Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Life After Death

October 19, 2009

The Los Angeles Master Chorale
Photo: mine 2009

After a week of fewer posts than I intended and less exciting performances than I’d hoped, I arrived Sunday night at the very well attended season opener for the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Following the ridiculously overblown Los Angeles Philharmonic gala last weekend, it was refreshing to see L.A.’s world-class chorale without Mylar confetti, television cameras, or overrated maestros. Instead we got the L.A. Master Chorale making great music without too much unnecessary hype. And that wasn’t the only novelty. Music director Grant Gershon chose to start the season with a smart program featuring several choruses from the John Adams' opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, paired with Mozart’s Requiem. As Gershon noted from the stage, the two pieces have more in common than meets the eye, inviting the audience to think of the choruses as a Requiem of sorts as well.

Klinghoffer, even in these tiny portions, is a rarity in a world highly polarized around issues of Middle Eastern politics and race relations. Few companies will touch the work despite the relative success of Adams' other operas and, in my experience, even people who like contemporary music find themselves pressed to enjoy any part of the work without viewing it as a looking glass for their own beliefs about the Middle East. But the controversy of twenty years ago has faded somewhat, and to hear the segments on Sunday was a real treat by any measure. They were performed expertly by a chorus much larger than one would likely ever see on an opera stage for this work in a glowing and often moving setting. There was rage and beauty and regret like any Requiem, and Gershon's comparison was easy to appreciate. And while Alice Goodman’s poetic libretto may not be to everyone's taste, it can be alternately direct and poetic and I found it rather insightful at times.

Sadly, the Mozart didn’t go quite as smoothly as the Adams piece. Or maybe it went too smoothly. The Requiem had so much polish that it could be soporific at times, sliding by not so much as a funeral mass but more as a lullaby. The soloists were lost in the mix, even if the overall sound of the chorus was still lovely. But even an hour of undercooked Mozart was a small price to pay for the lovely Klinghoffer choruses.


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