Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
Everybody Ought to Have a Maid
October 26, 2014
The Los Angeles Master Chorale kicked off its 51st season under Artistic Director Grant Gershon last Sunday night and wasted no time setting the tone for the next 50 years with an ambitious piece of newer music on the program that involved a multi-media presentation alongside the ensembles’ world-class musicianship. A sub theme this season are passion stories. Two LAMC favorites – Bach’s St Matthew Passion and Tan Dun’s Water Passion will feature prominently later on next year. But in another twist on the topic, the Chorale performed Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light to start fall on Sunday. This very popular work has become Einhorn’s calling card since its premiere and has been heard all over the world in a variety of formats. While Einhorn has produced a wide variety of compositions over his career, he is particularly known for his music for films, and Voices of Light honors that relationship beautifully. The piece draws direct inspiration from Carl Dreyer’s film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. And while the choral work can serve as a sort-of soundtrack, it just as easily stands alone as either an oratorio or operatic endeavor.
On Sunday, Gershon and his choristers stuck closely to the soundtrack interpretation with Voices being performed in conjunction with a screening of Dreyer’s masterpiece. However, this isn’t to say that presenting the choral work alongside the film is necessarily a perfect fit. Despite a wonderful, rich, and textured interpretation of the score last Sunday, the simultaneous screening of the film with the choral performance created issues. First, there are elements and passages from the libretto that do not coincide with the ongoing action in Dreyer’s film. The text, an assemblage of Latin and French sources including some of Joan’s own writing, is arranged artfully if not in a directly narrative way. With the film running, the musical score often lost out with the visual images dominating the audience's consciousness in the moment. This was especially true of the admirable performances turned in by all of the Master Chorale's soloists. Though their splendid voices could be heard, focusing on them in the wake of the giant face of Dreyer's star, Falconetti, was frustratingly difficult.
At the same time, Einhorn’s musical experience with film was clearly on display throughout. The score is both modern and minimal and it effectively underscores the emotional elements of the film. The score references several significant periods in the history of chorale music, shifting gears with ease. But this season opener despite its beauty and simplicity too often got left on the side lines. Nevertheless, it certainly left the audience looking forward to more in this new season with promises of great work around every corner.