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The Love Potion

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Over the course of operatic history, numerous stories have proved popular enough to be reimagined by multiple composers. Like Wagner before him, Swiss-born composer Frank Martin took his inspiration for The Love Potion (Le Vin Herbe) from the medieval love story of Tristan and Isolde.

Though they share a bond in their source material, it’s hard to imagine two operas as radically different as The Love Potion and Tristan and Isolde. Wagner’s five-hour epic uses a gigantic orchestra and a lushly poetic libretto to examine the relationship of two people seemingly as much in love with death as each other. Martin’s piece is musically spare, featuring an eight-piece chamber orchestra, and dramatically formal in its use of a chorus to narrate the drama. He eschews Wagner’s extravagant romanticism in favor of the tale’s medieval astringency and its sober praise of courtly love.

To be fair, Martin never expected any comparison with Tristan und Isolde, as The Love Potion, first produced in 1940, was conceived as an oratorio and, therefore, not intended for dramatic performance. Still, this neat and compact production by Long Beach Opera makes a strong case for The Love Potion as an alternate version to Wagner’s operatic staple.

Tristan (Bernard Holocomb) escorts Isolde (Jamie Chamberlin) from Ireland to Cornwall where she is to wed his Lord, King Mark (Bernardo Bermudez). On the journey, Isolde’s companion Branghien (Alejandra Villareal Martinez) mistakenly offers them a love potion devised by Isolde’s mother for her daughter and the King. From that moment, they are doomed to share a passion they cannot act on out of respect for the King.

Andreas Mitisek directs the production as well as creating all of the design elements. His stripped down design and ritualistic staging feel like the perfect realization of Martin’s somber vision. Chorus members not only narrate the plot but create the scenic elements with a clever use of wooden poles. The choice of a poor theater aesthetic adds an appropriately ceremonial aspect to the piece and brings a raw intensity which might have been lost in a production burdened with conventional sets.

Holocomb sings Tristan with a lovely lyricism that brings humanity to the character. Chamberlin’s role offers more opportunities for emotion, and she makes the most of them with her strong-voiced and well-enunciated Isolde. Bermudez’s powerful but warm tones make his King Mark both commanding and sympathetic. Conductor Ben Makino leads the orchestra in a sensitive reading of the score that brings out the subtle beauties in Martin’s music.

Warner Grand Theatre     May 13 & 19, 2018     www.longbeachopera.org

 

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.