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'Sweeney' times two equals zero

L.A. Opera's production was due at the same time as the release of a movie version. Now both are on hold.

August 08, 2004|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

Attend the tale of "Sweeney Todd" -- that is, of "Sweeney Todd" and Los Angeles Opera.

The company wanted to present the Stephen Sondheim musical melodrama about a vengeful barber, primarily as a vehicle for Bryn Terfel. Initially, it planned to use a recent Royal Opera production of the show. But Sondheim didn't like the Royal Opera's staging enough to approve its replication.

So the Angelenos turned to a "Sweeney" production from Opera North in Leeds, England, that Sondheim had endorsed. In January, company officials announced that "Sweeney" and Terfel would appear at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for seven performances in May 2005.

Then Sondheim attorney John Breglio had second thoughts. He felt that the spring 2005 slot was too close to the anticipated release of a movie version of "Sweeney" that DreamWorks and director Sam Mendes are planning. The projects might compete for attention in the crucial Los Angeles media market, he said. So he pulled the rights.

Breglio says this wasn't DreamWorks' doing. "I would never let DreamWorks be heavy-handed. This was our sensitivity. You protect artists and give them the air and space they need," he said. He added that he wasn't singling out L.A. Opera, noting that he had no problem with the company's just-closed production of Sondheim's "A Little Night Music."

Regarding the "Sweeney" backtracking, "I would have done the same thing with any other major company in L.A.," Breglio said. The Philadelphia market apparently wasn't considered as crucial. A production of "Sweeney" is still scheduled for spring in that city.

In place of "Sweeney," L.A. Opera booked Verdi's "Falstaff," also with Terfel. Now, though, it's increasingly obvious that the movie version of Sondheim's show won't be released any time near May. Mendes decided to work on another movie, "Jarhead," first. In a recent e-mail in response to inquiries by The Times, Sondheim said that "depending on the future schedule of the movie," L.A. Opera would have no problem getting approval next year. But for L.A. "Sweeney" fans, it's too late. A spokesman for L.A. Opera said that deals for "Falstaff" with the unions are in place. The company will do the show some other time, he said.

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