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Schloss Moritzburg.   Photo: Wikimedia Commons
by Rodney Punt
Schloss Moritzburg began as a royal hunting lodge five hundred years ago in a lake and woodland setting northwest of Germany’s Dresden. After the castle palace’s Baroque splendor was developed in the latter sixteenth century, its halls must have witnessed their share of intrigues and power plays. But in the past twenty years those same acoustically resonant spaces have welcomed the more convivial sights and sounds of musicians performing chamber music. 
The Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival, founded in 1993 at that very castle by internationally acclaimed cellist Jan Vogler, celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer. Beginning today and running through August 25, the two-week experience features concerts, recitals, open rehearsals and composer lectures.
Given the long tradition of chamber music in Europe, it is curious that the idea for the Moritzburg Festival arose not in Germany but in the USA. Vogler, his brother Kai and colleague Peter Bruns often performed at the Marlboro Festival, famous for its idyllic Vermont country setting. Bruns suggested that  the Moritzburg Castle’s pond and gardens could offer a similar romantic setting. The rest has made for a happy chapter in local musical history.
For many years, Moritzburg’s intimate concerts, elegant dining and the opportunity for more in the nearby Saxon capital have been a well-kept secret within Germany. Recently, however, with British and American citizens rediscovering the glories of a restored Dresden, the musical life of the region has drawn more attention. It helps too that English is now virtually a second language in modern Saxony.
The Festival’s “chamber” moniker should be taken advisedly. One will hear familiar chamber dimensions when a solo viola essays a Bach suite, a string trio takes on Bach's Goldberg Variations and a string quartet Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time. But chamber music gives way to grander proportions when a full orchestra dispatches such a work as the Brahms Symphony in E Minor.
While there are many recognizable composers, there are as many of them or their works unfamiliar. Pendercki is represented with his little known Sarabande in Memory of J.S. Bach; the forgotten Joseph Lanner, originator of the Viennese waltz style, has three works on the program; and the rarely heard Frank Bridge (teacher of Benjamin Britten) has an entry with his Sonata for Violin and Piano.
Eminent composer Wolfgang Rihm, head of the Institute of Modern Music at the Karlsruhe Conservatory of Music, will return to the Festival for the second time as composer-in-residence. Performed will be his Music for Three Stings (Part I), String Quartet, and the Phantom and Escape for violin and piano.
Southern California readers of LA Opus will be interested to see Hollywood composer Wolfgang Korngold represented with a concert chamber piece. His Brentwood neighbor, Arnold Schoenberg, will be featured with his Second String Quartet, the one that features also a soprano. Los Angeles resident Midori, who teaches violin at USC, will solo in Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.
Collection of antlers.  Photo: Wikimedia Commons
From the beginning, the Festival has always sought out appealing and unusual performing spaces. LA Opus asked Vogler how selected works relate to where they are performed:

“It’s very important that each piece be performed in its most suitable venue, like the large (and recently restored) Frauenkirche for grand pieces like Siegfried Idyll and Schubert’s String Quintet, or the intimacy of the Moritzburg castle for Mozart’s incredible Divertimento in E-flat Major. The ultra-modern Volkswagen Die Gläserne Manufaktur (transparent glass factory) is best for the opening concert with the Festival Orchestra of the Academy.” That orchestra, by the way, is made up of outstanding young musicians from around the world who also work together in the Festival's academy program.
Additional venues are the Evangelische Kirche (Lutheran Church) in Moritzburg, the famed Palais im Grossen Garten (Palace in Great Garden) in Dresden and Bad Elster’s König Albert Theatre. As if these aren’t exotic enough, an airplane hanger at the Elbe Flugzeugwerke Dresden (aircraft factory) will welcome the Family concert, “The Little Prince”, named after the novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. 
The twentieth edition of the Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival will see a reunion the three founders, Jan and Kai Vogler and Peter Bruns, along with two other performers from the very very first festival, double bass player Helmut Branny and violinist Mira Wang. LA Opus asked Vogler to reflect on accomplishments he found significant over the festival's first twenty years:

"Today, twenty years later, the festival has established itself on the German music scene. We have a year-round office in Dresden and we have toured internationally with the festival and recorded several CD’s for Sony Classical. We founded the Moritzburg Academy to support young artists and have added many venues and new concert formats. But the main message and the music-making have not changed. We still work with the same enthusiasm and dedication on wonderful music and performances still have the same freshness they had twenty years ago.

"I think it is partly the location that seems to inspire us, partly the kind of players who meet in Moritzburg year after year, and by now definitely the wonderful audience that keeps us searching for something special, the magic element in music that inspired us to become musicians in the first place."

Successful music festivals share certain elements: a unique identity, an ability to adapt and further innovate it over time, and an elusive element that we might as well call "soul." The Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival would seem to have all these things in place as it launches its third decade.

For more on the Moritzburg Festival, its dates and full program and ticket information, see: Moritzburg Festival in English.

Rodney Punt can be contacted at
2 years ago | |
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David Daniels as Oscar, with Heidi Stober and William Burden. Photo: Ken Howard

By Rodney Punt
Like the unwieldy storm clouds that had gathered and burst overhead all week, the July 27 premiere of Oscar at the Santa Fe Opera aimed for catharsis. With its stellar cast, elaborate sets and massive orchestra, Theodore Morrison’s opera, based on the tragic final years of playwright Oscar Wilde’s life, was both a brave and uncannily apt commission for the company. At least it seemed so on paper.

Completing his first opera at age 75, veteran composer Morrison and his co-librettist, the eminent opera director John Cox, may have loved Oscar not wisely but too well. The emotionally charged news-cycle of current human rights advocacies too obviously shaped Wilde's operatic persona into a persecuted martyr for the cause of gay liberation. Amidst the ensuing hero worship, Wilde’s complex real life character proved as elusive of capture as bottling New Mexican lightening.
The brilliant, flamboyant, mesmerizing, prideful, reckless, and self-destructive Oscar Wilde that the world has come to know is here entirely missing in action; his exuberant and at times dark character attenuated by selective revelation and adoring obfuscation. Wilde, sans his brilliant theatrical wit and scintillating personality, emerges as just a man in a jam named Oscar.
The opera resembles a tragic oratorio without much in the way of real conflict. Act I begins just before the infamous guilty verdict in Wilde’s sham trial for sodomy. Act II continues with his sentence of two years’ hard labor at Reading Gaol. The Wilde we encounter is in the first act a fatalistic victim of a cruel legal system and in the second a passive victim of a cruel prison system. The ensuing journey from point A to point A’ leaves no room to unfold a dramatic arc.
Characters are often defined by description at the cost of engaging drama. Live action segments are sparse, giving way to reflection, memory and narration. (No less than one half of the libretto consisted of excerpted works with observations by Wilde and his circle of literary friends.) When in an active mode, however, the opera did come alive in isolated scenes. Under such limiting overall circumstances, Kevin Newbury's imaginative and empathetic direction compensated for many of the inherent weaknesses in the opera.
The title role was written for countertenor David Daniels, who acted and sang through a long evening in as compelling, fresh and pliant a voice as this writer has ever heard from him. His doomed character was, however, on an internalized journey from humiliation to a purification of soul with few signposts from which to measure progress.

Daniels with a masked Reed Luplau. Photo: Ken Howard
Along that way Oscar existed sometimes in the real world, where various characters interact with him, and sometimes in his projected fantasies, most often those of his beloved Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, portrayed here in a silent role by the supple dancer, Reed Luplau, as imaginatively choreographed by Seán Curran. Bosie was the doppelganger of both soothing reveries and tormenting nightmares, transforming from a life energy into an image of death. Bosie's presence was introduced in the orchestra by a lovely cello theme. But his non-singing role too often cast him as a decorative cameo rather than an interactive actor.
Oscar’s refuge in the home nursery room of novelist and loyal friend Ada “Sphinx” Leverson (sympathetically portrayed by soprano Heidi Stober in the opera's only female role), accompanied by their journalist friend Frank Harris (another solid outing by SFO tenor William Burden) provided much needed dramatic dialogue, even if its mission to convince the doomed Wilde to flee England was foreordained to failure.
Likewise, a second act encounter in the prison infirmary (featuring tenor David Blalock and bass Benjamin Sieverding) gave rise to a touching interaction between Wilde’s wounded and humbled sophisticate and the two unschooled but intuitively wise fellow-travelling patients. It was the single most moving scene in the opera.
Less effective was Wilde’s interaction with the cardboard villainy of Governor of Reading Gaol Colonel Isaacson (hollow-cheeked bass Kevin Burdette), whose malice was dramatically too brief to be any more malevolent than short-term bluster. (Where was Cool Hand Luke’s Strother Martin when this opera needed him?)
Ada's nursery as Oscar's courtroom
David Korins’ grand-scaled sets served effectively as heavenly halls and horrible prisons, but his big surprise was an imaginative set piece at the end of Act I, where the safety of Ada’s nursery room morphed in Oscar’s tortured mind into the hated courtroom, its harmless toys becoming menacing accusers, its crib a jail cell, and its jack-in-the-box a jeering judge spitting out Wilde’s guilt as it bobbed mockingly side by side. 

David C. Woolard’s delirious costuming added colorful heft to the surreal moment, just as his Victorian-period costumes had supported the veracity of other scenes. The distorted nursery trope had resonance in Bosie’s recurring image as the source of both Wilde's adoration and downfall. The things he had assumed safe had in fact become fatal.
Substituting for a scarcity in dramatic conflict was the ill-conceived conceit of a prologue and epilogue bookending the opera’s two acts and featuring a heavenly Walt Whitman (the emphatic baritone Dwayne Croft) who, in his more corporeal days had met Wilde on his American tour of 1882. Speaking from the Halls of Immortality, Whitman assured the audience in their humble seats of mortality that Oscar’s greatness would ultimately be rewarded. This foreknowledge collapsed Wilde’s trials and tribulations on stage into a ritualized road trip to beatification.
Had the real Wilde known so trite a dramatic device as this latter-day deus ex machina would be employed in his rescue, he would likely have demurred at departing his honest grave. Coming to praise Wilde, Whitman’s presence embalmed a complex and contradictory character with saintly immortality and buried him in the soil of blandness.
It wasn’t as if the creative team that devised Oscarlacked an abundance of incident in the playwright’s life from which to draw. There was, for instance, his surprising triumph in 1882 as a lecturer on aesthetics to rapt cowboys and miners in America's Wild West. A decade later came the flamboyant and dangerous period of Wilde’s double life as celebrated playwright of London’s West End and obsessive denizen of its dangerous underworld. There was potential for the interactive frisson of conversation between Wilde and his fatal attraction, Bosie, the sunshine lover who egged on an unnecessary trial but then fled when the consequences became too hot to handle. Finally, the enticing opportunity to adapt the real trial was available on the historic record, and offered a verbatim account of Wilde’s rapier wit almost winning the day against the Marquess of Queensbury’s dogged determination to destroy him. 
Such incidents could have made for a blood-curdling evening at the opera, but all were missed opportunities left on the creative floor of Oscar.
The ruminating drama had no such lumbering counterpart in the evening's skillful vocal lines and effective instrumental music. Given the opera’s dramatic passivity and episodic structure, Morrison’s orchestra spoke in a surprisingly active voice and with clean and crisp textures.

From its cinematic opening in big, bold statements, ably executed in the hands of conductor Evan Rogister, the orchestra was a colorful and alternatingly soulful or aggressive presence. Its language was conservatively tonal but well-crafted, and accented with heavy dissonances that could on occasion test atonal boundaries. Powerful choral passages in the prison scene and earlier, ably prepared by chorus master Susanne Sheston, revealed the composer’s long mastery in this idiom. Especially effective was his use of brass choirs, the latter creating colors with the winds that could be ejaculatory in their mockery, wrenchingly dissonant in agonized lower brass legatos, and bracing in the trumpet stabs of prison cruelties. The orchestra’s virtuosity confirmed the septuagenarian Morrison’s passing comment in one of the many panel meetings before the premiere that all his previous music had been “juvenilia.”
Playwright Oscar Wilde cautioned his audiences in The Importance of Being Earnest that truth is rarely pure and never simple. It is unlikely that the author of such later shocking live-action operas as Salome, A Florentine Tragedy and Der Zwerg would have approved, even at the sake of an unflattering portrayal, the well-intentioned but severely censored realization of his character in Oscar.
That said, there was still much to savor in this premiere.

All photos are used by permission of Santa Fe Opera.Rodney Punt can be contacted at
2 years ago | |
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By Rodney Punt
Art song, in the tradition of European cultivation that began at the end of the 18th century, involves an intimate interaction between a singer and a pianist. The singer may depict many an imaginary role on stage, but the pianist must be grounded in reality to monitor his singer even as he creates her supporting atmospherics. Empathy is a key virtue. Also deference. But never servitude. Though it may have been expected from certain singers of yore, it is no longer a legitimate requirement, in either the musical or psychological sense. Therein lies a tale.
The most nerve-wracking experience I ever had was not the intensity of live-fire military training I endured in the summer of 1968. It was a job I had shortly before graduating that year from UC Santa Barbara. One fine morning I was asked to turn pages that evening for a pianist at a lieder recital. Replacing a suddenly ailing colleague, Samuel Sanders had flown from New York at the last minute to accompany the eminent soprano Evelyn Lear.
Pianist Samuel Sanders
I picked up a fatigued and slightly nauseous Sanders at the airport after an exhausting flight from the East Coast and a bumpy puddle-jumper out of LAX to Santa Barbara. We drove to an abbreviated twenty-minute rehearsal with Lear on the stage of the university’s Campbell Hall. Sanders and I were briefed on which verses of several strophic songs Lear was to sing and the tempos she expected. I flipped pages back and forth for an accompanist sight-reading in various keys the scores he may just have received. After a blur of orders on our cues (Lear never sang more than a few bars of any song) I drove Sanders to his hotel for a short rest and a bite to eat. Almost immediately thereafter it was show time.
The evening had gone well. I was amazed at Sanders' agility at partnering Lear hand and glove throughout the program. Also impressive was his ability to adjust at sight to the keys that fit Lear's voice and in so polished a manner it seemed they had performed together regularly.

Quite unexpectedly at the end of the evening, however, the soprano’s memory lapsed in the middle of a Mendelssohn song spinning with piano arpeggios. She maintained a frozen smile, bravura hiding her bluff, and stood regally. Not missing a beat, Sanders furiously vamped ersatz Mendelssohn as he quietly signaled me to take it da capo so he could bring her in on the last verse. I did so. He repeated the intro and whispered an initial phrase at Lear. She came in on cue, and the song, with the evening, concluded in fine style.
None in the audience seemed aware of the lapse that almost blemished the recital. We walked off stage to a round of applause. Sanders and I exhaled a sigh of relief. Lear remained regal as she pivoted on the ready for a final bow. The two artists took to the stage one last time, Mendelssohn’s score clasped firmly at Sanders’ side.
Offstage soon after, Lear suddenly snapped at Sanders, dressing him down as a school marm might an errant pupil; why had he not dropped his music off backstage at the FIRST exit? Whether from shock or tact, whatever Sanders felt at that moment went unexpressed.

My jaw dropped. This venom was coming from the soprano he had just saved from public embarrassment? Was she power tripping, playing a mind-game? I may never know what possessed Lear to strike out in this manner, but I will never forget her rude behavior.

One sees the odd story here and there of rescues not being appreciated; a lifeguard pulls a drowning swimmer out of the ocean, only to be chewed out as they reach the safety of sand. Gratitude in such cases can apparently be trumped by wounded pride. That psychology is a study for the couch of another commentary.

The point is not to pass judgment on a singer who needed to let off steam after a nerve-wracking night. It’s to emphasize the sudden awareness and respect I had gained in one hyper-charged encounter for the under appreciated skills and forbearance of the piano accompanist. The days of such a gaping inequality between a singer and her pianist are long gone, even if behaviors like this now and again erupt. The era of hissing divas (of both sexes) was to undergo a transformation with the general democratization of American society.  
It may have been experiences such as that Santa Barbara evening that prompted Sanders to become one of his profession's most celebrated change-agents. He insisted his name be credited with the singer on all concert promotions, not always the case before. He was among the first to employ the term “piano collaborator” as preferable to “piano accompanist.” As a faculty member at the Juilliard School from 1963, he established a master's degree program for accompanists and insisted that women be admitted to what had once been an all boys' club.

In his distinguished career Sanders would partner with the greatest vocal and instrumental musicians of his time, among them violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and tenor Robert White. Thanks to Sanders and others of his stamp, piano collaborators in the modern era have achieved prominence. The field has even attracted soloists like Leif Ove Andsnes and the just retired Alfred Brendel, among others, to engage with singers. But I find it is pianists who make a specialty of partnering with singers on a regular basis who catch the most consistent magic in the elusive blend of voice and piano that is song.
I never encountered Sanders in person after that evening in the fateful year of 1968. I had asked him a question on our way to the hotel earlier that day. Who of the great composers did he find the most challenging in song partnership? His answer was Schubert, but at that moment he told me he was too tired to explain why. I was never to find out from him. But in a roundabout way, I eventually discovered some answers from another great pianist and lieder specialist. These insights will be the subject of a later entry on the art of song collaboration.

Sanders’ death in 1999 at the relatively young age of 62 was a great loss. A lengthy New York Times obituarysummarized the pianist’s pioneering contributions to the art and craft of piano collaboration. It’s worth your attention.

Photo above from Classical ArchivesRodney Punt may be reached at
2 years ago | |
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by Rodney Punt

Today the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defence of Marriage Act. They also upheld a lower court's striking down California's Proposition 8 that prevented same-sex marriage. Let's celebrate this validation of the civil rights of the GLBT community with a song written over 80 years ago but still relevant today.

Love is Sweeping the Country was composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira. It was introduced in the 1931 political satire musical Of Thee I Sing, which won Ira Gershwin a Pulitzer Prize.

The YouTube videos below feature two of America's greatest singers: first, a romantic take from Ella Fitzgerald to remind us how serious the underlying theme of today's Supreme Court decision really is; second, a raucously joyful take from Judy Garland to celebrate today in style.

I made two slight changes in the printed lyrics (in red) to celebrate today.

Why are people gay?
All the night and day
Feeling as they never felt before
What is the thing that makes them sing?

Rich man, poor man, thief,
Doctor, lawyer, chief,
Feel a feeling that they can't ignore
It plays a part in every heart
And every heart is shouting, "Encore"

Love is sweeping the country
Waves are hugging the shore
All the sexes from Maine to Texas
Have never known such love before

See them billing and cooing like the birdies above
Each girl and girl alike sharing joy alike
Feels that passion'll, soon be national
Love is sweeping the country
There never was so much love

See them billing and cooing like the birdies above
Each boy and boy alike sharing joy alike
Feels that passion'll, soon be national
Love is sweeping the country
There never was so much love


Above photo from Wiki of James Cagney.
Rodney Punt can be contacted at
2 years ago | |
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By Rodney Punt
The undertow of somberness in the last two Ojai Music Festivals was banished for the latest version of the venerable yet ever-renewing series on June 6 to 9. Credit for breaking the spell goes to exuberant dance maven Mark Morris. The famed American choreographer is the first of his profession to be hired as the festival’s Music Director, an annual rotation previously extended only to musicians.

Although bursting at the seams with 37 events -- Libbey Bowl and off-site concerts, in-town movies, distant seminars and closer pre-concert talks and much more -- the thematic focus remained sharp. Building on a festival trend in recent years, the fullness would make it nearly impossible for any single patron to attend all events in the non-stop schedule that revved up each day at dawn’s early light and wound down in the night’s wee hours.

Go West Young Man
Highlighting a ravishing four days in the bucolic valley north of Los Angeles were instrumental works, many set to dances, and songs from West Coast iconoclast composers of the last century. Often neglected by European and East Coast musical establishments, their works received a better welcome from the American dance scene. Those of Lou Harrison and his teacher Henry Cowell became staples of the Martha Graham and Mark Morris companies, while those of John Cage were most frequently associated with that of his life partner, Merce Cunningham.

Over the long weekend, the Mark Morris Dance Group interpreted many in their terpsichorean debut on Libbey Bowl’s limited but welcoming stage. In two Friday evening performances, the dances were a delightful novelty to an audience more accustomed to the workings of musicians rooted in place.

Go East Young Man

The festival had a distinctive Pacific Rim stamp. Most of the featured composers were either born or raised in California; Graham studied there; and both Mark Morris and Merce Cunningham were native to the state of Washington. Added to the mix was experimental pioneer Charles Ives and the California trained, Alaskan-based environmental composer, John Luther Adams.

All but Ives were nurtured in a Western landscape free from the yoke of European and North Atlantic conventions, yet also free to embrace the imported sights and sounds of Asia. The ensuing East-West fusions continue to propel the American art music scene toward new horizons.
Gamelan Sari Raras performed six Indonesian pieces and seven in the genre by Lou Harrison on Friday and Saturday, highlighting influences of that sonic palate in the works of West Coast composers. The general impression of this music was of hypnotic yet complex melodic and rhythmic variations using “off-key” pentatonic scales, actually tuned to natural harmonics.

Some find it even better tempered than well-tempered music making.

Two Icons Dividing a Century
The long overdue Ojai premiere of Terry Riley’s In C created a sensation Saturday morning. Written in 1964 by the native Californian, the work is widely credited with launching the Minimalist style. Its inclusion here revealed a huge debt to the aforementioned trance inducing, bell-like gamelan music in Java and Bali. Riley’s prescription for open-ended techniques in the work’s performance was exploited fully by a large battery of musicians and soprano Yulia Van Doren. The transfiguring rendition they achieved proved to be the festival’s unanticipated high-water mark.
Not so effective was the Thursday’s opening night concert. The self-described “avant-garde populist” jazz ensemble The Bad Plus (Reid Anderson, bass; Ethan Iverson, piano; David King, drums) essayed their arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Many versions of the work have aired as the centennial of its rambunctious 1913 premiere has approached. The two-piano and the one-piano four-hand ones, heard locally, have stressed rhythm and structure over orchestral color. At Ojai, The Bad Plus found no such sonic niche. Individual riffs from the bass and piano had their moments but the drum-set smothered the work’s overall punch and precision.
Dances with Lou Harrison and Friends
Friday evening’s two dance sets began with early 20th century Americana: Mosaic and United, based on Henry Cowell’s second and third string quartets, and Empire Garden on Ives’ Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. The Ives gazes back to a simpler America but its astringent harmonies suggest no return. Cowell’s quartets recall the populist (and contemporaneous) murals of Thomas Hart Benton with traditional melodies and dance forms. His limp-legged waltz in 5/4 meter nods knowingly to that of Tchaikovsky’s sixth symphony. The American Quartet performed in the first two; Pianist Colin Fowler and members of the MMDG Music Ensemble essayed the Ives.

The MMDG dancers worked in united, mimicked gestures and pastel colors for the Cowell pieces, while emphasizing more varied primary colors and individualistic movements that built human structures and oppositional gestures for the Ives. Some of the MMDG’s double-jointed maneuvers were inspired by Southeast Asia. In each work, the Morris style emphasized body extremities, with extended arms, shaking hands and horizontal and vertical body plunges commanding attention and hewing close to the implied contouring and phrasing of the music itself.
After a break the second set for a large ensemble Grand Duo on Lou Harrison’s Grand Duo for Violin and Piano, was a musical study of thesis and antithesis, worked out more melodically than harmonically and using Asian scales and tone clusters. Its polka had the feel of a circle-forming Western two-step, fully exploited by Morris to convey the awkward grace of country folk. Sassy amorous encounters and abstract explorations of human contortions flowed intuitively and irresistibly. Samuel Barber’s vibrant, elegant Excursions for the piano was played with close steps and pirouettes. Jenn Weddel and Spencer Ramirez exquisitely dispatched the West Coast premiere of Jenn and Spencer, an intense, intimate pas de deux based on Henry Cowell’s Suite for Violin and Piano. In both sets, the vividly colored costumes alone were worth the price of admission.
Iconoclasts Unite!
In this festival of sensual delights, John Cage was something of the odd man out with his conceptual works and legacy of intellectual explanations. He was also the last man out in two late-night and sparsely attended concerts that might not have been given their full due in performance. Friday’s Four Walls for piano and soprano, a collaboration with Merce Cunningham for his dance company, explores a dysfunctional family unit, its music “evoked by a severely limited range of material… subject to obsessive repetition, slow change, and heightened contrasts” in the words of Chris Hailey’s fine program notes. It felt duly claustrophobic in the version from Yulia Van Doren and pianist Ethan Iverson. The next night’s set of six short pieces performed by Red Fish Blue Fish came off better, if only because they exhibited more contrast in textures.
A revelatory recital of Cowell and Ives songs on Sunday morning featured the three singers of the weekend -- soprano Yulia Van Doren, mezzo-soprano Jamie Van Eyck, and bass-baritone Douglas Williams -- with the versatile pianist Colin Fowler, of unflappable flair all festival long. Ives’ songs, ranging from nostalgic to cheeky, are fairly well known, but Cowell’s are not and they should be, especially those he set to poems of his parents. The juxtaposition of the two mutually supportive composers was apt. The concert also aired Ives’ String Quartet No. 2 with the American String Quartet. Mark Morris came on stage to present an unscheduled encore, Ten Suggestions, danced by Dallas McMurray to Tcherepnin’s piano Bagatelles played by Fowler. As finale, Morris led the audience in Carl Ruggles’ last work, Exaltation, a wordless hymn in memory of his wife, here set to the Emily Dickinson poem, “I died for Beauty.”
Libbey Bowl's stage offered more: Harrison’s relatively popular Suite for Symphonic Strings, proving his chops in a more academic idiom; the American String Quartet in Béla Bartók’s sixth string quartet and selections of Bach’s Art of the Fugue, well executed if less related to the thrust of the festival. Pieces by Ives, Cowell, Vincent Persichetti, and William Bolcom led the way to Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Organ with Percussion Orchestraby Red Fish Blue Fish. The last concert had a full complement of musicians with more Harrison and Cowell, including the latter’s virtually unknown ballet, Atlantis, sounding like hot and steamy movie music from the early sound era and featuring the moans and groans and sighs and cries of the festival’s three singers, perhaps not quite up to their erotic potential.

Off-Site Performances
Events in locales away from Libbey Bowl have each year become a larger aspect of the Ojai Music Festival. Between the dance sets on Friday night, a concert of three tiny suites for children by Erik Satie and two works by John Cage, including the notorious 4’33”, marked the debut of the toy piano in the Festival’s line-up. The event was held near the jungle gym at the Libbey Park Playground. While children gallivanted about, oblivious of the concert proceedings and making joyful noise, adults stood reverently and scrutinized the tiny piano. The large frame and serious visage of pianist Yegor Shevtsov hovered over it and tinkled away at the inadequately amplified instrument. Truth be told, it was hard to focus on the content of music at so high a register or to take very seriously whatever message its tinny sounds may have offered.

The Alaska-based composer John Luther Adams writes what he calls “eco-centric” music. He favors phrases like “sonic geology with sonic geometry” and has stated “I hope to move beyond self-expression and the limits of my own imagination, to a deeper awareness of the sound itself.” Last year his Inuksuit received its West Coast premiere in Libbey Park. This year three of his works upped the ante in ambition, two of them with widely placed musical paraphernalia on dramatic hilltops overlooking the Ojai Valley.

With all the world his musical stage, Adams would seem to be the Christo of Music. On the basis of the three works presented here, however, the question of musical substance matching an ambitious vision remained open.

Saturday’s Strange and Sacred Noise, staged on Two Tree Knoll has nine movements alternating between snare or bass drum rolls, marimba riffs and siren wails; they started and stopped sequentially but didn’t develop. Sunday morning on Ojai’s Buddhist-inspired Meditation Mount, Adams’ songbirdsongswas a pleasant if simple greeting to the morning, with piccolo birdsongs, more marimbas, and percussion filigree. As a musical composition, its aviary battery confirmed that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In both works, the Red Fish Blue Fish ensemble provided meticulous readings. In both, the composer, dressed as The Man With No Name, was a spectator who placed himself in a trance-like kneeling position in full view of the audience, either behind or in front of whichever component of the music was at the moment performing.

“Eco-centric” was not quite the term that occurred to this observer.
Back at the Libbey Bowl on Saturday night, Adams’ ambitious large orchestra tribute,  for Lou Harrison, consisted of continuous “rising arpeggios over sustained harmonic clouds” that lasted for an hour. The arpeggio's first iteration sounded like the final bars of a Hollywood cinemascope soaper. Its gooey orchestration was repeated over and over again, at each iteration the rising stairway stopping before entering another thought. Well before that hour passed it sounded like an escalator to nowhere.

Was some kind of minimalist statement the intention? Perhaps, but the repeated phrases did not produce the discernible variations that can transform minimalism's better pieces, as in Terry Riley’s earlier In C. The Luther Adams piece remained in the same stupefying moment at every iteration, as if caught in the similar tape-loop that trapped Ground Hog Day's Bill Murray in a perpetual present tense.
The presence of John Luther Adams at this festival was, at least in the planning, a logical extension of the survey of West Coast musical iconoclasts from California to Alaska's frontier wilderness. But the quest for a sonic master of scenic music will have to wait another day.

Let’s Go to the Movies
Lou Harrison was the subject of director Eva Soltes’s loving film portrait, Lou Harrison: A World of Music, captured in the composer’s own words and those of his friends and professional colleagues. Insightful and deeply touching, it traces the life of the Oregon native from a childhood in San Francisco to his death ten years ago. Tireless in composing, constructing instruments (shown on film), promoting and producing concerts, even rescuing modern works, it was Harrison who stitched together the jumble of fervid sketches that became Charles Ives’ Third Symphony. That task and more caused his nervous breakdown. Painful years of confinement and a glacially slow recovery followed, but the composer recounts them with frankness and a lack of regret. Coming to an accommodation toward the end, the gentle, curious, ever-inventive Harrison built a straw bale house with his partner Bill Colvig. The home in the California desert city of Joshua Tree is today a shrine to his followers.
Salomé, a 1920’s Hollywood version of the Oscar Wilde play, had a campy avant-garde staginess and reportedly an all-gay cast. Its flop at the box office ruined the career of lesbian star and prime mover, Alla Nazimova. The Ojai airing gave The Bad Plus opportunity to vamp a desultory jazz accompaniment not as interesting as the film itself. Call it reverse Regietheater: generic jazz riffs imposed on original stage intentions. (As alternative, check out the Charlie Barber score on YouTube.)
Falling Down Stairs chronicled one of the many artistic collaborations of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, this one with Mark Morris, who set Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3a-dancing.
The Morris Boys
With the ebullient Music Director Mark Morris front and center this year, Artistic Director Tom Morris kept mostly out of the limelight, which was just the way the quiet mover and shaker wanted it. (Dubbed in jest the “Morris boys” the two directors are not related.) Tom Morris’s decade of visionary leadership has taken the long view. It's brought a festival once known exclusively for egg-head music into a place where it can, with a mix of styles, intelligently reinvent itself and also draw ever wider audiences.
And that’s just how it should be at Ojai.----oooo----
All photos but the last are by Timothy Norris and used by permission of Ojai Music Festival. The last photo, of Red Fish Blue Fish, is by Rodney Punt and used by permission of the author.

Punt can be contacted at

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Buster Keaton in "Our Hospitality" - film still courtesy of AMPAS
By Edwin Wendler
As part of their Silent Film Gala, now in its 24th year, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra had a comedic treat in store for a receptive and enthusiastic audience assembled at UCLA’s Royce Hall on June 8.  In his opening remarks, gala co-chairman Roger L. Mayer pointed to recent collaborations between the National Film Preservation Foundation and the New Zealand Film Archive in order to bring more silent movie masterpieces back to the public’s attention.
"Hungry Hobos" film still by Walt Disney Animation Studios
Mark Watters
Photo: Emily Abshere
Gala Executive Committee member Edward J. Nowak introduced the evening’s first movie: Walt Disney’s recently rediscovered, animated Hungry Hobos, featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  Created in 1928, this absurdly funny short film underwent a meticulous restoration supervised by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ David A. Bossert.  Composer Mark Watters crafted a new, brassy score with roots in the popular music of the era, and honoring Walt Disney’s preferences regarding music for animation.  For instance, Watters’s score references tunes like Pop Goes the Weasel and perfectly syncs musical accents with the cartoon characters’ screen antics.  The accurate timings of the digital master, and the click track which the musicians heard in their ear pieces, allowed for an ultra-precise, vigorous performance by the orchestra, conducted by the composer with gusto, for this world première live performance.
Dustin Hoffman
Photo: Platon
Gala co-chair Hanna M. Kennedy and actor Dustin Hoffman, who serves as honorary chair, announced the evening’s centerpiece feature film: Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality(1923; co-directed with John G. Blystone).  Hoffman provided some trivia about the film (Keaton casting several of his own relatives; re-creating the “Stephenson’s Rocket” steam locomotive) and shared a touching anecdote about Keaton’s surprise at being celebrated as a master filmmaker when all he had ever wanted to do was to make people laugh.  Timothy Brock conducted the orchestra in a beautiful performance of Carl Davis’s delightfully restrained score (composed in 1984).  Davis is certainly no stranger to silent films, having written new music for a substantial number of them over the years, most notably Intolerance, Napoléon, and the 1925 version of Ben-Hur.  Much of the comedy in Our Hospitality derives from Keaton’s stoicism in the face of freakishly dangerous situations.  Carl Davis knows when to stay out of the way and let Keaton’s comedic genius do its magic.
Carl Davis
Photo: Carl Davis Collection
Clarinet (performed by Chris Bleth) and “Americana” strings introduce the score’s main, lyrical theme over the main titles. Remarkably, other than a giggling baby (Buster Keaton, Jr.), nothing about the opening sequence would lead the audience to believe that they are watching a comedy.  Chilling, high piano arpeggios (performed to perfection by Bryan Pezzone) accompany the cold rain, and an ominous motif (reminiscent of Franz Schubert’s Der Erlkönig) for the lower registers of the orchestra introduce us to the main plot device: a family feud between the Canfields and the McKays (obviously inspired by the Hatfields and the McCoys).  The 5-note “feud theme” later returns in many variations (including a more dominant 4-note version), mostly underscoring the Canfield clan’s menacing presence and often deliciously performed by Steve Suminski on trombone.  The rain arpeggios also return later, though in a much altered context.

Keaton’s character, Willie McKay, learns that he has inherited an estate from his father.  Willie’s resulting train trip gets its own, 8-note theme and consists of numerous, hilarious episodes, one of which involves an unmovable mule.  The sequence makes great use of a double-bass solo (performed by Nico Abondolo).  The movie’s action centerpiece, the thrilling “rapids sequence,” involves some heart-stopping stunts and requires virtuoso playing from the orchestra, whose concert master for the evening was Tereza Stanislav.
"Our Hospitality", film stills courtesy of AMPAS
Hanna M. Kennedy originated the Silent Film Gala for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in 1990, combining seldom-seen cinematic gems with the musical skills from industry professionals who often perform on today’s movie scores.  I hope this series never ends.

Photos above are used by permission of LACO, AMPAS, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and The Carl Davis Collection.

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By Douglas Neslund

There is no way to sugarcoat it: after 42 years of re-established life under the direction and guidance of John R. Barron, the Pasadena Boys Choir is closing its doors. Mr. Barron’s need to retire at the same time his more-than-able assistant, Bryon Espina’s need to leave the choir program after 30 years of service due to a job opportunity in his “real” career path (pharmaceuticals focused on defeating cancers), and the inability of the leadership of Mr. Barron, Mr. Espina and Mrs. Joanne Dickson to find a music director specialist in the art of Boychoir to take the reins, led to the decision to close up shop.
In Mr. Barron’s remarks to the audience, he cited changes in public school curriculum, the increasing diversification of children’s after-school interests that limit their availability for twice-a-week rehearsals, and the down economy of recent years as the primary causes for a shrinking membership.
Decades ago, the choir boasted a membership of 130 boys and a prominent place in Southern California performing life. Perhaps the highlight of all was the choir’s performance and recording of William Kraft’s Contextures II: The Final Beast with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of André Previn in 1989, recorded on Soundmark Records. 
A 1981 self-published recording of Civil War songs arranged by Alan Boehmer titled “The Union Forever” stands out as a musical highlight in the suite of memories to be found in the choir’s trophy case.
And so they gathered on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church in San Marino, to hear the boys, bolstered by a dozen choir alumni sing again, to celebrate with friends, alumni and family, and to weep together a little bit.
The music selected by Mr. Espina, who also accompanied at the piano, was a potpourri of tunes performed by the choir over the years, including folksongs, Broadway hits, serious classical works (“Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl), and culminating with Ed Lojeski’s arrangement of Alan Menken and David Zippel’s “Go the Distance.” The single encore, with audience invited to sing-along, was Richard Rodger’s and Oscar Hammerstein’s immortal “Edelweiss.”
The singing will continue today, Sunday, June 9, 2013, for the final time. And for one last time, the boys and alums, and their families and friends, will gather after the music stops at the South Pasadena home of Mrs. Dickson, to relive old memories, to re-establish old friendships, to pay homage to those who enriched their lives, and to vow to hold a reunion someday …
A passing mention was made earlier during the concert expressing the hope that “someone” would pick up the pieces and again, re-establish the Pasadena Boys Choir as a rare and precious resource for the Southern California music scene. Mr. Barron will hold open the choir’s IRS non-profit 501(c)(3) status to keep that hope alive.
In the meanwhile, here are eight minutes of memories:
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By Douglas Neslund

The late George Bragg taught his choristers, “When you perform, the audience must never see the struggle. Only the love must show.”
Showing nothing but love in choral performance is such a high bar that few organizations can achieve it with consistency. Choral perfection is also marked by an absence of ego in which the performer calls attention to him/herself, thereby distracting the audience from noticing musical or technical errors.
The ideal choral collective must love to sing, to create sound together, and willingly and joyfully to give themselves over to their director. They must have overcome vocal technical difficulties, and they must know their music and its style so that when given the downbeat, they can produce creative chords in ensemble. So in the end, it is love that brings a choir to that exalted place in which perfection may be accomplished.
Choral perfection was offered to an excited audience moved by wondrous music of composers from this country at Walt Disney Concert Hall by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and its veteran, iconic conductor of twelve seasons, Grant Gershon.
“American Songs & Spirituals” encompassed “Sure on this Shining Night” of Samuel Barber; “Songs of Smaller Creatures,” a clever work featuring bees, spiders/Souls and butterflies to lyrics by Walter de la Mare, Walt Whitman and Charles Swinburne, respectively, by Abbie Betinis; and “General William Booth Enters Into Heaven,” a satirical accounting of the founder of the Salvation Army’s arrival at the gates of Heaven by the inimitable insurance salesman, Charles Ives.
And then came a world premiere performance of a work not quite completed in time for this first hearing by the Chorale’s own Swan Family Composer in Residence, Shawn Kirchner, who took on the daunting challenges of poetry by the late Sylvia Plath.
Shawn Kirchner, center
 The entire seven movements (six of which were performed) are wide-ranging in subject matter: “Morning Song,” containing such language as “All night your moth-breath Flickers among the flat pink roses;” “Mirror,” that gives a realistic and humorous account of “the eye of the little god, four-cornered” but which takes a sudden dark turn in the form of a lake, into which a woman peers as she seeks to find forgiveness for having drowned a young girl; “Lady Lazarus,” a horrific account by a deceased Jewish woman in the wake of Nazi concentration camp dehumanization and murder, in which she says, “Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well;” “Poppies in October” contains a sentiment that triggered Mr. Kirchner’s interest in Ms. Plath’s writings: “Oh my God, what am I (t)hat these late mouths should cry open In a forest of frost, in a dawn of cornflowers;” “Child” that begins, “Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing;” and “Blackberrying” that depicts a stroll across grassy hills, finding an occasional bee-occupied blackberry bush, and continuing on toward the sea and its infinite view and crashing surf. (The yet-to-be completed “Tulips” will be included in future performances.) Mr. Kirchner’s exceptional arranging skills have been displayed frequently over the past 12 seasons of his association with the Chorale as a member of the tenor section. Most popular everywhere is his “Wana Baraka,” a Kenyan folksong. In the performance of “Plath Songs” Mr. Kirchner accompanied at the piano, with the excellent Theresa Dimond assisting on percussion.
After intermission, the 46 gentlemen of the Master Chorale took the stage to perform Elliott Carter’s “Tarantella” with sizzling tone in this paean of praise to the “Mother of Flowers” and bacchanal joys of Spring, accompanied by Mr. Kirchner and the wonderful Lisa Edwards. At a polar mood opposite, the Master Chorale performed Samuel Barber’s own choral version (“Agnus Dei”) of his well-known Adagio for Strings, over-conducted by associate conductor Lesley Leighton, with Karen Hogle Brown providing the stratospherics.
Arguably the most impressionable work of the evening was Eric Whitacre’s “Three Songs of Faith.” The three movements with lyrics by e.e. cummings, “i will wade out,” “hope, faith, life, love …” and “i thank you God for most this amazing day” are incredible choral works. The most magical moment comes on the last word of the first movement, “moon” in which the composer conjures a choral web of sound that both astounds and delights in kaleidoscopic wonder, brilliantly performed by the Master Chorale. It is no wonder that Mr. Whitacre’s compositions are widely performed and loved.
The concluding portion of the concert featured “Ain-a That Good News” arranged by William Dawson, “Hold On!” by Jester Hairston, “Keep Your Lamps!” arranged by André Thomas, and “The Battle of Jericho” arranged by Moses Hogan. This quartet of Spirituals got the audience really rocking with infectious rhythms and joyful singing that openly displayed the love that was reflected throughout Walt Disney Concert Hall. “Shenandoah” in the familiar beautiful arrangement by James Erb was the encore to the concert and the season.
An annual rite of passage for the Chorale at the end of every season is the farewell “thank you” to departing choristers. In descending order of service, this year’s “good-byes and best wishes” are showered upon Holly Shaw Price for her outstanding 27 years of Master Chorale performances; Steven Fraider and Dominic MacAller for their 18 years; Mary Bailey for her 17; Susan Mills for her 15; Carrie Dike, 6 years; Drew Holt, 5 years; Ed Nepomuceno, 4 years; and Duke Rausavljevich, one year.
Photo credits:, Lee Salem

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By Douglas Neslund
What, you might ask? The title above cannot be true. Didn’t the Los Angeles Master Chorale perform the All-Night Vigil just recently? As did the Pacific Chorale?
So what forms a claim of “premiere” performance, you ask. Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote the work in 1915 to be sung by the Moscow Synodal choir comprised of boys and men. Therein lies the premiere aspect brought to Los Angeles for the first time ever by the 56 young men of the Pacific Boychoir of Oakland, with 29 tenors and basses provided by local professionals and alumni of the choir. The unfortunately smallish audience at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles heard the work as envisioned by the composer in 1915 and ultimately performed six times as its popularity in Moscow grew ever greater. Tragically, the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 brought an end to public performance of religious music of any kind, but equally sad, an end to the Synodal choir itself.
The All-Night Vigil (also sometimes called Vespers) is an amalgam of traditional modal Znamenny chant amplified by sections composed by Rachmaninoff in the same a cappella style. The result is a finely woven tapestry of sound that varies endlessly in its employment of treble and men’s voices, utilizing the widest possible distribution and range throughout. Such writing makes the many entrances a challenge for choirs of any age. The music itself is simply gorgeous and in an ecclesiastical setting, serves the purpose of giving life to the varying texts of the 15 separate sections, including Eastern Orthodox versions of Ave Maria, the Annunciation, Magnificat, Nunc dimittis, and various Psalm settings.
Daniel Babcock, with a passionate, ringing, legato delivery, was the exceptionally fine soloist on this occasion, with an incipit by bass Edward Levy. A trio of alto choirboys: Sam Siegel, Zachary Salsburg-Frank and William Lundquist sang with gorgeous, Catalunian-like rich tone in No. 2, "Bless the Lord, O My Soul." 
When the music demanded, fortissimos erupted in volcanic heat, but a moment later, delicate, crystalline pianissimosreflected the shifting textual requirements. The effect is stunning, and the blend of  bright boys’ voices with the men is so different and so “right” the listener cannot deny its appropriate impact, truly a “premiere” for Los Angeles.
Maestro Kevin Fox, the Founding Artistic Director, kept his large ensemble in tight focus and the result was a series of dynamically beautiful phrasing that in a work of this level of potential disaster at every turn makes the resulting musical value ever more memorable. In preparation for this concert, Maestro Fox was aided in no small part by Assistant Director Marcia Roy and others at the choir school in Oakland. The audience was given a program containing the texts with English translation provided by Vladimir Morosan of Musica Russica.
After the final phrase, the audience sprang to its collective feet for sustained applause and cries of “sláva!” were heard. It was that kind of performance.
The Pacific Boychoir and men in rehearsal for the All-Night Vigil in Los Angeles
Residents of Northern California have an opportunity to hear this choir sing the All-Night Vigil on Friday night, May 24, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and on Saturday night, May 25, at The Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland. Further information may be obtained at 
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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
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