her caretaker is left there to listen.

What makes von Stade so miraculous is that she truly becomes Myrtle Bledsoe while maintaining a flawless sound with rich lows and resonant highs. In fact, this opera has spoken dialogue, and due to those chesty lows, when she speaks, the dialogue just flows forth and the audience is never jolted. She sings and speaks with a Texas accent. And every utterance, movement and facial expression is a key to her soul. She is brilliant.

At times the opera seems reminiscent of August Strindberg’s “The Stronger.” Myrtle seems to have a bit of Blanche DuBois in her as well, or even Amanda from Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” But Myrtle remains regal and strong in her red flowing caftan, with each hesitant wobbly step defining her stature and age.

The music is interesting — at times lyrical and melodic as is the last sequence with the gospel choir, which is very effective throughout. At other times, the score is more metallic and atonal which acts as an accompaniment to depict Myrtle’s devastation.

The libretto is like the words of a playwright. The opera is based on a play by Horton Foote.

Von Stade has all of the ingredients of a great actress. Her moments of spoken dialogue are among her most revealing. She uses her trained vocal instrument to color the poetry of her spoken sound.

The non-singing actors are excellent. Conductor Kathleen Kelly rules. Riccardo Hernández’s minimalistic set is gracefully floral and tasteful.

The musical play comes together at the end with forgiveness. Myrtle forgives herself although she has done nothing wrong. But maybe she has also allowed herself to forgive those who hurt her.

Von Stade’s performance is thought-provoking and touching. Myrtle isn’t ready for a coffin in Egypt. She lives to see the light of another day with a freer spirit. And so must we all.

Conductor: Kathleen Kelly
Director: Leonard Foglia
Set and Costume Design: Riccardo Hernández
Lighting Designer: Brian Nason
Sound Designer: Andrew Harper
Gospel Chorus Director: Bethany Self

Actors: David Matranga (Hunter), Carolyn Johnson (Elsie/Clerk), Cecilia Duarte (Jessie Lydell), Adam Noble (Captain Lawson)

Gospel Chorus: Cheryl D. Clansy, Laura Elizabeth Patterson, James M. Winslow, Jawan CM Jenkins

Adam Noble and Frederica von Stade

Adam Noble and Frederica von Stade
(Photo by Lynn Lane)

Frederica von Stade and Carolyn Johnson

Frederica von Stade and Carolyn Johnson

(Photo by Lynn Lane)

Posted by: operatheaterink | March 17, 2014

Review: ‘Lucia di Lammermoor,’ Los Angeles Opera, March 17, 2014

A Dream Lucia Gives LA Opera a Magical Success.

Saimir Pirgu (Edgardo) and Albina Shagimuratova (Lucia).                                          Photo: Robert Millard

Saimir Pirgu (Edgardo) and Albina Shagimuratova (Lucia).
Photo: Robert Millard

SEEN MARCH 15, 2014

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

When I was about eighteen, I often listened to one audiotape sung by Joan Sutherland. A few of the selections were from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” and I loved them. Studying voice at the time, my father and teacher always told me that Sutherland was unique. She didn’t sing like most typical coloratura sopranos with a somewhat thin and often squeaky voice to reach the higher register with a coloratura flourish — she sang those flowing runs and mellifluous arpeggios with a substantial soprano sound. In my mind, she was the quintessential Lucia, and I wondered if there would ever be another one like her. Naturally there was Nellie Melba, Tetrazzini, Galli-Curci, Lily Pons, then Sills and a more full-voiced Maria Callas. But Joan Sutherland was my Lucia in the 1960s and ’70s.

Well, there is a new star on our horizon: coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova. We are so lucky to have her in LA. So remember her name.

It is such a joy to go to the opera and really focus on the singers. The opening performance of Los Angeles Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” enabled us to really listen. Although the somewhat stark set with projections on the back walls might have benefited with a more traditional set, or any set for that matter, the modernistic frames and expressive lighting, minus an ostentatious, elaborate stage, allowed us to hear the singers and watch them.

This LA Opera “Lucia” was simply marvelous. I was in heaven because to me, I was finally going to the opera, not to a production where the singers were only dessert. The focus was on Donizetti’s luscious music and motifs conducted expressively by LA Opera’s music director James Conlon, and on the singers who would have made Donizetti proud.

I wondered what Joan Sutherland’s husband Richard Bonynge might have said if he had witnessed Shagimuratova. He was Miss Sutherland’s longtime conductor and music director. But then conductor Riccardo Muti has already engaged her.

Yes, Albina Shagimuratova is a marvel. Her tones were well-placed and sung with an ease that made all the trills and runs appear easy. You could see her supporting her frame from the onset, and then those high E-flats were just simply there — no pushing, no strain, just utter beauty. And, yes, as with Joan Sutherland — nothing was thin or squeaky. All one could hear was amazing sound: the sound of bells — narrow and clear.

And when Shagimuratova was accompanied by flute or glass harmonica, the mix of the sounds flew me right to the heavens.

Shagimuratova has sung all over the world and is only in her early 30s. She is known for her Queen of the Night and is becoming the Lucia of choice. Having sung at the Salzburg Festival, Covent Garden, the Wiener Staatsoper, La Scala and the Met — the audiences are raving. There are so many talented and wonderful singers, but when one of them has something extra, it almost seems like a miracle. Shagimuratova’s “Regnava nel silenzio,” “Quando rapito in estasi,” and her mad scene were simply awe-inspiring.

The only element that I would hope to see her expand upon would be to add more of her soul to these very tragic and fragile characters. Angela Gheorghiu had the right quality in her 1994 performance as Violetta in “La Traviata” at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, conducted by Sir Georg Solti. Her body was limpid and fragile as if she were Anna Pavlova dancing “The Dying Swan.” Anna Netrebko, whose soprano is quite different, sings the role of Lucia with more unbridled dramatics, and Natalie Dessay pulls no stops in the drama department either.

But I don’t want to say too much. I don’t want to disturb Shagimuratova’s lyric bel canto focus because nothing should be altered at the expense of those perfect magnificent tones. No, I am not overdoing it. Each one was a hand-crafted jewel. Shagimuratova will be performing “Lucia” at the Met next season with Joseph Calleja as Edgardo. I wish I could be there.

It is important to note that there have recently been two types of Lucias: lyric coloratura sopranos who include the Queen of the Night and Gilda in their repertoires, and the more traditional sopranos who would normally not venture into the bel canto coloratura soprano Fach. Both can be excellent, and both often cross over when making role choices. But in the case of Lucia, when you hear bells emanating from a singer’s throat, as with Shagimuratova, you suddenly realize what the ultimate Lucia sounds like.

Briefly, “Lucia” is based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel, “The Bride of Lammermoor,” with a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano. A French version exists with the libretto written by Alphonse Royer and Gustave Vaëz. The opera takes place, in this case, in 1885 Scotland.

Enrico, Lucia’s brother, learns that his sister is in love with his rival, Edgardo Ravenswood, which sends Enrico into a rage.

From the onset, baritone Stephen Powell as Enrico showed strength in voice and stature. An ultimate and secure professional, he sang “Cruda, funesta smania” with distinction and was a commanding presence throughout.

As for Lucia, her romance with Edgardo is doomed from the beginning. When she sings of her apparition — the ghost of a girl murdered by a Ravenswood — we know that there is no hope.

Enrico begs her to marry Arturo. She protests, but ultimately signs a wedding contract to save her brother from political disaster.

During a storm, created very effectively with darkish gray projections and sound, Enrico challenges Edgardo to a duel. Later, the wedding festivities ensue, only to be interrupted by Lucia’s entrance in a long white dress laced with blood. After killing her new husband, she has gone mad and dreams of being with Edgardo.

In a graveyard, Edgardo thinks that Lucia has married and proven herself faithless. Then he discovers that she is near death and always loved him. Alas, he kills himself with a dagger, and so ends this avoidable tragedy.

As Edgardo, tenor Saimir Pirgu shows promise. He sang his ending arias, “Fra poco a me ricovero” and “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali,” with raw passion. He is young and his lyric tenor will develop. I look forward to hearing more.

Bass James Creswell as Raimondo, Lucia’s chaplain and tutor, has a commanding presence with an educated sound. I interviewed him when he was part of LA Opera’s Resident Artist Program years ago. His voice was always superior, but he was a bit stiff and not in tune with his characters. I heard him sing Leporello’s “Catalog” aria and knew he needed to loosen up and get more experience. That was in about 2006. Since then, he has done just that, spending part of his time in Germany. With all sincerity, I must compliment him for his persistence and dedication. It has paid off because what I saw on the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday was a seasoned professional who could act and sing with assurance, character, authority and strength. He is perfect for stately roles, and there are many.

As Arturo and Alisa, tenor Vladimir Dmitruk and D’Ana Lombard did what was expected. It will be interesting to follow their development.

The weakest link was Joshua Guerrero as Normanno. At the very beginning, he seemed insecure and his voice didn’t reach over the orchestra. He seemed to be singing in rehearsal. His self-confidence grew, though. It was opening night.

The chorus was well-directed by Grant Gershon. Lighting was effective by Duane Schuler. And the costumes and wigs were an added bonus that complemented each other.

A break during the first half of the performance was overly long and might have been better utilized as an intermission. Later, two stagehands in costume moved furniture in view of the audience. Since this occurred only once, the move seemed incongruous with the action onstage since Lucia was standing nearby. But these were only minor technical issues that often arise on opening night.

Los Angeles Opera is back on track. It has an on-site president and chief executive officer, Christopher Koelsch, while Plácido Domingo remains at the helm. The company is living within its means with productions that please but keep costs intact. And the repertoire is enjoyable and inviting for LA audiences. The new is mixed with the old. And as in life, that is the way it should be.

So please go to hear Albina Shagimuratova in LA Opera’s “Lucia.” You have my stamp of approval. And if you do not live in Los Angeles, go to hear her when she comes to the opera company near you.

A New Production
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Elkhanah Pulitzer
Projection and Scenic Designer: Wendall K. Harrington
Scenery Designer: Carolina Angulo
Costume Designer: Christine Crook
Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Movement Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Glass Harmonica: Thomas Bloch


Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia.
Photo: Robert Millard.

Posted by: operatheaterink | November 25, 2013

Review: ‘The Magic Flute,’ Los Angeles Opera, Nov. 25, 2013

The Question Is: Was it ‘The Magic Flute’?

Rodion Pogossov as the bird-catcher Papageno

Rodion Pogossov as the bird-catcher Papageno.
Photo: Robert Millard


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

As an opera critic, I generally attempt to be objective about performances. I may not like something that someone else does. If that occurs when the music is well-performed and the production is executed well, then do I as a critic have the right to be critical? Maybe I only have the right to communicate my opinion as an opinion. So with Los Angeles Opera’s “Die Zauberflöte” — imported from the Komische Oper Berlin and conceived and directed by Barrie Kosky, Suzanne Andrade and animation designer Paul Barritt — I am simply voicing my opinion:

I hated it.

But aside from that, every element of the production was well-rehearsed and carried through to perfection. Yet the production upstaged the singers and Mozart; and the singers and Mozart were the only reason I stayed after intermission.

“The Magic Flute” is a story about the awakening of love between Pamina and Prince Tamino; and between Papageno and Papagena. The Queen of the Night sends Tamino to rescue her daughter from the evil priest, Sarastro. However Sarastro proves to be honorable and the Queen emerges as the villain. Tamino and Papageno — with flute and magic bells in hand — pass their trials, which makes them worthy of initiation into the temple. Tamino finds happiness with Pamina after they overcome their fears of fire and water, and Papageno and Papagena dream of a life of domestic tranquility with a home full of children.

Both Mozart and librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were Freemasons. The opera is a fairy tale with Masonic symbolism — a moral allegory that characterizes human self-sacrifice as a means to achieve wisdom and nobility. These characteristics are usually brought to life in a magical setting that combines the spiritual world of temples and high priests with some slaves, beasts, and a Moor named Monostatos. The opera has always been a Singspiel — a mix of dialogue and song.

LA Opera’s 2009 production, which originated in 1993, was magical. Nathan Gunn’s performance as Papageno was glorious. I fell in love with his wide-eyed bird-catcher along with an alligator in tennis shoes and a long-legged ostrich in high heels.

But just as quickly as I fell in love with that production, I fell out of love with this new production from Berlin.

There I was in the audience being introduced to a group of silent film-era characters that did not even resemble the characters created by Mozart and Schikaneder for “Die Zauberflöte.” Pamina wasn’t sweet and lovely in her black Victorian gown; Tamino wasn’t a prince; Monostatos was Count Dracula; the Queen of the Night was a black spider; and Papageno was Buster Keaton. There were no true characterizations.

The spoken dialogue was projected on a screen. No set was needed since the performers were standing in front of a massive screen where animations were being projected — which kept us so busy watching them that we completely forgot to listen. Elephants, Valentine’s Day hearts, black cats, skeletons, black and white singers masked in white pasty makeup — it was like Halloween with Marcel Marceau. It was “The Jazz Singer” in reverse. The Three Ladies were costumed right out of the Weimar Republic. It was all one great big cartoon.

Even the music was altered. A pianist was playing Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor interspersed in the body of the opera score. It was like the score had been stolen to create a new opera. At least the music was composed by Mozart.

However . . . the staging was incredibly creative and imaginative if it had been utilized as a new opera. Every movement from every singer-actor was well-rehearsed and meticulous. The singing — when I was listening — was well-sung. Conductor James Conlon’s direction was specific, motivating, and rhythmically timed to perfection. I preferred to watch him in the pit rather than move my eyes upward toward the stage, but that is because I have always thought opera to be about the music. I could see an excitement when I watched his face, baton, and movements. He clearly loved the onstage antics and could match the music to the staging. He knew every note without glancing at the score and appeared to be in heaven. I have rarely, if ever, seen a conductor so engaged.

Still — I anticipated my exit during intermission with glee, but I remained in the hall to hear the singers instead.

Janai Brugger was vocally quite wonderful as Pamina. Her “Ach, ich fühl’s,” when Tamino wouldn’t speak to her, was sung so gloriously with such beauty that she made the whole evening worthwhile.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee’s aria “Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schön” was sung with a lyrical focused ping and an elegant line that incited me to believe that he is destined to become a celebrated Tamino when he can display his true emotional colors both in voice and demeanor.

I kept trying to find the character of Papageno in Rodion Pogossov’s Buster Keaton. Pogossov would have made a wonderful silent-film actor, but his “Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja” did not remind me of the loveable feathered bird-catcher. And his final duet with Papagena left me wanting even though he followed every stage direction with precision.

Amanda Woodbury as Papagena sang her duet with a lovely sound. But the charm was all lost due to the costumes and staging, although it was somewhat of a joy to see the children projected behind her.

And even though Erika Miklósa as the Queen of the Night seemed to be an audience favorite, her costume and spider legs were a terrible distraction. When she sang “Der Hölle Rache” on a ledge above Pamina, we in the audience were looking at Pamina, which intruded on a moment that should have been focused on the Queen. Her coloratura vocal agility was impressive.

Evan Boyer’s Sarastro lacked the elegance of a Kurt Moll. Rodell Rosel is a wonderful character actor; however, he was unrecognizable as both Rodell Rosel and Monostatos. The Three Ladies portrayed their roles aptly. And the Three Boys were refreshing and eager.

So Bravo to the singers for their fine acting and singing. I applaud James Conlon and the LA Opera Orchestra. But I’m sorry to say that this “Magic Flute” simply didn’t work for me.

Libretto: Emanuel Schikaneder
Conductor: James Conlon
Production/Direction: Suzanne Andrade, Barrie Kosky, “1927”
Animation Designer/Concept: Paul Barritt
Production: Komische Oper Berlin
Set and Costume Designer: Esther Bialas
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Associate Director: Tobias Ribitzki
Assistant Director: Trevore Ross
Stage Manager: Lyla Forlani
Associate Conductor: Andreas Heinzmann

Critic’s Note: I believe that this production is an excellent one to draw in a new audience of people who are unfamiliar with the tried and true “Magic Flute.” But I believe that every composer creates his or her characters and images just as he or she wants the operas to be perceived. This imaginative concept would be better served in a new theatrical arena where comparisons cannot turn into obstacles. Some opera buffs no doubt also find the production appealing and unique. I just respect the composer and his original concept and intent far too much to accept the deviation.

 The Three Ladies

The Three Ladies.

Janai Brugger (Pamina) with Rodell Rosel (Monostatos)

Janai Brugger (Pamina) with Rodell Rosel (Monostatos).

Erika Miklosa as The Queen of the Night (spider on top) with Janai Brugger as Pamina below. Photo: Robert Millard

Erika Miklosa as The Queen of the Night (spider on top)
with Janai Brugger as Pamina below.
All Photos: Robert Millard

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 28, 2013

Review: Audra McDonald Concert, Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 28, 2013

If Audra McDonald comes to your city on tour — run, don’t walk, to see her!

Audra McDonald

Photo: Robert Millard


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Words cannot express my elation as I rose to applaud the phenomenal Audra McDonald at the conclusion of her one-night concert in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 26. A friend of Los Angeles Opera, she gave a most impressive performance as Jenny Smith in the company’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” in 2007. But this one-woman nightclub cabaret act and concert proved her to be one of the greatest performers in recent history in her chosen field. McDonald sings art songs and show music with equal finesse, and she has a classically-trained instrument that can sing opera as well.

I frankly haven’t been this excited about a performer since I saw Barbra Streisand in her first concert in LA at the Cocoanut Grove. I was only 17 then and studying voice. Then came Cecilia Bartoli much later. Bartoli’s coloratura acrobatics, artistry and energy always leave me breathless.

I wasn’t expecting such a reaction to Audra McDonald, though, but after seeing so many fine singers who have very little stage presence, and so many fine actors who attempt to sing with inadequate voices — point blank: Audra McDonald blew me away.

She navigates the passaggio to perfection. How do you maintain one voice from bottom to top? And even if you can do it, how do you mix head with chest to meet the demands of the quality required of each song? A little more of this; a little more of that: Audra McDonald has it down pat. She can sing soprano or mezzo with head. She can mix middle tones with chest. She can even belt. But there is always a bit of head in her chest to make the transitions flow. It may seem easy, but very few Broadway singers can do it, and even opera singers have to learn.

Because of McDonald’s classical training and versatile voice, she can sing any genre of her choosing. Couple that with her onstage presence, and you have a performer who brought almost every single person in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to their feet.

McDonald was celebrating the release of her new album, “Go Back Home.” As she spoke to the audience, we learned that she was also sharing information about her new marriage; motherhood; memories of her father, 9/11, the civil rights movement; and she concluded with a tribute to Judy Garland.

She explained to the audience what each song meant to her, beginning with Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock’s “When Did I Fall in Love” from “Fiorello.” Then she sang Jason Robert Brown’s “Stars and the Moon,” which became a morality play that rendered the advice of a wise sage. Fill yourself with the riches of life. Don’t be misled by superficiality or you’ll never have the moon.

She sang the popular Gus Kahn-Walter Donaldson standard “My Buddy,” Irving Berlin’s “Moonshine Lullaby” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Moments in the Woods” from “Into the Woods,” per a recommendation to her by the composer. She flirted coquettishly during Jimmy Eaton’s vaudeville-flavored “I Double Dare You” and sang a humorous rendition of Zina Goldrich’s “Baltimore,” with clever lyrics by Marcy Heisler. The song is a quick course on dating. Ladies: Be leery of men.

Then McDonald became more serious as she described her father’s advice to her before perishing in an airplane crash. She had never wanted to play the piano onstage. So her father advised her to confront her fears. In his memory, she accompanied herself while expressively singing Adam Guettel’s “Migratory V.” I think we all had a feeling of pride at that moment, as if her father was looking down upon her.

Then a bit of Lerner and Loewe’s “I Could Have Danced All Night” with an audience sing-along; a couple of lullabies; and essentially a patter song by Frank Loesser that was sung by Betty Hutton in the film, “Let’s Dance.” When singing “Can’t Stop Talking About Him,” McDonald never ceased to stop talking about him, and the three-piece combo under the direction of Andy Einhorn got into the act as well. McDonald enunciated each letter and word meticulously because each of her songs tells a story that must be clearly understood.

The lyrics to her “Craigslistlieder” made us smile. But the story of “The Scottsboro Boys” sobered us up: a terrible civil rights injustice put to music by Fred Ebb and John Kander. “Go Back Home,” the title of McDonald’s album, was sung with heartfelt expressivity and tone coloring followed by Adam Gwon’s moving “I’ll Be Here”: the story of love, loss and moving on.

She made us more thoughtful with Styne, Comden and Green’s “Make Someone Happy.” And she concluded the program with Steve Marzullo’s “Some Days,” set to a poem by James Baldwin. Each day can be a challenge, but the unknown of the next day is what makes life worth living.

Then after a brief applause, the audience rose in excitement. What an evening. McDonald was vibrant, human, philosophical, funny, moving, and she sang with a splendrous colorful sound that was somewhere in between totally classical and totally Broadway.

She sang George Gershwin’s “Summertime” as an encore followed by a tribute to Judy Garland with Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.” She referred to Garland’s death in 1969, which led to a party in her memory that was raided and began the gay rights movement. Of course Garland brought the multi-talented songwriter-entertainer Peter Allen to the United States, who was married to Garland’s daughter, Liza Minnelli, and who later revealed his homosexuality. What a great talent he was. I reflected on him as I listened to McDonald, and was glad to have seen Allen perform and commemorate his mentor.

As I was walking out of the Pavilion, I heard a man say that the songs he had heard were sung differently than he had remembered. McDonald’s “Summertime” had a slight jazz-like quality. Her “Over the Rainbow” was more contemplative than Garland’s.

McDonald had made the evening her own with arrangements that worked for her. It was her concert. She was in the light, and she was luminous. Run, don’t walk, if you have the opportunity to hear her.

Music Director/Piano: Andy Einhorn
Bass: Mark Vanderpoel
Drums: Gene Lewin

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 21, 2013

Review: Bryn Terfel, The Broad Stage, Oct. 21, 2013

Bryn Terfel: The Consummate Performer in Santa Monica


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

There is truly only ONE Bryn Terfel. He isn’t just an opera singer, as if that wouldn’t be enough. There is something inside his persona that drives him first and foremost to be a consummate performer. The Welsh bass-baritone’s recital at the Broad Stage on Oct. 18 was an eclectic mix of Broadway and Celtic songs, ballads, art songs, arias and Lieder. Whereas a Broadway star also often dominates the stage with acting and singing, the artistry of the performance isn’t as visible. Terfel has a superior voice which is technically flawless. He uses that technique to emphasize words, consonants and the phrases in songs that are often sung by Broadway stars, but he sings those very same songs with a distinct freshness and creativity second to none. It is often said that opera singers don’t perform well in musicals. They are too operatic and lack the proper acting skills. Likewise, Broadway singers can rarely sing opera. They aren’t operatic enough and don’t have the prerequisite vocal equipment. Bryn Terfel is a better actor than most Broadway stars, and a far better singer. And he uses his classically-trained voice to sing songs with a flexibility that is rare and unique. He plays with the words as he sings, almost as Shakespeare did with pen and paper. Yet his wordplaying isn’t coincidental — it’s planned. He can emphasize a consonant and change the whole meaning of a phrase. And when you hear his crisp diction, no subtitles are necessary if he is singing in the language of the audience. Every vowel and consonant is clean. I don’t know that this matters so much in opera, as singers often shade vowels particularly to enable superior sound. However, when singing art songs and country folk songs, the enunciation of every word can make an audience perk up and listen, or simply fall asleep.

Many recitalists move from one aria to another without speaking. Mr. Terfel seemed to enjoy speaking to the audience as if performing in a nightclub act. He began the show by expressing that he wondered if there were any movie directors in the audience since Russell Crowe was Javert in “Les Misérables” and Johnny Depp had been cast in “Sweeney Todd.” Of course this was an opera-appreciating audience, so Terfel and the audience smiled knowingly. Terfel is a superstar, yet if I mention his name to my civilian friends (I laugh), they have no idea who he is, which is a very sad state of affairs and flaw in our educational system. The lack of arts education in schools is creating computer nerds with no sophistication when it comes to the arts — another topic for another day.

So after a few tongue-in-cheek comments and anecdotes, Terfel began his recital with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Some Enchanted Evening.” His unique charm was evident from the onset. He ended the song pianissimo.

An intimate theatre with superb acoustics, the Eli and Edythe Broad Stage is the ideal venue for artists to color their tones with serene pianissimos. It affords them the freedom to be flexible, and Terfel can sing a pianissimo so pianissimo that it is barely audible and holds the audience still.

Whether singing Lieder, ballads or songs — just as a writer is a storyteller with pen and paper — Terfel tells stories with text applied to sound. The enunciation, the musical accents, the clarity, the intonations — all of these enable him to narrate his stories. His facial expressions, acting and energy add to his characterizations.

After John Ireland’s “Sea-Fever” and “Vagabond,” Terfel’s storytelling took on the sounds of Schubert Lieder. When I was a child I often listened to Marian Anderson’s “Die Forelle” until one day I sat on the phonograph record. I was therefore very happy to revisit the poor little trout swimming in the brook. Many people probably listen to the Lied without knowing the story; however when Terfel sings it, there can be no doubt that the little trout will soon be dangling on the end of a fishing rod.

After “An Silvia,” pianist-accompanist Natalia Katyukova displayed her artistry with “Litanei auf das Fest Allerseelen” (“Litany for the Feast of All Souls”).

“Rest in peace all souls who have . . . departed from this world.”

Terfel sang the Lied with sensitivity, musicianship and reverence.

He led the audience in a sing-along with “Loch Lomond.” I don’t know if the acoustics had anything to do with it, but there were some wonderful voices in the audience. We all sounded like a choir.

Next, a charming “Passing By”; a warmly sung “Danny Boy”; and a “Little Welsh Home” sung with pathos and feeling:

I am dreaming of the mountains of my home,
Of the mountains where in childhood I would roam.
I have dwelt ’neath southern skies,
Where the summer never dies,
But my heart is in the mountains of my home. . . .

And when God my soul will keep,
It is there [in the quiet churchyard down below] I want to sleep
With those dear old folks that loved me long ago.

Terfel concluded the first half of the program with “Ar Hyd y Nos” (“All Through the Night”) and “Molly Malone.”

Then after the “Salt Water Ballads” of Frederick Keel, he switched gears and gave us some of the bad boys in opera. He was most impressive with a full-voiced powerful “Son Lo Spirito” from Boito’s “Mefistofele”; enjoyable when singing “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from “Porgy & Bess”; and he had the audience in the palm of his hand as Don Giovanni when he went into the audience and flirted with two very embarrassed ladies while holding a rose.

After a bit of “Mack the Knife” from Kurt Weill’s “Threepenny Opera,” the program concluded with four songs that were sung by John Charles Thomas in the ’30s and ’40s: Oscar Rasbach’s “Trees”; the very familiar “Home on the Range”; “The Lord’s Prayer”; and a very comical piece by Greatrex Newman, “The Green Eyed Dragon.” Talk about storytelling — Terfel sang the various tempi with imaginative vocality. He grunted and made a variety of noises rarely heard before emanating from an opera singer. What a tour de force. Stupendous!

Continuing with an encore in the same vein, Flanders and Swann’s “The Gasman Cometh” proved to be an audience crowd-pleaser, and finally Schubert’s “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” was the highlight of the evening for me because it was sung sensitively and combined sumptuous singing with a rippling accompaniment.

The evening was laced with fun and a bit of Mitch Miller. But everything was so perfectly planned, including the two encores. Exactly two. I knew there would be no more. Terfel was warm, but somewhat removed. There was a fourth wall up even though he penetrated it to sing Giovanni in the audience. So the evening was enjoyable without being electrifying, stirring or thrilling. We all knew that Terfel would be going back to San Francisco to continue singing Falstaff. He is a phenomenal performer and talent. He is not a male Diva. He is charming, has a wonderful sense of humor, and is witty. But I personally wanted to push him a few times to force him to break his reserved demeanor, except when he used theatrical gestures to characterize his bad boys. I didn’t want everything to look so designed. It was like he was en route from San Francisco back to San Francisco. I wanted him to embrace the audience. He is a singular performer and a great recitalist with a dynamic presence. As an audience patron, I wanted him to be excited about performing for us since we were excited to see and hear him. Maybe he’ll grace the LA Opera stage as Hans Sachs in “Meistersinger” one day. Then he’ll be here just for us.

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 1, 2013

Review: ‘Carmen,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 1, 2013

This ‘Carmen’ was ‘All in the Family’ with guests.

Review: ‘Carmen,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 1, 2013

Milena Kitić (Carmen), Dwayne Croft (Escamillo) and cast.
Photo: Robert Millard


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I specifically went to see Los Angeles Opera’s “Carmen” at the Music Center on Sept. 28 because the Carmen, Milena Kitić, was mentioned to me in complimentary terms a few months ago by my book publicist. This was a one-night gig for Kitić since Patricia Bardon was cast for the run.

For me, it was an “All in the Family” — “Family Ties” kind of evening, which was kind of nice.

Ms. Kitić played LA Opera’s Carmen in 2004 when married to Milan Panić. Panić is/was an underwriter for this “Carmen” and is a vice-chairman of the LA Opera Board of Directors. They are both part of the Los Angeles Opera family, so as I sat in the audience, I wanted to like this Carmen, and I did.

I then discovered that some of my favorites have been or are members of LA Opera’s Young Artist Program, and the resident conductor and chorus master, Grant Gershon, was holding the baton.

Because I am a supporter of new talent, I will begin with soprano Amanda Woodbury who portrayed Micaëla for the evening. Both her warm focused voice and presence carried past the orchestra pit far into the audience. She captured the essence of Micaëla — the girl Don José’s mother wanted him to marry, and should have.

The word, “warm” also describes the quality of Cassandra Zoé Velasco’s mezzo as Mercédès. She too is a member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program. As I watched her sitting next to Hae Ji Chang, who played Frasquita, I kept thinking, “Now there is a Carmen in the making.” Both her voice and face forced my eyes in her direction. Chang, also a member of the program, had an energy about her that was beaming.

Trying too hard to be a mature bass, Valentin Anikin (Zuniga) showed promise as a bass who should allow that bass to mature naturally. Museop Kim (El Dancaïro) and Daniel Armstrong (Moralès) added solid support.

As for the principals, again “warm” is the adjective that describes the singing and my response to the production. I don’t know if it was the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion acoustics that were wanting or if it was me. The singers and orchestra didn’t elicit a feeling of excitement from me, but I was grateful to hear singers who looked appealing, sounded technically-equipped, and were solid as actors.

Mezzo-soprano Milena Kitić was an alluring, crafty Carmen who managed to be charming as well. Her “habanera” and “seguidilla” were seductive. Her voice had swelling highs that flowed seamlessly from her chocolaty lows, and she danced like a Broadway trooper, but with far superior vocality. I will date myself here, but she reminded me of a refined Charo. If you don’t know who Charo is, google her: a figurative Carmen if there ever was one, but this is Opéra Comique, isn’t it? Oh, well, “Carmen” takes place in Spain.

Tenor Brandon Jovanovich’s Don José was tepid. At first, I thought I could understand why Carmen would throw him away for the matador, Escamillo, but then Dwayne Croft’s Escamillo seemed far too old. Finally at the end, I decided that Carmen must have had a thing for more mature men. That must have been it.

But then Jovanovich surprised me with his “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée.” It was top-knotch, well sung and passionate. But the rest of his performance was just plain tepid. And before he stabbed Carmen, he appeared weak. I’d rather see charismatic and desperate than defeated. But then this Carmen was manipulating Don José’s mind.

As for Escamillo, Dwayne Croft just wasn’t Escamillo — that was the problem. Yes, he has an excellent voice and uses it well. However, when he made his entrance with an ill-fitting cummerbund, then displayed stilted movement that was hardly charismatic during his “Toreador Song,” I decided that I would have liked to have seen the regular Escamillo for the run: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo. But Croft’s demeanor improved later on when he was no longer in that cummerbund, and Carmen seemed to appreciate his mature allure.

I have read that some critics think this revival production with elderly sets should be put to rest. I disagree. Although not Bizet’s idea of 1820’s Seville but a more upscale Miramar, Havana — I enjoyed the peach hues and Mediterranean appearance at the beginning and end, with the contrasting middle acts with stone buildings and earthy rocks. There was nothing tired-looking about these sets. Likewise, the move from peach costumes to deeper reds and purples followed the tone of the story.

The orchestra began at a swift pace but the sound seemed to lack the richness that my ears often craved. Toward the end, the sound was more bountiful.

Conductor Grant Gershon has a history of choral direction which is reflected in his orchestral conducting with chorus for opera. His direction was physically robust and very visual for the onstage singers, including the young Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, whose members, thanks to Anne Tomlinson’s fine direction, thrived from the excitement of being onstage with such a supportive cast. And, yes, the dancers played their roles well, especially the male soloist.

Much of “Carmen” on Sept. 28 was a family affair with guests. It was all very nice. I just wanted some of the characters to cut loose, stop being so tidy, and let me see their passion.

Libretto: Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Based on a novel by Prosper Mérimée.
Revival of a production from the Teatro Real, Madrid.
Conductor/Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Original Production: Emilio Sagi
Director: Trevore Ross
Set Designer: Gerardo Trotti
Costume Designer: Jesús del Pozo
Lighting Designer: Guido Levi
Original Choreographer: Nuria Castejón
Associate Choreographer: Briseyda Zárate Fernández

Review: ‘Carmen,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 1, 2013

Amanda Woodbury as Micaëla.
Photo: Robert Millard

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 21, 2013

Review: ‘Dulce Rosa,’ LA Opera Off Grand, May 21, 2013

A powerful and dark ‘Dulce Rosa’ makes its mark at the Broad.

Maria Antunez and Alfredo Daza. Photo: Robert Millard

María Antúnez and Alfredo Daza. Photo: Robert Millard

SEEN MAY 17, 2013

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The world premiere opening night of the new opera “Dulce Rosa” — with music by Lee Holdridge and a fine libretto by Richard Sparks — was dark and powerful.

I cannot say that the score is the music of a lifetime, but it is damn good — the best new opera I have reviewed in years. It sounded at times melodic and always passionate. When the drums pounded throbbingly, my heart stopped as if I were watching a suspenseful film with much drama. The richness of the orchestral sound and chorus were often exciting.

But what made “Dulce Rosa” so powerful for me was the excellent libretto in English, enunciated to perfection by the singers, who acted their roles to sheer ecstasy, really becoming the characters. Each character had a strong personality and will, and we in the audience could visibly see the passion in each of these people.

The story is a unique one, based on the short story, “Una Venganza,” by Isabel Allende.

“Dulce Rosa” is about a greedy revolution for power in a Latin American country in the ‘50s. The target is Anselmo Orellano, a retired senator, and his daughter, Rosa, at their hacienda.

Juan Aguilar, a rising politician, aspires to gain power and proposes that the leader of the guerrilla army, Tadeo Cespedes, eliminate the senator. After carrying out the deed, Tadeo rapes the senator’s daughter. She vows vengeance, lamenting her poor father’s death. But in a strange turn of events, Rosa forgives her father’s murderer and falls in love with him instead, only to be killed by a flying bullet meant for Tadeo from the gun of her fiancé, Tomas.

“You are as beautiful as your mother . . . the heart of my life,” Orellano sings emotionally to his daughter. Later: “I lived for you, and now you live for me.”

Heart-wrenching stuff!

At times the music seemed reminiscent of “Man of La Mancha,” but in a more operatic fashion. “Verismo” came to mind as well.

The scenery was simple and effective with an archway of expressive photographic projections within it and on either side of it.

I watched conductor Plácido Domingo in the pit. He was connected with the music and had an affinity for every bar.

Soprano María Antúnez as Rosa was lovely at the onset and a strong warrior after intermission.

Peabody Southwell as Inez displayed a lush mezzo-soprano throughout: mellow at the top and voluptuous at the bottom. I was sitting up close. She never broke character. She was real and believable, and her whole body displayed the character of her character.

Tenor Greg Fedderly was the loving father watching over his daughter as she succumbed to the remorseful full-voiced baritone, Alfredo Daza. Craig Colclough (Juan Aguilar) and Benjamin Bliss (Tomas Chacon) added excellent support.

I found myself teary-eyed when seeing the father and daughter interact, then again at her loss when he died. But the twist of her actions made me reflect on human behavior vs. morality, and the resulting dark conclusion was disturbing.

This new LA Opera production of “Dulce Rosa” is part of the company’s LA Opera Off Grand series, co-produced with and placing it at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The intimate theater and excellent acoustics lend themselves well to this opera, which was successful not because of one particular element, but because the sum of the parts created a powerful whole.

Conductor: Plácido Domingo
Director: Richard Sparks
Scenery Designer: Yael Pardess
Costume Designer: Durinda Wood
Projection Designer: Jenny Okun
Lighting Designer: Anne Militello
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Stage Manager: Lyla Forlani
Director, The Broad Stage: Dale Franzen

Posted by: operatheaterink | April 29, 2013

TV Review: ‘Carousel,’ Live from Lincoln Center, April 29, 2013

A Dark ‘Carousel’ for 2013 Reflects the Tide of the Times.

Nathan Gunn and Kelli O'Hara. Photo by Chris Lee.

Nathan Gunn and Kelli O’Hara. Photo © Chris Lee.

SEEN APRIL 26, 2013

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I took time off from proofreading my book “Serenade,” to relax and watch one of my all-time favorite musicals on PBS: the “Live from Lincoln Center” [sort-of] concert performance of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” based on Ferenc Molnár’s play, “Liliom.”

The production seemed fully staged, although the sets were minimal and more suggestive than anything else. The singer-actors were onstage with the New York Philharmonic, weaving their actions around, in-and-out, and through their instrumental peers.

Although there are many wonderfully uplifting numbers in “Carousel,” I was quite thrown to discover that I was sad and unhappy with every glorious sound.

I think that I prefer a fully staged production with big dance numbers and great costumes on traditional sets. Such productions camouflage some of the sadness inherent in the fundamental essence of the dialogue, lyrics, and story. The characters are less disturbing then, and, in the case of Billy Bigelow, more likeable.

This production was as much a character study as any drama without music. However the music was utilized to become the mirror of the souls of the characters who inhabited the stage.

Because I was watching the show on a television, the actors’ close-ups allowed me to key into the characters’ emotionality more keenly than had I been in the theater. I was watching this “Carousel” alone, so I was free of the inhibitions I might have felt had I been sitting next to a stranger in the audience. The result was a knock on the head that hit me like a bolt of lightning with a need to analyze each character’s essence as the tears welled up in my eyes.

This “Carousel” was the most mature version that I’ve seen thus far, and a reflection of this era in history. I have never thought so much about domestic violence in the context of this musical before. Billy was somehow unable to redeem himself. There was far less optimism; the youthful joy and hope had vanished for me, which was not necessarily a bad focus, just a different one — a true accomplishment for director John Rando. He had a great cast of actors and singers, and they carried out his vision.

In the past, most opera singers were unable to do justice to Broadway musicals because their voices and enunciation sounded affected. But nowadays some opera singers are able to cross over with success. Nathan Gunn and Stephanie Blythe are just such singers. I much prefer to hear classically trained singers perform musical theater than actors who say that they also sing. Their voices often lack heft and solid technique.

Gunn’s “Soliloquy” was spellbinding and strong. Blythe’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was regal, rich, voluptuous, and bold. I could really see the all-knowing nature of Blythe’s Nettie Fowler. I could watch Billy Bigelow struggle to do the right thing while inevitably doing what was undeniably wrong. Both gave memorable performances.

I couldn’t help but laughingly think that Nathan Gunn was able to imagine and transfer his love to Julie Jordan because he has a Julie Jordan Gunn waiting for him at home. What a coincidence. I’d like to hear the story behind that one.

Kelli O’Hara as the onstage Julie Jordan was fresh, delightful and truly lovely, with a voice to match those sentiments. She was also more mature and all-knowing than any other Julie I’ve seen. She truly understood Billy and had more wisdom than most of her predecessors. She didn’t push Billy into areas she knew he couldn’t tolerate. I think she was shocked when he responded so favorably to her pregnancy. Never have I focused so much on the “If I Loved You” theme — the unspoken love vs. the love that is verbalized. And never before have I thought as much about Billy’s confusion and inability to support his family, which led him astray, then caused him to take his own life in desperation. Again, the actions seemed to be a product of the times.

So I suppose you could call this a modern-day version of “Carousel,” which wraps around our weakened economy at a time when joblessness is part of the fabric of our society, at a time when desperation breaks families apart, when tragic acts — sometimes acts of terror — result from an inability of people to comprehend and make sense of what is occurring around them.

This was a bleak “Carousel.” But then theater is a creative means of mirroring life.

This television version of “Carousel” enabled us to hear the glorious music in a different light. We saw the bad and good in Shuler Hensley’s Jigger Craigin; the deliberations of Jason Danieley’s very righteous Enoch Snow; a wiser, yet grateful, Jessie Mueller as Carrie Pipperidge; and John Cullum as the wise sage encapsulated in the bodies of the Starkeeper and Dr. Seldon.

Kate Burton was marvelous as Mrs. Mullin. I was able to see her anguish as a human being within the confines of her colorful character. I could see how she related to Julie and responded to Julie’s relationship with Billy. I understood the rationale behind her reactions and dialogue.

The utter beauty of Louise’s ballet truly drew me in completely. Tiler Peck’s lithe agility was a sight to behold. Jointless movement turned her body into a pliable clay vision of creative form. She used her human instrument to create a poetic being that at times seemed unidentifiable as a mortal. She was complemented aptly by fellow dancer Robert Fairchild and the inspired choreography of Warren Carlyle.

Although Billy was able to help Julie attain closure, an unsettling sad feeling lingered inside of me. Louise was asked to draw strength from within, and not to base her attitude on her family’s history, which would only serve to deflate it. The accent on this sad commentary on today’s society only served to disturb me because it accentuated the need for parents to become role models for their children, and to provide them with the values necessary to become productive adults.

When I was young, a professor told me something that I did not comprehend: that we are born alone and die alone. I refused to believe that. I do not know that I can attribute such a philosophy or the reverse of it to “Carousel.” But Louise did learn that she had to stand on her own two feet with her head held high. Only then could she realize her dreams.

Julie could finally feel Billy’s love. And he could rest more peacefully knowing that his feelings had finally been communicated to her. Still, these three souls remained entities who questioned their own existence. Such is the turbulence that exists in today’s world.

The Rodgers and Hammerstein score held more substance for me this time around. The singing was wrought with emotion. And the audience was forced to analyze and contemplate.

“Carousel” is a timeless masterpiece that was performed at Lincoln Center by a masterful cast. I hope that PBS exposes the public to more encore performances.

Additional Credits:

Conductor-Musical Director: Rob Fisher
Sets: Allen Moyer
Lighting: Ken Billington
Sound: Peter Fitzgerald
Costumes: David C. Woolard
Stage Manager: Peter Hanson
Presented by the New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert, music director

‘Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love from Vienna and Prague to Los Angeles, 1927 to World War II to 2012’ – This Book Does What No Other Nonfiction Book on Opera Has Done Before.

Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

So you want to learn about opera but don’t want to read a boring nonfiction book all about it. You don’t just want to read opera summaries, but you are curious as to what opera really is. You think it’s intimidating. Well, it’s not. It’s beautiful and romantic, and if you want to find out just how much you’d enjoy it, I recommend that you read my new memoir about my parents: a true love story if there ever was one.

It is a cinematic story that could just be the love story of this decade, with beautiful settings and backdrops like Viennese opera houses and landscapes, plus 100 illustrations.

“Serenade” is a nonfiction memoir which has dialogue and the creative narrative inherent in a novel. My father is the main character. He literally sings Lieder and opera throughout the memoir, and my mother is always there beside him. This is a book for the average woman reader who aspires to read a love story, but just may end up in an opera house after she does.

The book delves into the stories of a handful of operas, and educates. Yet it educates with a lyricism that is romantic, poignant, and moving. And the reader will see before he or she hears — what makes opera one of the most beautiful genres (in my opinion, the most beautiful) in the fine arts category.

But the book is also for those who are familiar with opera. My father was an opera singer in Vienna and Prague in the late 1930s. He was just starting out, but received immediate acclaim. Significant people who were in the opera world during that era play roles in my book. The average reader may not know who some of them are, but the real opera aficionados will.

There is much historical data in the memoir as well, related to the Holocaust. The Anschluss, Kristallnacht, the S.S. St. Louis, a letter from the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the Triscornia immigration camp, and illustrations of my parents’ passports — my parents lived through the Holocaust nightmare. But you must read the book and travel with them to Vienna, Prague, and parts of Switzerland, Italy, Venezuela, Panama, and Cuba, to learn more.

Ultimately, my parents lived a truly beautiful love story. “Serenade” is based on the audiotapes that my father left me, and on my travels around the world to tell their story accurately.

The publication date is June 15, 2013. The book is available on, at Barnes & Noble, and at the Book Clearing House (BCH), a vendor for Ingram and Baker & Taylor. More names will be added to the list.

PLEASE GO TO THE “SERENADE” WEBSITE AT Read all about the book. Look at the story description and the wonderful reviews. Enjoy the Slideshow, but move your curser toward the top so that you can see all of the photo captions. And please “Order” the book and spread the word. I began writing “Serenade” well before I started writing opera reviews. My father exposed me to opera at an early age. If you are in love with love like I have always been, “Serenade” will bring opera into your hearts and minds. —CJD

‘Holiday Song’: A New Look at Faith with a Compelling and Superb Cast

Loren Lester (George) and Kelly Lester (Naomi)

Jack Carter (Zucker)

Jack Carter (Zucker)


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

In the midst of proofreading the memoir and love story I have written about my parents and their struggles during the Holocaust years, I took an evening off to attend a reading of Paddy Chayefsky’s “Holiday Song,” presented by the Creative Arts Temple at the Westwood Hills Congregational Church in West Los Angeles. Since I am a member of the congregation, I had no intentions of writing a review, but I found that I had something to say.

After the reading, Rabbi Jerry Cutler and the play’s director, Stephen Macht, turned the evening into a forum about the word “faith,” and what it really means to each of us.

While watching the presentation of the play, I was pleasantly amazed at the caliber of the actors. Although only a reading with limited rehearsal time, every single actor presented a developed character that was dynamic, real, and had personality, passion, and a love for humanity.

And while they were communicating these character traits, I was forced to listen hard, reflect on the story, and analyze my particular response to it, and to the Cantor. The Cantor (played by Barry Gordon) had lost his faith and was reluctant to continue performing his clerical duties until a miracle befell him. By accident, it seemed, he met a woman on a subway train who had been estranged from her concentration camp-imprisoned mate; and then later, he met a man on another subway train, who matched the description of this woman’s husband. The Cantor was able to reunite these two lost souls, which forced him to reflect on his own faith and wonder how such a miracle could have occurred.

During the discussion after, I wanted to say something, but a sudden burst of shyness came over me. Those speaking were making pertinent comments about faith, but were placing the comments into the here and now. I, on the other hand, couldn’t help but reflect on the past — on my father and on my own upbringing.

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, I could relate to the Cantor, who questioned his own faith and religion, much like my father did. I was raised knowing that I was culturally Jewish, but I did not have a religious education. My parents told me that my father had worked hard during the weekdays, necessitating him to be on the set of television shows like “The Untouchables,” either early in the morning or until the wee hours of the night. My father had lost his profession due to the Holocaust and had worked his way up to becoming the key costumer on many films and television shows before heading the costume department at CBS Studio Center. Enrolling me in what my parents called “Sunday school” would have been an extra burden, they said, although they showered me with acting, singing, dancing, and piano lessons.

It turns out that I later learned that my father was an atheist. If Adolf Hitler could have done what he did to kind, good, law-abiding people, how could my father believe in God? That was his rationale. My father rarely set foot in a temple. My book details the reasons he no longer had religious faith.

However, after my father’s death, I found that I was looking for “signs” from God to fill the emptiness of losing him. I became a member of the Creative Arts Temple, simply to become part of a community. Maybe the simple act of attending “Holiday Song” was a Mitzvah (or good deed) that the congregation was able to bestow upon me. Having such a community of friends has enabled me to find faith in small and subtle ways, even to have faith that miracles do occur, much as in “Holiday Song.”

So as the audience was analyzing the play and how its message parallels life today, I was reflecting on the two young people who were reunited after the Holocaust, which enabled me to reflect on my own parents, their faith – or lack thereof – and how their beliefs had influenced me.

I am sorry that I never had a religious education, but that has not changed my ability to search for faith in all the right places, so thank you to the Creative Arts Temple for an unexpected thought-provoking evening.


The bonus of the reading was the wonderful cast of actors who were aptly focused by director Stephen Macht.

Actor-comedian Jack Carter proved that age does not change one’s abilities and talents. As Zucker, he was forceful, energetic and real, all at the same time. Kelly Lester was the perfect Naomi, with her appropriate Jewish traits mixed with warmth, knowledge, and humility. Jesse Macht and Jessica Blair Herman gave sensitive, moving portrayals of the reunited couple. Barry Gordon was an emotionally conflicted Cantor in every sense of the definition. His intense delivery made us unable to decipher when the real Barry Gordon crossed over to become the Cantor in the play. They seemed to be one and the same.

Monica Piper was a standout, taking what seemed to be ordinary words and turning them into gems. Even the supporting subway guard, Howard Krupnick, had his moment onstage and shined. Edith Fields, Loren Lester, Bruce Nozick, and Nolan Porter were excellent. The narrator, Arnold Wise, did his job fittingly.

But the star of the evening was Paddy Chayefsky, who made us all think and then believe.

Rabbi Jerry and Jeff Cutler (co-producer) brought us together for this first Creative Arts Temple play reading. The evening was a resounding success, and I urge everyone to watch for the plays and dates in the upcoming series.

Los Angeles Opera is Doing Just Fine: There is No Competition.

Audience-Friendly Opera Sells!

Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra, LA Opera

Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra, LA Opera.
Photo: Robert Millard

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LA, CA

LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA, CA

LA Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Two issues of significance were recently pursued in the Los Angeles Times article “Drama afoot as LA Opera feels heat of rival works,” dated June 20, 2012, and written by Reed Johnson and David Ng.

One issue addresses the fact that several Los Angeles Opera board members expressed dismay upon learning that the Los Angeles Philharmonic was staging operas like Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” in a cutting-edge modern fashion, thus treading on LA Opera’s territory. LA Opera, in fact, has plans to stage the same opera as part of its 2012-13 season. These board members were basically saying that there was a conflict-of-interest, and that the LA Phil should stay away from producing staged opera.

The other issue, which probably resulted from the responses regarding the primary issue, is much more significant. Los Angeles Opera’s viability as an opera company has been tested based on the company’s ability to produce compelling state-of-the-art theatrical opera, especially in a competitive environment during an unstable economy.

A few local smaller companies were cited in the article, and in reader comments, as being competitive. What needs to be emphasized is that both LA Opera and the LA Philharmonic are part of the Music Center Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County in downtown LA. The County of Los Angeles owns the Music Center and maintains the buildings and grounds, and it oversees the occupancy of the theaters. LA County provides funding for maintenance, operations and security. The venues include LA Opera’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; the LA Phil’s Walt Disney Concert Hall; Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum; and the LA Master Chorale. Although not part of the Music Center complex, the Kirk Douglas Theatre is a member of the CTG family, and the LA Phil performs at the Hollywood Bowl. Therefore, the mention of outside companies — like Long Beach Opera, The Industry, Jacaranda, etc. — only detracts from the central issue, which is that some LA Opera board members believe that LA Opera has its terrain, and that the LA Philharmonic should not cross over into LA Opera’s soundstage.

Apparently, the complaining board members learned about the conflict well after the executive board of LA Opera did. LA Opera’s head leaders understand that all of the companies and venues of the Music Center must live in harmony in a collaborative fashion. For one organization to put a halt to the programming of another organization would be a form of censureship. Still, certain venues are more successful with certain genres, and meeting periodically to discuss the most advantageous programming for both organizations is a commendable idea.

However, of more significance to me is the comments in the article from people regarding LA Opera’s permanence on the operatic scene when compared to smaller companies with more daring and innovative productions.

The Times quoted Jacaranda’s artistic director, Patrick Scott, as having said: “I understand the financial challenges that LA Opera has, especially with the debt incurred by the ‘Ring’ cycle. . . . But I think that they have had a history of making safe choices . . . but I feel like if they don’t start to swing out, and do the kind of repertoire that [has] legs with the audience, they’re painting themselves into a corner.”

Anne LeBaron, a composer and faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts, is quoted as having said about LA Opera: “They’re depending on these old war horses and their aging audience. And they don’t even do productions that are that new in approach.”

Well, I have to stand up for Los Angeles Opera.

I was very vocal during Ring Festival LA because I believed that a major arts festival should not be devoted to one composer, and an anti-Semitic racist composer (Richard Wagner) at that, even though I believed wholeheartedly that a “Ring” should be produced by LA Opera in Los Angeles.

But the fact remains that LA Opera officials found it difficult to raise the funds to meet the budgetary demands of the $32 million production, and were forced to seek a $14 million loan from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has been partially paid back in an exemplary fashion with the remainder pledged for later this year, according to the Times.

Yes, LA Opera is making safe choices now, which Patrick Scott has questioned. There is no doubt in my mind that LA Opera has grown in wisdom.

Los Angeles Opera has become a tradition in LA. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is the most elegant old-time theater in Los Angeles. Going to the opera is not just about seeing the production and hearing the opera singers, although maybe it should be. Going to the opera is an invigorating experience for all of those who attend. It is an opportunity for people to dress up for the occasion, knowing that they will feel regal once inside the theater. There is nothing more energizing than sitting in the orchestra section and seeing the conductor walk to the podium, raise his or her baton, and then hear the first bars of the overture. There is nothing more captivating than seeing the first glimpse of a creative-looking detailed set as the curtain opens after or during that overture.

Opera is a type of education. There is a reason that people go to see the same operas performed over and over again with different casts, costumes and sets. There is no substitute for the music of composers like Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, and others, sung by fat, thin, ugly, pretty or handsome-looking opera singers with voluptuous voices.

There is a definite place for new opera and cutting-edge productions. LA Opera has produced and will continue to produce its share of new opera. And more modern smaller venues might be more prone for success with such genres in their spaces. But the new cannot replace the old. There has to be room for variation and preservation.

If young people only buy tickets to opera if it is visually in the groove, then they haven’t cultivated the love for opera as it was meant to be perceived. Opera is beautiful, elegant and romantic.

LA Opera officials have tried to be innovative at the expense of being unable to fulfill their financial obligations. The company is doing a superb job now that is in tune with balancing the budget while still providing audiences with the opportunity to see and hear the most beautiful operas composed in all of opera.

When the company is able, it will produce more new productions, and more productions in general. Hopefully the number of known international star singers in those productions will increase, with talented younger singers performing as well. And the company will produce more new opera.

But I cannot emphasize enough that there is no competition for LA Opera. It is our premiere opera company, and nothing can tarnish it. I salute the smaller innovative companies that are sprouting up, but without a major opera company in Los Angeles, Los Angeles would only suffer as being culturally deprived of having a traditional opera company when other cities in the United States do. LA Opera helps Los Angeles resonate as a cultural mecca throughout the world.

There is a place for new operatic works staged with innovative concepts, whether produced by LA Opera, the LA Philharmonic, or any other arts organization. But people should not forget that Los Angeles Opera offers its own brand of entertainment in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and it is irreplaceable.

Los Angeles Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
135 North Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90012

Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall
111 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90012

Opera UCLA’s ‘Poppea’: Professional and Stunning

Anush Avetisyan, Daniel Cheng. Photo: David Schneiderman

Anush Avetisyan, Daniel Cheng. Photo: David Schneiderman

SEEN JUNE 2, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Who says that student productions aren’t professional or worthy of reviews?

Lots of people do, so they don’t go.

Well, those are the people who are missing out on seeing reasonably-priced productions that are indeed every bit as masterful as some of the shows that hit the big time.

Case in point: Opera UCLA’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea,” which was performed with a double cast from May 31 to June 3 in Macgowan Hall’s Little Theater.

I have indeed seen “Poppea” performed with more lavish accoutrements in the usual Baroque tradition, but never with more panache and style.

Although the singers, mostly students, were excellent – the star of the show was the stage director, James Darrah, who received an MFA degree from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television, and recently directed productions of Handel’s “Teseo” and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s “Médée” for the Chicago Opera Theater.

Directors and productions are becoming more-and-more significant in opera these days – many times to the detriment of the singers. I am of the old school and focus much more on voices than sets. But the fact remains that many fine opera singers are not especially gifted actors, although that is changing. In this production, where the fragile economy was a consideration, there was no set. A black backdrop, curtains and draperies were the extent of it. So how could this director be the star of the evening? The answer is very simple: He had a vision, and he used his visual artistry to create movements for the singers that enabled them to produce characters that sparked the audience’s attention. Going beyond that, most directors give singers mundane blocking just to keep them busy at most. Darrah gave the singers movements which were like choreographed dances that made the singer-actors exciting, dramatic or funny. The dances were joined together to create a modernistic overall vision. The show had phrasing. I could see a phrase mark over various blocks of actions, just as if the phrase mark had been written over the notes in a bar of music; and the result was one big umbrella which had a thematic vision under it. The movements had grace. The singers’ bodies formed well-designed patterns as if part of a water ballet. The use of mirrors contributed to the effect.

James Darrah is an innovative director who is respectful of the music and singers, does not try to inflate his own ego at their expense, but directs in the name of artistry and creativity.

That said, Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” was the first opera based on history rather than myth, premiering in 1642 or 1643 in Venice, with the action taking place in Rome in A.D. 62 or 64, depending on the source. Few manuscripts and only a Venice and Naples music score survive, and the extent of Monteverdi’s authorship has been questioned.

With a libretto by Giovanni Francesco Busenello, the story is immoral while the music sounds almost spiritual.

Ottone returns from war only to find that his lover, Poppea, is having an affair with the emperor, Nerone, who is married to Ottavia. Seneca advises Ottavia not to seek vengeance and attempts to reason with Nerone, who looses trust in him and sentences him to death. Ottavia asks Ottone to kill Poppea. Drusilla, a lady of the court, gives Ottone her clothes to disguise himself, but Amore (the goddess of Love) saves Poppea’s life. Drusilla is arrested for the attempted murder. Ottone confesses but implicates Ottavia, who is banished into exile as Drusilla and Ottone are punished. In the end, Nerone triumphs, and Poppea flaunts herself for succeeding in becoming the new empress.

Darrah made the spectacle a little bloodier than might be customary — killing off some characters rather than banishing them. He told me at intermission that there were no written stage directions, so he had the freedom to be creative, and so he was.

The UCLA Early Music Ensemble, under the direction of Stephen Stubbs, provided the orchestration which included two violins, a cello, two harpsichords, a baroque harp, a chitarrone, and a baroque guitar.

The mood was set for the multi-talented singers who were able to follow through with Darrah’s directions.

Anush Avetisyan is a Kim Kardashian look-alike with an alluring demeanor and seductive voice: a perfect Poppea. Daniel Cheng’s Nerone was strong and centered in voice and stature. And when the two used drapery to accentuate their emotions, the stage was intense and the audience could feel it. Their final duet could have been more effective, though.

Emily Lezin was a commanding Ottavia. She did justice to her “Addio Roma” lament.

Brian Vu was an athletic Ottone. Blessed with a lush baritonal timbre and robust sound, he was charismatic with a powerful stage presence that was undeniable.

Alene Aroustamian provided the comic relief as Arnalta, attending to Poppea. Darrah’s utilization of pantyhose that just wouldn’t stay up was hilarious. The other comedic standout was Briana Gantsweg who played the trousered Valletto and Virtù.

Jessica Nicolet (Drusilla) was a delight with or without her clothes on, leaning against a proscenium wall to great effect. The entire cast – especially Ryan Thorn (Seneca), Patricia St. Peter (Amore), Phoebe Dinga (Fortuna), Sarah Anderson (Nutrice) and Jeffrey Fichtner (Lucano) – was excellent. There were moments when various singers sang below the notes, however, thus sounding flat so that the melody of the music was lost. This usually happened in moments when a singer was showing emotion or comedic reactions. Although the audience laughed and didn’t notice, vocal delivery should never be compromised due to an emphasis on staging, although staging and acting can cover up poor vocalization. Still, in the university setting, young singers should focus on the voice first, feel secure with it, and then add on the dynamics. However with such great blocking and the opportunity to show off, it is understandable that some of the singers did just that. Daniel Cheng, on the other hand, paid attention to vocal detail while at the same time embracing the stage directions to enhance the emotionality of his character.

The costumes were a cross between modern and classical, were cost-effective and worked. They were modern with a tunic-like-look at times, thus suggestive of the Greeks and Romans. An example was Amore’s white costume in the second act.

Opera UCLA never fails to deliver. I always enjoy the spirit and energy the students exude with their talent. “Bravo” to them and to the dedicated UCLA faculty.

UCLA Early Music Ensemble: Elisabeth Le Guin, director; Lindsey Strand-Polyak, violin; Rhea Fowler, violin II; Phoebe Ping, cello. Guest artists: Ian Pritchard, harpsichord; Maxine Eilander, baroque harp.

Music Director: Stephen Stubbs (Harpsichord, chitarrone, baroque guitar)
Stage Director: James Darrah
Scenic & Prop Design: Kaitlyn Pietras
Costume Design: Raquel Barreto
Lighting Design: John A. Garofalo, Cameron Mock
Director of Opera UCLA: Peter Kazaras
Music Director of the Opera Studio: Rakefet Hak
And many more, including Liana Dillaway, Rob Rudolph, Myung Hee Cho, Daniel Ionazzi, Mona Lands, Michael Dean, Vladimir Chernov, and Juliana Gondek

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 28, 2012

Review: ‘Follies,’ Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, May 28, 2012

Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Follies’ Revival at the Ahmanson is Sheer Magic!!!!

Jan Maxwell, center, and Ensemble. Photo: Craig Schwartz

SEEN MAY 26, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

As a 60-something-year-old writer who recently dusted off her old acting shoes and produced a show at the Santa Monica Playhouse, I found Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles to be utterly inspirational.

What makes Sondheim’s superb musical a gem is that it is far more than just a musical. Just a plain wonderful musical would have been enough, which “Follies” is; but this musical has meaning and depth, so as you sit in the audience loving the melodies, you also find yourself listening to every word sung and said, reflecting on your own life – the things that were important to you that no longer are; your goals, regrets and missed opportunities; and your understanding of love, and how that has changed. It really does help to be over 50 to really comprehend the essence of this musical. But there is much for the younger generation to enjoy as well.

The inspiration stems from the story line, which basically centers around two aging performers who meet with their former colleagues in the old theater of their hay day when they were part of the “Weismann Follies.” These former showgirls have brought their husbands along, and as the four reflect on the past, their marriages unravel.

Naturally, in order for the show to be appropriately cast, older actors, singers and dancers were needed, or they had to be made up to play mature. When seeing such singers and dancers perform, there is usually a wearing down of either their voices, vocal technique, or ability to move or dance. Not so in this show. Members of the cast were graying — if not actually, then figuratively. But they could dance and sing – putting most young people under the table. Seeing this incredible display of talent could only make me stop complaining about my own age as a baby boomer facing retirement, and think about the truism that age is in the mind, and that a youthful outlook means the realization of youthful abilities. Rather than retire, when seeing these incredible performers, all I wanted to do was shout from the rooftops that life could very well begin after 55, 60, or even 65.

The film and television industries in Hollywood are geared for the younger generation. This play should truly garner their respect for the elderly.

Mark you, the production did showcase some younger performers as well, who portrayed the main characters as they had appeared in their youth as both shadows and ghosts. And there were some wonderful Ziegfeld-type showgirls prancing around the stage in front of some magical pink flowers which took the audience into a fantasy loveland. Their costumes were simply lush – some in the nude flesh-colored tone with sequins and other ornamental jewels appliquéd on them.

But the inspiration for me was the performers and the vigor of their theatrical execution. A number of them are Tony-nominated actors and could very well win a Tony for their performances in this 1971 “Follies” revival, which opened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and then went to Broadway.

Jan Maxwell (Phyllis Rogers Stone) is a marvel. She is tall and statuesque, and she communicated an energy to the audience that was astounding. Over 50, she looked stunning in an elegant goldish white-sequined gown; her voice was strong and secure; and her dancing was phenomenal, with sensational moves and acrobatics. She has the style of an old-time star. Sheerly wonderful!

Victoria Clark (Sally Durant Plummer) was a delight. Being an opera person, it was so nice to hear a well-trained voice that could really go the distance. I loved the soprano elements of it, and how Clark was able to also dig down deeper and chestier, and do it all without a break in her voice and without jolting the audience’s attention. When she sang “In Buddy’s Eyes,” she was sensitive and appreciative of her husband’s steadfast devotion. When she sang “Losing My Mind,” she held the audience spellbound. Her emotionality was intense, both vocally and physically.

The two men in the women’s lives were also quite marvelous. Ron Raines was Benjamin Stone. He charmed us with his dancing and vocality. Danny Burstein (Buddy Plummer) brought Broadway to Los Angeles with this show. He is a true song-and-dance man. His portrayal of a down-to-earth Joe was on target.

Jayne Houdyshell (Hattie Walker) stopped the show with “Broadway Baby.” She had that graying power that proved indestructible.

Elaine Paige’s Carlotta had that Mama Rose quality in a strong rendition of “I’m Still Here.”

I especially liked Mary Beth Peil’s Solange. What a great character! And the glow emanating from Susan Watson’s young-at-heart Emily was contagious, as was the tap-tap-tapping and vibrant personality of Terri White.

The orchestra under the direction of James Moore provided excellent support, and the entire ensemble sang, danced and acted with precision.

I have to take a moment to single out soprano diva Carol Neblett since I often review opera. I saw her name in the program and thought that the character of Heidi Schiller was probably being played by someone else with the same name. But then when she walked on the stage, I knew it was her. Neblett has sung in all of the major opera houses in the world and was an international star, singing with tenors like Plácido Domingo a few years back. She currently teaches and is an artist-in-residence at Chapman University.

Her part was not a large one. She appeared to be a supernumerary (extra) in the first half, but had some nice lines. Then later, she sang a short duet: “One More Kiss.” Beginning as a soloist, her voice immediately revealed its splendor and singularity. Not as young as she once was, her movement showed maturity which was appropriate for the character. But when she began singing, everyone in the audience knew they were hearing something special and listened attentively in reverence. Her duet partner (Leah Horowitz) sang well, but the additional voice made it difficult for me to hear Neblett, and I wanted to hear more. Although all of the voices in the production were excellent for musical theater, Neblett’s voice immediately surfaced for its purity and operatic timbre. The audience was quick to acknowledge the sound with an applause after a very short sampling. Again, it was wonderful to see another senior performer rise to the occasion with such magnetism.

Everything about this production was ideal except possibly the ending: I wasn’t quite sure that it happened. Something seemed missing. Was it time for the audience to applaud?

But outside of that, director Eric Schaeffer, choreographer Warren Carlyle and music director James Moore have created a “Follies” that is entertaining and at the same time, thought-evoking, touching, visually provocative, memorable and exciting. I loved it!

The show continues through June 9, 2012.

Director: Eric Schaeffer
Orchestrations: Jonathan Tunick
Music Direction: James Moore
Choreographer: Warren Carlyle
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Sound Design: Kai Harada
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Hair & Wig Design: David Brian Brown
Make-up Design: Joseph Dulude II
Associate Director: David Ruttura
Casting: Laura Stanczyk Casting
Production Stage Manager: Ray Gin
Company Manager: Mark Rozzano
Production Manager: Juniper Street Productions
Center Theatre Group Artistic Director: Michael Ritchie

A Video from the Past: Carol Neblett Sings Tosca

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 22, 2012

Review: ‘Sleeping Ugly,’ Santa Monica Playhouse, May 22, 2012

Arnold Schulman’s Take On Love: An Enjoyable Night at the Theater

Review: ‘Sleeping Ugly,’ Santa Monica Playhouse, May  22, 2012

The Cast of ‘Sleeping Ugly.’ Photo: Cydne Moore

SEEN MAY 20, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

“Sleeping Ugly” is not your typical love story, and it’s not being performed in the typical way — but Arnold Schulman’s newest play certainly makes one identify with the characters while being entertained with the quintessential mock Kabuki Commedia-dell’arte theatrics that Santa Monica Playhouse is known for.

As the screenwriter of such film successes as “Love with the Proper Stranger” and “Goodbye, Columbus,” Schulman, now 86, has been less known for his playwriting than his screenwriting – even though his Broadway hit “A Hole in the Head” was adapted into a movie. He has written a number of plays through the years for amusement, and “Sleeping Ugly” is one of them. His grown-up son accidentally found the play and submitted it to Santa Monica Playhouse. The artistic directors – Chris DeCarlo and Evelyn Rudie – took the play under their wing, and the result is a highly enjoyable evening of theater with a mix of engaging acting, staging creativity and laughs.

The main character – Judy Lockwood — is a New York magazine editor. Her problem in maintaining a relationship with a man is that she’s a klutz, so she decides to end it all by jumping into the river.

Stanley Fender, the other main character, is a pediatric dentist. He watches Judy and tries to rescue her, thus necessitating her to rescue him. Love strikes with the usual, or rather not so usual, hindrances: in this case, Judy’s sloppiness and klutziness, and Stanley’s hidden identity as a werewolf. Judy’s failings seem rather insignificant since she (as played by Jaimi Paige) is adorable in appearance with a bright personality that would attract any man. So naturally, Stanley (as played by Chuck Raucci) finds her utterly appealing. However his more unrealistic blemish enables the audience to realize that the play is a fairytale.

So once you reach the fairytale genre, what could be more captivating than to add some fairytale magic, which director Chris DeCarlo has done by keeping the two main characters realistic, but by adding some Commedia-dell’arte characters with Pagliacci-like clown makeup and costumes surrounding them. These members of the ensemble act as furniture pieces and props, and the settings are projected on three rectangular backdrops upstage. Pretty nifty in this poor economic environment, I’d say. No furniture was required; no traditional sets were needed; and some of the props could be made out of cardboard.

I loved the two very realistically-dressed characters in the middle of this very stylized world. I did wonder, however, what the play would have looked like had there been a realistic set with a total ensemble of normal-looking characters. But then the production would have lacked its wonderful creativity and might have appeared dull or even boring. The sublime visual creativity and inventiveness added a unique dimension to the play, including the syncopated sounds contributed with precision and rhythmic accuracy by Evelyn Rudie from an elevated box on the side. I do realize, however, that the only way I could judge the playwrighting elements of the play would be without the added glitz or by simply reading it. So since I applaud the creative elements and the superb choreography which was executed skillfully by every single actor – I cannot judge the play on its own merits, but have to judge “Sleeping Ugly” as I saw the complete production.

The highlight for me was watching Jaimi Paige interact with Chuck Raucci. The two were perfectly cast and could not be more perfect. I cannot imagine any two actors who could play the roles better. She is lovely, immersed in her character, natural, and utterly engaging. He shows his talent in his physicality, especially when revealing his werewolf persona. He is slight in build and somewhat reminiscent of the Woody Allen type, who is not normally the guy that gets the gorgeous girl. It is Stanley’s endearing quality that makes us understand why Judy falls for him. Both actors have a great deal of talent and are utterly believable. Raucci has the finesse required for the physical comedy that, let’s say, John Ritter was known for. And Paige is simply adorable and charming without having to flaunt or overdo anything to prove it.

I found that the text of “Sleeping Ugly” has more depth than most comedies. In most relationships today, people cannot connect because one party usually finds fault with the other. The two may start off in love, lose that infatuated feeling, start finding faults, and then either split up or come to the realization that they love each other and better compromise. I was able to watch a fairytale about a werewolf and still identify with the very not-so-usual situation that the two characters were living with. Their not-so-usual traits and gripes only served to make all of us in the audience think of the usual traits and gripes that draw people away from and toward each other. Even the in-law problem was raised in a creatively, cleverly-staged fashion. I therefore praise Mr. Schulman for incorporating such insight.

“Sleeping Ugly” is a first-rate play being staged with first-rate actors in a first-rate production.

Performances continue through June 17.

Ensemble: Alison Blanchard, Serena Dolinsky, Juliet Ladines, Jaimi Paige, Chuck Raucci, Scot Shamblin, Constance Strickland, James Terry

Director: Chris DeCarlo
Associate Producer: Peter Schulman
Commedia Movement Director: Serena Dolinsky
Lighting and Set Design: James Cooper
Sound Design: Linn Yamaha Hirschman
Costume Design: Ashley Hayes
Multimedia: The Attic Room
Graphic Design: Timothy Chadwick
Production Stage Manager: George J. Vennes III
Lighting Technicians: Bertha Angel, Sheri Nuckolls, Tessa Parkhurst
Sound: Evelyn Rudie
Public Relations Director: Sandra Zeitzew

Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA. 90401; 310-394-9779.

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 2, 2012

Review: Piotr Beczala Recital, The Broad Stage, May 2, 2012

Piotr Beczala: A Lyric Tenor With A Tear

Piotr Beczala in Dresden

Piotr Beczala in Dresden

SEEN APRIL 28, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Polish lyric tenor Piotr Beczala is making quite a name for himself. Audiences are eager to discover the new greatest tenor in the world since from the golden era, only Plácido Domingo remains prominent, and Domingo has become more baritonal lately than anything else. He is the greatest living tenor. Plus he is a remarkable human being, conductor, musician, multi-tasker and mentor. It seems that even “he” is attempting to find a successor.

The problem is that there are many talented young tenors who are receiving excellent training – probably more now than ever before. But none of them seem to be the one greatest tenor of this generation. A tenor might be labeled the great new discovery of the year, but a few years later, that same tenor is often placed on a list with all the others who failed to make the grade. The pathetic part is that they are all excellent, but where is this generation’s one or two greatest who are in the league with those of the past? The audiences and critics are getting nervous. They’re salivating like Pavlovian dogs — optimistically willing to make the leap of faith when any noteworthy contender surfaces.

So is Piotr Beczala “the one”? He made a splash with Anna Netrebko recently in the Met’s production of “Manon.” He is singing at all the great opera houses. So it is a feather in the cap of the Broad Stage’s director, Dale Franzen, for having landed him for his first U.S. recital, but then she is a “recovered opera singer,” she says, so she knows a good tenor when she hears one. But it goes both ways: For a singer, the Broad Stage acoustics are a dream.

So what is it about Beczala that is so engaging?

First off, he has a beautifully focused, clear, often sweet, and lyrical timbre that is ideal for certain types of pieces. There is a tear in his voice along with some ping, which was very evident from the balcony. His voice has been likened to that of Fritz Wunderlich. It has a similar quality but has not reached the depths of Wunderlich’s artistry. And his tear and vocal emotionality are still not yet at the level of my favorite tenor, the sublime Jussi Björling. Still, of today’s crop of talented tenors, there is a singular quality to his voice that is at times haunting. His emotionality and presence aren’t quite there yet, but the promise of their realization is evident.

Beczala immediately endeared himself to the audience with Giuseppe Verdi’s “Di tu se fedele” from “Un Ballo in Maschera.” But he would have served the audience better had he begun the recital with the graceful Leoncavallo melody, “Mattinata,” which he sang second.

One of the standouts of the evening was Beethoven’s “Adelaide.” Then he sang seven of the 16 songs from Schumann’s “Dichterliebe,” based on poems by Heinrich Heine on unrequited love and longing. Beczala did not disappoint, nor did his fine pianist, Brian Zeger, who played the cycle with René Pape in Los Angeles last year. Before intermission, Beczala concluded with a grouping of Strauss Lieder.

Then the program switched to Russian fare with Lenski’s arioso from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Song of the Indian Merchant” from “Sadko,” Jontek’s aria from Moniuszko’s “Halka,” some Karlowicz selections, Gounod’s “Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!” from “Roméo et Juliette,” and Octavio’s aria from Lehár’s “Giuditta.”

And in between, Brian Zeger played Chopin mazurkas to fill time and allow Beczala to rest his voice, I assume. Zeger was reading the music. If he was going to cross over and become a concert pianist, he should have performed Chopin with the artistry required of a concert pianist. He is an incredibly talented accompanist, sensing every nuance of a singer’s performance, every breath. Unfortunately, his interpretations of the Chopin pieces did not have the same degree of sensitivity and musicianship.

Nevertheless, the recital was about Piotr Beczala. Beczala’s strength is his lyric, focused, beautiful sound which serves him well with German Lieder, melodic Italian operas, roles like Mozart’s Tamino, and the French fare. After intermission, I heard him from a downstairs orchestra seat. His voice was fuller with less ping than from the balcony. He didn’t seem to have the Russian soul. I noticed specifically in “Zueignung,” Lenski’s arioso, and in the Lehár piece that once the narrow lyric sound was no longer essential, Beczala’s passion and onstage charisma dwindled. He should have ended the recital with “Ah! Lève-toi, soleil!” and saved the Lehár song for an encore with more added charm.

His voice sounded slightly tired at the end, not cresting at the top on one tone, not supported enough to be open and free on a few others. And he seemed a little insecure with the audience during the encores. His first, “O sole mio,” seemed out-of-place. He concluded with Rossini’s “La danza.”

But all said and done, Beczala’s voice stands out from the rest, which is encouraging, even inspiring. If he continues to perfect his craft and shine, he could be the one that everyone is searching for.

Posted by: operatheaterink | March 6, 2012

Review: ‘The Seagull,’ The Antaeus Company, March 6, 2012

A Worthy Production and Ensemble With Stature!

Review: 'The Seagull,' The Antaeus Company, March 6, 2012

Bill Brochtrup, Laura Wernette, Micheal McShane, Abby Wilde

SEEN MARCH 3, 2012

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The Antaeus Company at the Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood has begun its 2012 season with Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” The company had a shakeup last summer. Its longtime artistic director, Jeanie Hackett, moved on, although she remains a member of the company. She was recently replaced by John Sloan, Rob Nagle and Bill Brochtrup, with Tony Amendola co-leading during the transition. The artistic vision and goals of the company were questioned. Now there is a team of three at the helm.

The Antaeus Company is probably the most respected classical theatre company in Los Angeles. Others include A Noise Within in Pasadena and the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga Canyon. Antaeus Company members have years of experience, and their acting credentials are impeccable. Yet each company has its own personality, and some actors often travel from one to the other.

A few years ago, I saw Bo Foxworth in a production of “The Rainmaker” at A Noise Within. I thought he did a fair job, but he wasn’t broad or charismatic enough to replace Burt Lancaster’s Starbuck in the film.

However Foxworth’s performance in “The Seagull” (on March 3) was superb. He was the standout in a cast where every role and every actor could and should have matched him. Chekhov’s characters are well-developed with nuanced depth. Even the small roles leave ample space to shine.

As I was watching the first sequence of the play, I kept thinking that the actors seemed polished, yet I wondered what this classic Chekhov was lacking. The 19th-century Russian characters were beautifully costumed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg. The great actress, Irína Arkádina (played by Laura Wernette), was sufficiently affected, exuberant, dramatic and egocentric, yet she was a bit over-exaggerated and loud. Her son, Konstantín Tréplev (Antonio Jaramillo), didn’t seem Russian, although he was handsome, charismatic and emotionally endowed. His Latin enunciation made me question his Russian lineage. Nína and Másha, the two young daughters of other characters, looked relatively apropos, but somehow seemed imperfect. Nína (played by Abby Wilde) was in love with the famous novelist, Trigórin (played by Foxworth), who was supposedly hooked to Arkádina but found time to attract Nína, then threw her away before returning to Arkádina. But Tréplev remained in love with Nína, who threw him away for Trigórin. And Másha (Joanna Strapp) was in love with Tréplev but married a teacher named Medvedénko (Bill Brochtrup), since she realized that Tréplev would never be hers.

This is a play of artistic pursuits, relationships and unrequited love. The actors acted up a storm, including Dawn Didawick, who played Paulína, the wife of Ilyá Shamráyev (Armin Shimerman) who managed the estate owned by Pyótr Sórin, Arkádina’s sick brother, played colorfully by Micheal McShane.

It wasn’t until Bo Foxworth uttered his first lines that I figured out what was lacking. The actors were laboriously acting. The result was loud, sometimes high-pitched voices, and forced, often overdone characterizations. The consequence was that the play didn’t have the grace, elegance and style which Chekhov so nobly deserves. The English usually excel in this area, but we Americans should be able to lend the same panache to a production as well. I tried to see what Foxworth was doing so aptly. His language was more eloquent than the others. He became the character with little visible effort. He wasn’t trying to show us that he could act. His mannerisms and movements didn’t look contrived as if presented to him by a director. He incorporated minute touches that made his character multidimensional, and his performance was therefore elegant, stylish and real.

Abby Wilde finally came into her own toward the end of the play when her Nína returned to Tréplev. Reality set in and her character became tragic, conflicted and nuanced.

There was something very earthy and refreshing about Joanna Strapp’s Másha. “I’m in mourning for my life,” she said tragically and tellingly.

Didawick added a comic touch as Paulína, creating a totally unique character that was hers. Kurtwood Smith (Dorn), Shimerman and Brochtrup were well-cast. The maid, Janice Kent, was enjoyable when moving furniture in costume during intermission. And once I became accustomed to Jaramillo as Tréplev, his charisma, energy and emotionality drew me in, especially when he was overcome with despair.

The minimal set was effective and worthy. The lighting and sound design were equally proficient in execution. Director Andrew J. Traister did a fine job of adapting the play to the space.

But the actors need to stop all the overtly observable acting and create multilayered characters in a production that exhibits more style, truth and grace. Anton Chekhov deserves no less.

Director: Andrew J. Traister
Translator: Paul Schmidt
Scenic Design: Lechetti Design
Lighting Design: Jeremy Pivnick
Sound Design: Jeff Gardner
Costume Design: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Prop Design: Heather Ho
Stage Manager: Lara E. Nall
Technical Director: Red Colegrove
Production Manager: Adam Meyer
Assistant Stage Manager: Jacqueline Adorni
Photo: Karianne Flaathen

‘The Seagull’ is double cast and plays through April 15, 2012.
Box Office at 818-506-1983

Review: 'The Seagull,' The Antaeus Company, March 6, 2012

Bo Foxworth, Abby Wilde

Posted by: operatheaterink | February 14, 2012

Review: ‘Dissonance,’ Falcon Theatre, Feb. 14, 2012

‘Dissonance’: A Quality Play With Quality Actors

Skip Pipo, Elizabeth Schmidt, Peter Larney, Daniel Gerroll

Skip Pipo, Elizabeth Schmidt, Peter Larney, Daniel Gerroll


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The West Coast premiere of Damian Lanigan’s “Dissonance” opened at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank on Feb. 10. The following night, I had the opportunity to dwell on the word “dissonance” as I reflected on the play’s title which applies not only to Mozart’s String Quartet in C Major nicknamed “Dissonance,” not only to the inharmonious musical elements of a string quartet’s repertoire, but to the clashing thoughts and opinions of its members as they deliberate over everything from music to their interpersonal relationships. Jealousies and hurt feelings are uncovered as well as the characters’ successes and failures as musicians. The catalyst is a pop musician who rocks the Bradley Quartet to its core when the female cellist begins teaching him music. She triggers the jealousies of her admirers which paves the way for more revelations.

The leader of the pack is Daniel Gerroll who played the role of James Bradley for the world premiere of “Dissonance” at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts, then at the Bay Street Theatre on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor. As the first violinist of the group, Gerroll portrayed his part at the Falcon with a secure demeanor and requisite conceit. His personality towered over the others as he spouted witticisms both often and freely. He and Hal, the second violinist (played by Peter Larney), had loving feelings for Beth, the cellist (played by Elizabeth Schmidt). They reveal how they feel about her after the entrance of the rock musician, and she heroically sets them straight. Her discourse with Hal was one of the high moments of the evening. I seem to recall that the audience applauded, not only for her definitive moment of acting, but because of the courage displayed by her character, which was in part due to Lanigan’s dialogue and its elocution, which was in part due to Crispin Whittell’s directing. Another such moment occurred when Jonny (Jeffrey Cannata) — the rock star — gifted Beth with a Stradivarius. It was one of the truest moments of the evening. Yet what exactly Beth was teaching Jonny remains a mystery.

Another standout moment was when the quiet viola player, Paul (played astutely by Skip Pipo), finally had his say after James’ repeated abuses. Both men were intelligent Brits. Pipo, the introverted one, delivered his well-enunciated lines artfully so that he often evoked a positive response from the audience, either of laughter or support for his character. He found a way to stand out in a role which might not have ordinarily been a standout.

The minimal set was accentuated with well-appointed furniture pieces. The most effective moment of the evening was at the end when the musicians faced upstage with their backs to the Falcon audience. They were being applauded by the patrons at a concert in honor of their tenth anniversary together. The lighting was effectively projected on the upstage scrim. It was a sheer moment of stagecraft wizardry.

The show was well-rehearsed, and even as the actors moved the furniture and props in between scenes, everything on the stage seemed set to a metronome.

That might have been part of the problem. Although I enjoyed the show and the excellent portrayals by the cast members immensely, they did not make me “feel” anything. I was always observing. I was removed from the action. I was amazed how the actors could remain in character and then stand up and move furniture during blackouts or blueouts a second later. This broke any attachment I might have had to the characters emotionally. If “they” were able to detach themselves from their characters so quickly and visibly, then so could I. Mind you, I realize that actors often assist with set changes, but in the case of “Dissonance,” their actions served to alienate me from any emotional involvement.

Also, the only character who actually played an instrument was Jonny, the rock star. He accompanied himself on the guitar and sang. And those were moments when I did feel emotion. All of the other characters pantomimed the playing of their instruments to recorded music. There was a true break between the music and the pantomime so that the illusion never seemed real. They didn’t appear to really be musicians, and for some reason, the dialogue didn’t allow them to converse as true musicians do either. There was something stilted and wooden about the actors’ actions even though they moved well. I believe that the playwright and subsequent directors could vastly improve the overall effect of the production so that we in the audience feel more. There was something very sterile and cold about the evening. Yet the show had a certain rhythm to it, and there were moments when Elizabeth Schmidt, Jeffrey Cannata, Peter Larney and Skip Pipo were radiant and revelatory.

The issue of whether or not classical music and pop might co-mingle was nipped brilliantly in the bud by Gerroll’s James. His decision (via the playwright) was one of the most insightful musical moments of the play and also revealed the fragility of the quartet as a cohesive unit.

The marketing materials describe “Dissonance” as a “witty, buoyant, and ultimately moving play of music and musicians.”

The potential is there. But for all that to happen, what we see and hear on the stage must become more credible and real. There must be more passion, and we need to know the characters even better. I believe that the end result is in the hands of the director and playwright.

Director: Crispin Whittell
Producer: Kathleen Marshall LaGambina
Producer: Sherry Greczmiel
Technical Director: Mike Jespersen
President, Board of Directors, Falcon Theatre: Garry K. Marshall
Set Designer: Francois-Pierre Couture
Lighting Designer: Nick McCord
Costume Designer: Denitsa Bliznakova
Sound Designer: David Beaudry
Prop Designer: Heather Ho
Stage Manager: Cate Cundiff
House Manager-Production Assistant: Joe Farley
Sound Operator: Claudio Radocchia
Public Relations Director-Photography: Chelsea Sutton
Jonny’s Song: Music, Warren Malone. Lyrics, Damian Lanigan

“Dissonance” plays through March 4, 2012.
Box Office at 818-955-8101

Skip Pipo, Daniel Gerroll

Skip Pipo, Daniel Gerroll

Jeffrey Cannata, Elizabeth Schmidt

Jeffrey Cannata, Elizabeth Schmidt

Posted by: operatheaterink | November 14, 2011

Review: ‘Roméo et Juliette,’ Los Angeles Opera, Nov. 14, 2011

LA Opera’s Roméo Knows How to Make the Moves.

Review: ‘Roméo et Juliette,’ Los Angeles Opera, Nov. 14, 2011

Nino Machaidze & Vittorio Grigolo, Photo: Robert Millard


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

LA Opera has a winner with its reproduction of Charles Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.” The production itself is visually beautiful; the singing is commendable; and the Roméo is stupendous.

Six years ago Rolando Villazón and Anna Netrebko dazzled LA audiences with Shakespeare’s romantic story of the two lovebirds whose feuding families made their match made in heaven, a match made in hell. Juliette took a sleeping potion. Roméo thought she was dead so he took poison. When he realized that she was alive, it was too late for him, so Juliette stabbed herself to remain with him forever.

Villazón has been plagued with vocal problems which have hampered his career. It seems that Vittorio Grigolo could be his replacement. What has made Villazón so unique is that he sounds great when not indisposed; he looks like a Greek God; and he moves and acts like a matinée idol. But if an opera singer misses too many performances, there are many young tenors who are waiting in the wings. But are there, really? Well, technically, yes. However tenors with all of Villazón’s talents are rare. But now there is Vittorio Grigolo whose exuberance makes Rolando Villazón look like Grandma Moses. I have never seen an opera singer move as effortlessly as Grigolo. If he weren’t blessed with a such beautiful voice, I would say that he should audition for Cirque du Soleil.

Grigolo is good-looking, charismatic, and his sound also has a tearful quality which is so vital to a star tenor’s timbre. Although not as hefty as some voices, his lyric tenor resonates focused forward sound, and on Nov. 12, his “Ah! leve-toi soleil” showed us that he has the goods. His youthful spirit makes him the ideal Roméo, and we couldn’t help but smile when he almost exploded with delight upon discovering that Juliette had feelings for him.

Another wonderful component of this production is precisely the production itself, specifically the airy set with moveable ladders and scaffolding, and the wonderfully lush period costuming.

Nino Machaidze as Juliette was admirable but seemed years older than her Roméo. At times she tried to mirror his childlike exuberance, but her older sultry quality prevailed, which wasn’t all that bad since “sultry” often brings out the virility in a male like Roméo. Her voice was far more mellow after intermission than before. I wanted to hear more beauty in it, though. Her high notes didn’t always quite land where they should have, and they sometimes sounded less than pleasing. But her “Je veux vivre” was charming, and overall, she was an excellent Juliette.

Vladimir Chernov as Lord Capulet was a marvel. He truly made the most of his supporting role, turning it into a standout performance, not only because he sang with a chocolaty baritone, but because when he entered onstage, he at once became a major presence. He stood tall and secure, and he moved majestically. His acting caught our attention because he created a character, yet he didn’t overwhelm us or overpower the others onstage. He was truly a distinguished Capulet vocally and visually.

Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller (the Nurse) displayed a rare richness and depth of tone. Vitalij Kowaljow was a sonorous Friar Laurence. Alexey Sayapin (Tybalt), Museop Kim (Mercutio), Renée Rapier (Stephano), Daniel Armstrong (Count Paris), Philip Cokorinos (the Duke of Verona), and Michael Dean (Gregorio) rounded out the cast. The fight scene was choreographed meticulously.

I send my compliments to director Ian Judge for enabling the singers to act and move far beyond my expectations. I compliment John Gunter and Tim Goodchild for their appealing sets and costumes. And I commend Plácido Domingo for his steady orchestral leadership in the pit.

This is the kind of production that elevates LA Opera. All of Los Angeles should see it.

Libretto: Jules Barbier and Michel Carré
Conductor: Plácido Domingo
Director: Ian Judge
Scenic Designer: John Gunter
Costume Designer: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Designer: Nigel Levings
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Fight Choreographer: Ed Douglas
Associate Conductor-Chorus Master: Grant Gershon

Review: ‘Roméo et Juliette,’ Los Angeles Opera, Nov. 14, 2011

Vladimir Chernov as Capulet. Photo: Robert Millard.

Evelyn Rudie is Mother Superior.

She and Chris DeCarlo Teach the Others How It’s Done.

Review: ‘DOLLS! Not Your Usual Love Story,’ Santa Monica Playhouse, Oct. 12, 2011

The Cast of 'Dolls'


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Santa Monica Playhouse has been around almost as long as I have. I remember when Ted Roter was at the helm. I was majoring in Theatre Arts at UCLA at the time. Then Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo took over, and I blindly lost track. Well, my brain has made a comeback, and in the nick of time. The theatre is in the midst of a 50th anniversary celebration. But the weak economy is hitting the theatre hard. After a performance of the new musical, “DOLLS! — Not Your Usual Love Story,” Rudie asked the audience to contribute to the “Save the Playhouse” campaign. The idea seemed incomprehensible to me. Why should such a campaign be necessary for a theatre that has inhabited the center of Santa Monica for more than 50 years? Its charming presence just south of Wilshire on 4th Street reminds me of a structure that should be designated a historic landmark. I have only seen the Main Stage and the Other Space. Entrances to both theatres adjoin a charming central mission-style patio. The theatre’s presence in Santa Monica cannot be replaced with other newer venues. Santa Monica Playhouse is a landmark with or without a designation. Rudie and DeCarlo work tirelessly to provide professional theatre to the community as well as programs for young people locally and abroad. This theatre under their leadership should not be in jeopardy. You cannot replace the old with the new. Some things grow sweeter with age, and the Santa Monica Playhouse is one of them.

That said, while watching “Dolls,” I couldn’t help but reflect on Rudie’s performance as Babette, the baby doll. Rudie was a child star when she and I were children. At that time, we both attended dancing classes taught by the matriarch of tap and jazz: Dee Blacker. While watching Rudie after so many years, I suddenly remembered what Blacker had once told us. She said that there were many dancers, but that the best one on Broadway at the time was Gwen Verdon. The reason, she said, was because Gwen Verdon danced with every part of her body, not just her legs and arms. Her energy was generated from the top of her head to her face, fingertips and toes. Blacker believed that if you didn’t dance with your entire body, you were not a dancer.

Although there were no taxing dance numbers in this production of “Dolls,” I watched Rudie’s face, body and movement. She never broke character, and every part of her body was engaged from her fingertips to her toes for the complete 90 minutes she was on stage. She was the Mother Superior advising all the other dolls, but she was also the Mother Superior of the actors’ ensemble – teaching them all how to do it.

I remember Rudie as Eloise on “Playhouse 90.” As I recall, the character was an annoying little blond 7-year-old, probably in competition with Patty McCormack’s Rhoda in “The Bad Seed,” only less evil. The role won Rudie an Emmy nomination. She will always be a star in my book although her life turned in another direction when she and husband DeCarlo changed their focus to Santa Monica Playhouse.

Rudie hasn’t lost her touch. She and DeCarlo (who played the marionette, Gigoletto) were charming, both maintaining accents, hers French. They conceived the book of “Dolls” based on Rudie’s childhood memories of a doll that was passed down to her from her godmother. The play unveiled the viewpoints of the nine distinctive dolls who protected and befriended their young owners until the owners outgrew them and put them in the attic. These forgotten dolls once had dreams of their own. Some had hoped to become mortal, but now they were simply neglected.

Since opera has been my focus, this play was reminiscent to me of Leoncavallo’s commedia dell’arte opera, “Pagliacci,” with a little bit of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” mixed in. The white facial makeup and colorful costuming by the multi-talented Ashley Hayes, who is more multi-talented than most people realize, is another reason the Santa Monica Playhouse artistic crew can never be replaced.

Almost every doll actor in the play showed major talent. Their voices were singularly lovely to listen to. I liked Serena Dolinsky’s vocal quality best. She played Marguerite, the Victorian doll, with grace. Annie Mackay, Just Plain Katy, the rag doll, was adorable and made me think of “The Wizard of Oz.” Jessica Erin Bennett as the Trixter had verve. Khalia Davis as Papusza was exotic. Melissa Gentry (Fussy Fanny) seemed to have different personalities in each of her costumes since she was the fashion doll. At times her exuberance was a little overwhelming since her vocal pitch wasn’t always pleasing; yet for some of her numbers, her sound was mellow and full, and she always looked great, especially when wearing a tight-fitting black evening gown. Nancy Dobbs Owen was well-cast as Valentina Ballerina. She securely displayed her technique on point. Her clean footwork far surpassed her vocality, however, but it was her ballet which mattered the most.

“Dolls” is geared more for the young than the old. I enjoyed it immensely, though, because it brought out the child in me. As for adults, women have probably liked it better than men. Although the story line was uncomplicated, the colorful but simple set with kaleidoscopic vivid costumes made the play appealing to me. The best part was the music and lyrics by Rudie and Matthew Wrather, which were woven creatively in between the dialogue. It was happy music sung with orchestrations that were piped in through an elaborate sound system. Songs like “I Want to Laugh” and “La Petite Danse D’Amour” made me smile. I loved Babette drinking from her baby bottle and the subplot on love between Just Plain Katy and Lt. Larry, the toy soldier who was so aptly portrayed by Garett Stevens.

The dolls were as alive as mortals. Their actions were specific and exact thanks to director DeCarlo and Rudie, thus making the production appear well-rehearsed, well-oiled and professional. The choreography was simple, yet apropos for the small space. I commend Rudie and DeCarlo for a unique fairy-tale-like musical comedy production that shows creativity, talent, and a sensitivity to the audience for which it was created.

“Dolls” continues through Nov. 20.

Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, Calif. 90401. 1-310-394-9779.
Director: Chris DeCarlo
Musical Director: Serena Dolinsky
Set Design and Construction: Tim Chadwick, James Cooper, George J. Vennes III
Costume Design: Ashley Hayes
Lighting Design: James Cooper
Ballet Choreography: Nancy Dobbs Owen
Special Effects: Nima Ghassemian

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 26, 2011

Review: ‘Richard III,’ Theatricum Botanicum, Sept. 26, 2011

Review: ‘Richard III,’ Theatricum Botanicum, Sept. 26, 2011

Chad Jason Scheppner and Abby Craden. Photo: Ian Flanders

Standouts and a Solid Ensemble Make ‘Richard III’ at the Theatricum Admirable.


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

What is good about attending one of the latter performances of a play with a long run is that the kinks have hopefully been eliminated. And what is even better about going to the last performance of a run is that the actors savor every delectable minute of it.

I attended the last performance of the “Richard III” at the Theatricum Botanicum on Sept. 24. Well, sort of. In reality, the show closes Oct. 2 with Melora Marshall double cast as Richard III. I personally saw Chad Jason Scheppner in the role. It was his final performance, and he was deliciously evil.

I walked out of a performance of “Richard III” a few years ago. It may or may not have been the fault of the actors. Sometimes the directors just get carried away, especially with a character like Richard, who is so lasciviously villainous, deformed, and Machiavellian that a director could just go too far.

Director Ellen Geer has taken the straight road on this one — with Scheppner, that is. He wore a leg brace, was traditionally humpbacked, and he had long dark hair and pale ashen skin so that he looked like a vampire. He played Richard conventionally, brought forth real moves and emotions that revealed his charm mixed with villainy, and we knew it was all a charade.

Responsible for the murder of Henry VI and the late king’s son, Prince Edward, his goal was to ascend the throne no matter who got in his way. When the feeble King Edward IV died, he accomplished his end. Of course, more murder and thievery were required to accomplish that feat. His former ally, the Duke of Buckingham, rebelled and joined forces with Henry, the Earl of Richmond, to dethrone him. His forces were defeated at Bosworth Field; his horse was shot from under him, thus inciting the words, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”; and he was slain by the hand of Richmond.

This production was a bit uneven in that some actors were simply reliable while others were standouts, thus making the show seem a cross between professional and nonprofessional. Yet every actor, whether a fledgling newcomer or a veteran pro, carried out the director’s actions with proficiency. I will discuss the actors in order of my reverence.

My three favorites were William Dennis Hunt as King Edward IV, Abby Craden as Queen Elizabeth, and Melora Marshall as the Duchess of York.

Although Hunt’s role was brief, it was by far the most nuanced. His language was articulate, and we could see the character of Edward in every bone of his feeble body. Another words, the language came from the outside in, and the character came from the inside out.

I have to discuss Abby Craden’s portrayal as it compares with two other performances.

Although Willow Geer as Lady Anne exuded energy, emotion, enthusiasm and verve as she attempted to fend off the advances of Richard in the Act 1 wooing scene, her emotions impacted her vocal status so that her sound was at times high-pitched, shrill and strident.

Throughout the play, Scheppner was consistently effective, but something more was still wanting, especially during the monologue sequences beginning with “Now is the winter of our discontent.” He hooked us, but not completely. He was committed, but not entirely.

These two actors – Willow Geer and Scheppner — did not exhibit “complete” performances. Hunt, Craden and Marshall did. The easiest actor for me to illustrate this point with might be Craden. Her voice was mellow like a mezzo soprano on the operatic stage. Her emotional power and vocality came from the core of her being so that she was like a singer whose sound was supported. The elements were connected. Her substance was in her trunk which was her foundation, and her voice and emotions branched out from there. Although different, Geer and Scheppner lacked at times the foundational core, backbone and spine inherent in their characters. The elements were not always connected although Scheppner’s performance crescendoed when confronting Elizabeth, and the beautifully choreographed final fight scene left him the central character of the play after all. He was a reliable and effective Richard, just capable of more.

And as previously mentioned, Melora Marshall was one of my three favorites because of her securely centered strength which enabled her to create a character with vibrant dynamism.

Many in the large cast deserve compliments. I am simply focusing on the characters that either spoke to me or didn’t.

Dylan Booth Vigus, the guilt-ridden executioner, showed vocal promise with emotionality. Tim Halligan (Lord Hastings), Christopher W. Jones (the Duke of Buckingham), and Andrew Ravani (the Earl of Richmond) were assets. And Earnestine Phillips (Queen Margaret) contributed a booming voice with presence which created a character variation that broadened the proceedings.

What I particularly enjoyed about this production was the lack of sets and the abundance of beautifully crafted costumes by Perry Bret Ash. The simplicity of the wooden set with just the basic Theatricum framework and lush costumes enabled the audience to focus on the acting while still being drawn into the story and time period. The setting in the middle of the Topanga Canyon woods was sheer magic, especially in the daylight with just a tinge of lighting when the sun dwindled — the perfect setting for an afternoon of Shakespeare.

Although this production was uneven with some actors shining and others merely reciting, the standouts were marvelous, and the overall direction and blocking were commendable. Most importantly, this “Richard III” was an example of solid Classical theatre in Los Angeles in a truly Shakespearean setting. We can take pride in knowing that the Theatricum exists and that children and adults can spend summer afternoons and evenings enriching their knowledge and senses while taking in the sounds and images of nature.

The Theatricum Botanicum at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, Calif. 90290.
(310) 455-2322; Box Office, (310) 455-3723.
Director: Ellen Geer
Fight Choreographer: Aaron Hendry
Stage Manager: Elna Kordijan
Assistant Director: Joan Cummins
Costume Designer: Perry Bret Ash
Sound Designer: Ian Flanders
Lighting Designer: Zachary Moore

Critic’s Note: For some wonderful portrayals, view Laurence Olivier as Richard III on YouTube and Zoё Wanamaker in a separate entry as Lady Anne. Also, see Claire Bloom as Lady Anne with Olivier. His Richard is currently available on DVD.

Posted by: operatheaterink | June 21, 2011

Review: ‘Something for the Boys,’ Theatre West, June 21, 2011

In Memory of Betty Garrett!

Betty Garrett

SEEN JUNE 19, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

When Betty Garrett and Larry Parks were married, actor Lloyd Bridges was the best man. And on Sunday, June 19, Bridges’ son and granddaughter — Beau and Emily Bridges — took part in a concert reading with Garrett’s son and granddaughter — Madison Claire Parks and Andrew Parks, her uncle.

Cole Porter’s “Something for the Boys” was Garrett’s first successful Broadway musical. Rarely performed, it was read with much vim and vigor at Theatre West, the company which Garrett co-founded. The benefit performance in memory of Garrett (who died Feb. 12) raised funding for the Betty Garrett Musical Comedy Workshop, which is now moderated by longtime company member, Mary Garripoli.

The event was quite a family affair. The parents seemed to be passing the torch to their offspring. In addition to the Parks and Bridges families, the Schwartz and Gallogly families got into the act, too. Elliot Schwartz was Laddie Green. He is the son of Lloyd and Barbara (Mallory) Schwartz, the producers of Storybook Theatre. And Caitlin Gallogly portrayed Michaela. She is the daughter of John Gallogly and Mary Garripoli. John Gallogly is the executive director of Theatre West.

One thing is quite certain: the members of Theatre West are securing the company’s longevity by infusing some young blood into the company’s veins.

What makes Theatre West special and unique is that veteran professional actors do the performing, yet the feeling in the theater is one of community, not unlike community theater.

The audience was rooting for the actors because the audience and actors were friends, which was evident at the reception after the show. This can only happen when a company has actors who reappear throughout the years. The younger actors were grateful for the compliments. The older actors were happy to be a part of a production that commemorated the talents of Betty Garrett, who portrayed Mary-Frances in the show on Broadway. Garrett was Ethel Merman’s understudy, which enabled her to also perform the role of Blossom when the star was ill. This brought Garrett visibility and was the catalyst for her long and successful career in musicals, films with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and television shows, including “All in the Family” and “Laverne and Shirley.”


“Something for the Boys” is about three cousins who turn their inherited Texas ranch into a boarding house for soldiers’ wives.

The concert reading lacked adequate rehearsal, but that didn’t seem to matter. When Andrew Parks’ moustache started to pull away from his lip, he simply pressed it back down again, and that made for an amusing interlude. When Barbara Minkus was alone on stage, I presumed that she was going to sing a solo. Instead, she said something like: “Where’s Rocky?” And by golly, Daniel Keough (Rocky) suddenly appeared. I guess he’d missed his cue, but Minkus handled the moment like a pro, and everyone seemed to enjoy the little mishap far more than if everything had gone smoothly. Could some of this have been planned? Nah . . . well maybe.

The set was simple with only a few music stands for the actors to place their scripts. A piano was strategically placed downstage right, played aptly by music director Brian O’Halloran.

On the whole, the performances were admirable. I will focus on the standouts.

My personal male favorites were Beau Bridges as Tobias Twitch and Andrew Parks as Harry Hart. My female favorites were Madison Claire Parks as Mary-Frances and Barbara Mallory as Mrs. Grubbs.

When Beau Bridges uttered his first line, “My name is Tobias Twitch,” his demeanor and characterization were evident immediately, and everyone in the audience laughed. He is a master at using the subtext of dialogue to bring out the hidden aspects of a play or script. Bridges was a hoot.

The other major standout was Madison Claire Parks. She looked great, sang well, and had the vibrant energy and charisma of her famous grandmother. She sang “I’m In Love With a Soldier Boy,” which was the song that Betty Garrett sang in the Broadway show. This young actress is going places.

Andrew Parks was smooth as Harry Hart. His timing and abilities as an actor-singer were evident. And Barbara Mallory (Mrs. Grubbs) developed a full-blooded, quirky character with an accent and demeanor that made her, well, quite a character.

The actors didn’t try to follow the age specifications inherent in the play. But why should they have? This was a reading. It was fun, and they all had a good time doing it.

With maturity in their voices, Barbara Minkus (Blossom), Devra Korwin (Chiquita Hart) and Daniel Keough (Rocky) revealed their vocal chops. Their quick reflexes and reactions revealed their consummate professionalism.

Lee Meriwether as Melanie Walker added class and sophistication to a group of more bourgeois characters – or maybe Melanie was simply a snob.

Caitlin Gallogly (Michaela) displayed solid vocal technique, talent and grace. Emily Bridges (Betty-Jean), Laura Wolfe (Lucille) and Elliot Schwartz (Laddie Green) added solid performances to the ensemble. Anthony Gruppuso (Lt. Col. Grubbs) brought zeal, zest and zip to the proceedings. Andre Landzaat (Roger), David P. Johnson (Burke) and Robert W. Laur were commendable.

A bit short on plot, the musical has nice catchy tunes, and it was good to see it emerge from the mothballs.

The actors had fun. We had fun. Everyone was happier for having had the experience. And Betty Garrett was smiling down on us.

Director, Musical Director and Accompanist: Brian O’Halloran
Co-Producers: Jill Jones and Sandra Tucker
Stage Manager: Courtney Webb

Betty Garrett’s 90th Birthday Bash


‘Locked and Loaded’ Unlocks the Doorway to the Soul With Wit and Humor.

Paul Linke and Andrew Parks

Paul Linke and Andrew Parks

Sandra Thigpen and Terasa Sciortino

Sandra Thigpen and Terasa Sciortino - Photos: Cydne Moore

SEEN JUNE 5, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

What a delight it was for me to see four seasoned actors perform Todd Susman’s West Coast premiere of “Locked and Loaded” at the Santa Monica Playhouse.

There was overt humor, dry humor, dark humor and even some pathos in the mix. What could be more endearing than a naïve almost innocent prostitute who “makes” love to “give” love – who gives her heart to others to make them happy?

What could be more enlightening than another prostitute who masquerades as God? Or maybe she “is” God. After all, she knows things about people that nobody else knows. Inside her tough but perky exterior lies a know-it-all prostitute who can outwit and enlighten others while she earns a living as a working girl in a locked hotel room where the characters are not only loaded with spirits, but with a loaded gun to commit murder or suicide.

The play is reminiscent of a sort of mature and dark “Odd Couple.” Irwin Schimmel (played by Paul Linke) is an extroverted wisecracking comedy writer whose brazen humor serves to cover up his insecurities and sadness. Dickie Rice (Andrew Parks) has a more patrician background and accepts his wealth matter-of-factly. His unhappiness is masked with a suave, sophisticated exterior which utters understated sarcasms that are humorous and cynical. The two men have brain tumors, are planning suicide, but are awakened by the two prostitutes who spend their final night with them.

The play is far more than a comedy that only pokes fun at God, suicide and prostitution. The male characters have their moments of revelation. The prostitutes are real women with opinions, values and mores, and within the context of their expected roles as working girls, their virtues shine through to rescue the two men from their oblivion, thus bringing the play to an unanticipated conclusion.

What makes us realize that there is more to this play than what meets the eye and ear is a program note from playwright Todd Susman to his former high school English teacher. Susman writes about the human condition of feeling overwhelmed as exhibited by Irwin and Dickie. He refers to actress-comedian Lily Tomlin’s probable comment: “We’re all in this alone,” which mimics the timeless adage: “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone.”

“So yes and no,” Susman writes, “we’re alone, but we’re alone . . . together.”

“Locked and Loaded” therefore shows how the two overwhelmed and alone protagonists are forced to unmask their true feelings and communicate with their two unlikely companions who display far more wisdom than society gives them credit for. They all grow from the experience because they are locked in a room “alone . . . together.”

So I must wholeheartedly disagree with Susman when he writes: “There’s certainly nothing to learn from it [the play], except, perhaps, that uncertainty is an abiding reason to hope.” Although true, the play reminds us that unselfish people together can vastly improve the human condition. It reminds us to befriend those who seem different or alien and respect them for their unanticipated observations, commentary and individualistic wisdom. The play teaches us to expect the unexpected and to value the worth of others.


Terasa Sciortino as Catorce Martinez (the naïve, generous Latina prostitute) was the perfect foil for Sandra Thigpen as Princess Lay-Ya, the all-knowing one. Their contrasting personalities, accents, looks and speaking patterns ingratiated them to us.

Catorce is utterly naïve and loving, and Sciortino made her perfectly believable. We adore Catorce for who she is, and when Sciortino thanked us for attending the show at the curtain call, we realized that there is a bit of Catorce in Terasa Sciortino. She handled the various accents with precision, which enabled her to take on the characterisitics of the other imaginary characters she portrayed. Her spirit was light and airy.

Sandra Thigpen played Princess Lay-Ya with spunk and spine. She reminded me of Wanda Sykes as Ruby in the film “Monster-in-Law.” Her wit, humor and timing were always on the right beat. I can’t imagine anyone more suited for the role even though it was double cast (I’ve read, quite effectively) with actress Tarina Pouncy.

Veteran actor Andrew Parks’ rather stiff but apropos demeanor (as Dickie) made him the straight man to Paul Linke’s more uninhibited Irwin Schimmel. Parks didn’t create a stereotype, but a real character we could sympathize with and understand, especially after his revelatory monologue in Scene 2. He played Dickie with finesse. I don’t particularly like the name Susman attributed to him, though, but then that is a minor criticism which hardly matters. The name simply didn’t fit the character that Parks inhabited so impeccably.

Linke as Irwin Schimmel was the closest to being a stereotype. It is hard to break away from the mold that is expected when you’re portraying a Jewish comedy writer. Still Linke played Irwin with much humanity and was exceedingly successful when disclosing Irwin’s inadequacies, how he got them and where they came from. Linke could elicit laughter one moment and reveal Irwin’s more serious side and inner thoughts the next. Yet for the most part, he successfully played the role for laughs.

Director Chris DeCarlo — the co-artistic director of Santa Monica Playhouse with Evelyn Rudie – has done an excellent job in creating characters that speak to the audience. His success has no doubt evolved from his knowledge of the space and what could be done creatively within its borders. He seemed to utilize the strengths of his actors emotionally and physically. I particularly liked Catorce’s final exit.

James Cooper’s nicely-appointed set was compact without being cramped.

At an hour-and-a-half without intermission – “Locked and Loaded” socked us with fast-paced dialogue executed by four talented and masterful thespians.

The play continues through June 26.

Santa Monica Playhouse
1211 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA. 90401; 310-394-9779.
Director: Chris DeCarlo
Set Design and Lighting: James Cooper
Associate Director: Serena Dolinsky
Incidental Music: John Forster
Movement Choreography: Myrna Gawryn
Costume Design: Ashley Hayes
Stage Manager: George J. Vennes III

Posted by: operatheaterink | June 7, 2011

Review: UCLA Opera Gala, Royce Hall, June 7, 2011

An Evening of Passion!

Review: UCLA Opera Gala, Royce Hall, June 7, 2011

SEEN JUNE 4, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I graduated from the UCLA theater department so I guess that I am partial to the campus. Yet I really do not believe that I am exaggerating when I say that the pool of talent within the faculty and student ranks has ballooned into something quite extraordinary. Case in point: the UCLA Opera Gala in Royce Hall on June 4.

When I attended UCLA many years ago, Royce Hall looked traditional with carpeting and drapes. Royce Hall has grown up acoustically. Hardwood floors have replaced the carpeting so that when you place a chorus, soloists and an orchestra onstage, the sound is nothing short of phenomenal.

Before I commend the guest artists and students, however, I want to compliment the faculty members who contributed so regally to this evening’s success. They were responsible for recognizing the talent and for having the expertise to put the spectacle together. I’ve been so fortunate to have met so many of these devoted professors and artists who selflessly give much more of themselves than is warranted. They virtually live, eat and breathe music, and they have made the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music a “community.” I must include choral conductor Donald Neuen; professor of voice, baritone Vladimir Chernov; pianist Mona Lands; UCLA Philharmonia music director and conductor Neal Stulberg; Opera UCLA director Peter Kazaras; assistant conductor Amber Kim; and others less directly involved with the Opera Gala, including voice professor Michael Dean, the incoming Chair of the music department; professor of voice Juliana Gondek (who successfully showcased her diverse talents in a program of upbeat Latin repertoire a week before the gala); musical directors and collaborative pianists Rakefet Hak and Judith Hansen; composer-professor Ian Krouse; current Department of Music Chair Roger Bourland; and UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music director, Dr. Timothy Rice. There are many more names to mention, especially in the instrumental field, but these are just a few that make the music department special.

They have motivated the students and guest artists to perform with an intense energy that is unique unto youthful talent. This zest for performing is one reason I enjoy attending student productions. In many instances, the student productions are superior to those that are labeled professional.

I consider the chairman of the board of the Opera Gala to have been renowned baritone Vladimir Chernov. Not only did he work tirelessly with the young performers, but he was the trunk of the tree from which the branches and leaves could grow. He was the flesh-and-blood onstage role model. He set an example for the many talented young students to emulate.

Chernov walked onto the stage with an immediate presence. His voice, body and sound were not tentative, but secure. He sang well-supported with a rich tonal quality and resonance. And he added the requisite emotion and musicianship to show that the character of Posa in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” was willing to die for his country if Carlo could save Flanders and rule Spain, thereafter.

Chernov continued to stand out in the Act 1 finale of “Simon Boccanegra.” He was another chairman of the board as he presided over the waltz sequence in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” later to realize that he (as Onegin) loved Tatyana even though he had been disrespectful of her love for him before.

I would have enjoyed more of “Onegin” – maybe Onegin’s aria in Act 1, and of course, the final dramatic scene when Onegin begs Tatyana for her love to no avail. The music is glorious. I wanted more.

Rather than delve through the complete program here, I would simply like to mention the standouts.

Bass Gabriel Vamvulescu has a vocal quality that it is singular and unique. I heard it the moment he uttered his first notes as Fiesco in the selection from “Simon Boccanegra.” He continued by singing Gremin’s aria from “Eugene Onegin” and Kutuzov congratulating the Russian people as they reaffirmed their belief in themselves and country in Prokofiev’s “War and Peace.” With proper musical and technical guidance, Vamvulescu could have a promising future. His interests and talents are diverse and will hopefully develop as he sets priorities. He is a theologian and singer. The quality of his sound is amazingly rich and rare.

Soprano Anush Avetisyan is another singular talent. In exerpts from “La Forza del Destino” and “Simon Boccanegra,” her voice shone like a precious diamond.

Ashley Knight’s Lucia reached unconstrained heights. Henry Shin conducted the “La Forza del Destino” overture with a keen sense of timing, charisma and leadership. And tenor Daniel Suk concluded the program with a passionate “Nessun Dorma.”

The UCLA Philharmonia sounded professional. The Angeles and UCLA Chorales awed us with their intense and fervent sound under the baton of choral director Donald Neuen.

What a way to end the school year as many of the students receive undergraduate and graduate degrees. This annual concert in Royce Hall is a collaboration between the various musical groups on the UCLA campus. Opera UCLA added an even grander dimension this year. The result was astounding, stirring and intense.

John Sutton is the artistic director of the Angeles Chorale, a volunteer organization of auditioned choral singers. Additional student soloists included Matthew Claiborne, Griffith Frank, Joshua Guerrero, Nicholas LaGesse, Leela Subramaniam and Ryan Thorn.

They all received a well-deserved standing ovation.


Conductor Donald Neuen and Baritone Vladimir Chernov

Conductor Donald Neuen and Baritone Vladimir Chernov

The Citrus Singers: A Secret, A Discovery — What A Phenomenal Performance!

The Citrus Singers

The Citrus Singers

SEEN MAY 20, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

A friend invited me to see the Citrus Singers in a production at the Haugh Performing Arts Center in Glendora, California. “The Citrus Singers are students at Citrus College,” he said, “but they put on an extravaganza that is different from anything you have ever seen.”

I went about my business on Friday, May 20, thinking that I had much to do and didn’t really have the time to see a student choral group located miles from my home in West Los Angeles. Boy was I surprised.

I have attended and reviewed college and university productions before. Some are excellent, but there is always a feeling that the students are students. Well, let me tell you: THESE students are pros. Some are ready for Broadway — like Natalie Haro, Lindsey Rupp and Cesar Quintero. Others, like James McGrath, should have a cabaret act or perform in concert.

The act is hard to describe. It is a cross between a Broadway show, a revue and a Las Vegas spectacle. It is big, bright and glitzy. With a minimal set on an ample stage, the effective lighting, costumes and talent create an awe-inspiring evening of singing and dance with flashes of musical theatre, rock, country, blues and pop. Introductions between segments prepare the audience. The show moves swiftly from grouping to grouping.

Citrus College is a community college in Glendora, Calif. The Citrus Singers participate in choral classes and classes in vocal technique, musical theatre, dance, ballet and jazz. They perform in an annual Christmas production and the spring extravaganza, participate in amusement park concerts, and tour in Europe, South America and Asia.

Instead of culminating the show with Irving Berlin’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” the Citrus Singers began the program with it. I was sold on them from the onset. They performed a group of Gershwin songs, then moved to rap and disco. An elevator stage lifted a piano into view. James McGrath sang the Irish ballad “Danny Boy” with the lyricism and purity required. Then they were back to pop and blues.

After intermission, we saw excerpts from musicals including “Mamma Mia,” “Jersey Boys,” Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret,” Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and more. Although many of the performers could grace the Broadway stage now, immediately, the standouts for me were Rupp and Haro.

Natalie Haro’s “14G” was a showstopper. She is charismatic and beautiful, can sing from the lower chesty register to the coloratura soprano range, and boy can she move.

Much like Haro, Rupp has an animated, effervescent personality. She has an all-American look with a voice that won’t quit. Both have an abundance of exuberance, energy and smiles. They glow.

Cesar Quintero was another standout whose nostalgic numbers were reminiscent of the Elvis era. His smoothly phrased, captivating “Goodbye” commemorated his three years at Citrus College. He is off to find fame and fortune in the real world now. What a marvelous way to move forward with the memories he has amassed during his Citrus years.

Staged and directed by Douglas Austin and John Vaughan with the Citrus Blue Note Orchestra – it is hard to single out the numerous talented performers who make up the ensemble. They were all marvelous. The choreography, costumes and lighting were stupendous.

I have lived in Los Angeles my whole life. I had never heard of Citrus College or its Fine Arts and Performing Arts Department. Why have the Citrus Singers been such a secret? Why haven’t they garnered more attention? What a discovery for me.

You hear of programs at Juilliard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, the American Conservatory Theater, UCLA and Northwestern, etc. Yet this community college is turning out major talent in our own backyard. What an eye-opener. Please go and see the Citrus Singers. You will be glad that you did.

Haugh Performing Arts Center at Citrus College
1000 W. Foothill Blvd., Glendora, CA. 91741; 626-963-9411, 626-914-8580
Production Concept, Staging and Direction: Douglas Austin, John Vaughan
Conductor: Alan Waddington
Set Design: John Patrick
Lighting Design: Dan Vilter
Costume Design: Pam Gill
Sound Design: Steve Deatrick
Dean of Fine and Performing Arts: Robert Slack
Choreographer: John Vaughan
Co-Choreographer: Renee Liskey
Musical Directors: Douglas Austin, Allen Everman
Blue Note Orchestra Director: Robert Slack
Arrangers: Phil Shackleton, David Catalan, David Osborn, Nick Thorpe, Craig Ware
Student Directors: Jessica Mason, James McGrath
Student Choreographers: Dylan Pass, Deyana Castellanos

The Citrus Singers

A Well-Acted, Well-Directed, Interesting Character Study!

Alan Freeman and Steve Franken

Alan Freeman and Steve Franken

SEEN APRIL 30, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

For John Gallogly, directing Allan Manings’ “Goodbye, Louie . . . Hello” at Theatre West was more than a directing gig. The process has been a labor of love.

Gallogly and Manings were friends for more than 30 years. Manings — who created “One Day at a Time” with his wife, actress Whitney Blake — died in May 2010 after a lengthy battle with cancer and a sudden heart attack. He didn’t live to see his play staged. It has been produced lovingly by Gallogly and Manings’ former manager, Jerry Goldstein.

In Exile

Manings moved to Canada when some of his friends were blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He returned to the United States in the early ‘60s, but his memories were impossible for him to shed.

“Goodbye, Louie . . . Hello!” begins as a type of comic sitcom between two retired Jewish actor-comedians who play daily gin rummy games. For some reason the image is not unlike the duo in Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” Having been Danny Simon’s neighbor for many years (Danny was Neil Simon’s brother and a character in “The Odd Couple.”), I couldn’t help but see a resemblance between Danny and Steve Franken, the actor who portrays Benjamin “Benjy” Gordon in “Goodbye, Louie.”

The play sprouts from its Simon-esque mode and blossoms into a full-fledged character study well before intermission. Interestingly, Manings was able to capture the mental anguish of two men on both sides of the aisle: one who had been blacklisted (Benjy); and the other, his best friend Louie Berns, who had identified him to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

When David Watson, a young journalist who interviews Berns, discovers his history, Watson confronts the comic. Berns abruptly terminates the interview. But his son Scott, who is Watson’s friend, delves into the issue until the truth is revealed. Louie admits the past to his son, daughter and to his best friend. And it all happens just prior to his move from New York to Arizona.

The play is a touching portrait of two men who cannot escape the memories of their past and must suddenly re-evaluate themselves and their relationship with each other after new hidden truths have been uncovered. The play also shows how family bonds become stronger in light of the new findings and in spite of them. It is a story of unconditional love within the family unit contrasted with the conditional love among friends.

The actors’ portraits are so convincing that I heard someone sniffling in the audience behind me.

There is a vast difference between modern stage acting, classical theater acting, and film and television acting. The latter is the most understated. Theater acting, and especially classical theater acting, is broader.

What is so unique about this production is that the actors are utterly natural in body and spirit. It is as if we are simply eavesdropping. The show could have been made for television, because we in the theater find ourselves observing actors who are projecting without theatrics, and what they are doing works in this intimate theater, too.

The most effective actor in the ensemble is Steve Franken (Benjy). His performance is so understated that he doesn’t appear to be acting. He is simply “being.” And he touches us.

Alan Freeman as Louie is a more dynamic, intense character. The two contrasting personalities bring colorful portrayals to the stage and complement each other.

Paul Denniston (Scott) realistically plays a son who has a complicated relationship with his father. He thinks he knows his father but discovers differently. He is seeking independence and an ability to exert his own free will, and this quest motivates him to test his father’s limits and to confront his father with his own opinionated views regarding morality .

Denniston has an ease of movement and an ease in calling forth his emotions. Maria Kress, who plays his sister Aimee, adds a more sympathetic character to the mix – one who adds balance and stability to the extremes.

The set – Berns’ New York apartment – has been tastefully drawn in browns which appear appropriately weathered and dated. Charlie Mount’s sound interventions add sparks to the action and during the scene changes.

Director John Gallogly, also the executive director of Theatre West, has done a superb job of creating an “as if it were really happening” onstage reality.

No doubt the historical events which awaken memories from the older set in the audience have little meaning to the younger generation. With all that is happening in the world today, the subject matter seems somehow dated. But is it really?

The play is, without a doubt, a memorial tribute to Allan Manings which will give him and this time in history another branch of immortality. It makes us remember a documented part of the history of film and television in Hollywood, and the history of our country. And much like Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” it enables us to recall a type of witch hunt that occurred, and to reflect upon the meaning of freedom.

Director: John Gallogly
Producers: Jerry Goldstein, John Gallogly
Set Design: Jeff G. Rack
Lighting Design: Yancey Dunham
Sound Design: Charlie Mount
Costume Design: Joyce B. Ferrer
Stage Manager: Roger Cruz

Posted by: operatheaterink | March 29, 2011

Review: Nathan Gunn, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, March 29, 2011

Nathan Gunn Crosses Over Into Cabaret in Costa Mesa.

Opera Theater Ink, Nathan Gunn
SEEN MARCH 26, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I have to hand it to Nathan Gunn – he isn’t afraid to experiment. And experiment is just what he did in the Segerstrom Center’s Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa from March 24 to 27, and at the Café Argyle in Manhattan, where he is showcasing his cabaret act through April 16.

I for one have seen Gunn as Mozart’s Papageno and Rossini’s Figaro. And what a gay ol’ Papageno he made (“Die Zauberflôte,” LA Opera, Jan. 2009). He romped around the stage effortlessly, charming all the adults who probably bought tickets for their children thereafter.

Gunn has also made his mark in a 2008 semi-staged Lincoln Center version of “Camelot.” And he is set to play Ravenal in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s “Show Boat.”

A proponent of new opera — he played Paul in Seattle Opera’s recent premiere of “Amelia.” And he was Clyde Griffiths in the Metropolitan Opera’s “An American Tragedy.”

There was nothing left for Gunn to attempt, I guess, so why not a cabaret act?

The Samueli Theater is the perfect venue. It is not your average theater. It has a raised stage, but people can order drinks and beverages around tables of four. The relaxed atmosphere begs for low-key pop and jazz standards, and since Gunn’s CD “Just Before Sunrise” fit the bill, he gave the audience a taste of it. He began with Gene Scheer’s song of the same name and proceeded to other easy-listening ditties including Tom Waits’ “The Briar and the Rose,” Ben Moore’s “In the Dark Pine-Wood,” and a rhythmic “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” during which I found myself swaying from side to side imagining Ginger and Fred dancing in front of me.

Gunn took me back in time with Jerome Kern’s “All the Things You Are,” Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got the World on a String,” a thoughtful rendition of “Home on the Range,” and a nostalgic “My Funny Valentine.”

For the retirees and golfers in Orange County, “The Golf Bug” was no doubt significant and witty.

The William Bolcom songs added variety although Gunn’s inebriated “George” was unappealing.

Pianist Julie Jordan Gunn accompanied her husband with a three-piece jazz band that included her brothers Jeremy and John Jordan. Although their style was appropriate for the more mellow arrangements, it was totally ill-suited to back Gunn’s “C’est Moi” and “If Ever I Would Leave You” from “Camelot.”

Nathan Gunn is an opera singer able to cross over into musical theater because he can act, move, is good-looking, has crisp diction, and can color his baritonal sound so that it fits the genre. He was equally effective with some of the standards, although his CD brought his tone level down a notch, which was preferable.

I have to ask, though: Why should we listen to Nathan Gunn sing with just half of his voice (mezza voce) when we know he has so much more to give? Did Robert Goulet do that? I was frustrated at times, always waiting.

Gunn’s style wasn’t quite right for the standards, and he held back on the show music, possibly because he wasn’t accustomed to the amplification he didn’t need. Yet the microphone was indeed warranted when he relayed a story to us or jested with his wife. The most talented cabaret artists can sit on a bar stool, speak quietly — almost intimately — into the microphone, and hold the audience spellbound. Barbra Streisand did it in 1963 at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. I was there, and I will never forget it. A better-prepared sound plan between singer and technicians might have benefited Gunn’s overall effect. The intimate moments between singer and audience are what contribute to a cabaret act’s success.

Yet Gunn’s charisma and talent were always evident. His baritonal splendor was unmistakable when he sang “C’est Moi” and “If Ever I Would Leave You,” although during “C’est Moi,” I couldn’t decide if he was portraying Lancelot, the character, or if he was singing the song behind a mike as if to mock him. Julie Gunn’s quip “Cest toi” didn’t help matters. Whatever the intent, Gunn’s booming baritonal sound was what I came to hear, and I heard it. I just would have liked to have heard more of it.

When singing the Depression-era “Brother Can You Spare a Dime?” (Gunn’s encore), he finally let loose. He was relaxed; his voice had intensity; and he displayed a freedom that we hadn’t seen or heard before.

The evening was one of hills and valleys with a performer who is undeniably one of the most sought-after and talented young American singers today. More care should have been taken to devise the program. It was a warm and cozy evening between a singer and his family, but nowadays audiences want something more memorable.

An Operatic Legend Brings Beauty to a New Venue.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Photo: John Swannell

SEEN MARCH 12, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The San Fernando Valley — a vast residential and commercial area in Los Angeles with many separately-named communities — has always had the reputation of being a cultural wasteland, even though many highly artistic and intellectual Angelenos reside within its borders. Valley residents have never had a major theater to call their own and have always been forced to travel long distances to attend plays or hear opera. Although the artistic environment has improved with the advent of many small theaters, the community has still lacked a major venue.

All that has changed now. On Jan. 29, the 1,700-seat multipurpose hall in the Valley Performing Arts Center had a star-studded opening night on the campus of California State University, Northridge.

It has taken 10 years; 4,000 tons of steel (the weight of about 866 adult African elephants); 11,000 cubic yards of concrete; 30,000 square feet of glass; 34,000 square feet of paneling for acoustical purposes; 6,000,000 individual stone tiles; 173 new trees; and $125 million of public and private funds and donations to complete the 166,000-square-foot center which houses the multipurpose concert hall and a 178-seat black box theater.

I was in awe as I stood inside the lobby on March 12 looking up and around at the four levels of glass that surrounded me while waiting for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s recital to begin. Designed by the architectural firm of founders Richard Hammel, Curt Green and Bruce Abrahamson (HGA), the exterior is just as phenomenal as the interior. Driving along Nordhoff Street, one cannot help but stop, ask questions, and stare at the new U-shaped cultural complex wrapped around a central exterior courtyard on the Cal State Northridge campus.

I remained in awe when listening to Te Kanawa’s purity of tone as she began her recital with one of my all-time favorites: “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s “Rinaldo.”

But before singing, she expressed her desire to personally aid those in Japan and in her own country, New Zealand, who have been victims of the recent earthquakes. She reached out to the audience for support and good will.

She sang music by Vivaldi and Franz Liszt, then moved forward with folk songs and ballads, including “O Waly, Waly,” “Oliver Cromwell” and the well-known “Scarborough Fair.” She concluded the set singing the poetry of Emily Dickinson: “Why did they shut Me out of Heaven? Did I sing – too loud?”

Looking above the stage at the wood paneling and the recessed lighting at intermission, I reflected on what I had heard. Te Kanawa looked elegant in a long magenta taffeta evening gown. At 67, there was no evidence that her voice has lost its luster or warmth. Her legato line flowed effortlessly into the hall. The pianissimos were awe-inspiring. But something was missing.

After intermission Te Kanawa sang Gabriel Fauré’s “Le Secret,” Reynaldo Hahn’s “A Chloris,” Henri Duparc’s “Chanson triste,” and Jules Massenet’s aria “Adieu, notre petite table” from “Manon.” She concluded the recital with Puccini’s “Morire?” and the Argentine Lieder of Carlos Guastavino and Alberto Ginastera.

After hearing “Adieu, notre petite table,” I realized what was wrong. Although Te Kanawa’s sound was pure; although her pianissimos made us listen in disbelief; although her interpretations were sensitive and artistic – there was no variety to the program. Every selection sounded alike except for the humorous song before intermission and the final piece, for which she added a bit of movement and facial expression. It seems that Te Kanawa chose music that would enable her to sing effortlessly without strain and without being called upon to sing above mezza voce. I played a DVD of Renée Fleming’s 2001 “Manon” at the Opéra National de Paris / Opéra Bastille when I returned home. Fleming sang “Adieu, notre petite table” with expression and passion. So I have concluded that the lack of variety in the program wasn’t because Te Kanawa’s selections were on the same plane. There was variety there, but Te Kanawa was singing every selection uniformly, possibly to preserve her voice. Whether a performer is 25 or 65, audience members want to hear and see passion on the stage. With every song or aria, the singer should communicate a story. Te Kanawa seemed afraid to move, to express, to even turn her head. But, yes, it all sounded beautiful.

She is lovely – what can I say? Plus I respect her for her humanitarian efforts. She has established the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to help talented young New Zealand singers and musicians succeed internationally. She is a tireless fundraiser and mentor.

She was gracious during her encores. One was sung without the chords and arpeggios from her superb collaborative pianist, Brian Zeger, who has played for Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Bryn Terfel, Joyce DiDonato and Thomas Hampson, among others. The ability to sing without an accompanist is not easy. At 67, Te Kanawa displayed perfect pitch, support, and technical mastery. A little more expressiveness to go with the resonant beauty would have made for an idyllic evening.

Valley Performing Arts Center

Valley Performing Arts Center

Posted by: operatheaterink | February 15, 2011

Review: Joyce DiDonato Recital, The Broad Stage, Feb. 15, 2011

More Wonderful Than Words Can Say!

Joyce DiDonato

Photo: Virgin Classics, Nick Heavican


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I am at a loss for words to describe Joyce DiDonato’s recital at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on Feb. 11. It was a magical evening that I wish I could have shared with at least half of the Los Angeles public. Everything came together for DiDonato: her superbly exquisite sound; her technique which is capable of bellowing thunder or uttering the purist of pianissimos; her musicianship and expressivity; her crystal clear enunciation, whether in French, Italian or English; and her statuesque onstage persona. When singing, she reminds us we are in the presence of a great diva. When speaking, she becomes our best friend.

DiDonato looked divine in a long black taffeta evening gown with her honey blond hair pulled back in a classic chignon. After intermission, a glittery red Valentine’s Day gown dazzled our senses.

Her program began with the final fiery aria from Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice”:

Why, if you are so numerous,
You who cause me to go mad,
Why do you not slay me,
You sorrows of my heart?
Increase them, oh God,
Please increase them,
For then you will help me
By taking from me my life
With this unbearable excess of grief.

Berenice has fallen in love with her husband’s son, Demetrius. He commits suicide, and she cries out for the gods to end her life. DiDonato gave us twelve minutes of sheer vocal ecstasy followed by contrasting Rossini songs, including the stylized Carmenesque bolero, “L’invito,” and the haunting children’s lullaby, “Le Dodo des enfants.”

She sang a set of art songs by Cécile Chaminade, whose works were unfortunately somewhat forgotten during the last half of the 20th century, which is difficult to understand considering the lyricism and intricate beauty of “Viens, mon bien-aimé!” and the joyous spirit displayed by the composer and singer in “L’été.”

After intermission, DiDonato returned with Rossini’s solemn “Assisa appiè d’un salice” from the opera, “Otello.” Much like Rossini’s muse, Isabella Colbran, DiDonato is a masterful interpreter of the composer’s characters in opera and song. Her “Willow Song” was lush with fluid runs and ornamentation mixed with a soulful legato line aided by the superlatively accomplished pianist, David Zobel.

DiDonato took us on a gondola ride with Reynaldo Hahn’s “La Barcheta.” You could have heard a pin drop. Her “Che pecà” was cheerful and inspiring, and she concluded with three Italian songs.

Arturo Buzzi-Peccia’s “Lolita, Serenata Spagnola” was invigorating. DiDonato charmed us with her facial expressivity when singing Leoncavallo’s “Serenata Francese,” and Vincenzo Di Chiara’s “La Spagnola” was just what the doctor ordered. The accompanying music took us to a carnival, and the song left us in a joyful mood as DiDonato flirted with us playfully.

But the ultimate showstopper was the first encore: “Tanti affetti in tal momento” from Rossini’s “La donna del lago.” DiDonato’s coloratura gymnastics left us breathless with spot-on highs and voluptuous lows, stupendous runs and trills.

And her “Over the Rainbow” made us smile. Even though she is a world-renowned singer and international traveler, she will always be the wide-eyed inquisitive girl from Kansas not unlike Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Her recital tour includes Kansas City, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Fort Worth, and New York City’s Carnegie Hall where she is premiering a song cycle written for her by composer Jake Heggie.

The Broad Stage is the perfect size for an intimate recital, and the acoustics enable every artist to present him or herself in the best possible light, which DiDonato did majestically. What a great talent! I feel so privileged to have been there.


Posted by: operatheaterink | January 17, 2011

Review: René Pape Recital, LA Opera, Jan. 17, 2011

The Ultimate Lieder Recital: Absolutely Superb!

René Pape

Photo by Lenny's Studio


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

René Pape is one of the greatest basses in the world, and his recital in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Jan. 15 showed us just why. Pape is a consummate artist, and his technique reigns supreme.

His program was the virtual duplicate of a 2009 recital at Carnegie Hall.

When I think of Lieder, I think of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the great lyric baritone who is a legend but has retired. Fischer-Dieskau is 85 now, and it is time to pass on the crown.

Men and women sing Lieder: basses, baritones and tenors; contraltos, mezzos and sopranos. It is rare to hear a bass perform this genre with extraordinary skill since the lyricism is usually captured more exquisitely with a lighter, narrower-focused tone. However I continue to enjoy Alexander Kipnis recordings. He was a great interpreter of text . . . and now there is René Pape.

My father was an opera singer in Vienna and Prague in the 1930s, and in his old age, he spent many an afternoon hopping from the old recordings of Kipnis to Fischer-Dieskau, trying to decide which “Der Erlkönig” he liked better. He sang Franz Schubert’s “An die Musik” at the beginning of his recitals, so I am an expert on this Lied, and Pape did not disappoint.

Pape began with selections from Schubert’s song cycle, “Schwanengesang.” He sang “Aufenthalt” with a bass’s power and depth. In “Der Atlas,” he communicated the poet Heinrich Heine’s clarity of self-awareness in a tragic predicament. And between these two songs, he sang of nightingales and the longing feelings of love in a sensitive rendition of “Ständchen.” Later he was able to bring us a lighter more lyrical quality with “Der Einsame.” But he missed the boat with “Heidenröslein.” I don’t think it was his fault, though. I think “Heidenröslein” might just be too delicate for a bass. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poetic story of the poor rose being picked from the hedge must be sung with delicacy, charm and ample pianissimos. This was one of the few moments when Pape was unable to communicate the charming tale to his audience. He excelled with the more powerful selections.

However as a bass, Pape’s technique was infallible in this program. Many basses sing with such low placement that they sound guttural and develop a wobble as they mature. Pape is one of the few basses today whose tones are totally focused in the mask. You can see the focus by just looking at his face. He appears to be smiling, but in reality, he is not just smiling with his mouth. If you look at his cheeks, you can see how they are raised to facilitate the technique which enables him to keep the tone up front and forward. His technique is so perfect that he is able to color his tones as he wishes. He can make them round and dark, and he can focus them higher and narrower in the mask, which is what he does with Lieder to make his sound brighter and more baritonal. He sings supported with an open and relaxed throat. He has the prescription for a longlasting voice which will remain free of a wide vibrato as he ages. And this superior technique will render him the ability to explore his expressiveness within the scope of his perfected musicianship.

His “Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren” was sheer magic, and his “Prometheus” showed his stature.

Sandwiched between his Schubert groupings, Pape sang Hugo Wolf’s “Michelangelo Lieder.” The only way to truly appreciate Lieder is to read the text before hearing it. The haunting text of “Alles endet, was entstehet” by Michelangelo Buonarroti reveals man’s bittersweet circle of life: his rising and falling. Pape’s choice to perform these later Wolf songs was admirable. He sang them with commitment and soul.

He devoted the second portion of his program to Robert Schumann’s “Dichterliebe”: a group of 16 songs based on poems by Heinrich Heine on unrequited love and longing. The cycle had autobiographical significance to Schumann who was feuding with his father regarding his desired marriage to composer Clara Wieck at the time.

In the wonderfully beautiful month of May
When all the birds are singing,
So have I confessed to her
My yearning and my longing.

So begins “Dichterliebe” with the very popular, lyrical “Im wunderschönen Monat Mai.”

Pape was at his best with “Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome.” His voice swelled to expressive heights with “Ich grolle nicht” as he sang “I bear no grudge, even though my heart is breaking.”

His “Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen” won my heart. His artistry was captured in the pianissimos and crescendos of “Ich hab’ im Traum geweinet.” And he made us aware that we were hearing a great bass with his “Die alten, bösen Lieder.”

“Die alten, bösen Lieder” brings finality to the cycle since it weaves the past with the present. The poet, composer and singer bury the old songs in a large coffin. “Do you know why the coffin must be so large and heavy?” the artist sings. “I sank with it my love and my pain, deep within.”

Contributing to the success of this evening, pianist Brian Zeger displayed keen musicianship and sensitivity to Pape’s every breath. Many moments were Zeger’s moments far before “Die alten, bösen Lieder.” However this final selection enabled Zeger to show his solo artistry. At times it seemed like Pape’s voice was accompanying him.

The applause began immediately after the final selection, but the audience was slow to rise. Pape seemed surprised for some reason when everyone gave him a standing ovation, probably because at the beginning of the evening, no matter what he did, the audience refused to refrain from applauding after each Lied. Finally after intermission, an announcer asked the audience to hold all applause until the end of the final cycle. As a result, Pape was far more relaxed during the second half. He seemed to loosen up even more with his first encore, Richard Strauss’s “Zueignung.” However, his final “Some Enchanted Evening” lacked ample preparation even though he’d sung it at Carnegie Hall. He forgot some of the lyrics, yet the song was sung with much charm, and everyone was accepting of his mistakes. He’d endeared himself to the audience. After all, he’d sung an all-German program. This song showed that he was reaching out to the people who had come to hear him. It was a wise decision.

René Pape is a superb musician whose expressivity continues to grow. I applaud him on his program and hope that the next time he comes to Los Angeles he will sing “Der Erlkönig” just for me. I believe that he would do a masterful job with Johannes Brahms’ “Vier ernste Gesänge” as well. Maybe next time.

Posted by: operatheaterink | December 15, 2010

‘Il Postino’ in Vienna, Dec. 15, 2010

Sentimentality, Pathos and Puccini: What’s So Wrong With That?

Daniel Catan
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Daniel Catán’s “Il Postino” recently had its European premiere at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, but Los Angeles critics gave it a far warmer reception than the Europeans did. Of course, Catán resides in Los Angeles, and Plácido Domingo, for whom the opera was written, is general director of Los Angeles Opera.

In an article from Deutsche Presse-Agentur on the website, an entertainment reporter for the Austria Press Agency (Austria Presse Agentur) wrote that “Il Postino” was “untouched by any musical development of the past decades” and had a “sticky-sweet soundscape.”

In the same article, a critic for the Kurier wrote: “We endured a weak libretto which turned [Pablo] Neruda’s poetry into kitsch, and we saw prettily illustrated platitudes.”

Die Presse wrote that the story was “smothered in operatic sugar-icing.”

And critic Frieder Reininghaus, a German print and broadcast journalist for German radio, newspapers and journals, wrote that the music is essentially a mix of Giacomo Puccini with a pinch of Lehár. “In the era of copying and digitizing, it certainly represents no particular technical or even artistic achievement to mix old scores to a new one. . . . It’s like a honey pot has been dusted with powdered sugar. . . . The whole company [has] . . . put into effect: a production for the local museum,” he wrote.

But Jörn Florian Fuchs sees it differently. He wrote:

“For ears that are in new music . . . maybe the opera of the Mexican Daniel Catán [is] an imposition. Can we, should we write today actually a music theater that avoids extreme dissonance, instead, to Puccini, tango and castanets-bliss sound? The reviewer says: You may very well – if such it can.”

If I understand the translation correctly, I agree.

Audiences flock to hear the operas of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Bizet, Rossini and other composers who were skilled enough to write melodic scores. After World War II, atonal music became the norm. Nowadays, I believe that composers lack the talent to create melodies that pull the heartstrings, so modern opera has been turned into dissonant sound with bizarre sets. Technology has taken center stage with egotistical stage directors who receive all the ovations.

When I think of opera, I think of Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. I love the sentimentality in “La Traviata” and “La Bohème,” and judging from the popularity of these operas, other operagoers do as well. Yet even Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed wrote of “Il Postino”: “The ending, unfortunately, is sappy.”

Well, I love “sappy.” I live for “sappy.” If Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti can make me cry at the end of a Karajan DVD of “La Bohème,” so be it. If hearing Jussi Björling sing “Je crois entendre encore” from “Les pêcheurs de perles” can bring tears to my eyes, that is the joy of opera for me.

A few years ago, LA Opera did a production of “La Traviata” with Renée Fleming and Rolando Villazón which is recorded on DVD. Although the production did not receive all positive reviews, I loved it precisely because Fleming was able to show Violetta’s vulnerability. And nobody does it better than Angela Gheorghiu. She reminds me of Anna Pavlova – a delicate dying swan — when she succumbs to her fate in the 1994 Covent Garden production of “Traviata” conducted by Sir Georg Solti (on DVD). Such expressivity in body and voice cannot be equaled.

Singers who sing with soul are my artists of choice, and there are very few to mention. Listen to Vladimir Chernov sing “Forse in quel cor sensibile” from Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux” on YouTube. Listen to Neil Shicoff as Eléazar when he sings “Rachel, quand du Seigneur” in “La Juive.”

The great artists are expressive. They bring out the sentimentality in all of us. Bravissimo!

There is something vitally wrong with this era and society if melodic music, beauty, pathos and sentimentality are shunned. The great composers and opera singers of the past were able to capture the essence of opera. If someone can do that in this current day and age, then that person is a rare jewel and should be coveted.

* * *

The opera “Il Postino” is based on the award-winning film “Il Postino” and the 1985 novel “Ardiente Paciencia” by Antonio Skármeta. It is the story of a shy postman who finds love in a tiny Italian fishing village by gaining wisdom and knowledge from his customer, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who is in political exile there. Domingo sings Neruda through December at the Theater an der Wien. The production travels to Le Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris this June.

Plácido Domingo as Pablo Neruda, Photo by Art Streiber

Plácido Domingo as Pablo Neruda, Photo by Art Streiber

Posted by: operatheaterink | December 2, 2010

Seattle Opera’s ‘Barber of Seville’: A Sneak Preview, Dec. 2, 2010

Speight Jenkins Has Taste; Peter Kazaras Is a Singer’s Director.

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I thought that my readers would be interested in seeing the lovely preview video of Seattle Opera’s upcoming “Barber of Seville.” Throughout the years, General Director Speight Jenkins has led Seattle Opera with impeccable taste regarding everything from production choices to marketing and casting. Set to retire in a couple of years, Jenkins’ love of Wagner has made Seattle Opera the Bayreuth on the Pacific, yet unlike Los Angeles Opera’s recent “Ring” festival fiasco, Seattle Opera’s productions have always been tasteful and respectful so that the focus is on the composer’s music and intent. The audience has not felt intimidated. Likewise, although marketing has been focused, it has not been offensively turned into a citywide religious experience and has not offended any particular population.

Peter Kazaras, the director of this current “Barber,” does not have a bloated ego like so many of our contemporary directors do, such as Achim Freyer who felt the need to upstage the singers and even the orchestra in Los Angeles Opera’s “Ring” production. Kazaras, who has sung professionally in some of the world’s greatest opera houses, understands that opera is about voice. Some of our most noteworthy classical music critics have even forgotten that dimension when they focus mainly on the productions and orchestrations. Although significant, what differentiates opera from other classical music genres is the voice. Has the composer been successful in writing for the voice?

It is also important to be respectful of the singers, to elevate them so that they are the focus of every opera. Kazaras is a masterful director because he enables non-noteworthy actors to become noteworthy singers who can suddenly act. How does he do it? By giving them stage business which enables them to become the characters they portray. This stage business and blocking, especially in the operatic comedies he directs, is usually unique, clever and enjoyed by the people in the audience.

I have watched Kazaras in action at UCLA where he has directed many audience-friendly productions on a shoestring budget, including Mozart’s “Le nozze di Figaro,” Verdi’s “Falstaff,” and even Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”

He has carried through with his singular talent at Seattle Opera in both mainstage productions and for the company’s young artist program.

With Jenkins and Kazaras onboard — two pros who understand their craft — Seattle Opera’s “Barber” will no doubt match the tastefulness of the following video. Who can resist the antics of Dr. Bartolo singing “A un dottor della mia sorte” or Don Basilio hamming it up in “La calunnia”? Figaro’s “Largo al factotum” is a crowd-pleaser. And Rosina’s “Una voce poco fa” never fails to charm whether the Rosina is a soprano or mezzo. Plus Lawrence Brownlee is the added attraction who gets the girl.

Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” is being staged by Seattle Opera to ring in the New Year from Jan. 15 to Jan. 29, 2011. For more information, go to


Posted by: operatheaterink | October 5, 2010

Review: ‘The Marriage of Figaro,’ LA Opera, Oct. 5, 2010

Unmemorable But Enjoyable.

Susanna, Figaro, Countess Almaviva. Photo by Robert Millard.

Susanna, Figaro, Countess Almaviva. Photo by Robert Millard.


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

September 30th was Plácido Domingo’s day of rest, so-to-speak. He had sung the role of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda the day before in LA Opera’s first success in what seems a very long time — Daniel Catán’s “Il Postino.” Strange how things work out sometimes. So much effort was put into LA Opera’s $31 million “Ring” last season — to elevate the status of the company worldwide — and then low-and-behold, along comes a low-budget new opera with some panache and lyricism, and voilà, LA Opera has a winner on its hands that is audience-friendly and is putting the company back on the map, and not a moment too soon.

But this is not a review of “Il Postino”: It is a review of LA Opera’s 2004 revival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.” And unfortunately, the production is rather unmemorable except that I cannot help but remember it because I saw the same version in 2006 as well.

Although the overture sets the pitch and pace for the frenetic onstage happenings to come, there was no excitement to go with the “Presto” – marked tempo at the top of the score. It was as if Plácido Domingo had to catch a flight, and he, the orchestra and his baton were just going through the motions. And as the scenes unfolded — moving from the Figaro-Susanna duet “Cinque, dieci, venti’ to Figaro’s “Se vuol ballare signor Contino,” Cherubino’s “Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio,” Figaro’s “Non più andrai” and the Countess’s “Porgi, amor” — I wondered why I felt so uninvolved and so disinterested.

But the Count sure woke me up. This opera — which is based on Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais’ comedy, “Le Mariage de Figaro,” with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte — is generally set in Count Almaviva’s château in the country near Seville in the 18th century just prior to the French Revolution, thus making the class struggle between servants and the nobility a prevalent theme. At issue is “le droit du seigneur,” the right of each noble master to sleep with his servants’ brides on their wedding nights. Count Almaviva has ended such a practice, but he still intends to have his way with Susanna on the eve of her wedding to Figaro. Susanna, Figaro and the Countess do everything in their power to discourage him, aided by the shenanigans of the young page, Cherubino, and other comedic characters, including the colorful Marcellina who intends to marry Figaro herself in spite of the fact that she could be his mother, and by the way, is. After some rollicking cajoling and masquerading which serves to mix the characters up as well as the audience, the parties are matched with their rightful partners.

Although the costumes, props and sets were inconsistent with the period, the overall feel of the production was acceptable. However, some occurrences were jolting, for instance, when the Countess wore a satin negligée atop a lavish bed with a telephone beside her. Afer seeing her sexually-obsessed husband strut around the château flaunting a naked chest in his 20th-century dressing gown, I could only draw the conclusion that these two members of royalty were swingers.

That simply was not what Beaumarchais, Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte had in mind. Tampering with time and place in this opera doesn’t work, or at least, it didn’t work in this production. And neither did some of director Ian Judge’s other lunacies.

According to LA Opera’s press release, Beaumarchais’ play was “banned by Louis XVI as profoundly immoral for its criticism of the aristocracy.” The Count’s actions would have been subtle. He wouldn’t have strutted his stuff.

Then consider Cherubino, one of the first “travesti” roles to succeed youthful characters previously portrayed by castrati. Cherubino is a mezzo. He is a young testosterone-driven lad, but his costume is usually representative of the period, and he wears a tie wig. We know that he is a she. Yet in director Ian Judge’s production, he is such a convincing young lad in 18th-century breeches with a short 20th-century haircut and sideburns that we are sure that he is a he who couldn’t decide which century he lived in. All of this nonsense simply detracted from the audience’s ability to sit back and enjoy Mozart’s glorious music which was sung so conversationally that we hardly noticed it – and I am not referring to the recitatives.

There were improvements to the set and costumes in this revival. In 2006, Figaro was wearing breeches at the onset, but no stockings or buckled pumps, and his shirt wasn’t covered with a waistcoat, which made his ensemble historically inaccurate. The Figaro in 2010 looks more appropriate, yet the periods remain historically jumbled. Cherubino’s uniform is reminiscent of the attire in Franco’s Spain. The hairstyles span from period to modern. The furniture fits into any era. Think 1700s. Think the 1950s. Anything goes. This piece does not work in the timeless zone.

Renata Pokupic as Cherubino was lovely, however, with a clear lyric mezzo that endeared us to her as him, especially during “Voi che sapete.” And in spite of the fact that I didn’t approve of Bo Skovhus’s somewhat embarrassing over-the-top portrayal of Count Almaviva, he followed through with the director’s directions professionally and charismatically, although I can’t remember what he sounded like.

Martina Serafin was more Tosca than Countess Almaviva. Her “Porgi, amor” could have been so much more beautiful. Marlis Petersen, who has sung Susanna at the Salzburg Festival, showed promise in a role that was underdeveloped vocally and in characterization. She has the goods to deliver much more.

Bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch, who played Seth Brundle in LA Opera’s forgettable “The Fly,” was far more appealing as Figaro, although his rich, warm tonal quality was evident when he sang Brundle in 2008. That was when he had a chance to strut his stuff. What is it these days? It appears that opera directors feel compelled to have at least one nude scene. “The Fly” had one. “Il Postino” has one. Believe me, that is not why people go to see opera — they go to hear it.

Although Okulitch shows promise, his Figaro was so youthful that I thought I was at a student production. I hope to see a little more maturity the next time around. Okulitch’s performance was uninspiring.

As for Ronnita Nicole Miller, she was miscast. Just because Miller recently graduated from the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program doesn’t mean that she should be cast in every comprimario role on this earth to gain experience. I have heard Miller in master classes. Her voice is large and rich and serious. Seeing her play silly, giddy roles is unbecoming of her talent. She will make her San Francisco Opera début as Erda and the First Norn in Wagner’s “Ring” — roles which are far better suited for her than Marcellina.

The remaining cast members – Alessandro Guerzoni (Doctor Bartolo), Christopher Gillett (Don Basilio), Philip Cokorinos (Antonio) and Daniel Montenegro ( Don Curzio) sang their roles with comedic flair. I am looking forward to hearing more of Valentina Fleer (Barbarina).

In spite of all of the incongruities, the Act 4 garden scene gave the audience something to look forward to. The ladies were dressed in silk taffeta gowns surrounded by juniper trees with glistening stars up above, and there were fireworks. Of course, there were chandeliers hanging from the sky as well. Although this vision didn’t entirely make sense, it was a pleasant way to end an otherwise unmemorable evening.

Conductor: Plácido Domingo
Director: Ian Judge
Scenery Designer: Tim Goodchild
Costume Designer: Deirdre Clancy
Lighting Designer: Mark Doubleday

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Photo: Robert Millard

Photo: Robert Millard

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 22, 2010

Plácido Domingo To Head LA Opera Through 2013, Sept. 22, 2010

Wise or Not So Wise?

Plácido Domingo
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Los Angeles Opera announced on Sept. 20 that Plácido Domingo is extending his contract as the company’s general director through the 2012-13 season. The contract will automatically renew with the mutual consent of Domingo and the company.

In light of LA Opera’s financial woes — a $14 million loan approved and guaranteed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and a $5.96-million deficit due to the company’s insistence on producing a $32 million “Ring” when funding was limited — I do not believe that retaining Domingo as LA Opera’s general director was a wise decision.

Domingo is the greatest living tenor in the world and has been a motivating cultural boost to Los Angeles. He is an excellent fundraiser, has imported prominent international opera stars to the LA shores, and is a wonderful mentor to some extremely gifted young singers. He should remain as an artistic adviser, but someone else should have been designated to run the on-site day-to-day operations of the company since Domingo spends most of his time traveling and performing. The general director should be someone with business, management and accounting skills who knows how to balance the books and is familiar with opera, productions, casting and fundraising.

Had LA Opera announced that its organization would be augmented to include an executive with business experience to manage the day-to-day operations of the company, I would have accepted Domingo’s decision to remain at the helm. Edgar Baitzel was known for having done an exemplary job in such a capacity before his death. But a search to replace him has never been announced. Stephen D. Rountree, LA Opera’s chief operating officer, is president and chief executive officer of the Music Center. He should not be called upon to lead LA Opera’s on-site operations. His effectiveness in overseeing the Music Center should be fully utilized.

In addition, Domingo’s position as general director of Washington National Opera is also in jeopardy. The company was forced to reduce its 2010-11 offerings and to cancel its “Ring” due to financial problems. WNO is now considering a merger with the Kennedy Center, which leaves Domingo’s future in question.

Music Director James Conlon was cited as having said that he hopes to revive the avant-garde Achim Freyer ”Ring” within five years (LA Times, July 2, 2010). He also said that making LA Opera a “hub of Wagnerian activity” was one of the key bargaining points when he was asked by Domingo to become LA Opera’s music director (Opera News, July 2009).

Granted, Richard Wagner is considered to be one of the world’s greatest composers, and his operas should be part of every company’s repertoire, but Los Angeles is not a Wagner town. The financial failure of LA Opera’s controversial “Ring” production has proved that hypothesis.

Opera programming should fulfill the desires of ticket buyers in order to be lucrative. Domingo has allowed passion to dictate his business sense, which has led the two companies he heads to near bankruptcy.

LA Opera laid off numerous employees to save $500,000 a year, according to an LA Times article on Sept. 10 based on comments made by LA Opera chairman Marc Stern. The Times reported that Domingo earned $814,000 in 2008-09 with $414,000 paid and $400,000 deferred, and $780,000 from Washington National Opera. Plus he received compensation for his performances throughout the United States and Europe. Yet his working-class employees were laid off during a recession, thus safeguarding his income, and the LA County Board of Supervisors backed a $14 million loan when the company was “$20 million in debt, partially because of the undertaking of its ‘Ring’ festival,” according to Stephen Rountree (LA Times, Dec. 9, 2009, by Kelsey Ramos).

Yes, a new innovative general director for LA Opera would have invigorated the company if Domingo would have remained as an artistic adviser. The change could have improved the company’s image and would have communicated to the world that LA Opera is serious about its fiscal responsibilities. The only hope now is for Domingo to capitalize on his strengths, realize his limitations, and search for an on-site director.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 20, 2010

Review: ‘The Glass Menagerie,’ Mark Taper Forum, Sept. 20, 2010

An Innovative ‘Glass Menagerie’ Leaves Questions Unanswered.


Ben McKenzie and Keira Keeley. Photo: Craig Schwartz


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The Long Wharf Theatre production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” technically opened in Los Angeles on Sept. 12 in the Music Center’s Mark Taper Forum as part of the Center Theatre Group’s current season. Performances began on Sept. 1 and I saw this “Glass Menagerie” on Sept. 11, which hardly seemed like a preview since the play has also been produced for the Roundabout Theatre Company off-Broadway.

Although the production is polished with excellent acting, director Gordon Edelstein’s innovative changes to the original version make the production seem at times off-balance.

Although much of the action of this memory play still takes place in the St. Louis tenement where Tom Wingfield, his mother Amanda, and his sister Laura live, Edelstein changes the locale of the narrator, Tom, who usually sits on the fire escape, or thereabouts, with a view of the adjoining alleys, clotheslines and garbage cans as he remembers his family’s confrontations. The close proximity of Tom to the inside of the apartment makes it easy for him to float in and out of the action so that the audience feels like it is eavesdropping into the lives of these three tragic characters. The scenes are part of memory, so the audience is aware that the scenes have taken place in the past, but many do not know that Tom has already left or will leave the family at the end. That discovery is part of the climax of the play for the audience to discover.

But in the Edelstein version, an older Tom has been estranged from his mother and sister for a number of years and is found typing out the family’s story, thus the play, in a New Orleans hotel room. This diminishes the impact of the climax found in the original version. The play no longer has a place to go.

Tom is no longer the warehouse worker by day who spends his nights in movie houses to escape his mother’s verbal abuses and sister’s escapist retreats into an imaginary fairyland. Not even intoxication can dull his pain, so he has deserted his crippled sister and dependent mother just as his father had done, and he has become the playwright, Tennessee Williams, born Tom, typing out the dialogue of the autobiographical characters who resemble his mother, Edwina; his sister, Rose; and himself. He must travel further in time and space than the original Tom to partake in the memoiristic action of the play. The memories seem more defused; the audience becomes aware of the outcome from the onset.

In addition, Tom’s character has taken on a new dimension. He is openly gay. It is not a suggestive quality that he might be hiding from himself or from his family, but one that is clearly visible to everyone but apparently his mother, who ordinarily never misses a beat but doesn’t mention it. He is the total reincarnation of Tennessee Williams, which seems too complex to fathom within the framework of this play since the Tom in Williams’ traditional “Glass Menagerie” has enough to deal with without adding another layer.

Tom’s father’s picture hangs on the wall in the living room. “It is the face of a very handsome young man. . . . He is gallantly smiling,” the stage directions describe. Amanda fell for him hook, line and sinker, but he was “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” according to Tom, and Tom follows in his footsteps. Adding the “gay” dimension to Tom’s character means that we look at Tom differently from the Tom in previous productions. He is no longer like his father – a man who was undeniably attractive to women. This Tom has additional burdens which are not explored that have led to his departure, since at the onset of this production, we know that he has deserted the family. He is no longer just the tormented narrator. He is more multi-dimensional than the playwright imagined him to be. This Tom would have been a puzzle to his mother who would have confronted him since she confronted him on everything. How she would have emotionally come to terms with his homosexuality is not explored, thus creating a hole in the play and a hole in my understanding of the characters, although Amanda does question Tom’s nightly whereabouts. Such exploration would require Williams to return from the grave to add scenes and write dialogue. Even if Amanda is aware of and accepting of Tom’s homosexuality, the audience remains in the dark and has unanswerable questions.

Therefore Tom’s rebirth as a gay playwright in a New Orleans hotel room is more than the audience has bargained for; and although we find Edelstein’s staging creative on the stark but well-appointed set with upstage scrim, we feel that something isn’t quite right and does not quite fit.

Sometimes directors give actors extra blocking, mannerisms or a problem to solve when the actors are self-conscious or don’t bring a sense of realism to their characters. Patch Darragh displays none of these ailments, yet he has added mannerisms and speech patterns to convey Tom’s homosexuality that are inconsistent, somewhat jerky, and unwarranted. Although they detract from the simplicity of the character, Darrah has followed through with the director’s intent.

Tom’s mother Amanda is an extremely complicated woman. She was once a Southern belle with all the social graces required to attract 17 gentleman callers in a single afternoon.

“It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and a graceful figure,” she says in Scene 1, acknowledging that she had both. “She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions.”

These qualities must be inherent in Amanda’s character even though she is now many years older, has been abandoned by her husband, has struggled to put food on the table for her two children, is dependent on Tom to provide for the three of them, and wants nothing more than for Laura to find a husband to ease her burden.

She constantly reprimands her children for every conceivable reason, which weighs heavily on Tom, driving him to movie theaters and bars; and on Laura, driving her into seclusion with a collection of miniature glass animals. Much as Williams’ real mother has been described, she talks but doesn’t listen, smothers but doesn’t touch.

Judith Ivey as Amanda gives a noteworthy performance, but again, something is missing. She talks, but often listens; smothers but often touches — therefore making her less of a freak than Williams probably intended and probably more difficult for Tom to leave. Her Amanda loves Tom and Laura. They know it, yet they are caught in her prison.

I simply do not believe that she ever had the charm to attract 17 gentlemen callers, especially in the scenes before intermission, which were slow-moving with Ivey at times being difficult to understand. Ivey doesn’t display that she has ever had the graceful Southern-belle demeanor that is required of the role. She appears to simply be an elderly woman who chastises her children with a twang in her voice that renders her annoying. When she learns that Laura has failed to attend classes at business college, even after Laura explains to her how devastating the experience has been, she remains insensitive to Laura’s plight because she is desperate to find a light at the end of the tunnel to save her family. Here she captures Amanda’s character with precision.

With all due respect, after intermission, when Amanda is dressed to entertain the gentleman caller that Tom has invited to meet Laura, she perks up, looks more like the Amanda we envision, and seems better suited for the role. But I looked at an old clip of Katharine Hepburn portraying Amanda, and I detected an energy communicated by Hepburn that Ivey fails to exude. So although Ivey’s portrayal is accomplished and noteworthy, there have no doubt been others that might be more remarkable.

Laura is another character that twangs in this production. Heaven knows, she has enough problems as it is. I guess she just picked up the annoying sound from her mother and brother.

Keira Keeley as Laura is effective as she navigates around the stage effortlessly with her disability, revealing it to us without overdoing it. She is completely believable in her scene with the gentleman caller, moving from introverted and shy to effervescent and hopeful, and from nervous and neurotic to normal and then back again. She reminds us that many of those who suffer from mental illness might be victims of circumstance; and with hope, support and opportunity, some of their delirium might possibly be reversible.

When Jim O’Connor breaks Laura’s unicorn, she no longer finds the accident devastating because she has hope. Without hope, the unicorn is her raison d’être. When Jim announces his engagement to another woman, Laura’s hopes and foray into the real world are shattered, thus making this play the ultimate tragedy.

As Jim O’Connor, Ben McKenzie is the most reliable actor and character in this production. By that I mean that he is exactly what we envision O’Connor to be. We can picture him winning the hearts of the young girls in his high school, playing the lead in the school musicals, being the class president, and winning Laura’s heart. We can also picture him as another victim of circumstance who ends up as Tom’s co-worker in a warehouse.

O’Connor knows exactly what to say to Laura to build up her spirits, for it is precisely this talent coupled with his good looks and charm that brought him his high school popularity. But his recent setbacks have made him more insecure, yet a better person; so after kissing Laura, even though he knew the action was wrong, he feels guilty and tells her the truth.

The scene between Jim and Laura is dimly lit, probably too much so. It is the highlight of the show in my opinion because it brings subtle sentimentality to the production, even though if Keeley had played the character with more vulnerability, the scene would have still been more poignant.

I read a review from a critic that praised this production for its lack of sentimentality. I feel the opposite. All the brash whining just annoyed me. Tennessee Williams’ language is poetic. I see no reason to hide that in the name of realism. Sentimentality and poetry go hand in hand. Tragic characters are often poetic. The end result is that those in the audience forget they are in the theater, stop laughing at the one-liners that may be witty but are really not funny in tragedy, just serve as comic relief, and allow themselves to be drawn in by the characters and share in their pain. Playing the lines for laughs is incongruous with Williams’ tone and intent. And an audience that laughs fails to comprehend the characters’ despair.

Tom should be a narrator. Amanda should be a Southern belle who has faded, and Laura should be a vulnerable, fragile but deformed flower. Then when the audience becomes aware that Tom has left his mother and sister at the end of the play (not at the beginning), when he says, “Oh, Laura, Laura, I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be! I reach for a cigarette, I cross the street, I run into the movies or a bar, I buy a drink, I speak to the nearest stranger, anything that can blow your candles out” – then the audience could feel something.

Director: Gordon Edelstein
Set Designer: Michael Yeargan
Lighting Designer: Jennifer Tipton
Costume Designer: Martin Pakledinaz
Sound Designer: David Budries

Critic’s Note: Even though I may not agree with Edelstein’s concept which has augmented the portrayals of the actors I have appraised, I respect Edelstein for his creativity, for his re-analysis of the play, and for the care he has taken in reworking the material.

“The Glass Menagerie” is one of our most cherished American classics. The interpretations of the director and actors are worthy. This “Glass Menagerie” serves to educate. I recommend it to all.


Judith Ivey and Patch Darragh. Photo: Craig Schwartz

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 14, 2010

Kid Singing Sensations – But Are They?, Sept. 14, 2010

It Takes Time to Bloom.

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

Every time I turn around, I hear about a new young singing sensation. There was Aria Tesolin of Canada who first performed when she was 8. The following year she was singing “Vissi d’arte,” which she duplicated on her first CD — “Baby Soprano.” But mind you, she didn’t stick to her Fach. She was also singing “La donna è mobile,” “Nessun dorma” and “Una furtiva lagrima.”

Tesolin is 16 years old now. Her website calls her a “Song Enchantress” and she is described as a “contemporary soloist with soprano overtones.” So much for the opera career. I wish her well.

Then a friend of mine sent me a link to Mark Vincent’s video. Vincent won Australia’s Got Talent in 2009 at the age of 15. His “Nessun dorma” was impressive, but his voice is caught somewhere between baritone and tenor. He ought to study more before being cast in the limelight. I mean what is the rush?


And now there is the angelic Jackie Evancho from Pittsburgh. Her claim to fame is her rendition of “O mio babbino caro” on America’s Got Talent in August. A light lyric soprano, Evancho is polished and mature beyond her 10 years. She reminds me of a young Deanna Durbin-type. If this were the old Hollywood, she’d be snapped up with a contract tomorrow and we’d be watching and hearing her nonstop. She’d be Hollywood’s little sweetheart. I miss the old musicals. Maybe it’s time for a resurgence.

As for Jackie’s hopes of a career in opera, the competition is fierce and many lyric sopranos would like a place in the sun. It is far too early to determine Evancho’s future in opera. Her voice hasn’t developed yet, and she could find herself burned out without proper training. Again, what’s the hurry?


YouTube, TV contests and Reality TV have given parents the impetus to seek instant fame for their youngsters.

Another such child is 9-year-old Oliver Richman, who doesn’t sing opera, but has a new, expensively produced slick video out that will rock your socks off. His “Defying Gravity” defies gravity.

It is totally impossible to determine how this youngster’s voice will mature. One thing is evident, though: He has musical talent, seems to comprehend what he is singing before he probably should, and already displays keen phrasing and rhythm. But if you go back a year and watch him sing the national anthem on his website at or on YouTube, you realize that he is just a little boy, that technology can do amazing things, and that maybe his “Defying Gravity” will catch up with him by the time he’s 10.


All of these children have talent. But as a former teacher and counselor, I question their parents’ motivations. Many of these children may find fame, but their careers may fizzle; they may have missed out on a normal childhood; and the rest of their lives could become a slow-moving dénouement.

On the other hand, I would like to name a few great talents who are doing everything the right way.

Tenor David Lomelí was 25 years old when he was the first-prize winner of Plácido Domingo’s 2006 Operalia contest, which is not like a television talent show with judges who know nothing about classical voice. Serious competitions exist for young opera singers with world-renowned opera legends as judges. The BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition brought Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Bryn Terfel instant recognition. The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions is another example. There are many such competitions, and Lomelí has placed in some of the best: the Palm Beach Opera Vocal Competition, the Montserrat Caballé International Singing Competition, the José Iturbi International Music Competition, the Loren L. Zachary Society competition, and the Nicolas Urcelay National Tenor Competition.

I first heard David (pronounced Da-veed with the accent on the second syllable) when he was an artist in Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. While hearing him sing in a small rehearsal hall during a master class in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, there were moments when I thought I was hearing Björling.

David has also participated in San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Merola Opera and Adler Fellowship programs.

He hasn’t hit the big time yet like the youngsters have. He is learning his craft from the bottom up, being nurtured and mentored by the professionals who know how to lead him, and is beginning to sing the major roles now, although he still sings comprimarios and often acts as a cover (understudy). He has performed with smaller companies and is working his way up, gaining the requisite experience he needs to be successful. This season he is singing the Messenger in San Francisco Opera’s “Aida” and is a cover in the company’s “Werther.” He is singing Edgardo in Pittsburgh Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” Alfredo in Deutsche Oper Berlin’s “La Traviata,” Nemorino in New York City Opera’s “L’elisir d’amore,” and Rodolfo in Santa Fe Opera’s “La bohème.” He has the best representation in the business and is personable and appreciative of his mentors and audiences. David is a great, great talent and is doing everything the right way to secure a longlasting, distinguished career in opera.


Soprano Angel Joy Blue, another former participant in Los Angeles Opera’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, is also a gigantic talent. With a master’s degree in opera performance from UCLA, she has always had her feet on the ground, has studied with the best vocal teachers and coaches in opera, and is on the road to success. Please see

I will never forget when I heard Angel sing Antonín Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon” in UCLA’s Royce Hall a couple of years ago. Her sound was glorious; her stage presence, arresting. This season she is the cover for Countess Almaviva in Los Angeles Opera’s “Le nozze di Figaro” and for Manon at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia in Valencia, Spain. In October, she will be a soloist with the American Youth Symphony in Royce Hall. She will be the Female Chorus in Benjamin Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia” at the Theater an der Wien in February, and will perform Verdi in Paris in March.

Other incredibly talented alumni of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program include mezzo-soprano Ronnita Nicole Miller and baritone José Adán Pérez. Pérez, a seasoned singer-actor, will sing Belcore in New York City Opera’s “L’elisir d’amore”; and Miller, with her voluptuous Wagnerian sound, will sing Erda and the First Norn in San Francisco Opera’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen.”

These young people are doing it the right way.

I sincerely hope that parents who are blessed to have gifted, talented, musical children will read this commentary and will subscribe to Classical Singer magazine before they enter their children in television contests that they think will give their small protégés instant fame. I hope that the aspiring protégés will read this article as well — to better understand the pathway they should take if a career in opera is their goal.

I am a bit more lenient regarding youngsters who show promise in the popular music or acting fields, although I believe that all children should grow up normally with normal friends and should spend their childhoods learning and perfecting their talents outside the public eye in their schools, churches and synagogues, and by performing in recitals.

For those who have dreams of becoming opera singers, participating in and even winning these amateur television contests could prove detrimental to your progress. Becoming a teen idol might seem glamorous at the onset, but without proper guidance and preparation, that stardom could soon fade away.

Posted by: operatheaterink | September 2, 2010

Opera: From Elitist to Populist, Sept. 2, 2010

Opera Theater Ink by Carol Jean Delmar

Are Efforts to Keep Opera Alive Working?

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

About two years ago, a friend of mine, Ligia Toutant, presented me with an article she had written for an academic journal. She was about to receive her Ph.D. in Social Sciences and Comparative Education from UCLA. An opera buff, her article – “Can Stage Directors Make Opera and Popular Culture ‘Equal’?” — addressed the relationship between opera and society. It made me think.

Toutant addressed how general directors and stage directors are attempting to move opera from a high culture sport to a more popular cultural activity for spectators. She cited updating opera productions, utilizing the film industry to create more stimulating staging, and making singers more actor savvy as means for making an elitist opera culture more popular.

Although some composers and librettists are creating memorable new operas these days, most are not. Companies are therefore turning to inventive directors and stage designers to devise technologically modern productions to replace the old. But these directors must realize that opera has historically focused on music and voice. They should be creating productions that are born from the music and should not be selfishly staging offensive avant-garde productions to magnify their own self-importance.

Toutant drew attention to the Metropolitan Opera’s live high-definition performance transmissions into movie theaters. Replays have been added to the roster with 1,500 theaters in 46 countries now participating. In addition, the Met offers “Met Player,” which is an online subscription service that enables viewers to watch HD videos on their own home computers; plus they can watch more than 50 Metropolitan Opera telecasts and listen to 200 radio broadcasts.

These latter attempts to draw more middle- and working-class audiences into the opera world are definitely encouraging since many cultural leaders are worried that the art form will soon be extinct.

Opera companies in London, Milan and Barcelona are following suit.

Yet in spite of the inroads made to popularize opera, the ability to turn the elitist genre into a populist endeavor is debatable.

Opera originated as court entertainment and has remained most inviting to the upper class. Opera patrons enjoy attending galas and walking down the red carpet with cameras flashing.

Most orchestra-seat tickets are between $180 and $270 for Los Angeles Opera’s 25th season. Although discounts exist for subscribers, with or without discounts, the prices are higher each season and continue to rise, even in this recessive economy, and even though LA Opera has a $14 million loan to pay and a $5.96 million deficit. Increasing ticket prices may be the company’s capital growth strategy. Nevertheless, the company has recently made two attempts to replenish its coffers.

On Aug. 25, subscribers were offered a one-day 25 percent discount on all additional ticket purchases. And on Aug. 30, LA Opera initiated an “Opera-of-the-Day” promotion: Each day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., until availability runs out, select tickets are being discounted for a specific production, seating location and date.

It seems that more subscriptions would have been sold had LA Opera lowered ticket prices across the board so that such promotional marketing would not have been necessary. The company’s leaders are always stretching and hoping for more than is feasible. Then they come to the realization that they have to devise new strategies to make up for their miscalculations and losses.

It may appear that I have diverged from the topic at hand, but not really. I believe that opera will remain an upper-class sport as long as productions have unwarranted price tags and audiences must pay exorbitant ticket prices to see and hear them. LA Opera is simply keeping up with the Joneses. The elitist mentality is an international phenomenon.

So although I have read that Plácido Domingo and other cultural leaders are worried about the longevity of opera and hope to draw a wider audience into the opera house, I believe that it is the elitists who are holding opera back from becoming a genre for the general public.

Although community performances for school-age children and seniors do exist, these audiences cannot afford the cost of regular performances with internationally known singers. HD transmissions on computers and in theaters are wonderful for various societal groups and serve to raise funds for the participating opera companies, but the experience of hearing live opera in an opera house is quite different and will remain for the upper crust.

Before I became a critic, I attended performances in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for that purpose alone. Then I became aware that at intermission and after performances, many people rush off to various gatherings depending on their societal status. I have often wondered if people are there to hear the music or to display their formal attire and be seen. The volunteers are there to sell LA Opera mementos at the boutique. And even the members of the press gather for a quick glass of wine before they announce their verdicts.

So how can opera become a populist activity when if a prospective board member doesn’t pledge a hefty contribution, that person rarely finds him or herself on the board? I do not have an answer for the question.

Education may play a role in invigorating and demystifying opera, for there were periods of time when opera appealed more to the masses. Giuseppe Verdi’s operas were often huge public events. Thirty thousand people were said to have lined the streets of Milan in 1901 for his funeral.

It is possible that culture has little significance in today’s society since the arts are not prominent subjects taught in our public schools. Nevertheless, the crux of the problem is that opera is currently for the wealthy, and the general public is missing out.

Opera is no longer about the fat lady who sings. Some female singers are gorgeous, and some male singers look like Greek gods. Much of the music in the standard repertoire is melodic and moving beyond words, but so few people know it. They think that opera is simply loud singing. They need to be awakened.

Retired pharmaceutical executive Agnes Varis is attempting to do just that. Varis, 80, has donated $2.5 million to the Metropolitan Opera to subsidize $25 orchestra-seat tickets, which is an extension of the Agnes Varis and Karl Leichtman Rush Ticket program she initiated in 2006. She wants elderly people to enjoy their golden years, and she wants “to see a plan for a younger generation” (The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 25, 2010).

I have personally enjoyed some low-budget productions at UCLA more than some expensive productions in major opera houses, and the tickets were a fraction of the cost.

Cultural leaders say that opera is expensive to produce so high ticket prices are warranted. Until they open themselves up to more flexible thinking, opera will remain elitist, will elude the general public, and will be in danger of becoming extinct.

But it really doesn’t have to be that way.

For a different perspective, Ligia Toutant’s article can currently be read at:

Ligia Toutant
Ligia Toutant, 2007

Posted by: operatheaterink | August 2, 2010

Los Angeles Opera ‘Ring’ Wrap-Up, July 31, 2010

The ‘Ring’ Failure: Where Does LA Opera Go From Here?

By Carol Jean Delmar

The “Ring” festival is history and it is time to look forward. Yet I find it necessary to write about the event since I have no idea what the future will bring regarding LA Opera’s fiscal stability or leadership, and I would like readers to have some of the vital statistics.

Ring Festival LA was a party for insiders — for the sponsors, participants, artists, donors and politicians – but not for the people who live in LA, and not for the tourists or out-of-town critics, because they just didn’t come. They didn’t come for a variety of reasons. The most widely mentioned excuse has been the recession, but then, that was just an excuse. They didn’t come because the Achim Freyer “Ring” was more Freyer than Wagner. The costumes were cheap; the characters didn’t relate; and the set wasn’t much of a set. As for the music, I simply cannot remember. All I know is that the LA press raved about it, but the national and international press avoided it after sampling hors d’oeuvres.

I believed that the LA politicians didn’t know that Wagner was a racist and jumped on the bandwagon when LA Opera suggested a “Ring” festival. But it turns out that they just wanted a party, and the “Ring” festival was the perfect excuse. The leaders of the opera company didn’t care about Wagner’s racism and simply couldn’t help themselves because they’re “’Ring’ nuts”. They would have done anything to perform the “Ring,” so they persuaded people to become their converts. But they didn’t have the money, and they couldn’t convince the public.

On Dec. 9, 2009, the day after LA Opera approached the LA County Board of Supervisors for a $14 million loan, Opera News Online reported: “LA Opera chief operating officer Stephen D. Rountree . . . told the county’s board of supervisors that the loan ‘is needed now’ . . . and that twenty-three LA Opera trustees had pledged $30 million over the next two-and-a-half years to stablize the company’s finances after what was characterized as years of overspending.”

Rountree told the LA Times that the company was “$20 million in debt, partially because of the undertaking of its ‘Ring’ festival” (Dec. 9 article on the Internet by Kelsey Ramos).

Since LA Opera rents the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from the county which owns the Music Center, the supervisors granted LA Opera the $14 million loan by issuing bonds which were purchased by Banc of America Leasing & Capital LLC. If LA Opera doesn’t pay the loan back in three years with interest going to the bank, county taxpayers will foot the bill.

The debt didn’t accumulate overnight. LA Opera board members made interest-free loans of $10.9 million during the 2006-07 season and $19.6 million during the 2007-08 season along with an $11 million line of credit from the Bank of the West at 5 percent interest, reported the LA Times and Opera News. During the 2007-08 season, ticket sales totaled $18.2 million when the budget was $55.6 million, but donations of $40.7 filled the gap. In the 2006-07 season when Plácido Domingo stated that the company had the financial means to move forward with the “Ring,” in spite of Eli Broad’s $6 million donation, the Times reported that the deficit was nearly $6 million (Dec. 8, 2009). The company therefore had financial problems well before the recession and did not have the means to move forward with the “Ring.”

To understand my perspective, I must outline some of my history. I had only one objection a year ago when I approached city, county, religious and arts leaders: Richard Wagner was a racist and an architect of the Holocaust, and I didn’t believe that a countywide Wagner festival would be ethical in a multicultural city like LA. I believed that the opera leaders didn’t know city politics, and that the political leaders didn’t know about Wagner. In no way did I want to put a halt to LA Opera’s performances of the “Ring.” I just didn’t want to see more than 100 programs, many of them lectures, centered around Wagner. I had no idea what kind of production the “Ring” would be, that LA Opera would need a $14 million loan to produce it or that the company would end up with a $5.96-million deficit ($4 million from the “lean box office” and the rest from “shortfalls in expected donations” — LA Times, July 2).

When I first read the “Ring” cycle order form, I thought the ticket prices were astronomical. Tickets in the front orchestra were $2,200 per cycle with $1,100 of the total being a donation. Tickets for the next section of the orchestra were $1,600 with an $800 donation, and tickets in the back portion of the orchestra were $800 with a $400 donation. Most of the tickets in the loge were $1,300 with a $600 donation.

The result was that ticket sales were $1.5 million below budget in April and May. LA Opera then eliminated the donation portion, thus resulting in $2.5 million in lost donations that were linked to ticket sales. Large donors were lumped together as “Friends of the Ring,” and LA Opera overestimated those donations by $900,000, according to a company spokesperson. Toward the end of the run, LA Opera discounted tickets to fill the house. The lack of ticket revenue and projected donations accounted for the remainder of the deficit.

LA Opera knew that the production would cost $31-32 million, but the budget was just a wish list. The repercussions of the company’s miscalculations will impact many seasons to come. A few years ago LA Opera was producing 10 productions with 75 performances. Now the numbers have been reduced to six productions with 46 performances, and that includes three recitals, an added event and a gala.

I tried to help LA Opera a year ago. I even went to the president of a well-established political public relations firm because I had worked for the firm and trusted the judgment of its staff. I believed that a general arts festival in LA would be more inviting, lucrative and moral than a Wagner festival. I envisioned banners all over the city. Far more arts organizations would have participated because Wagner would not have been the focal point of the festival even though the “Ring” performances would have remained at its core. A Wagner festival seemed utterly wrong to me, and apparently, I was right.

“LA is not a Wagner town,” a laid off LA Opera employee told me. She was correct. People would much rather see the “The Barber of Seville” or “The Magic Flute” than a Eurotrash “Ring.”

At any rate, LA Opera forged ties with another public relations firm and clearly wanted a Wagner festival — not one that would entertain the LA public, and not one that would draw in tourists. That became evident when Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s motion to broaden the festival was defeated in favor of a substitute motion that endorsed the all-Wagner festival. So I continued to make people and organizations aware of Richard Wagner’s racism and where it appears in his operas. And I continued to make them aware of his family’s ties to Hitler and to the Nazis.

Although I was opposed to a Wagner festival, I was looking forward to seeing a somewhat visionary “Ring” with modern technology and color. I tried to keep an open mind, but the Freyer “Ring” was enough to drive me to drink. I wrote my reviews accordingly instead.

While attending some of the lectures, I was disturbed when erroneous information was being communicated without more accurate points of view provided for balance. The LA press seemed to have been bought off. The reporters and critics were publicists, not journalists. They were insulting the public’s intelligence.

The elected officials wanted to make money, but they didn’t realize they had an inferior product. And the opera company had no leadership. The lust for Wagner blinded everyone’s objectivity. Music Director James Conlon was cited in the LA Times as having said that he wants to revive the Freyer “Ring” in five years (July 2). In light of the fact that it will take the company years to recover financially and regain its credibility, Conlon’s statement shows just how out of touch the company really is.

If LA Opera is to survive, it needs fresh leadership. Domingo is the greatest living tenor, but he is not an on-site manager. He has done what the board expected of him because the board was aware of his artistic commitments when he was named general director. But during his tenure, he has proved that LA Opera needs more than he can offer. Yet he has been an asset to the Los Angeles landscape, is an excellent fundraiser, has enticed international singers to perform in LA, and is a wonderful mentor to some extremely gifted young artists. He should remain as an artistic adviser, but someone is needed to run the company: someone with business, management and accounting skills who knows how to balance the books; someone who is familiar with opera, productions, casting and fundraising; someone who may have been an artist, but who has graduated into management. If Domingo decides to renew his contract and remain in his current capacity — although I doubt that he will — someone still would be needed to run the day-to-day operations of the company like Edgar Baitzel did until his death. Rountree is not the appropriate person. He oversees the Music Center.

An article appeared in the LA Times on July 6 which addressed LA Opera’s desire to recruit a vice president of marketing and communications when the company already has a director of communications and a director of marketing, plus staff. I believe that either a vice president should be hired without the other two positions, or the two positions should remain without a vice president. An additional position is a waste of money in light of the company’s finances. The problems are not due to poor public relations, press or marketing: they are the result of poor decision-making from the top, which is where the changes should occur. The Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program should be competitive with the programs in other major companies. That is one area for growth.

The Los Angeles Opera Board of Directors must wake up and act, not follow. The people who live in LA deserve better.

Posted by: operatheaterink | July 24, 2010

‘South Pacific’, Center Theatre Group, July 17, 2010

Wherever You Live, Go See ‘South Pacific.’

Carmen Cusack as Nellie and David Pittsinger as Emile

Carmen Cusack as Nellie and David Pittsinger as Emile

JULY 17, 2010

By Carol Jean Delmar

“South Pacific” with Paulo Szot and Kelli O’Hara has been a major success on Broadway with seven Tony Awards to its credit, including best musical revival and best actor nods for Szot and the producers. The touring company began its run in Los Angeles in June with two operatic star baritones portraying Emile de Becque at the Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre. Although I’d read excellent reviews of Rod Gilfry’s Emile, I felt very fortunate to have seen and heard David Pittsinger in the role created in 1949 by Ezio Pinza.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find many reviews of Pittsinger’s portrayal, so I didn’t know what to expect. I prepared myself to be disappointed. And then low-and-behold, I was in paradise. Being an opera critic, I’d reviewed Pittsinger as the Count in LA Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro,” in “La Rondine” and as the Count des Grieux in “Manon.” I knew that he could sing; but could he exude the mature French charm of plantation owner Emile de Becque? Could he connect with the pert Navy nurse from Little Rock, Arkansas – Nellie Forbush? Could the two of them warm my heart?

Well, they did. A few times I felt the ol’ lump in the throat on the verge of tears syndrome. And they also made me think.

Centered on the lives of two couples on two South Pacific islands during World War II, this Bartlett Sher-staged Lincoln Center Theater production included material from the original book that illuminated the racial prejudices which threatened the happiness of these two couples. Nellie couldn’t come to terms with Emile’s deceased Polynesian wife and two children; and Lt. Joseph Cable couldn’t come to terms with his love for and desire to marry Bloody Mary’s beautiful, delicate daughter, Liat. One of the most enlightening songs of the score was Cable’s “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” which made the lights turn on in my head as I reflected upon the bigotry in the world today and where it came from.

The result was a deep sadness when Cable, who finally got his priorities straight, was killed; and a second round of pathos came over me when Nellie overcame her prejudices and opened up her heart to Emile’s children and Emile.

Coming to terms with the racial issue allowed the actors to fully develop their characters so that they became multifaceted beings. Their complicated multilayered inner selves enabled the audience to connect to them and feel, which for me is the ultimate purpose of theater.

Being the critic that I am, I can be judgmental. I could hear when Anderson Davis (Cable) wasn’t supporting his high tones (the latter part of “Younger Than Springtime”) and when Carmen Cusak (Nellie) wasn’t quite bridging her lower register with her top. But ultimately, I didn’t care. Their pleasing voices pleased me, and their heartfelt performances far outweighed the few minor flaws they will no doubt iron out in the future.

Keala Settle’s portrayal of the robust Tonkinese peddler Bloody Mary lacked clarity. There was something mushy about it. Her enunciation was at times unintelligible; her tones didn’t have ping and didn’t swell when they should have, and her “Bali Ha’i” wasn’t energizing.

Matthew Saldivar played the well-meaning American sailor Luther Billis with color and flair, drawing our attention to him during his noteworthy “There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame.” His phrasing, comedic timing and movement were excellent although his long tonal accents sometimes sounded foreign and somehow out of place.

Sumie Maeda as Liat was adorable, delicate and fragile during “Happy Talk,” but I kept waiting for more action and was terribly relieved when she started moving. Nothing could compare to France Nuyen’s finger-and-hand pantomime in the film version. Maybe Sher didn’t want to duplicate it. Still, something was missing, which was partially due to Settle’s lack of vocal clarity.

CJ Palma and Christina Carrera were sweet as Emile’s children, especially when singing “Dites-Moi.”

Michael Yeargan’s sets were appropriate. Nothing too monumental caught my eye, which is still far superior to a modern monstrosity that would have taken focus away from the characters and the story line. A little sprucing up might have been in order.

The band unfortunately sounded recorded and tinny, but then I’m accustomed to the tonal resonances of a larger classical music orchestra. I enjoyed the choreography which was a cross between realistic action and dance.  A little more true dance might have been warranted. The production numbers simply weren’t grand enough.

To conclude where I first began when mentioning the legendary Ezio Pinza — Pinza, Rossano Brazzi, Mary Martin and Mitzi Gaynor charmed us and remain role models for the Emiles and Nellies today. Cusak reminded me of Martin although her “Cockeyed Optimist” and “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” were uniquely hers. Pittsinger’s Emile had charm, strength and integrity with a reserved, secure, authoritative resolve to achieve whatever he desired. His “Some Enchanted Evening” was vocal chocolate. His ”This Nearly Was Mine” was a goosebump showstopper.

After performances at the Ahmanson Theatre in LA, the touring company is performing in Denver, Portland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Newark, Fort Myers, Cleveland and Washington, DC, among other cities. I had such a memorable evening listening to the wonderful Rodgers and Hammerstein score that I may go to see the show again in October when it comes to Costa Mesa. But I was spoiled with this Nellie and especially with Pittsinger’s Emile. I don’t want to be disappointed with another cast. That’s the fun of theater, though — different voices, different interpretations!

I guess that what I’m trying to say about this Emile and Nellie is that “This promise of paradise — This nearly was mine!”

A Lincoln Center Theater production at the Ahmanson Theatre, LA
Adapted from the novel “Tales of the South Pacific” by James A. Michener
Book: Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
Music: Richard Rodgers
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Executive Producer: Seth C. Wenig
Director: Bartlett Sher
Music Director: Ted Sperling
Conductor: Lawrence Goldberg
Musical Staging: Christopher Gattelli
Sets: Michael Yeargan
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Costumes: Catherine Zuber
Sound Design: Scott Lehrer
Orchestrations: Robert Russell Bennett
Producers: Bob Boyett, NETworks Presentations LLC, Bob Bartner/Howard Panter for Ambassador Theatre Group, Roger Berlind, Thomas L. Miller

The Lincoln Center Theater production remains at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York through August.