…the singers cannot move…
…nobody can come near where a singer has stood until enough time has lapsed for their respiratory droplets to settle…
…and wear masks??
Why not wear masks!-- seems to answer Director Bruce Lemon Jr. and his production team, as they follow the marching orders—dancing minuet orders??—of the LA Opera’s COVID-19 Czar. No ho-hum again Hollywood Squares-like zoom event, this production merits the Gold Medal, in the writer’s view, in the arts-in-the-time-of-pandemic marathon.
LA Opera Stages Work by Little Known Black Composer
In just a few bars of this little heard opera’s overture— performed by an ensemble of the LA Opera orchestra under the baton of James Conlon—composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges transports us to the times of powdered wigs, corsets and hoop skirts doing a stately de rigeur minuet under sparkling chandeliers. If your ears don't similarly summon you to this vision, set and projection designer Hana S. Kim catapults you there by coloring over the performance hall and streetscape surrounds with exploding brocades akin to those one expects in minuet dance hall costumes. These brocade patterns—dynamic, swirling and ALIVE—use every hue in a giant Crayola pack, courtesy of Lighting Designer Pablo Santiago.
Riveted by this color-shape explosion, we then meet the stars from the LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program: the title character, sweet tenor voiced Robert Stahley as The Anonymous Lover; his confidante and main narrator of the story line, Ophémon played by baritone Michael J. Hawk; the love interest Léontine played by soprano Tiffany Townsend; her companion Dorothée, sung by spunky Alaysha Fox; and the newlyweds Jeannette and Colin sung by Gabriela Flores and Jacob Ingbar. Meanwhile, a real-world husband and wife ballet duet team interweave the singing-in-place with choreography ever flirting with to-touch or not-to-touch, a la Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam or the glance-heavy tango-NOT of a minuet. Though harkening another time, it seems —at least to this reviewer — such a spot-on metaphor for the tensions of social distancing in our today.
The story is short—a man in love with his bestie feels unable to reveal himself and his true feelings. We KNOW how it will end—just like the marriage of Jeannette and Colin—but the joy is in the journey to get there on paths lined by melodies often mirroring those sung by their foils before them.
An amuse bouche for the ears—it delights, but in this reviewer’s view, what truly astounds is the backstory of this opera. The composer was the son of a slave and slave owner, from Guadeloupe, in and around the same era as Mozart. Why haven’t we heard of him before? In the pre-show, Director and Watts native Lemon shares that it’s just a matter of racism.
More, Lemon shares his pride in knowing this opera is now presented for free to communities that might otherwise not be able to afford the opera ticket price. Actually, a gift to all of us living in various shades of lockdown, The Anonymous Lover reminds us of how the arts in general, and opera in specific, connects us and touches us—social distancing rules notwithstanding.
Composer: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges
Libretto: Madame de Genlis (Stéphanie-Félicité), based on her play of the same name, adapted by François-Georges Fouques Deshayes (known as “Desfontaines“)
Léontine: Tiffany Townsend
Valcour: Robert Stahley
Dorothée: Alaysha Fox
Ophémon: Michael J. Hawk
Jeannette: Gabriela Flores
Colin: Jacob Ingbar
The singers are all members of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program.
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Bruce Lemon, Jr.*
Sets and Projections: Hana S. Kim
Costumes: Misty Ayres*
Lighting: Pablo Santiago
Dramaturg: Ariane Helou*
Choreographer: Andrea Beasom*
*LA Opera debut
Ensemble: LA Opera Orchestra
Sung in French (with English subtitles), with dialogues spoken in English translation.
Thru November 29
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.