Culture Monster

All the Arts, All the Time

« Previous Post | Culture Monster Home | Next Post »

L.A. Phil, Salonen to premiere 'lost' Shostakovich opera 'Orango'

November 26, 2011 |  8:00 am

The story of how the Los Angeles Philharmonic and its emeritus conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, landed next week's world premiere of "Orango," a long-lost opera by Dmitri Shostakovich is -- to quote Winston Churchill's famous line about Russia -- a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

It's a detective story, in which the Russian musicologist Olga Digonskaya discovered a fragment of the 1930s opera buried in a Moscow archive, in 2004, and brought it to the attention of the late composer's widow.

It's also a political cautionary tale. "Orango," a brutal satire of bourgeois manners centered on a grotesque half-man, half-ape newspaper magnate, was written by Shostakovich during the heady, experimental days of the early Bolshevik state. Irreverent in tone, "Orango" is a mash-up of Modernist stylings that express the exuberant spirit of early 1930s Soviet culture.

But by the end of that decade, Stalin's political purges had drawn a shroud over the former Soviet Union's artistic experiments. Shostakovich and his librettists, Alexei Tolstoy and Alexander Starchakov, scrapped the planned four-act opera, leaving only the prologue. "Orango" is thus a monument to that brief, creative era and, in a sense, its tombstone.

But with Salonen back in L.A. to conduct the Phil, with staging by his frequent collaborator, director Peter Sellars, "Orango" will receive a new breath of life. Its world premiere will take place in three performances, Dec. 2, 3 and 4 at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

For more about the opera and its remarkable journey from dusty page to Disney stage, read the Sunday Arts & Books story here.


'Moscow, Cherry Town': A Shostakovich to sing about

Esa-Pekka Salonen makes a brief return to L.A. Philharmonic

L.A. Philharmonic lands premiere of a long-lost Shostakovich opera

-- Reed Johnson

Photo: Dmitri Shostakovich. Credit: Shostakovich Family Archives