LA Opus
Reporting on music and the lively arts
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By Rodney Punt

Operas and movies are like opposites that attract but can rarely live together. New movies, like old operas, get the big houses. New operas, like old movies, get the small houses. Got that?

The LA Opera did, and has turned the pattern to their advantage. As the company closes its regular season of usual suspect composers like Puccini, Verdi and Wagner at downtown LA's venerable Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, they are sending something new and quite intriguing to Santa Monica’s jewel box Broad Stage. It’s the world premiere of Dulce Rosa, an opera by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks (who also directs this production), based on Isabel Allende's short story "An Act of Vengeance.” Opening Friday, May 17, it runs for six performances through June 9. It promises to be as cinematic as anything Hollywood has ever produced.

Dulce Rosa is set in the horrifying aftermath of a violent South American political uprising during the early 1950's. Its subject of rape could be torn from today's grim headlines, as women continue to be subjected to sexual violence in wartorn countries. Dulce Rosa deals in revenge but finds redemption in the story of a young woman who confronts a guerrilla fighter that violated her and her family. As Allende (who wrote the story nearly thirty years ago in California) explains, it's “…the tragedy of a young woman who spent years planning how to punish the man who raped her and killed her family. It doesn’t sound like a love theme, does it? Trust me, it is. The story came to me whole, like a gift; I wrote it down in a sort of trance, in one sitting.”

The story’s Latin setting and emotionally charged climate would seem tailor-made for operatic catharsis. I asked Holdridge -- one of Hollywood’s most successful and versatile composers and a frequent collaborator with LA Opera for the past two decades -- what we could expect from the score. Had he infused it with music redolent of Latin composers or with colorations specific to Latin America?

Holdridge: “My own take on the work is basically that I did not set out to write a folkloric opera. This is in a symphonic language, which makes it more universal. It is very emotional and very passionate and heart-felt. When it is meant to be jagged or tense the music certainly reflects that, but when it is lyrical, I don’t hold back. I don’t subscribe to the now passé 20th century notion that a work has to be 12-tone or minimalist or whatever. This is all about personal expression. I write what I feel is appropriate for the story, for the characters and for the moment.”

With Dulce Rose, LA Opera launches its new "Off Grand" series that will focus on innovative and eclectic repertoire. As the name implies, Off Grand productions will take place in locations other than the iconic (but to some, intimidating) Chandler Pavilion. The Broad Stage’s intimate size and neighborhood setting does seem a logical launching pad for the series. Director Dale Franzen has enjoyed a close working relationship over the years with LA Opera super-tenor cum General Director Plácido Domingo, who will conduct five of the six performances of the new work.

Much of LA Opera’s most interesting work in recent years has taken place on the margins, as it were, of its regular season repertoire. Music Director James Conlon has championed the Recovered Voices series, focusing on composers persecuted by fascism in the last century. In like manner, Domingo has promoted Latin American and Spanish works such as zarzuelas. The late Daniel Catán’s Il Postino, a favorite with audiences,must be included in this latter category, along with Dulce Rosa, both of which have story-lines that derive from current events in South America. Two impulses strike me as relevant here: Angelinos often prefer arts programs near their homes and the region’s large Latino audiences are interested in cultural influences of their heritage.

Domingo has released a statement on this work: “LA Opera's ongoing partnership with Lee and Richard dates back nearly two decades. We had great success with their multi-media concert piece Concierto Para Mendez. They are also the creators of several operas for young audiences that have been performed throughout Los Angeles County for tens of thousands of appreciative students—most experiencing live opera performances for the very first time. It is, of course, a great honor for us to collaborate on their newest opera with one of the most important literary figures of our time. Not only is Isabel Allende perhaps the world's most widely read Spanish-language author, she is also a formidable human rights advocate, dedicating her time and energy to the protection of women and children throughout the world through The Isabel Allende Foundation.”

The opera is the largest-scale collaboration to date for Holdridge and Sparks. The title role will be sung by Uruguayan soprano María Eugenia Antúnez, who makes her LA Opera debut. The cast also includes Mexican baritone Alfredo Daza as Rosa's nemesis Tadeo Cespedes; and American tenor Greg Fedderly as Rosa's father, Senator Orellano. Directed by librettist Richard Sparks, the creative team also includes scenery designer Yael Pardess; costume designer Durinda Wood; lighting designer Anne Militello; and projection designer Jenny Okun. The chorus director is Grant Gershon.

What: World premiere of Dulce Rosa, opera in two acts by composer Lee Holdridge and librettist Richard Sparks, based on the Isabel Allende short story, "An Act of Vengeance." Sung in English, augmented with English subtitles.

• Friday, May 17, 2013, at 7:30pm (opening performance)
• Saturday, May 25, 2013, at 7:30pm
• Tuesday, May 28, 2013, at 7:30pm
• Monday, June 3, 2013, at 7:30pm
• Thursday, June 6, 2013, at 7:30pm
• Sunday, June 9, 2013, at 4:00pm
(All performances conducted by Plácido Domingo except June 6, which will be conducted by LA Opera Resident Conductor Grant Gershon.)

Where: The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center (1310 11th Street, Santa Monica CA 90401). Free parking.

Tickets: Range in price from $20 to $150. Call The Broad Stage box office: 310-434-3200. Or visit website:

Photos/sketches above are used by permission of LA Opera. The top and bottom are preliminary sketches for this production by designer Yael Pardess. The middle photo of Lee Holdridge is uncredited.

Rodney Punt publishes for the team at LA Opus and contributes to the Huffington Post. He can be reached at
2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund
At 8 PM on Friday night, May 10, lovers of choral music will have a one-off chance to hear Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (sometimes referred to as Vespers), Opus 37 performed in the original language and sung by the same choral forces for which he wrote the work in 1915.
The original language is Russian … but not everyday Russian. The language employed by the Muscovite royal chapel was a liturgical dialect, and the original choral forces were comprised of boys and men. Never before has this original version been heard in Southern California … ever.
Founder and Music Director Kevin Fox and his 56-voiced Pacific Boychoir will be augmented by 25 men’s voices drawn from the Los Angeles area, including members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and other ensembles. The featured soloist will be Daniel Babcock, tenor.
First Congregational Church of Los Angeles is located at 540 South Commonwealth Avenue in the mid-Wilshire area. Tickets are $18 - $28.

2 years ago | |
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Rodney Punt shares a review of Professor Byron Adams

After returning from a recent LA Phil concert, UC Riverside professor of musicology Byron Adams posted a remarkable comment on Facebook. Here is his take on the orchestra's performance of French music, especially that of Ravel's La Valse, with its deep resonances from the composer's experience on the front lines of the First World War:

"I just returned from that rare event, a wholly satisfying concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It was conducted, superbly, by Lionel Bringuier, the outgoing Assistant Conductor who has a post with the Zurich Tonhalle. He has a clear, expressive beat à la Monteux that might prove a suggestive model for more famous conductors. Jean-Yves Tibaudet played Saint-Saens's fifth piano concerto (which the composer himself entitled 'Egyptian') as if he had been transmuted into the composer playing his own work. Of course, as always with Saint-Saens, the audience loved it, and rightly so.

"The concert began with a lovely performance of Messiaen's Les offrandes oubliées -- the last time that I have heard that piece live was with the same orchestra under Guilini. After intermission, a lovely but unremarkable performance of the First Suite from Ravel's Daphnis et Chloe. I always miss the chorus in such concert performances.

"Then an altogether remarkable, harrowing, moving performance of Ravel's La Valse. Ravel served at the front in the First World War, driving a truck filled with live ordinance, which was a incredibly dangerous job. He and his student Ralph Vaughan Williams are two composers who, suffering after the war from PTSD, managed to bring the battlefield into the concert hall. They served with honor during the war and after, reminding us of the horror and pity of war from the perspective of combatants, a rare occurence in music history.

"This performance of La Valse gradually drew in the listener: as the music turned darker and more violent, I began to feel a suffocating panic as if I was trapped on a battlefield with bombs exploding, machine-gun fire, confusion, death, and raw terror. My heart was racing. In those final pages, Ravel does not evoke a battle, he gives you the actual sounds of battle in an astonishing feat of orchestral onomatopoeias. After it was over, although I had sat perfectly still, I was astonished to find that I had tears coursing down my face. Whatever else he possessed, Maurice Ravel had supreme courage and nerves of tempered steel -- he did not flinch in the daunting task that he set before himself in composing this great score.

"After the concert, I recalled the saying attributed to Sir Edward Grey in 1914 just after the First World War had started, "The lights are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime." The bitter horror is that those lamps were never relit in Europe or anywhere else -- the darkness became total eclipse and millions upon millions died throughout the bloody twentieth century and are still dying now as humankind plunges ever more rapidly into a ghastly barbarity enabled by technological "progress."

"That is the terrible message and continuing relevance of Ravel's La Valse."

LA Opus thanks Professor Adams for reminding us how closely bound can be the ties of great music and emotionally charged issues of life and death.
2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund
They stood in a long row, all 25 of them, facing a sea of over 900 students - their students - to receive the thanks and appreciation for the hard work and study that brought them all together on this day late in April in the choral-friendly Walt Disney Concert Hall. The sound of appreciation drowned out the Concert Hall’s own pipe organ in decibels, threatening in volume all but the most expensive hearing aids of the volunteers and sponsors sitting in the back of the stage. Some teachers stood almost uncomprehending, while others basked in the glow of praise, but all proved once again the power of excellence and the discipline of music.
It was the 24th annual High School Choir Festival, sponsored by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and is an event that everyone should attend at least once in life. If you haven’t, you might begin to believe the daily drumroll of tragedy and atrocity that crowds out of the headlines the positive in life. Nothing could be more life-affirming and give hope for the future than to hear these high schoolers sing and yes, shout their joy.
Those in attendance heard music that reflected the best of music literature taught in the nation’s schools. Maestro Grant Gershon and the teachers chose nine items to perform together. The dead white composers (Brahms and Handel) came off the least best, while American Choral Directors Association-approved merchants of melody (and sometimes dissonance) fared much better, reflecting the inevitable churning of the generations. Items incorporating rhythm got the multitudes moving, urged on by Sidney Hopson’s percussive impulses. A living composer, Georgia Stitt, was on hand to hear her “The Promise of Light” performed. Silliness, in the form of Meredith Monk’s “Panda Chant II,” bespoke her Oaktown hippie-ness, which failed to mesh much with the rest of the program, but … whatever. Maestro Gershon enjoyed providing a goat's bleat or two.
Louise Thomas provided piano accompaniment that, from behind the stage, sounded weak and was in fact greatly unbalanced; it didn’t matter to the singers who were so well prepared, they could have sung with or without keyboard collaboration.
John West allowed the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ to drown out the Handel Chandos Anthem that brought the event to a rousing conclusion, although nothing was going to dampen the musical enthusiasm and truly renewable energy of the assembled choristers. This was their day communally to bathe in the choral art form, and their teachers’ day to bask in the rich rewards of their annual Sisyphus-like task.
Before lunch, sixteen members of the Master Chorale performed for the students under the direction of associate conductor Lesley Leighton. After a wonderfully phrase-shaped, perfectly balanced and blended “Always Singing” by Dale Warland, the music fare returned to the lighter side, matching the afternoon’s selections. The best of all was Eric Whitacre’s “Little Man in a Hurry” brilliantly sung by the Chamber Singers and accompanied at the keyboard by the equally brilliant Lisa Edwards. Whitacre’s “Little Birds” would have equaled “Little Man” but for writing the piano part over and obscuring the voices in the latter. Chen Yi’s version of “Sakura” was strangely mournful. A “world premiere” turned out to be “Yama No Mizu” by Lauren McLaren, commissioned by Ms. Leighton. Wonderful singing, as always.
Perhaps the high schoolers would have benefitted from hearing the timeless music of dead white composers coming from the experts in order to appreciate them for their enduring brilliance, but there is so much to appreciate, and so little time. John West treated all to a demonstration of the pipe organ setting up lunch.

Photo credits: Craig Schwartz
2 years ago | |
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by Rodney Punt
The historic path to equality for gays and lesbians is strewn with victims of injustice. One of the most egregious examples was that of Oscar Wilde, the sparkling genius of late Victorian English theater, whose career was initially charmed but later cursed by the sexual phobias of the time. The Irish playwright was a brave, some would also say foolhardy, soul who flaunted his indiscriminately brilliant wit in plays of multi-dimensional sub-text that have never lost their luster with audiences. He paid, however, a steep price for that flamboyance in his private life.

As Americans eagerly await Supreme Court decisions on the right of gays and lesbians to marry, the Santa Fe Opera brings Wilde's relevant and tragic story to the stage in Oscar, a new opera by Theodore Morrison, based on the trial and imprisonment of the playwright for actions related to his sexual orientation. It will receive its world premiere as a highlight of The Santa Fe Opera 2013 Summer Festival Season. The title role will be sung by countertenor David Daniels for whom the opera was written. The libretto is by the British director John Cox.

Morrison had wanted to write an opera for Daniels and the opportunity presented itself in London in 2004 when the countertenor was performing a song cycle on the poems of James Joyce that Morrison had written for him. John Cox was at the recital and upon meeting the composer suggested that he should write an opera. Conversations between the three men ensued and in 2006 the subject of Oscar Wilde was decided upon.

As Act I begins, Oscar Wilde, London’s most famous writer and biggest celebrity, has been charged by the court of “gross indecency with other male persons,” a result of his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie. In disgrace, Wilde becomes an outcast in society without friends or a place to live. He takes refuge in the nursery apartment at the home of a friend, the English writer Ada Leverson. Frank Harris, the brilliant editor of the Saturday Review, also a friend, brings Ada news of the verdict. Wilde is found guilty and sentenced to two years of hard labor.

Act II takes place in Reading Gaol. The prisoners, subjected to the harshest conditions, are confined to dismal cells and kept separate from one another. Wilde is denied paper for writing and books to read. He becomes gravely ill, and it is while he is in the infirmary that he hears his fellow inmates’ stories and his compassion grows. The result is Wilde’s famous The Ballad of Reading Gaol, sections of which are included in the opera. “We present Oscar Wilde as hero, not as victim,” commented Morrison. “His life, and all he stood for, has great relevance today.” He became an iconic figure in the struggle for gay rights and universal human rights.

The characters in Oscar include Walt Whitman (sung by Dwayne Croft) as commentator, speaking from the Halls of Immortality. Bosie, Wilde’s great love, is portrayed by dancer Reed Luplau. Frank Harris will be sung by William Burden, Ada Leverson by Heidi Stober. Evan Rogister is the conductor, Kevin Newbury the director. David Korins is scenic designer, David Woolard costume designer, and Rick Fisher lighting designer. Seán Curran is the choreographer.

The World Premiere of Oscar will take place Saturday, July 27, followed by performances on July 31, August 9, 12 and 17. The opera is a co-production with Opera Company of Philadelphia which will perform the work in the 2015 season.

Here's an excerpt of Wilde's haunting and tragic Ballad of Reading Gaol:

In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

For tickets: SFO Box Office at (505) 986-5900; toll free (800) 280-4654, or go online at

Several activities are planned for the opening weekend. On Friday, July 26, Wilde experts will gather in Santa Fe to discuss his life and work. Saturday morning, the 27th, members of the Oscar creative team will be on hand to talk about the opera including Morrison, Cox, Newbury, among others. Times and venues will be announced on the Santa Fe Opera's website.
2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund
2013 is the hundredth year of the birth of Benjamin Britten, one of the most singular composers of the 20thcentury, whose centenary is being celebrated in Los Angeles by a series of events throughout the year. His “Noye’s Fludde” is one of the milestones of his creative genius presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels over the weekend just past in conjunction with LA Opera’s annual productions at the Cathedral with expenses underwritten by the Dan Murphy Foundation and the Britten-Pears Foundation. Admission was free to the public and both performances were packed to the walls.
This is the seventh year of the LA Opera at the Cathedral series that has produced such early operas as Noye’s Fludde, which are recreations of miracle plays emanating from church performances of Biblical themes from which the art form of opera was born. In 2012, for instance, the opera/miracle play was an adaptation of the 12thcentury Play of Daniel brought to life by Noah Greenberg and his New York Pro Musica in the late 1950s.
What distinguishes this series of opera productions at the Cathedral is the remarkable professional team of conductor James Conlon, director Eli Villanueva, educationand community programs director Stacy Brightman, and a supporting cast of thousands, or so it seemed.
Professional soloists Yohan Yi, portraying Noye (Noah), Ronnita Nicole Miller as Noye’s wife, and Jamieson K. Price providing an impressive Voice of God, drawn from Maestro Conlon’s rich talent stable at LA Opera, were all first rate (and as we understand it, the only paid) performers.
One cannot imagine a better character performance than Mr. Yi’s. His intensity and focus in the role projected to the Cathedral’s baptistery with stentorian authority and a rich, darkly colored voice. Ms. Miller’s role allowed for humor as she resisted boarding Noye’s ark until literally pushed in by her three sons: Caleb Glickman as Shem, Anthony Karambelas as Ham, and Patrick Mayoral as Jaffett. The boys formed the best such trio since Fludde was first performed seven years ago. (All solo voices were amplified.)
Behind the headliners, a massive collection of exceedingly well-trained instrumentalists and choristers were assembled to provide turbasupport, plus what seemed to be an endless parade of little humans dressed as the great variety of animals boarding Noye’s ark to avoid certain extinction, who also sang along and danced at various points. Kudos to Caleb Barnes for shepherding the little ones as production assistant.
All the costumes, props and animal approximations were wonderful but within a narrow color scheme, which made the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise never to flood the earth again, that much more vivid. Most impressive again were the “birds” skillfully given flight.
The greatest single additions to this year’s performances were the projections behind the actors that helped greatly in the audience’s understanding of the old English as well as ongoing story.
One would wish to name all performers, especially the choirs and excellent orchestra, which was seeded with Los Angeles Opera Orchestra personnel, but comprised primarily of music students from Hamilton High School’s Academy of Music. One cherishes especially the beautiful ‘cello solo by LA Opera’s Rowena Hammill. The Cathedral's own Samuel Soria made the pipe organ roar when needed.
Appreciation to Los Angeles Opera and Downtown News for the above photographs.
2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund
Returning to the friendly confines of Walt Disney Concert Hall from a very successful tour of London, Paris, Lucerne and New York City performing the Peter Sellars/John Adams “Gospel According to the Other Mary” that received critical acclaim, the Master Chorale’s Maestro Grant Gershon selected the works of two early 20thcentury composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Francis Poulenc.
In a finely balanced program, the audience was treated to Poulenc’s Salve Regina that served to remind us how much we missed these 62 choristers while they were on the road. Maestro Gershon approached the work with a high degree of sensitivity that allowed the intimate polyphony to work its magic.
Vaughan Williams’s Mass in G minor is a finely constructed work that seeks to evoke a modal and almost Gregorian flavor in the opening Kyrie eleison, with a solo quartet performing the Christe eleison. Soloists were soprano Hayden Eberhart, mezzo soprano Michele Hemmings, tenor Michael Lichtenauer and bass Scott Lehmkuhl. Keeping in mind that Vaughan Williams wrote the Mass for an Anglican choir of men and boys, Ms. Eberhart was tasked with replacing a treble and Ms. Hemmings a countertenor, with the effect of changing the quartet’s original sound completely. Mr. Lichtenauer was able to accommodate to a less than full-voiced high tessitura and head-tone production more typical of the English tenor. As a quartet, the four were a bit less than ideal as regards blend and balance of their various parts.
Although some entrances were a bit ragged, the choral sections of the Mass were gloriously and antiphonally sung, at times gifting the audience that wonderful “wall of sound” that we have grown to love and anticipate.
After intermission, Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songsoffered baritone Abdiel Gonzalez a major solo turn that he advantaged to a great extent. His ringing high baritone matched the composer’s requirements to a “t” although some might not prefer his tight, nervous vibrato. Mr. Gonzalez’s musicianship and solid vocal technique serves him well. Accompanying on the organ was Paul Meier, who adjusted the instrument’s sometimes overwhelming power to a fine match with the Master Chorale. Despite the English text so well enunciated by Mr. Gonzalez, the audience was provided above-the-stage text projection.

By far the audience’s (and Master Chorale’s) favorite work of the evening was Poulenc’s sometimes bitter and ironic Figure Humaine (The Face of Humanity) composed in 1943 during the Nazi occupation of France, which required the poet, Paul Éluard, to veil his personal venom against the enemy by couching his lyrics in subtle and oblique language and using a pseudonym or two.
Starting with Bientôt (Soon), Poulenc maintains a musical low profile, creating while avoiding detection as a partisan, but breaks the tension with Le Rôle des Femmes (The Women’s Role). Of particular note is Un Loup (A Wolf) that darkly paints the Nazi presence as predator, while Un feu sans tache (A flawless fire) creates a special challenge for singers and music students alike with its confetti-like leap-note writing, the beauty of which is only revealed in bringing the different vocal parts together, perhaps a symbol for the Resistance.
The final movement entitled “Liberté!” was kept by Poulenc until American troops liberated his country, and although one might expect an outbreak of major tonalities and trumpets-and-drums declamatory choruses, Poulenc instead rides the waves of emotion throughout from ironic to wry hope, from hopeful and finally, to joy, expressed in the final measures by a four-octave E major chord topped by an in-altissimo E performed bang on pitch on this occasion by Karen Hogle Brown. Given the extra measure of energy and passion, it would not be too difficult to assume that a large portion of rehearsal time went into this work, with ultimate success in every respect. Welcome home, Master Chorale!
2 years ago | |
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Review by Rodney Punt

Gioachino Rossini's Cinderella (aka ‘La Cenerentola’) nods to the rescue singspiels of the composer's beloved Mozart, where Enlightenment Good triumphs over Establishment Evil. But Catalan director Joan Font and his team downplay these proto-romantic leanings in favor of surreal farce. Opportunities for same certainly abound in Rossini’s witty, effervescent score. Joan Guillén’s rakish set and brightly colored costumes, along with Albert Faura’s extreme lighting, set the scene somewhere near Alice's Wonderland. Font compensates for occasional slow momentum in long arias with stage business ranging from charming to silly, working hard at times for its sugar highs. The ensuing action ends up more madcap daydream than miraculous rescue.

Cinderella differs in detail from the well-known Disney version. Rossini’s heroine is named Angelina. Exposed ankles being too risqué in that era, a bracelet set replaces slippers for the day after match-up. Forget the pumpkin carriage, fairy godmother and cute mice. The most sympathetic characters are six Kangaroo-sized rats that take a shine to Angelina and ere long also shamelessly mug for the audience. In an unexpected twist, this Cinderella wakes from her dream to once again sweep the floors. For all the divergences from the Magic Kingdom, no one could mistake this version for any other fable.

Billed as a co-production (its six-year journey had begun in Houston, with stops in Wales, Barcelona and Geneva), it looked more borrowed, with its sets stretched wider and deeper than comfortable on the theme park-sized Chandler stage. Only when a downstage Mylar screen appeared in the second act to support the voices could opening night singers provide vocal punch to the hall's distant reaches. This was especially hard on young Kate Lindsey in the title role.

Just thirty years of age, Lindsey is already a star attraction, if not yet a vocal power-hitter. On opening night her projection into the cavernous house was not as commanding as her more mature colleagues. But give her time; she is charismatic, lovely and lithesome, with a velvety voice as fresh as spring itself. Her Angelina charmed in both the plaintive “Una volta c’era un re” and the flourishing finale of “Non più mesta accanto al fuoco.”

Lindsey’s attractive visage in flowing light brown hair and white prom dress had adorned promo posters of Cinderella on the streets of Los Angeles. Alas, such a picture was never on stage, as the ball scene had her in a silvery-white beehive wig, as frightful as the get-ups of the rest of the off-kilter company.

René Barbera’s Don Ramiro (the so-called “handsome” prince) sounded heroic but looked suitably ridiculous in his pointy pompadour wig. His valet Dandini (Vito Priante, resembling the foppy persona of Sacha Baron Cohen) nearly stole the show when he exchanged his servant’s clothing with his master’s finery, then put on airs and made demands of his temporarily humbled master. Nicola Ulivieri’s Alidoro served admirably as the goofy male equivalent of a fairy godmother. Even the heavies were ultimately more wacky than menacing: Alessandro Corbelli as Angelina’s inexplicably cruel father, Don Magnifico; Stacy Tappan and Ronnita Nicole Miller as her high-handed, hoop-skirted sisters, Clorinda and Tisbe.

Conductor James Conlon and his orchestral charges enforced quicksilver tempi that underscored the fun and frothiness. They made the most of Rossini's famous accelerandi and his tingling instrumental combos, especially those of the flute, piccolo, oboe and clarinet. While vocal solos were for the most part firm, ensembles on opening night were often ragged. Reliable reports suggest the whole show tightened up as the run progressed.

Despite its oddities, this Cinderella was a worthy entry to the ever-growing Rossini canon at LA Opera. More of the composer's sparkling comedies and even the obscure dramas of his late career are returning to favor worldwide. They are becoming a company specialty in Los Angeles.

Cinderella (La Cenerentola) by Gioachino RossiniLA Opera, March 23 - April 13, 2013Performance reviewed: March 23, 2013Photos of Robert Millard used by permission of LA Opera

2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund
An ambitious and well-attended performance – the first-ever on the West Coast – of “Ecce Cor Meum” by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney was undertaken by the spirited Angeles Chorale in the large space provided by Pasadena’s United Methodist Church. The 100-voiced chorus, under the baton of John Sutton, was augmented by the Concert Choir of Pasadena’s Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, well-prepared as always by their Artistic Director, Anne Tomlinson.
A 30-member Sinfonia did their collective best, but in the end, only added confusion to chaos: without a reference score, one would never know whether the musicians were playing the “right” notes … or not.  And the uncredited and excellent “Bach trumpeter” was allowed far too much volume in much of his work.
Ecce” is said to be a personal statement of “spiritual confession of sorts” that devolves into a chaotic mélange of noise (and sometimes sound) spread over too much time. As the composer himself described: “… I started writing the music and then putting my own text to it, which is probably completely the wrong way around to do it. It didn’t matter. I suppose, you know, in that respect, it meant that it was a bit less conventional.” The left-handed Mr. McCartney’s confession includes such happy babble as this:

“We may find a traceOf a state of graceIn the saddest faceSomething is there.
How the rivers flowWe may never knowBut it goes to showSomething is there.”
The work, ostentatiously called an “oratorio” was written and revised over a period of eight years, and declared finished by the composer in 2001. There is a reason why the West Coast Premiere didn’t find a home until 2013. Melodies, as such, were hard to detect; any sense of musical structure impossible to sort out. “Through-composed” comes closest to the meandering framework, but after 45 minutes of “through-composed” one longed for a bit of form. It’s weak tea.
But one must applaud the Angeles Chorale and associated personnel for their bravery. One of the highlights were the children, who added gravitasto notes above the treble staff - and there were lots of stratospheric notes - giving the women of the Chorus a chance to save their voices for more exposed portions. 
Another highlight was soprano soloist Virenia Lind, whose duties were brief and difficult to hear over an orchestral accompaniment allowed to play too loudly. But what one could hear was a pure, floating sound that grew rich in lower tessitura.

Throughout, Dr. Sutton kept all in order, except for the clap-happy crowd, which ignored his movement-ending gesture requesting silence.
After intermission, a rock band replaced the Sinfonia, the children were relinquished to their parents, and the audience thinned. What followed was a trip through the 1960s phenomenon called the Beatles. It was a time when Mr. McCartney and fellow bandsmen wrote melodies, yes … melodies! And they were very good at it, the proof being the fact we remember those tunes even today.
Dr. Sutton invited all to join a sing-along on “When I’m Sixty-Four” (a look in the rear view mirror for a lot of attendees) and “Yellow Submarine.” The remaining dozen tunes were all familiar and enthusiastically performed. Many of the songs were incorrectly attributed in the concert program to McCartney, but only “Lady Madonna” and a portion of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” were claimed on his own website.
2 years ago | |
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By Douglas Neslund
This one is personal for the writer. Losing a mother and sister to breast cancer leaves holes in the family fabric, empty chairs at family holiday gatherings, and a sadness that never quite goes away. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the mezzo-soprano featured in this album of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, died in 2006 at the age of 52 from the disease.
In a live 2003 performance, Ms. Lieberson paired with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s solo cantata, “Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut”, BWV 199, conducted by LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane.  
The pietistic text seems to indulge in over-the-top sentimentality to the ears of today, but in the times and places where it was sung, delivered a jarring message of self-awareness and associated suffering, relieved only by confession and spiritual renewal:
1.         Recitative Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo
Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut, weil mich der Sünden Brut in Gottes heil’gen Augen zum Ungeheuer macht. Und mein Gewissen fühlet Pein, weil mir die Sünden nichts als Höllenhenker sein. Verhaßte Lasternacht! Du, du allein hast mich in solche Not gebracht; und du, du böser Adamssamen, raubst meiner Seele alle Ruh und schließest ihr den Himmel zu! Ach! unerhörter Schmerz! Mein ausgedorrtes Herz will ferner mehr kein Trost befeuchten, und ich muß mich vor dem verstecken, vor dem die Engel selbst ihr Angesicht verdecken.
My heart swims in blood because reflecting on my sins in God's holy eyes makes me into a monster. And my conscience feels pain because my sins are nothing but Hell's hangmen. Detested night of vice! You, you alone have brought me into such distress; and you, you evil seed of Adam, rob my soul of all inner peace and shut me off from heaven! Ah! unbelievable pain! My withered heart will in future be moistened by no comfort and I must conceal myself from him before whom the angels conceal their faces.
2.        Aria and Recitative     Oboe solo, Continuo (con Violone)
Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen, ihr mögt meine Schmerzen sagen, weil der Mund geschlossen ist.  Und ihr nassen Tränenquellen könnt ein sich’res Zeugnis stellen, könnt ein sich’res Zeugnis stellen, wie mein sündlich Herz gebüßt. Mein Herz ist itzt ein Tränenbrunn, die Augen heiße Quellen. Ach Gott! wer wird dich doch zufriedenstellen?
Silent sighs, quiet moans, you may tell of my pains, since my mouth is closed. And your wet springs of tears can offer certain witness of how my sinful heart has repented. My heart is now a well of tears, my eyes, hot springs. Ah God! Who then will give you satisfaction!
3.        Recitative Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)
Doch Gott muß mir gnädig sein, weil ich das Haupt mit Asche, das Angesicht mit Tränen wasche. Mein Herz in Reu und Leid zerschlage und voller Wehmut sage: Gott sei mir Sünder gnädig! Ach ja! sein Herze bricht, und meine Seele spricht:
But God must be gracious to me because I wash my head with ashes and my face with tears, I beat my heart in remorse and sorrow and full of grief say: God, be gracious to me, a sinner! Ah yes! his heart breaks and my soul says:
4.        Aria  Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)
Tief gebückt und voller Reue lieg ich, liebster Gott, vor dir.  Ich bekenne meine Schuld, aber habe doch Geduld, habe doch Geduld mit mir!
Deeply bowed and full of remorse I lie, dearest God, before you. I acknowledge my guilt, but still have patience, still have patience with me!
5.        Recitative Continuo (con Violone)
Auf diese Schmerzensreu fällt mir alsdenn dies Trostwort bei:
Amidst the pain of remorse this word of comfort comes to me.
6.        Chorale       Viola solo, Continuo (con Violone)
Ich, dein betrübtes Kind, werf’ alle meine Sünd’ so viel ihr in mir stecken und mich so heftig schrecken, in deine tiefen Wunden, da ich stets Heil gefunden.
I, your troubled child, cast all my sins that are fixed so many within me and frighten me so fiercely, into your deep wounds, where I have always found salvation.
7.        Recitative Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)
Ich lege mich in diese Wunden als in den rechten Felsenstein; die sollen meine Ruhstatt sein. In diese will ich mich im Glauben schwingen und d’rauf vergnügt und fröhlich singen:
I lay myself in these wounds as upon the true solid rock: they should be my place of rest. In these I want to soar in faith and content and happy to sing:
8.        Aria Oboe, Violino I/II, Viola, Fagotto, Continuo (con Violone)
Wie freudig ist mein Herz, da Gott versöhnet ist und mir auf Reu und Leid nicht mehr die Seligkeit noch auch sein Herz verschließt.
How joyful is my heart since God is reconciled and through my remorse and sorrow no longer shuts me away from salvation or from his heart.
Ms. Lieberson’s artistry, though forever lost to live performance, sings to us through this recording with the intensity of the eternal, all the while anchored in the earthly. Her voice is richly colored by the mortal vibrato of a woman facing death, although we hear her while in a period of remission, and in the strength of voice that forestalls, however briefly, the victory of cancer. Her voice is free, allowing the widest possible range of expression. Her gorgeous tone reminds one of a Bavarian Rococo church, with exquisite detail in every phrase. It is altogether appropriate that this precious recording should be made available to music lovers everywhere.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Jeffrey Kahane, matches her intensity and color in perfect partnership.
Bach often paired solo treble arias with Baroque oboes, and no oboist anywhere exceeds the virtuosic musicality of Allan Vogel’s oboe d’amorein the second movement (“Stumme Seufzer”). Principal Violist Roland Kato shines in the sixth movement Chorale (“Ich, dein betrübtes Kind”). An added virtue is Ms. Lieberson’s exemplary coloratura in Recitative No. 7 over the words “und fröhlich singen.” Indeed, with a final declarative Aria No. 8: “Wie freudig ist mein Herz!”
Bach’s oft-heard Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, BWV 1049 completes this Yarlung Records CD, and features the leadership of LACO’s concertmaster Margaret Batjer and flutists David Shostac and Brook Ellen Schoenwald, in a one-on-a-part performance that imparts clarity and lucid texture.
The album, simply titled Lorraine, is scheduled to be released for public sale on March 26 at www.yarlungrecords.comwith distribution by Naxos of America www.naxosusa.combearing the catalogue number YAR96298, UPC 700261962985. Bob Attiyeh was the producer.
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