L.A. Opera 2020-21 season: Wagner, Herheim, ‘Breaking the Waves’ and ‘Get Out’


“Tannhäuser,” Richard Wagner’s paean to the provocative powers of the goddess Venus, will put Wagner and his theory of Gesamtkunstwerk center stage at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the first time in seven years as part of the 2020-21 Los Angeles Opera season to be announced Sunday.

The end of the Wagner drought is part of an ambitious eight-show lineup that includes the U.S. introduction of acclaimed Norwegian director Stefan Herheim with his production of Rossini’s comic Cinderella story, “La Cenerentola,” and the company premiere of composer Missy Mazzoli’s 2016 hit “Breaking the Waves.” Mazzoli will be the first artist to make the leap from L.A. Opera’s Off Grand new-music series to the company’s main stage.

Rounding out the main stage season: Verdi’s fiery tale of witchcraft and revenge, “Il Trovatore”; Mozart’s cautionary story of reckless love, “Don Giovanni”; director Francesca Zambello’s interpretation of “Aida,” with a visual design by L.A.-based street artist Retna; a concert featuring Kevin Puts’ orchestral song cycle “The Brightness of Light,” starring soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Rod Gilfry, based on the love letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz; and a concert of Handel’s drama of mismatched love, “Tamerlano,” featuring an orchestra using instruments authentic to the Baroque period.


The Off Grand series will include a Halloween concert and screening of Jordan Peele’s modern horror triumph “Get Out,” plus the West Coast premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning Chinese composer Du Yun’s “In Our Daughter’s Eyes.”

“In putting together a new season, we’re looking for the greatest range of diversity of offerings, anchored by these gigantic monumental masterpieces, and additional work that represents the future of the art form,” said Christopher Koelsch, L.A. Opera’s president and chief executive.

Koelsch said one of the company’s main concerns is giving audiences multiple points of entry into an art form that can feel intimidating thanks to its historical scale.

“Opera companies are considered conservative because they are stewards of tradition,” Koelsch said. “But we are a natural place for debate, and we should be reflective of the time and place in which we live.”

Koelsch said the company’s goal is to make the towering classics, no matter how revered, feel as fresh and relevant as the first day they premiered, and also to give audiences a taste of the vibrant elasticity of opera in the new shapes it is taking.

To that end, he is particularly excited about what Mazzoli’s main stage debut says about the success of Off Grand, which was created as a sonic garden to nurture new and experimental music. The series staged Mazzoli’s first opera, “Songs From the Uproar,” in 2015, featuring a score that Times critic Mark Swed called “seductive, meditative, spiritually elusive and subversive.” He added that Mazzoli was “a new natural for the art form.”


That five years later Mazzoli will be occupying a main stage lineup alongside Mozart, Wagner and Verdi is proof of Off Grand‘s concept, Koelsch said.

“The idea is working,” he said. “It’s a potent way of expanding the role of artistry and offerings.”

L.A. Opera doesn’t just want to serve as a launching pad for new music but as a gracious host for established talent from around the globe — a place to introduce Angelenos and the rest of the country to artists like Herheim, who has gained a reputation as one of opera’s most innovative stage directors. Herheim’s productions of established works such as “La Bohème,” “Parsifal” and “The Tales of Hoffmann” have received international praise for transcending opera boundaries and expectations.

Bringing Herheim to an American stage for the first time is a point of pride for the company, Koelsch said.

As is the triumphant return of Wagner in a production conducted by L.A. Opera’s music director, James Conlon, starring tenor Issachah Savage.

“I think it’s going to be a very viscerally exciting evening in the theater,” said Koelsch.


L.A. Opera will push forward without the star power of Plácido Domingo, who stepped down as general director amid harassment accusations, which he denies. Results of an internal investigation have not yet been announced.

The L.A. Opera 2020-21 schedule in chronological order:

Main stage

“Il Trovatore”

Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, conducted by James Conlon, starring soprano Angel Blue and tenor Gregory Kunde.

Sept. 26 and Oct. 4, 7, 10, 15 and 18


Composed by Richard Wagner, conducted by James Conlon, starring Issachah Savage.

Oct. 17, 25 and 29, and Nov. 1, 4 and 7

“La Cenerentola” (Cinderella)


Composed by Gioachino Rossini, directed by Stefan Herheim, conducted by Roberto Abbado, starring mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi and tenor Levy Sekgapane.

Nov. 21 and 29, and Dec. 2, 5, 9 and 13

“Don Giovanni”

Composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, conducted by James Conlon, directed by Kasper Holten, starring bass Ildebrando D’Arcangelo.

Jan. 30 and Feb. 6, 11, 14, 17 and 21, 2021

“Breaking the Waves”

Music by Missy Mazzoli, libretto by Royce Vavrek, conducted by Grant Gershon, starring soprano Sydney Mancasola and baritone Alexander Birch Elliott.

Feb. 27 and March 6, 11, 14, 18 and 21, 2021

“Tamerlano” (concert)


Composed by George Frideric Handel, with Harry Bicket conducting the English Concert and countertenor Bejun Mehta singing the title role.

April 30, 2021


Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by Francesca Zambello, conducted by James Conlon, starring soprano Liudmyla Monastryska.

May 15, 23, 27 and 30, and June 2 and 5, 2021

“The Brightness of Light” (concert)

Composed by Kevin Puts, conducted by James Conlon, starring soprano Renée Fleming and baritone Rod Gilfry.

May 16, 2021

Off Grand

“Get Out” (film screening with live music)
Directed by Jordan Peele, composed by Michael Abels.
Oct. 30 and 31
Theatre at Ace Hotel, L.A.

“Veils for Desire” (chamber concert)
Music by Aucoin, Bach, Britten and Monteverdi; starring countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, tenor Paul Appleby and composer-pianist Matthew Aucoin with musicians from the American Modern Opera Company; narrated by Wayne Koestenbaum.
March 31, 2021
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills

“In Our Daughter’s Eyes”
Music by Du Yun, libretto by Michael Joseph McQuilken, starring baritone Nathan Gunn.
April 8, 9, 10 and 11, 2021