Opera: LA Opera’s “Dido and Aeneas” and “Bluebeard’s Castle” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

October 27, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Two opera tales of thwarted love: one, Dido and Aeneas, in which a heroic queen loses her lover and her kingdom; the other, Bluebeard’s Castle, in which a doomed aristocrat loses his bride and his salvation. Both operas constitute the very definition of tragedy, a form that the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “a play or other literary work of a serious or sorrowful character with a fateful or disastrous conclusion: opposite to comedy.”

The LA Opera served up these two stirring masterpieces in a double bill directed by Barrie Kosky of the Komische Oper Berlin. One, Bluebeard, stayed true to its tragic form, the other, Dido, was a puzzling foray into comedy.

Much has been made of the unusual pairing of these two short operas created over two hundred years apart. I found this decision an inspired one for they have much in common – most noteworthy being the glimpse of Eden shared by the lovers, Dido and Aeneas and Judith and Bluebeard, followed by banishment and despair. They seem two sides of an existential coin. And musically, they compliment each other – the transparent delicacy of Purcell coupled with the expressive vitality of Bartok. Why Kosky chose to subvert his thoughtful construction by reimagining the haunting Dido and Aeneas as a comic romp is perplexing.

The opera opens on the chorus and principals crowded together on a long white bench running the width of the stage. The bench is pushed to within a few feet of the proscenium with a pleated gray screen poised directly behind. Figures are arrayed in pastel colors and the house lights are up. So far so good. Then Belinda, Dido’s lady in waiting, sings, “Shake the cloud from off your brow.” With exaggerated hand motions, her head bobbing and eyes popping, a startled smile on her face, Belinda foreshadows all that is amiss with the concept. At every turn, Kosky directs his principals to act out broad comedy better suited for operas like Falstaff or Gianni Schicchi. Yes, Kosky entertains with the slapstick antics of Dido’s attendants who become a gaggle of sorority sisters rather than the concerned subjects of the noble queen. He has the audience roaring with the Sorceress and two witches (three countertenors replacing the traditional mezzo-soprano and two sopranos). And he elicits a laugh when Aeneas slams off the stage and out of the theater like a petulant schoolboy. But this staging goes beyond interpretation to become a misreading of the magnitude of Purcell’s tragedy.

“Dido and Aeneas”

Culled from Book IV, The Passion of the Queen, from Virgil’s The Aeneid, the opera, Dido and Aeneas, tells the tale of Dido, the proud queen of Carthage, who reluctantly gives her heart to Aeneas, a prince of Troy, only to be abandoned. Her great love lost, Dido dies broken hearted and, with her death, so too dies her kingdom. Musically, it is supremely beautiful, recounting a story of inconsolable sorrow, which permeates the score. Just listening to Dido’s Lament, “When I am laid in earth,” can bring on tears. It is one of the most moving arias in all opera. Kosky’s concept, though exhilarating at times, undermines the nature of the opera, draining it of pathos and its final catharsis. Dido and Aeneas are reduced to teenagers with a crush on each other, making Dido’s empire seem more like a high school corridor than the vast kingdom of Carthage. When Dido sings her Lament at the end of the opera, one is left curiously unmoved.

Kosky makes a directorial decision to overlay the concluding orchestral music with Dido, alone on stage, convulsively sobbing – a sobbing that goes on for about five minutes. I’m sure, for some, this is a startling piece of theater, but for me, it is an unforgivable distraction from the music and incomprehensible in light of the preceding comedy.

Paula Murrihy, as Dido, puts heart and soul into her performance, but her queen is never allowed the nobility of her role to shine forth. Musically, she brings a lovely luster to the upper registers, but one wished for more heft in the lower registers, which convey the core of Dido’s passion.

Paula Muorrihy as Dido and Liam Bonner as Aeneas

Paula Muorrihy as Dido and Liam Bonner as Aeneas

As Aeneas, Liam Bonner’s baritone is a thing of beauty. A knockout in last season’s Billy Budd, Bonner has all the gifts: a supple sound, skilled acting, an attractive presence, and personal charisma. His Aeneas shares the same fate as the other principals, however. Cast as a wayward schoolboy, he isn’t permitted to expand into the hero of Virgil’s Aeneid. Fortunately, his potent voice conveys the grandeur of his character.

John Holiday (center) as the Sorceress, with G. Thomas Allen (left) as the First Witch and Darryl Taylor (right) as the Second Witch

John Holiday (center) as the Sorceress, with G. Thomas Allen (left) as the First Witch and Darryl Taylor (right) as the Second Witch

Kateryna Kasper is a solid Belinda with a warm and beguiling soprano. As the Sorceress and her two witches, John Holiday, G. Thomas Allen, and Darryl Taylor bring the house down, but seem more like exiles from a Mel Brooks movie than the conspiring trio who precipitate the tragedy. In fact, they are so hilarious that someone should design a new production around them. Kosky’s strength in this piece resides in directing the machinations of the chorus. They move en masse across the stage and into the orchestra pit, creating tableaux worthy of heroic painting. Thanks to Grant Gershon, the chorus sings as an organic whole, interpreting the music as Purcell wrote it with crystalline purity.

Conducted by Steven Sloane, the LA Opera Orchestra, though marvelous in Bluebeard’s Castle, seems unsteady in Dido, lacking cohesiveness, resulting in a loss of clarity and transparency. It is with Bluebeard’s Castle that the orchestra shines, savoring the complexities of Bartok’s vigorous score, with its debt to Debussy and Hungarian folk music.

An opera written for two voices and large orchestra, Bluebeard’s Castle (also titled Duke Bluebeard’s Castle), is a mesmerizing portrayal of the strangled emotions of twentieth century man. Loosely based on the fairy tale by Charles Perrault, this Bluebeard doesn’t end as well. Abandoning her family and betrothed, Judith marries Bluebeard and enters his menacing castle, which harbors dark secrets. She thinks her devotion can save him from his agonizing loneliness, only to discover that by her ceaseless curiosity, she dooms them both. In more traditional stagings, Judith opens seven doors, each displaying in turn, Bluebeard’s bloodstained torture chamber, armory, treasury, garden, dukedom, lake, and finally the room his three former wives occupy in a kind of half-life.

"Bluebeard's Castle"

“Bluebeard’s Castle”

Kosky goes a different route, creating the contents of the doors out of various bodies inhabiting the stage. Judith pulls leaves out of Bluebeard’s suit jacket, symbolizing the garden; water pours out of the cuffs and coat of three actors perched mutely on stage (stand-ins for Bluebeard himself) symbolizing the lake of tears. All this takes place on a slowly revolving circular platform designed by Katrin Lea Tag, as Bluebeard and Judith bemoan the unfolding events. Kosky stays true to the character of the piece, succumbing to the tragic elements while interpreting the clash of husband and wife in his own terms. His duo is dressed in modern attire, beginning and ending their journey as a contemporary couple in turmoil, engaged in a Freudian battle of wills.

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith

The flaw here, however, is that like Dido and Aeneas, Kosky abandons the noble, epic nature of his characters. Missing is the initial courtly restraint that lends pathos to Bluebeard’s solitude and the heroic to Judith’s mission to save him. Because Judith and Bluebeard seem frantically at odds from the moment we encounter them – two wounded and desperate animals – the drama has nowhere to go as the music builds to its inevitable climax. What we are left with is reduced to a domestic drama. Perhaps that is enough, but I longed for less Albee and more Shakespeare.

Bass-baritone, Robert Hayward, and soprano, Claudia Mahnke, embrace their roles as the tragic couple. Musically, they prove a compelling pair, illuminating Bartok’s short melodic phrases as the orchestra weaves its magic spell and thunders towards Bluebeard’s final secret.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by  Craig Mathew courtesy of LA Opera.

To read more dance and music reviews by Jane Rosenberg click HERE.


Jane Rosenberg is the author and illustrator of  SING ME A STORY: The Metropolitan Opera’s Book of Opera Stories for Children.   Jane is also the author and illustrator of  DANCE ME A STORY: Twelve Tales of the Classic Ballets.  

On Opera: Director Barrie Kosky in Conversation with LA Opera’s Christopher Koelsch

October 19, 2014

 By Jane Rosenberg

Ebullient, outspoken, and intelligent, Barrie Kosky, artistic director of the Komische Oper Berlin, and stage director of LA Opera’s upcoming production of the double bill Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle presented his concept of this unusual opera pairing during a conversation with opera president, Christopher Koelsch at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Thursday. (This is the first in a series of live streaming conversations on the LA Opera’s website – a welcome addition to the Opera’s continuing efforts to offer insights into their productions as they do with their regular pre-performance talks).

Barrie Kosky

Barrie Kosky

If you were lucky enough to see the LA Opera’s production of The Magic Flute in November of last year, then you may know that Kosky, along with his collaborators Suzanne Andrade and Paul Barritt, were the team responsible for this clever and visually arresting re-imagining of The Magic Flute. If Kosky brings the same level of ingenuity to Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle then the audience is in for a remarkable evening.

Conductor Constantinos Carydis conceived of the unconventional pairing of the two operas and though Kosky acknowledged that the operas, written more than two hundred years apart, are from two entirely different sound worlds, there are narrative parallels and psychological truths common to them both. Both deal with obsessive love, loneliness, loss, and on a spiritual and intellectual level: the theme of arrival and departure. Aeneas arrives in Carthage, gains Dido’s love, only to leave again, unknowingly destroying the woman he loves and the empire she rules. Judith arrives at Bluebeard’s Castle, only to find herself trapped in a nightmare world of secrets and unable to leave.

Favoring Minimalist stagings to allow the emotional power of the music and the performances to provide maximum heft, Kosky, in one of his many moments of humor, called himself an “Opulent Minimalist.” Certainly, his production of The Magic Flute gave the audience a very crowded visual field, however, the structures supporting the video projections were simple. For him, and certainly visual artists would agree, Minimalism entails distilling things to their essence.

The essence of Bluebeard, in Kosky’s staging, is not about the architecture of the doors and walls in Bluebeard’s castle; but about the primacy of the performer and the human voice. In the narrative, Judith’s curiosity compels her to open door after door, looking for a way to let light into the enchanted, dark world of the castle. In this new production, set on a slowly revolving white circle, the doors and walls are replaced by bodies harboring those secrets, in a very clever and compelling piece of staging. Emotions are raw and exposed – a veritable Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf in Hungarian – as Kosky explained to his amused audience.

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith in a scene from "Bluebeard's Castle," presented in 2010 at the Frankfurt Opera

Robert Hayward as Bluebeard and Claudia Mahnke as Judith in a scene from “Bluebeard’s Castle,” presented in 2010 at the Frankfurt Opera

For Dido and Aeneas, fragility seems to be the essence of the unfolding tragedy for Kosky: the fragility of Purcell’s score, the fragility of life, and the condition that Dido finds herself in – trapped between the needs of her court and her love for Aeneas. Kosky jokingly urged everyone to bring a box of tissues to cope with the raw power and emotional catharsis of Dido’s final aria and ensuing death.

It is this raw power that interests the director who asserted that opera as an art form should take the audience out of its emotional comfort zone. Opera “fundamentalists,” as he called those who insist on productions that hark back to their originals, miss the point. Opera isn’t a fixed form, with only one viable approach, but rather, like all theatre, an interpretive art form always open to investigation.

As for his working methods, he said: it all starts with choosing the right piece of musical theatre, then “riding the surfboard on the wave” of the music. After assembling a first rate cast, anything becomes possible, because he trusts great performers to draw out character and present human truths. A director, with a musical education, Kosky first plays through the score on the piano to digest the music, then listens to as many CDs as he can. Ideas emerge from the process. The rehearsal period is a long one as he and the conductor grapple with how sound should convey the meaning of the words of the libretto. One of the joys of his profession, he said, is directing the chorus. Rather than leaving them as a static entity, he prefers to move them into the action to create a deeper level of performance.

And how do you see the future of opera? Christopher Koelsch asked Kosky in conclusion. The director felt that every hurdle faced by an opera house was unique to each house and its city. But the fundamental issue was accessibility. It’s all about the ticket prices, he explained. Because opera is subsidized in Germany, the lowest ticket price at the Komische Oper is eight Euros. Subsidies allow Kosky to reach a broad audience and at the same time maximize the productions with full orchestra, full chorus, and top performers. In his view, opera is here to stay. It is the only theatrical form that links us to the ancient Greeks – to Euripides, Aeschylus, and Sophocles; and because of that, we are linked to something primal… and one hopes, eternal.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of LA Opera.

Picks of the Week: October 15 – 19 in Los Angeles, New York City and London

October 15, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

- Oct. 16 – 18. (Thurs. – Sat.) Dee Dee Bridgewater. She’s a Grammy and Tony award winner, an actress, a radio star and a U.N. Ambassador. As if all that wasn’t enough, she’s also a dynamic jazz artist, a singer with a unique style and a creative imagination. She doesn’t make a lot of L.A. Club performances, so don’t miss this one. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 16. (Thurs.) Gregg Arthur. Add Australian singer Arthur to the growing list of male vocal artists finding inspiration in the Sinatra style and the Great American Songbook repertoire. And he does it with authority. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Billy Childs

Billy Childs

- Oct. 17. (Fri.) Billy Childs. Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro. Pianist/composer Billy Childs showcases a live performance of his new recording, finding new creative aspects in the music of singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. He’s aided by the vocals of Becca Stevens, Moira Smiley and Lisa Fischer. Segerstrom Center.  (714) 556-2787.

- Oct. 17. (Fri.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Prokofiev and Dvorak. In an evening of extraordinary international taent, Basque conductor Juanjo Mena leads the L.A. Phil in performances of the Dvorak Symphony No. 7 and the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3, with Uzbekistani pianist Behzod Abduraimov. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

- Oct. 18. (Sat.) Laura Pausini. Consider it good timing for Italian singer Pausini to make a Southland appearance in the week of Christopher Columbus celebrations. A major Italian star, she should be heard by American listeners, as well. The Greek Theatre. (323) 665-5857.

Jane Monheit

Jane Monheit

- Oct. 19. (Sun.) Jane Monheit.   “Hello Bluebird: Celebrating the Jazz of Judy Garland.”  Monheit applies her rich vocal timbres and and brisk rhythms to a fascinating view of the Garland’s jazz roots.  Saban Theatre. (888) 645-5006.

- Oct. 19. (Sun.) The Buddy Rich Band. It may no longer be led by the charismatic drumming of the late Rich, but his band still retains the character and the spirit of the original. Catalina Bar & Grill. (223) 466-2210.

- Oct. 19. (Sun.) The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Mozart Serenade. Douglas Boyd conducts Mozart’s Serenade in D Major and George Benjamin’s First Light, and cellist Steven Isserlis is the soloist for Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major. A CAP UCLA event at Royce Hall.  310-825-2101.


* * *  L.A.’s HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK   * * *


Oct. 19. (Sun.)

Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

 Brazilian singer/guitarist Teka and her New Bossa Quartet perform music rich with free flying jazz, the irresistible rhythms and melodies of Brazil, and the lyrical pleasures of the Great American Songbook.


New York City

- Oct. 14 – 18. (Tues. – Sat.) Benny Green Trio. The virtuosic Green is one of the few pianists influenced by Oscar Peterson who does so with convincing improvisational authority. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

- Oct. 16 – 19. (Thurs. – Sun.) Cassandra Wilson. A jazz singer who is one of the few uniquely original performers in the field of jazz vocalists. Blessed with a voice rich with warm, expressive timbres, she uses it at the service of a compelling creative imagination. The Blue Note.


- Oct. 15 & 16. (Wed. & Thurs.) Al Di Meola plays Beatles and More. Always in pursuit of new expressive arenas for his superb guitar playing, Di Meola applies his remarkable skills to the classics of the Beatles songbook. And more. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.

Live Music: Members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in a France a la Carte Performance

October 10, 2014

By Don Heckman

Beverly Hills, CA. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s A La Carte performances, which take place in private international residences throughout Los Angeles, are among the Southland’s most appealing musical events. Each features a chamber music performance by distinguished members of LACO, along with gourmet dinners and prime beverages celebrating the cuisine of the host country.

On Thursday night LACO’s A La Carte France event took place in the Beverly Hills home of the Honorable Axel Cruau, the Consul General of France in Los Angeles, and Mrs. Dourene Cruau. The program, appropriately, featured French music. But what made the program especially intriguing was the focus on Baroque music by French composers Jean-Philippe Rameau, Francois Couperin, Jean-Baptiste Anet and Michel Blavet.

The France A La Carte Trio

The France A La Carte Trio

The performance took place in an intimate drawing room opening on to the lush greenery at the rear of the house that would soon be filled with white tables for the after-concert feasting.

Josefina Vergara

Josefina Vergara

The artists – violinist Josefina Vergara, who also led the ensemble, flutist David Shostac and harpsichordist Patricia Mabee – began the program with Couperin’s four movement Concerts Royaux No. 1. And two aspects became immediately clear: that the trio would perform with warmly empathic musical interaction; and that the French Baroque catalog of music is as unique and engaging as the more familiar German style.

David Shostac

David Shostac

Before the next pieces were played, Vergara offered an explanation of the use of ornamentation – the application of decorative notes, often complex, usually improvised, added to a written melody. Each of the players offered a passage without ornamentation followed by the same passage with varying degrees of ornamentation.

The brief seminar, with its description and demonstration of ornamentation, created a more informed, more responsive audience. And the trio responded with a pair of pieces: Anet’s Sonata For Violin and Harpsichord and Blavet’s Sonata in B minor for Flute and Harpsichord. Each was performed with articulate enthusiasm, with some of the ornamented passages drawing bits of applause and glances of approval.

Patricia Mabee

At the heart of the music, harpsichordist Mabee brought a convincing sense of authenticity to her final feature work, Rameau’s enigmatic Pieces de clavecin en concert (La Marais, La La Popliniere, La Timide, Tambourin). Great demands are placed upon the keyboard instruments in most Baroque music. And Mabee delivered on all counts, romping through the improvised figured bass passages, playing with vigor that brought each piece vividly to life..

All in all, it was another successful A La Carte event, and like others I’ve heard in recent years, it was one to remember. If you haven’t yet experienced any of LACO’s A La Cartes, there are two remaining performances on the 2014 schedule: Germany is featured on Oct. 25 with a complete performance of Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen; Austria is featured on Nov. 7 with the music of Mozart, Toch, Eisler and Haydn.

Don’t miss these last two opportunities. In addition to the pleasures of the performances, proceeds from the A La Carte events support the artistic and education programming of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  Click HERE for more information about LACO’s A La Carte.

Live Music: The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Royce Hall

September 23, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles CA. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra can always be counted on to deliver an evening of rich musicality. And Sunday night’s performance at Royce Hall in Westwood was no exception.

The headline event in a rich program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. But, typically, LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane also scheduled a pair of intriguing works – Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5, with soloist Juho Pohjonen and Lines of the Southern Cross, the latter the premiere of a work newly commissioned by the LACO from Australian composer Cameron Patrick.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

The evening opened with the new Patrick composition. Introducing the work, Kahane noted that the music “acknowledged the traditional owners of Australia and custodians of the land, the Australian Aboriginal people.” Patrick did all that and more, in a work that also captured the broad, far ranging landscape of Australia, from its mountain peaks to its ocean depths via some especially expressive writing for the strings. And the LACO interpretation of Southern Cross convincingly introduced it as a significant new work that deserves wide hearing – in live performance and on recordings.

The Saint-Saens Piano Concerto, sometimes called The Egyptian, was described by the composer as the representation of a sea voyage. And there are passages in the piece that do so, in characteristically French impressionist style. The work is also a virtuosic showcase for the piano soloist, and Pohjonen was effective on all counts, from the lyric passages to the most technically demanding passages.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Ludwig Van Beethoven

The climax of the evening, understandably, was the Beethoven Symphony No. 5, one of the most frequently performed pieces in the entire catalog of classical music. And any well-interpreted performance of the work resonates with its long history. Written in the first decade of the 19th century, it was created at a time of considerable unrest for the Western world and for its composer. Europe was in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. And Beethoven, in his mid-thirties, was becoming aware of the fact that the deafness he had begun to experience was progressive, and would continue to worsen.

Since then, No. 5 has also been heard, and viewed, from a variety of symbolic interpretive perspectives, starting with the V for Victory aspects of its four note, opening motif.

Jeffrey Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

But ultimately it is the gripping quality of the music itself that makes No. 5 a work to be heard in every possible opportunity. In the capable direction of Kahane and the equally capable playing of the LACO’s masterful musicians, the music came to life in especially persuasive fashion. Perhaps best of all, the musically symbiotic togetherness of the LACO’s players, combined with Kahane’s seeming desire to open the way for the music to find its way produced a stunning performance, overflowing with passionate intensity.

Altogether, it was another significant entry in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s long lexicon of memorable performances.

Picks of the Week: September 9 – 14 in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, London, Copenhagen, Milan and Tokyo

September 9, 2014


By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- Sept. 11. (Thurs.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, conducted by Juanjo Mena finish the summer’s classical season at the Hollywood Bowl with a grand performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, and Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. Hollywood Bowl. (323) 850-2000.

- Sept. 11. (Thurs.) The Fazioli Piano Series. Pianist Eric Huebner plays works by by Luciano Berio, Paolo Cavallone, Nathan Heidelberger, Roger Reynolds, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Eric Wubbels on the much honored (with good reason) Fazioli piano. The Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles. (310) 443-3250.

Barbara Morrison (Photo by Bonnie Perkinson)

- Sept. 12 & 13 (Fri. – Sun.) Barbara Morrison 65th birthday and CD release celebration. It’s a memorable weekend for one of Los Angeles’ greatest jazz treasures. She should be heard at every opportunity. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Sept. 12. (Fri.) Don Rader Quartet. Trumpeter Rader has been a first call Southland artist for decades, performing every imaginable kind of music with ease and musicality. Here he’s in the spotlight, displaying his versatile musical wares. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Sept. 12 & 13. (Fri. & Sat.) Mary Bogue. Cabaret artist Bogue, a unique stylist, has been described by Cabaret Scenes Magazine as “kind of throw-back to the red-hot mamas…electrifying, sassy, and sexy.” The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

Sept. 13. (Sat.) Charles Aznavour. The great French singer/songwriter makes a rare Southland appearance celebrating his 90th birthday.  The performance will be a banquet of classic songs, sung by one of the iconic figures in the history of international song.    The Greek Theatre(323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Eliane Elias (Photo by Bonnie Perkinson)

- Sept. 11 – 14, (Thurs. – Sun.) Eliane Elias. The gifted Brazilian singer/pianist presents four fascinating evenings of music: Thurs: Celebrating Getz/Gilberto; Fri: Chet Baker Tribute; Sat: Night in Bahia; Sun: Bill Evans Salute. Don’t miss any of them. An SFJAZZ program at Miner Auditorium. r (866) 920-5299.


- Sept. 11 – 14. (Thurs. – Sun.) Robert Glasper Trio. Comfortably positioned on the cutting edge of contemporary jazz, pianist Glasper and his players are offering fascinating new views of 21st century improvisational music. The Jazz Showcase. (312) 360-0234.

New York City

Dr, Lonnie Smith

Dr, Lonnie Smith

- Sept. 12 – 14. (Fri. – Sun.) Dr. Lonnie Smith.  Organ master Smith’s performances are unique explorations of an instrument with orchestral potential. “The organ is like the sunlight, rain and thunder,” says Smith. “It’s all the worldly sounds to me!” The Jazz Standard.  (212) 576-2232.


- Sept. 10 – 13 (Wed. – Sat.) “Brubecks Play Brubeck” featuring Darius, Chris and Dan Brubeck. The talented offpspring of Dave Brubeck display the remarkable genetic musical heritage they’ve received from their legendary father. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.


Sept, 13, (Sat.) Robert Lakatos. Hungarian jazz pianist Lakatos, one of Europe’s most highly praised jazz artists, is joined by Denmark’s Jesper Lundgaard, bass and Alex Riel, drums in a convincing display of the stunningly high level of jazz artistry on the continent. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.


The Bad Plus (Dave King, Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson)

- Sept. 11. (Thurs,.) The Bad Plus. The creatively ambitious trio of pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King has been exploring new musical vistas since the 1990s, touching on everything from new views of the blues to their interpretation of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


- Sept. 11 & 12. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Quartet Legend, featuring Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Benny Golson and Lenny White. With a line-up of those names, this stellar group might more accurately be called “The Legendary Quartet.” Here’s a rare opportunity to hear them together. The Blue Note Tokyo. +81 3-5485-0088.


Live Music: The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum in “Hooray For Hollywood”

August 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Pasadena, CA.  The warm months of summer always bring a luscious banquet of musical events, much of it presented in colorful outdoor venues. One of the best has begun to emerge in the performances of the Pasadena Pops Orchestra under the baton of Michael Feinstein, amid the gorgeous greenery of the L.A. Arboretum.

And Saturday night’s performance, titled “Hooray For Hollywood,” was a perfect blend of all those elements, brought to their peak under the guidance of Feinstein, who matched his appealing singing and precise conducting with a scholarly knowledge of the rich and diversified music of Hollywood, past, present and future.

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

The Pasadena Pops at the L.A. Arboretum

Add to that the line-up of appealing performers that Feinstein, with the aid and support of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) also added to evening in an obvious quest to create an immensely enjoyable performance. Among the headliners: Debby Boone, Maureen McGovern, Kevin Earley, Alan Bergman, Paul Williams and much more.

The far-ranging tone of the performance began early, with Feinstein’s whimsical reading of (appropriately) “Hooray For Hollywood,” supplemented with some humorous new lyrics as well as Feinstein’s ever amusing sidebar comments.

“I wanted to grow up to be like Alan Ladd, and I did,” he noted, with a smile. (Although he did not look in Paul Williams’ direction when he said it.)

Michael Feinstein conducts the Pasadena Pops

The heart of the show, and the highlight of the vocal performances were energized by tunes from what might accurately be called The Great Hollywood Songbook. Consider the following:

Paul Williams singing “The Rainbow Connection,” a song he wrote for Kermit the Frog in Sesame Street.

Maureen McGovern‘s rich voice, soaring through a sequence of gripping interpretations, vividly bringing to life a medley of songs from”The Sound Of Music.”

Debby Boone‘s “You Light Up My Life,” a song classic from the film of the same name, still completely owned, in every musical manner, by Boone’s still-vibrant singing.

The talented young Kevin Early displaying his musical versatility with convincing versions of a pair of very different tunes: “The Way You Look Tonight” (from Swing Time) and “On The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe (from The Harvey Girls).”

And, perhaps best of all, Alan Bergman‘s stunning reading of “The Windmills of Your Mind,” from The Thomas Crown Affair, with lyrics by Bergman and his wife, Marilyn, music by Michel Legrand. I’ve heard Alan sing it many times, and been deeply moved by each performance.

The music of Hollywood is not just song, of course. Michael Feinstein’s “Hooray For Hollywood” \thoroughly explored that other area – the soundtracks that are essential to a film’s emotional flow. And with an orchestra as adept as the Pasadena Pops, the results could only be world class. As they were.

Among the numerous highlights, there were selections from such familiar film names as Johnny Green, Elmer Bernstein, the Sherman Brothers, Michael Giachino, Erich Korngold, and more:

- The overture to Mary Poppins. The Raintree County overture. Music from The Magnificent Seven. The Prologue to The Sound of Music. Themes from Silverado.(conducted by composer Bruce Broughten),l And the Overture to Funny Girl.

Call it an amazing evening of music, and fascinating glance at the role it plays in the creative workshops of Hollywood. And let me add a coda of thanks to Michael Feinstein, his gifted orchestra and line up of stars, all of whom provided one of the Summer of 2014’s most pleasant experiences.

While I’m at it, Feinstein and the Pasadena Pops, along with guest stars, return on Saturday, Sept. 6, for a show that promises to produce similar musical pleasures: “New York! New York!” I’d say don’t miss it. Especially if you’re an expatriate New Yorker.



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