L.A. Opera gets 'daring'

Times Staff Writer

In what artistic director Placido Domingo calls "a daring opening," Los Angeles Opera's ambitious 2003-2004 season will kick off Sept. 10 with a staging of Berlioz's "The Damnation of Faust," directed by the controversial Achim Freyer and featuring Denyce Graves and Samuel Ramey.

It will be followed later in September by the world premiere of "Nicholas and Alexandra," by contemporary composer Deborah Drattell, with Domingo as Rasputin. The "Nicholas and Alexandra" cast also will include Rodney Gilfry and Nancy Gustafson, and the opera will be conducted by the famed Mstislav Rostropovich.

The 2003-2004 season marks the first time that the opera company will not have to share Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which will move to its new home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, in October. With more time available, the company will present 69 opera performances, 11 more than in the 2002-03 season. That represents a nearly 20% increase over 2002-2003, Domingo said

The schedule, announced Wednesday by Domingo at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, also will feature an eclectic slate of stage directors, including avant-garde theater artist Robert Wilson, who will direct and provide lighting design for Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," which will feature Jonathan Matz, a winner of Domingo's Operalia competition in 2002; and opera and film director Jurgen Flimm at the helm of "The Marriage of Figaro," with Isabel Bayrakdarian, a 2000 Operalia winner, and Erwin Schrott.

Three women will make their Los Angeles Opera directing debuts: theater director Anne Bogart, who will direct Drattell's "Nicholas and Alexandra"; actress Marthe Keller, directing "Lucia di Lammermoor"; and modern-dance choreographer Lucinda Childs -- who has created dance pieces for Mikhail Baryshnikov and who choreographed the opera company's 2001 production of "Lohengrin" -- directing Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice," conducted by Hartmut Haenchen in his company debut and featuring Vivica Genaux and Maria Bayo.

The season also will include recitals by Hei-Kyung Hong and baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in his L.A. Opera concert debut.

Freyer directed last season's experimental staging of Bach's Mass in B Minor, which featured shrouded figures resembling Giacometti sculptures that sometimes created eerie effects by pressing hands, feet or faces against stretchy, translucent scrims.

In an interview before Wednesday's news conference, Domingo said that in "Faust," a co-production with the Polish National Opera, "I think we have an opera that is not entirely popular, but it is such a well-known story, this idea of selling the soul to the devil."

He added with a laugh that Freyer's eccentric interpretation of Bach's Mass in B Minor, lauded by some critics but booed by some audience members, was "what he wanted to present; now he is going to do what we want him to do for us. It will certainly be exciting.... There is no way to say that if the script says there will be a table, it will be a table -- it could be abstract, but we have seen some of the things he has prepared, and we are very excited about it."

The company's principal director, Kent Nagano, will conduct "Faust," as well as the performances of "Madama Butterfly" and "Die Frau Ohne Schatten," a revival of Los Angeles Opera's production designed by David Hockney, later in the season.

Domingo called "Nicholas and Alexandra" the first in the company's long-term plans for a world premiere production each season. The first planned premiere was Luciano Berio's new orchestration of Monteverdi's "The Coronation of Poppea," originally slated to open earlier this month, but that had to be replaced with performances of other works when the composer became too ill to finish the composition.

"What was supposed to be the second will now become the first," said Domingo, adding that L.A. Opera is in talks with composer John Williams and director Julie Taymor for future premiere works.

The cancellation of "Poppea" was the latest in a string of bad luck for the opera company this season, including cancellation of the Kirov Opera's "War and Peace" in November due to financial problems. The replacement opera, the Kirov's "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk," ran into its own difficulties when the 10-day shutdown of West Coast ports prevented the sets, costumes and props from being unloaded in Los Angeles.

The company also lost its board chairman, Leonard I. Green, 68, who died in October while on vacation in Italy. The company said Wednesday that Marc I. Stern, formerly board president and chief executive of the opera, will become chairman and CEO, and that businessman Frank E. Baxter has stepped in as board president.

The company also has lost future financial commitments from its primary donor, high-tech mogul Alberto Vilar, whose company, Amerindo Investments, has suffered deep stock losses in the last three years. The opera company is not relying on any funds from Vilar for the 2003-2004 season, Stern said.

Although the company ended the 2001-2002 season with a $1-million deficit, Stern said he expects the 2002-2003 season to end in the black, and he calls the company's financial picture strong. Joked Domingo of the opera's recent troubles: "At least it wasn't boring."


Season Schedule

Sept. 10-28: "The Damnation of Faust," Berlioz

Sept. 14-27: "Nicholas and Alexandra," Drattell

Nov. 22-Dec. 20: "Lucia di Lammermoor," Donizetti

Nov. 29-Dec. 21: "Orfeo ed Euridice," Gluck

Feb. 12-March 14: "Madama Butterfly," Puccini

Feb. 22-March 13: "Die Frau Ohne Schatten," Strauss

May 22-June 19: "The Marriage of Figaro," Mozart

May 27-June 20: "Il Trovatore," Verdi

Contact: (213) 972-8001, www.losangelesopera.com

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