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The Two Foscari

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With the Verdi Bicentennial fast approaching, many opera companies will choose to celebrate by delving into some of his early, more obscure, operas. LA Opera has chosen to blaze that trail by opening their 2012 – 2013 Season with I Due Foscari (The Two Foscari).One really doesn't get much more obscure than that.

 

While opera aficionados would generally prefer to hear a rarity like Foscari in performance over another revival of Trovatore or Traiata, the financial concern is whether the general public will have any interest. No doubt the eagerness of the company's General Director, Placido Domingo, to add the role of Francesco Foscari to his widening repertoire of baritone roles made the production worth the gamble.

 

Foscari was Verdi's sixth opera and, while it  isn't a forgotten masterpiece, the faults lie more with the source material (a play by Lord Byron) than with its music. Even at this early point in his development, Verdi has an inimitable style and endless reserves of melody. His instinctive understanding of how to build dramatic tension, coupled with his driving musical energy, brings a fairly static plot vividly to life.

As with so many of Verdi's operas, the theme of conflicted paternal love colors this tale of dark intrigue set in fifteenth-century Venice. Francesco Foscari is the longtime Doge of Venice, protecting his throne from the enemies who would steal it from him. But he is also a father who has lost three sons to the plague. His only surviving son, Jacopo, has been accused of murder and imprisoned. Though he knows his son to be innocent, Francesco bends to political pressure and the results are the tragic ruination of his family.

At 71, Domingo remains a vocal marvel and the role of the elder Foscari is the 140th he has undertaken in his astounding career. As the number suggests, he remains a probing and passionately committed artist. He is also singing with greater ease and power in his lower register, while retaining the brilliant top. Always an assured and eloquent performer, Domingo bravely embodies the character's less-than-honorable desire for power which will end in personal devastation.

Marina Poplavskaya makes another indelible impression as Lucretzia, the fiery and frustrated wife of the doomed Jacopo. Pitched at a higher emotional level than any of the other principals, she is no timid gentlewoman, but a lioness alert to the dangers which surround her and those she loves. Poplavskaya attacks the diffcult vocal line with a recklesness which turns her high notes into outraged shrieks and her lower register into a snarl of derision. But she is not simply a one-note harpy. She switches completely to reveal a sweet and genuinely tender tone in the duet with her husband. It is a vocal tour de force.

Francesco Meli makes his LA Opera debut as Jacopo. The tenor role is not nearly as nuanced as either of the other principals. Essentially he is required to suffer bravely and sing with a sad and haunting beauty. This Meli accomplishes easily, even when being lowered in a cage or tortured on the rack. His prison duet with Lucretzia is warm and radiant while the following trio, when his is reunited with his father, is the musical highlight of the evening. Ievgen Orlo proves a sonorously powerful  enemy of the Foscari family as he schemes to snatch the throne of Venice for himself.

Kevin Knight's sets and Bruno Poet's lighting reveal a Venice which is already decayed and crumbling at its very exposed foundations. The splendor of the court is left to Mattie Ulrich's opulently period-unspecific costumes. Thaddeus Strassberger's direction is clean and kept the action comprehensible. He effectively used video projections prior to each act to clarify the complex background. His most obvious directorial touch is a shocking moment of Medea-like infanticide at the final curtain.

From the pit, James Conlon shapes the musical journey with such sure dramatic power that it makes a clear case for Foscari to claim a place of higher distinction in the operatic canon.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion September 15 – October 7, 2012  (213) 972-8001  www.laopera.com

 

Spotlight

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.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

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.