Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Bowling with Salonen

September 07, 2007

Members of Diavolo and Salonen
Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/LAT 2007
It’s after Labor Day and the opera season starts this weekend, but here in LA, summer is far from over. In case anyone missed that point, the LA Philharmonic scheduled two big shows this week at the group's summer home, the Hollywood Bowl, featuring music director Esa-Pekka Salonen in high-profile programs. Both of these evenings centered around collaborations between Salonen, the LA Philharmonic and other performers with various levels of success, but enjoyable and worthwhile results nonetheless.

Tuesday’s main attraction was Salonen conducting his own composition Foreign Bodies accompanied by a new ballet choreographed specifically for the work by LA’s own Diavolo Dance Theater under director Jacques Heim. The Philharmonic sounded great and Diavolo overcame a space that has finished off bigger and more experienced theater and dance ensembles. Diavolo and Heim took advantage of their trademark interest in incorporating large set objects into their work by choreographing the movement around a large cube with multiple openings that individual dancers could pass into and out of throughout the performance. The cube further broke apart into three smaller Plexiglas pyramid sections that could be easily moved, rotated and reassembled throughout. The piece was very engaging and the crowd responded with remarkable enthusiasm for a Tuesday night at the Bowl. The second half of the program featured Mahler’s First Symphony and the Philharmonic delivered a strong and spirited run through even if it was hampered with that hallmark Hollywood Bowl sound - like your listening to the music being played on a boom box from a neighboring stall in a men’s room.

Mikhail Kit and Salonen in action
Photo: Ken Hively/LAT 2007
Thursday's offering from Salonen et al. was a concert performance of the original version of Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov with an all-star Russian cast straight from the Mariinsky Theater including one of the worlds preeminent interpreters of the main role, Mikhail Kit. Ironically, much of the same cast, including Kit, appeared in the same fully-staged opera last year in Orange County under Valery Gergiev as part of the Mariinsky’s tour. Salonen’s approach is clearly more studied and methodical than Gergiev’s and while it undoubtedly had several great moments, it seemed somewhat more suited to Wagner than Mussorgsky given its pacing. The vocalists were quite strong on the whole, but few of them, with the notable exception of Kit, did much acting with their vocal performance making the whole thing seem unnecessarily stiff. However the weakest link on Thursday was clearly the Pacific Chorale that seemed distant and drowned-out in the massive space of the Bowl. While it was not an unenjoyable evening, it made me long for the wonderful feeling of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Fall Philharmonic Season still a month away. But, as always, good things come to those who wait.

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