Director Gary Marshall at Opera LuncheonA few years ago, when I was hosting my own television show “Hollywood Beat”, had the opportunity to interview Placido Domingo and Gary Marshall, who struck up a friendship. At that time, Marshall (Pretty Woman) expressed an interest to try his hand at directing an opera. Lo and behold, that is exactly what he did last week, when he directed The Grand Duchess, which marked the official opening of the Los Angeles Opera Season.
Actually, the entire weekend was a full blown Opera Fest, to celebrate their 20th Anniversary, starting with a private dinner soiree at the fabulous estate of Carol and Warner Henry in Pasadena. After sipping the finest wines and champagne, we were treated to a special performance by pianist Daniel Faltus, who performed an enthusiastic program of opera favorites. Faltus, whose series of lecture/recitals have gained him international renown, was a delightful prelude to the glamorous events.
Placido Domingo at opening soireeMarshall received a standing ovation after the opening night performance of Offenbach’s Grand Duchess, which was totally deserved. Mezzo soprano Frederica Von Stade, who sang the title role, showed not only a superbly trained voice, but a twinge for comedy and frivolity – not the usual requirements for an operatic diva. Others in the huge cast who stood out included Paul Groves, who portrayed Fritz, the stiff Private (who is promoted to General) who said, “I’m pleased to perform this type of opera buffo for a change. At least I’m still alive at the end of the show.” Groves, who hails from New Orleans, said that Domingo was very concerned about the losses he sustained, and offered to participate in a fundraiser there to help afflicted families.
After the performance, there was an elegant black tie event in the music center plaza, featuring such specialties as smoked salmon tart and lamb tenderloin with pearl onions and fava beans. After congratulating the cast, a plethora of fireworks mysteriously appeared from the roof of the Mark Taper Forum, accompanied by arias sung by Domingo and the stars of the production. Perfect closure to a perfect evening.
Roberto Alagna stars of "Pagliacci"But that’s not all folks, the next day; we were treated to a Tuscan brunch in the same outdoor venue, featuring a 12 piece Italian String orchestra performing our favorite melodies. This was to get us in the mood for Pagliacci, staring Roberto Alagna in the title role. His gorgeous wife, Angela Gheorghiu, portrayed his on-stage wife, Nedda, whose infidelity causes her demise in the opera. Never has there been a more attractive couple on stage – whose voices and charm thrilled the packed audience.
This production was staged by Franco Zeffirelli, so you know a lot of theatrics were involved. This play within a play has always been our favorite, and Alagna’s rendition of “Vesti la Giubba” brought the audience to their feet. We caught up with the couple at the post party, holding hands and schmoosing, Obviously their passion on stage rivals their passion in real life.
Thanks go to Mary Hayley, and her hard working Board, Underwriters Eli and Edythe Broad and Mr. and Mrs. Milan Panic, and all the Angels involved who opened the official opera season in Los Angeles with style and grace on the Hollywood Beat.