Los Angeles Opera goes Hollywood

Mon Sep 8, 2008 2:18am EDT
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By Laurence Vittes

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It's been a long libretto and lots of operas, high notes and low notes since superstar tenor Placido Domingo took over the Los Angeles Opera in 2001. But one accomplishment the risk-taking 67-year-old artistic director points to with special pride is that "many of my dreams about using the talent in Hollywood are coming true."

This season, Domingo is beginning with an operatic Hollywood two-step: Filmmakers William Friedkin and Woody Allen will direct the three one-act operas that make up Puccini's "Il Trittico," and David Cronenberg will direct (and Domingo conduct) the U.S. premiere of Howard Shore's "The Fly," adapted from Cronenberg's 1986 film for which Shore supplied the score.

The artistic risks are that neither Allen nor Cronenberg, like Garry Marshall last season in Offenbach's "The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein," has ever directed an opera. Friedkin, on the other hand, has directed here and abroad; his LA Opera productions include a Bartok/Puccini double bill in Domingo's first season and an "Ariadne auf Naxos" (Richard Strauss) in the 2004-05 season.

Cronenberg, whom Domingo introduced along with Shore at a recent news conference at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, admits not having done any stage work since "playing Banquo in high school," but he talked enthusiastically about the challenge. The Canadian director described David Henry Hwang's libretto as "very cinematic: lots of back and forth rather than monologues and arias."

Allen, who has directed only his own one-act plays, recently told the Village Voice, "I'll just do the best I can, and then get out of town and let them tar and feather Friedkin." In both cases, it was Domingo who provided the impetus for initiating the projects and selecting the vehicles he thought would be suitable to the three directors' personality and talents.

Used to making risky choices, Domingo believes that movie directors, even inexperienced ones, see things in different dimensions. Over the years, he has brought in Julie Taymor, Maximilian Schell, Bruce Beresford, Herbert Ross, John Schlesinger, Marthe Keller and Franco Zeffirelli to provide "new and different opera experiences."

Whoever is directing, a night at the opera is always a financial gamble.

The Opera's 2008-09 budget is estimated at $60 million, 50% more than it was when Domingo took over, and it has to pay for 67 performances of 11 operas. So far in the new century, it's been relatively smooth cruising for the company, although like other performing arts organizations, it took a funding hit after September 11. And yet, single ticket prices are holding constant, ranging from $20 to $250.   Continued...

<p>Woody Allen arrives for the screening of his film "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" at the 61st Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>