It was opening night of the Los Angeles Opera and Garry Marshall hovered off to the side of door 13 checking out the crowd. “Nervous?” I asked the first time opera director. “Not really,” he replied and had two words for me-“Princess Bride.” Hmmm, good point. The Hollywood legend was the man behind the storybook film, “Pretty Woman” and a host of other romantic hits. So why not the “The Grand Duchess,” Offenbach’s whimsical fairytale?
“But why opera?” I asked him. “It wasn’t really my idea. It was Placido’s,” he explained referring to the opera’s General Director Placido Domingo. “Plus, my wife’s been coming to the opera for years. They said ‘try it you’ll like it,’ so I did.”
Marshall brought his magic touch to the project, turning the stage into an enchanted village complete with merry milkmaids and studly soldiers, dancing sunflowers, gem-encrusted carriages and gilded thrones. To keep things moving, he also threw in a troop of energetic acrobats, free-wheeling jugglers, lumbering stilt walkers and other assorted troubadours. Over the course of two decades, the company has put on a slew of riveting performances, but it’s not often that you’ll find opera to be this light-hearted, action-packed and just plain fun.
And the verdict? A rousing burst of applause for the cast and a standing ovation for maestro Marshall.
Following the performance, local opera lovers like David and Krystyna Newman, Elizabeth Hirsch, Lynda Huges, Walter De Logi, Dick and Cindy Troop and Ginny Mancini, joined Lee Iacocca, Michael York, Jack Klugman and the Marshall clan for a black-tie bash on the Plaza.
In keeping with the theme, the outdoor area was transformed into a majestic garden complete with towering hedges and massive floral arrangements brimming with elegant white orchids, delicate maidenhair fern, twisting branches and flickering votives. In royal fashion, they served up a first class feast of smoked salmon tartar and lamb tenderloin with duck risotto, all topped off with chocolate hazelnut cake and passion fruit jelly, birthday cake, sparklers and dancing under the stars.
The festivities were just one part in a lavish three-day anniversary weekend. It began on Friday night with a sit-down dinner at the posh Pasadena estate of Opera President Carol and Warner Henry, followed by “The Grand Duchess” on Saturday and Sunday and an afternoon performance of “Pagalacci” for the grand finale.
The past 20 years have not always been easy, but today the L.A. Opera has good reason to celebrate. It’s gone from a struggling labor of love to a world-class company. And for opera fans, that’s something to sing about.