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LA Opera chose to end its mainstage 2017- 2018 Season with a revival of Rigoletto, Giuseppe Verdi’s cynical vision of moral corruption. The production hails from the San Francisco Opera and was last seen in Los Angeles in 2010. As I was unable to attend the opening, I caught the opera late in its run with three new principals.

I don’t typically attend the pre-performance lectures, but my companion for the evening was new to opera, and I thought she’d appreciate the background. The lecturer was Conductor Matthew Aucoin, and he spoke with such insight and enthusiasm that he not only prepared my friend but captured my complete attention throughout.

The production is conventional, meaning that it is placed in the vaguely Renaissance period Verdi envisioned. But it looks a little worn. Michael Yeargan’s unit set features a mammoth gallery of archways. But the only thing that differentiates the design from a tour of Kiss Me Kate is Robert Wierzel’s lurid lighting.

Last time around, Mark Lamos’ direction had some punch, but, now, much of the physical action is filled with posturing rather than passion. Though to be fair, Lamos may not have been around to work with the second cast, and they may have had little to feel comfortable with the staging.

Musically, the drama is on a surer footing. Ambrogio Maestri’s Rigoletto is a jester who spends more time stirring up trouble in the court than getting laughs. But he shows a loving side in the scenes with his daughter Gilda. Maestri’s powerful voice finds colors enough to differentiate the desperate fury in “Cortigiani” from the horror of the final scene.

Adela Zaharia makes a stunning Gilda. She is able to balance the innocent girl with the woman who will sacrifice herself to save the man she loves. Zaharia’s singing is elegant but forceful. She has more vocal heft than the typical coloratura, but it doesn’t hamper her agility. At first glance, Michael Fabiano’s Duke is merely callow, but as the action unfolds, one senses that his drive for pleasure may mask other a complicated inner life. After a little uncertainty at the top of the opera, Fabiano delivers a well-sung and carefully crafted vocal portrayal.

Aucoin’s tempos are fast and urgent. The choice tends to downplay the more melodramatic moments by not lingering on them. The speed also brings a welcome jolt of energy to the familiar score.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion    May 12 – June 3, 2018



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.