L.A. Opera’s 2019-20: Six New-to-L.A. Productions

Jim Farber on January 27, 2019
Plácido Domingo makes a role debut in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux | Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s Eurydice; the return of Pelléas et Mélisande after an absence of 25 years, conducted by James Conlon; Du Yun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera about human trafficking, Angel’s Bone; and a Broadway musical starring Renée Fleming — they’re all part of Los Angeles Opera’s 2019-2020 season that was announced Sunday. And of course: there’s Plácido Domingo.

It’s impossible to overstate Domingo’s importance since he helped guide the creation of Los Angeles Opera in 1987. His name alone has been a formidable asset — on stage, in the pit, behind the scenes as an administrator, and internationally as the company’s greatest ambassador.

Not surprisingly Sunday’s announcement includes yet another opportunity for Domingo to add to his list of roles sung. A year from now, he will appear for the first time as the Duke of Nottingham in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. The production will also feature the L.A. Opera debut of Spanish soprano Davinia Rodriguez, as Queen Elizabeth, and conductor Eun Sun Kim. The role of Roberto Devereux will be sung by tenor Ramón Vargas.

Barrie Kosky’s new production of La Bohème opens the 2019-20 season | Credit: Rufus Didwiszus

Domingo is part of an artistic/administrative troika that includes Music Director James Conlon and President/CEO Christopher Koelsch. Their influence is as important as Domingo’s in terms of establishing programming, artist selection and maintaining ongoing associations with directors such as Barrie Kosky, whose new production of Puccini’s La Bohème will open the season Sept. 14. The production’s world premiere also took place Sunday at the Komische Oper Berlin.

“I’m exceedingly pleased with the range, volume, and diversity of our next season,” said Koelsch. “Six of the seven mainstage productions will be new to Los Angeles, including director David McVicar’s production of Pelléas et Mélisande [from Scottish Opera]. It’s been 25 years since it was last presented here. (That production, which updated the setting of the opera to Malibu and took place during the O.J. Simpson trial, was directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen.) The upcoming production will welcome back Willard White in the role of Arkel. He was Golaud when he sang with the company 25 years ago.

L.A. Opera President and CEO Christopher Koelsch | Credit: Craig Matthew

“A cynic would say I’m obliged to be pleased with the productions, conductors, designers, directors, and singers we’ve put together, but I genuinely am. Do I want more? Of course! I’ll always want more,” Koelsch added with a laugh.

One of the most important associations and initiatives that Koelsch spearheaded allowed for the expansion of the company beyond the 3,200-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center. With its “Off Grand” series, the company has established an ongoing relationship with New York-based Beth Morrison Projects, Cal Arts’ REDCAT Theater, and the use of a restored downtown movie palace now known as The Theatre at Ace Hotel. The series allows L.A. Opera to venture outside traditional repertory, attract new audiences, and offer more reasonably priced performances. The current season saw the premiere of Ellen Reid’s provocative opera, prism, and will soon present David Lang’s The Loser, starring Rodney Gilfry.

“Our essential mandate,” Koelsch explained, “is to do illuminating productions of the standard repertory. But we also want to expand the tradition of what the canon is by offering persuasive productions of pieces that are less familiar. You might assume that means our ‘Off Grand’ series, but it also applies to our mainstage. We feel we have an obligation to present the next generation of directors, singers, designers, as well as conductors, composers, and librettists.”

Matthew Aucoin conducts his new opera Eurydice | Credit: Steven Laxton

The coming season’s mainstage and “Off Grand” offerings will include the world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s updated, feminist take on the Orpheus legend, Eurydice, with a libretto by Sarah Ruhl based on her play. Aucoin will conduct the performances that will feature Danielle de Niese in the title role. The director will be Mary Zimmerman. Aucoin, Ruhl, and Zimmerman are all MacArthur “Genius” grant recipients.

In conjunction with the premiere, L.A. Opera will present a county-wide event called Eurydice Found. There will be an art performance called the Orphic Soundwalk, a site-specific dance work, Underworld/Underpass, by Heidi Duckler Dance, staged under the historic 7th Street Bridge, as well as a song cycle by Ricky Ian Gordon for soprano, clarinet, and piano, to be presented at the Boston Court Theater in Pasadena.

Du Yun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Angel’s Bone premiered in 2016 | Credit: Hong Kong Arts Festival

Next season the company will expand its list of performance venues to include The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, where it will present Du Yun’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Angel’s Bone, to a libretto by Royce Vavrek. The opera has been described as a “hard-hitting allegory of human trafficking in modern times.”

L.A. Opera will also venture into the realm of Broadway with a presentation of the Adam Guettel/Craig Lucas musical The Light in the Piazza. The marquee star of this semistaged production will be Renée Fleming, who last appeared in a dramatic role with the company in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Even more spare will be the concert version of Handel’s Rodelinda, with soprano Lucy Crowe in the title role and countertenor Iestyn Davies as Bertarido, featuring Harry Bicket conducting The English Concert in the pit.

The Queen of the Night in L.A. Opera’s production of The Magic Flute | Credit: Robert Millard

Since its formative years, L.A. Opera has reached out to the entertainment industry, inviting Academy Award-winning film directors (such as Herbert Ross, John Schlesinger, and Woody Allen) and designers to take on their first operatic projects.

Continuing in the tradition, the company will present a new production of The Marriage of Figaro directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z) with scenery by Santo Loquasto and costumes by Christian Lacroix.

FALL 2019

La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini
Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa
Sept. 14–Oct. 6
Mimì: Marina Costa-Jackson
Rodolfo: Saimir Pirgu
Musetta: Erica Petrocelli
Marcello: Kihun Yoon
Schaunard: Michael J. Hawk
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Barrie Kosky
Co-production with Komische Oper Berlin

The Light in the Piazza by Adam Guettel
Book by Craig Lucas
Oct. 12–20
Margaret Johnson: Renée Fleming
Conductor: Kimberly Grigsby
Director: Daniel Evans
L.A. Opera new production

The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Emmanuel Schickaneder
Nov. 16–Dec. 15
Pamina: Zuzana Marková
Tamino: Bogdan Volkov / Joshua Wheeker
Papageno: Theo Hoffman
Queen of the Night: So Young Park
Sarastro: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo
Monostatos: Frederick Ballentine
Papagena: Sarah Vautour
The Speaker: Michael J. Hawk
Conductor: James Conlon / Grant Gershon
Director: Barrie Kosky / Suzanne Andrade
Production by 1927 (theater company)

Eurydice by Matthew Aucoin
Libretto by Sarah Ruhl, based on her play
Feb. 1–23
Eurydice: Danielle de Niese
Eurydice’s Father: Rod Gilfry
Orpheus: Joshua Hopkins
Orpheus Double: John Holiday
Hades: Barry Banks
Conductor: Matthew Aucoin
Director: Mary Zimmerman
L.A. Opera production, world premiere

Roberto Devereux by Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, after the play by François Ancelot
Feb. 22–March 14
Queen Elizabeth I: Davinia Rodriguez
Roberto Devereux: Ramón Vargas
Duke of Nottingham: Plácido Domingo
Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham: Alice Coote
Conductor: Eun Sun Kim
Director: Stephen Lawless
L.A. Opera new production

Pelléas et Mélisande by Claude Debussy
Libretto adapted by the composer from the play by Maurice Maeterlinck
May 2–23
Mélisande: Kate Lindsey
Pelléas: Yunpeng Wang
Golaud: Christopher Purves
King Arkel: Willard White
Geneviève: Nancy Maultsby
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: David McVicar
Production from Scottish Opera

Rodelinda in concert, by Georg Frideric Handel
Libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, based on an earlier libretto by Antonio Salvi
May 8
Rodelinda: Lucy Crowe
Bertarido: Iestyn Davies
Grimoaldo: Joshua Ellicott
Eduige: Jess Dandy
Unulfo: Anthony Roth Costanzo
Garibaldo: Brandon Cedel
Conductor: Harry Bicket
Orchestra: The English Concert
The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
June 6–28
Figaro: Craig Colclough
Susanna: Ying Fang
Countess Almaviva: Guanqun Yu
Count Almaviva: Christopher Maltman
Cherubino: Rihab Chaieb
Doctor Bartolo: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marcellina: Marie McLaughlin
Don Basilio: Brenton Ryan
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: James Gray
L.A. Opera new production

Psycho, movie by Alfred Hitchcock
Score by Bernard Herrmann
Oct. 25–31, The Theatre at Ace Hotel
Accompanied live by the L.A. Opera Orchestra

Angel’s Bone by Du Yun
Libretto by Royce Vavrek
May 1 and 3, The Broad Stage, Santa Monica
Mrs. X.E.: Abigail Fischer
Mr. X.E.: Kyle Pfortmiller
Girl Angel: Rosie K
Boy Angel: Kyle Bielfield
Conductor: Daniela Candillari
Director: Michael Joseph McQuilken
Production from Beth Morrison Projects