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A Star is Born... at the LA Opera!

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Julie Makerov is triumphant!

For my birthday on Saturday I treated myself to an evening at the opening of the L.A. Opera's production of Richard Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, but all of the drama on that large stage was not planned. At 7:30 p.m., the curtain parted and the President/CEO of the opera, Christopher Koelsch, stepped onstage to announce that soprano Elisabeth Mathis, who was scheduled to make her company debut in the leading role of Senta, had suddenly become 'indisposed' and would be unable to perform. However, he said we were in for a treat because they were fortunate enough to have soprano Julie Makerov to make her first appearance here as Senta. He went on to mention that she had played the role in the Canadian Opera Company production in 2010. I later learned that the Toronto Star had written that "Julie Makerov as Senta... was every inch the ringing life force Wagner intended." She had also performed Senta in Salzburg with the Mozarteum Orchestra. Julie is a native of Los Angeles who earned her master's degree in vocal music from the University of Southern California and her undergraduate degree in music performance from Cal State. Here's the astonishing note: She sang as a member of the LA Opera Chorus during the 2000/01 season!

I asked my companion, Caroline Graham, if she thought Julie was sitting home when she got the frantic phone call to come quick, or if she was at the theater when it happened at 7:18 p.m. -- but in the meantime, it was magnificent. She sang her heart out with peerless ringing tones and mixed with the ensemble as if she had often performed with them. At the conclusion, she received a standing ovation which lasted for all of five minutes from the normally jaded audience. A triumph, indeed.

This morning I read Deborah Vankin's excellent piece of reporting in the LA Times and she filled us in on what transpired. She details that at 7:18 p.m. on Saturday, Portuguese soprano Matos, already wearing her costume and makeup for the role, had to step down, feeling chest congestion. It was then that her understudy stepped in... the 40-year-old Makerov had been to all "Dutchman" rehearsals at the Music Center over the past four weeks but had not done a 'walk-through.' Since Senta doesn't make an appearance until the second act, nearly an hour into the show, Julie had a chance to practice her vocal exercises before stepping on stage. They didn't have time to fit a wig on her so she appeared with her own flaming red hair. Oh, did I mention... this opera was presented for 2 hours and 15 minutes without an intermission! We all had adequately prepared beforehand for this eventuality, but it was still somewhat wearing. Deborah reports that Makerov accepted all the plaudits with a simple "It was fun." LA Opera Musical Conductor James Conlon, who conducted the impressive orchestra, said he was thrilled with her performance. And her co-star, Tómas Tómasson, who plays The Flying Dutchman, said he thought she was wonderful in the role. The opera's able PR guy, Gary Murphy, tells me that Julie will play the next performance on Sunday afternoon, and then possibly the other four scheduled performances.

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Since the composer Richard Wagner was born 200 years ago this May, the world is gearing up to celebrate the event with musical performances everywhere. Critic Mark Swed notes that Wagner thought his music was "the music of the future," a somewhat fanciful exaggeration. I have been viewing his operas since I was a teen, brought to the old Met Opera in New York by my father, a blue-collar guy who, for some reason, loved all opera. Wagner is a different kettle of fish from the more accessible, enjoyable works by Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, La traviata, La bohème, Carmen and the like. The Wagner music is glorious, the length often interminable, the stories often incomprehensible... but in the end, it is a glorious experience. The Flying Dutchman is a ghostly love story about a forsaken Dutchman who is destined to roam the seas on his ship for eternity unless he can be redeemed by the love of a selfless woman. The legend has engendered many versions of the story, including a movie, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, with James Mason and Ava Gardner (without the music.) There's even a recurring character on the cartoon series, SpongeBob SquarePants. So I suggest that you consider viewing this production of The Flying Dutchman on Sunday, March 17 , and March 24, at 2 p.m., and at 7:30 p.m. on March 21, 27, and 30. Tickets are $19 to $309 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, contact them at www.laopera.com or call (213) 972-8001.