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WAGNER'S DAS LIEBESVERBOT: Interesting and Ominous Overtones
Written by Ken Cazan March 2010

Lord, where do I start?! This a HUGE opera, particularly for a university. We have a chorus of 27 (depending on the day of the week), 8  supernumeraries  (aka “supers”), 11 principals, and various understudies! It is big for any university and the fact that it is an opera by Wagner and a west coast premier adds to the overall challenge. In a word, this project is “exciting.”

Das Liebesverbot's music is early Wagner and was a result of his lashing out against the musical establishment of his time. Instead of writing a typically Wagnerian sturm und drang opera, he wrote a comedy with deep psychological undertones. He based the opera on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” also a comedy with dire psychological undertones. The piece deals with the amorality of a representative of the far political and religious right (Angelo) and the strength of a not-so-ready-to-become-a-nun novice, Isabella.  A ban on love-making and drink has been placed on the citizenry of Vienna. Isabella’s brother, Claudio has been sentenced to death for disobeying the law and getting his girlfriend, Julia, pregnant. He pleads with his friend, Lucio to go to his (Claudio’s) sister, Isabella (who is on the eve of completing her novitiate and taking the veil) to utilize her persuasive skills and superior intellect and speak with Angelo and convince him to repeal the anti-love law and commute his death sentence. Lucio meets, falls in love with, and convinces Isabella to leave the convent and take up Claudio’s cause. Angelo, upon meeting Isabella, falls head over heels in lust with her and assures her that the only way that he will commute Claudio’s sentence is if she, Isabella, sleeps with him. She balks at first, then realizes that she can trap Angelo in his own law if she agrees to meet with him, substitutes Marianna, Angelo’s wife whom he has abandoned on the day of his wedding and who happens to be a fellow novitiate in Isabella’s convent. Small world? You bet! Throw in the usual amount of Shakespeare secondary characters and Wagner had a field day creating a libretto from the play staying reasonably faithful to the story, with one glaring and clever exception.

 

YuJoong Kim as Claudio and Sophie Wingland as Dorella in Wagner's Das Liebesverbot

YuJoong Kim as Claudio and Sophie Wingland as Dorella at a staging rehearsal of the USC Thornton Opera Production of Wagner's Das Liebesverbot.
Kristina Jacinth - Photographer

Cast of Wagner's Das Liebesverbot

Cast of the USC Thornton Opera Production of Wagner's Das Liebesverbot.
Kristina Jacinth - Photographer

In Wagner’s version, the setting is Palermo, Sicily, it is Carneval (the wild party period before Lent) and Angelo is a German Lutheran who has been taken under the wing of the local Governor (or King). The King has to leave on a political errand and leaves Friedrich in charge in his stead. Friedrich decides to ban love and all festivities surrounding Carneval under penalty of death and it becomes a head on battle between the Catholic citizens of Palermo, Sicily and the German Lutheran Friedrich. Of course since it is billed as a comedy, all ends up happily with nuns discarding their habits for womens weeds and discovering that love does conquer all. The great thing with Wagner is that, whether intentionally or not, by transferring the action to steamy Palermo and by plopping a representative of the conservative German right into the mix, the piece takes on infinitely more interesting and ominous overtones. It has everything necessary for great drama: sex, religion, and politics! Those facts and Wagner’s glorious (if slightly over-written) Bellini-esque structure combine to make a thrilling, witty, fun, and moving evening.

We are so fortunate to have world-class young artists to sing these roles immediately before they leave USC to pursue their professional careers. Alexandra Loutsion, our Isabella, leaves immediately after the closing performance to go to the Central City Opera for her first professional apprenticeship and sing the title role in Madama Butterfly in the student matinee and the role of Minerva in Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach. Kyung Teak Lim, our confused Friedrich, was recently hand-picked by Marilyn Horne to perform in her Music Academy in Santa Barbara this coming summer. All of the other principals have had professional experience form the Aspen Festival to various smaller companies around the U.S.

Behind the scenes, our designers are all professionals with extensive resumes worldwide. Cameron Anderson, our scenic designer, has worked in many major theatre companies and opera companies in the U.S. and is deeply involved in various theatrical outreach groups in aid of abused women, etc. David Jacques, the Lighting Designer, is one of the foremost lighting designers in the world, having designed for Teatro alla Scala, La Fenice, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and regularly for the Central City Opera. He is also the Chair of Theatrical Design at CSU Long Beach. Jacqueline Saint Anne, our costume designer is an Emmy Award winning costumer, crossing the disciplines between television, opera, movies, and legitimate theatre.  Valerie Wheeler, our beloved production stage manager has worked for various opera, ballet, and theatre companies nationwide including Wolftrap Opera, Opera Santa Barbara, Opera Cleveland, the New Orleans Opera, Theatre of the First Ammendment, the Santa Barbara Theatre Co., the National Ballet and others. Beyond all of these talented people, we are blessed with wonderful, professional vocal and diction coaches!

As you can see, we are up to our eyeballs in talent and support and we genuinely revel in it. We also realize how grateful we are to have the endless support of the voice faculty and of our Dean, Robert Cutietta and our Associate Dean for Administration and Finance, Susan Lopez, both of whom are there for us at every turn. 

--Ken Cazan

Ken Cazan is the Resident Stage Director at the USC Thornton School of Music.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandra Loutsion as Isabella in Wagner's Das Liebesverbot

Alexandra Loutsion as Isabella
at a staging rehearsal of the USC Thornton Opera
Production of
Wagner's Das Liebesverbot.
Kristina Jacinth - Photographer