joomla visitor

Photo: Sunset at LA Opera, Opening Night of Don Giovanni, Sept 22

read more

L.A. Opera’s “The Two Foscari”- A Must-See Production

           What Lies Beneath:

                         Probing the Shadows of Power in LA Opera’s I Due Foscari


              Leticia Marie Sanchez

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, rued Shakespeare’s Henry IV. Or, in the case of Giuseppe Verdi’s I Due Foscari, uneasy lies the head that wears the corno ducale, the gemmed, scarlet Doge-cap. This rarely produced opera about Venice’s fifteenth-century ruler, Doge Francesco Foscari (played eminently by Plácido Domingo), has not been seen in the United States in more than four decades. LA Opera’s interpretation of Verdi’s rare jewel is a Must-See production, due to not only the talent of its cast, but also to the cinematic, visually engaging direction by Thaddeus Strassberger and scenic designer Kevin Knight.

Even before the opera begins, a screen displays shifting, blue waves. The Republic of Venice was formally known as La Serenissima: the most serene. These waves, however, are anything but tranquil. No light reflects through the water on the La Opera screen, hinting at the dark, tumultuous mysteries that lie beneath. Black smoke juxtaposes with the haunting strains of the overture. The dramatic impact is enhanced by visually arresting calligraphy adorning the screen. The clever cinematic touch of calligraphy is suggestive of epic film, with its majestic introductions and entre-actes, like antique pages out of a history book. The hypnotic repetition of the words mistero and silenzo in antique calligraphy further intensifies the ominous mood.

“I wear the mask of a Doge, but have the heart of a father,” sings Plácido Domingo, expertly portraying the inner turmoil and anguish of Francesco Foscari. The juxtaposition between public power and private vulnerability extends to the lyrical costumes designed by Mattie Ulrich. For instance, the Doge wears a rich red robe that exudes authority, yet also dons a white nightdress that illustrates his frailty as an aging grandfather.

Left: Plácido Domingo as Francesco Foscari, Photo by Robert Millard, LA Opera

The bright Venetian carnival scenes are like Roman bread and circuses, entertainment that distracts from the ominous political situation. Enchanted by the fire-thrower, the crowds are indifferent to the dark machinations of power that surround them.

Kevin Knight’s expressive set transports the audience to the macabre secret torture chambers in the Doge Palace.

Jacopo Foscari sings, as he hangs morbidly from a box: the literal caging of a virtuous soul. The purity of Italian tenor Francesco Meli’s tone resonates with the integrity of his character, the honorable son of a Doge pleading for justice.

Left: Francesco Meli as Jacopo Foscari, Photo by Robert Millard, LA Opera

Russian Soprano Marina Poplavskaya triumphantly interprets Jacopo Foscari’s wife Lucrezia Contarini, not only because of her moving duets with Domingo (where she more than vocally holds her own) but also due to her impressive acting chops. Polavskaya’s regal posture and bearing in the first act, lends itself to a significant character arc in the third act, in which she descends into a downward spiral of madness.

The stark rubble in the set of the third act calls to mind Rossellini’s Germania Anno Zero. The debris epitomizes the emotional wreckage at the heart of Verdi’s tragedy. Francesco Foscari was a man who lost everything that gave his life meaning: his son and his Dogeship. How the mighty have fallen. The personal inferno of losing a family member had particular meaning for Verdi who lost his wife and two children in a period of less than two years, becoming a grieving widow in his thirties.

Left: Marina Poplavskaya as Lucrezia Contarini,  Photo by Robert Millard, LA Opera

In the final act, Lucrezia emerges as a mourning widow, not in the expected black, but in a flowing white gown and unkempt hair, like a mad Ophelia, to commit, like Shakespeare’s tragic heroine, one final heinous act of drowning (you will have to watch the production to see who dies an aquatic death).

Amidst the dark rickety shadows of the Doge Palace, there was a moment when the strains of Verdi’s 19th century score of power, corruption, and violence evoked a musical moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather. This is surely not a coincidence. Nino Rota, the composer of the Godfather score had orchestrated Verdi’s work and was surely influenced by I Due Foscari, a creative work as timeless as a father’s love.

Angelenos, don’t miss this production before it heads to Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Valencia’ s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, and London’s Royal House Covent Garden. You don’t want to wait another forty years to see this gem.  As with the Endeavor shuttle, this momentous experience comes only once in a generation.

Remaining Performances of “The Two Foscari” at LA Opera:

Sunday September 23, 2012 02:00 PM
Saturday September 29, 2012 07:30 PM
Sunday October 07, 2012 02:00 PM
Tuesday October 09, 2012 07:30 PM

For more information, please visit:

read more

ARIA: Ignite: LA Opera’s Season Opening Gala

ARIA: Ignite: LA Opera’s Season Opening Gala

A Party So Hot…It Sizzled..

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

Photography and text © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

As Marilyn Monroe would say, Some Like it Hot.

ARIA’s Ignite Opening Gala was so hot that it sizzled. And I’m not just talking about the over 100 degree heat wave that just so happened to hit LA that night. Leave it to Plácido. When Maestro Domingo sings, the temperature rises. Literally.

The gala’s Hot Factor also came from the vibrant red decor and striking images of sizzling fire all around LA Opera. Even Jacques Lipchitz’s sculpture took on a sexy red-hot hue for the Ignite party. The fire motif proved a clever allusion to the carnivalesque fire thrower in the dramatic last act of Verdi’s “The Two Foscari, ” an opera received with rousing standing ovations earlier that evening.

The gala’s atmosphere evoked a Venetian carnival with bodice-clad fire throwers, jubilant band, and baristas whose whimsical pink tutus called to mind the hats of mischievous harlequins. Gala guests mingled not only with the opera’s talented crew and stars, including Mr. Domingo (the Doge of Venice himself!) but also with Aria Gala Chair Stana Katic, star of the show “Castle.” Even the dance floor emanated an artistic-red hue as guests danced the night away, leaving no doubt that ARIA’s Ignite Gala was the hottest ticket in town.

read more

Cultural Cocktail Hour in the Tropics the first week of September..

Cultural Cocktail Hour has spent September exploring the Tropics of Ecuador, a vibrant spot for arts and culture. 

This month, none other than actor John Malkovich presented he “Giacomo Variations,”

a chamber opera about the life of famed ladies man, Giacomo Casanova at the Teatro Sanchez Aguilar in Samborondón. Mr. Malkovich was accompanied by the Orchestra of the Vienna Academy. The work was previously presented at the Château de Versailles Spectacles in France.

Photo Below: Teatro Sanchez Aguilar








Cultural Cocktail Hour also explored Guayaquil’s Parque Historico which displays the architecture of early 20th century Guayaquil, as well as exhibiting almost 50 species of birds, animals, and reptiles.

Left: Parque Historico


All Ecuador Photography © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark





Cultural Cocktail Hour returns to California the second week of September,

just in time for the September 15th opening night of LA Opera’s “The Two Foscari” starring Placido Domingo.

Be sure to check on CCH next week for the full review!

Left: Costume Design by Mattie Ulrich

Photo Courtesy of LA Opera.

read more

Cultural Cocktail Hour’s- Top 3 picks for August in LA

This month’s Cultural Cocktail Hour is 2 oz Audible Feast, 1 oz. Klimt, and a Splash of Zhenya Gershman. Shaken, Not Stirred.


Salastina Society Presents

An Audible Feast

August 12 5:30 P.M

Downtown LA

(Exact location will be shared exclusively with ticket buyers forty-eight hours prior to the event)

Program: Ernst/Irish Traditional: The Last Rose of Summer for Two Violins; Piazzolla: Verano Porteño from The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

Gershwin: Summertime from Porgy and Bess; Vivaldi: Summer from The Four Seasons

For tickets and a link to the four-course menu, please visit:

Photo© Copyright Salastina Society

Gustav Klimt: 
The Magic of Line

July 3- September 23

The Getty Center1200 Getty Center Drive.LA, CA. 90049. (310) 440-7300



Gallerati Society: End of Summer Soirée

Saturday Aug 18th

7:00-9:30 p.m.


In addition to meeting Rembrandt scholar Zhenya Gershman, guests will have the opportunity to tour her home studio, hear about her artistic process, and meet fellow art lovers over wine, hors d’oeuvres, and dessert at the always-scintillating soireés hosted by the fabulous Gallerati Society!

Photo© Copyright Gallerati Society

read more

Review: Keeping an Audience on its Toes: “Framework” at MOCA- A Must See Production


Keeping an Audience on Its Toes:

“Framework” at MOCA

A Must-See Production

 by Leticia Marie Sanchez

Text © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

Jean Cocteau once remarked, “The Louvre is a morgue. You go there to identify your friends.” Unlike Cocteau’s bleak categorization of museums, L.A Dance Project illustrated the vibrant possibilities of a living museum through their energetically innovative performance at MOCA on Thursday evening. 

FRAMEWORK at MOCA Grand Avenue, July 19, 2012, photo by Christina Edwards, courtesy of MOCA.


The poignant sounds of the violin emanated from the gallery walls. Benjamin Millepied, former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet and choreographer of the hit film “Black Swan,” danced with Amanda Wells as 17-year old Colburn violinist Mayumi Kanagawa performed movements from Bach’s B Minor Partita and A Minor Sonata.

The aptly named Millepied (his surname translates into “a thousand feet” in French) created a palpable sense of interaction with both the conceptual artwork and the audience. Millepied cleverly staged each movement in a different gallery so that the viewers had to reposition themselves to keep up with the dancers.

FRAMEWORK at MOCA Grand Avenue, July 19, 2012, photo by Christina Edwards, courtesy of MOCA.


The audience moved from an Andy Warhol backdrop to a Rudolf Stingel painting to the finale in front of Mark Bradford’s “Ghosts and Stooges.” Darting from gallery to gallery, the audience was indirectly swept up in the choreography like a modern chorus. The charismatic Millepied further broke down barriers by boldly directing the audience which way to move through the current exhibit (The Painting Factory: Abstraction After Warhol), often with a humorous wave.  The interplay resulted in a unique sensation: we’re all in this together. Thursday evening’s performance brought together teenagers, seniors, schoolchildren, people of all ethnicities, and everyone from John Baldessari to Paul Schimmel and Jeffrey Deitch.

Cultural Cocktail Hour caught up with the MOCA director at Framework. Deitch explained that the collaboration between dance and the visual arts is an endeavor with which he has personally been involved for a long time. He revealed that as soon as Millepied called up him with his vision for L.A Dance Project, the idea took off.

Also in the audience was artist Mark Bradford, whose paintings inspired the choreography. Like a musical brushstroke, a voiceover of Bradford accompanied the dancers, announcing: “Every artist has a tone to his work, just as a musician has a tone.” Moreover, the inherent structure of Bradford’s work, replete with layers and fluid form, wed itself perfectly to Millepied’s choreography as an ideal landscape for the ballet’s finale. A central theme of Bradford’s paintings revolves around the connection between diverse parts and their ever-changing relationship. Similarly, the concept of the Framework involved the dynamic connection between audience and artist. Was the Framework the ever-shifting border of the audience? Was it the classical architecture of Bach’s music or the unraveling, explosive energy of Bradford’s paintings? Was it the dancers themselves?

As L.A Dance Project has two upcoming performances, Angelenos will have the chance to step inside a literal mixed medium and decide for themselves what is the true Framework. 


August 2. August 9.



Photo Below: FRAMEWORK at MOCA Grand Avenue, July 19, 2012, photo by Christina Edwards, courtesy of MOCA.

read more

Escape from the Doge Palace: Casanova and the buttered Gnocchi


Cultural Cocktail Hour reports from the Secret Passageways of the Doge Palace, Venice.

Escape from Doge Palace: Casanova and the Buttered Gnocchi

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

Photography and text © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

In typical prison escapes, inmates rely on wires, jackhammers, or drills to plan their bold getaways. Not so for Casanova. The eighteenth century’s infamous Venetian ladies man successfully fled from the Doge Palace thanks to….. a heaping plate of buttered Gnocchi.

Cultural Cocktail Hour visited the Doge Palace’s secret passageways, torture chambers, and gloomy inquisition spaces set up by the Doge’s spies. Our tour guide revealed that although Casanova’s cell was fully furnished (which is how he was able to cook up a plate of Gnocchi), the terror of being sequestered in a space by volatile rulers (who never even told him why he had been dragged to prison in the first place) drove the young womanizer to devise an escape.

Casanova’s first prison break scheme, to merely carve a hole in his cell floor, proved a complete fiasco. So the mischievous schemer began dreaming of a more creative plot involving saucy potato dumplings.

Casanova joined forces with Father Mario Balbi, the prisoner in the cell next door. The Venetian government had imprisoned the aristocratic priest for refusing to disown his illegitimate children. Casanova apparently told his jailer that he wished to offer his priestly neighbor the gift of a homemade dinner. If Casanova put as much attention into hand rolling the potato paste as he did into his notorious lovemaking, the pasta pillows should have come out light and delicious, without a trace of the bland doughiness so typical of amateur chefs.

The key to the Gnocchi scheme was that the huffing-and puffing jailer, who was hunched over as he carried the Super-sized plate of Gnocchi to the priest’s cell, did not bother to inspect the second gift underneath the pasta plate: a Bible containing a metal spike.

Father Balbi received a carb-o-licious dinner and a tool to help him break out of the Doge Palace.

Unfortunately, as Father Balbi was hammering away in the cell next door, a minor glitch in Casanova’s plan developed. The jailer brought Casanova a new cell mate, an intensely religious man named Soradaci to potentially spy on the impish libertine.

Casanova, after observing Soradaci relentlessly pray to the Virgin Mary, declared that-good gracious!- they would soon be witnessing a divine miracle. Casanova tricked Soradaci into believing that the Virgin would be sending the inmates an “angel” to escape the walls of the Doge Palace. Sure enough, an angel, in the form of Father Balbi, appeared in Casanova’s room with the spike, ready to break free. When Casanova asked Soradaci to trim his and Father Babi’s long beards (which had grown like weeds during their time in the slammer) Soradaci became dubious. Grizzled beards did not fit in with Soradaci’s vision of fresh faced cherubim. Although Soradaci did not report Balbi or Casanova (Casanova threatened to strangle him if he squealed), he did not join their brazen escape, either.

So Casanova, with the portly priest hanging from his belt, let himself out of the Doge Palace, thrilled to finally say good-bye to prison life.

Hasta La Pasta!

read more

Venice Italy Summer 2012- Cultural Cocktail Hour’s Top 3 Picks including exclusive behind-the-scenes video at La Chiesa San Vidal

The Venetian Cultural Cocktail recipe is 2 oz Gothic,  a shot of violins, and an intoxicating golden liquor otherwise known as Gustav Klimt!

Cultural Cocktail Hours Travel Tips for Venetian exhibits

Summer 2012

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

All Photography, text, and video © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

Pick #1 Interpreti Veneziani

Chiesa San Vidal - 30124 Venezia

These talented, passionate performers interpret Baroque, Classical, and Modern works almost daily at the Chiesa San Vidal. Cultural Cocktail Hour takes you briefly inside the Chiesa San Vidal, named after Doge Vitale Falier.  This now deconsecrated church once never seemed to catch a break. It was rebuilt after the ravaging fires of 1105 and 1696. The new facade, built in the 18th century, housed works by Carpaccio and Piazzetta. Now, the once forsaken church has been revitalized by the music of Interpreti Veneziani. One can hear Vivaldi emanating from the walls, almost every night. Make sure to turn your volume up, so that you can hear the perpetual streaming Vivaldi inside the church!


Pick #2: Diana Vreeland Exhibit at the Palazzo Fortuny 

Closes June 25

Palazzo Fortuny

Campo San Beneto, Venice 

Far from the maddening Murano-goldfish trinket coveting crowd is a quiet palazzo with Gothic touches that Edgar Allen Poe himself could have never imagined.Waxen heads of bloodthirsty criminals peer out from behind glass. A horror film is screened continuously on the ground floor, where one half expects Jack-the Ripper to alight from a creaky beam. Gothic touches juxtapose with the current temporary exhibit on Diana Vreeland, one of the most elegant women of her time.

As the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue magazine and consultant for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ms. Vreeland personified modern chic. And yet, the Gothic vibe flowing through the rest of the museum has its place in the Vreeland exhibit. The Gothic genre revolves around high drama. So do the fantastical costumes. They include: a red cape worn by Marie Callas, an Yves Saint Laurent “Mondrian” Dress, an 18th century Japanese wedding gown, 16th century armor, a Cristobal Balenciaga Black Satin gown with ostrich feathers, Henri Matisse costumes for the Ballet Russes.

The exhibit displayed an ambitious quotation from Ms. Vreeland in her youth:

“Diana was a goddess, 

and I must live up

to that name…

 I dare… 

make myself

exactly how I want to be.”    






Pick #3:

Gustav Klimt in the Sign of Hoffmann and the Secession

Museo Correr. Piazza San Marco, 52

Closing July 8th

Gustav Klimt fans will not want to miss this immersion into the world of the Austrian Symbolist painter. In addition to exploring Klimt’s fruitful collaboration with architect Josef Hoffman, the exhibit focuses on the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk- the integration of architecture, painting, applied arts, and sculpture in shaping modern spaces unified under the concept of “Total Work of Art.” No where is this more apparent than in the glorious “Beethoven Frieze” which was based on Based on Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, specifically Friedrich Von Schiller’s Ode to Joy, which provided inspiration for the fourth movement. The original plan was to destroy the frieze after the 1902 exhibit, resulting in Klimt’s use of cheap materials like buttons and tacks painted on plaster. Thankfully, the Frieze was not tossed aside, and we still have it one hundred and ten years later, in all its golden splendor.

read more

Cultural Cocktail Hour Photography: The Venice Canals…

Cultural Cocktail Hour Photography: The Venice Canals..

All Photography © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

read more

Cultural Cocktail Hour photography from Venice: St. Mark’s Square

Cultural Cocktail Hour photography from Venice: St. Mark’s Square
All Photography © 2012 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered trademark

read more