If you ever played Little League baseball, surely you remember some parental troll in the bleachers yelling "A bunt's as good as a hit!" But everyone on the field knew that wasn't the truth- nothing feels better than a solid hit. LA Opera announced their next season today, and it's definitely a mixed bag, the programming equivalent of a bunt- good enough to keep the game going, maybe even score a run or two, but it seems like the safe way out- and disappointing in the long run. With the exception of the Verdi rarity I Due Foscari, the season is wall-to-wall warhorses. Well-cast warhorses for the most part, but there's something dispiriting about a season in which the most intriguing thing on it is an opera by Verdi. Don't get me wrong- the notion of Domingo, Marina Poplavskaya and Franceso Meli in a Verdi opera no one around these parts has seen in forever is tantalizing to be sure, but after that? Lots to see, but little to be truly excited about except for Sondra Radvanovsky as Tosca, which is somewhat undermined by having Domingo conduct.
On the plus side, none of these productions have previously been seen in LA, though I've seen a couple of them here in San Francisco, so let's begin with those.
Raimund Bauer's set design for Die Fliegende Hollander was one of those productions people either loved or loathed, and I loved every minute of it and would happily see it again. So this is a plus, though I also really liked the Julie Taymoor Dutchman I saw in LA a few years back and would have been pleased to see the original version make a return. As for the cast, Jay Hunter Morris as Erik is obviously a good thing, though Elisabete Matos as Senta is an unknown quantity, as is Tomas Tomasson, whom I saw in SFO's production of The Queen of Spades, but frankly I don't remember much about his performance.
The other SFO production is Butterfly- not the most recent, which was imported from Chicago I think, and a total disaster, but the Michael Yeargan production which was seen so many times in SF that it needed to be retired from sheer exhaustion. But it's a good one if you've never seen it. The cast is an embarrassment of riches and can I just say right now that it's something of a travesty to see a singer as fine as Eric Owens cast in the role of Sharpless? Mr. Owens, fire your management team- you should be headlining operas world-wide- not taking secondary roles in warhorses. The magnificent Brandon Jovanovich is Pinkerton (he's great in this role) and Oksana Dyka should make for an interesting Butterfly.
LAO's production of Don Giovanni in 2003 with Erwin Schrott (conducted by Nagano) was as good as it gets, so we'll have to see if Ildebrando D'Arecengelo in this production from Chicago can eclipse that. Having Soile Isokowski as Donna Elvira will certainly go a long way toward making that happen and it's nice to see the phenomenally talented Joshua Bloom return to the West Coast. Go on a night when Conlon is conducting.
I know nothing about the cast or production for La Ceneretola, but LAO has a good track record with Rossini these past few years and though it's too bad Nino Machaidze isn't on the schedule this season (what's up with that, by the way?), I'd say based on the recent past this is a safe bet since Conlon's on the podium. If any company can make a claim to doing right by Rossini in recent years, it's LAO.
So that brings us to Tosca. On the one hand it has Radvanovsky in it, along with the excellent Marco Berti as Cavaradossi. This alone is reason to be excited, but I sure wish Conlon was at the helm of this one. Still, Sondra is Sondra, and how can you miss this?
Overall, it's the cautious programming being seen almost everywhere, but at least in this case what's on the stage promises to be good. A step back for what has been an adventurous company in recent years, but not a mis-step.