Placido Domingo & Lee Holdridge
Photo: Jenny Okun

The Broad Stage in Santa Monica and L.A. Opera have joined forces to co-produce the world premiere of ‘Dulce Rosa’, a fully-staged, two-act opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks, based on the Isabel Allende short story, ‘Una Venganza’ (An Act of Vengeance). ‘Dulce Rosa’ is a tale of romance and ruin, of revenge and redemption set in a South American country in the early 1950s. In the aftermath of a violent political uprising, a young woman plans her revenge against the merciless guerilla who murdered her father.

Plácido Domingo, the General Director of LA Opera, will conduct a production featuring the LA Opera Chorus and Orchestra. The title role will be performed by Uruguayan soprano María Antúnez. This is the inaugural project of the LA Opera Off Grand series, devoted to new and eclectic operatic works presented in venues away from the company’s home at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. World Premiere is on May 17.

When Richard Sparks and Lee Holdridge approached Isabel Allende with a proposal to turn her story into an opera, she was intrigued. Allende says: “People often come to me with projects. No one has ever approached me for an opera, but I accepted this opportunity without hesitation. One day Richard and Lee came to my house with the final product, having done all the work, and it is delightful.”

The entire production was created ‘holistically’. While Richard was writing the libretto, Jenny Okun made several visits to South and Central America to gather the photographic raw material for her multi-layer artworks, which will be projected on the sets to form the world of the story. This visual material was also valuable to Lee in the process of composing his score. He pinned Jenny’s works on the wall of his studio, alongside Durinda Wood’s research material for costumes and Yael Pardess’s set designs. All elements progressed in step as the work evolved.

Richard wrote a first draft of ‘Dulce Rosa’ between April and September 2009. Once Lee began composing, Richard and he met regularly, and the libretto went through numerous drafts as the opera took shape. While the story structure has not changed since the initial draft, the libretto has developed substantially. Entire lyric ideas have been replaced, arias have come and gone, and material has moved within the opera.

“We are always mindful that this is drama first and foremost,” Lee says. “Everything happens in front of the audience’s eyes – there is no singing about things that happened before the opera started. When, in Act Two, a character does reveal the traumatic events that happened to him in the past, it is the impact of that revelation on the other characters onstage that is the action of the scene, not his long-ago history.”

Lee and Richard always workshop their operas, since their first commission for the Los Angeles Opera, ‘Journey to Cordoba’, 20 years ago. ‘Dulce Rosa’ went through three complete, full-cast workshops over two years, all of which Plácido Domingo attended. The workshop process is enormously important. All involved were able to see the work-in-progress as it developed. Some crucial polishes, cuts, amendments and adjustments were made. It hardly needs saying that the value of input from someone as knowledgeable and insightful as Maestro Domingo cannot be

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