Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Gift of Music

November 28, 2011


Don’t kid yourself. Nobody really wants two front teeth or romance for Christmas. They want what they can’t have, and in lieu of that, they’ll take meaningless stuff that dulls the pain in the meantime. So to help you with this, I’ve put together my own little holiday gift guide. So if you’re one of those who feels compelled to participate in the orgiastic consumerism that is Christmas shopping in the U.S. (and trust me I’ve been there) here’s a collection of things I know I’d be pretty frigging thrilled to unwrap on the big day. I think they'd make great gifts for any classical music and/or opera lover you may know as well.

1. Let's start with the recent Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. Evelino Pidó conducts the Vienna State Opera in this performance filmed for Deutsche Grammophon starring Anna Netrebko and Elena Garanca in 2011. If you saw the Metropolitan Opera’s production of this bel canto sizzler, do yourself a favor and take a look at how its really done.

Photo: Clive Barda
2. Tickets to see Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic December 2 through 4th. It will seem like old times when Salonen returns to L.A. in a week with a program that includes the premiere of newly reconstructed fragments of a score to Shostakovich’s unfinished comic opera, Orango as well as his Symphony No.4 Yes it’s prior to the holiday, but it’s a chance to hear the orchestra lead by the conductor who helped make them one of the world's greatest on an evening with familiar collaborators like Peter Sellars. Or if you live in the Bay area, you could go see EPS conduct his own 2012 Grawemeyer Award wining Violin Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony on December 8-10.

3. One of the most exciting U.S. operatic debuts this year by my ear was Lucy Crowe’s appearance in Handel’s Hercules in Chicago last spring. She’s also kicked off a series of recordings on Harmonia Mundi with Il caro Sassone, “The Dear Saxon”, a collection of works composed by Handel during his time in Italy. One of my favorite vocal performance collections of the year with the help of Harry Bicket and The English Concert.

4. For something a bit more historical and instrumental, the Canadian Broadcasting Company has recently reissued the entire series of documentaries and specials that Glenn Gould made for them between 1954 and 1977 on DVD. The set includes a wide range of material in the original uncut format for over 19 hours of viewing.

Domingo as Simon Boccanegra Photo: Catherine Ashmore/ROH
5. Nothing beats live opera though, and surely one of the hottest tickets in L.A. next year will be tenor Placido Domingo singing the baritone title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra with Los Angeles Opera starting February 11th. The cast includes Ana Maria Martinez, Vitalij Kowaljow, Paolo Gavanelli (!!), and Stefano Secco under conductor James Conlon. Domingo’s performance in this role have been hailed around the world and it’s a great chance to see him onstage right here in town.

6. One of the best received opera productions of the past year was a return engagement of Lully’s Atys played by Les Arts Florissant under the baton of William Christie. For those of us not able to make it to New York for this Baroque gem, FraMusica has just released what may be the opera video release of the year on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Sahr Ngaujah in Fela! Photo: Monique Carboni 2009
7. If your looking for something a little lest oriented toward classical music, you can’t go wrong with a pair of tickets to see the touring production of Jim Lewis and Bill T. Jones’ musical Fela! which will appear at the Ahmanson theater in Los Angeles starting December 14 for a six week run. The show was a high-energy barn burner with a red hot live band in New York and London and will surely make anyone on your list with an interest in world music thrilled.

8. Yes it’s elaborate re-packaging or previously released material, but no one does this quite like Harmonia Mundi these days and Lumières is the ideal gift for anyone wanting to hear more of the music that made the 18th Century. Included in the sets 30 CDs are three complete operas and many, many other works, some of them under the direction of label-favorite René Jacobs. Among the contents are Haydn symphonies, Vivaldi concertos and Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. As an alternative, there’s Jacob’s recently released recording of Handel’s Agrippina to consider as well.

9. Or how about some good old-fashioned pop music? You can’t go wrong with one of the best pop recordings of the year, which in case you must ask would include PJ Harvey’s mercury Prize winning Let England Shake, Gabriel Kahane’s Where Are the Arms, and Bjork’s Biophilia Take your pick.

10. And just in case you want a gift that doesn’t involve sitting in the dark and watching someone else perform, how about Evelyn Rillé and Johannes Ifkovits' The Opera Cooks which is available in English through the Metropolitan Opera gift shop online. This cook book collects some of the favorite dishes from the world’s biggest vocal stars with some highly amusing photography. A certain pleaser for any opera fan.



Now wait just a minute. You mean that Domingo's Boccanegra has been hailed around the world.

It's his conducting that has been failed.
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