Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Crowd Pleasers

March 21, 2007

The LA Philharmonic and LA Opera were operating from the same game plan this week as they planned shows with big stars and crowd-pleasing fare in an effort to get the bodies in the seats. And filled seats were certainly what they got, though the end results unsurprisingly were far more varied. LA Opera sponsored a recital with Angela Gheorghiu on Saturday in a program that could scarcely be less imaginative – French stuff she’s recorded, Verdi, Puccini, blah, blah, blah. Now, I know there are a lot of Gheorghiu-haters out there these days, but I am not one of them. She rocks. And while this selection of arias performed with the assistance of Eugene Kohn and the LA Opera orchestra came off as essentially a big commercial for her recordings, there were more than a few moments of brilliance as the dark-edge of her voice had its way with “Adieu, Notre petite table” and “Pace, pace, mio dio”. She does lose power in the middle range, but it’s not the biggest issue. I think my bigger complaint is around how telegraphed and choreographed the whole evening was. All evidence of spontaneity or real connection with the audience seemed lost amid the desire to sell, sell, sell. It was not unlike seeing Barbara Streisand perform except without all the heartwarming 60s nostalgia.

Of course these concerns seem minor quibbles compared to the “Baroque Variations” program the LA Phil hosted last night with Joshua Bell and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. The program included Vivaldi’s “four seasons” concertos (which frankly just seems like pandering to me) and the incomparable "Baroque" stylings of Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir d'un lieu cher and Serenade for Strings. I suppose the performance was really OK, but I just can’t get past Bell. With each viewing, I am more and more struck how his playing can be both histrionic and soulless at the same time. Perhaps all that “Passion” for the violin sometimes clouds his judgment. The seats were full however, so here’s hoping the Phil and LAO put the funds to good use.

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