Singing Los Angeles Opera´s Praises

REVIEW By Willard Manus

Los Angeles Opera is on a roll. Its recent productions of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO and IL TROVATORE were among the best the company has mounted in recent years. In FIGARO two young singers, Erwin Schrott and Isabel Bayrakdarian, triumphed as the conniving servants, with voices to match their charismatic stage presence. Sandra Picques Eddy and Darina Takova also stood out as Cherubino and the Countess, respectively. Ian Judge's direction and Tim Goodchild's scintilling sets (newly designed) helped bring out the joy and sparkle in Mozart's music.

IL TROVATORE is a much darker, more dramatic opera, but its power came through effectively at the Music Center, largely owing to the stunning performance of Dolora Zajick as the passionate gypsy, Azucena. Zajick is rapidly becoming one of the finest sopranos on the world and we must be grateful to Los Angeles Opera for making it possible for us to catch her on the path to stardom.

Los Angeles Opera will unveil its first-ever summer event this month, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC by Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler. The production, directed by Scott Ellis, choreographed by Susan Stroman and starring Victor Garber, Judith Ivey and Zoe Caldwell, will run from July 7-28 at the Music Center.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is a special summer prelude to the new opera season, A jumble of mismatched lovers sorts itself out to a swirl of delectable waltzes through elegant ballrooms and rumpled bedrooms of turn-of-the-century Sweden. The opera was suggested by an Ingmar Bergman film and was originally produced and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince.

Los Angeles Opera also announced that a production of FALSTAFF, starring bass-baritone superstar Bryn Terfel, will replace SWEENEY TODD in the May, 2005 slot. A film adaptation of Sweeney is now in pre-production and all performance rights have been rescinded. Most local opera fans will not shed any tears, however, if only because they now will have the chance to see Terfel make his company stage debut in FALSTAFF, his signature role. FALSTAFF is also Verdi's masterpiece, the crowning glory of his long and illustrious career.

Joining Terfel will be an all-star cast: Kallen Esperian as Alice Ford, Vassily Gerello as Ford, Jane Henschel as Mrs. Quickly, Celena Shafer as Nanetta and Daniil Shtoda as Fenton. Stephen Lawless directs, with Kent Nagano conducting.

Los Angeles Opera will also host Placido Domingo's l2th annual vocal contest, OPERALIA 2004, when it returns to L.A. this summer, Aug. 23-28, at the Music Center. Forty singers under the age of thirty will compete in three elimination face-offs over the course of the week with the finals to be held Sat. Aug. 28. The Los Angeles Opera Orchestra will accompany the finalists, with Domingo conducting. A Gala Concert with Placido and the winners will take place at the Chandler Pavilion at a future date.

With the backing of Rolex and the Marc & Eva Stern Foundation, over $175,000 in prize money will be awarded, with awards for first, second and third place as well as two special prizes for Zarzuela interpretation. An international panel of judges will select the winners. Would-be contestants should visit Complimentary tickets to the preliminary and semi-final auditions will be available through the L.A. Opera box-office. Tickets to the finals range from $10-$90 and are available at Ticketmaster or by calling (213) 972-8001.

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Speaking of opera, Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, NY opens its its 2004 Festival season this month with a production of Puccini's GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST, starring Emily Pulley, Roger Honeywell and Earle Petriarco. Other scheduled operas include Patience (by Gilbert & Sullivan), Handel's Imeneo and the American premiere of Richard Rodney Bennett's The Mines of Sulphur. Call (607) 547-5704