AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Three indoor music seasons begin next weekend

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of his article was first published today in the above papers.

With summer seasons for the most part in our rear-view mirror, three major arts organizations will open their 2013-2014 classical music seasons next weekend.

• The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra begins its 45th season Saturday night at 8 in Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium and next Sunday at 7 p.m. in UCLA’s Royce Hall. Preconcert lectures will take place an hour before each performance.

The program will feature 24-year-old violinist Benjamin Beilman as soloist in Mozart’s “Turkish” Violin Concerto. Jeffrey Kahane, beginning his 17th season as LACO’s music director, will also lead the orchestra in music by Beethoven, Kodaly and Lutoslawski. INFO: 213/622-7001;

Due to a renovation of Glendale’s Alex Theatre, this will be the first of two LACO orchestra series concerts that will be held at Ambassador, which LACO called home during the 1980s and 1990s. The orchestra will also play its annual “Discover Beethoven” concert at Ambassador on Feb. 22, 2014.

• Los Angeles Opera opens its 28th season Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the first of seven performances of Bizet’s Carmen. Other performances are Sept. 26 and 28 and Oct. 1 and 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 29 and Oct. 6 at 2 p.m.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon will perform the title role in all but one of the performances (Belgrade-born Milena Kitic appears on Sept. 28). The opening-night cast includes José Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose, Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Escamillo, and Pretty Yende in her company debut as Micáela. Some performances intersperse other singers so check carefully before you decide on when to attend.

Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director, will conduct four of the performances, including opening night, while Grant Gershon, LAO’s resident conductor will lead the other three. The production originated at Teatro Real in Madrid and has previously been used by LAO in 2004 and 2009. Opening night will be broadcast live on KUSC (91.5-FM). INFO: 213/972-8001;

LA Opera has announced that it will present three semi-staged productions of André Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, May 18, 21 and 24 in the Pavilion. Soprano Renée Flemming will sing the title role; she will be joined by some members of the cast that performed during the work’s debut in San Francisco in 1998. Patrick Summers, now principal conductor at San Francisco Opera, will conduct the three performances here. INFO

Previn, now 84, first made his name composing and arranging in Hollywood, winning Academy Awards in 1958 for scoring Gigi and 1959 for Porgy and Bess and then winning in 1963 for adapting Irma La Douce and 1964 for My Fair Lady. He has also written hundreds of classical and jazz compositions and other works. A Streetcar Named Desire ,based on Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer-Prize winning play from 1947, was Previn’s first opera (he also wrote Brief Encounters in 2007).

Previn eventually scratched a long-standing itch when he turned to conducting orchestras, including the Houston Symphony and Pittsburgh Symphony. In 1985, he succeeded Carlo Maria Giulini as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a position he held until 1989. He also worked extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra and made a number of recordings with the LSO. Although Previn has rarely conducted in Los Angeles since his acrimonious departure as LAPO music director, one could only hope that the Phil would find a way to have him conduct during the May opera cycle, perhaps a concert of his own music.

The semi-staged production of A Streetcar Named Desire played earlier this year at Carnegie Hall and Lyric Opera of Chicago. LAO has an interesting article with Previn and Flemming commenting on the work on its Web site HERE.

A Streetcar Named Desire becomes the third 20th century opera that LAO will present this season. Einstein on the Beach, a landmark 1976 collaboration between director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, will play Oct. 11, 12 and 13 in the Pavilion. INFO

Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd will be presented six times, beginning Feb. 22, 2014. INFO Billy Budd is LAO’s major offering in the celebration of the centennial of Britten’s birth (he was born Nov. 22, 1913).

• Los Angeles Master Chorale opens its 50th anniversary season and its 10th as a resident ensemble at Walt Disney Concert Hall next Sunday at 7 p.m. when Grant Gershon leads 115 singers in an eclectic program featuring highlights from the Chorale’s four music directors during its first half-century: Roger Wagner (1964-1986), John Currie (1986-1991), Paul Salamunovich (1991-2001) and Gershon, who took over in 2001. The finale will be a performance of Randall Thompson’s a cappella anthem Alleluia performed by current and former LAMC members. INFO: 213/972-7282;


(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

PREVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Rossini’s “Cinderella” begins tomorrow night

Los Angeles Opera’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella
Opening night: Saturday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m.
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles
Other performances: March 28, April 3 and April 13 at 7:30 p.m., March 31 at 4 p.m. April 7 at 2 p.m. (Best seating availability: March 23 and 28)
Preconcert lecture by James Conlon one hour before each performance.
Tickets: $19-$287
Information: 213/972-7812;

Kate Lindsey and her “magic rats” will be part of the joy infused in LA Opera’s production of Rossini’s Cinderella, which will open tomorrow night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo by Robert Millard.

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 and in other LANG Papers.

The eyes of Kate Lindsey, the beautiful, young, American-born mezzo-soprano, sparkle at the question of whether as a child she wanted to be Cinderella. “What girl doesn’t dream of capturing a prince and living happily ever after?” she laughs heartily.

Beginning Saturday night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Lindsey gets her chance as she plays the lead role in Rossini’s Cinderella (or, more properly, La Cenerentola, since the performances will be sung in Italian with projected English supertitles). This time around, LA Opera is using a co-production from Houston Grand Opera and Gran Teatre del Liceu of Barcelona, directed by Spaniard Joan Font in his LAO debut. LAO Music Director James Conlon will conduct.

Lindsey is performing the role of Angelina (the name assigned by librettist Jacopo Ferretti to Cinderella) for the first three performances. Georgian soprano Ketevan Kemoklidze takes over after Lindsey departs to the Glyndebourne Festival in England where she will perform the role of the Composer in Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos.

That’s the sort of hectic, nomadic life the 31-year-old Lindsey has been leading since she “graduated” from the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program six years ago. Her meteoric rise has landed her roles in well-known houses worldwide, including the Met, Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Aix-en-Provence festival in France, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera and Seattle Opera, where the created the title role in Daron Hagen’s Ameila. Her LAO debut came two years ago as Zaida in another Rossini opera, The Turk in Italy.

“That’s the way you build a career,” says Lindsey. “One step at a time, one building block at a time. Some of the roles are the kind of ‘hands-down-yes’ parts that you won’t turn down. For others, it’s a matter of the team with whom you’ll be working, the size of the house, and other things that factor into the decision.”

Saturday will be Lindsey’s first professional performance of Angelina, although she did play the role in a student production in 2005 at the Wolf Trapp Festival outside of Washington, D.C. “One thing that’s great is that I’m actually getting to play a girl,” she says with a chuckle. “So many of my parts have been ‘trouser roles’ “ [a male character sung by a female; the Composer in Ariadne is one example].

“Angelina is a hard character to portray,” she continues. “She’s the one normal character in the opera, the most morally centered person in a sea of insanity that surrounds her.”

Rossini was just 25 when wrote Cinderella in a mere three weeks, a year after he composed The Barber of Seville. Although not universally acclaimed at its Rome debut, Cinderella has since been established as one of the composer’s finest works. LA Opera created a sparkling production in 2000.

When Rossini operas work well, says Lindsey, they do so because the entire creative team is meshing well. “This isn’t grand opera, like Wagner,” she explains. “It’s rapid-fire comedy with split-second interactions. Every person on the team is important and the relationships we build during rehearsals are critical. Fortunately this production has been seen eight times around the world so that gives all us performing a real comfort level.”

The cast includes René Barbera as Prince Ramiro, Vito Priante as Dandini, Allesandro Corbelli, as Don Magnifico (the wicked stepfather) and Nicola Ulvieri as Alidoro — all in their company debuts — along with LAO “veterans” Stacey Tappan as Clorinda and Ronnita Nicole Miller as Tisbe.

Don’t forget the rats, says Lindsey. The cast includes dancers who perform the role of rodents. “I call them my ‘magic rats,’ “ she says fondly. “They are so cute!”

Having sung all around the world, both in operas and as a soloist with orchestras, Lindsey has had to learn to adapt to performance venues. One of her challenges in Cinderella is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which wasn’t designed primarily as an opera house when it opened nearly half a century ago. “When you sing at the Pavilion,” explains Lindsey, “you’re almost always facing forward so your voice can project throughout the house. Fortunately James [Conlon] is very aware of vocal balances, which is a great asset to a singer. He makes us all sound great.”

Lindsey learned as a youngster about musical teamwork. Her father is a retired Presbyterian pastor and she grew up singing in church choirs (“Children’s choirs, high school choir, bell choir — you name it and I was in it,” she recalls). When she returned home from Indiana University for breaks, she would drop in and sing with the choir — as an alto. She went on to receive a Bachelor of Music degree with distinction from IU before embarking on a professional career.

Now she’s flying around the world as she scales operatic mountains. Along the way, she even found her Prince Charming, marring Seattle optometrist Dr. Landon Jones in August 2011. They pick and choose their spots carefully when they can spend time together. “I’ll be at Glyndebourne for two months,” she says, “and he’ll come in when I have a five-day break. I don’t want him to see me in my ‘performance mode.’ “
• James Conlon article in the printed program discusses his re-kindled love affair with bel canto opera, of which Rossini’s Cinderella is but one example. Read it HERE.
• Tim Page, professor musicology and journalism at the USC Thornton School of Music, who won a Pulitzer Prize for music criticism in 1997, offers his take on Cinderella in a Los Angeles Times article HERE.

(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Two conductors make big news

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

Two conductor announcements thousands of miles apart made news this past week. One has immediate implications for Los Angeles and the other might. One thing’s for sure: the year 2018 has just gained significance in the classical music world.

The immediate impact story
James Conlon has extended his tenure as music director of Los Angeles Opera through the 2017-2018 season. Conlon joined LA Opera in 2006, succeeding Kent Nagano. Among his many accomplishments, Conlon led the company’s first production of Wagner’s four-opera cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen in 2010.

During his tenure with LAO, Conlon has conducted a total of 33 different operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, including 18 company premieres and two U.S. premieres. To date, he has conducted 190 performances of mainstage LA Opera productions, more than any other conductor in the Company’s history. He returns to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion pit on March 9 to lead six performances of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman and on March 23 to lead six performances of Rossini’s La Cenerentola.

It’s a measure of Conlon’s versatility that he could handle Wagner’s dramatic account of the sea captain doomed to wander the seas endlessly in his ghost ship and Rossini’s telling of the Cinderella story in the same month. In fact he conducts the two operas within 18 hours of each other on March 23 and 24.

He’s been a joy since he arrived and we’re lucky that this transplanted New Yorker has learned to love L.A. enough to sign on for another five years. Conlon’s commitment is also a reaffirmation of LAO’s continued rebound from the economic crash of 1998.

The longer-range story
Simon Rattle has announced that he will step down as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic when his contract expires in 2018. Sir Simon (he was knighted by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1994) will be 64 when he leaves the prestigious post; he was named to succeed Claudio Abbado in 1999 and began his tenure in 2002. When he retires, Rattle will have been in the post longer than all but two other conductors: Arthur Nikisch (1895-1922) and Herbert von Karajan (1954-1989).

In his announcement, Rattle said he gave a long lead-time to allow the orchestra time to name a successor. Most orchestras have a gap — sometimes a long gap — between the end of one tenure and the beginning of another; to cite one example, the Chicago Symphony went four years between the tine Daniel Barenboim left in 206 and Riccardo Muti arrived in 2012. Berlin has a chance to avoid what can be a major problem.

Speculation about Rattle’s successor will, inevitably, center on Gustavo Dudamel, whose contract with the Los Angeles Philharmonic currently runs through 2018-2019 (which will be the Phil’s centennial season). Rattle, of course, has a history with the LAPO. He made his North American debut in 1976, conducting the London Schools Symphony Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. He first conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1979 and was the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor from 1981╨1994. How ironic it would be if Rattle and Dudamel swapped posts.

The Grand Rapid Symphony apparently sounded like Southern California transplants this weekend. David Lockington — the group’s music director who was in town last year to conduct the Pasadena Symphony — led his orchestra in performances of John Adams’ City Noir, the work he wrote three years ago for Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural Disney Hall concerts as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music director. Also on the GRS program was The Great Swiftness by Andrew Norman, a Grand Rapids native who is the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer-in-residence. LACO played The Great Swirtnexx earlier this season. You can read what a local music critic had to say about the GRS performance HERE.

(c) Copyright 2013, 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



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.



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
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.




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

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
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



(c) Copyright 2012, 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


Give LA Opera an “A” for effort when it comes to drumming up
interest for its upcoming production of Albert
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
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:



(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

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. 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:


Running right up against Albert
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.





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

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on Feb. 16, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Each Thursday, I list five events (six today) 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 7:30
p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera:
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra

As noted in my review (LINK), this is an excellent production
that features Plcido Domingo in his first true baritone role after more than
half a century as a tenor. There are other reasons to make the trip downtown,
especially soprano Ana Maria Martinez. Other performances are Feb. 21 and March
1 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 26 and March 4 at 2 p.m. Information:


Saturday at 2 p.m.
and 8 p.m. at Ambassador Auditorium

Pasadena Symphony

Bulgarian conductor Rossen Milanov leads the PSO in
Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances (from
which came the song Strangers in Paradise,
made famous in the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet);
Rimsky-Korsakov’s version of Scheherazade,
with concertmaster Aimee Kreston playing the solos that portray the Arabian
princess spinning tales for 1,001 nights; and Saint-Sans Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian), with Colburn School graduate
Esther Keel as soloist. Information:


Saturday at 2 p.m.
in local theaters

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor

If you weren’t able to attend the performance of Mahler’s
Symphony No. 8 last week at the Shrine Auditorium, you can see and hear the
“Symphony of a Thousand” live in movie theaters from Caracas, Venezuela on Feb.
18 at 2 p.m. via the “LA Phil LIVE” series. Actually, this performance will
reportedly have more than 1,200 musicians as Gustavo Dudamel leads both the Los
Angeles Philharmonic and Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, eight
soloists and more than 1,000 choristers. Several local theaters will also show
an “encore” performance is set for Feb. 29.  Mark Swed of the Los
Angeles Times
is in Caracas and filed this preview story HERE. Telecast Information:


Saturday at 7 p.m.
at Civic Theatre, San Diego

San Diego Opera: Jake
Heggie’s Moby Dick

When Dallas Opera premiered this new operatic version of
Herman Melville’s famous novel in April 2010, it met with widespread audience
and critical acclaim (LINK). San Diego, one of the four commissioning
companies, gets its turn in the spotlight beginning Saturday night. Prior to Moby Dick, Heggie was best known for his
opera Dead Man Walking, written in


One of the world’s premiere tenors, Ben Heppner, who created
the title role in Dallas, is back on the deck of the Pequod again (and above it
– see HERE) but Karen Keltner, SD Opera’s Resident Conductor, has withdrawn due
to illness. Fortunately, Joseph Mechavich, who just finished conducting Calgary
Opera’s run of Moby Dick, was
available to step in, so things should be in good hands in the pit (LINK).
Other performances are Feb. 21 at 7 p.m., Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 26 at 2 p.m.  Information:


Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Olivier Latry,

Latry, who is titular organist at the Cathedral of Notre
Dame in Paris, returns to Disney Hall for a recital that will surely spotlight
the WDCH organ’s power and many colors. To conclude the program, Latry will be
joined by Korean organist Shin-Young Lee for a performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, using an adaptation of
the composer’s four-hand piano arrangement of what was originally a ballet
score (when the ballet premiered on May 29, 1913, it caused a riot (literally)
in the concert hall). Information:


And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …


Saturday at 8 at La

La Mirada Symphony

Russian music seems to be everywhere this weekend. Robert
Frelly leads his ensemble in Tchaikovsky’s 1812
(presumably, since it’s indoors, sans fireworks) and Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Kihae
Kim DeFazio as soloist. Also on the program is Stravinsky’s 1919 Firebird Suite. Information:



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

HEADS UP: Goldstar offers discounted tickets for L.A. Opera’s “Albert Herring”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic


Goldstar is offering “half-price” tickets for the upcoming
Los Angeles Opera production of Benjamin Britten’s opera Albert Herring, which opens Feb. 25 at the Dorothy Chandler
Pavilion. Tickets that are regularly priced at $75-$230 are being offered at
$38-$115, plus a service charge that adds about 12% to the purchase price.
Effectively, that makes the discount on a $230 ticket about 44%, still a good
bargain. LAO has its own discount programs for senior, students and families
available through its Web site.

Goldstar information:

LA Opera information:



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

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera opens Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” last night at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles Opera:
Verd’s Simon Boccanegra

February 11, 2012 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: Feb. 15, 21 and March 1 at 7:30 p.m.;
Feb. 19, 26 and March 4 at 2 p.m.



Plcido Domingo and Ana Maria Martinez star in Los Angeles
Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra,
which opened last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo for LAO by
Robert Millard.



Simon Boccanegra
isn’t the least performed of Verdi’s operas but it’s not at the top of the list
of the Italian composer’s favorites, either. It was given, to quote Thomas
May’s article in the printed program, “a lukewarm premiere” when it debuted in
Venice in 1857 and, again according to May, subsequent performances in Florence
and Milan were “outright fiascos.” In 1881, Verdi — who had by then ostensibly
retired from the writing opera — revised the work, and the success of that
revival led him to write his final two — and greatest — operas: Otello and Falstaff.


What Verdi created in Boccanegra
was somewhat formulaic; even though the two plots are different, I had the
feeling I was reliving last season’s Rigoletto
all over again. Part of the reason for the familiarity may be that Michael
Yeargan designed both productions, Rigoletto
originally for San Francisco and Simon
for Royal Opera, Covent Garden.


Nonetheless, wonderful music pours out of every page of Boccanegra and the ensembles he wrote –
trios, quartets and, in particular, a marvelous sextet to conclude the first
Act — the famous “Council Chamber” scene — are quite special.


For Los Angeles Opera, the major reason for mounting Simon Boccanegra is that Plcido Domingo
wanted to undertake the title role. After a century as one of the world’s great
tenors, Domingo (who turned 71 on Jan. 21) has discovered the joys of once
again being a baritone (he actually began that way as a young adult). Actually,
it’s quite a rare feat; normally a tenor voice doesn’t have the heft necessary
for baritone roles but Domingo has always been unique.


Last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Domingo’s lower
register wasn’t as deep as many who have been baritones all of their adult
lives, but the glorious ring that has characterized his more than 130 tenor
roles remains very much in evidence. Moreover, he brought an anguished pathos to
the role of an elder statesman struggling to unite his country while wrestling
with personal demons, as well.


So, if you’re hesitating whether to attend one of the six
remaining performances, hearing and seeing Domingo’s riveting performance in
his “new life” is worth the price of a ticket. Besides, there’s no guarantee
that he can keep going; Domingo has already announced that he’ll perform in
Verdi’s even more rarely heard I Due
to open LAO’s 2012-2013 season in September (yet another baritone role),
but the clock is, regrettably, ticking.


Fortunately, Domingo is not the only reason for making the
trip to downtown Los Angeles; the balance of the cast is uniformly strong and,
in a couple of cases, better than that. For me, the highlight of the evening
was soprano Ana Maria Martinez, who in her fourth appearance with LAO sang the
role of Amelia with a rich, lustrous tone and tossed off a spiffy trill at the
end of the sextet to boot. She also brought deep emotion to her acting.


Vatalij Kowalijow’s portrayal of Jacpo Fiesco echoed the
nobility that the Ukranian bass brought to his portrayal of Wotan in LAO’s Ring cycle three years ago, Stefano
Secco made an impressive LAO debut as Gabriele Adorno a gleaming top tenor
range. The balance of the cast included Paolo Gavanelli as Paolo Albiani (and
didn’t have to worry about remembering his first name), Robert Pomakov as
Pietro, Sara Campbell as Amelia’s maid, and Todd Strange as a captain. The LA Opera Chorus was effective in the crowd scenes.


To no one’s great surprise — he has conducted 25
performances of three productions of Boccanegra
before last night — James Conlon conducted with assurance and sensitivity and
the LA Opera Orchestra played beautifully; it would be a shock if either were
otherwise but such skill is not to be taken lightly or for granted. David Washburn sparkled as a one-man banda.


The production features a simple unit set with columns to
symbolize Italy and a moveable back wall alternating two different styles of
graffiti with Trajan-style letters, each trying to figure out clever ways to
slip Simon Boccanegra’s name among the other words. The costumes, originally by
Peter J. Hall, ranged from colorful to nondescript and the lighting design by
Duane Schuler was suitably atmospheric for the most part. Elijah Moshinsky
directed the six scenes skillfully.




The opera ran just under three hours including one

Conlon revealed in his printed-program article that Simon Boccanegra was among the first
operas he saw, at age 13 from the standing-room area of the old Metropolitan
Opera House in New York City.

The large banners of Domingo and Conlon that used to hang
from atop the Pavilion are no longer present. They were destroyed in big
windstorms in December.

In addition to the remaining Simon Boccanegra performances, LAO’s production of Britten’s Albert Herring opens Feb. 25 for six
performances through March 17. Information:



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

STORY AND LINKS: LA Opera announced 2012-2013 season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


With three big anniversaries occurring in 2013 — the
bicentennials of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner and the
centennial of Benjamin Britten — hopes were high that Los Angeles Opera’s
2012-2013 season might move beyond the current one, which continues with
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, opening
Saturday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.


No such luck. The upcoming season will have 37 performances
of six operas, the same as 2011-2012 and down considerably from the 2006-07
high of 10 productions and 75 performances. Unlike the previous two seasons,
there will be no Britten operas next season and LAO’s “Recovered Voices”
project of music and composers suppressed and/or murdered by the Nazis remains
on hiatus (although a version of the latter surfaced at The Colburn School
earlier this year). The company also added some details to its new “dynamic
pricing policy.


LAO continues to cite the economic downturn and the
financial effects of its production of Wagner’s Ring cycle in 2009 as reasons
for its cautious stance “Our mission to present world-class performances is
matched by our need to be fiscally sound,” says CEO Stephen D. Rountree in the
media release. “We have been conscientious about maintaining our artistic
standards while adhering strictly to our budgets. We have even been able to
repay–a year ahead of schedule–half of the Bank of America loan, guaranteed by
the County of Los Angeles, that helped to stabilize the Company during the
worst part of the economic downturn.”


Also continuing a recent trend, five of the six 2012-2013 productions
will be imported from other companies — Lyric Opera, Chicago, San Francisco
Opera, Houston Grand Opera figure heavily into the mix. The one “new”
production is the opening opera, Verdi’s rarely heard The Two Foscari (l Due Foscari), which
is a coproduction between LAO and companies in Valencia (Spain, not Calif.),
Vienna and London. The opera offers Plcido Domingo another baritone role
suited to his age (the character is described as “an aging head of state).
James Conlon will conduct, one of four productions he will lead next season.
Thaddeus Strassberger makes his company debut directing.


The Two Foscari (which
will be sung in Italian with English supertitles) will open on Sept. 15 in the
first of six performances. It will run in tandem with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which will open Sept. 22
and run for seven performances. Conlon will conduct the first five performances
and Domingo will conduct the last two. The production is from Lyric Opera,
Chicago, first seen in 2004.


Other offerings are:

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, beginning Nov. 17 for six performances.
Soprano Oksana Dyka (Tatiana in this season’s production of Eugene Onegin) sings the title role. The
other notable cast name is Eric Owens (Grendel in 2006) as Sharpless. Grant
Gershon, who was recently promoted to LAO’s resident conductor, will lead the
LAO orchestra for six performances beginning Nov. 17. Ron Daniels directs a
production he created originally for San Francisco Opera.


Wagner’s Der Flieglende Hollnder (The Flying
opens March 9,
2013, for six performances. Conlon conducts and, rather than exhume its own
Julie Taymor-created production, LAO is importing one from San Francisco Opera.
Icelandic baritone Tmas Tmasson makes his company in the title role,
Elisabete Matos (also in her LAO debut) will portray Senta and, most
interestingly, Jay Hunter Morris, who has sung the role of Siegfried in the
Met’s current Ring cycle to great
acclaim, returns as Erik.


Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which begins
March 23, 2013 and runs for six performances. Conlon conducts and, again,
rather than use its own previous production (which, unlike Taymor’s Flying Dutchman, was very well received
when it appeared in 2000) will import one, this time a co-production of Houston
Grand Opera and Gran Teatro de Liceu of Barcelona directed by Joan Font.
Perhaps it’s cheaper to rent than renovate.


Puccini’s Tosca opens May 18 and plays
(somewhat surprisingly for such a warhorse) for just six dates. Sondra
Radvanovsky will perform the title role and Domingo conducts. Again bypassing
its own production, this one will come from Houston Grand Opera, first seen in


The company will also present soprano Rene Fleming and
mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in recital on Jan. 19 but at Walt Disney Concert
Hall rather than the Pavilion, which will host all of the operas.


LAO also formally announced several new pricing initiatives.
The company is remapping the Pavilion’s seating plan to make more seats
available at “affordable” prices (described in the release as $99 or less). The
statement also said that the number of tickets priced at $50 or less has been
increased by 10 percent, although it did not give an actual number. LAO is also
instituting a program where seats are allocated for every performance for
students, seniors and “underserved groups” so they can attend at “minimal


On the other side of the coin (literally and figuratively),
the company will institute a “demand-based pricing” system whereby when ticket
sales reach certain unspecified levels, prices will be reset upward (the
release used as an example popular Sunday matinee performances). However,
prices will not be lowered if a particular performance tanks in ticket sales
(although venues such as Gold Star often offer discounted ticket prices).
“Season subscribers will always pay the lowest ticket prices,” the release
emphasized, “at a discount from the base price.”


Subscriptions are now sale; single tickets will go on sale
later in the year. Information:



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