By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The details that famously laconic publicist Nancy Seltzer released regarding her superstar client were spare, confident and calculated to strongly suggest a robust future.
All she ultimately released regarding the health of her best-known client — L.A. Opera's fabled general director, Plácido Domingo — after 10 tight-lipped days was that the opera world's most elegant and celebrated figure had had an inelegant cancerous polyp removed from his colon, and that he was discharged from Manhattan's Mount Sinai Hospital on Sunday, March 7, likely to return to performing in mid-April, at La Scala in Milan.
What little that was verified was, as of late March, that Domingo was convalescing after his surgery at one of his homes somewhere in the world. And, of course, Seltzer added de rigueur, Domingo is all the while continuing his administrative duties as L.A. Opera's general manager, unfazed. True?
Domingo himself turned up in Los Angeles last week after a mere three weeks of convalescing at his Acapulco home, to catch rehearsals of L.A. Opera's final Ring production, Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung. While here, he confessed to a small handful of obliging scribes that he was testing his voice "privately."
Even so, there were runes enough to read in Seltzer's presser and Domingo's sotto voce comments to keep opera lovers, voice coaches, lizard-lounge divas and laryngologists guessing as to what might happen next. One clue: The polyp, though cancerous, was small enough to remove laparoscopically. That was an enormous break for the singer, as laparoscopy is less invasive than conventional surgery, with far less stress to the muscles of the abdomen, and potentially availing the singer a better chance to recover the full extent of his air.
But while the prognosis is good, full voice recovery from even laparoscopy is not guaranteed. "Muscular construction is extremely important for human voice," Vladimir Chernov, UCLA professor of voice, says. Even given the minimally invasive procedure, Chernov cannot comment on the prognosis for Domingo's voice. "It's very individual," he says. "We need more research."
Only a handful of medical personnel at Mount Sinai Hospital high on Manhattan's East Side even knows precisely when Domingo had his surgery in February.
But in Los Angeles, where the resident opera company Domingo heads hopes to kick off on April 15 the largest citywide cultural festival since the 1984 Olympics — Ring Festival L.A., a 10-week, omnivenue extravaganza in conjunction with the presentation of L.A. Opera's first complete production of Richard Wagner's four-part Ring cycle — Domingo's convalescence amplifies the cultural, economical and even political stakes of the coming festival.
The building face of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion — a piece of Los Angeles County real estate now standing as collateral, securing a loan from Bank of America that, in part enabled L.A. Opera to produce the Ring Festival — features twinned supergraphics of Domingo to the left and Maestro James Conlon to the right.
But it is now obvious that Conlon is not the co-pilot but the man most in charge of the raucously turbulent flight that is L.A. Opera in spring 2010.
Conlon, who turned 60 in March, is so busy in rehearsals that he was barely cognizant of his own milestone birthday, which became an ordinary rehearsal day. In his March planner, his rehearsal time alternated between The Stigmatized, an opera by Franz Schreker that is part of Conlon's pet "Recovered Voices" project — featuring music censored by Nazi Germany — and Wagner's Götterdämmerung, "Twilight of the Gods," the final opera of the Ring cycle, which debuts Saturday and runs for five performances before the entirety of the cycle is performed three times in late May and June.
"I dream music. I have music for breakfast. I am thinking of music right now," Conlon says.
He remains intently focused on the musical direction of upcoming operas. The turbulence of L.A. Opera's economic distress and even the mixed reception to Achim Freyer's controversial sets for the Ring operas — which classical station KUSC Program Director Gail Eichenthal called "a gamble" — remain on his periphery.
Yet in pockets of the city's Jewish community, Angelenos are asking whether the idea of "celebrating" the music and life of Wagner, an undisputable anti-Semite, in a citywide festival, is appropriate.
The rabbi adds that he considered boycotting the festival but decided he didn't want to "fight within ourselves."
He says: "Some people considered her an innovative filmmaker, but I wouldn't expect any Jews to celebrate Leni Riefenstahl. Or blacks to queue for Birth of a Nation. ... I want Jews to know about Wagner. Most Jews don't know anything about Wagner."
But nobody has more actively questioned the morality of hosting a Ring Festival in Los Angeles than Carol Jean Delmar, the daughter of an opera singer who in 1930s Vienna performed Wagnerian roles, such as Beckmesser and Alberich, often thought as "Jewish caricature" roles. Delmar's parents fled Vienna after the Anschluss — the Nazi annexation of Austria. She writes on opera and is a persistent critic of the festival's focus on Wagner, criticizing not only L.A. Opera but also some groups it has partnered with, including those that are Jewish, to make the festival happen.
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