Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Star Vehicle

November 27, 2009

Placido Domingo, Bejun Mehta, and Sarah Coburn
Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2009

After being out of town last weekend and somewhat ill earlier in the week, I finally did get around to seeing L.A. Opera’s imported production of Handel’s Tamerlano. It’s being staged here, as it has pretty much all over the world, largely to feature the formidable talent of its star Placido Domingo. “Formidable talent” may be an understatement considering the accuracy of the moniker bestowed to him on the back cover of his latest DVD, Placido Domingo, My Greatest Roles, which proclaims him to be “the most important person alive in opera.” And so it is that both of the U.S. companies for which Domingo acts as General Director, Los Angeles and Washington National, have benefited from Domingo’s performance of the role of Bajazet, the humiliated king whose daughter is the center of a heated love triangle in Tamerlano. He not going down in any history book as a remarkable singer of Handel, but it is true that his performances continue to be of remarkable quality. His ability to command the stage with his singing and acting are largely unparalleled and its still something to watch younger singers, still in their vocal prime struggle to hold a candle to his presence.

And there are plenty of those here. Much of the Washington cast was brought to L.A. including Sarah Coburn as Bajazet’s daughter Asteria, and Patricia Bardon as Andronico, here paramour and assistant to Tamerlano. Bardon is still wonderful and still underrated in this country. The biggest substitution in the cast was Bejun Mehta for David Daniels in the title role. In some ways, Mehta is preferable. He has an agile and somewhat more flexible approach as a countertenor and projected the required menace with ease and no campiness. The smaller parts went to Ryan McKinney as Leone and Jennifer Holloway as Irene. I was sad that I didn’t get to hear more of either of these young stars here. McKinny has sung with the L.A. Philharmonic on past occasions and I’ve always rather liked him, but this brief single aria in Tamerlano suggested he’s got much more star-quality than he’s been given opportunity for.

Otherwise, the production didn’t strike me as much more involving than it had when I saw it in 2008. It’s still modern dress with a good visual sense. But it is still filled with silly gestures and stage business that make it more laughable than emotionally connecting. Still, there’s enough going on to recommend it and there are two more performances before it closes shop on December 1.


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