The incredible Rus Anson, who I've known since 2011 (and who continues to expand the boundaries of fashion and lifestyle photography in her own pretty amazingly prismatic work) came by to take some portraits this fall. The folllowing are a few of the selected simple studio shots by Rus Anson, Downtown Los Angeles, CA, 2014
"The young Los Angeles new music ensemble wild Up, which is doing one of the better jobs anywhere of keeping classical music surprising and tantalizing, made its Santa Barbara debut Saturday night at the sedate and well-tended Music Academy of the West. [...] There were also visuals, created by chromatic. The feisty young L.A. collective will have a major classical music presence when it collaborates with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Disney Hall in January on a staging of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and in February when it participates in a new production of John Adams' "A Flowering Tree" at Opera Omaha. On sheets behind the Hahn Hall stage, chromatic projected videos of players hanging out on the balcony, eating popcorn or juggling oranges. [...] ...the only thing traditional about the concert was the superb playing." - Mark Swed, LOS ANGELES TIMES
BY JANOS GEREBEN,
July 29, 2014
He just turned 30, so his career is ahead of him. But James Darrah, now working on the Merola Program's upcoming Don Giovanni also has an exceptional track record, some of which is reflected on his website. The UCLA graduate (music, theater, and the classics) started directing opera at age 22 through a serendipitous invitation to work at the Split Summer Festival in Croatia. Then, in just eight years, Darrah went hyperactive in Europe, Seattle (Semele), The Juilliard (Radamisto), Chicago (Teseo and Médée), Frank Zappa's 200 Motels with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Omaha Agrippina; collaborations with Peter Sellars in staging John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary in Los Angeles, London, Paris and Lucerne; and with Christopher Alden for the LA Philharmonic’s Mozart/Da Ponte trilogy, and more ...
His work and his words resonate with aspirations given voice by Stephen Sondheim to Georges Seurat in Sunday in the Park with George: "Bring order to the whole. Through design. Composition. Tension. Balance."
It is balance that's the most important and challenging factor in the direction of opera — balance between keeping works fresh and staying true to their essence, balance between doing something interesting or going off into the deep end. As Darrah put it in an interview at the Everett Auditorium, which he is transforming for Don Giovanni:
"I and my collaborators come from theater and other fields, not opera, none of us were really coming at opera feeling like we have to pay homage to the 1950s and 1960s "golden age of opera." We are looking for ways to activate a piece, to bring an opera to life that is both theatrically compelling and [remains true] to the text and the music. You can't do things that are overtly against them.
The music tells you what to do. With Don Giovanni, I tell the cast: I want you to think that if you were to write out the stage directions I give you, it would read like a music score.
In life we function associatively, everything flows from one to the next, it all connects — that's how stage directions should function. With that, you can explore new avenues but it's all based in the music, and you are not arbitrarily deciding to set Don Giovanni in a '40s gangster world for no reason."
James Darrah comes in a package he has been putting together, which he started during his UCLA school days: He is the founder-leader of Studio Chromatic, a group of young artists working on stage direction, design, lighting, and video produced in a creative collective. "One of the great advantages of structuring a production company," says Darrah, "is that we manage the problem that makes it hard to ascertain how to fit traditional billing for design elements — everything is so overlapped!"
The flexible Chromatic, headed by Darrah, includes Adam Larsen (projection design), Cameron Jaye Mock and Emily Anne MacDonald (scenic and lighting design), and Sarah Schuessler (costumes, usually in collaboration with Darrah). The collaboration in the group is so close Mock and MacDonald are now married.
For Don Giovanni, Darrah, Mock, and MacDonald are responsible for the entire production, including sets, lights, and costumes (while Schuessler and Larsen are away — she to costume HBO's The Newsroom, and he to finish a documentary).
The Chromatic family includes mezzo-actor-writer Peabody Southwell and dancer Janice Lancaster (both seen in the SFS Peer Gynt), playwright and director Roxie Perkins (with whom Chromatic is developing a new play), and Christopher Rountree, founder of the wild Up modern music collective, who will conduct Adams' A Flowering Tree, which Darrah and Chromatic will produce at Opera Omaha and elsewhere.
The Merola presentation of Don Giovanni is scheduled for July 31 at 7:30 p.m. and Aug. 2 at 2 p.m., in Everett Auditorium, 450 Church St.
Merolini featured in the cast are baritone Edward Nelson as Don Giovanni; bass-baritone Szymon Wach as Leporello; bass Scott Russell as Il Commendatore; soprano Amanda Woodbury as Donna Anna; tenor Benjamin Werley as Don Ottavio; soprano Karen Chia-Ling Ho as Donna Elvira; bass-baritone Rhys Lloyd Talbot as Masetto; and soprano Yujin Kim as Zerlina. Martin Katz is music director.
In this age of multidisciplinary performance and digital art, the San Francisco Symphony, under conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, stands at the forefront. In fact, video installations form an important element in two of this month’s SFS offerings: a “semi-staged” version of the Benjamin Britten opera “Peter Grimes,” and a one-off concert of “Four Sea Interludes, Opus 33,” a section of “Peter Grimes” that is often presented separately as an orchestral suite. It’s all part of a varied Benjamin Britten Festival, conducted by MTT, to celebrate the late British composer’s 100th birthday.
By Kim Carpenter / For the World-Herald
February 15. 2014 1:30AM
Ah, Valentine’s Day: love, lust and a remorseless thirst for power. If that third item doesn’t seem in proper trajectory with Cupid’s arrow, no matter. Opera Omaha’s production of Handel’s “Agrippina” at the Orpheum Theater Friday night served up a frothy concoction full of passion and desire — if not always of the romantic variety.
The story, complex to a labyrinthine (and soap opera) degree, involves Agrippina’s efforts to make her son Nero the emperor of Rome — after first displacing Claudius, the current holder of the throne who also happens to be her husband. She accomplishes this power-hungry goal by casting a wide, manipulative net in which she ensnares anyone and everyone who might aid or hinder her, indifferent to the lives she destroys along the way.
Director James Darrah brought ancient Rome to racy contemporary life with staging that was sexy and suggestive. Scenes such as Claudius’ triumphant return to Rome and the shunning of Ottone had a cinematic feel, ones that distilled the characters’ personalities to full effect. In these instances, his directing showcased the former’s brutality when dealing with the men beneath him and the latter’s naivete concerning the machinations taking place around him.
Scenic and lighting designer Cameron Jaye Mock, scenic and properties designer Emily Anne MacDonald and projection designer Adam Larsen created a set that combined elegant minimal lines with shifting video projections that enhanced the action dramatically. The scene in which Agrippina praises the storm that (she thought) killed Claudius, for example, featured a shifting video projection of dark storm clouds that seemed almost to engulf her, highlighting just how all-consuming her lust for power was.
Jamie-Rose Guarrine brought her sparkling, clear soprano to the fore as Poppea, the object of Ottone, Claudius and Nero’s love and lust. Whether sweetly touched by Ottone’s declarations of innocence or fiercely vowing revenge on Agrippina and her betrayal, Guarrine finely conveyed a wide range of emotions that propelled her throughout the performance. Countertenor Nathan Medley as hapless pawn Ottone played off her beautifully with a soaring, stratospheric countertenor that resounded with heart-wrenching clarity to express his bewilderment and anguish. He did a magnificent turn, particularly conveying the devastation Ottone feels when he thinks he has lost everything — and everyone — at once.
As the infamous Nero, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera played the role with swagger and delicious scene-chewing gusto. She has sung the role of Nero many times, and she’s clearly honed it to a fine point. As Nero’s stepfather, Claudius, baritone Hadleigh Adams had a delivery that was impressively full-bodied and bold. He has a gorgeous voice and performed with a confidence befitting an emperor. Moreover, he had a physical presence that was commanding and powerful and conveyed that, like Agrippina, Claudius is used to getting what he wants.
Then there is the scheming Agrippina, the titular anti-heroine played lusciously by mezzo-soprano Peabody Southwell. I haven’t heard such a strong mezzo-soprano in the Orpheum for a while. She sang with expressive embellishments that were richly stylish, seductive and sultry throughout — and moved her body in a similar manner. Whether seducing Narciso and Pallante (and, it is implied, her own son), Southwell demonstrated Agrippina’s ruthless use of her sexuality to achieve power — and she did it at times not by moving her body but with just a simple arch of her eyebrow.
Bass-baritone Doug Williams and tenor Zachary Wilder perfectly complemented each other as Pallante and Narciso, and their standout scene featured each being pseudo-seduced by Agrippina in her bedchamber. While the action produced many laughs, it was the delivery that demonstrated their abilities to smoothly control their voices, even amid semi-steamy action.
As a side note, I feel compelled to mention that the entire ensemble is impossibly pretty. While it’s the voices and acting that matter, of course, having a gorgeous line-up of performers makes the over three hour production all the more enjoyable.
At the end of the evening, Cupid’s arrow met its ambitious mark — getting to the hearts of opera lovers. In this regard, true passion for the production won the evening, made possible by Opera Omaha along with a lot of scheming and even more lust.
Director James Darrah, left, works with Doug Williams during a rehearsal of Opera Omaha's production of “Agrippina,” which opens Friday at Omaha's Orpheum Theater. California native Darrah, 29, is a graduate of an MFA program at UCLA.
Published Monday February 10, 2014
Director and team design new 'Agrippina' as distillation of film, theater and fine arts
By Casey Logan / World-Herald staff writer
OPERA OMAHA: “AGRIPPINA”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St.
Tickets: $19 to $99
Information: 402-345-0606 or operaomaha.org
* * *
When James Darrah, the 29-year-old director of Opera Omaha's upcoming production of “Agrippina,” thinks about Handel's 18th century opera, he thinks about sex.
He thinks about lust, power, violence and the brilliant duplicity that spins the story's wheels — a kind of “House of Cards” for ancient Rome.
He also pictures the scene of Carnival in Venice in 1709, when Handel's opera debuted to a typical year of festivalgoers gone wild.
What Darrah doesn't think about is how old “Agrippina” is — the oldest work, in fact, that Opera Omaha has ever staged.
“It's only old insofar as the date it was written,” he said. “But we're still making modern films based on ancient myth. We're still obsessed with all of these mythological stories, these ancient rituals, history in every way.”
So it's time to think about old opera in a new way. It's not just a mustier version of the opera people think they know, Darrah said. Handel operas in particular are full of the dramatic machinations that make for great stories, set to music that is arguably more accessible than what followed in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Old can be the new new.
To make that case come alive, Darrah brought to Omaha his creative dream team, a group that operates more like a small design agency than a top-down directorial dictatorship.
“This team that's here, they are all incredibly formidable artists, and they all have points of view,” Darrah said. “A lot of times all of those things have similar wavelengths in terms of the way we think of projects and the types of work we're interested in and the things that we get excited about.”
Pulling it all together involved time travel. In updating a 305-year-old libretto set 2,000 years in the past, Darrah and company used 21st century technology to arrive at a production aesthetic that might be described as timeless 20th century. They created Pinterest boards. They shot images back and forth, trading ideas for costumes, set designs, hairstyles, props.
They condensed their “Agrippina” into two acts, the first in a vast space dominated by a bed. The second takes place in a garden that almost seems to exist inside the palace — nature as decor.
The story of “Agrippina” is at once simple and complex. Agrippina, hearing news that her husband, the Emperor Claudius, has died, schemes to deliver the throne to her son, Nero. Her efforts become even more deceitful when it's learned Claudius is still alive and embroiled in a love triangle that soon becomes a square.
“There are seven roles in 'Agrippina,' and all of them are hard,” Darrah said. “Handel was writing for rock stars.”
In just a few years Darrah has carved out a prolific résumé working with symphonies and opera houses across the country, including a pair of productions for the Chicago Opera Theater in its 2011-12 season (Handel's “Teseo” and Marc-Antoine Charpentier's “Médée”) and the 2013 world premiere of Frank Zappa's “200 Motels” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
The year ahead will bring Darrah productions for the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera, Milwaukee Symphony and Seattle's Pacific MusicWorks, creative home to his frequent conductor and early opera specialist, Stephen Stubbs.
Darrah frequently talks about opera in the language of movies, and with good reason.
“If you're at a large dinner table, even with complete strangers, the common denominator is film,” he said, “because everyone can see it, everyone can talk about what's happening right now. The common denominator is not Handel operas.”
He acknowledges, perhaps even welcomes, the challenge of working within an art form saddled with preconceived notions about its audience and what it can do. But he can relate to those who think opera isn't for them. Not long ago, he was that person.
“I've spent a lot of time looking at what drew me to it in the first place,” he said. “How did I end up passionate about the possibilities of something like an early opera, but really all of opera? I'm super interested in new opera, too, and the idea of that as an art form. What excited me about that? What hooked me?”
Short answer: Croatia.
In 2006, after graduating from a small college in California, Darrah took a job with the Croatian National Theatre, working to present the city of Split's monthlong summer festival. At the time he thought his future was in film, but what Darrah experienced in Split changed the way he perceived the arts in general.
“They were producing large operatic works and new dance pieces and translating Tennessee Williams into Croatian with their all-star national actors,” he said, still struck by the ambition of it all. He recalled a Verdi opera performed within a 4th century palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian.
“And they just used it,” he said. “It was a combination of me being from California, where the oldest thing is from, like, you know, 1890, and we rope it off and aren't allowed to touch it, and this idea of showing up in Eastern Europe and the fervor built around the entire city funneling into a summer festival in which opera and theater and dance and chamber music were all blurred and merged.
“That happens here, but there was really very little separation between all those forms. … I came back to the U.S. and was instantly interested in what was possible in that sense here.”
Darrah enrolled in an MFA program at UCLA, where he started to meet the people who would become his team. He connected with Cameron Mock, his lighting designer for close to 20 projects now. He met his frequent costume designer, Sarah Schuessler. Later, through Mock, he met Emily MacDonald, an artist who has become his set designer. Most recently he started collaborating with filmmaker Adam Larsen, who serves as his video designer.
All joined Darrah in Omaha for “Agrippina.” None does opera exclusively. They come from film, television and fine arts, and often return to those between collaborations.
“He's sort of leading a revolution in changing opera, in making opera truly a culmination of all the arts, and opera that really functions as theater and really functions as fine art and has the highest level of musicality,” said Peabody Southwell, another UCLA graduate and frequent collaborator who plays the title role in “Agrippina.”
“I think the old way of the director as the king of the room and everyone being pawns in his plan is the antithesis to what James does,” she continued. “He really doesn't see a lot of boundaries between director and singer, or designer and director. We are all working toward one goal, which is to make it live.”
For Darrah, the goal is what he experienced in Croatia.
“It's those few times you experience something illuminating,” he said. “For me, that's the whole point of a project. Like a chemist, you're basically trying to re-create that exact formula to give people an experience like that, and then convince them that if they come, they will have that experience.”
Contact the writer: Casey Logan
firstname.lastname@example.org | 402-444-1056 |
Casey's a GA features reporter looking for good stories to tell about interesting people.
Four productions of Handel operas — an “Almira,” an “Aci, Galatea e Polifemo” and two takes on “Radamisto” — testify to the popularity of early music. In November, Juilliard Opera combined forces with Juilliard415, the orchestra of the historical performance program, in a spare but effective staging of “Radamisto” in the school’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater, directed by James Darrah and conducted by Julian Wachner, the moving force behind that surge in Trinity Wall Street’s music program. Two singers — Mary Feminear, soprano, and Virginie Verrez, mezzo-soprano — stood out in a generally fine cast of young performers.
In honor of Opera Omaha’s upcoming new production, AGRIPPINA, Gala chairs Annette and Paul Smith invite you to join conductor Stephen Stubbs and director James Darrah to this event celebrating the exciting premiere.
Opera Omaha invites you to enter the world of Handel’s Agrippina, an opera about the brilliant, beautiful, but murderous mother of Rome’s most infamous Emperor, Nero. Gala guests will enjoy live performances by the stellar cast and be immersed in installation art inspired by Opera Omaha’s stunning new production.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 18, 2014, 6:00 PM
OMAR BAKING BUILDING | 4383 NICHOLAS STREET, OMAHA
hors d’oeuvres by clayton chapman of the grey plume followed by dinner and musical events throughout the evening
The newly renovated Omar Baking Building provides an intriguing new space for this truly unique event. Exquisite food will feature hors d’oeuvres by Clayton Chapman, the Chef and Owner of The Grey Plume restaurant in Omaha’s Midtown Crossing. Chapman has been recognized nationally by Bon Appétit and Saveur magazines and was nominated for awards by the James Beard Foundation annually for the last three years.
After the Gala, join Opera Omaha at the Orpheum Theater on February 14 for the unveiling of Agrippina. This elegant and edgy production is conceived by James Darrah, a Los Angeles-based director, designer, and visual artist who has brought a cutting-edge aesthetic to many of this country’s most venerated opera houses and concert halls. To lead the performances, Opera Omaha welcomes conductor Stephen Stubbs, a Grammy-nominated artist and leading figure in the early music scenes in both the U.S. and Europe for the past thirty years.
valet parking | cocktail attire
FOR DETAILED INFORMATION ON LEVELS AND BENEFITS, PLEASE CONTACTKAYLA HADDEN, 402.346.4398 X109, KHADDEN@OPERAOMAHA.ORG.
*PLEASE RESPOND BY DECEMBER 31, TO BE INCLUDED IN THE GALA PROGRAM
GALA TABLE LEVELS:
$25,000 PLATINUM TABLE
All of the Gold Table benefits, enhanced, plus prominent recognition as one of the production sponsors of Agrippina and invitations for all table guests to attend Agrippina and all special events surrounding the opera.
$10,000 GOLD TABLE
All of the Silver Table benefits, enhanced, plus tickets for all table guests to attend Agrippina and a behind-the-scenes event.
$5,000 SILVER TABLE
All of the Patron Table benefits, enhanced, plus recognition in the Agrippina program book, as well as invitations for two to Opening Night of Agrippina, a pre-opera reception, and the cast party.
$2,500 PATRON TABLE
Preferred table for ten guests and recognition in the Gala program.
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Is Disney Hall Ready For an Evening of Uncensored Frank Zappa?
Mon., Oct. 21 2013 at 12:11 PM
Photo courtesy the Zappa EstateFrank ZappaWhen an orchestra celebrates a milestone, it premieres a new composition. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the L.A. Philharmonic’s home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, works were commissioned from big-shot composers such as Magnus Lindberg, Peter Lieberson, and Brett Dean. But another world premiere there this month is stealing attention from these classical music luminaries — the first full performance of Frank Zappa’s musical dramatic work,
, this Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Zappa may strike some as an odd person to invite to the party, but for years he was a significant local presence. When conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (who will conduct Wednesday’s performance) arrived here in 1991, the maverick composer was one of the first L.A. musicians to reach out to him.
More directly, in 1970 the L.A. Philharmonic and its conductor, Zubin Mehta, joined forces with Zappa and a reboot of the Mothers of Invention to premiere a chunk of 200 Motelsalongside compositions by the dean of CalArts, Mel Powell, and by Zappa’s hero, Varese. Powell — more widely known at the time as the former pianist and arranger of Benny Goodman’s Swing Era band — was so outraged by Zappa and his band that he stormed out of the venue with the tape part to his own Immobiles 1-4, preventing its premiere.
Powell, who had renounced writing jazz in favor of genteel atonal concert music, later described “his revulsion at the wretched debasement of new music.” Powell didn’t get Zappa’s satirical deflation of Jim Morrison’s Oedipal pretension “The End.” When Zappa’s band interpolated excerpts from Stravinsky’s Agon or Varese’s Integrales, Powell heard a “mockery of art.” Zappa intended these as friendly tributes to his two compositional idols. (When a fan whistled during the Integrales quote, Zappa sternly admonished, “Shut up, you idiot!”)
If Powell (and most critics present) couldn’t pick up on those jokes and homages, how could he possibly appreciate 200 Motels' satirical depictions of a rock band's life on the road and Zappa's scathing portrayal of Small Town, U.S.A.?
200 Motels treated prejudice and sexual yearning with graphic and accurate language; publicity for the concert warns of “mature subject matter; we’re not kidding.” Back then, critics dismissed Zappa’s texts as puerile smut. Similar charges were leveled against transgressive writers such as Jean Genet, William Burroughs and Terry Southern, but critics extolled their merits. When self-taught composer and librettist Zappa used the same literary techniques, no one came to his defense.
Today, scholars such as Ben Watson and Kelly Fisher Lowe defend Zappa’s subject material, language, and idiosyncratic music. Two generations of composers have come under his influence as well, including Matt Marks. Marks will act and sing the role played by Mark Volman in the film and soundtrack versions of 200 Motels.
200 Motels and, especially, Joe’s Garage — Zappa’s most acclaimed musicodramatic work — piqued Marks’ interest in opera and music theater. “For a sarcastic stoner kid like me growing up in Downey, Sondheim wasn’t going to pierce that cynical veneer,” Marks says in an email. “Zappa … was something I could share with my friends … [and] got me interested in satire.” That “twisted humor and irony” can be heard in Marks’ first album, The Little Death, which he describes as a “post-Christian nihilist pop-opera.”
Marks’ mini-opera, Strip Mall, was commissioned and premiered on the L.A. Phil’s Green Umbrella series last year. It “definitely owes a lot to 200 Motels,” Marks says. “The nameless bland suburban town in Strip Mall is very similar to Zappa’s bleak suburban hellhole, Centerville.”
For the 1970 premiere of 200 Motels, Zubin Mehta cut the substantial second movement due to rehearsal time constraints. Various sources document that movement involves a vacuum cleaner, the chorus blowing bubbles through straws, and an operatic soprano singing, “Munchkins get me hot.” A bootleg recording of the premiere, the film 200 Motels, and the “soundtrack” recording (which features music not heard in the film) all contain different parts of Zappa’s original score, but each one has significant omissions. What audiences will see and hear on Wednesday is the first complete performance of 200 Motelsas Zappa originally intended.
The L.A. Philharmonic’s vice president of artistic planning, Chad Smith, worked closely with Gail Zappa (Frank’s widow), to bring this project to Disney Hall. Although it involved some reconstruction, Smith says that “every note that Frank wrote is there.” The score, which will be published by classical music firm Schotts, is filled with detailed stage instructions. It involves 12 soloists (one of whom is Zappa’s daughter, Diva), a videographer, a narrator, and a seven-piece rock band. Band members include multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood (a Mother of Invention who performed at the premiere), as well as Zappa specialists Joe Travers on drums, Scott Carter Thunes on bass, and guitarist Jamie Kime.
It usually takes decades for the classical music world to accept the work of composers like Scott Joplin or George Gershwin who cross over from popular music. Wednesday’s one-night-only performance could be a significant turning point in the reappraisal of Frank Zappa’s concert music.
200 Motels is more than just an orchestral performance. It’s more than a theatrical performance. If you are timid about minimalist compositions, the humor and brashness will draw you in, and if you are a fan, you will get to see a modern master’s work performed as he originally conceived it. The show has a little bit of everything. ”It doesn’t fall into any one category of presentation or style or staging,” said Darrah. “It’s got a large amount of possibility of how you can stage it and how you can present it.”