“Dulce Rosa” review

“Dulce Rosa” in rehearsal with Peabody Southwell, left, as Inez and María Antúnez as Rosa. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times / May 14, 2013)

Composer Lee Holdridge says his new opera, "Dulce Rosa," hits "very close to home" for him in several ways. First, as a native Latin American. Second, as the son of a passionate, indomitable woman.

And, third, as a lifelong aficionado of stage drama — generally the more dramatic, the better.


FOR THE RECORD:
"Dulce Rosa": In the May 14 Calendar section, an article about the new opera "Dulce Rosa" at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica said it would be opening Sunday. It opens Friday. —

"I'm very story-driven," Holdridge said during a break in a rehearsal room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion a few days ago. "Verdi would not write a note until he had the libretto because he said it's got to be about the drama."

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All three of Holdridge's affinities came together in "Dulce Rosa," a dramatically red-blooded two-act work centering on a formidable South American woman, with a libretto by Richard Sparks. Opening May 19 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, the co-production between the Broad and L.A. Opera will be conducted by Plácido Domingo, the opera company's general director.

Based on the short story "Una Venganza" (A Revenge) by the Chilean novelist Isabel Allende, "Dulce Rosa" takes place in an unnamed South American country in the politically volatile 1950s. It relates the romantic tragedy of a young, upper-class woman, Rosa Orellano, who loses her beloved senator-father in a military raid, then gets raped by a guerrilla leader, Tadeo Cespedes, with a traumatic past of his own.

As Rosa plots to settle scores with her assailant, the fates conspire to twist the dagger of destiny and ironic revelation several times before the opera arrives at its violent and startling climax, a coup de théâtre that suggests a recombination of "Tosca," "Antigone" and the latest telenovela on Univision.

That convergence is not coincidental. "Telenovelas can be pretty intense," said Holdridge, an Emmy Award-winner who has scored numerous feature films ("Splash," "Old Gringo") and television shows ("Moonlighting," "The Mists of Avalon") in addition to his operatic work.

The idea for "Dulce Rosa" first took shape about a decade ago, said Sparks, who has collaborated with Holdridge on several previous L.A. Opera commissions, including "Concierto Para Mendez" and "Journey to Córdoba."

Allende had written "Una Venganza" as part of a short story collection not long after moving from Venezuela to the United States, where she continues to live in the Bay Area.

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"It's 23 stories, and they're all sort of twisted love stories," said Allende, speaking by phone from New York City, where she was touring to promote her latest novel, "Maya's Notebook."

"They all have the Venezuelan flavor because I had just moved here."

Sparks, who calls Allende "one of my favorite writers — the bravado she has, the narrative drive that she has, the risks that she takes" — envisioned the story that became "Dulce Rosa" as a modern Greek tragedy in which "the lead characters are destroyed by their fatal flaw, which is pride."

Sparks said he'd begun gathering visual ideas for the opera some years before he started writing the libretto. He visited locations in Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and other parts of Latin America, scouting haciendas, churches and other key settings.

The project coalesced in July 2007 when Sparks was conversing with Domingo backstage in Munich, where the superstar tenor was performing in "Die Walküre."

"Domingo says, 'I know what we'll do, we'll do it in the Broad. And let's go,'" Sparks recalled.