On Friday, March 24th, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel’s Crystal Ballroom in downtown LA, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (LACC), totalling 228 choristers and their artistic director Anne Tomlinson, were recognized by 350 attendees in a three-course-dinner fundraiser that earned $240,000. Certainly, in a time when classical, or choral music, is perhaps not as popular as it once was, celebrating the children who come up these ranks is paramount.
Hosted by Duff Murphy of KUSC 91.5 FM, the four-and-a-half hour extravaganza did just that, in addition to paying homage to prolific opera icon Plácido Domingo, who received the “Bel Canto Award” for his tireless commitment to the LACC, which he has partnered with on many a production. The event also honored loyal LACC supporters Jo and Shawn Libaw, who were fêted by their daughter Lauren Libaw, 30 — a masterful operatic singer in her own right, after having worked under Domingo’s tutelage for “La Bohème” as a 10-year-old with the LACC. Suffice it to say, the emotionality of the proceedings beautifully complemented the individuals who were spotlighted, including Lauren herself, as well as opera luminary Susan Graham, and five LACC ensembles.
The night began with an overture – “Chorus of the Enchanted Islanders” from Act I of Handel’s “Alcina” – featuring every one of the virtuoso children whose inspirited voices rang out softly and beautifully. The moving intro was a harbinger of what was to come, as the various configurations of the LACC (e.g., Apprentice Choir Gala Ensemble, Intermediate Choir Gala Ensemble, and Young Men’s Ensemble) did not disappoint, bringing tremendous joy to the audience with Puccini’s “Là sui monti dell’est” from “Turandot,” Jules Massenet’s “Noël! Noël!” from “Werther,” and Weber’s “Huntsmen’s Chorus” from “Der Freischütz,” respectively. The most memorable song performed by the LACC, however, may have been Mozart’s finale from Act II of “Die Zauberflöte,” which was done in a joint collaboration between seven male choristers and Lauren Libaw. Undoubtedly, as she and the group of boys alternated and finished each other’s musical phrases in two of the balconies overhead, one couldn’t help but be affected by the tender visuals and sounds.
Lauren, who sparkled in a gold sequin dress, also flourished during her own solo – Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” from “Gianni Schicchi” — which gloriously proved that her tenure with the LACC had been well spent. Her soaring soprano resonance received a standing ovation in what was a poetic full-circle etching in time, as Domingo, who conducted and oversaw her development two decades prior, was proud to see the woman who grew out of the girl.
Like their daughter, Jo and Shawn Libaw were paid homage to by being awarded the LACC’s “Rebecca Thompson Founder’s Award” for their longstanding philanthropy. Jo was particularly touching in what she had to say, nearly in tears as she recounted two stories, one involving Susan Graham and the other Domingo, who raptly looked on. The first was about a 9th-grade Lauren, whose adoration of the world-renowned Graham compelled the young prodigy to locate the mezzo-soprano’s personal email address, and thus send a kind message, to which Graham “did not send to her spam folder,” but responded to with humility and encouragement. The second was about Jo’s mother, who, to her surprise, found herself being greeted by Domingo during the intermission of an opera he was conducting many years ago, as he had charmingly asked her if she was “enjoying the performance.”
Similarly, Graham, who sang Moisés Simons’ “C’est ça la vie, c’est ça l’amour!” and Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en rose” with an enthralling conviction and panache, had her own delightful Domingo story to tell. The two, who have worked side by side on stage, one of them being at the Metropolitan Opera House, once shared a scene when their heads were adjoined. Graham spoke lovingly and mirthfully about how she was fortunate enough to experience Domingo’s voice, unfiltered, from his skull to hers, as the crowd reacted uproariously.
And, of course, the headline honoree was unequivocally Domingo, who at 76 years young, has 50 years of professional expertise, and is currently conducting LA Opera’s “The Tales of Hoffman” before starring in “Nabucco” later this year. He was introduced with an infectious fervor by Marc Stern, Chairman of the LA Opera, who put Domingo’s feats into perspective by comparing them to a series of sports milestones. “If Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors, then Plácido would have scored 200,” exclaimed Stern. For Stern, Domingo’s legacy was and will continue to be marked by his ability to “bring the passion of opera to everyone and for making every person he comes into contact with feel special, as if they were the only person in the world.”
When Domingo accepted his “Bel Canto Award,” he was appropriately emotional for what the evening had meant to him. “Through all 31 years I’ve been in the company of the LACC, which helps kids find their voice and develop a love of classical music, it has been amazing,” said Domingo.
It’s hard to believe that someone who has spent two-thirds of his life performing would still feel trepidatious prior to shows, but he admits that the butterflies have not yet left him – a confession that belies his age. Domingo, even with anthologies of experience to his credit, is as sanguine as ever, the child in him still very much alive, impervious to the cynicism wrought by a long life. This was exemplified during a precious moment when he turned to members of the LACC standing behind him, as he candidly spoke about the 14-year-old version of himself, who was going through puberty, and had lamented to his parents about losing an octave. “Your voice will change for the best,” Domingo comfortingly offered, who is in no danger of becoming old any time soon. “As the years pass, you become younger because you’ve accumulated youth,” he confided.
For more information about the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, please visit lachildrenschorus.org