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Origin Story: An Introduction to the LA Opera History Project

How it all began

By Judith Hyman, Ph.D. and Tom Lady

James Bond. Star Trek. The X-Men. Wonder Woman...

It almost seems like it’s become de rigueur for franchises to get rebooted with an origin story. But have you ever wondered about the beginnings of LA Opera and the vital role the Opera League played in the company’s nascent days?

Thanks to the synergistic vision of Stacy Brightman, head of LA Opera’s Education and Community Development Department (EduCom), and Michael Hackett, professor of directing and theater history at UCLA, we’re in the midst of getting our own origin story. Each armed with a doctorate in theater history, Stacy and Michael began an epic project in 2007 called the LA Opera History Project.

This ongoing project consists of video interviews of those people who helped establish Los Angeles Opera and the Opera League of Los Angeles. They are housed in the UCLA library, the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Each person introduces themselves in the video and describes where they are from and their connection to the project. A protocol is followed in each interview, with a menu identifying what has been discussed.

To date, Stacy has conducted four video interviews while Michael has conducted a total of forty-four, including League co-founders Alice Coulombe, Lorraine Saunders and Carol Henry. Michael remarks how “interesting it is to hear them working with Peter Hemmings and Mrs. Hemmings.” Other well-known people who have been archived include Sherwin Sloan and Rod Gilfrey. This undertaking becomes more precious as so many of the original people have passed away.

The projects also include interviews of those who worked as the antecedents of LAO and those present for the actual first performances. Brought into these interviews as well are the vital ancillary staff—members of administration, artistic staff, musicians staff, the music library, box office and major donors. Even audience members have been included, thanks to Michael.

Twenty short video interviews by Michael of participants and members of the general public were part of the 25th anniversary celebration of LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2011. “One of the fun things we did was interview audience members who came to the 25thanniversary Open House,” Stacy says. “I loved that!”

The next step will be interviews focusing on the advent of Mr. Domingo as General Director. Several will be recorded during the 2018-19 season.

If you are interested in viewing these interviews, you must check the protocol of one of the aforementioned libraries and follow their instructions.

Strap yourselves in for a fascinating origin story. You only thought you knew how it all began.

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Author: Thomas Lady
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