FIVE SPOT: March 23-29, 2017

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Each week about this time I list five (more or less) classical-music programs in Southern California (more or less) during the next seven days (more or less) that might be worth attending. As you can see, Saturday will be a very busy day (and night).

MARCH 25: HOLLYWOOD MASTER CHORALE
4 p.m. at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, Beverly Hills
Stephen Pu leads the chorale in a peace-oriented program that includes Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem, Samuel Barber’s Agnus Dei, and Nick Strimple’s Psalm 133, let the sweet sounds delight!

Information: www.hollywoodmasterchorale.org

MARCH 25: LOS ANGELES MASTER CHORALE
7 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles
Grant Gershon leads his chorale in Stravinsky’s Les Noces and several choruses by John Adams.

BONUS: Disney Hall is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the 1st and Hill St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station and walk up two steep blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.lamasterchorale.org

MARCH 25: LOS ANGELES OPERA: THE TALES OF HOFFMAN
7:30 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Plácido Domingo is in the pit for this LAO revival of Marta Domingo’s production of Offenbach’s famed tale about poet E.T.A. Hoffman’s boozy recollections of the four women he has loved and lost. Vittorio Grigolo sings the title role and Diana Damrau portrays two of the women (Kate Lindsey and So Young Park are the other two heroines). There are five other performances (Grant Gershon conducts on April 6).

BONUS: The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then and walk up two blocks to reach the hall.

Information: www.laopera.org

MARCH 25: JACARANDA AND TRANSCENDENTAL MUSIC
8 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church Santa Monica
Pianist Stephen Vanhauwaert performs Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and wildUp French horn Allen Fogel plays Massiaen’s Interstellar Call (a portion of From the Canyons to the Stars).

BONUS: First Pres, Santa Monica, is within shouting distance of the west end of the Metro Expo Line, especially if the weather is good. Walk north three long blocks and west to the church.

Information: www.jacarandamusic.org

MARCH 26: PITTANCE CHAMBER MUSIC AT THE PAVILION
3 p.m. at The Founders Room of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
The Pittance Chamber Music Ensemble, featuring members of the LA Opera Orchestra, join with tenor Arnold Livingston Geis and pianist Paul Floyd in this free concert that is part of L.A. Opera’s Open House program. Music by Britten, Korngold and Vaughan Williams.

BONUS: General seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are approximately 150 available seats. The performance will be about 90 minutes and will take place without intermission.

The Pavilion is easily reachable (at least if you’re not mobility challenged) via Metro’s Red and Purple Lines. Exit at the Temple St. side of the Civic Center/Grand Park station, walk north to Temple and then and walk up two blocks to reach the hall.

Information: pittancechambermusic.org

MARCH 29: COLBURN AT THE WALLIS
8 p.m. at The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Beverly Hills
Colburn School Artist-in-Residence Pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet joins pianists in the Colburn’s Conservatory of Music, Music Academy, and Community School in a program of solos and chamber music.

Information: www.colburnschool.edu
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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10 THINGS I THINK I THINK ABOUT: LA Opera’s “Salome”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Allan Glassman as Herod and Patricia Racette as Salome in LA Opera’s production of Richard Strauss’ “Salome,” now playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Ken Howard/LA Opera
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Los Angeles Opera: Richard Strauss’ Salome
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion; 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Next performances: March 2 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. March 5 and 19 at 2:00 p.m.
Pre-performance lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
NOTE: The opera runs 90 minutes without intermission, not counting the lecture.
Information: www.laopera.org
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(With apologies to Peter King of SI.com, who runs “10 Things I Think I Think About” in his weekly “Monday Morning QB” column)

1. James Conlon and the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra are, once again, worth the price of admission. The orchestra occasionally swamped the singers but, in his pre-performance lecture, Conlon said that was the composer’s design (the Pavilion problems also accentuated that problem — see No. 7 below).

2. Strauss reportedly told the original portrayer of the title role in his version of this story that Salome was supposed to be a teenager who could sing the role of Isolde. The singer replied, “You can have one or the other, but not both.” Patricia Racette, singing the role during this production, came darn close to the ideal. As she cavorted about the stage, she gave a great approximation of a bratty teenager (quite a feat for someone who is age 52) and her singing was riveting all the way up to and through that ridiculously daunting final scene.

3. Racette’s early costume — a sort of tunic/pants suit — didn’t exactly look like something the original Salome would have worn (the story dates to Biblical times). On the other hand, Racette’s “Dance of the Seven Veils” would certainly have captivated the original tetrarch, Herod. Overall, the new costumes, by Sara Jean Tosetti (in her company debut), were striking.

4. Peggy Hickey — who made her company debut in 1989 as a dancer in Orpheus in the Underworld and her choreography debut in the company’s 1992 presentation of Don Giovanni — gets high marks her choreography for this Salome, her fifth LAO choreo job in the last three seasons.

5. The balance of the cast was uniformly strong, particularly Issachah Savage, making his company debut as Narraboth, and Allan Glassman as Herod. This was Savage’s second strong performance in a month; he was one of the stars of the production of Kurt Weill’s Lost in the Stars, the final part of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s “Lift Every Voice” series in January.

6. The issue of the five Jews often causes some people heartburn but I thought this quintet did a fine job of elucidating the tensions that Jews struggled with about Jesus (and John the Baptist) in Palestine during the time of the Biblical story.

7. Once again, the Pavilion’s sound problems when it comes to singers were audible. The farther back onstage the singers are, the harder it is to hear them, even with the raked stage floor. This won’t ever be solved until there’s a major renovation of the Pavilion, which is now well into its second half century of usage, but — given the cost of such a project — I don’t expect to live long enough to see that happen.

8. This production was the third ever mounted by the company, in 1986 during its original season (see my preview article HERE). To my memory, the original lighting scheme had a richer blue cast, but the basics remained the same and quite effective.

9. Conlon revealed in his pre-performance lecture that he saw his first Salome performance at the age of 15 in the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Karl Boehm conducted (“for about the 150th time,” said Conlon). Birgit Nilsson sang the role for the first time, he remembered. It’s kind of hard to go anywhere up from there.

10. Conlon also told the pre-performance crowd that the first two notes of one of Salome’s theme were the same as the last two notes of Isolde’s “Liebestold” (in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde). “It’s not crucial that you know this,” said Conlon with a chuckle. If you will be attending one of the final performances, don’t miss the lecture, which as usual is erudite and worth the time, even if you know the opera.
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: L.A. Opera’s “Salome” marks a revival of an historically important production

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Tomas Tomasson as John the Baptist and Patricia Racette as Salome in LA Opera’s historic production of Richard Strauss’ “Salome,” which opens tomorrow night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Ken Howard/LA Opera
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The story is legendary in the opera world; even those who weren’t in attendance (as I was) remember it. 1986 — the inaugural opening night for Los Angeles Opera: the curtain rising on the opening act of Verdi’s Otello pauses partway up before continuing its ascent a few seconds later. It was a “heart-in-the-throat” moment for those in attendance (particularly for those in company management, one suspects). It also provided a ready-made, humorous lead for critics (including me), leaning forward in anticipation.

That opening production was an exciting time for all concerned, but fewer people remember the third opera in that inaugural season.

Otello was followed by a very conventional presentation of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, starring — somewhat implausibly — Leona Mitchell as Cio-Cio San.

However, it was the third offering — a new production of Richard Strauss’ Salome — that in retrospect, put the company on the international opera map. It’s also the only production from that original season that remains in the LAO repertoire, 31 years later. The Met still has Franco Zeferelli’s iconic Madama Butterfly in its rep; Sir Peter Hall’s Salome is LAO’s equivalent.

Tomorrow night LAO revives that Salome production in the first of six performances, running through March 19. The big news has been that superstar American soprano Patricia Racette is portraying the title heroine; both Michelle Mills in our SCNG papers (LINK) and Catherine Womack in the Los Angeles Times (LINK) have focused on that story.

Yet, it’s not too big a stretch to say that without that 1986 production of Salome, there might be no LA Opera (as the company now calls itself). Thus the historical aspect of this opera deserves to be remembered.

That seems strange in retrospect because Salome wasn’t an easy sell in a city where opera was still working to establish a beachhead.

For one thing, LAO’s production of Salome was created by Sir Peter Hall, who was far better known for his work in the theatre than in the opera world, although, with conductor Georg Solti, he did direct Wagner’s Ring Cycle in 1983 at Bayreuth for the 100th anniversary of the composer’s death.

Second, the opera (written by Strauss at the beginning of the 20th century using a libretto that he adapted from an infamous Oscar Wilde play) runs in a single act that lasts an hour and 40 minutes without intermission — although for those who don’t like long nights at the opera house, that’s a plus.

Another issue is that the character originates in synoptic Biblical gospels of Matthew and Mark, although in those accounts she is unnamed. Wilde’s and Strauss’ “scandalous” treatment of a Biblical character always caused ruffled feathers among conservative Christian folk.

A final (and related) problem was the opera’s most famous moment: Salome’s “Dance of the Seven Veils,” where she writhes before Herod in an erotic dance and where each of the veils are removed until she stands naked before the king. The scene so scandalized the performers and audiences that in earlier productions a dancer performed, and, later, singers used a body stocking for the dance. Even today the nude scene features prominently in almost any article, include those noted above.

Sir Peter would make no offering to modesty, in part because the Salome in that 1986 production — his wife, Maria Ewing — was good looking and was willing to end the dance naked. In addition, the production was notable because the performers were both compelling as singers and actors. It was, particularly, a hard role for Ewing, who was a mezzo-soprano rather than a sopranos, but she carried off the singing handsomely and her acting was riveting.

One other aspect of that LAO Salome premiere was the size of the orchestra: 92 players (much larger than either of the first two offerings), bulging the Pavilion pit and led by Henry Lewis. Hearing this luscious score played this by the now top-flight LAO Orchestra, conducted by James Conlon, should be one of the prizes of this year’s production.

Reports are that Sir Peter’s production has been refurbished for this run — not surprising given that it has been lent to companies around the world (a nice money-maker for the company). Sir Peter (who reportedly suffers from dementia) will not be on hand, although he continues to be listed for his production. Instead, David Paul makes his company debut as director and Duane Schuler will handle the crucial lighting details.

Like all productions of Salome, there’s a great deal of complexity and intrigue that will surround this revival. But there is also a great deal of history, which should not be forgotten. The L.A. Times Pulitzer Prize-winning critic, Martin Bernheimer — not known for throwing around accolades lightly — wrote of that 1986 production: “This is what opera should be about.”

Information: www.laopera.org
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(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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NEWS: Free tickets available for LA Opera’s “Jonah and the Whale”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Free tickets still remain for Los Angeles Opera’s world premiere of Jonah and the Whale, the latest installment in its community opera, which presents family-oriented opera at the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angeles in downtown Los Angeles. This production will be presented March 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m.

Jonah and the Whale was composed by Jack Perla to a libretto by Velina Hasu Houston. LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct and the opera and will be directed by Eli Villanueva.

Tickets are free, although there’s a $1.00 service charge. They usually go fast for these presentations. Information: www.laopera.com
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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PREVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” sets sail Saturday in Los Angeles

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.
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Los Angeles Opera
Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman

Opening night: Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Other performances: March 21, 27 and 30 at 7:30 p.m. March 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.
(Best seating availability: March 9, 17 and 27)
Preconcert lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
Tickets: $19-$287
Information: www.laopera.com
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To say that Los Angeles Opera’s decision to present Richard Wagner’s opera The Flying Dutchman was the result of a perfect storm would be to use a perhaps-too-obvious metaphor. Nonetheless, the legendary captain and his ghost ship — doomed to sail the seas endlessly until a curse is lifted by a woman’s love — drop anchor Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for the first of six performances.

James Conlon, who recently extended his contract as LA Opera’s music director through the 2017-2018 season, will conduct the production, which comes to Los Angeles via Lyric Opera Chicago and San Francisco Opera, where it was created by noted German director Nikolaus Lehnhoff. Daniel Dooner will direct this offering with sets by Raimud Bauer and costumes by Andrea Schmidt-Futterer (all three are making their company debuts).

Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson (pictured) will make his LAO debut in the title role. Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos will also appear with the company for the first time as Senta, the young woman whose devotion offers the Dutchman a hope for salvation. Tenor Corey Blix will portray Erik; he replaces Jay Hunter Morris, who had to pull out due to illness.

Given Conlon’s often-expressed desire to make LA Opera a Wagner mecca and the fact that 2013 marks the bicentennial of Wagner’s birth,The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer to be more accurate, since the work will be sung in German with English supertitles) was one of the obvious candidates to present this year.Dutchman will be the eighth Wagner opera that Conlon has conducted at LAO; the only missing link of the composer’s major works from LAO’s repertory isDie Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

MountingDutchman in 2013 also continues a company policy of presenting major works approximately every 10 years, explains Christopher Koelsch, LAO’s president and chief executive officer.

When LA Opera first presentedDutchman in 1993, Julie Taymor (in the days before she gained fame for her production ofThe Lion King) created a unique, albeit controversial production that the company revived a decade later.

This time around, says Koelsch, the opportunity to present Lenhoff’s production was too good to pass up. “I saw the original production in Chicago,” recalls Koelsch. “It was a powerful, moving experience. With this production, we continue a trend this year of presenting masters of the directing craft to our audiences, artists of great intellect and heft.”

Last fall, LAO eschewed a respectable homegrown production ofDon Giovanni to introduce director German Peter Stein to local audiences. Later this month when the company presents Rossini’sCinderella, it will lay aside its own colorful, playful production of a decade ago for an entirely new creative team (to local audiences, at any rate) headed by Director Joan Funt that will re-create what was originally a co-production of Houston Grand Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona.

Flying Dutchman marked a turning point in Wagner’s life when it debuted in 1843 in Dresden. Many of elements that would permeate his later operas first appeared inDutchman, including the use ofleitmotifsleading motives that allowed Wagner to delve deeply into psychological aspects of his characters and audiences with what amounted tosignature tunes.

Thoseleitmotifs show up immediately in the work’s overture, one of the great musical depictions of a storm at sea. Woven throughout the storm are motives for the Dutchman, Senta (the woman who can break the curse) and, finally redemption itself. This ability to weave motives into an extended orchestral writing would appear often in Wagner’s later operas.

Dutchman was revolutionary in another way. Although it contains three acts, Wagner’s concept was that all three should be performed as a single unit, and although some companies do insert one or two intermissions, LAO will honor the composer’s instructions by playing the entire work — two hours and 20 minutes — without a break.

The subject matter itself proved to be a prelude to themes that would emerge in Wagner’s later operas. Musicologist Thomas May writes, “Wagner discovered in the Dutchman the first of his mythic figures, ambivalent in nature, who have the flexibility to accommodate multiple meanings. His (unnamed) hero acquires the resonance of an archetype or myth as timeless as the wandering Odysseus and that, according to the composer, expresses ‘the longing for peace from the storms of life.’ “

In his official memoirs, Wagner wrote that the inspiration forDutchman came from a storm-tossed sea trip he made from Riga to Paris in 1838. However, the legend of the wandering, doomed sea captain was quite popular in the 19th century including an account by German poet Heinrich Heine who, like Wagner, was exiled from his homeland to Paris.

While Heine set his tale in Scotland, Wagner transplanted the locale to Norway. However, the essential elements of the myth — in particular, the concept of man’s redemption through love — would makeThe Flying Dutchman a major success for Wagner and point the way to his later operas, includingTristan und Isolde,Parsifal and, especially, his massive four-opera cycle,Der Ring des Nibelungen.
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• James Conlon’s commentary in the printed program is HERE.
* Thomas May’s article in the printed program is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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