Show artwork for Highway 1, USA / The Dwarf

Highway 1, USA / The Dwarf Highway 1, USA / The Dwarf

Composed by William Grant Still / Alexander Zemlinsky

Conducted by James Conlon

February 24 – March 17, 2024

At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Two 20th-century gems come together to create a double bill of magnificent works ripe for rediscovery.

A Historic LA Premiere: Highway 1, USA 
First up is the uplifting Highway 1, USA by trailblazer William Grant Still, hailed as “the Dean of African-American Composers.” Norman Garrett and Nicole Heaston star as a hardworking Black couple determined to build a better life, whose years of sacrifice turn out to be misguided. Chaz'men Williams-Ali portrays the ne'er-do-well brother who squanders every opportunity granted to him. This new staging (only the second-ever professional production of this heartwarming opera) is helmed by visionary director Kaneza Schaal and production designer Christopher Myers, reuniting after their work on our stunning 2022 production of Omar

An Impossible Romance: The Dwarf 
Next up is a gothic tale of one-sided love in a decadent Spanish court. Tenor Rodrick Dixon stars in the title role opposite audience favorites Erica Petrocelli and Kristinn Sigmundsson as we present Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf. Last staged at LA Opera in 2008 to critical acclaim, Oscar Wilde’s fable is brought to life through a lush and romantic score. Tony-winning director Darko Tresnjak conjures a royally opulent production, with costumes from fellow Tony Award winner Linda Cho. 

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"William Grant Still gives us such gorgeous orchestration... it is truly wonderful music."

Steve CallahanBroadway World

“Still’s one-act stunner... Though stylish, the music is unabashedly approachable. If played more widely, Still’s aesthetic might attract modern-opera skeptics who have rejected works from the modernist or Minimalist camps that dominate the 20th-century repertoire currently performed in America.”

The New York Times

“[Dixon] clearly loves to inhabit the vocally demanding role of the Dwarf, which he performs to mesmerizing effect.”

Seen and Heard International

Artists: Highway 1, USA

Nicole Heaston
Norman Garrett
Chaz'men Williams-Ali
Aunt Lou
Deborah Nansteel
Alan Williams
James Conlon
Kaneza Schaal
Production Design
Christopher Myers
Cheyanne Williams
Charlese Antoinette
Pablo Santiago
Jeremy Frank

Artists: The Dwarf

The Dwarf
Rodrick Dixon
Donna Clara
Erica Petrocelli
Don Estoban
Kristinn Sigmundsson
Emily Magee
First Maid
Kathleen O'Mara
Second Maid
Deepa Johnny
Third Maid
Sarah Saturnino
First Playmate
Tiffany Townsend
Second Playmate
Madeleine Lyon
James Conlon
Darko Tresnjak
Ralph Funicello
Linda Cho
David Weiner
Jeremy Frank

Read the synopsis

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Highway 1, USA
Bob and Mary have worked hard and sacrificed a lot in order to put Nate, Bob's younger brother, through college. Mary dreams of the life they will have once Nate's education is completed. Bob explains that according to his mother's deathbed wish, they must support Nate until he has established himself financially. Mary tells Aunt Lou of her hatred for Nate.

After finishing his education, Nate remains idle for a year, living with Bob and Mary and contributing nothing. One morning Bob expresses his doubt that Nate will ever get a job. Nate comes in after Bob has left and commences to woo Mary. Mary laughs at him and confirms her love for Bob. Nate becomes enraged and stabs her.

Mary's screams bring Bob running. Thinking that Mary is dead, Bob takes the blame in order to protect his brother. Mary regains consciousness and names Nate as her assailant. As he is led away, Nate pleads with Bob to help him. Ignoring his pleas, Bob kneels by Mary and promises her a brighter future.

The Dwarf
It is the 18th birthday of Donna Clara, the Spanish Infanta. Don Estoban, the court chamberlain, supervises as the servants prepare a sumptuous birthday party. The Infanta’s favorite maid, Ghita, marvels at the splendor of the decorations and gifts. Don Estoban describes some of the fabulous gifts to the maids. The most wonderful of them all, he says, is also the most repulsive, for the Sultan has sent the Infanta a hideously misshapen dwarf. The dwarf, Don Estoban explains, is completely unaware of his ugliness for he has never seen himself in a mirror; he thinks he is a handsome knight. The maids hurry to cover the mirrors before the gift ceremony begins.

After the Infanta and her retinue have taken their places for the celebration, the dwarf is brought in. The ladies laugh with merriment at the strange spectacle before them. Gazing at the Infanta’s beauty, the dwarf is unable to sing the merry song requested of him. Instead he sings an impassioned song of lovesickness. The Infanta tells the dwarf that he may choose any of the ladies in the court as a wife, and the dwarf tells her that the only one he could love is the Infanta herself. The Infanta sends her guests away, and listens intently as the dwarf improvises a story about rescuing her from a dragon.

Ghita tries unsuccessfully to bring the dwarf, lost in rapture, back to reality. His beautiful dream finally collapses when he inadvertently uncovers a mirror and suddenly finds himself face to face with his reflection. When the Infanta returns, he begs her to tell him that he is handsome and that she loves him. The Infanta tears herself away from him, saying “I want to dance and play with you, but I can only love a man, and you are an animal.” The dwarf falls dying at her feet, as the Infanta hurries back into the ballroom to dance.


Highway 1, USA is performed in English with English subtitles. The Dwarf is performed in German with English subtitles.

An original LA Opera production

Approximate running time: approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission

Audio description will be available for the March 3 matinee.

Artwork for Highway 1, USA / The Dwarf
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2023/24 Season