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Simon Boccanegra

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Verdi's Simon Boccanegra was less than rapturously received at its premiere and, though the strength of the composer's name guaranteed subsequent productions, the opera had to be counted as a disappointment. Late in life Verdi revisited Boccanegra, employing the fresh vision of composer/librettist, Arrigo Boito. The resulting re-working didn't solve all of the dramatic problems, but it did create a more compelling opera and, perhaps more importantly, served as a blueprint for the two Shakespearean masterpieces, Otello and Fallstaff, on which the pair would collaborate and which were to crown Verdi's creative life.

 Boccanegra's convoluted plot spans a quarter century and includes thwarted love, a stolen child, revenge, poison, Medieval Italian politics and, one of Verdi's favorite themes, the father/daughter relationship. Though no more improbable than the libretto for Il Trovatore, Boccanegra feels less cohesive than that infinitely more popular opera- more series of set pieces. But when those set pieces include such wonders as the plaintive bass aria, “Il lacerato spirito,” the tender scene in which Boccanegra recognizes his daughter and especially the monumental Council Chamber scene which closes the First Act, it seems foolish to complain. 

But Boccanegra remains on the outskirts of the standard repertoire and it is generally the desire of star which prompts a production. LA Opera certainly had the star power in Placido Domingo who has recently chosen the part as his entree into the realm of baritone roles. I promised some years ago to stop marveling in print about the wonder of Domingo's voice, but, as this is a new fach, I suppose I can be forgiven for going back on my word.

It cannot be said that, at 71, Domingo's voice is indistinguishable from the lyric tenor which thrilled the operatic world in the late 60's. Over the past quarter century he has moved into heavier roles, trading flexibility for power. And, while the vocal quality is still miraculous, there is a slightly coarser edge to the sound. In truth, this only adds humanity and a captivating vulnerability to his characterizations. Experience has also gifted him with an ease and immediacy in both performance and audience communication. It is doubtful that any singer today, baritone or tenor, could command the stage with such authority or sing the role with such resonance and emotional sincerity.

Ana Maria Martinez’s supple soprano brought enviable vocal agility as well as emotional power to the role of Amelia, Boccanegra’s long-lost daughter. She also managed to confidently hold her own in this testosterone drenched opera. In his LA Opera debut, Stefano Secco unveiled a bright and fervently Italianate tenor as Amelia’s lover, Gabriele Adorno.

After his heavily costumed stint as the Wotan in LA Opera’s Ring Cycle, it was a relief to really see Vialij Kowaljow. As Fiesco, Boccanegra’s sworn enemy, he sang with enviable style and command while Paolo Gvanelli’s Albiani was appropriately bombastic and treacherous.

Michael Yeargan’s forced perspective set brought a fitting sense of grandeur to the proceedings while Duane Schuler’s evocative lighting emphasized the dark underpinnings of Genoa, particularly through an effective use of shadows. Elijah Moshinsky’s direction tended towards the plant-and-sing technique, but it got the job done without getting in the way.

As always Music Director James Conlon’s contribution in the pit cannot be overstated. He accentuated the poignancy and lyricism of the score which buoyed the already strong performances to the next level.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion February 11 – March 4, 2012




Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.