The Dirty Old Men Meet the Critics
Photos by Robert MillardFADED NOBILITY The critics were all over town last week dance, theater, music convening with their self-importance in full array, convoking their endless panel discussions (I led one), checking out what Los Angeles had to offer that Dayton did not, allowing themselves grudging respect for local amenities. I hung out with a few of the saner members of the music crowd, who spoke with some awe about Chinatown and even more about Amoeba. After all, New York or Chicago could house some 500 high-rise apartment dwellers, all waiting in line for the elevator, on the land of that awe-inspiring emporium. Our local music makers were at their best. Esa-Pekka and the Philharmonic, with some help from the Pacific Chorale, filled Disney Hall with the audible rainbow that is Ravels Daphnis et Chloë to end their season. Before had come John Adams Dharma at Big Sur ear-catching in its billowing outbursts around Tracy Silvermans electric violin but, for Adams, a curiously static piece. With the halls improved sound system, it didnt antagonize the ear as it had during the inaugural concert in October 2003, but it remains a lesser work for Adams which still places it on a high shelf. Across the street, the L.A. Opera ended splendidly, with two performances on levels unattained during an otherwise so-so season. No matter that both works Verdis Falstaff and Strauss Der Rosenkavalier told basically the same tale in much the same way: dirty old mans comeuppance at the hands of younger, cleverer connivers. Both resounded gloriously. Theyre still on; for once, a top ticket price of $190 can be reckoned as mere. The Falstaff treads old ground. The sets date back to 1982, before there was an opera company, when the Philharmonics great Carlo Maria Giulini let himself be lured into opera. They were make-do then; look for the old laserdisc from when the production was new. But now there is Bryn Terfels Falstaff, which is sheer creative genius not just the roisterer of the operas present day but the remnant of yesterdays nobility. The comparison, actually, is worth attention: between the whole man not the usual Falstaff stereotype that Terfel creates in the final scenes of Verdis opera and the Baron Ochs embodied by Kurt Rydl in the Rosenkavalier as marvelously rethought by director Maximilian Schell. At the end, Ochs, too, in his most abject moment of discomfiture, must be reminded by the Marschallin that he, too, is a nobleman; in a quick, telling gesture he draws himself up accordingly. Many an Ochs I have seen has let this precious moment go by. Rydl did not. Kent Nagano conducts both operas: efficiently and nicely paced in the Falstaff; richly expressive and with the full range of authentic affection in the Rosenkavalier. The latter, indeed, is one of the companys great triumphs, a visual rewrite of a work so encrusted in a much-observed tradition that youd think the slightest new move might upset the balance. But no, from the opening in a bedroom furnished not in period fustian but in bare walls magically drenched in Alan Burretts saturated lighting, to the glorious overstatement of the look of the Baron himself, who seems costumed in neon, to the Marschallins final entrance, when the flush of her face seems to have drained into the unsexed blue of her gown, this is a story told in color and transformed by the shaping skills of Max Schells direction and the design genius of Gottfried Helnwein into a Rosenkavalier freshly renewed. The singing is every note as glorious as this enlightened production deserves: the clear yet melting sensibility of Adrianne Pieczonkas Marschallin; the sturdy, unaffected Octavian of Alice Coote; the airborne shimmer of Elizabeth Futrals Sophie together in that final trio, which still floats in my ear like enchanted quicksilver. One further touch speaks for the evenings high inventive level. Accompanying all three of the (admittedly long) act preludes are projected scenes from the 1926 silent film of Der Rosenkavalier, which was directed by Robert Wiene (of Caligari fame), and which now actually go very well with the noisy, trivial music. Id love to see the film; both Strauss and his librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, insisted that it contain no action from the opera itself, and the cast did include the Marschallins husband (as the opera did not). We also get to see the young Octavian (played by the renowned Jacque Catelain) riding his horse to battle. Talk about filmic license! (Sudden flash: Could that misleading same-sex clinch on the Opera program book be a still from the film? Ill bet!) NAGANOS WEEK For his weeks third major accomplishment, Nagano delivered to a sold-out Royce Hall his Manzanar: An American Story first developed with his Berkeley Symphony, performed at other California venues, and brought here on a wave of publicity, most of it deserved. To call the work an oratorio is to raise fears; the genre has absorbed much balderdash in recent years. Manzanar, however, rises far above expectations. Its music saves the day. Philip Kan Gotandas play details the Japanese presence in America, from the first arrivals to the forced internment in government camps after Pearl Harbor with Manzanar, in Central California, singled out to wars end, the Vietnam era and the Reagan-engineered congressional apology. The text alternates between narration and drama, and was doled out this time among a distinguished cast that included Senator Daniel Inouye and noted actors Martin Sheen and Pat Suzuki. Nagano conducted the American Youth Symphony, which played this once far over its collective heads. The music is a collaborative affair, with bursts of pop-music pastiche by David Benoit to establish the American timeline and a rather pretty pastorale by Jean-Pascal Beintus underscoring the routine of life at Manzanar. By far the most, and the best, of the music is the work of Naomi Sekiya, Japanese-born, USC-educated. I heard her music first at Ojai a few years ago, where an excellent short orchestral work of hers won a young composers prize; Ive encountered a few student works at USC, also with pleasure. None of this prepared me for the power of her Manzanar score, however, which is big, raw, muscular and truly eloquent. Remember the name, Naomi Sekiya; youre going to hear it again.
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