Los Angeles likes to think big and so does LA Opera. Its home is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; its four tiers, grand chandeliers, wide curving stairways and capacity of 3156 making it one of the largest opera houses in the United States. Although it draws its roots from the Los Angeles Civic Grand Opera, LA Opera is a young company, only inaugurated in 1986. That first production was Otello, starring Plácido Domingo, who has been inextricably linked to the company ever since. He has performed there – both on stage and in the pit – many times, and became General Director in 2003.

<i>Salome</i> in 1998 © Ken Howard
Salome in 1998
© Ken Howard
LA Opera attracts star singers and the second half of its season features some big female voices taking on some of opera’s strong women. Patricia Racette takes on the role of biblical wild child Salome in Richard Strauss’ revolutionary 1905 opera in Peter Hall’s classic production from the company’s first season. Drawing on Oscar Wilde’s scandalous play, Strauss intensified the action by writing the opera in a single act. The teenage princess Salome is fascinated by Jochanaan (John the Baptist), who is being held captive in a cistern. When he refuses her advances, she appeals to her stepfather, the leering Herod, who promises her whatever she desires if she will dance for him. After the erotic Dance of the Seven Veils, she requests the head of John the Baptist which, despite Herod’s protests, she gets her wish, kissing the dead man’s mouth and repulsing the court. Herod orders his guards to crush her to death. This intense,bloody one-acter is a tour de force for the soprano tackling the title role and Patricia Racette completely has its measure. Already this season she has performed it at Pittsburgh and The Metropolitan Opera, the latter earning praise from our reviewer for her stamina and compelling performance. James Conlon, Music Director of LA Opera since 2006, conducts.

Sondra Radvanovsky (Tosca) in 2011 © Robert Millard
Sondra Radvanovsky (Tosca) in 2011
© Robert Millard
Five years before Salome was premiered, another of opera’s most iconic women made her debut in Rome. Puccini’s Tosca, based on Victorien Sardou’s play, is the perfect diva opera – the title character is Rome’s star soprano and her ‘artistic temperament’ (for which read ‘intense jealousy’) pushes her into her most intense role, but for real. When her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, is arrested, tortured and condemned to death for aiding the revolution, Tosca has no choice but to yield to the repulsive chief of police, Baron Scarpia, in a bid to save his life. But when Scarpia advances to claim his prize, Tosca stabs him to death. Just when she thinks she has succeeded in rescuing Cavaradossi from the dawn firing squad, however, Scarpia strikes from beyond the grave for a gripping finale. American-Canadian soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is one of the world’s leading interpreters of the title role and has a powerful soprano capable of cleaving through the orchestra. Her recent Manon Lescaut in London found in remarkable voice, a fully focused, generous sound allied to a thrilling characterisation. Radvanovsky last sang the role at LA Opera, in John Caird’s staging, in 2013. Exciting young tenor Russell Thomas sings Cavaradossi, while Latvian bass-baritone Egils Silins is the evil Scarpia.

Thumbprint © Noah Stern Weber | Beth Morrison Projects
© Noah Stern Weber | Beth Morrison Projects
The season features the West Coast première of Kamala Sankaram’s chamber opera Thumbprint, based on the true story of the courageous Mukhtar Mai who become the first female victim of gang rape to bring her attackers to justice in Pakistan. What started out as a song cycle was developed into an opera, which made its debut in New York in 2014 directed by Rachel Dickstein, whose production now tranfers to LA. Sankaram’s score was described inThe New York Times as “lushly lyrical and sometimes memorably stark” and is filled with both European and Hindustani influences. Susan Yankowitz’s libretto was drawn from a series of interviews with Mai.

<i>The Abduction from the Seraglio</i> © George Hixson | Houston Grand Opera
The Abduction from the Seraglio
© George Hixson | Houston Grand Opera
Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail displays steely resolve, despite the Singspiel essentially being a comedy. She and her maid are being held captive in a Pasha’s harem and she withstands his advances. Comic elements arise from the efforts of Konstanze’s lover, Belmonte, and his sidekick, Pedrillo, trying to rescue her. Osmin, the overseer of the palace and often played as a pantomime villain, is usually the butt of the joke.

James Robinson’s witty production is set in the 1920s on board the Orient Express en route from Istanbul to Paris. Konstanze is sung by Sally Matthews, Joel Prieto sings Belmonte and bass Morris Robinson is Osmin. 

Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov © Vladimir Skirkov
Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov
© Vladimir Skirkov
A soprano who started out specialising in the coloratura repertory makes her LA debut in not one, but four roles. German soprano Diana Damrau appears as all four heroines in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann. She sings Stella, who the poet Hoffmann pasisonately adores. In each act, Hoffmann recalls a doomed love affair: the doll Olympia (in which Damrau will need to call on all her coloratura expertise), the Venetian courtesan, Giulietta, and the fragile Antonia, who sings herself to death. Vittorio Grigòlo and Kate Lindsey Kate reprise their recent London partnership as Hoffmann and his sidekick, Nicklausse. The production is by Marta Domingo, whose husband conducts Offenbach’s fizzing score.

If it’s strong women and big voices you’re into, don’t miss the concert Anna Netrebko gives with her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, on 4 May. Her voice is in terrific shape, having darkened in recent years to open up thrilling new areas of repertory. Who knows, you may even get an early glimpse of her Aida, which she debuts at the Salzburg Festival in August…

Click here for full LA Opera listings. 


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