Live Music: Gustavo Dudamel Conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in an evening of Beethoven.

July 23, 2014

By Don Heckman

It was warm at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night – warm verging toward hot, one of those Bowl evenings when the temperature, and conversations about the temperature, can distract listeners from the music on stage.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven

But not on this night, a night in which Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic were so creatively in sync that the magnificent Symphony No. 5 and the lesser known Triple Concerto captivated the entranced audience, wiping away concerns about the simmering temperature.

The Triple Concerto, with violin, cello and piano as its solo instruments, is a work that reflects Beethoven’s apparent – and eminently successful — desire to write a piece that showcases each of the individual instruments, as well as their collective qualities as a piano trio.

Performed by violinist Renaud Capucon, cellist Gautier and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, the rarely heard work came vividly to life. And by the time the ensemble dug into the buoyant, polonaise qualities of the final movement, the stage had been set for the climactic work of the night.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, arguably one of the world’s most frequently heard classical works, never loses its appeal – either for eager listeners, or for conductors equally desirous of displaying their skills upon such a vital composition.

In this memorable performance, that appeal was ever present for an audience mesmerized by the gripping qualities of the Symphony’s unfolding themes. Their responses, climaxed by the waves of applause and shouts of “Bravo!” sweeping across the Bowl after the final notes were sounded, recalled the commentary by Beethoven’s contemporary, E.T.A. Hoffman after the first performance of No. 5 in 1808.

“This wonderful composition, in a climax that climbs on and on,” wrote Hoffman, “leads the listener imperiously forward into the spirit world of the infinite!”

Gustavo Dudamel

It’s a thought that was also present in Dudamel’s shaping of the work from the dramatic utterance of the Fifth’s fanfare-like opening four note motif to the rich melodiousness of the final movement. If Dudamel was tempted in anyway to invest his direction of the work with the dramatic qualities that are so essential to his style, he pushed the thought aside. Instead, he allowed Beethoven and the Fifth itself to provide every element of emotional drama the work needed.

And the results were extraordinary. Whether a listener was a newbie to a live performance of the Fifth, or familiar with numerous past versions, Dudamel and the Phil provided a standard that will surely be recalled as one of the vital performances of a definitive classical work.

To say it was a night to remember is surely correct, but even a sweeping generalization of that sort doesn’t give full justice to this remarkable performance. So all praise to Beethoven, Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

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Dudamel photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.


Picks of the Week: July 21 – 27 In Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, London, Paris and Tokyo

July 21, 2014

By Don Heckman

It’s another warm Summer week, with many international jazz clubs shuttered in their annual July -August hiatus. But there’s still some fine music to be heard.

Los Angeles

Strunz and Farah

Strunz and Farah

- July 22. (Tues.) Strunz and Farah. The dynamic guitar duo of Costa Rica’s Jorge Strunz and Iran’s Ardeshir Farah, showcase their irresistibly eclectic playing in one of their rare L.A. Appearances. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 22 & 24. (Tues. & Thurs.) Dudamel & Beethoven. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, under the kinetic conducting of Gustavo Dudmel illuminates a July evening with an all-Beethoven’s program featuring the classic Symphony No. 5 and the fascinating Triple Concerto. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- July 24. (Thurs,) Robert Davi. “Davi Sings Sinatra.” Actor/singer Davi’s association with Frank Sinatra dates back to the 1977 film Contract on Cherry St. Since then he has become the most musically convincing of the Sinatra-styled singers, applying his own creative imagination to the “Blue Eyes” style. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- July 24. (Thurs.) Noura Mint Seymali. The compelling voice of Mauritanian singer is featured in the opening event in the Skirball Cultural Center’s 18th Free Sunset Concert Series. The Skirball Cultural Center.  (310) 440-4500.

- July 24 – 26. (Thurs. – Sat.) The Ron Carter Trio. Ron Carter may well be the most recorded bassist in jazz history. But he’s also a fine composer and the leader of his own impressive trios. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

Gloria Estefan

Gloria Estefan

- July 25 – 26. (Fri. & Sat.) America & Americans Festival: Gloria Estefan. The L.A. Phil’s celebration of the music of North and South America continues with an appearance by Grammy-nominated vocalist Setefan with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. The Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- Juy 26 (Sat.) Elliott Deutsch Big Band. Trumpeter/arranger/composer Deutsch leads his briskly swinging ensemble with the skills that have made him the arranger of choice for the likes of Cheryle Bentyne, Bill Watrous and others. Vitello’s.  (213) 620-0908.

- July 26 & 27. (Sat. & Sun.) The Central Ave. Jazz Festival. A spectacular assemblage of world class jazz in L.A.’s most memorable jazz setting. Featured artists include Kamasi Washington and Next Step, Patrice Rushen & Ndugu Chancler, Mongorama, The Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Michael Session, Ernie Andrews, Dr. Bobby Rodriguez and more. Admission is free. The Central Ave. Jazz Festival.

- July 27. (Sun.) Peggy King and Corky Hale. She may be best known as “pretty, perky Peggy King” on the ’50s George Gobel television show. But in her later career, King’s matured into an impressive vocal artist. She performs with the superb accompaniment of pianist Corky Hale, who has been at the keyboard (or the harp) with everyone from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

San Francisco

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- July 24 – 27. (Thurs. – Sun.) Tierney Sutton. “Songs of Joni Mitchell.” A gifted vocalist with an emotionally rich style of her own, Sutton is one of the rare singers to have the musicality and the interpretive skills to handle the complex Mitchell catalof of songs. Click HERE to read an earlier iRoM review of Sutton singing Mitchell. An SFJAZZ event at Joe Henderson Lab. (866) 920-5299.

New York City

- July 22 – 26. (Tues. – Sat.) John Pizzarelli and the Swing Seven. Singer/guitarist Pizzarelli is in his most appealing medium when he’s digging into the pleasures of Swing, backed by an equally swinging bunch of players – as he is here. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Randy Brecker

Randy Brecker

- July 22 – 24. (Tues. – Thurs.) The Brecker Bros. Reunion Band. Trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Michael Brecker were one of the gifted brother acts in modern jazz. Since the death of Michael in 2007, Randy has kept the memories of the Brecker Bros. Band alive and well. He’s joined by his wife, Ada Rovatti, in the band’s saxophone chair. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Paris

- July 24. (Thurs.) The Mike Stern & Bill Evans Band. Expect some blues grooves and fusion fireworks when Stern and Evans get together with drummer Dennis Chambers and bassist Tom Kennedy. New Morning Paris.  +33 1 45 23 51 41.

Tokyo

- July 25 – 27. (Fri. – Sun.) Jose James. In his own unique way, vocalist James is searching for, and often finding, a blend between jazz, soul and hip-hop. Will it please the fans of each genre? Check him out and see. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Ballet: The National Ballet of Canada’s “Romeo and Juliet” at the Dorothy Chandler

July 13, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

From opening curtain to final bows, choreographer Alexi Ratmansky, along with his set and costume designer, Richard Hudson, and lighting designer, Jennifer Tipton, hurls us into the very heart of a fifteenth century Renaissance painting in his Romeo and Juliet, created for the National Ballet of Canada and premiering at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this weekend.

With simple yet evocative sets and exquisite costumes, this production has the immediacy of a Pinturicchio fresco. That artist had the ability to breathe life and personality into the daily doings of the contemporary characters who populated his paintings. Like Pinturicchio, Ratmansky has the unique gift of creating personality, not out of paint, of course, but out of movement. In Ratmansky’s world, legs, feet, arms, torso all speak a language, carrying within them humor, whimsy, pathos, and purpose.

Guillaume Cote as Romeo and Elena Lobsanova as Juliet

For me Ratmansky’s most formidable gift is his ability to infuse movement with wit and levity. He embraces the human spirit in his choreography by exposing our foibles, weaknesses, and desires – those qualities that make us quintessentially human. This aspect of his artistry works to advantage in the early scenes of Romeo and Juliet when the irrepressible youth of Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and Juliet is in full flower.

Everywhere we turn, whether in the Market Square, at the Capulet’s ball, or in Act One, Scene Two when we meet Juliet and her nurse, the exuberance and optimism of youth shines with truth. In fact, this very exuberance – this love of life and sense of immortality (so brilliantly exemplified in the dancing of Piotr Stanczyk’s Mercutio) — makes the inevitable tragedy all the more painful.

Guillaume Cote as Romeo and Elena Lobsanova as Juliet

It is in the more serious moments of Shakespeare’s drama where I felt something lacking in the ballet. Perhaps I longed for less movement, less personality, and more stillness. When Guillaume Côté’s superbly danced and deeply felt Romeo partners his Juliet – a childlike Elena Lobsanova – in the post nuptial scene of Act Three, there is a clarity of intention so vivid in the Kenneth MacMillan version that seems clouded here.

In some part it is due to the performance of Lobsanova – a charming, lithe Juliet full of winning delicacy and grace but unable to transcend childish love to give a convincing portrayal of an awakened woman, tortured by overwhelming passion and her inability to enter into her marriage with Romeo in the full light of day.

Guillaume Cote as Romeo and Elena Lobsanova as Juliet

Much has been written about the age and inexperience of Lobsanova, a second soloist at the National Ballet of Canada when Ratmansky chose her for his Juliet. Now a first soloist, she has been dancing the role for three years. But youth is not a prerequisite for playing Juliet: Alessandra Ferri, at forty, danced Juliet, and her indelible performance was the pinnacle of sexual abandon and dramatic and artistic accomplishment.

It is with the portrayal of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio’s friendship where Ratmansky reaches the heights, as well as with his inventive patterns and stylistic innovations in the crowd and ballroom scenes. His choreography for the three young men is full of unique partnerings, buoyant lifts, and fanciful footwork. His scenes of swordplay, whether between Tybalt and Mercutio or Tybalt and Romeo have the dash of an Errol Flynn movie minus the clichés. In fact, swords are used repeatedly throughout the ballet. In the ballroom scene’s “Dance of the Knights,” the men of the Capulet house dance without the women but with their swords – a militant note that foreshadows the violence to come and is tribal and primitive, conjuring a feudal society where death is a constant threat.

It is followed by the noble dance of the women, which has a civilizing effect on the room – a room arranged with the grandeur of Veronese’s The Feast in the House of Levi. Though Romeo and Juliet is a drama about men’s violence and its devastating effects, women are not merely passive onlookers in Ratmansky’s production. They threaten, cajole, and stand their ground beside their men. It is for them, however, to mourn the loss of their husbands and sons.

In another beautifully realized moment at the ball, reminiscent of the bride and groom lifted on chairs over the heads of the guests at Jewish weddings, Juliet is lifted by Paris, as simultaneously, Romeo is held aloft by Mercutio and Benvolio. The two future lovers lock eyes as they repeatedly soar above the heads of the crowd. Exquisite details of this sort abound in the ballet, but they are the very details that ultimately intrude on the forward momentum to the inevitable tragedy. Ratmansky has created a fully realized Renaissance world but one where the joy of daily life takes precedent over the mythic tragedy of feuding houses.

Romeo and Juliet illustration by Jane Rosenberg

Romeo and Juliet illustration by Jane Rosenberg

The atmosphere of the ballet, whether choreographed by MacMillan, Lavrovsky, Cranko, Neumeier, or Ashton, owes its life to Prokofiev’s score – one of the greatest ballet scores of the twentieth century. Under the direction of The National Ballet of Canada’s David Briskin, the Los Angeles musicians gave a fine rendition of Prokofiev’s complex music. However, during some of the more percussive sections, the orchestra members under Briskin sounded as if they were keeping time rather than propelling the music forward to create Prokofiev’s explosive sound – one particularly muddy section happening at the opening of Act Three.

There is no doubt as to the quality of the corps of the NBC. And the principals and soloists are standouts in all roles: Piotr Stanczyk, as mentioned, is a pitch perfect Mercutio – so effortless in his humor and swagger that Ratmansky should consider creating a Commedia dell’arte ballet around him. As Benvolio, Robert Stephen is a delightful and potent member of the trio. McGee Maddox’s Tybalt is imposing and lethal. Lorna Geddes’ Nurse is full of fun and vigor, dressed in an abundance of white fabric, which swaddled her from head to toe. The Friar Lawrence of Peter Ottmann is more dance than mime and he deepens the role with his presence. As Lord and Lady Capulet, Etienne Lavigne and Stephanie Hutchison are elegant and moving. And Patrick Lavoie dances Paris with ardor and humanity, particularly in the welcome simplicity of his Act Three, Scene Three solo with Juliet’s four lovely bridesmaids.

One would imagine that if Ratmansky lingered in Canada with his creation, time would season and deepen this Romeo and Juliet, a stunning addition to the pantheon of memorable versions that have gone before.

Photos courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada. 

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

Jane Rosenberg Dance Book cover.

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

 


Live Music: The 2014 Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl

June 22, 2014

By Don Heckman

The Hollywood Bowl and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Wilkins, offered another Hall of Fame, season-opening program Saturday night. And once again did it with the class and creativity that have characterized these annual events. I’ve been covering the season-opening nights at the Hollywood Bowl for years now and each succeeding presentation gets better and better.

Wilkins and the HBO set the stage with performances of Elmer Bernstein’s Fanfare for the Hollywood Bowl and Prokofiev’s March in B-fat Major, opening the way for a program once again glowing with star quality performers.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this richly entertaining evening was the presence of a stunning array of female artists. And extraordinary female artists at that – from The Go-Gos and Pink Martini to Kristin Chenoweth, all of whom were this year’s inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

Add to that the fact that each of the inductees was introduced by high visibility female performers: Taraji P. Henson introduced Pink Martini; Carol Burnett introduced Kristin Chenoweth; and Natasha Bedingfield introduced The Go-Gos.

In addition, Helen Hunt led a tribute to YOLA (The Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles); and singer Lea Michele joined Chenoweth in a portion of her performance.

Kristin Chenoweth

Kristin Chenoweth

Emmy and Tony Award winner Chenoweth may be best known for her roles in Wicked, You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and the TV series Glee. But her far-reaching performing skills, all on full display in her relatively brief but exhilarating appearance, were the stuff of legends. Singing, strutting, dueting with Michele, interacting whimsically with the enthusiastic audience, the diminutive but energetic Chenoweth thoroughly affirmed the wisdom of inducting her into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

The Go-Gos

The Go-Gos

The Go-Gos, the first all-female rock band to write their own songs and play their own instruments, startled the music world by reaching the top levels of the Billboard charts in the ’70s and ’80s. Amazingly, they’ve lost none of their skills or their musical panache. Still rocking, still dominating the stage, they once again underscored the capacity of female musicians to be completely competitive in a male-dominated music world. And they did so again on this creatively dynamic evening, romping through some of their most familiar hits.

China Forbes and Tom Lauderdale of Pink Martini

China Forbes and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini

The final inductees were the gifted players in Pink Martini. Led by pianist Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes, the group’s skills have included collaborations with the likes of Carol Channing, Jimmy Scott, Michael Feinstein, and many more. And it’s not surprising that their international, multi-lingual skills, on full display in this performance, have made them one of pop music’s true boundary-less ensembles.

The Grand Finale of Opening Night 2014 at the Hollywood Bowl

Appropriately, of course, the program came to a typical Hollywood Bowl grand climax with all the inductees on stage together to sing “I’ve Got Rhythm” with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, brightly illuminated by a characteristically spectacular fireworks display, enhanced by beaming laser effects.

It was, in sum, one of the most unforgettable finales of recent memory, showcasing the induction of three perfectly chosen musical artists and ensembles into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.

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Photos courtesy of Mathew Imaging/Hollywood Bowl.


Picks of the Weekend in Los Angeles: June 19 – 22

June 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

With Summer arriving in all its glory, I thought it would be helpful to concentrate the Picks for this long, mid-June weekend on the rich array of music to be heard here in the Southland.

Sally Kellerman

Sally Kellerman

- June 19. (Thurs.) Sally Kellerman. Sally’s back, and that’s great news for all fans of irresistible singing. Better known to many as “Hot Lips” from her role in the film version of Mash, Sal is a vocalist who brings vivid, story-telling qualities to every song. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of one of her recent Los Angeles performances. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 19 – 22. (Thurs. – Sun.) Marcus Miller. Multi-instrumentalist Miller, moving smoothly from bass clarinet, brings a sparkling array of jazz inventiveness to everything he plays. His current group includes saxophonist Alex Han, trumpeter Lee Hogans, keyboardist Brett Williams, guitarist Adam Agati and drummer Ronald Burneer, Jr. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

John Chiodini

John Chiodini

- June 20, (Fri,) The Denny Seiwell Trio. Drummer Seiwell’s resume includes gigs with an array of world class bands in genres of every style. This time he leads his own stellar group, featuring John Chiodini, guitar and Joe Bagg, keyboards. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- June 20. (Fri.) Chuck Manning and Steve Huffsteter. Two of the Southland’s most inventive jazz horn players, saxophonist Manning and trumpeter Huffsteter wrap their improvisational skills around every tune, stimulating each other’s creative imaginations. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) The John La Barbera Big Band. La Barbera’s Big Band hasn’t yet received the attention it deserves, and here’s a chance to see them in action in Sherman Oaks, on the broad stage of Jazz at the Cap.  (818) 990-2001.

- June 20 & 21. (Fri. & Sat.) Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Here’s a rare, and not to be missed, display of jazz vocalese in the competent musical hands and soaring voices of this trio of world class singers. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- June 21. (Sat.) The Grand Reopening of the Alex Theatre.  Emmy and Tony award winning performer Martin Short joins Matt Catingub and the Glendale Pops Orchestra for a spectacular evening of song, dance, comedy and pure entertainment.  The Alex Theatre.  (818) 243-2611.

Les McCann and Lee Hartley

- June 21. (Sat.) Lee Hartley & the Les McCann All-Star Band. The appealing vocal team of Hartley and McCann are great on their own, and even better when their surrounded by the superb musical backing of guitarist John Chiodini, pianist Barney McClure, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Enzo Tedesco. Jazz at the Rad.  (310) 216-5861.

- June 21. (Sat.) “Nutty.” Jazz for Jetsetters. This always-intriguing jazz octet applies a broad stylistic array of jazz rhythms and styles to their interpretations of pop and rock classics. If you loved the ’60s, dopn’t miss these guys. Steamers.  (714) 871-8800.

- June 21. (Sat.) Opening Night at the Bowl. The Hollywood Bowl kicks off a spectacular Summer season with the induction of Kristin Chenoweth, The Go-Go’s and Pink Martini into the . The celebration will climax with a spectacular fireworks display.  Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame (323) 850-2000.

 

 

 


Opera: LA Opera’s “Thaïs” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

May 30, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Orientalism, sin, sex, and religion: Jules Massenet’s opera, Thaïs, has it all (and a thrilling Placido Domingo to boot). A lavish production, now on stage at the Los Angeles Opera, revels in the nineteenth century fascination with extravagance versus asceticism but is oddly bereft of sexual content. The story, taken from Anatole France’s 1890 novel, Thaïs, features a courtesan turning from a life of lust in Alexandria to the chastity of a convent in the Egyptian desert through the ministrations of a fervent monk.

Nino Machaidze as Thais

Nino Machaidze as Thais

The Thaïs of the beautiful Georgian soprano, Nino Machaidze, however, seems chaste throughout – more like a noble presence who trades worldly riches for a simpler life, rather than a woman who accrues wealth and position through her obvious charms and then gives it all up for the Christian promise of eternal life. The result is not uninteresting: less an abrupt turnaround from Eros-inflamed goddess to pious innocent as is typical of most productions. But though director Nicola Raab has made Thaïs’ transition more believable, in the process she has sacrificed the extremes of behavior that make for a fascinating portrait of a courtesan. The result is a tepid Thaïs, not in voice, for Machaidze gives it her all, but in manner.

Placido Domingo as Athanael

On the other hand, Placido Domingo’s Athanaël is a powerhouse of tormented passions: in turn pious, angry, jealous, loving, and lustful. Making a transition in his seventies from tenor to baritone, Domingo is ageless, singing with an expressive warmth that envelops the house. In monkish long hair and dressed in rags, he inhabits his own world – true to the opera and distant from the oddly populated environment created by the scenery and costumes of designer, Johan Engels.

There is no doubt that this is a sumptuous and gorgeous staging, but it has problems. We open on cenobitic monks in a monastery outside of Thebes, Egypt in the fourth century A.D. Instead of the banks of the Nile, we are in what looks like the suggestion of a three-story library in an indeterminate place during the Industrial Revolution. Instead of monks dressed in the manner of Domingo’s Athanaël, we have men who seem to be Oxford University dons, outfitted in academic robes. The scenery and props originated with the Gothenburg Opera in Sweden and favor a nineteenth century look. The set revolves for the second scene of Act One and, instead of the Alexandrian estate of Nicias, Thaïs’ current lover, we are in a French theater, populated with all manner of “actresses” dressed in flamboyantly beautiful costumes culled from nineteenth century opera and theater posters.

Thais Act One

Thais Act One

It’s dazzling but perplexing, unmooring us from any scenic cues as to where we are. And when Thaïs makes her grand entrance, she wears a golden dress weighed down with trim and jewels and laden with bird plumage – a twenty-first century version of a nineteenth century version of an Egyptian queen’s costume. The outfit inhibits her movements – she is no lithe and seductive courtesan – and because she never touches her lover, Nicias, when singing of their shared passion, the moment falls flat.

Queenly rather than sexy, Machaidze’s first act gets off to a shaky start – her voice lacking in subtlety and nuance. It is in the second act “Mirror Aria,” in the beautiful jewel-box set of her boudoir, when we begin to hear more delicate shadings of tone and texture, which culminate in her ravishing duet of Act Three with Domingo.

Paul Groves as Nicias

Paul Groves as Nicias

As Nicias, tenor Paul Groves was a likable presence, whose voice also gained in luster as the evening progressed. As the slave girls, Crobyle and Myrtale, Hae Ji Chang and Cassandra Zoe Velasco chirped and laughed as required and were adorable in their Scheherazade-like outfits. Milena Kitic proved an elegant and creamy voiced Albine, the abbess who takes Thaïs into the convent.

Portraying the old monk, Palemon, bass Valentin Anikin lacked compassion as spiritual advisor to Athanaël, his voice rather remote and aloof. Putting Palemon and his monks in dusty tuxedos with top hats for the monastery scene of Act Three was a baffling choice. And again, instead of a monastery, they idle for nearly the entire act in the ragged seats of a broken down theater in the desert with a backdrop of sand dunes, which are obvious depictions of a woman’s breasts.

Athanaël, more dead than alive, languishes in the monastery, possessed by his desire for Thaïs and haunted by a vision of her death. Rushing to the convent, now in the same desert set where the monks had idled, he finds a dying Thaïs.

Placido Domingo as TK and Nino MachaidzeTK aS Thais

Placido Domingo as Athanael and Nino Machaidze as Thais

Athanaël, however, doesn’t find her on her deathbed or, as in the 2008 Met production, enthroned like a Byzantine Madonna. Instead, on a raised platform, dressed in a satin wedding gown and jewels, she awaits her apotheosis. Though an interesting interpretation, she stands apart from Athanaël who grovels below her, isolating the two in physical space (a metaphor for their psychic isolation from one another). However, one longed for their parting to have a more intimate connection before Thaïs’ soul rises to heaven, leaving a suffering Athanaël behind – an Athanaël who has now come to crave worldly love for Thaïs above all else

Though the plot, as handled by Massenet’s librettist, Louis Gallet, greatly abridges the novel, omitting details that would make transitions and characters clearer, Massenet fills in the gaps with his lovely and beautifully lyric score. The LA Opera Orchestra under the direction of conductor Patrick Fournillier brings out both the tenderness and urgency of the music. And Robert Cani, the solo violinist responsible for playing the haunting symphonic intermezzo known as “Meditation” does so with a stirring simplicity.

This is an opera of contrasts: earthly passion versus spiritual calling, voluptuousness versus severity, the here and now versus eternity. Massenet’s music balances these extremes with a graceful score that lingers long after the production ends. We are fortunate in Los Angeles to have Thaïs performed here for the first time and with the incomparable Domingo at its heart.

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Photos by Robert Millard 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.  

 

 


Picks of the Week: May 27 – June 1

May 27, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Pat Senatore

Pat Senatore

- May 27. (Tues.) Pat Senatore Trio. The stellar Senatore trio – bassist Senatore with pianist Josh Nelson and drummer Mark Ferber have been carrying the torch for solid jazz at its best for years. And their new recording, Ascensione, is a superb display of their effectiveness as a world class jazz trio. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 29. (Thurs.) Peter Smith. “Too Marvelous For Words: The Music of Nat “King’ Cole.” Singer/pianist Smith revives one of the most appealing jazz catalogs of song. Don’t miss it. Vitellos.  (818) 769-0905.

- May 30. (Fri.) Angela Parrish. Pianist/singer/songwrier Parrish has been soloing in Vitello’s dining room. But her appealing musical qualities will be on full display when she performs in the club’s warm and engaging upstairs music room. Vitello’s  (818) 769-0905.

Gustavo Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel

- May 30. (Fri.) The Los Angeles Philharmonic. A Casual Friday concert with Gustavo Dudamel conducting Mozart’s Symphony No.36 and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with Helene Grimaud as piano soloist. Disney Hall. (323) 850-2000.

- May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) Tom Culver’s “Cole Porter Uncorked explores some of the classic items in the Great American Songbook in a program backed by the Rick Hils Trio and directed by Marilyn Maye. The Gardenia. (323) 467-7444.

- May 31. (Sat.) LA Ballet “La Sylphide.” An irresistible evening of ballet at its finest. In addition to La Sylphide, the program features George Balanchine‘s “Serenade..” Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

Miki Howard

Miki Howard

- May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) Miki Howard. Comfortably expressive in jazz, r&b and pop, Howard had a string of hits in the ’80s and ’90s, and she’s still going strong. Expect to hear some catchy, appealingly familiar melodies. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- June 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with the Ron Jones Jazz Influence Orchestra. Multi-hyphenate MacFarlane balances his successful efforts as an actor, producer, director and comedian with his appealing efforts as a singer. He’ll be at his best with Jones’ briskly swinging Jazz Influence Orchestra. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

- May 29 – June 1 (Thurs. – Sun.) Marc Ribot. Guitarist/composer Ribot displays his affection for film in a fascinating score for Charlie Chaplin‘s film, The Kid. An SFJAZZ concert at Miner Auditorium.  (866) 920-5299

Washington D.C.

- May 27 (Tues.) Nicole Henry. Comfortably expressing herself in soul/jazz/pop/r&b stylings, Henry’s charismatic qualities are present in every song she sings. Blues Alley (202) 337-4141.

New York City

Jane Monheit and John Pizzarelli

- May 30 & 31. (Fri. & Sat.) John Pizzarelli and Jane Monheit with the Al Jackson Quintet. Among the most gifted of the younger generation interpreters of the Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli and Monheit are even better when they’re performing as a captivating vocal duo. Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.(212) 258-9595.

- May 27 – 31. (Tues. – Sat.) BossaBrazil. A pair of Brazil’s finest musical artists – Marcos Valle and Roberto Menescal – team up to showcase some of the finest blends of jazz and Brazilian rhythms. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

- May 30 & 31. Jean Luc Ponty & His Band.  Violinist Ponty, one of the leaders in the early stages of jazz fusion, continue to be one of the most intriguing of contemporary jazz performers. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747

Berlin

- May 27. (Tues.) Billy Hart Quartet. Always an appealing performer, drummer Hart is so popular in Berlin that this booking has been described as “Wegen Des Grossen Andrangs (“Back By Public Demand). A-Trane. 030 / 313 25 50.

Milan

Mayra Andrade

Mayra Andrade

- May 28. (Wed.) Mayra Andrade. Lovely Difficult A native of the musically rich environment of the Cape Verde isands, Andrade – who lives in Paris – has built an impressive career combining her Cape Verde roots with appealing touches of French music and American pop. The Blue Note Milano. +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

- May 27 & 28. (Tues. & Wed.) Harvey Mason and “Chameleon.” Hard swinging drummer Mason, leads an especially appealing ensemble in “Chameleon,” featuring the unique musical gifts of Chris Turner, John Beasley, Philip Woo, Kamasi Washington and Jimmy Haslip. The Blue Note Tokyo. +81 3-5485-0088.

 

 

 


Picks of the Week: May 19 – 25

May 19, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Carol Welsman

Carol Welsman

- May 20. (Tues.) Carol Welsman. She sings with an utter mastery of jazz vocalizing. Add to that Carol’s equally impressive piano playing, always imaginative, always swinging. She doesn’t do a lot of club dates, so don’t miss this one. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 20. (Tues.) Guitar Night. With John Pisano and special guests guitarist Tim May, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Kendall Kay. Viva Cantina.  (818) 845- 2425.

- May 21. (Wed.) Lauren White with the Quinn Johnson Trio. Special Guests include Dolores Scozzesi and  Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. An evening of jazz vocals reaching from the superb soloing of Lauren and Dolores to the jaunty trio of Chambers, Herbert & Ellis. Catalina Bar & Grill. (223) 466-2210.

Bianca Rossini

Bianca Rossini

- May 21. (Wed.) Bianca Rossini. Brazilian singer/songwriter Rossini enhances her intimate bossa novas with the moves of a born dancer. Click HERE  to read a recent review of Rossini in action. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.+

- May 21. (Wed.) Jennifer Leitham Trio. With Rich Eames, piano and Randy Drake, drums. Leitham is a first call bassist with the versatility to perform in any setting. This time out, she does it her way, with her own trio. Jazz at the Cap.

 

Robert Davi

Robert Davi

- May 22. (Thurs.) Robert Davi. In a music world becoming over populated with Sinatra wannabes, Davi is the real deal, intimately familiar with the Sinatra style. Blessed with a voice rich with operatic qualities, Davi uses it in memorable excursions through the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- May 22. (Thurs.) Billy Joel. It’s not often that one has the chance to hear Joel anywhere, much less the Hollywood Bowl. Don’t miss this chance to hear some of his classics. Hollywood Bowl.  (323) 850-2000.

- May 23. (Fri,) Kenny Burrell Quintet. One of the iconic jazz guitarists of his generation, Burrell, also an educator, takes a break from his UCLA responsibilities to remind us of his still potent playing skills. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- May 23. (Fri.) Azar Lawrence. Saxophonist Lawrence’s impressive resume reaches from Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner to Freddie Hubbard and beyond. Still a hard swinging, potent improviser, he should be heard at every opportunity. LACMA. (323) 857-6000.

- May 23 – 25. (Fri. – Sun.) Los Angeles Philharmonic. Gustavo Dudamel conducts the grand finale of the L.A. Phil’s Mozart/Da Ponte Trilogy – Cosi Fan Tutti. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- May 24. (Sat.) Mark Christian Miller. Although he spends a lot of time working in music management and guidance, Miller is a fine vocalist in his own right. The Gardenia.  (323) 467-7444.

Cheryl Bentyne

Cheryl Bentyne

- May 24. (Sat.) Cheryl Bentyne. She’s back and all fans of world class jazz vocalizing should be delighted. After recovering from a serious illness, Bentyne is in the groove, singing with the imagination and the buoyant sense of swing that have always been essential to her art. Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

- May 24 & 25. (Sat. & Sun.) John Daversa’s Contemporary Big Band. Trumpeter/composer/arranger Daversa is producing some of the most fascinating big band writing on the current jazz scene. The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

San Francisco

- May 21 & 22. (Wed. & Thurs.) Jane Monheit Sings Judy Garland. The title of this performance alone tells us that it’s going to be a fascinating experience. And there’s more on the bill: in the lounge on Wed.: Pianist Gaea Schell. In the lounge on Thurs: the Karen Marguth Trio. Yoshi’s San Francisco.  (415) 655-5600.

New York City

- May 20 – 24. (Tues. – Sat.) Karrin Allyson. Always a musically intriguing singer, Allyson has matured into a creatively expressive vocal artist. Click HERE to read an iRoM review of a recent L.A. Appearance by Allyson. Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

London

Eliane Elias

Eliane Elias

May 19 & 20. (Mon. & Tues.) Eliane Elias Quartet. Elias has been a superb jazz pianist since she first moved from Brazil to the U.S. But in recent years she’s displayed equally captivating skills as a singer, as well. Click HERE  to read a recent iRoM review of an Eliane Elias performance in Los Angeles. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 (0) 20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

- May 24. (Sat.) Fredrik Kronkvist. “The Cannonball Adderley Songbook.” Danish saxophonist Kronkvist displays the extent to which European jazz artists have convincingly proven themselves as world class performers. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milan

- May 21 (Wed.) Geri Allen. Name some iconic jazz artists of the past few decades, and pianist Allen has probably worked with them (Think Ornette Coleman, Ravi Coltrane, Charles Lloyd, Betty Carter and more). Although she spends part of the time these days as a college professor, she continues to assert her status as one of the fine jazz artists of her generation. The Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Tokyo

Jack DeJohnette

Jack DeJohnette

- May 20 – 22. (Tues. – Thurs.) Jack DeJohnette Trio. With saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison. Drummer/percussionist DeJohnette is one of the current jazz world’s most creatively curious players. And, for this tour, he’s chosen to work alongside players with equally inquisitive creativity. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.

 

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Photos of Bianca Rossini, Robert Davi, Cheryl Bentyne and Eliane Elias by Faith Frenz.

 

 

 


Opera: LA Opera’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

May 19, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles.  When Andre Previn asserted that A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams was already an opera – just without the singing, he spoke to the essence of the play. With the life and death struggle of Blanche DuBois, we have a dramatic heroine as grand and iconic as any Carmen, Violetta, or Lucia. In bringing the play, Streetcar, to the opera house, Previn and his librettist, Philip Littell, have given us a gift – the chance to experience this masterpiece of American drama in another form. And to pile on the riches: we have Renée Fleming, for whom the opera was created, and a marvelous cast to bring the action to musical life in Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

With the orchestra assembled, not in the traditional pit, but onstage behind the singers, and with the singers’ entrances and exits through the orchestra, an immediacy and intimacy is created, which suits the material. New Orleans, a musical and uniquely American city seems to be represented by the presence of the onstage musicians, who become characters in the unfolding drama. Directed by Brad Dalton and described as a semi-staged version of the opera, this very minimal setting conceived by the Lyric Opera of Chicago is immensely effective. Chairs, a table, a bed, and a simple light bulb, functioning as a beacon for the action, seems more than enough to create the claustrophobic atmosphere of the two rooms of Stanley and Stella’s apartment. With the addition of sensitive lighting by Duane Schuler and costumes by Johann Stegmeir, we are transported into a universe not unlike that of Edward Hopper’s.

“A Street Car Named Desire”

Previn’s musical interpretation of Streetcar, while not ground breaking, weaves a spell with its echoes of bluesy romanticism. Though hints of Richard Strauss, Barber, Britten, and Gershwin are heard, Previn avoids the trap of clichéd Americana, creating an atmospheric poem of longing, lust, and existential despair. Beautifully conducted by Evan Rogister, the LA Opera Orchestra proves, once again, that they can sensitively deliver the dark and light shadings of any and all of the operatic repertory.

Famously creating the opera for soprano Renée Fleming, Previn’s music allows her to spin her particular brand of magic in her arias (“Soft people have got to shimmer and glow” and “I want magic”) – exquisite vocalizing in the upper range with an expressive pianissimo. In her final aria, “ I can smell the sea air,” the dreaminess works as a counterpoint to the impending disaster – the removal of Blanche to an institution. And though the song is taken nearly word for word from the play, the reference to the sea air pulled me out of the moment, as I pondered where Blanche was in her mind’s eye.

Blanche Dubois

Renee Fleming as Blanche Dubois

Onstage for nearly the entire production, Fleming creates her own brand of Blanche: fragile emotionally, but with an earthy presence. This Blanche has seen more reality than Stanley, Stella, or Mitch. And though she lives in a world of make-believe, we have no doubt that she has been hardened by her experiences. This is powerfully brought home in her first monologue, “I took the blows on my face.” Fleming’s singing here suggests that Blanche has hidden resources of strength, which allows her to carry on through one trauma after another.

Act Two is emotionally and dramatically the most satisfying of the opera. Alone in the apartment, Blanche discovers a young man at her door dressed in a white suit. She attempts to seduce the boy. Fleming hauntingly sings, “You make my mouth water,” which becomes a reenactment of the past and a window into Blanche’s troubled world. This is quickly followed by a scene with Mitch, the most civilized of Stanley’s poker buddies and a potential husband for Blanche. As performed with a bright and flexible tenor by the superb Anthony Dean Griffey, the pair sings of their hopes and sorrows to poignant effect. And when Fleming sings of her oppressive guilt over the suicide of her young husband – again enthralling us with her performance – I was put in mind of James Joyce’s tormented heroine in his story, The Dead, who grieves over her first love – another case of a tragic, early death.

Stella

Stacy Tappan as Stella

Playing Stella, the sister who ran away from the past into the arms of Stanley Kowalski, Stacy Tappan proves more than equal to the role – her glowing and expressive soprano embodying both youthful and womanly longing. She is wholly believable as Blanche’s younger sister and just as convincing as a prisoner of desire. Every bit as trapped as Blanche, they are both women without choice in a brutish, man’s world.

Ryan McKinny as Stanley

Ryan McKinny as Stanley

Bryan McKinny as Stanley not only looks the part but also conveys the twin qualities of menace and neediness so central to the role. Without benefit of an aria to bolster his performance, bass baritone McKinny sings with enough power and conviction to make his character soar as the perpetrator of disaster. Even when conveying rage, McKinny’s voice is never strident, but remains fluid and rich.

 as Stanley

Renee Fleming as Blanche and Ryan McKinny as Stanley

As for the rape scene, Previn wisely chooses to score an orchestral interlude – a kind of dark and menacing Gershwin-esque cityscape. Blocked from the audience’s view by seven actors dressed as seven Stanleys who look on at the violence, the magnitude of the crime is made all the more real by this illustration of what it means to be overpowered by brute force.

In the parts of Eunice, the upstairs neighbor, and the young paperboy who is nearly seduced by Blanche, Victoria Livengood and Cullen Gandy are flawless. Rounding out the cast is Joshua Guerrero as Steve Hubbell and two actors, Robert Shampain and Cynthia Marty as the medical personnel.  The doctor and nurse who take Blanche away are non-singing roles, creating a very clever divide between the world of our protagonists (in song) and the world outside.

“Whoever you are – I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” says Blanche. Fleming then sings again and again: “whoever you are.” As this last phrase delicately floats on the air, the character of Blanche turns from substance to spirit remaining entrenched in our collective imaginations thanks to Williams and Previn.

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Photos by Robert Millard courtesy of LA Opera.

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

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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.  

 

 

 

 


More Picks of the Week: April 30 – May 4

April 28, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- April 29. (Tues.) Nouveau Stride. Lorraine Feather and Stephanie Trick. Singer/songwriter Feather and stride pianist Trick combine their considerable talents for an evening inspired by the music of Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and Dick Hyman. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- April 29. (Tues.) Chamber Music Society: All Mozart. Members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic combine in an appealing program of Mozart classics, including the Flute Quartet in D, the String Quartet No. 19, the Wind Serenade in C minor and the String Quartet in D. A guaranteed performance to remember for all Mozart fans. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- April 29. (Tues.) Eric Reed Quartet. Pianist Reed first became familiar to jazz audiences via his remarkable jazz talents when he was still a teen-ager.  Since then he has matured into one of the most significant jazz artists of his generation. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

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Teka

Teka

HIGHLIGHT EVENT

- April 30. (Wed,) Teka. Born in Brazil, singer/guitarist Teka’s music blends a fusion of the sensual rhythms and harmonies of Brazil with the sophistication and improvisation of jazz – a fascinating musical blend she calls New Bossa. She currently does most of her performing in Santa Barbara and the Central Coast. So don’t miss this opportunity to hear Teka’s impressive vocal and instrumental skills in action. And be sure to click HERE to check out iRoM’s review of her latest CD.   The Gardenia (323) 467-7444.

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- May 3. (Sat.) Tuck & Patti. The team of guitarist Tuck and singer Patti, partners in music and in life have been producing memorable performances together for several decades. Click HERE to read a previous iRoM review of the dynamic duo.  Catalina Bar & Grill. (223) 466-2210.

Deana Martin

Deana Martin

- May 4. (Sun.) Deana Martin. She’s Dean Martin’s daughter, and the creative acorn didn’t fall far from the tree. But Deana, in addition to her familiarity with the classic songs favored by her Dad, has throughly established herself as a significant talent in her own right.  Click HERE to read a previous iRoM review of Deana Martin.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Seattle

- April 29 & 30. (Tues. & Wed.) The Fred Hersch Trio. Pianist Hersch is not only a veteran jazz performer, he’s also an improvising artist who brings uniquely imaginative ideas to every thing he plays.Click HERE to read a previous iRoM review of Fred Hersch.  Jazz Alley (206) 441-9729.

Chicago

- May 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun,) Cyrus Chestnut Trio. Pianist Chestnut displays his belief in the gospel and soul roots of jazz in compelling fashion. Jazz Showcase 312) 360-0234.

Washington D.C.

- May 1 – 4. (Thurs. – Sun.) John Pizzarelli. He sings and plays the guitar with the same kind of creative blend one recalls from the work of Nat “King” Cole. But he does so with his own inventive expressiveness. Blues Alley (202) 337-4141.

Steve Kuhn

Steve Kuhn

New York City

- May 1 – April 29 – May 4. (Tues,. – Sun.) Steve Kuhn Trio. With bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Joey Baron. Kuhn’s long, impressive career reaches from the new ideas of the ’60s (when he played with John Coltrane) to his equally imaginative work in the new millenium. Birdland (212) 581-3080.

London

- April 30 – May 3. (Wed. – Sat.) Frank Sinatra Jr.“Sinatra Sings Sinatra.”Yes, it really is “Sinatra Sings Sinatra,” but Junior does it with more authenticity than any of the current Sinatra wannabes. Ronnie Scott’s. +44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Sine Eeg

Copenhagen

- May 2 & 3. (Fri. & Sat.) Sinne Eeg. Denmark’s gift to jazz singing, Sinne is a major talent, who still has not received the accolades and recognition that her remarkable abilities deserve. To read a previous iRoM review of Sinne click HERE. Jazzhus Montmartre. (+45) 70 263 267.

Tokyo

- May 2 – 4. (Fri. – Sun.) Dee Dee Bridgewater. Grammy and Tony award winning singer Bridgewater has been displaying her considerable vocal talents since the early ’70s, and she’s still going strong. Don’t miss her; she’s the real deal. Blue Note Tokyo. +81 3-5485-0088.

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Deana Martin photo by Faith Frenz.

 


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