Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

In Recovery

March 07, 2007

Donnie Ray Albert, Tatiana Pavlovskaya, and Anthony Dean Griffey
Photo: Lori Shepler/LAT 2007
Just in case you thought Salonen and the LA Philharmonic had cornered the market on 20th century music performance in this town, tonight James Conlon and the LA Opera orchestra reminded everyone that two can play at that game. The event was the first of two concerts to start off Conlon's "Recovered Voices" project - a series of events designed to highlight works and artists suppressed by Hitler's Third Reich. This has long been a favorite period and topic for Conlon who has advocated for the works of Schulhoff, Zemlinsky, Ullmann, and others across the US and elsewhere for many years. LA Opera has provided a new forum and platform for him to rightfully explore some of the operatic works of the 25 or so composers who affected to greater and lesser extents by this suppression.

The concert to kick off these events was a grab bag designed to introduce local audiences not just to the topic, but to a number of works and authors that many regular local opera goers had likely never heard of. Conlon spoke passionately from the stage about these works and it's hard to resist his enthusiasm. The first half of the program was a medley of opera outtakes from six different composer: Schreker, Braunfels, Krenek, Ullmann, Schulhoff, and Korngold. These arias and orchestral passages from different operas were strung together into a single symphonic piece. While laking a narrative structure and knowingly and intentionally disjointed, this program rightfully highlighted a host of treasures performed by a number of performers currently appearing in LA Opera's Tannhäuser and Mahagonny productions. Despite the wildly varied tones and styles of the pieces, this segment worked quite well and featured a "staging" that augmented the soloists with video projections of the composers and various bucolic fields and other sundry romantic images. The orchestra, unfortunately was in the pit, not on the stage.

This arrangement became much more of a problem in the second half during a complete performance of Zeminsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie. Again the orchestra and Conlon's impassioned direction were the star, but all the audience was left with were three soloists on an empty stage with music stands and some not-so-clever Italian renaissance inspired Photoshop images. It got dull fast. Donnie Ray Albert, the baritone doing the heavylifting in the piece, was good but significantly underpowered overall. Tatianan Pavlovskaya, the soprano playing Bianca, fared a little better, but frankly didn't have much to do. Of course the Wilde text used for the libretto seems as unshocking today as, well, Salome (Both the play and the opera).

I guess the good news here is that while the evening itself was not overwhelming, musically there is a promise of great things to come from a music director who is clearly engaged about this project and about producing these works in LA.

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