Here are some reviews and audience comments about Repertory Opera Company productions:
Susannah at the Repertory Opera Company
By Nicole R. Janowicz, LASplash
Los Angeles, Ca - On Saturday, June 16th, the Repertory Opera Company debuted its last production of the season with the Americanized and passion filled, Susanna and the Elders from the Book of Daniel in the Apocrypha. Written by Carlisle Floyd in 1955, this opera combines poetry and music in order to critically explore the weaknesses of mankind and their tragic ramifications.
Susannah takes place in a small, staunchly religious town in Tennessee circa 1950s. A young, beautiful, yet vulnerable and naive girl, Susannah (Linda Alexander), is shunned by the local church Elders after she is seen bathing naked in a stream. The new minister, Biltch (Phil Meyer), like the rest of the town, labels Susannah a scandalous, salacious, and sinful wench. Yet, Biltch secretly finds Susannahs perceived lasciviousness irresistible and lusts after her. Lust, lies, and paranoia grab hold of the townspeople and are inevitably the victims of a fateful ending.
Susannah is layered with traditions and techniques such as American Folk music, Wagnerian leitmotif effects, Puccini's lyrical sense, and sometimes a more contemporary Broadway style. This is Carlisle Floyds best known opera, entering in to the permanent repertory of countless productions in the United States and is now extending into Europe. Like the majority of Floyds other works, Susannah serves as a social commentary on two distinct human failings: 1) the judgmental, close-minded, and even bigoted nature of mankind and 2) lust, an uncontrollable human passion that will inevitably spiritually and mentally cripple the most god fearing person.
Repertory Opera Company is dedicated to bring opera to the community. By removing the pretentious stigma associated with traditional operas, like sky-rocketing ticket prices, they are making opera available and accessible to the masses. The uniqueness of this group lies in their extraordinary commitment to building a company which is convenient and graspable for all Los Angeles opera lovers. LizBeth Luccas, artistic director, vision was to create a mid-level priced opera company (currently $20.00 per ticket) which would impassion a discerning audience. In addition to bringing the opera to us, the Repertory Opera Company also provides a place where emerging and devoted singers where they can sing their roles and improve their craft without having to leave Los Angeles.
The Repertory Opera Company uses the WilshireUnitedMethodistChurch as a stage. This is a wonderful location because the performers are seemingly part of the audience. Or, perhaps, the audience is part of the performance. The audience and performers are feet apart from each other. This makes the opera accessible to nearly every sense: we can clearly see the faces of the performers, feel the sound vibrations resonating throughout the church and through our bodies, and hear their voices without microphones. The performers utilize nearly every inch of space throughout the church. Entering from all of the doors, sitting in the pews with the audience, walking up and down the middle aisle, and even using the audience as part of the company as we played the role of an audience sitting in church having our sins forgiven and vanquished.
No, we were not sitting in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion listening to Luciano Pavarotti. But, this quaint, community performance was just as passion-filled, if not more, than any of the other more large-scale, bigger budgeted productions often coming to Los Angeles. The performers in the Repertory Opera Company love their art. This love, passion, and respect explodes off the stage (or church alter) and permeates the hearts of the audience. Their fervor for opera is simply contagious. They speak to us through their energy. This makes for an outstanding performance that is definitely worth seeing!
The Repertory Opera Company is directed by LizBeth Lucca, who has helmed over 35 productions in LA and at the Shaker Mountain Opera Festival. Brian Farrell, Julliard graduate and the recipient of the Vladimir Horowitz Scholarship, is the musical director. He has garnered a 1st prize award at the Yamaha Keyboard Competition as well as having held the position of Assistant Conductor with Los Angeles Opera. He is the solo accompanist for the Repertory Opera Company. Featured company members include Linda Alexander stars as Susannah. She is the recipient of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Encouragement Award, and has portrayed Mrs. Charlton in the Southern California premiere of Jake Heggies Dead Man Walking at Opera Pacific, The Orphan in Der Rosenkavalier, 1st Soprano in Trois Operas, and Nedda in Pagliacci. Phil Meyer stars as the preacher, Owen Blitch. He has starred in the title role in Opera Pasadenas Marriage of Figaro, the Repertory Opera Companys production of Falstaff, Osmin in Lyric Operas Abduction From Seraglio, and Colline in La Boheme.
Other operas included in the Repertory Opera Companys schedule next season will be Le Nozzi di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) for October 2006, Don Pasquale in February 2007, Il Tabarro/Gianni Schicchi during the month of April 2007, and Faust in June of 2007.
For tickets, call (323) 969-4602
The Repertory Opera Company
Opening nights are always exciting. The Repertory Opera Company (ROC) had an especially exciting opening night on June 16 as they presented the final program of the 2005-2006 season with the American opera, Susannah, by Carlisle Floyd. What makes this run special is that Artistic Director LizBeth Lucca celebrated a birthday on opening night, on this, the last program to run at the WilshireUnitedMethodistChurch. We wont tell how many candles were on LizBeths cake (presented by the cast after the show), but we will tell you that she is the force behind the ROC. Where some people are considered the lifeblood of a project, LizBeth is the soul, the arteries, the skeletal frame and the very life of a group that has as its goal only one thing to sing.
Weve covered the ROC for the past two seasons, and have seen growth and improvement with every production. Every show has merited rants and raves, and possibly one or two grunts here and there, but one thing has always been evident; these people do not sing with their throat or mouth they sing with their souls.
Theyre doing it again with Susannah, possibly one of the best productions to date. Its a story about a beautiful young Tennessee girl who sings, dances and is the apple of every mans eye in the small New HopeChurch. Shes also the object of gossip by the women, and one day when four of the church elders seek a new place to use for Baptisms, they see Susannah bathing in a creek naked! They are horrified, and to make sure they are not mistaken, they take another look and then another. Before they leave, they make sure to take one more long look, (in the interest of accuracy) and upon returning to the church they promptly declare her to be a sinful, wanton woman. The new preacher, Reverend Blitch arrives and he promptly takes up the chant to force Susannah to repent publicly, and poor Susannah is caught in a dilemma; does she admit she was wrong or does she ignore them and bear the town scorn? There are only two people on her side her drunken brother Sam who is always in the woods hunting and a young man named Little Bat, who idolizes her, but she only likes him as a friend because well, the name says it all.
Like every opera, the story is fraught with drama, suspense and sex. The Reverend, holy as he is, visits Susannah to convince her that she should confess, but instead falls prey to the temptations of the flesh and forces his lust on the young girl who is too tired to resist. When the enraged Sam discovers this, he picks up his rifle and goes off hunting again but this time you get a feeling its not coons or possums hes after.
In addition to the wonderful singing voices, there is excellent acting by the cast, aided by outstanding costuming and the extraordinary musical talent of Brian Farrell who can make the grand piano sound like a grand orchestra. Linda Alexander has the voice that one would imagine a young Tennessee girl would have. With a range that seems limitless, she sings with an ethereal quality that epitomizes the innocence of the character, adding a real sense of despair and fear to the role. As the townsfolk publicly denounce her, Alexander captures the essence of one who is wrongly accused but powerless to defend herself. The role is double cast with Jessica Buda.
Phil Meyer, who earned kudos when he sang Leporello in last years Don Giovanni, goes into another zone as the Reverend Blitch. Anyone accidentally walking into the church in scene two of act two would have sworn they were in the middle of an Evangelical service. Meyer creates a reverend that is fiery, charismatic and capable of ramming the fear of God into any soul.
Think Robert Mitchum in Night of The Hunter meets Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry and you have Phil Meyers singing son of Blitch.
If ever there is a performance thats sure to bring the house down, its Meyers in the "church scene", played with the magnificent sanctuary of the WilshireMethodistChurch as a background and the audience included as the congregation as Blitch prowls the aisles and pews pointing the finger of damnation! If that doesnt make you repent, then youre probably not with us any more! The role is double cast with Mark Palmer.
Susannahs brother Sam is a real hick (sorry) a real woodsman, and Lee Conger captures the look with his full beard and shoulder length hair. His mountain attire and burly look belie a great voice that is both forceful and warm. Conger is a believable actor, and his sense of caring and love for his sister is genuine and compelling. Andrew Scott alternates the role.
One has to wonder why anyone would be called Little Bat. The question is never answered here, but the role and character is thoroughly captured by Matthew Dunn, who may be a bit older than a teen, but dressed in overalls, sings with convincing angst as he tries to help Susannah.
So what is the opera really about? Keeping in mind that it was written in the 1954 -1955 era when Communism and the McCarthy hearings were paramount in the countrys mind, there was a fear that a false accusation could bring financial and personal ruin to the victimized. Couched in religious zeal and narrow thinking, author Floyd tries to point out the dangers that can be caused when arrogance, self-righteousness and moral weakness are allowed to overtake common sense and tolerance.
Other company members include Robert Arce as Elder McLean (Little Bats father), Tiimothy Karp as Elder Gleason, Barry Bloom as Elder Hayes and Neal Dougherty as Elder Ott. The four busybody women are played by Belinda Wilkins as Mrs. McLean, Jackie Zwirn as Mrs. Gleaton, Kelsey Namara as Mrs. Hayes and Nandani Sinha as Mrs. Ott. The alternate cast members singing on June 20th and June 27th include Vladimir Maric, Joel Huanca, Dabney Ross, Alice Jankowiac, Andrea Herron and Annette Niccolai. The chorus members are Suzie Duck, Michelle Dunphy, Jennifer Farrel, Cynthia Heilman, Sarah Heitman, Lilly Li, Anna Lysak, Matt Ritter and Adrian Santini.
Weve said it before and it merits mention again. While opera lovers always enjoy and appreciate the work of the ROC, the company is really for those who have stayed away from opera for any number of reasons (too long too boring cant understand it etc. etc.). Once you hear a piece by the ROC, you will be a rabid believer or else Reverend Blitch will come after you!
Susannah has three more performances: Tuesday, June 20 Friday, June 23 and Tuesday, June 27, 2006, at the WilshireUnitedMethodistChurch , 4350 Wilshire Boulevard, Los AngelesCA90010. Reservations at: (323) 969-4602
Michael Van Duzer, showmag.com
Carlisles Floyds Susannah is generally overlooked by major opera companies. The Met produced it for the first time a couple seasons ago. But only because star soprano Renee Fleming wanted to play the role. And, to be honest, Floyds folksy Appalachian take on the Biblical story of Susannah and the Elders might seem a bit slight in the cavernous houses designed for Verdi and Wagner. It is written on a far less grand scale than even that most popular American folk opera, Porgy and Bess. But the roles are exciting to sing and audiences love the piece so it has long been a favorite in universities and with small opera companies. All of which makes it a perfect choice for the stripped down playing style championed by the Repertory Opera Company.
The cast at Repertory Opera is a mix of students and opera-loving amateurs so vocal quality can be variable. However Susannah offered the most consistent level of singing heard over the three productions I have attended. Music Director Brian Farrell is obviously talented and his accompaniment provides a trustworthy anchor for these productions.
Floyd plunges directly into the drama as we see wives of the town venting their spleen on Susannah who is young and pretty enough to want some fun out of life. The arrival of a new minister with hidden passions and Susannahs innocent habit of bathing in a supposedly private creek can only end in tragedy. Like its spiritual cousin, The Crucible, Susannah was written as a response to McCarthyism when a whisper could condemn an honest person.
Linda Alexander was a mature but clarion-toned Susannah. She brought enough dramatic strength to the role to keep the character from ever seeming to be merely a victim. Phil Meyer proved a larger than life adversary with a forceful bass as the conflicted preacher, Olin Blitch, while Lee Conger brought a sweetly rounded tenor to Sam, Susannahs scapegrace brother, and had the best diction of the evening.
Artistic and Production Director LizBeth Lucca does her best to make a difficult space (the nave of the Wilshire United Methodist Church) workable and Susannah with its fast moving scenes poses greater challenges than some of their earlier productions. On opening night the scene changes seemed long and tended to derail the build of the drama but, hopefully, further performances will smooth this out.
Wilshire United MethodistChurch June 16, 20,23 and 27, 2006
Tickets are $20 323 969-4602 www.repertoryoperacompany.org
Lucia di Lammermoor
Review by Kyle Moore
For those of us who have struggled to sing along with the tricky bits in "Bohemian Rhapsody," exposure to opera is a mind-bending lesson in the capabilities of the human imagination and voice. And if you think of opera as the loftiest, most inaccessible of the arts, suitable only for the snootiest of venues, Repertory Opera Company would like a word with you.
Comprised of a cast of astonishingly talented local singers, most of whom also carry international credits, and guided by virtuoso musical director Brian Farrell, the company stages its works simply yet effectively in the gracious Wilshire United Methodist Church. Their latest offering, Gaetano Donizettis "Lucia di Lammermoor" is a passionate, bloody tale of an ill-fated romance between two members of warring Scottish clans. Sung in Italian, but with a generously detailed synopsis provided with the program, its easy to follow the plot and simply allow the music to carry you off.
So heres what we can learn from the unlucky Lucias story: 1) Its almost never a good idea to be in love with a guy who your brother is mortally pissed off at. 2) If youre the boyfriend in this case, you might want to reconsider that lengthy trip to France in service of the Jacobites, and 3) if youre the Ichabod Crane lookalike who the girls brother marries her off to for political reasons, its probably a good idea to make sure that there are no sharp, pointy objects say, like a dagger - in the bridal chamber when you go to claim your connubial rights.
Just a thought.
Lucia di Lammermoor
Repertory Opera Company
Its time to ROC once more. Those who visit here regularly know by now that we follow the Repertory Opera Company almost with the same intensity that Red Sox fans follow their club. And like the Sox, we are dead certain that this is the season where they will make it to the Big Dance. Maybe. In this case, were not sure where that Dance will be, but the way the ROC is moving ahead, they are about to burst out of the sanctuary of the Wilshire United Methodist Church and will need a different place to present their wonderful operatic repertory. Like a theatre, maybe?
Lest you get the wrong idea, the sanctuary is not all that bad, and what the ROC does with their company every time they mount a production is nothing short of miraculous, so doing it in a church is almost a no brainer. And every show gets better than the one before.
This one is one of the best weve seen. Well get to the meaty stuff later, but mention has to be made of the incredible costuming in this production. Lavishly sewn and tailored, someone (LizBeth Lucca) turned on a magic wand someplace and produced a sartorial extravaganza worthy of any major production.
The story of Lucia di Lammermoor is not too complicated boy meets girl they fall in love; girl is forced to marry another to save her evil brother girl kills husband then girl goes mad and dies boy finds out he kills himself. It's a battle - a blood feud between the Ashtons and the Ravenswoods in Scottland, and a desperate attempt by an unscrupulous man to save what's left of his family and himself.
When you add the music by Gaetano Donizetti, then you really get the full impact of this tragic tale, which clearly depicts the times when women didnt have many choices and their existence was at the whim of the men around them; if not the father then the husband or even the older brother.
Myriam Zekaria sings the role of Lucia, taking it from lilting effervescence to depressing depths. Zekaira has a wonderful face that speaks volumes as she sings, giving us a true sense of Lucias emotions from the happy times with Edgardo to the haunting visions of a phantom of death that follows her. She not only has a stratospheric range she also possesses unfailing control, handling some difficult passages with ease. Her Costar Vladimir Mark, while a bit young for the part of Edgardo, the lover, comes through with a mesmerizing light tenor voice thats as cherubic as his face.
E. Philip Schneider has wide a baritone range and a forceful delivery making him the excellent choice for Enrico, Lucias demanding and vengeful brother. Equally strong is Joel Hunca, as Raimondo, a cleric and counselor who loves Lucia and gets involved in a deadly deception with Enrico. If American Idols Randy Jackson were there, he would comment that Hunca was "a little pitchy" at times, but made good recoveries in some difficult solos. The bad guy is Arturo, the man who will marry Lucia or destroy the family. Micah Holland has a strong voice and by the next shows should be settled into a more forceful attitude and delivery. Normanno, Enricos henchman is played by De Lano G Hull, who opens the opera, singing the prelude with a small ensemble in the background. Since the chorus all but drowns him out, can you say "mic me!"? Alisa, Lucias lady in waiting is played by Allison Coop. "Chi me frena", one of the most recognizable sextets in opera is a total knockout and truly ROCS in contrast to the tender "Verranno a te sull'aure" (Borne by gentle breezes) sung by Lucia and Edgardo.
Be aware that in spite of the little picky comments, opera fans should not stay away; in light of the whole, the barbs are but dim little match sparks that amount to very little. At the risk of repeating comments made on earlier reviews, this is the perfect place for non-opera people to make their first pilgrimage. Whatever prejudices one may have about opera (too long fat divas everybody dies) they will all be dispelled. Well, at least two out of three will be shattered.
Dont expect temperamental prima donnas here. These people are average folks who love to sing opera and for them its more than just a past time. Its not even a hobby its a passion; its an inner search; its a crusade. Like all crusaders, they have a goal and in this case the goal is simple . . . to reach out to those who love opera and make it accessible to everyone. Its pretty evident that theyre making it happen big time!
With Musical Director / conductor Brian Farrell providing non-stop piano backing and Suzie Duck directing, this production has one major problem. The problem is it will only have four performances, not giving the singers nearly enough time to gargle between shows. There is an alternate cast with Keiko Clark as Lucia, Andrew Scoll as Edgardo, Raul Mata as Enrico, Khaled Bayaa as Arturo, Robert Arce and William Bartlett as Raimondo, Nandany Sinha as Alisa and Rick Roudebush as Normanno.
The chorus includes Lani Bartlett, Neal Dougherty, Ralph Ellis, Rochelle Firestone, Randy Garrou, Steve Grabe, Alice Jankowiak, Lily Li, Melanie McQueen, Shirley Owens, Mark Palmer, Laurie Rader, Dabney Ross, Anne Donahue Schwartz, Lisa Soto, Britta Sterling, Connie von Briessen, Jackie Zwirn and Supernumerary, Matt Ritter. reviewplays.com
Cosi Fan Tutte - La Scuola Deglie Amanti
All Women Behave Like That Or The School For Lovers rev by Jerry L. Jackson, MetroLA
Mozart is 250 years old, and Repertory Opera Company is throwing a party. In their 3rd year of missionary zeal to bring quality opera to the masses, Artistic Director/Stage Director LizBeth Lucca and Music Director/Solo Accompanist Brian Farrell have chosen this, the 3rd comedic collaboration between Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, Cosi fan Tutte, after Le Nozze Di Figaro and Don Giovanni.
As always, the voices in this company are more than up to the musical challenge. The rotating
cast concept allows the deep vocal bench to get more opportunities to explore their gifts. The only complaint in this production is that we're limited to 5 main characters. The story begins with 2 upstanding young men, military officers Ferrando and Guglielmo (this night well voiced by Vladimir Meric and E. Philip Schneider), proclaiming their fiancee's eternal faithfulness.
Enter the provocateur and great manipulator, Don Alfonso (gleefully evil Stephen Breen), who offers to prove that their fiancÃ©es, the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella (Cathryn Deering and Allison Coop, both alluring and capable of vocal gymnastics) are like all women, fickle and faithless. There is a wager.
A great deal is written about the seminal nature of this 18th century farce and its 20th century descendant, the sit-com. This production takes great delight in accentuating the connection by encouraging the actors to play the humor broadly with a wink and nod.
This is NOT politically correct in its views of women or men or ro-mance. It does make salient points in that eternal dance and it does balance out by making both sexes seem at times equally absurd in their beliefs and regard for one another.
In fact it was considered scandalous enough during the 19th and early 20th centuries to be nearly invisible from classical operatic repertoire until after WWII. Be grateful that we have the Repertory Opera Company. And if youâ€™ve never been to an opera, rely on the detailed synopsis and historical contexts included in the printed programs. RECOMMENDED
Final performance is Feb. 28 at the Wilshire United Methodist Church 4350 Wilshire Blvd. RSVP 323-969-4602
Les Contes D'Hoffman by Jerry L. Jackson, MetroLA
In a star dirven town, opera has seemingly had to follow suit to survive at the Dorothy Chandler. there's nothing ingerently wrong with a star system in the arts as long as there's enough opportunity for new artists to flourish and a new audience to experience and treasure the art. What we really need is a place for passionate, dedicated people with serious gifts to perform their magic for an audience who can't (or won't make the choice between an opera ticket and a car payment...oh, wait! That's what the Repertory Opera Company is doing!
ROC begins its 3rd season with this limited engagement of Jacques Offenbach's operatic look at illusory (and wildly dysfunctional) love based on stories by the German Romanticist, E.T.A. Hoffman. Under Artistic Director LizBeth Lucca and Musical Director Brian Farrell ( in a yeoman performance, all night on the grand piano as the sole instrumental accompaniment) a "deep bench" of vocal talent brings this night to life, wrapped in richly imaginative costumes that support the characters and help tell the story.
There comes a moment in any rewarding night at the opera, when the music and voice merge - the words, the story, the characters cease to matter individually. All that exists is the purity of the emotion - a transcendence that only opera can do. It is an ephemeral, spiritual experience.
That moment was at the top of the second act, "Antonia." Alone on the stage, Marianna Ramirex transcended...everything. Other standouts on this night were Alan August in the title role, dueling through every storyline with the multi-villain Matthew Acuff in a well-matched tenor/bass baritone battle. And Annabelle Han, as the mechanical doll Olympia, whose voice and physical performance were both spectacular as she stuck the perfect balance between the hope that she might be capable fo human emotion and the painfully hopeless reality. We've all had dates like that.
One small quibble: acoustically, the church's sanctuary wextended, even burnished the singing voices, but rendered the spoken word (in English yet) harder to understand. Thankfully, there's very little spoken dialogue.
If you've never been to an opera, you should see this one. And read the very helpful notes before the lights go down.
Tales of Hofmann
by Michael Michael Van Duzer
With Repertory Opera Company, Los Angeles has a second seasonal producing opera company. And, if their productions arent designed to make the venerable Los Angeles Opera quake in its boots, their ticket price of $20 (less than a quarter of what the best seats cost downtown) should make opera lovers on a budget smile.
The productions are bare-bones, using the nave of the United Methodist Church as a stage, simple set pieces, cobbled-together costumes, borrowed wigs, no supertitles and single piano accompaniment by talented music director, Brian Farrell. But this is opera with a heart. Something that is occasionally overlooked in institutions with bigger budgets. The singers are a mix of students, emerging talents and opera-loving amateurs.
Offenbachs Tales of Hoffman is a daunting project for any opera company. The musical demands it makes on the singers, the multiple settings and the choral episodes are just a few of the necessities that would tax the resources of much more established institutions than the Repertory Opera. But Artistic Director LizBeth Lucca is nothing if not ambitious.
Offenbach died before the premiere of Hoffman allowing others the chance to rearrange the scene order as well as interpolating music from some of Offenbachs popular opera bouffe. This inauthentic edition was used as the performing version for nearly a century until music historians, studying Offenbachs manuscripts, came up with several competing versions that claimed to better represent the composers intentions. Except for placing the Antonia scene before the Giulietta and the replacement of the recitative with spoken English dialog, director Lucca has chosen a traditional version. The stories of Hoffmans three loves arent bookended by the appearance of his Muse and cuts to the score are judicious and speed the production along admirably.
Alan August tackles the title role with a smallish tenor lyrique . Although were used to hearing more heroic voices in the role today, the French have always had an appreciation for this vocal type and it probably is closer to the sound Offenbach had in mind while composing. Even with cuts, the role is killing and August made it though the performance with only minimal vocal wear. The combination of Augusts lanky frame and character looks along with the downplaying of his alcoholism made his Hoffman a wide-eyed Ichabod Crane-like character rather than the dissipated, Byronic poet we generally encounter. An interesting and refreshing choice.
Playing the villains of the piece, Herve Blanquart had the native-speaking advantage while singing but his English dialog (luckily snipped the minimum) was barely intelligible. Playing multiple roles also left him at the mercy of his costumes. Although Hoffman contains both comic and grotesque elements, the costume choice for Dr. Coppelius was little too much of both; making him appear to be the love child of Charles Laughton and Ruth Gordon. Annette Nicolai was a hard-edged Nicklausse with a piercing top while Mariana Ramirez piped prettily as the doomed Antonia. Kieko Clarks Olympia got her laughs without sacrificing coloratura accuracy and Lorraine Afzalis Giulietta unfurled a large, dark-tinged soprano that bears watching.
Repertory Operas goal to make affordable opera productions available in Los Angeles is laudable. It will be interesting to see how they develop over time. The rest of their announced season consists of Cosi Fan Tutte, Lucia di Lamermoor, and Susannah.
October 13, 18, 20, 24 and 28 Wilshire United Methodist Church 4350 Wilshire Blvd.
www.repertoryopera.org 323 969-4602
Tales of Hoffmann
Many believe that opera appeals to just a few; to the kind of high-brow individuals who were sort of nerdy as kids maybe the girls played piano and the boys played (gulp) the violin, or some other odd thing and they were probably good in math even!
OK maybe thats true of some. But there is a group of people who are all grown up and they are your average every day people who hang around the United Methodist Church on Wilshire Boulevard and sing with abandon, devotion and a fierce commitment to their art. And they sing OPERA, no less!
The new season is underway and the ROC is proving once again that they can reach even the most hardened AOP (anti-opera-person) with classic, beloved presentations that soar through the church sanctuary and float across the pews to fill every one attending with the incomparable strains of music.
What better selection than the Tales of Hoffmann to start an invigorated season? For those not familiar with the Tales, the story is about a well known German poet who was also known as a lover of beautiful women and while hes waiting for his latest amour to finish her performance of Don Giovanni, the people in a tavern convince him to tell them his exploits.
So it is that Offenbach put together the adventures that begin with Hoffmann falling for Olympia, a doll (which appears real to him through magic glasses) to loving Antonia, a lovely singer who dies from singing too much to the flirtatious courtesan Giulietta who was probably one of the earliest to discover that diamonds are a girls best friend.
Like most stories, there are the good guys and the bad guys and the jealous and the infamous, along with dozens of hangers-on who just, well, hang around.
The real story here, however, is the collective voice of the dedicated members of the Repertory Opera Company. For example, Herve Blanquart's villains resonate with malice as his booming voice slashes across the scenario.
His eyes bulge, his brow frowns, his fists shake and you know that behind the unfamiliar French lyrics, there lies a cold, vicious heart ready to do malice at the drop of a conductors baton.
To say that this man loves opera would be an injustice he IS the essence of an opera singer.
Then theres the hero Alan August, who becomes the enigmatic Hoffmann, singing away with a tenor voice that climbs to stratospheric levels. Not the "blow-you-away" strength of tenor like Pavarotti, this is more a Jose Carreras type rich, flowing and sweet with emotion and depth.
But dont leave out the divas. What would opera be without the coloraturas the mezzos the women who make the hearts of the tenor flare especially when they step in front of their light and throw the guy into shadows?
These ladies dont need to resort to such vagaries to gain attention. They certainly shine brightly on their own. Listen to Mariana Ramirez sing the role of Antonia, the girl who will die if she keeps on singing, and youre convinced that here is a genuine opera star in progress, with a voice that has a rich quality and clarity.
Lorraine Afzali sang Giulietta opening night, a role she shares with Virginia Landis and Linda Alexander. The role calls for a picaresque wit as she is called on to use her wiles to steal Hoffmanns reflection (since she has already captured her former suitors shadow)
When Hoffman falls for Olympia, he sees her singing and dancing, a role that Keiko Clark embodies with zest and conviction. The audience loved her staccato moves as her voice flirts with almost unreachable heights with the most natural ease and style. Keiko shares this role with Annabelle Han and Gina Graziadio.
The ROC does not have the typical 88 piece orchestra to accompany the singers, so Brian Farrell brings his 88 key piano and his twenty fingers (or so it seems) as music director and plays every minute of the almost three hour opus. Farrell is a truly prodigious artist who creates an impressive backdrop for the singers. Once in a while he gets so much into it that he overshadows the voices with his fortissimos, proof that everyone is deeply committed to their art.
We have written about this company before and poked a few jabs at the props and lighting. Notice is hereby served that director LizBeth Lucca has added spotlights on the sides of the sanctuary approaching the professional level of staging even closer. Now we cant complain about the spotlight missing its mark. The only thing left to criticize is the fact that there are only six performances for this opera, far too few for a wonderful company that knows how to deliver a class performance.
The company members are: Alan August, Matthew Acuff, Lorraine Afzali, Linda Alexander, Robert Arce, Derek Bentley, Herve Blanquart, Stephen F. Breen, Keiko Clark, Lee Conger, Allyson Coop, Cathryn Deering, Neal Dougherty, Suzie Duck, Matthew Dunn, Gina Grazialdio, Annabelle Han, Monica Hershenson, De Lano G. Hull, Kent Kornmeyer, Virginia Landis, Michelle McWilliams, Annette Nicolai, Shirley Owens, Mariana Ramirez, Ryan Reithmeier, Robert Rife, Andrew Scott, Sarkis Seyessian, Gabriel Silva, Nandani Sinha, Shawn Thuris, Constance von Briesen, Belinda Wilkins with Music Director Brian Farrell and Artistic Director LizBeth Lucca. reviewplays.com
A new opera company in Los Angeles is aiming to showcase talented young singers at the beginning of their careers. Joseph Woodard reports
Rodolfo's Parisian garret sits comfortably next to a Methodist pulpit, where Mimi takes her last breath. Early evening light streams through stained-glass windows and religious appurtenances cast an unusual glow on the scenes and sounds we've come to associate with la boheme.
But any extra measure of disbelief in finding Puccini's standard in a semi-staged production, with only piano accompaniment, is easily suspended, counterbalanced by the sense of something righteous underway. This was the season-closing performance of the new Los Angeles-based Repertory Opera Company, in their current home venue, the large Wilshire United Methodist Church.
Such are the humble beginnings of a new operatic endeavor in a city whose operatic heat level has dramatically increased in recent years. The relatively leviathan Los Angeles Opera conducts business a few miles away, in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. This operation is vastly more modest, although the well-worked, tireless pianist and musical director Brian Farrell has been assistant conductor (for) the LA Opera.
More lavish, polished productions of la boheme have had a lesser impact, partly because of the sense of larger mission beneath the surface of the specific work at hand. ROC is a fledging effort with its heart in the right place, and a growing community to serve.
To hear Repertory Opera Companys founding director LizBeth Lucca tell it, the company was born not of a grand plan, but a whim that kept expanding. In short, ROC 'spontaneously combusted'. Lucca works as an opera director with various companies on the US West Coast and also is (a) staff stage director for the Shaker Opera (Festival) near Tanglewood. She also teaches acting for opera in Los Angeles, the seedbed of the ROC.
Pursuing the idea of presenting full operas in spare, semi-concert settings, Lucca saw a ripe opportunity. 'I feel that the young singers need to sing their roles. You can't explain to a singer what singing a lead is about. You just have to do it. Also, they're not competitive unless they have that resume. These days, people can't take a risk on someone who hasn't sung a role.'
Each of five singers chose an opera to focus on, but the first project, Carmen, went well enough that the idea of fostering a more official status quickly caught on.
'It started as a gathering,' Lucca says. 'With Traviata, we started getting some production infrastructure. La boheme was where we turned the corner and realized, okay, we are a company. We went from "Lets sing in somebody's front room" to "Hey, let's do a show" to "Oh, now were an opera company!"
Underscoring that seemingly casual birth, though is a long-brewing belief in the need to expand the city's opera landscape. 'We are Los Angeles, and we have one huge company,' Lucca remarks. 'Great, that's as it should be. But where are the smaller companies? We have very grassroots companies, but where are the regional houses? We have a huge number of singers in this area, but to get leads, they have to go elsewhere, to Palo Alto or San Luis Obispo, San Jose or the small companies in San Francisco. Why should they have to do that?'
If emboldened by the rapid growth of their first season, Lucca is also pragmatic. She's taking progress in a slow, measured fashion, planning on keeping the production values similar to their la boheme through next season, though possibly adding a small orchestral component for the final opera, Don Giovanni.
For now, the Methodist Church suits their modest needs, but one potential upwardly mobile move for the company would be just across the street, in the Wilshire Ebell Theater. The Ebell was once home to opera and could be again.
But they're making do with the church space. Lucca reasons that, 'in a space that size, we have the advantage that you can really feel the sound hit your body. One of the major excitements of opera is not just hearing the sound, but the visceral feeling of the sound. Plus, in that audience, you're seeing people on the stage. You're not just seeing miniatures way down there.'
'The time is definitely ripe for opera to expand. Its a very visceral, emotional and intellectual event. We're looking for a little passion in our lives.'
Joseph Woodard, Opera NOW,
November/December 2004 Issue
More reviews can be found on the
"2004-2005 Season" and
"2003-2004 Season" pages.
Here's a review of the great times...
"The performers in the Repertory Opera Company love their art. This love, passion, and respect explodes off the stage (or church altar) and permeates the hearts of the audience. Their fervor for opera is simply contagious. They speak to us through their energy. This makes for an outstanding performance that is definitely worth seeing!" LASplash
"these people do not sing with their throat or mouth they sing with their souls." reviewplays.com
"Comprised of a cast of astonishingly talented local singers, most of whom also carry international credits, and guided by virtuoso musical director Brian Farrell, the company stages its works simply yet effectively.." Entertainment Today
"Repertory Opera Company...entertains operatic veterans and newcomers alike.." "a place for passionate, dedicated people with serious gifts to perform their magic for an audience who can't (or won't) make the choice between an opera ticket and a car payment"
Jerry L. Jackson, MetroLA
"The gutsy, young company reaches for the brass ring"
Gene Warech, Random Lengths
"Lucca's vision is a bold and brave one, and her cast and crew are hardworking troupers, spinning a fair quantity of magic from the words and music of masters of the operatic form"
Madeleine Shaner, Park Labrea News/Beverly Press
"Repertory Opera Company offers a fresh new vision for Los Angeles: mid-sized opera that speaks to the heart through fine acting as well as energetic perfectly modulated singing, celebrating the high notes in an intimate setting where you can feel the power of the vocals and witness the nuance of the acting. "
Jacob Clark, MetroLA