Tag Archives: LA Opera


“We begin as piano virtuosos and then start rummaging about and foraging in the human sciences and philosophy and finally go to seed. Because we didn’t reach the absolute limit and go beyond this limit, I thought, because we gave up in the face of a genius in our field. But if I’m honest I could never have become a piano virtuoso, because at bottom I never wanted to be a piano virtuoso, because I always had the greatest misgivings about it and misused my virtuosity at the piano in my deterioration process, indeed I always felt from the beginning that piano players were ridiculous; seduced by my thoroughly remarkable talent at the piano, I drilled it into my piano playing and then, after one and a half decades of torture, chased it back out again, abruptly, unscrupulously. It’s not my way to sacrifice my existence to sentimentality.” — The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard*

In the novel The Loser—Bernhard’s comedic 1983 screed on artistry, obsession, and mediocrity—a garrulous narrator recounts, with comedic vitriol, the lifelong consequences of a summer he and his friend Wertheimer spent with the young pianist Glenn Gould at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, all under the instruction of Vladimir Horowitz.

Once the narrator and Wertheimer—labeled “the loser” by Gould in the novel—finally realize that their talents will never equal Gould’s, they abandon their pianos. The narrator gives his Steinway to the nine-year-old daughter of a schoolteacher, who ruined it “in the shortest period imaginable, I wasn’t pained by this fact, on the contrary, I observed this cretinous destruction of my piano with perverse pleasure.”*

The narrator’s story had a profound effect on David Lang when he read the novel in the late 1990s: “I couldn’t read it silently. I ended up yelling the entire book to my reflection in the mirror in my bathroom, from start to finish, which was very exciting. And that day I started imagining what it would be like to add music to it.”

The result is Lang’s hour-long opera the loser. For his libretto, Lang was compelled by necessity to eliminate much of Bernhard’s text, including the long-winded political diatribes—there was nothing the Austrian author hated more than Austrian society. Lang’s focus was the persona of the narrator, and “managing our [changing] perceptions of a character” became the way to bring action to the piece.

Not that the protagonist moves around much. In Lang’s dramatic staging, the narrator stands atop a twenty-foot-high platform, suspended in space and performing exclusively for the audience in the balcony. (Orchestra seats are not occupied for the production.) During the second half of the loser a piano (and pianist) appear on stage, and delicate, ghostly sounds echo throughout the auditorium.

This astonishing work premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2016, with baritone Rod Gilfry as the narrator, and Conrad Tao on piano. The LA Opera Off Grand presentation of the loser brings both of these artists to downtown Los Angeles, joined by Bang on a Can OperaIsabel Hagen (viola), Mariel Roberts (cello), Pat Swoboda (double bass), Owen Weaver (percussion)—and conducted by Lesley Leighton.

The lighting design is by Jennifer Tipton, the sets by Jim Findlay, and costumes were designed by the performance and installation artist Suzanne Bocanegra.

the loser

Friday and Saturday, February 22 and 23, at 8 pm.

Theatre at Ace Hotel

929 South Broadway, downtown Los Angeles.

*Thomas Bernhard, The Loser, translated by Jack Dawson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991). Thomas Bernhard, Der Untergeher, © 1983 Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt.

From top: Rod Gilfry as the narrator in the loser; Gilfry (right) and Karina Cannelakis (conducting) in Brooklyn, 2016; Conrad Tao; David Lang; Gilfry (foreground) and Tao. Performance photographs of the loser by Richard Termine, September 2016, Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, © 2016 Richard Termine. Conrad Tao portrait by Brantley Gutierrez; David Lang portrait by Peter Serling.


PERSONA—composition by Keeril Makan, libretto and direction by Jay Scheib—is a 90-minute opera based on Ingmar Bergman’s classic psychological investigation of identity, doubling, and mutation. A famous actress, in the middle of a performance of Elektra, suddenly stops speaking. A caregiver is hired and begins to talk for both of them, explicating her plans and fears and deepest erotic desires. But what is one human voice against an overwhelming performance of silence?

In this L.A. Opera “Off Grand” production at REDCAT, Lacey Dorn plays Elisabet (the actress), and Amanda Crider her caregiver Alma.


PERSONA, Thursday through Saturday, November 9 through 11, at 8 pm. Sunday, November 12, at 2 pm.

REDCAT, Disney Hall, Music Center, downtown Los Angeles.



From top:

Amanda Crider (above) and Lacey Dorn in Persona; Keeril Makan; Jay Scheib; Dorn (left) and Crider.

Photographs of Crider and Dorn are by Noah Stern Weber/Beth Morrison Projects. Image credit: L.A. Opera.








In the busy, declamatory plays of Simon Stephens, the most interesting characters explosively stake their claims on a loveless, transactional playing field with little regard to the consequences of their actions. Vulnerability is sneered at—often by the most vulnerable themselves—or dismissed as a form of mental illness.

In CARMEN DISRUPTION (now at City Garage, directed by Frédérique Michel), Stephens kicks the major characters from Bizet’s opus to the curb of a large, unnamed European city. Micaela is bereft at the loss of her 62-year-old boyfriend, the taxi driving Don Jose. Escamillo has gone from bulls to bull markets as a high-stakes trader, and Carmen is a male prostitute who survives a rape but whose days may be numbered.

The players are alone in their traumas—the text is Bizet as a Gary Indiana monologue. With scant acknowledgement, they occasionally cross paths in bars and on bridges. They are lost and they’re definitely screwed, but with drollery intact, they’re not quite doomed:

“I take out a Viagra and swallow it right in front of him. There’s a fake log fire in the corner of the room.” — Carmen.

Across town—in the title role of the L.A. Opera production of CARMEN at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion—Ana María Martínez perfectly insinuates herself on a large, crowded stage and takes command as the only adult in the room. While the men bluster and parade, playing soldier and tormenting livestock, Carmen never abandons her policy of generosity and love con gusto. She knows her value, and doesn’t waste time nursing fragile martinet egos back to health. Naturally, her independent attitude must be punished.

In addition to Martínez, Liv Redpath as Frasquita and Kelley O’Connor as Mécèdes are particular stand outs. James Conlon conducts.


CARMEN DISRUPTION, through October 15.

CITY GARAGE, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica.


CARMEN—L.A. OPERA, September 17, 20, 23, 28, and October 1.

DOROTHY CHANDLER PAVILION, Music Center, downtown Los Angeles.


Top: Ana María Martínez (on table) in Carmen, L.A Opera 2017. Photograph by Ken Howard.

Bottom: Lindsay Plake, Kimshelley Lessard, Anthony Sannazzaro and David E. Frank in Carmen Disruption at City Garage, 2017.

Ana Maria Martinez in the title role of LA Opera's 2017 production of "Carmen".