Christopher Koelsch, president and CEO of LA Opera, calls COVID-19 “the defining impediment of our time.” But concerns over the coronavirus are not hindering the company’s ambitions for the 2022–2023 season.
LA Opera will return to a prepandemic performance schedule with six full productions in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including the West Coast premiere of an eagerly awaited new work co-written by MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Rhiannon Giddens. The season also includes a larger-than-usual slate of concerts, plus several innovative works staged in smaller venues, including a new touring opera created for babies.
“Putting together a season of this scale and being able to attract this level of incredible directors, singers, and other theater artists, is a collective act of faith,” Koelsch said at a virtual press conference announcing the season. “It’s also a collective act of confidence that we are emerging from this [pandemic].
“I’m really excited by this season, and the momentum it represents, in terms of restoration and recovery. It is a reaffirmation of the urgency and necessity of the work we are doing together.”
The season kicks off Sept. 17 with Lucia di Lammermoor, in a new co-production with the Metropolitan Opera. Director Simon Stone’s production, which premieres at the Met this spring, “moves the action to present-day America in the midst of the opioid crisis,” Koelsch said.
The production will mark the debut of the company’s new resident conductor, Lina González-Granados, a Columbian-American musician who is wrapping up a two-year stint as the Chicago Symphony’s Solti Conducting Apprentice. The title role will be sung by Amanda Woodbury for the first three performances, and Liv Redpath for the final three.
The West Coast premiere of Omar follows on Oct. 22. It is based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said, a Muslim-African man who was enslaved in the American South in the early 19th century. It premieres at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston in May, and is scheduled to be staged in San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston, among other cities, following its Los Angeles run.
The work was co-created by Giddens, a founding member of the country/blues/roots band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, and Michael Abels, who composed the score to the horror film Get Out.
“The piece is astonishing and innovative in every way, in terms of vocal texture,” Koelsch said. “I don’t know of any other opera in history with vocal lines that were worked out on the banjo.”
Tosca, which follows on Nov. 19, will feature the return of star soprano Angel Blue, who was a member of the company’s Young Artists Program between 2007 and 2010. Gregory Kunde and Ryan McKinny co-star in the John Caird production, which will be conducted by Oksana Lyniv.
A new production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro opens Feb. 4. Conducted by Music Director James Conlon and staged by veteran filmmaker James Gray, with costumes designed by Christian Lacroix, it will feature Craig Colclough, Janai Brugger, Lucas Meachem, and Ana Maria Martínez.
The final two mainstage shows will be the company’s first performances of Pelléas and Mélisande since 1995, and its first performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello since 2008. Both the Claude Debussy opera, which opens March 25, and the Verdi, which opens May 13, will be conducted by Music Director James Conlon. Pelléas will be seen in David McVicar’s acclaimed production from Scottish Opera, and will star Sydney Mancasola and Will Liverman. Otello will feature artist-in-residence Russell Thomas in the title role.
Thomas will also give a recital of songs by African-American composers on Feb. 25, 2023, in the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall. Other recitalists will include tenor Juan Diego Flórez, Jan. 23 in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; Renée Fleming, June 10 in the Chandler; and the duo of mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard and guitarist Pablo Sáinz-Villegas, Dec. 3 in Zipper Hall.
The English Concert, conducted by Harry Bicket, will give a concert performance of Handel’s oratorio Solomon on March 10, 2023, in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Koelsch believes it will be the first time the 1749 work has ever been performed in Los Angeles. Also new to L.A. will be a double bill of contemporary Irish works by composers Emma O’Halloran and playwright Mark O’Halloran. The show, staged by Beth Morrison Projects, will take place April 27–30 at REDCAT.
Other offerings will include a screening of the classic 1931 horror film Frankenstein Oct. 28 and 29 at the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Composer Michael Shapiro will conduct members of the LA Opera Orchestra and Young Artists Program in a revised version of his 2002 score.
Finally, in the get-’em-hooked-early department, the company will debut a touring production of BambinO, an opera designed for babies between 6 and 18-months-old. It will be created by Scottish composer Lliam Paterson and directed by Phelim McDermott, who staged Philip Glass’s operas Akhnaten and Satyagraha for the company.
Of course, all of these plans are contingent upon COVID fading away, at least to manageable levels. Koelsch admitted that attendance was “a challenge” for the company’s initial 2021-2022 productions, but added that “it got increasingly better through the fall as people’s confidence grew.
“We feel extremely lucky that we completed the fall season without any interruptions,” he said. “Because we don’t come back to public performances until the second week of March, we feel reasonably confident that people will [feel safer] about returning as omicron, hopefully, passes.”
Subscriptions to the LA Opera’s 2022–2023 season, which start at $110 for all six mainstage operas, are now on sale. For more information, call (213) 972-8001, or go to LAOpera.org.