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Special Reports

MA 30 The Innovators: Christopher Koelsch

December 6, 2016 | By Richard S. Ginell

President and CEO, Los Angeles Opera

In 2012, when the Los Angeles Opera needed someone to stay home and watch the store while General Director Plácido Domingo pursued his ceaseless international schedule, it turned to one of its own, Christopher Koelsch, who first joined the company in 1997 and worked his way up.

Koelsch soon showed that he had an eagle eye for new ideas and could act fast on them. Having seen a short video clip from Barrie Kosky’s wildly innovative, live-action-plus-animation production of The Magic Flute in Berlin in 2013, Koelsch immediately booked a flight to Germany, brought the production to L.A. only months later, and scored a big audience hit with it.

Under Koelsch’s leadership, LA Opera has gone off-site with a spinoff series called Off-Grand, which cultivates a new, younger, more casual audience by presenting experimental works that stretch opera into areas far beyond what Verdi or Puccini imagined. These works have been done at far-flung locales like the Broad Stage in Santa Monica (Lee Holdridge’s Dulce Rosa, May 2013), the Barnsdall Gallery Theater near Hollywood (Vid Guerrerio’s Figaro! 90210, January 2015), and The Theater at Ace Hotel, a 1927-vintage downtown L.A. movie palace. This last hosted sold-out live-plus-film performances at Halloween time like Philip Glass’s score for Dracula in 2015 and Matthew Aucoin’s for Nosferatu in 2016.

As part of Off-Grand, Koelsch formed an alliance with Beth Morrison Projects that would result in a succession of productions of edgy new works by Missy Mazzoli (Song from the Uproar, October 2015), David Lang (anatomy theater, June 2016), and Ted Hearne (The Source, October 2016), staged in the black-box REDCAT theater underneath Disney Hall.

Already Koelsch’s ventures may be having an effect out of town; this past March, San Francisco Opera opened its own similar experimental series called SF Opera Lab. And with the company’s financial problems following its 2010 Ring cycle now in the rear-view mirror, Koelsch is remaking LA Opera’s image as that of a forwardlooking major opera company taking artistic risks.

“As the definition of opera grows and expands with our living composers’ visions, he follows suit,” says Morrison of Koelsch. “As the definition expands, so does his audience. This is the way of the future.”


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