Two decades ago, Los Angeles OPera was a rather provincial affair. Maria Ewing was cast in everything even though her voice was uneven and at times purely ugly. Sitting through her Salome, Carmen or Traviata was painful. But since Placido Domingo was appointed General Director in 2000, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has experienced a renaissance. Ambitious projects have marked this decade and even this year's season with Rossini's "Turk in Italy" (Il Turco in Italia) and Benjamin Britten's "Turn of the Screw" continues this tradition.
From a Ring cycle which was controversially directed by the German director Achim Freyer (audience members booed his appearance on stage; I, however, found it a fresh and invigorating interpretation) to an acclaimed production of Brecht and Weill's "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" (a recording of this production won two Grammys), LA Opera has become one of the cutting-edge houses in the United States along with Houston and Santa Fe but with the added prestige and endowment of New York's Metropolitan. It seems to be a formula for perpetual success.
Rossini's "Turk in Italy" has had a troubled performance history. It was booed by the audiences of Milan in 1814, and has not been performed in America since 1978 and LA Opera's prodiction was raved about by the critics, and for good reason. It was a light and airy piece supported by strong direction that maximized the comedic nature of Rossini's music and Felice Romano's libretto. The strong performances of singer-actors, such as soprano Nino Machaidze and baritone Thomas Allen, led this witty and sensual production. The critical and even commercial reception to this piece show that audiences will flock to an opera that is even little known. It points to the ability of creating more varied and interesting works by the Opera.
And now that "Turk in Italy" has closed, we see the immediate opening of their final work of the season, Benjamin Britten's "Turn of the Screw." Britten's works are notoriously difficult to mount, but LA Opera has made it their mission to become the home of some invigorating productions of Britten's opus. Los Angeles has headed some very well respected productions of Britten operas, including Rodney Gilfry as the eponymous character in 2000, and a calm and reflective version of Peter Grimes a few years later. This new production of "Turn of the Screw" is highly anticipated as the final production of this (sadly) truncated season due to budgetary issues.
Next season, LA Opera will mount Verdi's Simon Boccanegra with Domingo taking one of the most revered parts of the baritone repertoire. There will also be a new "Cosi fan tutte," a mounting of Britten's "Albert Herring," but is there a way that we can convince the Opera to build a new set for Bohème? I am ready for a new production of that standard piece that rivals the reinvention of "Madama Butterfly" of Robert Wilson. That would complete the radical transformation of LA Opera, which we have witnessed over the course of this past decade.