By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Photo by Ken Howard|
At the Music Center -- oops, I forgot; it's now the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, henceforth PACOLAC (take two at bedtime) -- the Grimm Brothers' forest is now New York's Central Park, in a pretty set like Citizen Kane's snow globe. The "14 angels" are done up like guests on their way to a Jay Gatsby lawn party; the homeless Sandman has so far eluded Mayor Giuliani's cops; the Witch's cottage could pass for the Dakota Apartments, with an oven Julia Child might envy.
Okay so far? It gets worse. Everybody converses in English, then lapses into German for the tunes, or at least so we are told. Aside from Paula Rasmussen's Hansel, who deserves better surroundings, the singing might as well be in middle-high Urdu. Are the kiddie audiences expected to crane their dear little necks to follow the supertitles, projected as they are high above the stage and difficult enough even for aging music critics? The company might be advised to install a few resident chiropractors for the rest of the run.
Enough; it's a lousy show, riddled with poor judgments, soggily staged and conducted, a disgrace at a $146 top ticket. A couple of days before, I had taken in some far superior operatic merchandise: the USC Opera Workshop's staging of Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, charming, delightfully directed, nicely sung in a comprehensible English translation, admirably faithful to the sight, sound and comic spirit of the original work -- with tickets at a $10 top.
SCHUBERT LOOMED LARGE LAST WEEK: the String Quintet in a stupendous performance on Monday, and the little-known chamber chorus Gesang der Geister über den Wassern on Zubin Mehta's Philharmonic program on Thursday. The choral work, a setting of a Goethe poem lasting about 12 minutes and scored for eight male singers and a quintet of low strings, suffered from being triply inflated to fit the proportions of a symphonic program, and suffered even more as a group from the Master Chorale sang with the texture of a wet paper towel. Still, the remarkable shape of the music, with its chains of sideslipping key changes to mirror the dark chills of Goethe's poetry, was an interesting addition to an interesting program that I'll get back to in a minute.
The quintet, performed by four Philharmonic members, plus Lynn Harrell sitting in at first cello, was the week's -- or the month's, or the year's -- miracle. The impact of this work, as I realized more than ever this time, is from its scoring for the two cellos: the throb as they restate and enrich the opening theme, their fierce drive through the development until the first theme's return becomes an apocalypse, and the flashes of dusky flame as their pizzicatos surround the unstoppable flow of melody -- sorrow and ecstasy improbably melded -- that holds an audience breathless at the start of the slow movement. Harrell's playing -- and no less that of his partner, the young Ben Hong, whose every gesture mirrored his capture by his music, and of Martin Chalifour, Lyndon Johnston Taylor and Evan N. Wilson right alongside -- shaped the drama and the passion as completely as any reading I have ever heard or could conceive. And that, from someone who once sat enthralled as this music was set forth by the Hollywood Quartet, is no small tribute.
This was the first of the Philharmonic's new chamber-music series in the Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School of the Performing Arts, catty-corner to PACOLAC on Grand Avenue, which will alternate with the ongoing concerts at the University of Judaism's Gindi Auditorium. Zipper -- named after Herbert, the late, much-loved conductor and teacher -- seats about 400, the right size for a chamber hall. The surroundings are handsome if you don't look at all the busyness on the ceiling; more important, the sound is warm, friendly and clear, especially when they wheel out the school's gorgeously resonant Fazioli piano. A hall this size has been badly needed; there was originally one in the Disney Hall plans. It's good news that Zipper has already been heavily booked.