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Opera Review: The Visual Poetry of LA Opera’s “Eugene Onegin”

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” During LA Opera’s psychologically profound production of Piotr Illyich Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” red skies foreshadowed emotional storms, from the passion-red sky faced by Tatiana the morning after she wrote her feverish note to Onegin to the blazing landscape faced by Lensky on the morning of his fateful duel. LA Opera’s production masterfully captured the poetic spirit of Tchaikovsky’s opera, bringing the interior life of Alexander Pushkin’s characters to the foreground through sumptuous visual poetry. This beloved masterpiece has never before been performed at LA Opera. Its debut on Saturday night led by James Conlon was nothing short of world class. The visually stunning production was originally created in 2006 by the late director Steven Pimlott for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and was staged in Los Angeles by Francesca Gilpin. The production treated audiences to a dynamic tableau vivant, an invitation to step inside a living work of art.

It is fitting that LA Opera’s striking production is rich in visual metaphors, considering that Tchaikovsky’s opera was based on poetry, a novel-in-verse first published by Alexander Pushkin in 1833. In this work, the innovative Pushkin invented an unusual verse-form, one which has come to be known as the Onegin Stanza. Respectful of the literary source, Tchaikovsky did not refer to Eugene Onegin as an opera, but rather, as “lyrical scenes.” Tchaikovsky’s emphasis on the word lyric corresponds with LA Opera’s visually poetic interpretation, one that unearths the essence of the characters and brings them forth on stage.Peter Mumford’s lighting design evoked the vibrations of the soul, from peaceful palettes to blood-red intensity, shifting with the characters’ turbulent emotions and heightening Tchaikovsky’s expressionistic score.

In one beautifully choreographed lyrical scene in Act I,  Tatiana (Oksana Dyka) gleefully basks in a translucent pond, after pouring out her heart to Onegin in a love letter.  This visual image provoked a visceral understanding of her interior exhilaration.

Similarly, the starkly barren trees enhanced Lensky’s (Vsevolod Grinov) powerful rendition of “Kuda Kuda” in Act II. The symbiosis of set and vocals intensified the misery of Lensky’s alienation. Furthermore, dramatic paintings of Pietàlike human expression on the scrim heralded the beginning of each act, giving the audience visual clues to the chilling moments ahead.

In addition to the striking set, the cast of talented singers, including Slovakian baritone Dalibor Jenis as the eponymous hero, delivered an emotionally impacting performance. Oksana Dyka’s physical gestures as the girlish Tatiana were spot on. The Ukranian soprano embodied the perfect blend of innocence, conviction, and dignity as Pushkin’s noble heroine. In one of the longest arias in opera history, the letter scene, Dyka poignantly expressed the lovelorn girl’s turmoil through her pure voice. Keith Jameson’s Monsieur Triquet added a sensitivity and tenderness to the Tatiana Couplets in Act II that caused time to stand still with his interpretation.

LA Opera’s interpretation of Eugene Onegin takes audiences through the heart of Pushkin’s poetry, allowing us to hear, see, and feel its splendor all at once.

LA Opera’s performances of Eugene Onegin will take place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90012, on the following dates:

Wednesday, September 21, at 7:30pm

Sunday, September 25, at 2pm

Saturday, October 1, at 7:30pm

Thursday, October 6, at 7:30pm

Sunday, October 9, at 2pm

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ARIA’s Opening Night Festivities at LA Opera: From Russia With Love

All text and Photography © 2011

By Leticia Marie Sanchez

At LA Opera’s ARIA’s White Night party, chaired by actress and singer-songwriter Emmy Rossum a vivacious fur-capped hostess floated around the dance floor bearing divine desserts. As James Bond would say, from Russia With Love.


The Maestro himself, Placido Domingo, appeared at the ARIA party to introduce the talented artists

behind the production of Eugene Onegin including:conductor James Conlon,Stage Director Francesca Gilpin, and Lighting Designer Peter Mumford. Additionally, the party goers met the stars of Eugene Onegin including: Dalibor Jenis (Eugene Onegin), Oksana Dyka (Tatiana), Vsevolod Grinov (Lensky), Ekaterina Semenchuk (Olga), James Creswell (Prince Germin), Ronnita Nicole Miller (Filipievna), and Keith Jameson (Monsieur Triquet).

The Über-talented Oksana Dyka (third from Left, belowwhose performance as Tatiana brought down the opera house with multiple standing ovations earlier in the evening, spontaneously jumped on stage during the Aria afterparty and began to groove to 70’s rock.

One did not want the magical night to end. Never fear,Aria Nights at the Opera will continue this season with Roméo et Juliette on November 12, Simon Boccanegra on February 11, and La Bohème on May 12th.

For more information on ARIA, please visit:

http://www.losangelesopera.com/community/youngpro.aspx

Until then, keep your cultural cocktail glasses filled with bel canto, vibrati, and coloratura!

Leticia Marie Sanchez

Editor-in-Chief 

Cultural Cocktail Hour  

Reporting from LA Opera’s Opening Night: Saturday September 17th

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By Leticia Marie Sanchez

The program notes for Tuesday’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl included a 1920 quotation from Italian musician and conductor Ferrucio Busoni, “With Beethoven humanity enters into music for the first time.” Busoni’s postulate also holds true for the humanistic performance of violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman who led the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s in an all-Beethoven program including Romance No. 1 in G Major, Romance No. 2 in F. Major, Symphony No. 8 in F Major, and Symphony No. 5.

The indefatigable Mr. Perlman had the dual role of violist and conductor at Tuesday’s magnificent performance. Mr. Perlman’s sensitive interpretation of Beethoven had guts, soul, and heart.

As a conductor, Maestro Perlman is easily the best one to have graced the stage of the Hollywood Bowl for his talent in bringing out the best in each individual member of the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. Instead of turning Beethoven’s pieces into loud, showy works, as other conductors are apt to do, Mr. Perlman wisely elicited the nuance and texture brought about by each individual instrument, probing the depth and rich emotions of each piece. To the Hollywood Bowl’s credit, its video projection screens complemented the nuanced performance by providing close-ups of the individual members of the string, brass, woodwind, and percussion sections coming to the forefront at any given moment of the Beethoven Program. The perfect rhythms elicited by Mr. Perlman made the L.A. Philharmonic soar seamlessly as one, as they did during the Fourth Movement (Allegro) of the 5th Symphony.

Perhaps, none said it better than E.T.A. Hoffman: “the soul of each thoughtful listener is assuredly stirred, deeply and intimately, by a feeling that is none other than that unutterable portentous longing, and until the final chord — indeed, even in the moments that follow it — he will be powerless to step out of that wondrous spirit realm where grief and joy embrace him in the form of sound.”

The audience was electrified after such a soulful interpretation of Beethoven, rendering a once-familiar composer a newfound treasure. After the finale, I, and those near me, sat in our seats, stunned, tears flowing down our cheeks.

Thank you, Maestro Perlman for a life-changing experience and a memory that I will never forget.

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Rooting for the villain: the seductive powers of Richard III at Theatricum Botanicum

By Leticia Marie Sanchez

Nestled in a wooded glen, underneath the evening stars and accompanied by the hypnotic hum of crickets, Topanaga Canyon’s Theatricum Botanicum adds a dose of magic to Shakespeare. The outdoor Globe-like theater simultaneously infuses the Bard with reality and wonder. The march of Richard III’s army down dark, forest-like hills conveys a dimension of realism and immediacy that cannot be matched by an enclosed venue. Similarly, the towering loft used during the Tower of London murder scene enhanced the mysterious mood. The vast verdant set suspended the audience’s disbelief, as did the cast of talented actors in the Theatricum’s production of Richard III.

On Saturday night’s performance, Melora Marshall starred as the protean protagonist, triumphantly suspending the audience’s disbelief that the Machiavellian king could be played by a woman. With a small frame and intense, red-rimmed eyes, Ms. Marshall illustrated that the true source of Richard III’s power emanated from his cunning speech and a knack for manipulation. Marshall elicited sympathy for the murderous monarch not only through her constant limp, but more importantly via the edgy humor that she brought to the role. Marshall’s appealing underdog Richard III is akin to the archetypal schoolyard outcast who through sheer force of determination (and sarcastic zingers) manages to court the most popular girl, topple the In Crowd, and get the audience to root for him. Marshall’s comedic delivery of the line in Act I “Was ever woman in this humor wooed?” (after Richard’s brazen courting of Lady Anne at her husband’s funeral) added lightness to Richard’s realization of his dark powers. The casting of the tall Christopher W. Jones as Buckingham was a brilliant choice; the diminutive Richard bossing around the hulking Buckingham underscored Richard’s rhetorical and manipulative prowess.

One scene that humorously embodied Richard’s capacity for mind games occurred during Act III, when Richard “reluctantly” accepts his subjects’ pleas to be their ruler. Through this scene Marshall conveyed Richard’s talent for reverse psychology, another tool in his arsenal of manipulation. With Catesby, Buckingham, and the cast kneeling below him on the balcony, Richard protests innocently, “Why would you heap these cares on me/I am unfit for state and dignity.” The comedy of the scene was further depicted as the murderous Richard posed piously between two clergymen, holding a book of prayer. The gesture was especially biting in today’s world, a salient commentary on the hypocrisy of politicians who don the cloak of religion as a mantle to seduce the masses.

The entire cast of Ellen Geer’s production, from the precocious children playing Richard’s young nephews to the booming oracle, Queen Margaret (played by Earnestine Phillips), to the guilt-ridden Second Executioner of Clarence (Dylan Booth Vigus) added to the narrative’s vivacity . At one point, the wrapped bloody head of Hastings is tossed around like a football. Political battles are often a sport. With Marshall’s interpretation of Richard III, we don’t focus on the fact that he was more morally reprehensible than anyone else. What we realize is that in the bloody match of Team Lancaster Versus Team York, the glib-tongued Richard III was just better at the game.

Photo by IAN FLANDERS: Melora Marshall as Richard III, Willow Geer as Lady Anne

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Mozart at Crepuscule

All Text and Photography

© 2011 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Last night marked the opening weekend for the Grammy Award -Winning Southwest Chamber Music‘s Summer Festival at the Huntington.

While Lorenz Gamma, Shalini Vijayan, Jan Karlin, Luke Maurer, and Peter Jacobson performed String Quintet No. 1 in B flat major, K.174  and String Quintet No 2 in C Major, K.515  by Mozart and Chanson d’orage for Two Violins by Alexandra Du Bois, audience members sat in the loggia or picnicked on the grounds of the Huntington Museum which is rarely open at night.

The Huntington at dusk

resembled an estate

in an Evelyn Waugh novel-

with a dash of mystery—

As the crepuscule fell

and the silver moon rose,

the viola’s voice

and the cello’s crescendo

created a true

midsummer’s night dream.

The soft light warmed the profiles of ancient heroes..

For information on upcoming Southwest Chamber Music concerts at the Huntington this summer, please call:

626.685.4455 or visit:

http://www.swmusic.org/home/home.html

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All the World’s A Stage:

William Leavitt’s Theater Objects at MOCA

By Leticia Marie Sanchez

All photography© MOCA

All the world’s a stage, all the men and women merely players. Nowhere does Shakespeare’s expression hold more true than at William Leavitt’s Theater Objects at MOCA.

Walking into the exhibition one hears the constant chirping of birds and the flow of cool air. Are we in a jungle? A theme park? On the set of a play?

Leavitt’s engaging exhibition interacts with its audience, causing the museumgoer to constantly question where he or she stands.

Co-curated by MOCA Curator Bennett Simpson and Ann Goldstein, former MOCA senior curator and director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, William Leavitt: Theater Objects represents the first solo museum exhibition and retrospective of the artist’s 40-year career. The exhibit showcases approximately 90 works from 1969 to the present, including: sculptural tableaux, paintings, works on paper, and photographs.

Leavitt’s background in stagecraft, narrative, and theater, informs his work, which gives audiences a behind-the scenes peek at theatrical installations. An inscription in the exhibit gives a “nod to Raymond Chandler,” an apt allusion as Leavitt’s work veers into noir, into what is lurking behind the shadows, behind the patio, behind the façade.

William Leavitt, Theme Restaurant, 1986, oil on canvas 46 x 72 in., collection of Carolina Bilbao and Richard Massey, Miami

Leavitt employs satire in his painting of the landmark Encounter Restaurant at LAX by titling it Theme Restaurant. His title links the iconic airport restaurant to a theme park like Disneyland. The visual context of the painting, cleverly hung by MOCA next to Roller Coaster (1984) and Brown Derby (1987) underscores this motif. Leavitt’s satire highlights Los Angeles’ identity as an entertainment hub. Are people flying into the city simply to be entertained? (Ironically, the interior of the LAX restaurant, was in fact designed byWDI, Walt Disney Imagineering)

William Leavitt, California Patio, 1972, mixed media(artificial plants, Malibu lights, flagstone, slider, curtains, wooden wall, and text), 96x144x 96 in.,collection Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam,courtesy of Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Approaching California Patio (1972), are we walking on a set? Are we actors or viewers? Next to the patio set is a script, reinforcing the notion that the patio is merely an illusion.  The sliding door alludes to the wilderness coming in, the danger lurking behind the glass. The green curtains resemble theatrical curtains, adding to the spectacle motif in Leavitt’s exhibit.

William Leavitt, Cutaway View, 2008, mixed media installation with painting (acrylic on canvas),  98  x  75  x  26  in., painting:  30 x  40 in., courtesy of Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles

Cutaway View (2008) allows the viewer to play peek-a-boo with a horse glancing at us from behind foliage. The horse examines us quizzically with his steady gaze, putting us on the spot. Who is viewing whom exactly? Are we the spectator? Are we the audience? Leavitt plays with the experience of looking. The artificiality of the plant suggests façades around the city, heralding Los Angeles as a place to see and be seen, once again denoting the spectacle of the city.
Below:

William Leavitt, The Tropics,1974, gelatin silver prints and text, edition of  3 with  2 Artist proofs, each:  11 x 8  1/2 in., collection of Edward Israel,  Los Angeles

Finally, the Tropics is a multi-media display consisting of a water color set, a script, gelatin silver prints, and texts. The script tells the story of a man bestowing a pearl necklace upon his wife. The jaguar in the painting symbolizes the predatory nature of the man who uses jewelry as a means of seduction in the jungle of desire.
William Leavitt, Jaguar (from The Tropics), 1974, oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 44 1/4 in., courtesy of the artist
The plethora of visual media in the Tropics adds to its psychological dimension. The repetition of images like the jaguar elicits archetypes from our subconscious mind.
Presented through 10,000 square feet of exhibition space at MOCA Grand Avenue, Leavitt’s vast and cohesive exhibit marvelously takes the viewer on a journey, at once mysterious and humorous. Leavitt’s perspective on Los Angeles not only impacts the way that we see our city, but also the very way that we experience art itself.

Editor’s Note:

In addition to being an artist, Leavitt is also a playwright.

MOCA will stage two of his performance works in conjunction with the exhibition. Spectral Analysis (1977) will be performed in the galleries; Pyramid, Lens, Delta (2003) will be premiered as a table reading in the Ahmanson Auditorium at MOCA Grand Avenue.

William Leavitt: Theater Objects

March 13- July 3

MOCA Grand Avenue

250 South Grand Avenue, LA, CA 90012

http://www.moca.org/

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The Real Housewife of Düsseldorf County—Clara Schumann

Israela Margalit’s “Trio,” currently playing at the Lounge 2 Theater in Hollywood, offers a window into the artistic triangle between Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, and Johannes Brahms. Maragalit, a concert pianist, tied the play together with her own recorded compositions of Schumann, Brahms, and Beethoven.

Photo: From Left- Bjørn Johnson, Meghan Maureen Mc Donough. Jeremy Shranko

Meghan Maureen Mc Donough played the grim, subdued Clara Schumann, a once famous concert pianist repressed as a housewife cooking beans. Mc Donough’s Clara was a woman drained by years of belittlement by an insecure husband who would toss cruel jabs at her, including, “Those who can’t compose, play.”Her father, dynamically portrayed by Peter Colburn, bemoaned the wasting of Clara’s life. Bjørn Johnson, captured Robert Schumann’s madness with pathos, particularly when he called out in the asylum for his beloved Clara, his little “Clashen.”  Jeremy Shranko energetically portrayed the arc of Schumann’s protégé Brahms, from naïve tongue-tied ingénue to cunning manipulator.  Joseph Joachin, Brahms’ confidante (played by Brian Normoyle) radiated genuineness as a straight shooter, a voice of reason to his flattering friend.

The play worked best during the musical sequences.  For instance, when Brahms consoled an exhausted Clara, one heard his soothing Lullaby for Piano Solo. The music explained his solace and why Clara turned to him at that moment in time. Another memorable moment was a scene in which Clara and Brahms toyed with tempo, swept away rhythmically during Beethoven’s Appasionata. Margalit’s play was most meaningful when it centered on the music itself.

One minor weakness in the play is that structurally, a narrative element was needed to convey expository plot details: perhaps an introductory Greek-inspired chorus, a group of Düsseldorf townspeople, critics or audience-goers commenting on the timeline of the Schumann scandal. This element would have spared the actors from having to recount plot through dialogue (a structural challenge during which they did an excellent job) and instead focus on the immediate and the raw.

Margalit’s play begs the question: Can two eagles (artists) live together in domestic bliss? Or will one feel forever caged?

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