Maybe it’s because I grew up in the 1960s, but there’s a peace, love and reconciliation theme, though bittersweet, that resonates as I continue to think about “Simon Boccanegra,” the current Los Angeles Opera production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Not only does it boast L.A. Opera’s Artistic Director Placido Domingo in the title role, but our tenor in chief is performing as a baritone. Trained as a baritone, he’s spent his stellar singing career as a tenor.
This is one of Verdi’s “political operas,” not quite the “hum it as you leave your seat” variety, yet here I am with the opening music flowing repeatedly through my head, motifs that carry through the opera and play out in the scenes which, as the supertitles translate for me, urge peace and love.
Maestro James Conlon fell in love with this work when he first heard it as a 13 year old, and is conducting it for the first time with L.A. Opera — amazingly the first time that he and Placido have performed a Verdi opera together on any stage.
It is a complicated story line, involving politics, the power and persuasion of the people, an illegitimate child, a secret identity, a father’s love, revenge, and the ultimate betrayal by a loyal advisor turned villain, resulting in death. No spoiler alert here: what good opera doesn’t involve a death?
Many ominous low notes sound in the music, which is why the scenes emphasizing peace and love so intrigue me. The music echoes the swelling of waves, and you hear it in scenes where Simon, former seafarer and now plebeian leader, cautions the people against another pointless battle. We will hear it later as Simon rediscovers his long lost daughter Amelia, and in the death scene between Simon and his nemesis, Fiesco, the father of Simon’s deceased beloved, who gave birth to Amelia without sanction of marriage.
What amazes me most is that I left the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion not really thinking about the music but finding it coming back to me more than once in the few days since. No wonder Conlon is so taken with it. There are a few more performances left for you to enjoy through March 4.
If you prefer your operas lighter, courtesy of Discover the Arts L.A. you can save up to 50 percent off the ticket price for the upcoming Benjamin Britten comedy “Albert Herring,” about a virginal boy and his night of big adventure. It opens on Saturday, Feb. 25. http://discoverlosangeles.com/thearts/
Every opera has its “book” or libretto, often originating in an actual book. This week we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Santa Monica Citywide Reads, featuring Raymond Chandler’s classic, “The Lady in the Lake.” Bay City, where the action takes place, is based on Santa Monica. And two of the top selling and best writers of mystery fiction — Michael Connelly (a personal favorite) and Robert Crais — will be talking about Chandler’s influence on their work and on the mystery genre at a free event, Saturday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. at Lincoln Middle School Auditorium. It’s free, and with no reservations, first-come, first-served seating, it’s sure to fill up fast!
Living on the edge
There’s a relatively new gallery in town, km gallery, on Santa Monica Boulevard at Yale Street, where TAG used to be. Still in its inaugural year, km offers a first solo show of work by Rebecca Farr called “Edge.” Farr was raised in L.A., lived in Washington, and has something of a split artistic personality: paintings of wide open spaces, solitary, somewhat forbidding and lonely, then oddly-related collages that brim with multiple images and energy. She began her journey thinking about migrations, the big push West, and what happens to those taking the trip. In the paintings, she takes you to the empty edges, the borders, the end of the line, as much a psychological state as a physical space. But the collages teem with life, people, historic images, highly composed and pleasantly crowded. She calls her work an example of dualistic thinking — and she’s right. On view through March 24 (http://www.gallerykmla.com/).
The Museum of Contemporary Art pays tribute to the work and legacy of Mike Kelley, who took his own life earlier this year. Kelley had a far-reaching influence on the L.A. art community, through groundbreaking performances, installations, sculptures, and works on paper; his insightful critical writings; and his deep commitment to artists, as a peer and a teacher. Over the last three decades, his influence extended to MOCA itself, with donations of his own works as well as those by local and international artists that have profoundly shaped the museum’s permanent collection. On view through April 2 at MOCA (www.moca.org/).
Sarah Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for National Public Radio and a producer for public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.