Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
January 30, 2017
For a second weekend, protests raged across America and for a second weekend the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s serendipitously timed “Left Every Voice” festival promoting peace and reconciliation carried on to its ambitious, poignant conclusion. LACO, in collaboration with UCLA’s CAP program, director Anne Bogart, and members of the SITI Company revived Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s Lost in the Stars for two performances at Royce Hall. The musical has been revived periodically since its 1949 debut on Broadway, but it has never been the most familiar of Weil’s works - which is a shame considering the richness of the score and material. The show is a stage adaptation of Alan Baton’s apartheid era novel Cry, The Beloved Country. It concerns a black Anglican priest who has gone to find his son in the city of Johannesburg only to find he has fallen into a variety of sins including the eventual murder of a white friend of another family from the priest’s village. It’s stirring stuff and the themes are ones dear to Weill’s heart. But the music harkens to other influences including what Weill identified as Zulu tribal music.
The story covers a lot of ground even if it does go to predictable places for a contemporary audience. But it was hard not to admire the sheer ambition and effort that all parties had put into the production. Jeffrey Kahane and the LACO players were forceful and gave a real edge to the score. It was a similar approach to their performances of Weill from last week and it provided a counterweight to Bogart’s sometimes slow and often ritualistic staging. The large cast operated in a sparsely decorated space that relied heavily on lighting to evoke its sense of place. Anchoring the cast were two excellent performances from Justin Hopkins as the priest, Steven Kumalo, and Lauren Michelle as Irina, his son’s now pregnant partner. Michelle appeared alone on stage for her big solo numbers but she easily carried those moments that were by far the most riveting of the entire evening.
The eventual reconciliation of the story may seem comparatively easy to an audience facing the current political climate that Sunday night’s was. But it was a message of hope that is sorely needed right now. And LACO should be commended for the ambition of the endeavor, perhaps one of the biggest undertakings the orchestra has made in years.