Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Return to the Latin Quarter

April 20, 2012


Opera returned to Orange County on Thursday. Not that it was ever that far away, but audiences there have been forced into longer treks both north and south for years now since the untimely financial collapse of Opera Pacific back in 2008. Given the enthusiastic near sell out and audience response to Thursday's opening performance of Puccini's La Bohème with the Pacific Symphony, it appears some have still been starving for this particular kind of musical theater right in the heart of Orange County. Music director Carl St. Clair led the orchestra in the first of four semi-staged concert performances that evening for a crowd that was far from disappointed. Although concert performances of entire operas are not typical for this orchestra, this particular idea shouldn't come as a surprise. Carl St. Clair has spent plenty of time in the orchestra pit, and it wasn't oh so long ago he was music director of the Komische Opera Berlin before their split over the proverbial artistic differences in 2010. (There's also a DVD set of an entire Ring Cycle conducted by St. Clair for Weimar Opera from 2010 as well.)

And as you might expect from this, St. Clair was perhaps the most critical component to the evening's performance on Thursday, and the Pacific Symphony players sounded especially dynamic and responsive under his guidance. The opera's collection of young artists finding love in a hopeless place was a well chosen mix of young up-and-comers and more established vocal artists. Foremost among these was Mexican tenor David Lomelí who is rocketing onto major stages after big competition wins and time in some California young artist development programs. Here he's singing Rudolfo, as he will in Glyndebourne this summer before moving on to the Duke of Mantua at the Hollywood Bowl in August and San Francisco in the fall. The lucky OC crowd got to hear what those other audiences can look forward to - a bright, easy sound complete with an Italianate flair. He's got good stage presence and a confident grip on his upper register that doesn't sound tight or labored. There are still traces of a youthful hesitancy here and there in both his acting and vocal performance, but make no doubt he's on his way to big things.

He was paired with the somewhat more seasoned Maija Kovalevska who has sung Mimi in the area before including Los Angeles in 2007. She's attractive if perhaps a little too worldly in this particular stage arrangement with a dash more Manon than is necessary. Her voice is large and almost Strauss-like at times and she delivered many lovely moments, though her voice could spread a bit turning pitchy in parts. There were other notable performances including Hyung Yun's Marcello and Georgia Jarman's Musetta. A. Scott Parry's stage direction was straight forward and appropriate for the allotted space in front of the orchestra. There were some sight-line issues as was to be expected when the cast is in front of the orchestra facing away toward the audience while relying on monitors for their musical cues. There were several video projections used to evoke a sense of place but they were difficult to make out when projected against the Segerstrom Concert Hall's pipe organ and chorus. But no one seemed phased by these relatively small issues. They were at the opera on their own home turf and that was occasion enough to celebrate. The celebration will continue Saturday and next weekend, but hurry, there aren't many tickets left.


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