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L.A. Opera announces 2010-11 season: a premiere and cutbacks

January 27, 2010 |  6:18 pm
Lohengrin

Like nearly all American opera companies struggling through the Great Recession, Los Angeles Opera announced a somewhat trimmed 2010-11 season Wednesday. At its peak in 2006 and 2007, when the company offered 75 performances of 10 productions, next season will see 42 performances of six productions.

Even so, L.A. Opera, which will be celebrating its 25th season, has neither lost its grand ambitions nor its nerve. The new season will open on Sept. 23 with the world premiere of Daniel Catán’s “Il Postino,” based on the 1994 Italian film as well as the earlier novel by Antonio Skármeta. The season will end in March 2011, with Benjamin Britten’s brilliantly creepy “The Turn of the Screw,” which will initiate a four-year celebration of the British composer, whose centenary is in 2013.

“It is really difficult to arrive where we have arrived,” the L.A. Opera general director Plácido Domingo admitted Wednesday, noting that the company has been struggling to meet the financial demands of its upcoming $32-million cycle of Wagner’s “Ring” this spring. L.A. Opera needed an emergency loan of $14 million from the County Board of Supervisors last month to stay afloat.

Domingo says the chairman and president of his opera board “were the first to put their hands in their pockets,” and that the company now has full commitments to pay back the loan over the next two years. But until that burden has been lifted, he feels the company, which has a budget of $39 million for 2010-11, can’t spend as freely as it once did on highly costly shows.

The rest of next season will also consist of new productions (new to Los Angeles, that is) of Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Rossini’s “Il Turco in Italia” (“The Turk in Italy”), and it will bring back its productions of Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” (“The Marriage of Figaro”) (seen in 2006) and Wagner’s “Lohengrin” (2001). The company will take what it says is a temporary hiatus from its high-profile "Recovered Voices" series that began in 2007 of productions of European operas that fell victim to Nazi censorship.

The most attention always goes to the world premiere. “Postino” will be the company’s second commission of an opera by Catán, a Mexican composer who now lives in Los Angeles and who has a beguiling melodic style. In 1997, L.A. Opera mounted his “Florencia en el Amazonas,” a commission with Seattle Opera and Houston Opera, where it had its first performance a year earlier.

“Postino,” which had originally been scheduled for the current season, but had to be postponed to make fiscal room for the “Ring,” will feature tenor Charles Castronovo in the title role of the postman smitten with the poetry of Pablo Neruda. Domingo will be the Chilean poet. The Spanish-language production -- which will travel to Paris, Vienna and Cincinnati -- will include the work of video artist Philip Bussmann. Grant Gershon, the company’s associate conductor and chorus master, will conduct.  Ron Daniels will direct.

L.A. Opera’s music director, James Conlon, who is currently getting rave reviews in Milan conducting “Rigoletto” at La Scala, will be in the pit for the remaining new productions, including Mark Lamos’ production of that Verdi opera, which opens Nov. 27 and comes from San Francisco Opera. George Gagnidze will make his company debut as the hunchback.

The production of Rossini’s “Turk,” the company’s February production, will be by the sometimes provocative German director Christof Loy. It brings back Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze and British baritone Thomas Allen. For “Turn of the Screw,” a production by Jonathan Kent from Glyndebourne Festival south of London, the popular American soprano Patricia Racette will sing the role of the ghost-buster governess for the first time.

Wagnerians not sated by the “Ring” will not have to go cold turkey. Maximilian Schell’s production returns Nov. 20 with top singers, including the Canadian heldentenor Ben Heppner in the title role, Soile Isokoski as the pure Elsa and Dolora Zajick as the mean Ortrud.

The other revival is Ian Judge’s “Figaro,” for which Domingo will share conducting duties with Israel Gursky. Daniel Okulitch, who was last seen hereabouts as a gooey insect in Howard Shore’s “The Fly,” will sing the role of Figaro. [For the record at 3:19 p.m. An earlier version of this story said incorrectly that Okulitch would be singing the role of the Count.]

All operas will be presented in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, as will L.A. Opera’s recital series, which will be all-male -- bass René Pape (Jan. 15), baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Feb. 10) and tenor Jonas Kaufmann (March 11).

Another baritone had been expected. Domingo, who celebrated his 69th birthday last week, has dipped down into the register beneath his famed tenor for Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra,” which he is currently singing at the Metropolitan Opera. After arriving in L.A. Wednesday to accept an honor from the Grammys (he sings “Boccanegra” again in New York on Friday), he said that he planned to bring that opera to Los Angeles for the 2011-12 season and not to be surprised if we also see him in another baritone role or two.

In fact, he pointed out that he had never sung a Monteverdi opera, and he found the lead in “The Return of Ulysses to the Fatherland” by the father of opera particularly attractive. That way he’d be able to end his singing career, whenever his voice gives out, by having covered the entire 400 years of his art form.

“You have to always be ready to grow,” he said, speaking both of himself and of L.A. Opera.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Adrianne Pieczonka Gösta Winbergh in L.A. Opera's 2001 production of 'Lohengrin." Credit: Stefano Paltera/For The Times.

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