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Review: Simon Boccanegra at LA Opera- a MUST-SEE Production

          Review: LA Opera’s Simon Boccanegra

A Night of Dignity and Glory
by

Leticia Marie Sanchez

©2012

Director Elijah Moshinsky’s Simon Boccanegra, now on stage at LA Opera, was originally created in 1991 for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and exudes majesty and dignity. The plebians, the ninety-nine percent movement in fourteenth-century Genoa, want to occupy the Doge’s palace and remove the patricians from power through the corsair hero of the masses, Simon Boccanegra. Moshinsky’s glorious production does not use any gimmicks or flash. Instead, through his elegant reverence for history and a beautifully refined set, the music and characters come to the forefront of the opera, riveting the audience as does Plácido Domingo in the title role.

Even before Simon Boccanegra begins, a blue impressionist screen sets the stage, alluding to the oceans conquered by the pirate hero of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, (our English word for buccaneer derives from Boccanegra). Seductive sea currents literally flow on stage while James Conlon conducts the orchestra, evoking Debussy-like waves. Simon Boccanegra represents a deeply personal memory for Conlon, and his conducting on opening night honored that memory. In a podcast interview on LA Opera’s website, Conlon revealed that watching Giorgio Strehler’s production of Simon Boccanegra as a youth so moved him that it became his favorite recollection of an opera production. Conlon did justice to that defining moment by shaping Saturday evening’s music into a dynamic character. For instance, when Boccanegra reaches for a poison-filled chalice in Act II, ominous strains of the strings hint at the nefarious culprit, who is not on stage. As the strings evoke the villain, a woman in the audience gasped, “Paolo.”

Michael Yeargan‘s sets poetically captured the themes of the opera. Black and white tiles adorned the stage floor, a metaphorical chessboard for the power plays in fourteenth-century Genoa. The first act takes the audience inside a striking hall of Doric columns whose heightened perspective makes us feel like we are stepping into a Brunelleschi-designed colonnade. In the last scene, a stark blue square, like an azure Rothko framed by Doric columns, hearkens back to the blue screen at the prologue, fittingly, as Boccanegra has gone full circle and sings of his memories.

Duane Schuler’s lyrical lighting envelops the audience in the darkened ambiance of political intrigue. Shadows herald the tragic death of Simon’s lover, Maria. In contrast, during the fortuitous entrance of his daughter Amelia (in which she prevents her beloved father from stabbing), a golden splash of lights illuminates the darkened columns. We can see and feel that Amelia is her father’s sunshine. The interplay between shadows and light underscore the emotional heart of Verdi’s opera.

The dark motifs blend seamlessly with the voices in this opera, the low voices of bass (Vitalij Kowaljow as Fiesco) and baritone. Plácido Domingo, renown for his prowess as a tenor, emerges triumphant in the baritone role of Simon Boccanegra. His voice radiates in the lower tessitura and he infuses the role of the Doge with equal measures of dignity and tenderness, particularly for his daughter wonderfully portrayed by Ana María Martínez. Although Ms. Martínez has sung with Mr. Domingo in other venues and has been conducted at LA Opera by the maestro, this production marks the first time that they have sung together on the LA Opera stage. A 1995 winner of the Operalia World Opera Competition, founded by Mr. Domingo, Ms. Martínez’s cascading soprano sound contrasts brilliantly with Domingo’s burnished baritone at the end of Act I, (“Figlia! a tal nome io palpito) when she sings “I will be your dove of peace.”  Italian Baritone Paolo Gavanelli flourishes in the role of the Karl-Rove-like mastermind (“You owe your thrown to me”) Paolo, and tenor Stefano Secco embodies the jealous young lover, Gabriele Adorno. One of the most powerful moments in the opera was the trio between Adorno, Amelia, and the Doge in the second Act (“Oh Amelia…ami..un nemico”). The intensity and emotional impact of this trio laid bare the vivid humanity at the core of Verdi’s opera. Chorus master Grant Gershon successfully guided the chorus of the Genovese crowd; their eerie hisses of “be cursed” to Paolo at the end of the Council Chamber scene proved a spine-chilling finale in Act I.

Left: Plácido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra.

In addition to Domingo’s powerful singing, his acting made the Doge of Genoa riveting to watch. Domingo embodied statesmanlike gravitas while radiating intense emotion for his daughter, the wellspring of his joy. Domingo literally threw himself into the role, in a way never before seen by other singers. When Domingo unpredictably threw the full weight of his body onto the ground, shockingly collapsing at the end of Act III, the painful thud made the audience jump in their seats. Did he just collapse? Domingo pushed the envelope, suspending disbelief. How the mighty have fallen, one thought while watching a powerful ruler expire before our very eyes.

 

During the final act, Fiesco warns Boccanegra, “The hand of the Lord has written your fate on the walls,” a clear allusion to the Biblical narrative in the Book of Daniel in which the writing on the wall  signals to King Belshazzar that his end is near. One of the most enriching symbols in Moshinsky’s production revolves around the various writings on the wall. In the prologue, the plebians have scrawled graffiti in favor of Simon Boccanegra. In contrast to the street graffiti, esoteric gold-tinged Latin sayings reinforce the rarefied atmosphere of the council chambers, as do the late Peter Hall’s sumptuous red costumes. In the center of the majestic wall, one word stands out. Dignus Summa. Dignified. Worthy.

That one word captures LA Opera’s production of Simon Boccanegra, the best work by the Los Angeles company to date: Dignified. Worthy of opera. Worthy of Verdi. Opera at its highest level. The enthusiastic standing ovations on opening night revealed the audience’s appreciation of this dream team production. Bravo to Conlon, Moshinsky, Yeargan, and last, but not least, the inimitable, unstoppable force of nature, Plácido Domingo.

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Cultural Events LA: Feb 10, 11, 12

Giuseppe Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra starring 

Plácido Domingo

Opening Night

Sat Feb 11th 7:30 p.m.

LA Opera135 North Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213) 972-8001

http://www.laopera.com/

ARIA Night at the Opera

Sat. Feb. 11

On opening night, members will attend the Company Premiere of Simon Boccanegra and immediately following the performance, gather for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres at downtown LA’s historic Engine Co. No. 28

For information, please visit: http://www.losangelesopera.com/community/youngpro.aspx

 New Faces from Egypt: Roman Panel Paintings

Sat. Feb. 11 2:00 p.m

Getty Villa, Auditorium. 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA.

(310) 440-7300

Admission: Free; a ticket is required. Call (310) 440-7300 or use the “Get Tickets” button on the website below. Parking fee: $15

http://www.getty.edu/museum/programs/lectures/roman_panel_paintings.html

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In the news: Lost work by Brahms discovered in Princeton Library

 

Conductor and Musicologist Christopher Hogwood discovered a two-minute piano piece by Johannes Brahms in a Princeton library.

Brahms had composed the piece when he was only 20 years old.

The piece received its world premiere this year by pianist Andras Schiff on BBC Radio 3. 

For the full story, read:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/jan/13/brahms-piano-piece-premiere

To listen to the gem of a piece, please visit:

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Cultural Events LA Feb 3, 4, 5, & 7

A Conversation with Gary Oldman at LACMA

Followed by a screening of The Contender

Fri. Feb 3. 7:30 p.m

5905 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 857-6000

For further information, please view:

http://www.lacma.org/event/oldman-conversation-contender

Chinese New Year Festival 2012 at the Huntington

Sat Feb. 4 & Sun Feb 5 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Musical performances, dragon dancing, calligraphy, & more.

1151 Oxford Road. San Marino, CA  91108. 626.405.2100

For the full program schedule, please view:

http://www.huntington.org/huntingtonlibrary_02.aspx?id=5818

Joshua Bell at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Tues. Feb 7th

Mendelssohn: Violin Sonata in F Major; Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108; Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Piano; Ysaÿe: Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 27, No. 3, “Ballade;” Gershwin: Three Preludes. 111 South Grand Ave. LA, CA 90012 323.850.2000

http://www.laphil.com

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Cultural Events LA- Jan 27, 28, 29

Da Camera Society

Fri. Jan. 27.  8 pm

Augustin Hadelich, violin & Joyce Yang, piano

Pompeian Room,  Doheny Mansion. 8 Chester Place, LA, CA, 90007. 213-477-2929

http://dacamera.org/

Memling’s “Portrait of a Man” on loan from The Frick Collection

Opens Fri. Jan. 27

Norton Simon 411 W. Colorado Boulevard Pasadena, CA 91105 626.449.6840

http://www.nortonsimon.org/

 

Mahler: Symphony No. 6

Sat, Jan 28, 8:00pm

Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gustavo Dudamel, conductor.

Walt Disney Concert Hall. 111 South Grand Avenue. LA, CA 90012 323.850.2000

http://www.laphil.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cultural Events LA- Jan 20, 21, 22

The recipe for this weekend’s delicious Cultural Cocktail Hour includes: One Part classical music in a museum, Two Doses of Mozart and an award-winning young violinist, and a Splash of the brightest stars in the contemporary art world. Shaken, not stirred. Enjoy!

The Italian Connection: An Evening of Piano Masterworks- Norton Simon

Fri. Jan. 20 7:00 p.m.

Thomas Pandolfi, pianist

Program includes: Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D Minor, transcribed for solo piano by Earl Wild, four sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, a nocturne by Ottorino Respighi, and Franz Liszt’s Dante Sonata

Held in the 20th-century gallery. Stickers for ensured seating will be distributed starting at 6:00 p.m.

411 W. Colorado Boulevard Pasadena, CA 91105 626.449.6840 http://www.nortonsimon.org/

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra presents Mozart (Mostly)

Sat Jan 21- 8:00 p.m Alex Theater, Glendale; Sunday Jan 22 Royce Hall, UCLA- 7:00 p.m.

Andrew Shulman, conductor. Nigel Armstrong, violin.

Mozart Symphony No. 29 in A major ; Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major;  Walton Sonata for Strings Alex Theatre 216 North Brand Boulevard.Glendale, CA 91203. (818) 243 7700 Royce Hall. 340 Royce Dr. Westwood, CA 90095 For more information, please visit: http://www.laco.org/

 

 LA Art Show

January 18-22Los Angeles Convention Center

Artists include: Damien Hirst, Ed Ruscha, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Arshile Gorky, Andy Warhol, Fernando Botero, and others.

For information on purchasing tickets, please visit:

http://www.laartshow.com/

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Plácido Domingo Awards Dinner- Feb 19th

Enjoy Dinner with Plácido Domingo

During the presentations at the 14th 

Plácido Domingo Awards Dinner

Sunday, Feb. 19th, 2012

Eva and Marc Stern Hall of the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion

After the 2:00 p.m. performance of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra

For more information, please visit:

http://www.hispanicsforlaopera.org/ 

or call (213) 792-7338

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In the news: Live Classical Music helps veterans in California hospital

Today, The Los Angeles Times reported an uplifting story related to the health benefits of music.

Live classical music performances by a harpist and classical guitarist, improved the well-being of patients at a California hospital. The patients were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among other issues.Upon observing the significant changes in his patients, one doctor remarked, “It’s like an amazing miracle, and I don’t say that lightly.” 

Vermeer. The Guitar Player. 1672.

 

For the full story, please read:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-ptsd-music-20120116,0,1657849.story

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Cultural Cocktail Hour heads to San Francisco: “Masters of Venice” at the de Young Fine Arts Museum

Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power

 By Leticia Marie Sanchez

It was the best of times. It was the best of times.

Stepping into San Francisco’s de Young Museum of Fine Arts is stepping into the Venetian Renaissance. Entering the exhibit you feel like one of the many pilgrims shown in the de Young’s reproduction of Bellini’s panoramic scene on Piazza San Marco.

Gentile Bellini: Procession in the Piazza San Marco, 1496.

The Masters of Venice applies to the city’s painters and power-brokers. Canvases of Venetian merchant ships made the city a maritime power. Canvases of avant-garde artists during the Quattrocento and Cinquecento like Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, and Tintoretto pushed the creative envelope.

The Venetian School revolutionized painting by shifting away from rigid wood panels, favoring canvases as a medium of choice as well as oil painting instead of the quickly drying and less-forgiving egg-based tempera. The ability to lavish layer upon layer of oil produced a richness of hue and a glossy dimension that distinguished these artists from their Florentine counterparts for whom Disegno, or design, was paramount. For the Venetians color reigned supreme.

Moretto da Brescia. Portrait of a Young Woman, circa 1540 

Not only does the exhibit give the viewer a sense of the Venetian Renaissance, it provides context to the paintings’ permanent home in Vienna. By a stroke of luck and excellent timing, the entire temporary exhibit (Closing February 12th) was transferred lock, stock, and barrel to San Francisco (as the only US destination) from Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses the collection of the Hapsburg Empire.

Who is the gentleman surrounded by so many paintings? One of the first galleries in the de Young exhibit contains an intriguing depiction of Hapsburg mega-collector Archduke Wilhelm standing in his well-stocked Brussels gallery. This lucky man eventually owned many of these Venetian beauties.

Look closely at these “paintings within the painting.” Like a game of clue, you will discover nine of the Archduke’s paintings in the de Young, including Giorgone’s The Three Philosophers, Titian’s Christ and the Adulteress, and Titian’s Il Bravo.

This clever image at the exhibit’s opening encourages the viewer to embark on a treasure hunt through the galleries to spot the Archduke’s paintings. What once belonged to the Archduke, now belongs to everyone in the de Young, if only for another month.

Above, David Teniers the Younger. Hapsburg Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in his Gallery in Brussels. Circa 1650

Do not miss Andrea Mantegna‘s “David with the Head of Goliath.

Mantegna set out to prove that painting was just as good as sculpture, and he certainly proved his point. The sculptural quality of this David sets it apart from every other work in the exhibit.

Andrea Mantegna. ”David with the Head of Goliath. Circa 1490.

 

 

The Fashion Police won’t arrest me”

The Sumptuary Laws of Renaissance Venice governed the manner of dress and required that citizens dress within norms governing each specific class. The rules permitted extravagant colors for the chosen few, like this red-garbed Procurator of San Marco, the second most powerful man in Venice after the Doge.

Bernardino Licinio. Portrait of Ottavio Grimani. 1541 

 

 ”Et tu Pentheus?”

Titian’s “Il Bravo” illustrates the moment in Ovid’s Metamorphoses when Bacchus is arrested by Pentheus, King of Thebes. While at the exhibit, be sure to get close to Pentheus’ armor. Its shiny dimensionality reflects Titian’s superb talent in evoking luminosity.

Tiziano Vecellio, “Titian.” Il Bravo. Circa 1520.

 

Who is the real voyeur, here?

Tintoretto’s “Susana and the Elders” depicts the Biblical tale of a virtuous woman spied on by two elderly lechers. Despite their futile attempts to seduce and slander, the men are soon proven prevaricators. The painting embodies the literal and figurative contrast between light and dark. Up close, one can admire Tintoretto’s skillful rendering of the luxurious jewelry, earrings, and the human body. It is a bit ironic that a morality tale about the pitfalls of voyeurism presents us the voyeurs, or viewers, rather, with an unabashed celebration of a voluptuous nude.

Jacopo Rusti, called Tintoretto. Susanna and the Elders. Circa 1560

Perhaps Tintoretto’s work reflects the nature of art itself. While contemplating a work of art, whether painting, music, or drama we become privy to a complete stranger’s exterior and sometimes psychological world.

The moment that the artist reveals himself or herself to us, are we also voyeurs?

Masters of Venice: Renaissance Painters of Passion and Power from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

de Young fine arts Museum of San Francisco

http://deyoung.famsf.org/

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive  San Francisco, CA 94118

415.750.3600  

 

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Rodarte to design costumes for LA Phil’s May production of “Don Giovanni”

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has announced that fashion house Rodarte, who designed the costumes for the film “Black Swan” will be creating the sartorial operatic look for Mozart’s libidinous lothario, Don Giovanni. The fully staged opera debuts on May 18th at Walt Disney Concert hall.  Guess who will be in charge of the set design? None other than Frank Gehry, the mastermind architect behind Walt Disney Concert Hall itself.

Not too shabby, LA Phil. Not too shabby, at all! 

 

 

 

 

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