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La Traviata

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While LA Opera has announced its most adventurous season in years (Corigliano's glorious meta-opera The Ghosts of Versailles arrives in February), their choice of Verdi's La Traviata as the season opener was a safe one. Not only is the opera beloved, but it allows General Director, Placido Domingo, to graduate to Germont pere, the father of Alfredo, a character he sang so indelibly through most of his career.

 

Domingo's wife, Marta Domingo, returns as the Director/Designer of the production which she has updated to the 1920's. There are valid similarities between the careless lives of the rich during France's Second Empire and the hedonistic excess of the Bright Young Things, but the fuzzy direction never explores them. Instead the focus is on surface detail: the riot of colorful and, admittedly, beautiful costumes; a vintage Chrysler from which Violetta alights for her entrance; an embarrassing Charleston danced to Verdi's decidedly resistant score; and the Art Deco flourishes on the spare sets.

 

Director Domingo has toned down most of hoary operatic acting cliches which prevailed in the original 2006 production. What remains is a clear, if unimaginative, representation of the tragic story with little dramatic bite. This leaves the heavy lifting to the singers.

The role of the entrancing courtesan,Violetta is famously difficult. Some musicologists have posited that the character's journey from party girl to self-sacrificing lover and, finally, to terminal consumptive, requires more than one voice can manage. But musical history is filled with sopranos who have risen to the challenge and triumphed.

As her previous Los Angeles appearances have shown, Nino Machaidze is a compelling singer and a magnetic stage presence. Her large but supple instrument meets Verdi's musical demands head-on. She sings with authority, style, and a sense of glamour which is right for Violetta. It is a commendable performance, but one can only imagine the potential fireworks when she encounters a director who will challenge her to delve deeper and explore the dramatic heart of the character.

Violetta may be the centerpiece of the opera, but this production's box office draw is unquestionably Placido Domingo.  It is no surprise that he appears at home in the role. After all, he sang Alfredo many times and, more recently, has conducted the opera. Domingo's Germont is a gentler, more approachable figure than usual, and his reserve moves very quickly to concern when he asks Violetta to end her affair with his son. This added humanity interestingly colors his confrontation with Violetta as well as his relationship with Alfredo. Domingo's interpretative powers are always unimpeachable, and I noticed no lingering effects from his recent respiratory ailment.

Arturo Chacon-Cruz's Alfredo displays a smallish, somewhat reedy tenor and an earnest demeanor. No doubt stronger direction will also give his portrayal more potency. In smaller roles, Daniel Mobbs brings a touching dignity to the role of the Baron while both Daniel Armstrong's Marquis and Peabody Southwell's Flora make their characters eminently watchable. Ms Southwell also exhibits a knack in flourishing a cigarette holder for dramatic emphasis.

As always, James Conlon provides a solid musical foundation from the pit.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion  September 13 – 28, 2014   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.