Internet
June 7, 2005
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Robert Croan
Music Reviews: L.A. orchestra, opera, architecture shine
Der Rosenkavalier
When the curtain rose, it was on a gorgeous blue set by Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein. Each of the three acts was in a primary color, and the characters were costumed in a mixture of 18th-century, modern and Disney cartoon attire. Film director Maximilian Schell, extending his realm to opera direction, staged this masterpiece with a perfect balance of respect and originality, emphasizing the emotional interactions among the principal characters.
Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
2005, with Maximilian Schell, Los Angeles Opera
LOS ANGELES -- Not too long ago, downtown Los Angeles was a place to avoid, but all that has changed.
The Music Center Complex, which includes the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theater and the Mark Taper Forum, is now dominated by the 2-year-old Walt Disney Concert Hall, a magnificent Frank Gehry building that gives the Los Angeles Philharmonic its own home and allows Los Angeles Opera proprietary use of the Chandler.
The Center offers full seasons of classical music, opera, dance and theater. Add to this the Museum of Contemporary Art just across Grand Street, luxury hotels and some of the city's best restaurants, and you have an ideal venue for the recent cross-disciplinary National Critics Conference. During this time, members of the Music Critics Association of North America had opportunities to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic under its music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, and at the Opera, Verdi's "Falstaff" and Richard Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier."
For those of us who had not yet experienced it, the star of the Philharmonic was Disney Hall itself. Spectacular from the outside, with its stainless steel panels suggesting the petals of a huge flower, Disney Hall brings its patrons into a space that allows for natural light and incorporates three kinds of wood. Ceiling panels recall sails of a soaring ship, while huge wood and steel organ pipes overlook the stage. There is no proscenium; seating begins on stage level, then rises into a 2,265-seat bowl in front, folding above and behind the orchestra so that a few seats actually face the conductor.
In this environment, the orchestral sound emerges clear, bright and segmented, if not necessarily warm -- which also describes Salonen's approach to the weekend's featured work, Ravel's "Daphnis et Chloe" (the full hour-long score, not the concert suite). Overriding acoustical or interpretive issues is the feeling that each individual is no mere observer but an active participant in the event itself.
By contrast, the Chandler may appear drab at first, but events there were anything but. Los Angeles Opera's general director Placido Domingo -- who, at 64 also manages Washington Opera, still takes on new roles and is expanding his conducting repertory to boot -- took time out from a patrons' reception to welcome the music critics and talk about his plans. The 2005-06 season will include a new opera commissioned from Elliot Goldenthal and directed by Julie Taymor, plus company premieres of Wagner's "Parsifal" and Offenbach's "The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein."
Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" had been scheduled as a vehicle for opera superstar Bryn Terfel, but the rights were withdrawn when it was decided to make the musical into a film. The compromise was "Falstaff" -- the baritone's signature opera. However, the evening's pleasures were limited to Terfel's highly nuanced portrayal of the title character and music director Kent Nagano's precise ensemble work. The 23-year-old production was tired and trite, Stephen Lawless' staging remarkably unfunny, the remainder of the cast undistinguished and provincial.
Not so the "Rosenkavalier," a splendid production right down the line. Starting with Nagano's music direction, the orchestra set a high standard in the Prelude that prevailed for the entire evening. When the curtain rose, it was on a gorgeous blue set by Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein. Each of the three acts was in a primary color, and the characters were costumed in a mixture of 18th-century, modern and Disney cartoon attire. Film director Maximilian Schell, extending his realm to opera direction, staged this masterpiece with a perfect balance of respect and originality, emphasizing the emotional interactions among the principal characters.
And what a cast he had to work with. For his Marschallin -- a middle-aged married woman wistfully ending a May-September romance with the teenage Octavian -- there was Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, a beautiful woman with a sound that is at once creamy and dramatic, sumptuous and subtly shaded. When in her monologue she asked how a loving God can let us grow old, she shaped her phrases with deep meaning and heartbreaking veracity.
Octavian (a role assigned to a female voice to suggest the boy's youth) was English mezzo Alice Coote -- agile on stage, virile in demeanor and rich in sound. As Sophie, the young girl who replaces the Marschallin in Octavian's affections, Elizabeth Futral made a likeable figure and sang sweetly, except for some unfortunate forays into the stratospheric during the presentation of the silver rose.
The foil to all this elegance was the burly Baron Ochs (yes, the word means Ox in German) enacted by veteran Kurt Rydl with a force that dominated the stage and a voice that retains its deep bass core even if, at 57, his lowest notes at the end of Act 2 were not as solid as they once were.
Notable among the large cast were former Pittsburgher Margaret Thompson, vocally solid and sardonically funny as the venal conspirator Annina; and the Met's Anthony Laciura, a first-rate character tenor, as her cohort in crime, Valzacchi. Garrett Sorenson's light tenor, however, was pressed by the grueling demands of the Italian Singer's aria.




back to the top