Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Mother of Pearl

October 28, 2008

Nathan Gunn and cast
Photo: Robert Kusel/LOC 2008

It’s a uniquely uninteresting opera production where even the bare chest of opera’s bare-chest-standard-bearer Nathan Gunn fails to hold your attention. But such is the case with Chicago Lyric Opera’s current run of Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles now wrapping up its run and which I saw last Saturday. To be fair, this opera may be more plagued with uninspired stagings than any I can think of right off the top of my head. However, Nicholas Joël’s production was bland enough to make me actually long for the day-glo garishness of Zandra Rhodes’ take on the piece, which has been all over the country. By comparison, Joël’s Ceylon seems almost reserved and matronly like something from the set of a Laurel and Hardy picture. His "other" is still exotic, just not quite as sexualized.

Still there was a requisite amount of flesh to be seen, but it didn’t really matter considering how well sung the whole thing was. An all-American cast was on offer including Gunn, Eric Cutler as Nadir, and Nicole Cabell as the priestess/virgin/whatever Leïla. Also sounding quite excellent, and deserving a big shout out, was Christian Van Horn as Nourabad. (You can check out his nifty blog at the right which includes a candid after hours boys night out photo of the cast - unfortunately, it's completely SFW.) Cutler and Gunn were both solid as a rock vocally and complemented each other well. My biggest pleasant surprise though was Cabell whom, despite all the hype, I’ve had some doubts about after a rather lackluster Musetta in Santa Fe a couple of summers back. She was on target here—clear, bright and lustrous throughout. Apparently all that was needed was a little indoor reverberation to pull it all together for me. I could have used a little more allure and a little less nurture in the acting department, but it’s really squabbling.

In the pit was John Mauceri, of all people. It was a respectable performance, and it was nice to know that there is life after the Hollywood Bowl for a conductor who may be trapped exactly midway between John Williams and John Adams. So, it was enjoyable and that’s not so bad. Not the greatest thing I’ve seen, but definitely worlds better than the intestinal flu, as I was reminded in the days subsequent to the performance. There are still a couple of shows left next week to see this fine American cast if you’re in the Chicago area.

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