By Michael Aushenker
The May 17 high-energy debut engagement of Dulce Rosa at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica saw the convergence of two of entertainment’s greatest Latin-world crossovers: opera singer Plácido Domingo and Chilean author Isabel Allende.
Domingo, who conducted the orchestra backing the English-language opera, proved himself as charismatic a force behind the baton as he is as a vocalist as one of the legendary Three Tenors.
Prior to the inaugural L.A. Opera performance of Dulce Rosa, created by librettist Richard Sparks and composer Lee Holdridge, Allende shared with a packed Broad Stage audience insights behind her short story “Una Venganza,” the opera’s source material. To the delight of the crowd, the “House of the Spirits” author was surprised from behind toward the end of her onstage Q&A by Domingo, who praised “this fabulous little story.”
“Not little!” Allende retorted, “It’s a great story!”
(The night before, Allende, a San Rafael resident who was in town on a book tour for her latest novel, “Maya’s Notebook,” had spoken to journalist Patt Morrison at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills).
Indeed, it appeared as if attendees enjoyed this occasionally violent tale, set in 1950s South America, of Rosa Orellano (María Antúnez), the young senator’s daughter who falls for the guerilla leader behind the killing of her father.
After the show, Sparks told The Argonaut he was pleased with his first night’s reception.
“The audience was completely stunned,” said Sparks, whose wife, Jenny Okun, created the rear-projection imagery used as backdrops in lieu of physical sets. “They got more and more into it. Isabel, she loves it! She was really thrilled!”
“This is very close to home,” Holdridge, who himself grew up in Latin America (Costa Rica), told The Argonaut. He then praised Okun’s rear-projected sets as “more economical. What you can do is you can flow from scene to scene [without set changes].”
Okun’s father, legendary music producer/arranger Milt Okun, was also in attendance. Milt Okun not only discovered late singer John Denver, he worked on numerous albums over the decades with Domingo, L.A. Opera’s general director.
“What they’ve done is revolutionary for stagecraft,” said Milt Okun.
“I spent 1,500 hours doing it, making it as beautiful as I can.” said Jenny Okun, whose photographic art will be exhibited at Craig Krull Gallery at Bergamot Station in Santa Monica from Saturday, June 1 through July 6.
“This is the future of opera, and I’m very happy to make my debut [as a conductor] here!” Domingo said from the dais at the patio-side after-party, telling the festive crowd how blessed Santa Monica was to have the Broad in their midst. “People who can’t afford the opera, they come here. Or if they can’t travel downtown. They have everything now – including opera!” §
A night at the opera…in Santa Monica!
By Michael Aushenker