Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

A Flair for the Dramatic

August 02, 2010

Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Carmen
Photo: mine 2010

Sandwiched between my trip to Santa Fe and my week in Salzburg was another brief operatic excursion here in Los Angeles. Continuing its tradition of presenting a single performance of a complete opera each summer, the Los Angeles Philharmonic appeared at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday with Bizet’s Carmen. Which would seem unnecessary considering that this was the opera they presented just two years ago under Bramwell Tovey with Denyce Graves and Stuart Skelton. But where there is a Gustavo Dudamel and an ebullient press corps, there is a way. So Carmen returned again for a large audience by prior year’s opera concert standards. The performance was highly touted as Dudamel’s first opera performance in the U.S. and I enjoyed it because it was the first time I’ve really been reminded of the positive first impressions I had of the young maestro when I first saw him lead Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 2006. Sunday’s Carmen performance from Dudamel and the L.A. Phil was very, very good and what I see in retrospect looking back is that the conductor’s penchant for overblown dynamics works far better in the opera pit than the non-opera concert stage. This is especially true at the Bowl where the lousy acoustics deaden everything. Here, the grand gestures look more reasonable and the rough and tumble goes a long way towards just getting heard. This was a lively, even detailed, Carmen with energy and real musical motion. And the Los Angeles Master Chorale and L.A. Children’s Chorus both lived up to the high standard of the evening as well. What a pleasant surprise.

It’s too bad that the cast and technical aspects of performing at the Bowl failed such a great orchestral performance. Natascha Petrinsky, a mezzo largely unknown in the United States, was the Carmen and wore the obligatory red dress, sashaying across the stage at every moment. She gulped down consonants like a narcotics addict does Oxycontin. And while she had a dark colored voice that wasn’t completely unpleasant, she lacked a particularly French sound. Her Don José was Yonghoon Lee who sounded quite nice after a little warm up early in the evening. He was a decidedly stiff actor on the concert stage, however, and there wasn’t much chemistry or tempestuousness in this particular affair. The B characters in the story including Kyle Ketelsen’s Escamillo and Alexia Voulgaridou‘s Micaëla were far more satisfying. Of course, Voulgaridou’s touching appearances were trampled on by the haphazard bowl acoustics with ample static and feedback from the tight miking. Of course there was the lovely electrical surge and pop during the Habanera as well, which makes one wonder how much rehearsal time the vocalists actually got on stage before the show when ideally some of these problems could have been worked out.

So it was a good evening. And even if the choice of Carmen isn't much of an artistic statement if this show was in fact as important a landmark as some would have you believe, it was still a very strong performance. And hopefully its the harbinger of better things from Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic.


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