Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Pacific Overtures

October 24, 2010

James Conlon and the San Francisco Symphony Photo: mine 2010

While the Giants may have won the division playoffs, San Francisco itself is under siege by the artistic staff of L.A. Opera this weekend. Over at the War memorial Opera House, LAO general director Placido Domingo is opening a production of Alfano’s Cyrano de Bergerac today in his long awaited return to the Bay Area. (Sorry sports fans, I won’t have any report on this one until the last show of the run when I’ll be I town to catch the company’s upcoming The Makropulos Case with Karita Mattila.) But the opera stage isn’t the only organization hosting L.A. Opera artists this weekend. The San Francisco Symphony welcomed LAO music director James Conlon to their stage for one of his trademark thoughtful and well-played programs.

If there was a unifying element to the evenings program, it was overtures; though, as Conlon pointed out, those are not always what they are billed to be. First up was Wagner’s prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which the symphony players brought to life with warmth and grandeur. It immediately brought to my mind how exciting it would be to hear that entire work on the LAO stage. Conlon mentioned that he and the company had hoped to bring the work to L.A. in 2007, but ended up presenting Beethoven’s Fidelio instead for all of the usual reasons. But one can always hold out hope for tomorrow. At the other end of Saturday’s performance were three Dvorak overtures, In der Natur, Carnival, and Othello. In his remarks from the stage, Conlon argued that these three works, composed at the same time and all just before his 9th Symphony, represent a symphony of their own when taken together. In fact he pointed out the direct musical links between the three with examples from the orchestra players to make his point before requesting that the audience hold their applause until all three works were played so as to emphasize the symphonic arch of the three movements. The resulting “Overture Symphony” addressed big themes including the cycle of life, and the beautiful Othello, which ended the concert was quite stirring. It’s a show Conlon has done elsewhere, but it continues to please and is a real testament to his interest in providing thoughtful, challenging programming.

There was dessert on Saturday, as well, though it came as a second course. Joshua Bell appeared and played the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1. It was a showy virtuosic display, which there is always a place for, but as usual with Bell, it felt like empty calories to me. He did his little “Yankee Doodle” encore stunt that people can’t seem to get enough of. The show repeats again on Sunday before Conlon returns to L.A. to begin work on L.A. Opera’s upcoming Lohengrin production next week.


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