Los Angeles review by Willard Manus

Los Angeles Opera recently launched its twenty-second season with a rousing and superb production of Beethoven's FIDELIO, starring Anja Kampe as Leonore and Klaus Florian Vogt as her imprisoned husband, Florestan. Beethoven's only opera, a defiant defense of freedom and the rights of man, makes severe demands on its singers and musicians, mixing as it does singspiel, melodrama, oratorio and overture. Thanks to the impressive vocal work of Kampe and Vogt (not to speak of the other featured singers), and to James Conlon's impassioned conducting, FIDELIO came off triumphantly.

Director/designer Pier'Alli contributed significantly to the production. His towering, gloomy prison walls perfectly symbolized the power of the state against which Leonore (and by implication all of humanity) must battle. In Act Two, Pier'Alli unleashed the design work of Sergio Metalli, whose "Ideogamma" digital projections gave magnified and animated life to the spiritual struggle that lies at the heart of the opera. No doubt we shall be seeing Metalli's ground-breaking visuals in many operas and theatrical productions to come.

Grant Gershon, making his company debut as Chorus Master, made sure that his singers matched the intensity and virtuosity of the orchestra (and lead singers), especially in the final moments of the opera, when Beethoven celebrates the healing power of Christian mercy and compassion with some of the most dynamic music ever written.

Los Angeles Opera followed up FIDELIO with another equally strong production--JENUFA by the Czech composer, Leos Janacek. Starring the Finnish soprano Karita Mattila (as Jenufa), Eva Urbanova (as her stepmother, Kostelnicka), Jorma Silvasti (as the rake, Steva), Elizabeth Bishop (as Grandmother Buryja) and Kim Begley (as the jealous suitor, Laca), JENUFA gave these superb artists ample room to show off their vocal prowess. All delivered the goods, not only as singers but actors as well. JENUFA'S drama is intense and weighty throughout, dealing as it does with infanticide, injustice and intolerance. The darkness in the human soul is plumbed by Janacek, who created his own musical language with this work, combining Pan-Slavic folk tunes with elements of 19th century Romanticism. The result was not only ground-breaking but revolutionary.

Janacek not only put the Czech soul but the Czech language into his opera, no small feat at a time when his country was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and German was its official tongue. Janacek defied tradition with JENUFA and became Czechoslovakia's greatest composer after Dvorak.

Weighty as the drama is in JENUFA, the opera, like FIDELIO,

ultimately goes from dark to light. Horror gives way to compassion and forgiveness, if only because, as Janacek says, "in every human being there is a spark of God."

With her fiery stage presence and large voice, Mattila is certainly the Jenufa of choice, but Urbanova more than held her own as Kostelnicka, thanks to her luminescent tones and spirited acting. The other singers were equally exciting and commanding, as was James Conlon's conducting work. In all, this was not only a successful but a singular production.

In November/December L.A. Opera will revive two of its most popular productions, DON GIOVANNI and LA BOHEME.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call (213) 972-8001 or visit