Music lovers in Los Angeles got an earful of the near future this week as two of our major local companies announced what they hope to bring to the stages over the next year a half. Both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera revealed seasons that contained surprises both good and bad. The Los Angeles Philharmonic unveiled their most exciting post-Salonen season to date with more great evenings on offer than I care to count. I for one have spent a lot of time fretting on these pages about the orchestra’s commitment to new and recent music in the last few seasons. And while there are few things in the world that are likely to shut me up, this upcoming season prospectus has.
Where to begin? The most exciting event is undoubtedly a week of programming in January 2013 devoted to Peter Eötvös whose opera Angels in America will be presented as part of the Green Umbrella series with, among others, Measha Brueggergrosman as Harper Pitt. Later that week Eötvös will premiere a new violin concerto written for Midori with both evenings conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado. And then there are a pair of programs in April featuring works by several of the much talked about cadre of young composers currently living and working in Brooklyn. Alan Pierson will lead an evening of works by Samuel Adams, Tyondai Braxton, and Matt Marks to be followed that weekend by a new work from Ted Hearne. Meanwhile, Esa-Pekka Salonen will return to the house he built in November for two weeks of programs featuring his own music as well as that of Lutoslawski, Bruckner, and Magnus Lindberg. Of course the hottest ticket with Salonen’s name on it may actually be his one-night-only appearance with his new outfit, the Philharmonia Orchestra, who’ll perform a concert version of Wozzeck on Nov. 13.
Of course, John Adams will be in town leading another Green Umbrella Program including work from Nico Muhly and Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason on the 16th of October. And as much as I’ve not been a big fan of music director Gustavo Dudamel, he will have a significant hand in the new(er) music programming this year with such works occupying nearly a third of his over two dozen appearances. He’ll lead a new commission from Unsuk Chin as well as Oliver Knussen’s treatment of Where the Wild Things Are. He’ll also open the season with a new work from Steven Stucky and reprise this coming spring’s performances of Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary but with a full staging directed by Peter Sellars the second time around. There are many big stars and plenty of wonderful old music, as well that I won’t go through here, but the Countess of Dorothea Röschmann opposite Christopher Maltman in the company’s concert version of Le Nozze di Figaro in May is an absolute highlight.
With all of this good fortune across the street, it’s hard not to be disappointed by one of the softest Los Angeles Opera seasons in years, which was announced by General Director Placido Domingo on Thursday. (In fact taking the four operas mentioned above plus performances of Falla's La vida breve under Fruhbeck de Burgos with the L.A. Phil and you already have a superior opera season to what LAO has planned.) I suppose the glass-half-full way to look at things is that after some tough economic times, L.A. still has an operational opera company producing quality work and is managing to resolve its debts. The casting is reasonable and the season will kick off with the unquestionable highlight of the year, a new production of Verdi’s I Due Foscari with maestro Domingo doing his baritone trick for the second time in L.A. in 2012 in a new role for him. James Conlon will conduct four of the six productions again including Foscari as well as less ambitious Wagner (Der Fliegende Hollander), and requsite bel canto (La Cenerentola). The other half of the company's 36 performances however will be dedicated to three operas they have overly relied upon over the last decade: Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca both of which were last seen in 2008 and Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which last appeared in December of 2007. To their credit, none of the season's operas will be seen in prodcutions Los Angeles has staged before, but its hard to see the attraction in these plans for longer-standing subscribers who will udnoutedly be struck with a been-there, done-that feeling. With only six operas on the budgetarily constricted schedule, every show carries more weight and while these six operas might seem like a good basis for an 8 opera season, they seem like boilerplate introduction to opera fare as the only six.
But perhaps the bigger question facing the company isn’t just finances or programming, but what this season might suggest about the company’s near future. Given that the contracts of both Placido Domingo and music director James Conlon expire in 2013 the questions remains whether or not this schedule is exit music for the current administration, or if it’s an economic blip for an organization that has abandoned plans as quickly as they’ve made them around the operas of Benjamin Britten or James Conlon's "Recovered Voices" project. Hopefully the new season will seem attractive to new audience members who may be drawn by works they've heard of and a new pricing scheme that makes more affordable seats available than ever before.