FROM THE WEB: Kudos to LA Opera from an unusual source

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

Although the New York Times works hard to attract readers in Southern California, its arts critics rarely venture beyond the confines of the East Coast. Thus, it was notable that Music Critic Zachary Woolfe made the trip west for Los Angeles Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which opened last Saturday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Read his review HERE.

What made the review notable was that Woolfe’s focus was to laud the company for reacting quickly (in opera-world terms) after CEO Christopher Koelsch went to Berlin to see Komische Oper’s new, radical production of Mozart’s famous work (read my preview story HERE). After returning to L.A., Kolsche persuaded colleagues Plácido Domingo and James Conlon that LAO should substitute the Komische Opera production for the originally announced revival of LAO’s 20-year-old production by Sir Peter Hall and cartoonist Gerald Scarfe.

As Wolfe wrote: “The Los Angeles Opera’s late switch — this new ‘Flute’ was not officially announced until June — should be a positive example for the opera world, where artistic choices can be encased in amber up to five years in advance. Companies should be eagerly looking for new singers and stagings that can be presented in a matter of months rather than years. (O.K., I’d accept maybe a year or two.) This new ‘Flute’ shows that the results can be worth the rush and risk.”

Although I haven’t seen the LAO production, to judge from the critics the decision to change was more than worth the risk. Jim Farber’s review in the Los Angeles News Group papers (which include my papers listed above) is HERE. Mark Swed’s review in the Los Angeles Times is HERE. Timothy Mangan’s review in the Orange County Register is HERE.

What Woolfe didn’t say in his article was that Magic Flute was the first of two “last-minute” changes to the LA Opera 2013-2014 schedule. Six months after the season had been unveiled the company announced that it would add semi-staged concert performances of Andre Previn’s opera, A Streetcar Named Desire on May 18, 21 and 24, 2014. That omission was somewhat ironic, since Michael Cooper reported the story in the NY Times on Sept. 4.

Renée Fleming will reprise her starring role as Blanche DuBois from the original San Francisco Opera production. Patrick Summers will lead the LA Opera Orchestra. The production will be the semi-staged version that played at Carnegie Hall in New York City and at Lyric Opera Chicago. DETAILS.

Speaking of Mr. Woolfe, he posted quite an interesting article after attending nine — NINE! — performances of Bellini’s Norma at the Metropolitan Opera this fall. His premise was to evaluate how the Met sounds from nine different seat locations. Read the article HERE. Lisa Hirsch, in her “Iron Tongue of Midnight” Blog HERE, suggested he should have seen the Met’s production of Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten instead. To each his (or her) own.

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

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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


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

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.

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LINKS: Two good reads on a Sunday

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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


As the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra prepares to begin its
43rd season, Los Angeles Times
Music Critic Mark Swed delivers a nice article on LACO Music Director
Jeffrey Kahane HERE. Kahane, who celebrates his 55th birthday
tomorrow, is celebrating his 15th anniversary as LACO’s most recent music


Next week, I’ll offer a profile of Holland native Wieck
Hijmans, who will be the soloist in Ritornello
for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
(yes, you read correctly, electric
guitar) by LACO’s composer-in-residence, Derek Bermel, which will be part of
the opening program on Sept. 24 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and September 25 at
UCLA’s Royce Hall (LINK).


Meanwhile, in today’s Orange
County Register
and online, Timothy Mangan, the Register’s music critic, offers his retrospective HERE of the
Segerstrom Center for the Arts (originally called the Orange County Performing
Arts Center) in Costa Mesa as the Center celebrates its 25th


Among other performances to open the anniversary season will
be the Pacific Symphony’s opening concerts Sept. 22-25 (LINK) and a free
recital by organist Cameron Carpenter on Oct. 2 (LINK), both at Segerstrom
Concert Hall, which opened five years ago adjacent to the original OCPAC
building. Tim’s article touches on the many contributions of Henry Segerstrom
and his family in the Center’s quarter-century of growth.



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

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: “The Little Orange Dress” … and other items

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

A shorter version of this
article was first published today in the above papers. See the end of the post
for several additions to the printed piece.



Summertime often becomes silly season, even in the
supposedly serious realm of classical music. Consider, for example, the case of
“The Little Orange Dress” (aka, “The Little Red Dress” — some have called the
dress red but I think it was orange).


Last month, Yuja Wang walked onto the stage of Hollywood
Bowl to perform as soloist in Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto with the Los
Angeles Philharmonic. The 24-year-old native of Bejing is an electrifying
talent who can blaze through octaves and runs with breathtaking speed, as she
amply demonstrated during her Bowl performance (her hands were moving so fast
that they appeared to be a blur on the Bowl’s video screens). My review is


However, what caused a great deal of notoriety wasn’t how
she played but what she wore: what has now become known as “The Little Orange
Dress.” Ms. Wang is a slender, attractive woman and her attire wouldn’t be
unusual on any street in any American city these days, but when she walked
onstage at the Bowl, she created quite a stir from those in the audience.


What led to the most commotion on the Internet wasn’t so
much the dress but that two professional critics in attendance commented on it
in their reviews. In my review I wrote, “It also may (or may not) be worth
mentioning that she came on stage last night wearing the shortest dress I’ve
ever seen a female pianist wear, an orange sheath that elicited gasps from the


My colleague, Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times, devoted four paragraphs of his review to Ms.
Wang’s attire (LINK — which includes a photo). The line
most frequently quoted was: “Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had
there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict
admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult.” It should
also be noted Mark devoted the next few paragraphs to her performance, which he
called “downright magical.”


The debate in the classical music blogosphere has centered
around whether it’s appropriate for a music critic to comment on “non-musical”
things, such as attire (Lisa Hirsch, a San Francisco-based Blogger who writes
under the nom d’computer of “Iron
Tongue of Midnight,” offers a listing of several of the Bloggers/reviewers
comments HERE).


One she listed was Anne Midgette, the well-respected music
critic of the Washington Post, who
wrote a lengthy post on the issue (LINK). The others,
including the comment threads of responders, make for interesting reading. My
attitude (as expressed in several comments to posts) is that attending a
concert is both an aural and visual experience and something like “The Little
Orange Dress” was worth at least a mention — my guess is that many in the
audience can’t remember today how well she played but they certainly remember
the dress. If you agree or disagree with my stance, feel free to post a comment


Late adds:

Mark Swed
weighs in on the issue HERE and the L.A. Times has a separate article on
concert dress that includes an interview with organist Cameron Carpenter HERE,
along with three photos of “The Little Orange Dress.” Carpenter’s sequined tee
shirts and jeans are undeniably part of his total concert package and are often
mentioned in stories and reviews.


Timothy Mangan,
music critic of the Orange County
(who didin’t attend the concert), offers his comments HERE.



Anne Midgette offers
a good basic primer on contemporary music for those who wonder how to get into
this genre. There’s nothing earth-shaking in her assessments and you may not
agree with all of them but I found it well worth reading. MORE


CK Dexter Haven
has begun a new Blog entitled “All is Yar” and he has an interesting post on
the subject of guest conductors HERE.



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

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