OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Walt Disney’s Fantasia

Hollywood Bowl
Orchestra, John Mauceri, conductor

Friday, August 19 Hollywood Bowl

Next performances: Tonight at 8:30; tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

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John Mauceri returned to Hollywood Bowl last night leading
the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra — the ensemble he founded 20 years ago — in the
same program with which he left the HBO five years ago to become Chancellor of
the University of North Carolina School of the Arts: Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

 

Technically that’s not correct. Last night wasn’t Fantasia, nor was it what we saw five
years ago. Rather, it was an evening that used portions of segments from the
1940 movie that was originally a financial failure but is now considered a
landmark, along with other elements. They coalesced into a program that absolutely
honored Walt’s spirit, since Disney had envisioned Fantasia as a movie that, as Mauceri said last night, would always
be something new with segments being added and replaced each time it was shown.

 

One reason this program works so well is Mauceri, who
received a standing ovation when he came onstage from many of the 13,580 in
attendance. The 66-year-old New York native remains the platinum standard in
conductors who converse with the audience, delivering important information
with erudite wit. Throughout the evening his comments enlightened the audience
as to the movie’s importance in a multitude of areas (e.g., the fusion of music
and animation, the film’s technical achievements, and its history). He also offered
several interesting tidbits about conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was a major
contributor to the film and with whom Mauceri studied when he was 27 and
Stokowski was 90.

 

The most interesting parts of the evening were four segments
that didn’t make it into the 1940 movie.

 

Debussy’s Claire de
Lune
had been completed in 1942 and eventually appeared in a 1946 Disney
feature entitled Make Mine Music. The
original animation was discovered 50 years later and animators’ use of two
egrets in moonlit water combined with Debussy’s ethereal music proved to be
magical, although to these ears it might have been even more effective using
the composer’s original piano score rather than Stokowski’s orchestral
arrangement.

 

The animation for Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela was never completed but the chalk and pastel
storyboards, shown while the orchestra (with Cathy Del Russo on English horn)
played Sibelius’ tone poem with touching tenderness, were gorgeous and, as
Mauceri pointed out, demonstrated part of the pains-taking, hand-drawn
animation process employed in the era before computers.

 

The backstory to Destino
is even more convoluted. In 1946, Disney, Spanish surrealist painter Salvador
Dali and Disney artist John Hench collaborated on this project, using the music
of Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez. The piece lay forgotten until Roy E.
Disney resurrected it and produced a six-minute film in 2003 that was nominated
for an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film.” As might be expected with
a Dali project, the art was, indeed, surreal but the music — which used the
soundtrack singing of Dora Luz while the orchestra played the accompaniment –
proved to be haunting.

 

The fourth segment came in the form of an encore: Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblee, another of the shelved segments that was later
adapted into the Bumble Boogie
segment of the 1948 cartoon Melody Time.

 

To no one’s great surprise, Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours seemed to be the most popular with the audience;
Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and
Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring were
truncated even more than the original film segments. The opening, Stokowski’s
bloated arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and
Fugue in D Minor,
appeared to be the hardest for Mauceri and the orchestra
to synch with the film; overall, however, they held together amazingly well
throughout the evening.

 

The printed program ended with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, with the final
segments accompanied (or, in the case of Waltz
of the Flowers)
overpowered by fireworks. I yield to no one in my
admiration for the Souza Group’s pyrotechnic wizardry, fireworks do sell
tickets, and much of the audience seemed to enjoy the aerial display thoroughly
but if you were interested in the music (and the animation), forget it. On the
other hand, there really isn’t a section that lends itself to fireworks with
the possible exception of Stravinsky’s Firebird
Suite
from Fantasia 2000. Even
Walt couldn’t envision Fantasia being
accompanied by fireworks at the Bowl in 1940.

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Hemidemisemiquaver:

When I first saw this program’s Sunday start time listed
at 7:30 p.m. start time, I wondered if it would be dark enough at the Bowl to
make it work. The answer is yes.

The often-changing hues of the Bowl’s iconic shell offered
a colorful backdrop to the program although, ironically, they made me think more of
Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, rather
than Disney.

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

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