Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The End is Near

November 08, 2009

Dudamel with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Master Chorale
Photo: mine 2009

I’ll admit I was not optimistic about the prospect of Verdi’s Requiem this weekend at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Given the Dud’s (aka Gustavo Dudamel’s) penchant for fumble-fingered overwrought interpretation, Verdi’s grand operatic treatment of the mass promised to be unbearable. Plus, without any specific reason or honoree for the performance, the idea of the Requiem seemed a little free-floating. So, while it may have benefited in my mind from lowered expectations, I must say the combined forces of the L.A. Philharmonic and Master Chorale weren’t at all bad by the time Sunday’s matinee performance rolled around. In fact, there were several moments that were very,very good.

There was a calm and controlled center to the performance that was surprising given what we’ve seen from this conductor on this stage. The big drama was still there with a Dies Irae that shook the hall’s wooden rafters and a Libera Me that was reverent and a little sad. The orchestra sounded less scrappy than in recent weeks with attacks that were cleaner and stops that were more like what one remembers from performances not so long ago. Though there was a certain operatic quality missing from the work, it was a robust and solid performance. The Los Angeles Master Chorale was phenomenal. This may be one of the most adept and memorable performances in a recent memory from a group with a track record for superiority. There seemed an incredible unity of purpose at times creating the sensation of one giant voice booming from the beyond. It was hugely satisfying.

On the down side, the strength in numbers on stage didn’t apply to the grossly outnumbered soloists. With the exception of the great John Relyea who brought his clear and powerful bass back to Los Angeles, the soloists were young artists still within clear sight of the start of their careers. The soprano, Leah Crocetto, is a current Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera while Ekaterina Gubanova and David Lomeli have been busy in programs and competitions elsewhere in recent years. They were all serviceable and competent in this setting, but none delivered the dazzle or star-power that have graced recent performances of Verdi’s Requiem elsewhere in California in the last few years with the likes of Rene Pape, Adrianne Pieczonka, Stephanie Blythe and so on. Why the Dud and the LA Philharmonic elected to under-cast such a big ticket performance isn't entirely clear even if the soloists were reasonable overall.

But it was nice to have a performance that suggested for at least one moment that Dudamel might actually be able to partially live up to some of the hype that has plagued his tenure here in Los Angeles so far. As usual he avoided the solo spotlight on stage both before and after the performance, burying himself within the mass of musicians during the final bows. Still a potent reminder that with all the hyperbole flung his way this year, it was not necessarily of his design or choosing. He’s got bigger fish to fry. And he may just do that in time.



Minor point - Lomeli is also an Adler Fellow.
Did hell just freeze over?
No. I'm just having a moment of weakness. Never let it be said that OWA can't be "fair and balanced" when it needs to.

It's not that I think the man is incompetent. I just think he's overrated at the present time. He's more than allowed to hit one out of the ball park whenever he feels like it.
With all the hype, you half expect Gustavo to walk on water. I am put off by all the promotion, but I'm beginning to have a little sympathy for the guy - he has to live up to the LA-showbiz hype, save classical music here and be seen to improve an already good LA Phil.

Tall order.
Totally agree with your assessment of Sunday's performance, but felt the singers sang better than you did, especially the soprano toward the end in singing over the chorus.
Didn't feel extra starpower was needed, in that the orchestra, chorus and conductor have enough on their own.
Was surprised there were at least 14 empty seats in the house.
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