Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Duking it Out
August 12, 2012
The always sluggish Hollywood Bowl summer season for the Los Angeles Philharmonic perked up a bit on Sunday. Actually it would be more accurate to say it bolted awake suddenly with a show likely to be the high-water mark of the whole summer. It was the annual one-off opera performance in concert version that has been a staple of Hollywood Bowl seasons for years now. L.A. Philharmonic Music Director has continued his close involvement with the event this time around in his ongoing efforts to take a first crack at conducting operas in the standard repertoire, virtually none of which he had much experience with prior to coming to L.A. Local audiences continue to be the test subjects for his first forays into the field, but on Sunday they got a winner when Dudamel led the orchestra and a great vocal cast in Verdi’s Rigoletto in what was easily the best opera performance given at the Bowl in years.
What worked? First and foremost the company brought in the world’s leading proponent of the title role, baritone Željko Lucic. He’ll be singing the same role in San Francisco later this Fall and will headline the Metropolitan Opera’s new staging a bit later on as well. Luckily, L.A. got to see him if only for one night, and he is amazing in this part. Big and rich sounding, he readily taps into Rigoletto’s paranoia and tragic conflict as both purveyor and victim of the excesses of the Duke's court. Lucic's Act II performance alone was stirring at depths not too many of his competition can come close to. At times he sounded as if the patchy Bowl amplification system was unnecessary and that he could fill all the outdoors with his big assured sound. And this time around, the L.A. Phil assembled a supporting cast that was equally strong. Russian soprano Irina Lungu whose worked extensively in Italy including at La Scala sang Gilda and had firm hold of the coloratura elements in the part maintaining strength throughout her range. The duets with Lucic were masterful and a pure joy to hear. The young tenor David Lomeli sang the Duke of Mantua with athleticism and easy clear top notes. He’s going places to be sure and even against these very experienced and polished cast members, he sounded like a world-class tenor. (He’ll be travelling to San Francisco with this role as well in the fall.)
There are still glitches. Why the L.A. Philharmonic insists on the mostly unreadable design of their supertitles for the large Bowl monitors year after year is a wonder. The white lettering of the titles vanishes even when it’s dark enough to see them against the white jackets of the performers. The transparent background for the titles at the bottom of these screens hasn’t worked for years and isn’t about to start now. It’s a shame that the organization can’t seem to address this most basic detail to improve the experience of seeing the show for everyone in the audience. The orchestra meanwhile sounded brisk and dug in for most of the show. Dudamel’s trademark indulgently slow tempi at times continue to mar the proceedings here and there dragging out the overall performance and sometimes throwing vocalists off in the clutch, but he continues to be more deferential to them than not. But overall, the orchestral work provided first rate support and the L.A. Philharmonic can be proud of producing some excellent Verdi in one of the more inhospitable music venues in the city. It was also proof again that even without the names of famous architects and costume designers attached, the L.A. Phil and Dudamel are completely capable of producing great operatic performances under their own steam.