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When it comes to opera, the difference between the tradition-bound L.A. Opera and the au courant L.A. Phil is best illustrated by the two Giovannis. For the first part of the Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy in 2012, the L.A. Phil staged a daring production of Don Giovanni featuring scenery by Frank Gehry and costumes by Laura and Kate Mulleavy, the fashion designers behind Rodarte.
Four months later, the L.A. Opera imported from Chicago’s Lyric Opera a traditional production of Don Giovanni dating back to 1954. In keeping with their usual high standards, it was flawless, though undeniably stale. The difference between the two productions is summed up in one word: innovation. It describes the L.A. Phil’s 2012 staging of Don Giovanni; their 2013 staging of The Marriage of Figaro, with scenery designed by Pritzker Prize-winner Jean Nouvel and costumes by Azzedine Alaia ; and the current production of Cosi fan tutte at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Thursday and Saturday. On a stage designed by another Pritzker winner Zaha Hadid, the production features costumes using laser-cut, 3-D fabric by noted French couturier Hussein Chalayan.
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“We weren’t trying to produce these as if we were doing this in a classic opera house,” L.A. Phil President Deborah Borda tells The Hollywood Reporter about the trilogy. “We knew these had to be very site specific for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and in fact that was one of the aspects that excited us.”
The new production includes a circular dune-like stage situated in the center of the hall. On its marble-like contours with steep grades and movable parts, Christopher Alden (who helmed all three operas) directs sopranos Miah Persson and Rosemary Joshua, as well as tenor Alek Shrader, bass-baritone Philippe Sly, baritone Rod Gilfry and mezzo soprano Roxana Constantinescu.
This comedy, composed in 1789, tells the tale of two young grooms-to-be who wager that even disguised as handsome strangers they cannot seduce their faithful fiancees. It was Mozart’s third collaboration with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. A lighthearted look at the inconstancy of love, Cosi was unsuccessful in its time but gained popularity in the 20th century.
The Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy came out of an early discussion in 2008 about what direction the L.A. Phil might take under then new conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Triumphs so far have included the trilogy as well as the 2012 Mahler Project including all nine of the romantic composer’s symphonies under one baton. This past season’s Minimalist Jukebox festival overseen by creative chair John Adams saw a semi-staged revival of the Rome section of Philip Glass‘ CIVIL warS, as well as 3-D concert by electro pioneers, Kraftwerk.
Next season offers eight world premieres as well as the West Coast premiere of Unsik Chin‘s multimedia opera Alice in Wonderland with a book by playwright David Henry Hwang. And while it hasn’t officially been announced, a collaboration between the Phil and Yuval Sharon, L.A.’s avant-garde opera darling, is currently in the works.
“I thought Invisible Cities was one of the greatest musical experiences I’ve had in the last decade,” says Borda about Sharon’s site-specific opera at L.A.’s Union Station, in which audiences wore cutting-edge headphones. “Technology is moving ahead so quickly that it is really effecting everything in terms of how we’re going to produce opera and invent opera in the future, and in the way we’ll reinvent opera. It is a changing face, and I think it’s an issue that all of classical music, not just opera, is struggling with: how we define ourselves in the twenty-first century.”
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