Opera’s beach blanket bravura

August 27, 2014 

A Roaring '20s-era staging of "La Traviata" will be shimmying to the beach. Photo/Robert Millard

It’s not every day that the sublime vocal talents of Plácido Domingo share a place in the sun with funnel cakes, caricature artists and an iconic ocean-front Ferris wheel.

But the tourist-friendly charms of the Santa Monica Pier will be meeting the glories of opera at its grandest when LA Opera brings its first-ever free live simulcast to the beach on Wednesday, September 17.

The high-definition broadcast of Verdi’s “La Traviata,” beamed live via satellite from the stage of the county Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to a giant screen on the pier’s wooden parking deck, ushers in a new tradition for the company, which plans to offer the  program every other year.

“If I weren’t in the cast for this production, I’d want to be in the audience myself!” Domingo, the opera’s general director, said in a news release announcing “Opera at the Beach.”

Domingo is scheduled to sing the role of Giorgio Germont in a production that also includes soprano Nino Machaidze (as Violetta Valéry) and tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz (as Alfredo Germont), with LA Opera music director James Conlon conducting.

“La Traviata” tells the story of a glamorous courtesan and her doomed love affair; NPR once dubbed it “the original Pretty Woman.” It opens LA Opera’s 2014-15 season on Saturday, September 13, with the beach simulcast taking place at 7:30 p.m. the following Wednesday.

For the production team, turning a day at the beach into a night at the opera has had as many complications as the most byzantine libretto.

The pier has hosted concerts and movie premieres, but never an opera simulcast. Until now.

“It’s been a big challenge. There are other opera companies that routinely do simulcasts, and we’re not one of them. For us this is the first time,” said Rupert Hemmings, the opera’s senior director of production. “The off-site logistics involved with setting up the pier and getting all of the equipment at that end and then of course the actual transfer of the product by satellite—all of that is new to us. It has been a steep learning curve, but I think we have everything in place for a success.”

The 21-by-40-foot screen, elevated on a six-foot-high platform, will be angled toward the ocean at the end of the pier’s parking deck. Folding chairs and blankets are recommended for spectators, who will be sitting on the deck’s rough-hewn wood beams, as they do for Santa Monica’s popular Twilight Concerts series. Although there is no charge for admission, the opera strongly encourages those who wish to attend to pre-order tickets online. (There’s a $1 handling fee for each order of up to 8 tickets.)

No alcoholic beverages are allowed, but there will be a designated beer garden. And while the simulcast is free, parking isn’t—so be prepared and perhaps consider reserving a space in advance.

The opera, underwritten with funds made available by Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, will be sung in Italian, with English translations superimposed on the screen during the simulcast.

With the advent of “Opera at the Beach,” L.A. joins a number of other cities where simulcasts have become a popular part of the cultural fabric, including San Francisco’s “Opera at the Ballpark” at AT&T Park and Washington, D.C.’s “Opera in the Outfield” at Nationals Park.

Whatever the locale, the name of the game is enticing new audiences to sample the art form, risk-free, while enjoying a communal event at a local landmark.

“I think that opera can be seen as elitist,” the opera’s Hemmings said. “I don’t feel it is, having been in it for most of my life, but I think when people can get out there and see this kind of thing for free—and see how much fun it is, and how emotionally stimulating it can be—that’s fantastic.”

In this 2010 photo, San Franciscans get their free opera fix at AT&T Park.

LA Opera’s simulcast of “La Traviata” starts at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 17, at the Santa Monica Pier. Free tickets are available here, and directions and parking information are here.

Posted 8/27/14

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