Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Picking up the pieces

April 09, 2007

I’m still reeling from the whole shock of Salonen’s resignation and Dudamel’s appointment with the Philharmonic here in Los Angeles. Even though I can’t imagine too many better scenarios as I pointed out in my last post, I can’t help but still feel sad despite the inevitability of change. Another interesting piece appeared in today’s LA Times about how the orchestra members took the news. According to Diane Haithman’s piece, the orchestra found out about the details and Dudamel’s appointment following a rehearsal Saturday from Salonen and executive director Deborah Borda. The implication is that the selection was as much of a surprise to the Phil members as everyone else. The interviews conducted by Haithman also suggest that, despite the shock, many members are happy about the selection, given the inevitability of Salonen’s departure. Assuming this is a full and accurate report of a majority opinion, it stands in stark contrast to the grumblings and bad press generated out of Baltimore last year when some musicians there vocally complained about being frozen out of the selection process of the new BSO music director Marin Alsop. But things work differently here in LA, and flexibility and looking forward are at a premium. This point is also borne out in a piece in tomorrow's Times on Dudamel from Mark Swed. I feel some added sadness for nonsensical reasons in that I was still out of town in New York over the weekend when the story broke – like I had somehow betrayed my hometown. Of course this is silly, but that is how emotions are sometimes. Well, I guess I'll have to move on.

David Walker as Flavio and Kathryn Allyn as Teodata.
Photo: Carol Rosegg 2007

The final event of my New York trip was the New York City Opera’s revival of Handel’s Flavio. It was a nice counterpoint to the Met’s Giulio Cesare on Friday, in that while not as full of overall star power and stratospheric vocal talent, it was overall a more satisfying production. This is no surprise considering that NYCO has become America’s preeminent Handel house in the last several years and the company’s fresh and engaging approach to this Baroque gem is case in point. Baroque operas, including those of Handel can often present a special challenge to directors in that they involve not only a wide range of emotional content and variations in tone within a single work, but these changes often happen on a dime. The question is often how to either capture that inherent variety, or to recast the piece emphasizing certain aspects. Chas Rader-Shieber’s adaptation goes for the comedic aspects of the work and runs with them. Of course the production benefits greatly from the lightness in tone and the colorful and playful set design. This is also an important demonstration that all of a single directors productions may not be equal. Rader-Shieber was also responsible for NYCO's awful La donna del lago just days ago. But in Flavio everything worked just right. But there is a price to be paid for stylistic unity, and the problem here was obvious – the dramatic and tragic moments in the piece often seemed awkward and out of place as if they were afterthoughts. But I would rather have an afternoon of fun like this then sit through the Met's hodge-podge Cesare again.

The singing was very good throughout especially from David Walker as Flavio and Marguerite Krull as Emilia. Of course the real highlight for me was getting to see Gerald Thomson as Guido. Having seen Thompson in San Francisco both as Prince Go-Go in Ligeti’s La Grand Macabre and as Udolfo in Handel’s Rodelinda, I have become a big fan. Guido is a much bigger part than these and other assignments in San Francisco may have been, and admittedly he struggled more as the performance wore on with some loss in power. But despite being underpowered, he was otherwise fabulous and I look forward to hearing him again in other settings.

So in the end it was a pretty great weekend. The winner definitely was Deborah Voigt and Strauss' wonderful Die Ägyptische Helena in the Met's great new production. That evening alone was worth the trip. Next up, Tristan und Isolde.

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