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Backstage at LA Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”- Madness, Police, and Daft Punk, Oh My!

Cultural Cocktail Hour had the opportunity to go backstage at LA Opera and explore the upcoming production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

There, French musician and composer Thomas Bloch, a worldwide specialist in the Glass Harmonica, introduced the press to this rare instrument, which adds a pivotal, haunting sound to the famous “Mad Scene” in Lucia.

Glass Harmonica

Bloch performed this instrument, even giving Maestro James Conlon an impromptu lesson.

Photo Left: Thomas Bloch teaching James Conlon the finer points of the Glass Harmonica. LA Opera. Photo © 2014 by Leticia Marie Sanchez

 10 Facts About the Glass Harmonica 

  1. Donizetti originally wrote a Glass Harmonica into the score for the 1st performance of Lucia. The musician who was supposed to perform the Glass Harmonica on opening night had not been paid and refused to perform. At the last minute, Donizetti had to rewrite the Glass Harmonica part for the flute.At LA Opera’s upcoming production of Lucia, audiences will have the opportunity to hear the music as it was originally intended- with a Glass Harmonica!
  1. A list of composers who have written for this instrument includes: Mozart, Beethoven, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, Donizetti, and Strauss.
  1. The spelling of this instrument varies, with some calling it an “Armonica” and others a “Harmonica”
  1. Mozart was introduced to the Glass Harmonica by Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, who used to “mesmerize” his patients with the sound (the word mesmerize derives from the doctor’s last name).
  1. German police banned the Glass Harmonica in the 19th century as it was thought to cause madness and premature birth.
  1. According to Thomas Bloch, someone once said, “The Glass Harmonica will break your nerves in less than one hour.” (Good thing it’s used in Lucia for less than 30 minutes!).
  1. The paint in older Glass Harmonicas was rich in lead, and the repeated exposure may have led to the resulting “madness.”
  1. Despite its dangerous rap, Paganini called it “An Angelic Organ.”
  1. Marie Antoinette played the Glass Harmonica. 
  1.  The Glass Harmonica is popular with modern rock bands; Musician Thomas Bloch has performed with the Gorillaz, Radiohead, Tom Waits, and even on the latest Daft Punk album!
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Review: “Billy Budd” at LA Opera


Onto the Edge of Your Seat

  LA Opera’s Billy Budd

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

 BBdd4098pLA Opera’s Billy Budd in a word?


Three standing ovations. The opening night of Billy Budd provoked rousing enthusiasm from the crowd. When even the villain elicits fanatical cheers, you know that something has gone incredibly right.

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd. (Photo: Robert Millard)

Firstly, the set. The formidable chorus of sailors resembles a powerful tableau vivant. Producer Francesca Zambella stipulated that the set not include a ship, and yet the oceanic allusions, through Alison Chitty’s simple yet evocative bold blue motif correspond with the subtle, nuanced undercurrents in Benjamin Britten‘s score.

It is no secret that James Conlon has championed the twentieth- century British composer by leading the centennial tribute, Britten 100/LA. Conlon’s deep love for the music was evident on Billy Budd’s opening night when the orchestra was in superlative form, clearly articulating the opera’s haunting musical themes, from the plaintive “heave ho” of weary sailors which recapitulated into the ominous mutiny motive.

In addition to the vivid set and Conlon’s passionate conducting, the opera was well cast on all counts. As Billy Budd, the charming baritone Liam Bonner exuded innocent exuberance and elicited pathos from the audience. In one pivotal scene, Budd is falsely accused of a crime and begins stammering.  The woman sitting in front of me audibly gasped “Oh no,” squirming in her seat with each successive stammer, pained to watch the good-natured Billy suffer. In contrast to the pure, uncorrupted Billy is nefarious villain John Claggart, whose role was sung by bass-baritone Greer Grimsley; the richness of Grimsley’s voice conveyed the inner turbulence of his character. Singing “There I established an order such as reigns in Hell,” he genuflected on the stage in his own devilishly twisted form of prayer.


Equally notable on opening night was tenor Richard Croft in the role of Captain Vere.

Richard Croft as Captain Vere (Photo: Robert Millard)

Croft’s dulcet voice changed in accord with the shades of his character, becoming strained and heavy during the final scene, an emotional outpour of bitterness and guilt. As he made his final confession, the audience sat on the edge of their seats. Inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, you could heard a pin drop. And then, multiple standing ovations for a moving production that riveted the audience from beginning to end.

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Backstage at LA Opera’s “Billy Budd”

Billy Budd collageCultural Cocktail Hour’s Editor-in-Chief Leticia Marie Sanchez had the opportunity to go backstage on the set of Benjamin Britten’s seafaring opera Billy Budd which opens at LA Opera on February 22nd.

Backstage at Billy Budd: 3 Fun Facts

1. Water and Britten

Conductor James Conlon explained, “Water is an enormous element in Britten’s music.” Born in the fishing port of Lowestoft, England, Britten was influenced by his childhood panorama; as an adult, he set many of his operas in locales surrounded by water. For instance, Peter Grimes takes place in a fishing village.Death in Venice takes place in the Italian city of canals, while Billy Budd takes place on a battleship, the HMS Indomitable.

2. The Odyssey of the Set

The set that you will see braved London storms, the Panama Canal, New York tempests- and (whew!) made it to Los Angeles safely.

3. Singing while stuttering

Backstage at LA Opera, CCH interviewed baritone Liam Bonner who plays Billy Budd, asking him about the hero’s stutter. In the opera (and Herman Melville’s novella, on which the opera is based) the idealistic, kind-hearted hero is depicted as having a stammer. In the narrative, the stutter plays a crucial role; when Billy is falsely accused of a crime, he is so aghast and flustered that he cannot verbally defend himself.

CCH: “Do you incorporate the stutter into your role?”

Liam Bonner: “Yes. It’s the hardest part of the piece to get in your body.” Mr. Bonner admitted. He described looking down at the prompter to see a plethora of stutters incorporated into the libretto. “There’s one. There’s another one.”

Photo Collage © 2014 by  Leticia Marie Sanchez

Clockwise: Interior Dorothy Chandler Pavillion during orchestra rehearsal, sheet music used by musicians during rehearsal, the set of Billy Budd, Liam Bonner speaking to the press.

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This Week’s Top Pick in LA

Hearsay of the Soul, Werner Herzog

Getty Center. 1200 Getty Center Drive. LA, CA. 90049. (310) 440-7300

Closing April 20th

This moving journey into interior worlds combines the landscape etchings of 16th century Dutch artist Hercules Segers with the music of cellist and composer Ernst Reijseger. For this pilgrim, sitting on the bench in front of the installation the experience felt intensely spiritual, a communion with haunting music and the powerful, evanescent flashes of nature.The experience called to mind William Wordsworth’s poem, the World Is Too Much With Us; Late and Soon”

The world is too much with us; late and soon/
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers/
Little we see in Nature that is ours

Thankfully, Herzog’s piece allows us to escape the white noise, the constant distractions of the modern world. To take a journey into nature. To take a jouney into the self. Emerging refreshed and renewed.

-CCH Editor Leticia Marie Sanchez

Here is an excerpt of the artist’s statement about this piece:

It is time that we make a pilgrimage to the work of Hercules Segers, the father of modernity in art. Sometimes great visionaries appear who seem to anticipate the course of our culture, like the pharaoh Akhenaten, who, in addition to creating a new style of art in ancient Egypt, was more than a thousand years ahead of his time as the first monotheist. Or like Carlo Gesualdo, prince of Venosa, who, four hundred years ago in his Sixth Book of Madrigals, created music that leads straight to the twentieth century. This list is extendable: Hölderlin, who as a poet went to the outer limits of human language, or Turner, predecessor of the Impressionists.

Segers’s images are hearsay of the soul. They are like flashlights held in our uncertain hands, a frightened light that opens breaches into the recesses of a place that seems somewhat known to us: our selves…

—Werner Herzog

Photo Above: Installation of Hearsay of the Soul at the Getty Center. Hearsay of the Soul, 2012, Werner Herzog. © Werner Herzog.

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Wise Man: George Bernard Shaw

You use a glass mirror to see your face;

 You use works of art to see your soul.”  

- George Bernard Shaw















Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome

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Rock on, Gottlieb– the many nicknames of Mozart

In honor of MOZART’S BIRTHDAY, his many nicknames

First published by Cultural Cocktail Hour on May 2, 2011

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by Leticia Marie Sanchez

A lecture by Professor Robert Greenberg, from San Francisco Performances, revealed hidden gems about Mozart’s name. Enjoy!

Baptized Name: Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart

The divinely-inspired composer adored word games.

He called himself: Di Mozartini, Mozartus, and Mozarti

 He also enjoyed playing with the letters of his name and called himself:

 Romatz, Trazom, Volfgangus (Latin Version) Gangflow (backwards)

 His middle name, Theophilus, had the most permutations

 His father called him GOTTLIEB because Gottlieb is the German version of Theophilus- “love of God”)

What was Mozart’s personal favorite? 

Amédée, the French version, which he picked up when he lived in Paris.

 He actually never referred to himself as Amadeus!

 (Unless it was a joke, then he would call him self Woolfgangus Amadeus)

Out of respect for Mozart’s preference, someone should have told FALCO to title their 80′s hit Rock Me, Gottlieb.”

or Rock me, Trazom.”

Editor’s Note: For a refresher on the Falco tune in question, check out:

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January 21- Happy Birthday Plácido Domingo!: Video Appearance on CCH

In honor of Plácido Domingos birthday today, here is a video clip where the Maestro made a cameo appearance, chatting briefly with Cultural Cocktail Hour Founder Leticia Marie Sanchez after his performance of Simon Boccanegra during an episode on the history of LA Opera.

Wishing the Maestro



and many more triumphs

in the coming year!   

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This weekend Top Picks in LA: Jan 17-19

This weekend’s Cultural Cocktail recipe includes a splash of Brahms and more than a dash of Art:

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AX BRAHMS PROJECT: Emanuel Ax & Robin Ticciati

Fri Jan 17 8:00PM; Sat Jan 18 2:00PM; Sun Jan 19 2:00 PM;

LIGETI: Melodien; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 1; Walt Disney Concert Hall. 111 S. Grand Ave. LA, CA USA 90012 (323) 850-2000


LA Art Show


LA Convention Center; South Hall J and K; 1201 South Figueroa St. LA, CA 90015

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Happy New Year to my readers!

 Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

In 2013, Cultural Cocktail Hour traveled through Andalusia, Umbria, Chianti, and Tuscany.

Wishing my readers around the globe a very HAPPY NEW YEAR replete with

Many Blessings,

Cultural Adventures,


Creative Inspiration!

Best Wishes,

Leticia Marie Sanchez, Editor-in-Chief, C.C.H.


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Meet the Duke of Osuna

Goya’s Portrait of Don Pedro, Duque de Osuna, at the Norton Simon


Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

Cultural Cocktail Hour had the pleasure of meeting the Duke of Osuna at the Norton Simon last week. The Duke is currently wintering in sun-drenched Pasadena, on a vacation from his Upper East Side pied-à-terre, New York’s Frick Collection. Accompanied by his entourage, Senior Frick Curator Grace Galassi and Norton Simon Chief Curator Carol Tognieri, the Duke met members of the press on Thursday evening.

Allow me now to introduce you, fair readers, to the Duke.

Here are some tidibits to help you get to know this bigwig.(His literal perruque is quite subtle and ever-so-tasteful.)

3 Fun Facts about Goya’s Don Pedro, Duque de Osuna

#1 Check out the Letter

When you are standing in front of the portrait, you will see a letter. This unfolded missive is signed from the artist to the Duke. El Duque De Osuna, Por Goya. (The Duke of Osuna, By Goya).

The symbol of the letter reflects Goya’s intimacy with the Duke.This scroll is like a modern-day email, a friendly little tweet. 

If the Duke of Osuna and Goya were on Facebook, they would totally be friends.

#2 No bling

Observe the Duke’s clothing. No flashy medals. No honorific decorations. As one of the most powerful men in Spain, he decided to leave his status symbols at home. Similarly, Goya approached this painting with a less restricted, looser application of paint. The Duke’s informal appearance underscores the relaxed rapport between these two chums.

#3 Rebel With A Cause

The Duke and his wife, Maria Josefa Pimental, 15th Countess of Benavente, were intellectual rebels at heart; they hosted salons with forward thinking playwrights, scientists and artists. 

(They often held salons in their French-inspired country estate, entitled, “El Capricho de la Alameda de Osuna.” Which translates as “The Whim of the Poplar Groves of the Osuna.” A Whim! Who wouldn’t want to live in Whim? What does a whim look like?  I imagine there are inspiring breezes, balconies, and balustrades. But I digress.)

Thanks to their power and fortune, the lucky Duke and Countess-Duchess could bend the rules in their quest for the avant-garde. In fact, they were allowed to buy works (gasp!) banned by the Inquisition. Now that sounds just like a Cultural Cocktail Hour kind of party!

Lesson learned: Don’t judge a book (or a Duke) by his cover.

Painting Above: Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (Spanish, 1746–1828)
Don Pedro, Duque de Osuna, c.1790s
Oil on canvas
54 1/4 x 43 x 4 in. (137.8 x 109.2 x 10.2 cm)
The Frick Collection; photo: Michael Bodycomb

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