Two Triumphs For L.A. Opera

REVIEW By Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Opera closed out the 2004 portion of its current season with two triumphant productions, one old, one new.

Herbert Ross' version of Puccini's LA BOHEME has become a company standard, thanks to its much-loved story, glorious melodies, dazzling set and vigorous direction (by Stanley M. Garner). In its recent incarnation, Marco Berti and Ana Maria Martinez took on the key roles of Rodolfo and Mimi. Both are comparatively young singers on the cusp of fame, but they handled the opera's vocal challenges with an ease and assurance that bodes well for the future. Though he's a little too plump to pass for a starving artist, Berti made up that shortcoming with his warm, rich voice and his strength as an actor. Martinez impressed even more with her passionately sung arias and vivid stage presence. She gave Mimi strength and independence, qualities not normally associated with such a tragic character.

Alternating in these roles were Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu. Other key singers included Shelley Jameson as Musetta, Alfredo Daza as Marcello and Stephen Morscheck as Colline.

L.A. Opera mounted Samuel Barber's VANESSA for the first time, and it was a revelation--fresh-sounding and -looking, with an unusual and touching story. Based on a tale by Isak Dinesen that was freely adapted by Gian Carlo Menotti, VANESSA deals with three generations of women living under the same roof in wealthy isolation and rigidity, doomed by their strange, unreal notions of romantic love and behavior.

Into this stark, harsh setting (brilliantly delineated by designer Paul Brown) comes a youngish man, Anatol (the superb John Matx), whose looks and virility shake the ladies up. The Baroness (Rosalind Elias), a silent, grim old woman, looks to Anatol to bring reality and humanity into the household. But when he is rebuffed at first by the middle-aged Vanessa (an austere Kiri Te Kanawa) and seduces her niece Erika instead (Lucy Schaufer, a fiery soprano on a fast track to stardom), The Baroness lapses into cold, silent loathing again. Erika also turns against Anatol, leaving the gold-digger no choice but to con his way into Vanessa's bed.

The drama often skirts melodrama, but thanks to Barber's lean but challenging and emotionally rich score--20th century tonal music at its best--VANESSA comes off as a powerful and satisfying work, one which deserves to be more widely known and performed.

Upcoming events at Los Angeles Opera include a Jan. 15 recital by Reneee Fleming, whose vocal artistry is acclaimed worldwide as "the gold standard of soprano sound." Pianist Hartmut Holl will accompany her at the Music Center.

Giuseppe Verdi's beloved grand opera AIDA returns to the Chandler Pavilion on Jan. 22 for a run through Feb. 20. Directed by Pier-Luigi Pizzi, the production combines Verdi's tumultuous music with fantastic Egyptian spectacle. The highly-regarded soprano Michele Crider makes her company debut in her signature role as Aida, the slave girl who falls in love with the man who conquered her native land.

Tenor Franco Farina, so memorable last season in Il Trovatore, returns as Radames. The radiant mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura debuts as Aida's rival, the proud Amneris, and baritone Lado Ataneli, who made his 2002 company debut in the title role of Nabucco, returns as Aida's father, a king held captive in a hostile land.

On Jan. 29, L.A. Opera will unveil its new production of Charles Gounod's ROMEO ET JULIETTE, starring the charismatic Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon and one of opera's dynamic young sopranos, Anna Netrebko, who was cheered long and hard in last season's Lucia di Lammermoor. Ian Judge directs the production, which will run through Feb. 20.


For tickets call (213) 972-8001 or visit