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Natalie Pace Headshot

Ship of Fools

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No, this is not yet another diatribe on Washington. Thankfully, last night as I watched an old, drunk, lascivious, thieving aristocrat lie, steal and chase after young women, it was only comical opera. And the enterprising women who were being seduced had some pretty entertaining cold water for Shakespeare's most beloved buffoon -- Falstaff -- to fall into. Verdi's Falstaff at the Los Angeles Opera is an apt, rousing bicentennial celebration of the iconic composer's birth and last opera, which premiered at La Scala when Verdi was at the age of his portly protagonist -- age 79.

So, what compelling themes were important for Verdi to highlight at the end of his life, when most of his friends were gone, and he knew that he was not long for this world? Young love triumphing over matches made for money. The ridiculousness of jealousy. The absurdity of carousing with "honorable and pious" men. The catharsis of flogging arrogant, profligate men of position and tossing them into the river with the dirty laundry. (Something Toronto denizens can likely relate to.) The clever chess-playing of mischievous, but honorable, women -- The Merry Wives of Windsor -- who manage to make jest and get their way, despite all of the ridiculous aspirations and accusations of the men who surround them. In short, as Verdi's stars sing in the final fugue, "Everything is a jest; we are all duped." (Tutto nel mondo è burla... Tutti gabbati!)

We are so fortunate in Los Angeles to have a world-renowned tenor, Placido Domingo, as the general director and the engaging James Conlon as the musical director. Placido's passion is infused in every production, while his star power attracts the best talent to our stage. Renee Fleming will reprise her signature role of Blanche DuBois in A Street Car Named Desire, opening on May 18, 2014. Placido himself will take the stage for Jules Massenet's Thais on May 17, 2014.

James Conlon's rich interpretations, and deep comprehension of Verdi's underlying intentions, infuse Merrie Old England's lusty days and bawdy nights into the arias and orchestration of Verdi's Falstaff. Falstaff is quite unlike most operas. As Conlon advised in a lecture before the opera's premiere on November 9, 2013, although "Falstaff is a musical masterpiece," the zany antics on stage are just as important as the music and singing.

And this is another perk of Los Angeles Opera. In a city where culture is rather nascent and there is no rich history of the arts, it's exciting to see parents educating their teens to appreciate the nuances of Verdi's masterpiece. Those of us who attended Conlon's lecture before the opera -- and an unveiling of the new Verdi bronze bust that will be on display at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion -- were in on the multitude of jokes that are peppered throughout Verdi's comedy. Verdi disliked authority, priests, the church and the formality of fugues. So, the only "Amen" you'll hear in the opera sings sweetly from the lips of the amoral scallywags Bardolph and Pistol. And when the entire chorus engages in an impressive fugue to close the performance, it is to remind us that, we are all fools in this theatre of life. Falstaff is just the bozo we all laugh at.

The Opera League of Los Angeles is a fantastic opportunity for passionate lovers of the arts to engage directly with stars of the stage, support the strengthening of the Los Angeles scene, experience behind-the-scenes fun, learn valuable information about the art and receive perks -- all at a very affordable cost.The Student Club rate starts at just $20. Students, educators, seniors and opera lovers help behind the scenes to make the performances spectacular, and in return are privy to special educational seminars, social gatherings, rehearsal performances and exclusive private parties. On Sunday, November 17, 2013, Opera League members will enjoy a musicale with two local, rising stars of opera -- Gregorio Gonzalez, a finalist in Placido Domingo's Operalia and a participant in the LA Opera Young Artist program, and Shabnam Kalbasi, a graduate of the USC Thornton School of Music and winner of several local singing competitions.

In this brief spell between government shutdowns (the last one ended on October 17, 2013 and the next is set to occur January 15, 2014), it's easy to relate to Verdi. I definitely pictured a few of our own modern-day blowhards dragging themselves from the river, only to be flogged (playfully) by the townsfolk. Ah, the joys, of a good belly-laugh and virtuoso, memorable strains as an antidote to the stress and shenanigans of the world today.

Falstaff plays through December 1, 2013. The entire cast is scintillating, playful and a delight to the ears. Roberto Frontali, one of the leading baritones of today, is as entertaining as vintage John Belushi on Saturday Night Live. Ekaterina Sadovnikova, in her LA Opera debut, received a rousing ovation for her angelic arias. Ronnita Nicole Miller's portrayal of Mistress Quickly would be attracting attention from the Academy if it were on film instead of the stage. Ms. Miller is a former member of the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program at the LA Opera.

We are so blessed here in LA to have Mr. Domingo, who had the vision to select Falstaff as the L.A Opera's bicentenary celebration of Verdi. Quite apt, and very entertaining.