Small Things Considered

{mosimage}Déjà Vu All Over Again: Plácido Domingo zoomed out from the wings at the Hollywood Bowl on opening night, encased in Kristin Chenoweth as wraparound, and I was suddenly overpowered by memory. On October 23, 1966, at the New York State Theater, a somewhat younger Domingo gathered up a fragile Pat Brooks in exactly the same way to launch into the most heartbreaking “Parigi, O cara” in my memory book. No, it wasn’t La Traviata at the Bowl this night, but for that split visual second, it was exactly that for me. For this big, messy evening — a comedy routine by Jack Black that I didn’t expect to like but did, a dumb-ass bit by Jason Alexander that I hadn’t planned to hate but did, young dancers from John Mauceri’s North Carolina School of the Arts that you couldn’t help but love — that suspended moment released the happiest memories.

“MaryAnn Bonino comes into the room,” I wrote in this space in 1992, “and her smile is like the lighting of a hundred crystal chandeliers.” Last Friday at the Doheny Mansion, there was still that light, but also a sad shadow Bonino was there to announce her stepping down as head of the Da Camera Society, which since 1973 has brought world-renowned performance artists to play in settings worthy of them, the series known as “Chamber Music in Historic Sites,” which greatly enhances the audible and visible prestige of this area. The series will continue under the able leadership of the young Kelly Garrison, organist at St. Basil’s and a Bonino protégé these last several years. Garrison is a charming fellow, but nobody played a room like Bonino and her smile. Her future projects include writing histories of the magnificent Doheny home in the Adams District, where these concerts began and where many of them still go on, and of the Dohenys themselves, one of this city’s great families, who brought the likes of the fabulous tenor John McCormack to serenade their guests. In other words, Bonino is dropping out while staying put.

Youth Has Its Sing: Google your way to the Alex Prior Web site and hear 14-year-old Prior, still this side of voice change, deliver Puccini’s tenor socko “Nessun dorma” in the boy-soprano range, a bit wobbly at that. He throws in an extra “Vincero!!!” at the end to even out the cadences, but the audience in the Kremlin — at least the bigwigs around Russian President Vladimir Putin — looks unmoved. Brit-born Prior is studying (what? all kinds of things!) in St. Petersburg, where he has composed ballets and symphonies, and is now working on an operatic version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

Hey, Jay!: Perhaps this is the time to look in on Jay Greenberg, another teenage prodigy, who stole the heart of a New York Times correspondent a year ago with his, well, prodigality. Alas, there is nothing on the Greenberg Web site since last August. Can it be?

Curious Replacements Along Parallel Pretexts: The excellent Peter Davis, whom New York magazine fired recently on the pretext that it didn’t need a music critic, has now been replaced by Justin Davidson, former music critic of Newsday, on the pretext that Davidson will also write about architecture (and the unspoken pretext that he owns a Pulitzer and is a couple of decades younger than Davis). Even from over 2,400 aeronautical miles, this smells. And while we’re at it, I wonder at William Friedkin’s hilarious staging of Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi being dumped by the L.A. Opera after one time out, with the opera handed over to Woody Allen to direct in the 2008 season. Of the operas that make up that triple bill, I should think that the gooey, lachrymose Suor Angelica would far more need the Woody touch.

The New Gibberish, Anatomical Division: (David Mermelstein, on Esa-Pekka, in The Wall Street Journal):

“One notices that his apple cheeks are giving way to jowls.”

Evidence of the Disappearance of the Symphony: At its annual meeting last week, the 65-year-old American Symphony Orchestra League voted to change its name next September to the League of the American Orchestra. Whether the move will immediately enfranchise other orchestras not quite symphonic to join the league isn’t immediately known, but it’s significant that the voting took place in Nashville.

Leakage: The same day’s mail brought the galleys of Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise, as avidly awaited in circles close to me as that Potter affair seems to be in others also not far off. The publication date isn’t until mid-October, so I am bound to silence, or something close. Within the bounds of friendship, in this case, I don’t see anything wrong in suggesting that “avidly,” in the matter at hand, might well be tantamount to “deservedly”; after all, you’ve surveyed the level of his writing in Ross’ columns in The New Yorker and in his blog named like the book. Furthermore, there is some leakage afoot. Ross has allowed the prepublication in the magazine of an entire chapter, as a teaser you might say; it happens to be the first chapter my eyes fell upon when the galleys arrived, the dark, elegiac piece on Jean Sibelius, largely on his symphonies, bearing the title “Apparition From the Woods: The Loneliness of Jean Sibelius.” There is strength and eloquence here, and the fascination with history going back into wonderful caverns of atmosphere such to make any listener — myself included — rush out to rehear these strange, multicolored works. How can an orchestra, or a league of orchestras, shirk the modifier “symphony,” confronted with such heritage? And, of course, the book hits the market just as our own Philharmonic starts the new season with its own Sibelius Cycle, a survey of exactly that music. Do I hear some wheels interlocking? Do I care?


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