LINK: Happy Birthday to Enrico Caruso, Lottle Lehman and Mirella Freni

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

 

Tim Smith, music critic of the Baltimore Symphony, posts in
his Blog Cliff Notes & Drama Queens that
today (February 27) is the birthday of “Enrico Caruso, the astounding Italian
tenor, in 1873; Lotte Lehmann, the inspiring German soprano, in 1888; and
Mirella Freni, the elegant Italian soprano, in 1935.”

God was in good form that
day.

Smith’s post has video/audio clips of all three. MORE

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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Britten’s “Albert Herring” at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles Opera:
Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring

Friday, February 25, 2012 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: March 3, 8 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. March 11
and 18 at 2 p.m.

Information: www.losangelesopera.com

 

58709-Herring Photo.jpg

The Village of Loxford toasts Lady Billows during the May
Festival. (L-r) Richard Bernstein, Alek Shrader, Janis Kelly, Jonathan Michie, Robert McPherson,
Ronnita Nicole Miller and Stacey Tappan. Photo by Robert Millard for LA Opera.

______________________

Opera companies can sometimes skate by with mediocre
productions of tragedy/dramas. In some cases (e.g., Tosca) a superb lead may overcome an otherwise uneven cast. At
other times, (e.g., Aida) dramatic
sets can compensate for a lot of problems. Even in a problematic Wagner
production, a great orchestra can make up for many ills.

 

Comedy in opera is much different. Everything has to work
together expertly to make for a thoroughly enjoyable experience and that goes
double for an unfamiliar work, such as Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. When Los Angeles Opera opened a six-performance run
of Britten’s chamber opera last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the
result was a first-rate production that sparkled like a finely tuned Rolex.

 

The story originated in 1887 as Le Rosier de Madame Husson by Guy de Maupassant, but Britten and
his writer, Eric Crozier, transplanted it to Britten’s home county of Suffolk,
England. Everything in the libretto refers to that part of the world (the
production from Santa Fe Opera updates the story from its original 1900 setting
to 1947, when Britten composed the work; in this case, updating probably
improved the look and feel of the opera). Crozier’s libretto, in rhyming
couplets, is witty and saucy.

 

Britten’s score is a equally witty, with echoes of Handel,
Elgar, Gilbert and Sullivan and even Wagner. Like G&S, Albert Herring is a spoof on British mores and social-class
snobbery, but it’s also a coming-of-age tale for the title character.

 

In Loxford, Lady Billows — distressed by the moral decay of
the village’s young people — decides to revive the custom of crowning a May
Queen and offers a cash prize to be given to a virtuous young woman (virtuous,
in this case, equating to virgin), but in the opening act we learn that no one
qualifies. The police superintendent suggest crowning a May King instead.
Albert Herring, a meek, mama’s boy working in mum’s greengrocer shop, meets the
test of the supercilious Lady Billows and her maid cum village morals
policewoman, Florence, and is selected.

 

Meanwhile, Sid and Nancy, a flirtatious young couple, decide
to encourage Albert to live a little by spiking his lemonade with rum at the
festival where Albert is crowned. Albert imbibes (to strains of the love-potion
theme from Tristan und Isolde) and
later departs to discover the more exciting aspects of life outside of a
village. The next morning, Albert is discovered missing and presumed dead but
while the village mourns the demise of their May King, Albert returns, tells
off his mother and then resumes his life running the grocery store, having
discovered that the life of debauchery wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

 

It’s hardf to imagine a cast better suited for this opera
and Scottish director Paul Curran, making his company debut, melded them
together as a superb acting ensemble that rivals anything you’ve seen in those
marvelous British movies and/or TV shows (think Gosford Park and you get the picture).

 

However, even in the midst of that uniform excellence, tenor
Alek Shrader dominated the evening in the title role, portraying Albert as far
more than a simple “Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes” and singing with a pure, elegant voice
that surely would have made Peter Pears (Britten’s life partner and the man for
whom the role was created) proud.

 

Shrader was one of many in the cast making their LAO debut.
Another was soprano Janis Kelly, who surely didn’t look like an “elderly
aristocrat” (as Lady Billows is described) but certainly captured the
screeching fusspot to perfection. As is often the case, Ronnita Nicole Miller –
who began in the company’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program and has
“graduated” to become one of the company’s mainstays — nearly stole the show as
Florence, the housekeeper and investigator of the village’s morals.

 

Liam Bonner and Daniela Mack were well cast as Sid and
Nancy; Stacey Tappan was a wonderfully prissy school tezcher, Miss Wordsworth;
Robert McPherson displayed his strong tenor voice as Mayor Uffold; Jonathan
Michie was effective as the supercilious Vicar Gedge; Richard Bernstein made
for an excellent Superintendent Budd; and Jane Bunnell was the domineering Mrs.
Herring. Caleb Glickman, Erin Sanzero and Jamie Rose-Guarrine played the
village children with panache.

 

Albert Herring is
really designed to play in a far-more-intimate theater than the 3,200-seat
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the sets — designed by Kevin Knight, who also
created the costumes — were a constant reminder of that fact because they
occupied about the middle half of the stage. I don’t know whether Britten
thought of the sets as a parody of old-fashioned opera staging but that’s what
this delightful production turned out to be, although the detailing was richer
than the “standard” cardboard and painted backdrops.

 

Rick Fisher’s lighting designs were appropriately
atmospheric, particularly in producing the shifts from day to night and back to
day again. James Conlon and an orchestra of 13 (the same number as last
season’s The Turn of the Screw) captured
Britten’s delicate score superbly.

 

This production of Albert
Herring
is richly drawn and superbly acted and sung. Even if Britten isn’t
your cup of tea as a composer or if you were wondering whether it would be
worth your time, make tracks downtown for one of the last performances, if for
no other reason than the uniform excellence throughout this production.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Christine Brewer is slated to play Lady Billows in the
March 11 and 14 performances. She had the role in the Santa Fe Opera production
and her Wagnerian voice will be an interesting contrast to Kelly. Moreover
(without disparaging Ms. Brewer), she looks more like I imagine Lady Billows to
be.

Reportedly LAO was considering presenting the first of
Britten’s three chamber operas, The Rape
of Lucretia,
next season (2013 is the centennial of Britten’s birth) but
couldn’t find a production it liked and apparently wasn’t willing to construct
one of its own. Too bad; the first two chamber operas certainly piqued my
interest to see the first of the three, although it would be even better to see
it in a small-sized theater.

The opera ran about 2:50 last night with one intermission.

James Conlon delivered a preconcert lecture that was more
scatter-brained than usual. Perhaps later versions will be less frenetic,
although Conlon did a good job of setting Albert
Herring
within the context of other composer’s opera comedies.

There’s no Britten scheduled for the upcoming LAO season
(although Noye’s Fludde will be
presented again in free performances at the Roman Catholic cathedral across the
street from the Music Center) but Conlon said that 2013 would bring more
Britten.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

SAME-DAY REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic, Charles Dutoit at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

Stravinsky: Symphonies
for Wind Instruments;
Debussy: La Mer

Prokofiev: Suite from Romeo
and Juliet

Friday, February 24, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

Los Angeles Philharmonic management earns a gold star for
its scheduling prowess this week. After a grueling, month-long traversal of
Gustav Mahler’s 9.5 symphonies twice, including a trip to and from Caracas,
Venezuela, the Phil returned home Sunday and got right back into playing at
Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

Music Director Gustavo Dudamel is taking a four-week hiatus
from conducting, presumably getting some rest and reacquainted with his wife
and baby son, but for the orchestra members, there are two more weeks of
concerts before taking a one-week vacation.

 

A 10-week-run of guest conductors began this week not with a
young tyro (that happens next week when 34-year-old Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado
returns to Disney Hall) but with a welcome veteran presence: Charles Dutoit,
who is about as far away from Dudamel and Heras-Casado as one could imagine.

 

Now age 75 (although he doesn’t look it), Dutoit is tall and
slender, with a quizzical, patrician look as he calmly strolled on stage this
morning to lead a program a long ways removed from Mahler. Unlike Dudamel (who
conducts nearly everything from memory), Dutoit used a score for all three
works. He reordered Dudamel’s seating pattern, placing the cellos on his far
right with the basses next to them and the violas in the middle. Following
performances, he took bows with an ironic grin from in front of or beside the
conductor’s podium rather than from deep within the orchestra, as does Dudamel.

 

Dudamel is currently finishing up his four-year tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years he was artistic
director of the Montreal Symphony (although that sojourn ended in acrimony).
Nonetheless, Dutoit is a welcome annual guest-conducting presence on the podium
in Los Angeles, not least because he gets excellent results from the LAPO, this
week on even shorter rehearsal time than normal.

 

That was evident again this morning, beginning with
Stravinsky’s quirky Symphonies for Wind
Instruments,
which opened the program. In his book, An Autobiography, Stravinsky said. “[Symphonies for Wind Instruments] is not meant ‘to please’ an
audience or rouse its passions.” To these ears, his assessment was correct; the
nine-minute work juxtaposes angular, rhythmic measures with sonorous chords,
but while the orchestra (in this case, the term “wind instruments” included the
brass section) played the piece with dispatch, the work served as no more than
an introduction to the balance of the program.

 

Dutoit, who was born in Lausanne, Switzerland (the French
quadrant of the country, has always had an affinity for French music and it was
on full display with today’s performance of Debussy’s La Mer. If the Stravinsky was a symphony in name only, La Mer is the closest Debussy came to
writing a symphony. Written in 1903-1905 (the same time Mahler was composing
his sixth and seventh symphonies), La Mer
is eons away Mahler, being instead an impressionistic work inspired by the
sea.

 

Dutoit led the work with just the right amount of tension
and sweep and the orchestra responded to his every gesture. As is usual, Dutoit
got the strings to play with a lean, clean sound and the brass maintained the
mellow power it displayed during the Mahler performances. The surging sea was ever-present
in the 25-minute performance.

 

After intermission, Dutoit turned to a suite of eight
selections from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo
and Juliet.
The orchestra seemed to catch fire in this 45-minute
performance, playing with razor-sharp precision when called for and with
elegant sweep the rest of the time. The entire performance was exhilarating. Along the way, David Buck, flute; Michelle
Zukovsky, clarinet; Ben Hong, cello; and James Rotter on saxophone delivered
polished solos.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although Thursday night’s concert was dedicated to
Co-Principal Clarinet Lorin Levee, who died Wednesday at the age of 61 after
battling a blood disorder, there was no mention this morning of the man who
held the LAPO principal position from 1981 (Michelle Zukovsky remains as the
orchestra’s other principal clarinet). Levee played his last concert with the
Phil on Jan. 8 but didn’t participate in “The Mahler Project.” A Los Angeles Times article on Levee is
HERE.

Heras-Casado, who last December was named principal
conductor of New York City’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s, returns to the Phil next
weekend leading Richard Strauss’ Ein
Heldenleben
and the west coast premiere of James Matheson’s Violin
Concerto, with LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist. Friday
is a “Casual Friday” concert; the Saturday and Sunday performances add
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Information: www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 23, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Each Thursday, I list five events that pique my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive
tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m., Tomorrow
at 11 a.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

We’ll soon find out whether the Los Angeles Philharmonic has
jet lag after returning from Caracas following a very hectic week playing in
the Venezuelan portion of “The Mahler Project.” The Phil returns to be led by a
familiar guest conductor, Charles Duoit (currently finishing up his tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years music director
of the Montreal Symphony). This weekend’s program is mostly familiar Dutoit
fare: Stravinsky’s Symphony of Wind
Instruments,
Debussy’s La Mer, and
a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.
Information: www.laphil.com

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)

Wroclaw Philharmonic
Orchestra; Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Artistic Director Jacek Kaspszyk leads The National Forum of
Music Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra (to give the ensemble its formal name) at
VPAC on tour with a program that includes Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and Chopin’s
Piano Concerto No. 2, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. Information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera: Albert Herring

Los Angeles Opera brings this “coming of age” work by
Benjamin Britten, using a production from Santa Fe Opera that will be conducted
by James Conlon, who will also deliver a lecture one hour before each
performance. Tenor Alex Shrader makes his Los Angeles debut in the title role.
Brian in “Out West Arts” has one of his familiar “10 Questions” profile with
Shrader HERE. David Mermelstein previews the opera in his Los Angeles Times article HERE. Information: www.losangelesopera.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

For the past several years in what he calls the “Discover
Series,” Music Director Jeffrey Kahane has picked a single piece to first
discuss and then perform. The choice Saturday night is one of the landmarks of
choral repertoire: Bach’s Magnificat,
with a text drawn from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

 

Joining Kahane and LACO are The University of Southern California
Thornton Chamber Singers, directed by Jo-Michael Scheibe; and five soloists:
Charlotte Dobbs, soprano, Zanaida Robles, soprano, Janelle DeStefano, mezzo
soprano, Ben Bliss, tenor, and Daniel Armstrong, baritone.

 

Information: www.laco.org

 

Two of the other
offerings are opera holdovers:

San Diego Opera’s production of Moby-Dick wraps up its
run on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the San Diego Civic Theatre. My
review is HERE. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

LA Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra plays Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion. My review is HERE. Information:
www.laopera.com

 

Also, the “encore performance” of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s Mahler 8 concert in
Caracas earlier this month will be shown Wednesday at 7 p.m. (local time) in
four Los Angeles-area theaters along with a couple in Orange County. Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Tuesday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Vor Frue Kirkes
Drenge-Mandskor and Vanse Guttekor-Deo Gloria

Two internationally renowned boys’ choirs appear as part of
a Southland tour with a selection of Norwegian, Danish and American music
concluding with Jonah — a Liturgical
Drama.
Information: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: “Moby-Dick” sails into San Diego

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

San Diego Opera: Moby-Dick

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 San Diego Civic Theatre

Next performances: Friday at 7 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m.

Information: www.sdopera.com

 

58623-moby2.jpg

Dazzling projections are part of the production of the opera
Moby-Dick, now playing at San Diego
Opera. Photo by Karen Almond (Dallas
Opera).

______________________

 

Moby-Dick — a
stunning new opera by composer Jake Heggie, librettist Gene Scheer and director
and dramaturg Leonard Foglia — has dropped anchor in San Diego this week (last
night I saw the second of four performances in San Diego’s Civic Theatre). Moby-Dick, the opera, comes with a
backstory worthy of novelist Herman Melville (who wrote the original story in
1851). It’s also a vision of what opera may look like from this time forward.

 

Heggie — who up to this time has been best known for his
2000 opera Dead Man Walking — first
considered Melville’s novel as a potential opera in 2005. It was originally
written to open Dallas Opera’s Winspear Opera House in 2010; eventually four
other companies signed on as co-commissioners. San Diego Opera is the fourth to
present the work; Australia Opera and Calgary Opera followed the Dallas
premiere last April; San Francisco Opera gets its turn this fall. Notably
absent from the list, of course, is LA Opera.

 

Playwright Terrence McNally originally collaborated with
Heggie on the libretto but dropped out for unspecified reasons. Enter Scheer,
who had worked with Heggie on a several projects. Although asked by Heggie to
retain some of McNally’s original suggestions, Scheer did an excellent job of
streamlining Melville’s novel and providing dialogue that brought all of the
major characters to life. Scheer also reordered the story; the book’s famous
opening line, “Call Me Ishmael,” is
at the end of the opera and Scheer has made Ishmael an older and wiser
Greenhorn instead of a separate character.

 

It’s also worth noting that Heggie and Scheer spent April
2008 in Nantucket, Mass., where the novel is based. They met with author
Nathaniel Philbrick, whose novel, The
Heart of the Sea,
related the true story of the Essex, a whaling ship sunk by a sperm whale in 1820 (the tragedy
later inspired Meville’s epic tale).

 

Foglia — who directed Dead
Man Walking
for several companies — and his scenic designer, Robert Brill,
have created a stunning set for Moby-Dick
that, among other things, uses a floor that curves upward sharply at the
back (think of a skateboard ramp made of wood). Scrims and moving backdrops
helped focus the nine scenes and several characters (most notably, Pip), are
required to sing and act while suspended on wires hung from the ceiling.

 

About the only major problem wasn’t connected with the set.
The San Diego Civic Theatre was built long before supertitles came into being
and the house elected (for no good reason, that I can discern) to suspend the
supertitle monitor below the top of the proscenium. That meant that any time a
character ascended one of the ship’s masts (most critically, Ahab), he was
invisible to a large segment of those of us in the balcony (and the vocal
projections were hampered as well). Every director and stage designer should
remember to check the sightlines from the entire house, not just from the
orchestra seats.

 

The most impressive aspects of the scenic design, however,
are the projections (originally done by Elaine J. McCarthy and realized in San
Diego by Shawn Boyle), which create the heavens, seas, the Pequod, and the whaling boats with effects that would have been
worthy of George Lucas. The opening sequence, one of the most imaginative I’ve
ever seen and set to the opera’s overture, brought forth a salvo of applause
last night from the audience at the San Diego Civic Theatre. The effective
original lighting design was by Donald Holder and realized in San Diego by
Gavan Swift. Jane Greenwood designed the atmospheric costumes.

 

Not everyone is in love with Jake Heggie as a composer;
among other things, he’s often tarred with that worst of modern epithets, tonal (many similar kvetches were lobbed
at Daniel Catn after the premiere of his highly successful opera Il Postino last year at LA Opera). No
matter; like Catn, Heggie has created a gripping, dramatic, melodic score that
carries the story well for the three-hour production. His arias bring real
pathos and depth to the characters and there’s plenty of sweeping music and
hummable tunes to make most everyone leave the hall happy.

 

Just getting this production to the San Diego stage was a
triumph of perseverance, good company management, and luck. First, Resident
Conductor Karen Keltner had to pull out due to illness. In her place, the
company imported Joseph Mechavich, who had conducted the Calgary Opera
presentation last fall (a story about the switch is HERE). Mechavich led 85
members of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra (which doubles as the opera
company’s orchestra) in a committed performance that almost never flagged.
Moreover, even with that large an orchestra, the sound rarely overpowered the
singers.

 

The conductor switch was just the beginning. You can read
about the multiple machinations for the role of Ahab HERE (read the threads for
the full story) but in the final installment, Canadian tenor Ben Heppner, who
had created the role in Dallas, struggled with illness in Saturday night’s San
Diego opening performance. To the rescue came Jay Hunter Morris, who nine days
previously had been singing the role of Siegfried in the Metropolitan Opera’s
new production of Gotterdamerung but
who had created the role of Ahab with Australia Opera last summer. Hunter will
finish out the San Diego run.

 

Despite the facts that no amount of makeup or costumes can
make Morris (he appears much younger than his 48 years) look like a
58-year-old, weather-beaten sea captain and that he had little, if any time, to
work with the current cast before last night, Morris cut a compelling figure as
Ahab. His gleaming tenor voice is a shade light for a role that really calls
for a heldentenor (one could easily
imagine Jon Vickers dominating this role), but Morris unraveled Ahab’s
complicated, tormented character and sang with alternating amounts of majesty
and pathos. His final duet with Starbuck when he laments on his 40 years at sea
and what that has cost him personally, was gripping.

 

To a degree, Starbuck dominates this opera and Morgan Smith,
who created the role in Dallas, made for a hunky Starbuck who sang with a rich,
resonant voice. His scene just before intermission when he contemplates killing
Ahab was profoundly moving.

 

Jonathan Lemalu reprised his role as Queequeg, Jonathan Boyd
sang the crucial role of Greenhorn with equal amounts of power and grace, and
Talise Trevigne, another original Dallas performer, displayed a rich soprano
voice and sharply delineated character in the “trousers role” of Pip. She was
particularly impressive singing as she hung suspended on a wire.

 

The other cast members were Matthew O’Neill (Flask), Robert
Orth (Stubb), Ernest Pinamonti (Tashtego), Kenneth Anderson (Daggoo), Chad
Frisque (Nantucket sailor), James Schindler (Spanish sailor) and Malcolm
MacKenzie, as the offstage Captain Gardiner). The crew of the Pequod made a might sound as a chorus
and the diction of the entire cast was exemplary; except for ensemble numbers,
supertitles were almost never needed.

 

Similar to Catn’s Il
Postino,
Heggie’s Moby-Dick is a
crowd-pleasing opera but, again like Il
Postino,
it’s richer and deeper than just that. Moreover, as companies plan
future performances of all operas, they’re going to have to think seriously
about what Foglia and his team created in terms of this production. It’s going
to be hard for many who will see Moby-Dick
to be satisfied with your standard painted backdrops again. And Morris, who has
cemented his reputation as the best pinch hitter since Manny Mota as playing
for the Dodgers, clearly has a role that he may be singing for many years to
come.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Despite the fact that it’s not on the company’s Web site
(at least not that I could find), SD Opera does have a rush program with
tickets being offered two hours before each program. However ticket sales for
the final two performances are reportedly running very strong, so — especially
if you’re coming from a long distance — you may want to talk the box office
before you make the trip. (619) 533-7000, M-F, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Also not on the Web site is that there’s a lecture an hour
before each performance. Moreover, neither of the excellent articles by Heggie
or Scheer printed in the program are posted online, although there are videos
and podcasts available (believe it or not, SD Opera folks, some of us still
read).

The production ran just under three hours last night,
including one intermission.

If you’re traveling from Los Angeles south, you can make
the trip on for Sunday’s 2 p.m. performance on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner. You
can drive it faster, but if you’re traveling alone, the $72 RT fare is far less
than the real cost to operate your car for 250 miles RT, plus parking. You will
probably arrive in time for a quick bite before the performance; Downtown
Johnny Brown’s is a bar and restaurant across the plaza from the Civic Theatre
that, among other things, offers free Wifi and serves an excellent bacon
cheeseburger. (LINK). Unfortunately, you can’t make the train trip Friday night
because trains back to L.A. don’t run late enough.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

NEWS AND LINKS: LA Opera offers new ticket deal for “Albert Herring”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

Give LA Opera an “A” for effort when it comes to drumming up
interest for its upcoming production of Albert
Herring
by Benjamin Britten, which opens Saturday night at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion.

 

The company is offering tickets at $25 for those who have
already purchased tickets for the production or are going to do so. The offer
aimed at encouraging patron to invite someone who has never attended an opera
before (“opera virgins,” in LAO parlance, a play on the title character).

 

The offer — which runs for three days only (Wednesday
through Friday) is good for five of the six performances (Feb. 25, March 3,
March 8, March 14 and March 17), but not for the March 11 performance.
Tickets can be purchased at the box office, online, or via phone
(213/972-8001). There’s a limit of two $25 tickets per order and you can’t cash
in previously bought tickets to take advantage of the offer.

 

Why “opera virgins”? Albert
Herring
is about a country village trying to crown a May queen and needing
a virgin to qualify. Turns out the only virgin in the village is a meek mama’s
boy named Albert Herring, who will have a night he won’t forget (to quote the
LAO publicity). Tenor Alek Shrader makes his company debut in the title role
and James Conlon conducts the production, which comes by way of Santa Fe Opera.

 

Get details on the ticket offer HERE. Opera information: www.laopera.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Britten vs. Bach Saturday night

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

This article was first
published today in the above papers.

 

Next year will mark the centennial of the birth of English
composer Benjamin Britten, and Los Angeles Opera will get a jump on the
celebrations when it unveils a new production (well, new to L.A., at any rate)
of Britten’s chamber opera Albert Herring
on Saturday evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

 

Albert Herring is running in tandem with Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, which plays this afternoon
at 7 p.m. continues with five other performances through March 4 (LINK). This
is a production well worth seeing; my review is HERE.

 

Tenor Alek Shrader will make his LAO debut singing the title
role in Albert Herring; the part was
originally written in 1947 for the great tenor (and Britten’s partner) Peter
Pears. Albert Herring was the second
of three “chamber operas,” so called because each production is on a much
smaller scale than “grand opera.” (Britten’s other two chamber operas were The Rape of Lucretia and The Turn of the Screw.)

 

LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct Albert Herring; he’s also leading Simon Boccanegra. The production
originated at Santa Fe Opera and the opera is sung in English with English
supertitles. In addition to opening night, performances will be staged March 3,
8 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11 and 17 at 2 p.m.

 

Tickets range from $20 to $270, with discounts for seniors
and students. Goldstar.com was offering steep discounts for all performances
but that offer expired in between the time I wrote this column and today when
it was printed.

 

David Mermelstein has an informative article in the Los Angeles Times about Albert Herring HERE. Opera information:
www.losangelesopera.com.

 

Running right up against Albert
Herring
is the latest installment in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s
“Discover” series at Ambassador Auditorium. For the past several years, Music
Director Jeffrey Kahane has picked a single piece to first discuss and then
perform. The choice Saturday night at 8 p.m. is one of the landmarks of choral
repertoire: Bach’s Magnificat, with a
text drawn from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

 

Joining Kahane and LACO are The University of Southern California
Thornton Chamber Singers, directed by Jo-Michael Scheibe; and five soloists:
Charlotte Dobbs, soprano, Zanaida Robles, soprano, Janelle DeStefano, mezzo
soprano, Ben Bliss, tenor, and Daniel Armstrong, baritone.

 

Information: www.laco.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Pasadena Symphony at Ambassador Auditorium

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Pasadena Symphony;
Rossen Milanov, conductor

Borodin: Polovtsian
Dances
from Prince Igor;

Saint-Sans: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Esther Keel, pianist

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade,
Op. 35

Friday, February 18, 2012 Ambassador Auditorium

Next concert: March 31, 2012, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Information: www.pasadenasymphony-pops.org

______________________

 

Although most people wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of
it, there’s something to be said for a concert comprised entirely of late 19th-century
romantic music (the three pieces on the program were written within eight years
of each other), especially when it’s played as well as what transpired last
night in the Pasadena Symphony Concert before a large crowd at Ambassador
Auditorium.

 

Rossen Milanov became the latest in a long train of guest
conductors to mount the PSO podium during the past two seasons and he made an
impressive local debut. Now age 47, the Sofia, Bulgaria native comes with impressive
credentials. In 2010 he became music director of the Princeton (NJ) Symphony
Orchestra where he is, by most accounts, doing splendid work. Before that he
spent 11 years as the associate conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and
artistic director of that ensemble during its summer outdoor seasons.

 

Tall and slim, Milanov cuts an impressive figure on the
podium and his conducting style is enthusiastic and demonstrative with the same
sort of infectious grin that shows up on a certain curly haired conductor who
plies his trade in downtown Los Angeles. Now, that conductor (Gustavo Dudamel)
often displays plenty of exuberance on the podium, but whereas I have almost
never seen the Venezuelan use a gesture that didn’t make musical sense,
Milanov’s swooping arms and hands and overly fussy attention to details occasionally — albeit not very often — seemed
to get in the way of the music, particularly in the concluding work on the
program, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

 

Considering that Rimsky-Korsakov’s tone poem is based on the
fabled tales found in 1001 Nights, it’s
hard to kvetch about a performance being episodic, but by the time we got to
the last note I felt as if we had heard all one thousand and one tales, not
just four of them.

 

Part of that problem lies with the composer; Rimsky-Korsakov
gave virtually every principal a solo turn and it’s understandable that Milanov
would want to luxuriate in the sound, given the luscious Ambassador Auditorium
acoustics and how superbly the Pasadena Symphony played throughout the
performance.

 

At the top of the list of principals was concertmaster Aimee
Kreston, who spun Scheherazade’s tales seductively and sweetly, but she
certainly wasn’t alone. The list of solo stars would certainly include Trevor
Handy, cello; Donald Foster, clarinet; Rong-Huey Lin, oboe; David Shostac,
flute; Katherine Oliver, bassoon; Marissa Benedict, trumpet (indeed, the entire
brass section), Teag Reeves, horn, and, perhaps most notably, Allison Allport,
harp.

 

The evening’s other debutante, 26-year-old Esther Keel, also
proved to be special as soloist in Saint-Sans Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian). Presumably the piece was
chosen because it sort of fit into the theme of Middle Eastern/Asian-tinged
music, but it proved to be a perfect vehicle for Keel, who now teachers at The
Colburn School when she’s not performing on the concert stage.

 

Considering what we heard last night, her teaching gigs may
have to be curtailed. Playing a Steinway piano, Keel displayed pristine runs
and trills along with powerhouse octaves throughout the performance. More
importantly, she brought sensitive musicality and a very individual take on
this not-often performed piece. Although I was delighted to hear her perform
this concerto (my favorite of the five), I eagerly look forward to hearing her
again in something slightly more mainstream.

 

Keel’s concept of the concerto wasn’t easy for the conductor
and Millanov did an excellent job of both following Keel and shaping the
accompaniment sensitively, while the orchestra gets kudos for being right on
top of where Millanov and Keel were heading — it wasn’t as easy as it may have
looked.

 

The evening opened with a somewhat raucous performance of
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. Oboist
Lin got things off gloriously with the “Strangers in Paradise” theme and Foster
added his usual winsome touch on clarinet, but Millanov drove the final four
dances forward relentlessly; a little breathing room would have been nice.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Prior to the concert, the Women’s Committee presented the
Pasadena Symphony Association with a check for $100,000, proceeds from funds
raised at the 44th annual Holiday
Look-in Tour
last December. Gloria Turner, who chaired the event, made the
presentation to PSA President Melinda Shea and CEO Paul Jan Zdunek.

For the record: Scheherazade
was written in 1888, Borodin’s Polovtsian
Dances
were written in 1890, and the concerto dates from 1896. Saint-Sans
wrote the concerto while on a trip to Luxor, Egypt but did not append the
nickname.

The PSO’s season continues on March 31 when Nicholas
McGegan leads a program of that concludes with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (Eroica). Nareh Arghamanyan will be the
soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

HEADS UP: Riccardo Muti and Chicago Symphony tonight in Costa Mesa

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

Although this weekend is ultra-full, one of the concerts
that I missed in my “Five Spot” post yesterday (LINK) was an oversight. The
Chicago Symphony Orchestra comes to the Rene and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
tonight for the first of three Southern California concerts (next week, the CSO
is in Palm Desert and San Diego).

 

Riccardo Muti, now in his second year as the CSO’s music
director, brings an interesting program, especially considering that it’s for a
tour: Honegger’s: Pacific 231 (Mouvement
symphonique No. 1)
, a piece based on railroads; Alternative Energy, a new work by Mason Bates, the CSO’s
Composer-in Residence; and Franck’s Symphony in D minor, which used to be
played often but has in the past couple of decades has slipped into obscurity.

 

Timothy Mangan on his Blog Classical Life (LINK) and CK Dexter Haven in All is Yar (LINK) have posted this week on the CSO’s visit to the
Southland. Concert information: www.philharmonicsociety.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

STORY AND LINKS: On the road with the L.A. Phil in Venezuela

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

NOTE:  I have reordered the posts by date (I think), separated them by media outlet, and added a new post from Mark Swed (Los Angeles Times) this afternoon.

Although the name “El Sistema,” the landmark music program that nurtured Gustavo Dudamel, now music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has become increasingly well known around the world, most of the stories have focued on Dudamel and the programs that organizations such as the L.A. Phil are launching in the U.S. to emulate the Venezuelan system.

 

With the Phil in Caracas this week for a repeat of its
“Mahler Project” cycle from last month in Los Angeles, both Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times and Daniel J. Wakin of
the New York Times are in Venezuela
providing reports not only on the concerts but mostly on the local aspects of
“El Sistema” and its impact on the hundreds of thousands of students who are
part of the program.”

 

Following are the stories published so far:


(Los Angeles Times):

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil start things in Caracas

Caracas
diary: A sweet Mahler’s Fourth and Dudamel-mania

Meeting the Youngest Musicians of El Sistema

Even Dudamel is wowed by huge Mahler rehearsal

L.A. Phil musicians get to know
the Venezuelans

Dudamel, Abreu and a multitude of young musicians

(New York Times):

Mahler Is O.K., but Gustavo, He’s Amazing

In Caracas, doubling up the orchestra

Fighting Poverty, Armed with Violins

A musical exchange in Venezuela:
El Sistema performs for the L.A. Philharmonic

(Associated Press):

Dudamel and L.A. Philharmonic make waves in Caracas
(Sacramento Bee via AP)

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.