Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Turkish Delight

February 21, 2011


Musica Angelica may be L.A.’s best-kept secret when it comes to classical music. Which in some sense is too bad considering that our local period practice Baroque ensemble under music director and conductor Martin Haselböck routinely creates some of the finest musical evenings in town. This weekend the ensemble presented their annual operatic offering, a staged version of Mozart’s Zaide. For many Mozart fans, Zaide is the one that got away. A mid-career opera with some very beautiful music, Mozart abandoned the work after completing the first two acts with no overture and no conclusion in order to work on Idomeneo. He never returned to the score, which surfaced again in a large fragment after his death. But the work has lived on due to the beauty of what remains. Zaide is often cobbled together with other Mozart bits and pieces to create a more full fledged production, which was the case in the Musica Angelica performance as well. Haselböck inserted Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 for an overture, which is a typical practice. More unusually, though, Haselböck and director/collaborator Brian Michaels used a vocal quartet, KV479, which Mozart originally wrote as augmentation for another opera by another composer, to complete the Zaide score. Some new dialog was added to create a quick, but logical ending to the Turkish “rescue” opera, which revisits popular themes of its day.

The augmentation worked well for the essentially comic opera. Haselböck and his orchestra sounded lively with good clarity and, as usual, was the show's biggest asset. The four principle roles were taken by a number of satisfying young singers. Valerie Vinzant, a recent graduate of the L.A. Opera Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, sang Zaide with a bright silvery tone. She’s an attractive and interesting performer who was well matched with Andrew Bidlack in the role of Zaide’s lover, Gomatz. Bidlak was recently one of San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellows and has been making his way with his pleasing, sizable tenor. He was very enjoyable to listen to. They were joined by Christoph Genz as Allazim and Christian Hilz as Sultan Soliman. All four vocalists did especially well, considering that they were performing on stage with the orchestra and conductor behind them. And even in the second performance of the day on Sunday, they all sounded fresh and highly engaged. Best of all none of them were taking the comic trappings of the opera or the basic staging too seriously. The four performers were arranged side-by-side on stage, initially with each one ensconced at their own desk or chair. The performers moved about using the pieces of furniture to represent other objects such as boats, but there was little rhyme or reason to this as if it were being improvised as they went along. There was a series of puppets as well, each representing one of the four characters, that the cast would manipulate or perform with on occasion. And while I never quite understood the point or significance of this, the staging on the whole was not so intrusive as to derail the comedic spirit of the performance. Hilz's comic introduction to the makeshift final act was especially good-spirited and made for a worthwhile turn through an operatic rarity. There are two more Musica Angelica performances this season, including Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, so check out their site for more details.


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