UPDATE: “¡Figaro! (90210″ adds performance on Sunday evening

LA Opera has added another performance of ¡Figaro! 90210, due to what the company calls “overwhelming ticket demand.” The new performance will be Sunday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. The other performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., all in Hollywood’s Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.

¡Figaro! 90210 is an updated version of The Marriage of Figaro. In ¡Figaro! 90210, Los Angeles-based librettist Vid Guerrerio has reset the work as a contemporary look at the issue of immigration reform. Written in English and Spanglish to music from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. ¡Figaro! (90210) recasts the title character and his fiancé as undocumented Mexican workers in the present-day Beverly Hills mansion of a real estate mogul Paul Conti and his actress wife, Roxanne.

Information: www.laopera.org

See my Blog post HERE for more details. My colleague Michelle Mills has some excellent stories on LAO’s entire “Figaro Unbound” series HERE and HERE and a profile of the original “Figaro” creator, Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: “¡Figaro!” (90210) to play at Hollywood’s Barnsdall Gallery Theatre Jan. 16, 17 and 18

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
(Pasadena Star-News-San Gabriel Valley Tribune-Whittier Daily News
Daily News-Daily Breeze/Long Beach Press-Telegram, et al)

“¡Figaro! (90201)” An LA Opera “Off-Grand” Production
Barnsdall Gallery Theatre; 4800 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles 90027
Jan. 16 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 18 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $21 and $37
Information: 213/972-8001; www.laopera.org

Call it “The Green Card of Figaro” proclaimed the New York Times (LINK). Los Angeles Opera begins a three-month-long survey of operas based on the 18th century “Figaro” stage comedies of Pierre Beaumarchais with the staged premiere of ¡Figaro! (90210) in Hollywood’s Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, making this the first of the company’s “Off Grand” productions that truly deserves that moniker.

¡Figaro! (90210) was originally presented as a concert version by New York City’s Morningside Heights Opera in 2013.

Los Angeles-based librettist Vid Guerrerio has updated the opera as a contemporary look at the issue of immigration reform. Written in English and Spanglish to music from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. ¡Figaro! (90210) recasts the title character and his fiancé as undocumented Mexican workers in the present-day Beverly Hills mansion of a real estate mogul Paul Conti and his actress wife, Roxanne.

Figaro (Mexican baritone José Adán Peréz) is a handyman, while Susana (soprano Maria Elena Altany) is a maid and, well, you can click the tab to read the synopsis HERE. Suffice to say, lovers of the Mozart opera will easily be able to make the “translation” and, judging by several articles in New York publications, Guerrerio’s updating works just fine.

¡Figaro! (90210) is the first of several LAO productions that will focus on Beaumarchais’ “Figaro” trilogy. Beginning Feb. 7 in the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LAO will present the west coast premiere of John Corigliano’s The Ghost of Versailles, a work with enough twists and turns to be turned into its own opera.

The Metropolitan Opera had commissioned the work from Corigliano in 1980 in celebration of its 100th anniversary, with the premiere scheduled for 1983. However, Corigliano and his librettist took seven years to complete the opera, well past the initial deadline, so the opera received its premiere on December 19, 1991, at the Metropolitan Opera, which subsequently revived the opera in its 1994/1995 season.

Because the opera was designed for the Met’s enormous stage, it was only presented outside the Met by Lyric Opera Chicago (and that with some cuts). In 2008, on Corigliano’s recommendation, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland engaged composer John David Earnest to rework the score for chamber orchestra in order to make it suitable for performances in smaller houses.

The world and European première performances of this version, which is sung in English with English supertitles, took place the following year with co-productions at OTSL and WFO, respectively, and this is the production coming to LA Opera for its West Coast premiere.

A starry team is headed by Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette and Patti LuPone as Samira. James Conlon will conduct the LA Opera Orchestra and Darko Tresjnak will direct. LAO will present six performances, from Feb. 7 through March 1. INFO

LAO will revive its production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for six performances in the Pavilion from Feb. 28 through March 22. Russian baritone Rodion Pogossov will sing the title role and Conlon will conduct. INFO

The trilogy will conclude when LAO revives its production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro for six performances from March 21 through April 12 at the Pavilion. Italian-born tenor Roberto Tagliavini will sing the role of Figaro with South Africa soprano Pretty Yende, one of the hottest young singers performing today, as Susanna. Conlon will conduct and Ian Judge returns to direct his original production. INFO

(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Nine symphonies for a desert island

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Daily News/Daily Breeze/Long Beach Press-Telegram

CK Dexter Haven, who writes “All is Yar,” one of my favorite classical music Blogs, has presented a nice challenge HERE: Choose nine symphonies for a “desert island survival kit.” He hooked me with his choice of John Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 and Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 (see my reasons below) and he threw in a few interesting rules:

• You can only pick one symphony per composer
• You must choose numbered symphonies 1 through 9 only. No Symphonie fantastique, Symphony of Psalms, Symphonic Dances, etc.
• Once you choose a numbered symphony, you cannot choose another similarly numbered symphony by a different composer (i.e. no choosing both Beethoven’s 7th and Sibelius 7th).
• Use only current numbering conventions; so if you were to pick the New World Symphony by Dvořák, you’d have to put it in the 9th Symphony spot, not the 5th Symphony where some folks 50 years ago may have put it.

Bonus point for including symphonies by composers who actually composed at least nine numbered symphonies.

Many people have chimed in and here’s my list. Remember, these are for a “desert island survival kit,” which doesn’t necessarily mean they are “the best,” whatever that means. Moreover, I would certainly eliminate some of these for choral works, concertos, and unnumbered symphonic works.

1: As noted above, Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 (“Of Rage and Remembrance”), which narrowly edges out Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 1 (“A Sea Symphony”). I settled on the Corigliano because of its emphasis on the AIDS crisis, which at the time it was written 1988-89 was just coming to the forefront of consciousness. Plus I really want my choice for No. 5.
2. Howard Hanson Symphony No. 2 (“Romantic”). I have loved this piece since I first heard it more than a half-century ago. It was one of the pieces that hooked me on classical music.
3. Mahler’s Symphony No. 3. Indelibly etched in my mind is a performance with Zubin Mehta leading the L.A. Philharmonic; the ending left me breathless! I’ve never lost my love for the piece since then.
4. Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, particularly for the percussion sections.
5. Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 5, for its sheer melodic beauty, particularly in the final movements. However, I hate to leave off Tchaikovsky’s 5th, which is my favorite of his works.
6. Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 (“Pathetique”), narrowly over Beethoven’s “Pastoral.”
7. Shostakovich No. 7 (“Leningrad”). The first movement always blows me away and the rest is also gripping.
8. Dvorak No. 8 with Giulini conducting the Chicago Symphony or Bruckner No. 8, especially the last time Mehta conducted the work with the L.A. Phil in Disney Hall. Probably the best Mehta concert I’ve ever heard, even more than Mahler’s 3rd, which was in the Pavilion. I know, this violates C.K.’s rules — too bad!
9. Dvorak’s No. 9 or Bruckner No. 9 (depending on the choice for the 8th). But either of these would be the first off the island in favor of some choral works or concertos.

One bonus work: Gustavo Dudamel conducting his Simón Bólivar kids in “Mambo” from “West Side Story.” Sheer magnetism.
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(c) Copyright 2015, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.
CK

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Last-minute Christmas gift needs? Tickets are the best choice

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Daily News/Daily Breeze/Long Beach Press-Telegram

Even at this late date I get someone asking me what to give to a classical-music loving friend. Earlier this month Mark Swed, in the Los Angeles Times (LINK) offered a well-researched compendium of new recordings. However, with all due respect to my esteemed colleague I think he missed the boat. The best gift you can give to a classical music lover isn’t a recording. It’s tickets.

There’s no denying that technology has produced some stupendous recordings, both audio and visual. Nonetheless, music resonates best when it is performed — and heard — live. The interplay between artist and audience cannot be duplicated on a recording, no matter the technological marvels. So give your recipient tickets instead.

You can start with the obvious: the Los Angeles Philharmonic. There’s still half a season left for the Phil but one of my choices would be the concerts on March 12 and 13 when Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will lead the Phil in John Adams City Noir and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), just before they will take off on an Asian tour with these pieces.

If you have never heard City Noir, which was written for Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts, I think you’ll find it to be a terrific piece of music that would be enjoyed by almost anyone. Of course, the New World symphony is one of the most beloved works ever written. INFO

One reason to attend L.A. Phil concerts is the chance to hear music inside Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the world’s great venues from an acoustical and visual point of view. However, there are other groups appearing throughout the year where prices are lower than those for the Phil. One is The Colburn Orchestra, one of the nation’s premiere conservatory ensembles, which will appear Jan. 18 when Sir Neville Marriner leads performances of Holst’s The Planets and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with Blake Pouliot as soloist. INFO

Other ensembles appearing on the Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series (with reasonably priced tickets) are the USC Thornton Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 24, the American Youth Symphony on March 7, and The Colburn Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, on April 24. All offer fine music at a great value.

This is the first season for David Lockington as music director of the Pasadena Symphony and their concert on Valentine’s Day at Ambassador Auditorium will be particularly appropriate because the soloist will be Lockington’s wife, Dylana Jensen. Before you dismiss this ss pure nepotism, know that Jensen is a superb violinist who in 1978 was the first American to win a silver medal in the Tchaikovsky Competition. With the PSO she will solo in Shostakovich’s lyrical Violin Concerto No. 1; the program will include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. INFO

One of the great benefits to tickets in Southern California is that price is no barrier. Because of the amazing depth and breadth of musical talent in Southern California there are wonderful concerts throughout the year, many of which are free or modestly priced. Among the groups that perform free concerts are the Peninsula Symphony in Redondo Beach, the Rio Hondo Symphony in Whittier, and the American Youth Symphony at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

There are other groups where tickets are either modestly priced or free; do a little Internet sleuthing to uncover them. Just remember that “free concerts” are not really free; someone is footing the bill so donations are always gratefully appreciated.

Finally, when you give tickets, don’t just provide pieces of paper or cardboard. Take the time to make the concert an event. Take your friend to dinner beforehand or dessert afterwards. Arrange to pick them up and drive them. Dress up — whatever that means to you. Make it all special — as it should be!

Finally get a head start on Christmas giving by attending one of the Christmas Eve concerts discussed in my post HERE. Oh, any by the way; Merry Christmas!
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Christmas Eve services offer sublime music

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Los Angeles Newspaper Group

Even if the day means nothing to you from a religious standpoint, Christmas Eve represents a night to hear some wonderful music … and you even get to join in the music making in many instances. Moreover there are no ticket admission charges, although you’re certainly include a donation when the offering plate passes. Here are Christmas Eve programs from four locales in our readership area:

Westwood United Methodist Church
10497 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90024
310/474-4511; www.westwoodumc.org

A pre-service concert at 10:30 p.m. features the church’s Chancel Choir, soloists and an orchestra, led by Minister of Music Gregory Norton, in selections from Handel’s Messiah. The candlelight service at 11 p.m. adds organist Jaebon Hwang to the musical mix that includes congregational singing of Christmas carols.

St. Frances de Sales Church
13360 Valleyheart Drive
Sherman Oaks 91423
818/784-0105; www.sfdsparish.com

Jenine Wagner directs the church choir in Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit pour Noel and selections from Handel’s Messiah in a service that begins at 11:15 p.m. with the singing of Christmas carols. A string quartet and organist Stephen Park accompanies the musical works.

Pasadena Presbyterian Church
585 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena 91101
626/793-2191; www.ppc.net

Yes, I realize it’s my home church so — to quote the sage words of the late, great Molly Ivins — you can take this recommendation with a grain of salt or a pound of salt. Organist Meaghan King begins the Christmas Eve service at 8:40 p.m. with three selections from Olivier Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur (The Nativity of the Lord), concluding with Dieu Parmi Nous (God With Us). During the Candlelight Communion Service, Dr. Timothy Howard, the church’s organist/music director, will lead the Kirk Choir and Handbell Choir and the congregation joins in singing in seven Christmas carols. As a bonus, soprano soloist Judith Sirilla sings O Holy Night.

St. James’ in the City
3903 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles 90010
(213) 388-3417; www.saintjamesla.org

The Choir of Saint James’, led by organist/music director James Buonemani, and an instrumental ensemble lead the 10:30 p.m. Holy Eucharist Christmas Eve service. There’s also a service featuring Gregorian chant on Christmas Day at 10:30 a.m.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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