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.

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