Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Under Construction: Rolando Villazón, in recital

October 14, 2006

Last night, Rolando Villazón made his West Coast recital debut at the newly minted Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County. A great time was apparently had by all. For me, however, it was a bit like seeing last year's King Tut exhibit at LACMA - the artifacts actually on display were awe-inspiring, but surviving the hype and crass marketing to get to them left you feeling very unclean.

Photo:© MSM LtdJ Bell 2005
Mr. Villazón's voice is magnificent. He can whip up passion in seconds flat and has personality and stage presence to spare. It's hard not to enjoy an evening built around his performance - but the production staff and new concert hall certainly tried to achieve this very thing. The hall is in a clear state of unfinished construction. The front piece of the stage was unattached, and all of the lovely off-white carpeting is still covered in plastic. (No red wine at the bar, thank you very much, but the OC has always been rather a Chablis quarter to begin with, hasn't it.) The highlight for me was when Mr. Villazón stomped down during a dramatic moment in the encores producing a near waist-high cloud of fine sawdust.

The whole evening had a last minute thrown-together quality to it that did not come off as casually nonchalant but more poorly planned and conceived. The performance was wedged between Mr. Villazón's performances in the current LA Opera production of Manon. He was in fine voice but not totally prepared. The first half of the program consisted of Schumann's Dichterliebe, a piece he has apparently not quite yet commited to memory as evidenced by his reliance on the score. The half of the piece not sung into the music stand was quite nice. One can quibble about the strength of Mr. Villazón's German, but in response to the couple seated behind me in the second row - No, he is not "becoming quite a heldentenor." Nor is Lieder his strong suit.

However, the second part of the program featuring French, Italian, and Spanish songs and arias were. The highlight for me, besides Massenet's Ouvre tes yeux bleus, were the Spanish songs of Orbradors. Five encores consisted of similar material including a new song from a Mexican composer, whose name I didn't catch, present in the audience and a Rossini aria dedicated to Mr. Villazón's young son who, Villazon pointed out, was hearing his father sing in pubic for the first time. All and all not a bad Friday evening amid Dynasty-inspired evening wear and hard hats.

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