Ballet: The Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

April 13, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg
Joyful, uplifting, poetic – three words that describe Paul Taylor’s choreography in one of his signature works, Airs, and the first dance on Friday night’s program at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Created in 1978, Airs encapsulates much of what is so satisfying about Taylor’s work: expressiveness at the service of intellect, the perfectly calibrated repetitions that reinforce the choreography but never overwhelm it, the gestures that never feel arbitrary or overly manipulated.

The eagerly anticipated return of the Paul Taylor Dance Company to Los Angeles after a ten year absence was marked by a deeply satisfying trio of dances commenting on the nature of man and civilization: from the power of civilization to shape man’s better nature in Airs, to the loss of humanity through the tyranny of war in Banquet of Vultures. And finally, the humor inherent in seeing our own foibles reflected in the insect world in Gossamer Gallants.

Paul Taylor's "Airs"

Paul Taylor’s “Airs”

Scored to an array of selections from Handel, Airs makes reference to man’s higher nature where happiness is in reach and light shines on our endeavors. From adagio to allegro sections, the choreography dazzles with arms sculpting air, bodies tilting in space, and legs and feet beating in rapid-fire succession. The dancers are extraordinarily adept at Taylor’s demanding choreography – one of his most balletic of dances – and though they glow with a free and easy spirit, the precision, strength, and control required for the complex choreography is immense.

The cast of four women and three men (I loved the asymmetry here), featuring Laura Halzack, Jamie Rae Walker, Robert Kleinendorst, and Michael Trusnovec, was splendid. Whether putting one in mind of classical Greek sculpture, wrestling moves, circus stunts, or folk dance, the lyricism of the music and choreography was captured by these seven highly musical dancers.

If Airs is about man achieving the heights, then Banquet of Vultures is focused on the depths. Where Airs soared, Banquet felt anchored to the floor, earthbound and rooted in the degradation of war. Premiered in 2005, Taylor famously commented that it was George W. Bush’s pseudo-military body language, which first inspired the creation of the central malevolent character.

Michael Trusnovec

Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and red tie, Michael Trusnovec, with his imposing stature, created an iconic tyrant/ bureaucrat, himself little more than a puppet of the relentless war machine. With staccato marionette movements, he swaggered, threatened and abused. Prisoners, dressed in generic camouflage-style uniforms, cowered and ran.

What distinguishes this anti war work is Taylor’s minimalist aesthetic. His music selection and the sculptural qualities of the lighting design served the piece well. Morton Feldman’s 1976 work, Oboe and Orchestra, with its piercing sounds, created the backdrop to this commentary on torture. Feldman’s music never lapsed into sentiment or sensuality, which would have lessened the power of Taylor’s creation. Jennifer Tipton’s extraordinary lighting became the entire set. Sculptural cones of light illuminated bodies in the darkness, angling from the side or defining space from above.

In one of the most stirring images of the piece, a shaft of light defined a circular space that imprisoned three victims. As they writhed within the confines of light, they became as heroic as the ancient figures of the Laocoön. In a stirring sequence danced by Trusnovec and Jamie Rae Walker, Taylor created a macabre pas de deux for predator and prey, which ended in the violent death of the prey (Walker). And in the closing moments, a second figure in a suit and red tie (an iconic uniform created by Santo Loquasto) replaced the first tyrant, only to flap and flounder like a fish on a line. Perhaps another politician inevitably inheriting a corrupt war that he can neither control nor stop?

Though Taylor makes reference to George W. Bush, there is a timelessness to the piece – at moments it has a German Expressionist feel, at other times the Iron Curtain looms large. Like Kurt Jooss’ 1932 ballet, The Green Table, no matter who the politicians or battling soldiers, any and all generations at war can be seen in this shattering dance drama. The evening was capped with a delicious confection called Gossamer Gallants created in 2011.  Insects cavort on stage to village dances from the Czech opera, The Bartered Bride, by Bedrich Smetana. I will never be able to hear Smetana’s music again without imagining dopey, lovesick bugs mooning over predatory females in all their wiggling, vamping glory.

Against a backdrop of a ring of stone towers, insects enacted their mating rituals to hilarious effect in the setting of a Czech village. Particularly engaging was the choreography for the male bugs, helplessly enthralled by the females. Drunk on love, the men’s movements were quirky and unpredictable. The dances for the females, though charming, seemed to draw on a more standard range of typically girlish behavior. When finally the boy bugs realized that the end of romance meant disaster, they moved from interest and enthusiasm to terror and exhaustion. All the nuances of the comedy were deftly handled by the exuberant and accomplished company of eleven dancers.

With Loquasto’s adorable costumes: black and iridescent blue superhero insect suits for men and lime green sexpot suits for the women, the effect was complete. Wings flapping, hands probing, antennae bobbing, the dancers inhabited their characters with unmitigated joy. In the process, they reminded us of the preciousness of all life and the sheer breadth of the body of work born from the inexhaustible mind of Paul Taylor.

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: “Stradivarius Fiddlefest” by members of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at the Broad Stage

March 30, 2014

by Don Heckman

Santa Monica, CA. The opportunity to hear an actual Stradivarius violin in action is the sort of rare musical event that would be a delight to most classical music fans. But the opportunity to hear five of the legendary instruments, played by a group of superb violinists from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, is a memorable, one of a kind music event.

And that’s what we experienced on Friday night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica in a LACO program titled “Stradivarius Fiddlefest.” The program was a virtual definition of violin compositions at their finest, some classic, some contemporary. The first half of the program included works by Telemann, Moszkowski, Kreisler, Brahms, Corigliano and Franck. The second half was equally compelling, featuring compositions by Saint-Saens, de Sarasate, Ravel, Kreisler, Piazzolla and Bartok.

The Serdet Stradivarius

The Serdet Stradivarius

The focus of the evening, of course, was on the instruments themselves. Dating from the early 1700s, they were crafted by Stradivari himself during his “Golden Period.” And it didn’t take a violin aficionado to fully appreciate the qualities of the instruments – from the lush, richness of their sound to the articulateness of their virtuosity.
But the program, in its fullness, was at its most compelling in the dramatic interfacing between the magnificence of the instruments and the extraordinary skills of the violinists.

Jeffreyi Kahane

Jeffrey Kahane

Accompanied by the expressive piano playing of LACO’s Music Director, Jeffrey Kahane, the violinists – Margaret Batjer (the LACO’s concertmaster), Chee-Yun, Cho-Liang Lin, Philippe Quint and Kiang Yu – approached their instruments with a stunning blend of enthusiasm, creative intimacy and musicality.

Each violinist found a way to express his or her unique artistry in a fashion that balanced the very special qualities of the Stradivari instruments with the individual demands of the compositions.

Chee-Yun

Chee-Yun

As the program unfolded, two soloists displayed especially appealing qualities. Chee-Yun captured listeners with her passionate interpretations of the Saint-Saens and de Sarasate works.

Phillipe Quint

Phillipe Quint

And Philippe Quint was equally intense in his renderings of the Corigliano piece, and joined Chee-Yun in several works calling for two-violin interaction.

In sum, it was yet another memorable evening with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. And, like so many past LACO performances, the “Fiddlefest” offered an immensely entertaining introduction to music not often heard, performed on rare period instruments.

All plaudits, then, to the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for once again offering a unique and engaging program of classical music at its finest.

* * * * * * * *

Photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

 


Opera: LA Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 17, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Transcendent is the first word that comes to mind in describing Albina Shagimuratova’s portrayal of the ill-fated heroine of Donizetti’s masterpiece, Lucia di Lammermoor, on opening night of LA Opera’s new production. With crystalline technique and heartrending beauty, Shagimuratova’s voice gave us the full flavor of Lucia’s fragility, bravery, and madness. One felt in the presence of a great Lucia.

Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia and Saimir Pirgu as Edgardo

Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia and Saimir Pirgu as Edgardo

Surprisingly, the “duet” of the evening (with no slight to the stirring tenor of Saimir Pirgu as Edgardo), came in the pairing of the “voice” of the glass harmonica, as played last night by Thomas Bloch, with Shagimuratova’s own. The mad scene, originally scored for glass harmonica by Donizetti, is rarely performed with the instrument. Thankfully, music director and conductor, James Conlon, gave the Los Angeles audience the opportunity to hear Bloch draw ghostly, yet sprightly murmurings from the glass harmonica.

Juxtaposed with Shagimuratova’s agile, brilliant soprano, the result was a haunting transparency – an otherworldly sound that mesmerized and transported one to another dimension. The glass harmonica became the voice in Shagimuratova’s head, another manifestation of her madness; and we felt as if we were in touch with the inner workings of Lucia’s mind.

Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia

If the measure of a great coloratura soprano is Lucia’s mad scene, then Shagimuratova triumphed. She revealed and illuminated every twist and turn of Lucia’s compromised psyche with the dramatic intensity of her acting and the infinite shadings of her beautiful, flexible voice.

The story of Lucia di Lammermoor, based on Sir Walter Scott’s, The Bride of Lammermoor, published in 1819 in the age of the Romantic novel, is set in a time and place steeped in the remnants of medieval Europe with its battling clans and feudal rivalries. Director Elkhanah Pulitzer chose to update the setting to 1885, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution and prior to the Suffragettes’ fight for women’s rights. Though Pulitzer’s notion to focus on the status of women (which the opera itself certainly comments on) was admirable, the later time setting seemed to serve no particular purpose. If anything, one felt somewhat of a disconnect between the action of Salvatore Cammarano’s libretto and the period depicted on stage. That said, there were touches in the unfolding drama that beguiled and illuminated – in particular the depiction of the female guests and their husbands in the Act Two scene of the signing of Lucia’s disastrous marriage contract to Arturo (Lord Arthur Bucklaw). Partnered by their husbands, the women sang a bright chorus. Arms bent at the elbow and extended in a stylized pose of supplication, they were held by the wrist by their mates, rather than by the hand. That gesture spoke volumes about the use and misuse of women.

The cast of "Lucia di Lammermore

The cast of “Lucia di Lammermore

The sets, minimalist in style, had much to recommend them; but again, because of the confusion of the time period, they lacked a certain coherence. On the positive side, the interior scenes were characterized by vivid colors and stark planes, allowing us to see the passions enacted on stage with a kind of clarity not typical in the gloomy interiors of the more traditional Scottish settings. Borrowing from a range of contemporary artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, James Turrell, Dan Flavin, and Donald Judd, the designs of Carolina Angulo felt a bit derivative.

 

Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia

Where she succeeded completely was in the Act Two great hall with its massive, modernist staircase. At the top of the stairs, a blue rectangle was projected onto the wall. Out of the rectangle, Lucia emerged, bloodstained and half crazed – a Greek mythic heroine, timeless and epic. The rectangle transformed into a black disc, on whose surface splashings of bright red meandered and pulsed, reflecting the bloody trail left by Lucia in the wake of Arturo’s murder. Little of the environment of Scotland permeated the interior sets and costumes, but the exterior scenes made reference to the Northern landscape, with ghostly tombs, billowing mist, and backdrops punctuated with black, grey, and white. All sets, both interior and exterior, benefitted from the dramatic lighting of designer Duane Schuler. Costumes by Christine Crook were simple, reflecting the concerns of the late nineteenth century setting.

Maestro Conlon, with his unceasing sensitivity and intelligence, and the LA Opera Orchestra with their rigorous technique, met all the demands of the bel canto score, becoming the heartbeat of the opera: crisp, buoyant, moody, and reflective all at once. If Shagimuratova put one in mind of a tragic Greek heroine, than the singers of the LA Opera, under Grant Gershon, had the potency of a Greek chorus, setting scenes and commenting on the action to create a dynamic background of sound.

Unlike Tosca and Cavaradossi, Mimi and Rodolfo, Carmen and Don José, or many other famous tragic couples, Lucia and Edgardo spend more of the opera apart than together. No sooner do they meet by the well in Act One, then Edgardo is off to France, only to return to find Lucia surrounded by guests and relatives at the signing of the marriage contract.

Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia and James Creswell as Raimondo

As Raimondo, Chaplain at Lammermoor, James Creswell, who also sang the role of Dansker in LA Opera’s Billy Budd this month, was a standout. The voice of reason in the midst of chaos, Raimondo is a pivotal character. Without a singer and actor of stature, the drama loses its center, and Creswell proved a worthy choice for the basso role, accommodating both high and low notes with fluid grace.

Rounding out the cast were mezzo soprano D’Ana Lombard as Alisa, tenor Vladimir Dmitruk as Arturo, and tenor Joshua Guerrero as Normanno.

In the sextet, “Chi mi frena,” (“What restrains me”) as notable in this opera as the mad scene, all six principals and orchestra performed as a harmonious whole, bringing to the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion unrestrained warmth and fervor. This might be said of the whole evening. We, in the audience, were transported to a world of high romance and high art by the vocalizations of this magnificent Lucia.

Photos by QRobert 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.  

 


Live Music: Tales of Madness and the Glass Harmonica

March 12, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles. Though the name, glass harmonica, sounds more like an imaginary instrument from a children’s book, it is the very real invention of Benjamin Franklin.  During a recent back stage tour of LA Opera’s upcoming production of Lucia di Lammermoor, Thomas Bloch, a renowned soloist of the glass harmonica, along with conductor, James Conlon, recounted the story of Franklin’s creation.

Having heard a glass instrument composed of thirty-seven cups of water-filled glasses in England in 1761, Franklin conceived a more workable alternative and commissioned a glass blower to construct his design. The result Franklin dubbed the “armonica” based on the Italian word, “armonia,” meaning harmony.

Thomas Block

Thomas Block

Thomas Bloch will be performing with the LA Opera Orchestra under the baton of James Conlon for the opera’s new production of Lucia di Lammermoor opening March 15. Composed of glass bowls of graded sizes attached to a horizontal spindle, the bowls of the glass harmonica line up like meat on a kebab skewer, to use one of Bloch’s analogies. The sound produced by fingers dipped in water and chalk and lightly rubbed on the rims of the revolving glasses (a foot pedal turns the glasses) is transparent and otherworldly, a sort of ethereal organ.

But playing the instrument in the United States has its challenges. Bloch, who lives in Paris, says that the water here is too soft, prompting the LA Opera to import a case of Swiss bottled water to accommodate the demands of the instrument. And as for the white powdery chalk, Bloch travels with it with in a plastic bag. One can only imagine the nature of his conversations with airport security officials.

With its delicate and supernatural sound, the glass harmonica was an appropriately melancholy companion to some of the musical repertoire of the Romantic period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Beethoven composed for it, as well as Mozart in his Adagio in C major K. 356 and Adagio and Rondo in C minor K. 617. Though the instrument fell out of favor around 1830, Richard Strauss used it in Die Frau Ohne Schatten in 1917.

Albina Shagimuratova as Lucia in her mad scene

Gaetano Donizetti originally included the glass harmonica in his score for Lucia di Lammermoor – in particular the famous mad scene. But in 1835 on opening night in Naples, the musician who was scheduled to perform refused to play, because he was still owed a fee for a prior concert. At the zero hour, Donizetti rewrote the passages for flute, and from that day forward, until Thomas Bloch’s performance at La Scala (in the 1990s) of Donizetti’s original scoring, only the flute was heard in Lucia.

The instrument’s association with madness extends beyond Lucia di Lammermoor and, in fact, originally inspired Donizetti to score it for the opera. Players of the device were purported to have gone mad (owing to the lead in the glasses), and Franz Mesmer, the German physician infamous for his theories of animal magnetism, incorporated music played on the glass harmonica in his treatments involving hypnosis.

Today, the glass harmonica has enjoyed a resurgence, not only in classical compositions, but it has also found its way into rock music, theater music, and film scores. Bloch was heard here in Los Angeles in Tom Waits’s music for The Black Rider and he has performed with bands such as Radiohead and Daft Punk, not to mention the many film scores he has recorded.

James Conlon

James Conlon

And now he is back in Los Angeles to deliver the strains of the ethereal glass harmonica for Donizetti’s gem, Lucia di Lammermoor. According to Maestro Conlon, the opera plans to stage one bel canto opera yearly, and Lucia will mark its fourth consecutive, annual production of the bel canto repertoire. Literally translated, bel canto means beautiful singing, and its golden age gave us operas such as Barber of Seville and Don Pasquale. For an orchestra, the repertory is as difficult as playing Mozart or Haydn.

Composers such as Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini demand the greatest discipline from musicians, but the rewards are a seamless interweaving of voice and music. For those of us planning to attend LA Opera’s new production, Lucia di Lammermoor should offer up countless delights.

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: March 5 – 9

March 5, 2014

By Don Heckman

 Los Angeles

Betty Bryant

Betty Bryant

- March 6. (Thurs.) Betty Bryant. Singer/pianist Bryant’s engaging style recalls an era of briskly swinging, warmly interpretive jazz cabaret. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Savion Glover

Savion Glover

- March 7. (Fri.) Savion Glover’s StePz. Tap dancer Glover has brought more jazz qualities to contemporary tap dancing than anyone since Fred Astaire. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677-3000.

- Mar. 7 & 8. (Fri. & Sat.) West Side Story. The Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim classic musical rendering of the Romeo and Juliet story in a Nuyorican setting is a memorable theatre piece that should be seen by everyone – at least once or more. The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Les Ballets De Monte Carlo

Les Ballets De Monte Carlo

- March 7 – 9. (Fri. – Sun.) Les Ballets de Monte Carlo. The highly praised Monte Carlo ensemble returns to Segerstrom after their acclaimed 2011 debut. This time, they perform Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

- March 8. (Sat.) “The Marvelous Music Box.” Young Musicians Foundation 59th Benefit Gala. Some of the Southland’s finest young classical musicians assemble for a benefit program featuring the music of Bach, Saint-Saens, Bernstein, Stravinsky and more. CAP UCLA at Royce Hall. .  (310) 825-4401.

Gerald Wilson

- March 9. (Sun.) Gerald Wilson Big Band. At 95, arranger/composer/bandleader brings irresistible musical vitality to every performance with his hard swinging big band. Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

- March 9. (Sun.) Fred Hersch and Julian Lage. Innovative jazz pianist Hersch, always in search of new creative ventures, finds an intriguing young musical partner in highly praised young guitarist Lage. Schoenberg Hall. A CAP UCLA event.  (310) 825-4401.

San Francisco

- March 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Lavay Smith. Bay area songstress Smith offers a four night survey of songs associated with Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Etta James and Sarah Vaughan. An SFJAZZ event at the Joe Henderson Lab.  (866) 920-5299.

Seattle

- March 6 – 9 . (Thurs. – Sun.) Sergio Mendes and Brazil 2014. Half a century after he arrived on the music scene with Brazil ’66, Mendes reforms the vocal/instrumental Brazilian format that first brought Brazilian sambas and bossa novas to an international audience. Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.

- March 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.) Lee Ritenour. Versatile guitarist Ritenour showcases his articulate ease with jazz genres reaching from straight ahead swing to contemporary grooves. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

Eliane Elias

- March 5 – 9. (Wed. – Sun.) Eliane Elias and her Trio. After a four night run drawing overflow audiences to Catalina Bar & Grill, Brazil-born Elias takes her irresistibly appealing piano stylings and intimate vocalizing to Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.   (212) 258-9595.  To read an earlier iRoM review of Elias’ L.A. Performance, click HERE.

- March 6 & 7. (Thurs. & Fri.) Jimmy Webb. Singer/songwriter Webb is understandably on everyone’s Hall of Fame list. Songs such as “Wichita Line Man,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” and “MacArthur Park” (to name only a few) have become Songbook Classics. Here’s a rare chance to hear him perform in a club setting. Iridium. (212) 582-2121.

London

- March 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.) Claire Martin. Alert fans of jazz singing view Martin (with good reason) as one of England’s finest jazz artists. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Copenhagen

Benny Green

- March 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.) Benny Green Trio. The fast-fingered, hard-swinging Oscar Peterson style is vividly alive in the technically adept, improvisationally inventive hands of Green. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Moscow

- March 5. (Wed.) Igor Butman Quartet. Saxophonist/band leader/club owner Butman takes a break from his big band to lead a propulsively hard driving quartet in his own club. Igor Butman Jazz Club.  (+7 495) 632-92-64.

Milan

- Mar 5 – 7. (Wed. – Fri.) Paolo Fresu Quintet. Highly regarded jazz trumpeter Fresu leads a quintet of stellar players, underscoring the lyrical qualities Italian artists have always brought to their jazz interpretations. +39 02 6901 6888.  Blue Note Milano. 

* * * * * * * *

Eliane Elias photo by Bonnie Perkinson.

Benny Green photo by Ron Hudson.


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

February 24, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

On Saturday night, at the LA Opera, evil was palpable, insinuating itself in every corner of the house; and though innocence was destroyed, Britten’s opera, Billy Budd, triumphed.

In the grandest of all his operas, Benjamin Britten and his librettists, E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, created an opera of sweeping power and existential beauty. Isolated onboard the H.M.S. Indomitable, a ship rife with fear, the artists and chorus of the LA Opera navigated the dark world of Melville’s novella. With clarity, refinement, and power, Britten’s operatic seascape was brought to heart-wrenching life.

Like a Poseidon of the pit, conductor James Conlon conjured all the elements that make up Britten’s exacting score: myriad textures, recurring motifs, and haunting rhythms. The orchestra  became the voice of Melville, himself, commenting, seeking, and despairing. Conlon drew a delicate transparency from his excellent musicians, so crucial in contrasting the lower ranges of the male voices.

From the moment he stepped on board the Indomitable, baritone Liam Bonner was wholly believable as Billy Budd: enthusiastic, handsome, innocent, confused, loyal, unaware  of his own charisma and strength

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd

From the exuberance of his first act aria, “Billy Budd, king of the birds!” to his second act tender, “Look! Through the port comes the moonshine astray,” Bonner’s baritone was both robust and delicate, producing musical shadings that conveyed both the pathos and fervor of this tragic hero.

Richard Croft as Captain Vere

As the conflicted Captain Edward Fairfax Vere, tenor Richard Croft masterfully provided the vocal balance necessary for the opera, surrounded as the character is by baritones and bass-baritones. With his elegant and expressive voice, caressing each word of the text, Croft conveyed all the agonies and angst of a man who sacrifices his moral center to the letter of the law, ultimately condemning Billy to an unjust death. Vere’s character, so central to the unfolding drama, remains an enigma; and though his actions are perplexing, it is his conundrum that makes this drama linger in the mind and get under the skin.

Greer Grimsley as John Claggart and Liam Bonner as Billy Budd.

Driving the tragedy of “Billy Budd,” we have the monstrous, John Claggart, Master- at-Arms, and the embodiment of evil. Conveying the dark shadings of Claggart’s character through his potent bass-baritone, Greer Grimsley’s performance was at its best when in concert with his victims. Feeding off the helplessness of the weak, he was convincing enough; but in his Act One, Scene Three credo, when he sang of his depravity (“O beauty, a handsomeness, goodness would that I never encountered you…”), he appeared overly conflicted. After all, this is a predator, and sexual repression aside, he is unscrupulous in his desire to destroy. I longed for a little more reserve – more Dracula perhaps, less Freudian unease.

Originally staged by Francesca Zambello in 1995 at the Royal Opera House in London, and later performed in 2000 here in Los Angeles, the current production was directed by Julia Pevzner, who met all the challenges of the opera’s demanding logistics. The sets, designed by Alison Chitty, were handsome in their minimalist approach, but had certain defects.

Trapezoidal panels covered in what looked like navy-blue striped wallpaper, meant to evoke the sea, unfortunately overtook the sides of the stage, blocking views for a large portion of the audience. I longed for a hint of water and sky, for a glimpse of the infinite sea and starry firmament. More successful was the double tiered deck, which, when lowered, created the upper deck, but when raised, revealed the ship’s interior.

The crew of the Indomitable prepares for battle.

Particularly thrilling was the conversion of the ship at rest to battle-ready mode. The movement of the men as they mounted their battle stations, then began firing on the French ship, was a tour de force and a tableau vivant worthy of Delacroix or Gericault. Under Grant Gershon’s superb direction, the men of the LA Opera chorus delivered a rousing battle scene. The audience was enveloped in the experience of sound, drama, and art coming together to create an undeniable spectacle.

The crew of the Indomitable

Elsewhere, the chorus exhibited mastery, from the sailors’ shanty, “O heave! O heave away, heave,” to their terrifying cries of disgust after Billy’s hanging. As officers Redburn and Flint, Anthony Michaels-Moore and Daniel Sumegi were notable, not only offering comic relief in their duet condemning the French; but also in their mounting anxiety over the potential for mutiny. Michaels-Moore gave a stirring account of his character’s experience on the Nore, an English ship that, in reality, suffered a mutiny in 1797. In fact, the historical mutinies at Spithead and on the Nore create the background atmosphere of dread that permeates the entire opera.

James Creswell was a sympathetic Dansker, who offers advice and comfort to Billy.  With his rich and luminous bass, Creswell gave a gratifying portrayal of the wise and world-weary old sailor. And as the stricken and fearful Novice, Keith Jameson, with his cowered body language and agile tenor, embodied the unwilling instrument of Claggart’s scheme to compromise Billy.

Liam Bonner as Billy Budd sings his farewells.

The sacrifice of the beautiful Billy, too naïve and trusting for the rough world, reaches its emotional apex in the quietest of all the scenes in the opera. Alone, shackled, and awaiting his execution, he sings his farewells to his shipmates, the sea, and the grandeur of life. As Bonner sang his last aria and our hearts contracted (and I confess, my tears flowed), we were held spellbound in this poetic evocation of a life half lived.

* * * * * * * *

Photos by Robert Millard courtesy of  L.A. 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: Feb. 18 – 23

February 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Brenna Whitaker

- Feb. 19. (Wed.) Brenna Whitaker. She’s a blonde beauty with a voice to remember. Michael Buble has called Whitaker “one of the finest singers of our generation. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 20 – 23. (Thurs. – Sun.) ”TchaikovskyFest.” The Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrates Tchaikovsky with performances of his chamber music, as well as his Symphonies #1 and #6. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

- Feb. 20 – 23. (Thurs, – Sun.) Steve Tyrell. He’s back at Catalina’s again for another long weekend. So don’t miss this opportunity to experience Tyrell’s warm, interpretive, gently swinging way with the Great American Songbook. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- Feb. 22. (Sat.) Bob McChesney Quartet. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400. The Southland bandleaders’ first choice for their trombone section. McChesney is not just a master of his instrument, he also brings rich musical depths to everything he plays. Here, he’s out front, leading his own band. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 23. (Sun.) Angela Parrish. Singer, songwriter and pianist Parrish showcases her engaging collection of original songs. Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

- Feb. 23. (Sun.) “Guitar Passions.,” Call this a great evening of guitar mastery in a variety of appealing styles. Start with the classical guitar of Sharon Isbin, followed by her guests – Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo and the finger tapping stylings of Stanley Jordan. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800.

San Francisco

Bobby Hutcherson

Bobby Hutcherson

- Feb. 20 – 23. (Thurs. – Sun.) Bobby Hutcherson, David Sanborn, Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Hart join forces in an assemblage of jazz all-stars. An SFJAZZ event at Miner Auditorium.  (866) 920-5299.

Portland OR

- Feb. 23 (Sun.) Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough. “Who’s On First?” A rare opportunity to hear a tandem performance by a pair of the jazz world’s most gifted musical humorists. A PDX Jazz Event at the Winningstad Theatre.  (503) 228-5299.

New York City

- Feb. 20 (Thurs.) Portraits of Joni: Jessica Molaskey Sings Joni Mitchell. Musical theatre star Molaskey (and wife of John Pizzarelli) takes a break from the stage to explore the rich Mitchell song catalog. Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola.  (212) 258-9595.

- Feb. 21 – 23. (Fri. – Sun.) Patricia Barber. Singer/pianist brings imagination, musicality and wit to her new interpretations of Songbook classics, as well as her own songs.The Blue Note.  (212) 475-8592.

Milan

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

- Feb. 19 – 22. (Wed. – Sat.) Dee Dee Bridgewater. The one and only Dee Dee offers her inimitable collection of vocal jazz renderings to Italy’s many jazz fans. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.

Moscow

- Feb. 23. (Sun.) Lisa Henry. With the Igor Butman Trio. Blues and gospel specialist Henry is backed by saxophonist/bandleader and club owner Igor Butman. Igor Butman Jazz Club.  (+7 495) 632-92-64.

Warsaw

- Feb. 22. (Sat.) DISCO FEVER! Revisit the dance crazes of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in a Polish evening to remember. Tygmont Live Club.  +48 22 828 34 09.

Tokyo

Roy Hargrove

Roy Hargrove

- Feb. 18 & 19. (Tues. & Wed.) Roy Hargrove Big Band. Trumpeter Hargrove continues his quest to keep big band jazz alive with his own stellar ensemble. Blue Note Tokyo.  +81 3-5485-0088.


Picks of the (Valentine) Week: Feb. 12 – 16

February 12, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

- Feb. 13 – 16. Thurs. – Sun. Steve Tyrell. Four days to enjoy Valentine’s Day at L.A.’s primo jazz room, captivated by Tyrell’s warm voice and engaging musical storytelling. Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

- Feb. 13 & 14. (Thurs. & Fri.) The Moscow Festival Ballet showcases a trio of ballets perfectly chosen for Valentine’s Day: Giselle, Chopiniana and Romeo & Juliet. Valley Performing Arts Center.  (818) 677-8800

- Feb. 14. (Fri.) Dream Street. Led by guitarist/arranger Stan Ayeroff, Dream Street brings superb musicality to all their compelling interpretations.  However, singer Bobbi Paige, a regular member, will not be present, due to a family emergency and will be replaced by “fill-in” vocalists.. Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

Anna Mjoll

Anna Mjoll

- Feb. 14. (Fri.) Anna Mjoll. Icelandic jazz vocalist Mjoll celebrates the romance of Valentine’s Day with a program of love songs from the Great American Songbook. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 14. (Fri.) Maria Rita. Brazilian singer Rita,the daughter of the iconic Brazilian vocalist, Elis Regina, has become a vocal star in her own right. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000

- Feb. 15. (Sat.) Clint Black. Grammy-winning, country male vocalist of the year, puts a unique country twist on a program of ballad classics. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

New York City

- Feb. 12 – 15. (Wed. – Sat.) Cyrille Aimee. French-born jazz singer Aimee has been described, accurately, by Will Friedwald as “one of the most promising singers of her generation.” Birdland.  (212) 581-3080.

Tierney Sutton

Tierney Sutton

- Feb. 13. (Thurs.) Tierney Sutton. One of L.A.’s finest jazz pleasures, Sutton has lately been bringing her many skills to compelling, jazz-driven interpretations of Joni Mitchell songs.  Click HERE to read a recent review of a Sutton performance in Los Angeles.  Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola. (212) 258-9595.

Copenhagen

- Feb. 13 – 15. (Thurs. – Sat.) Warren Wolf. Vibist Wolf has been bringing new, imaginative ideas to his instrument. He’s backed in his Danish appearances by American drummer Billy Williams, Danish pianist Jacob Christoffersen and bassist Kaspar Vadsholt. Jazzhus Montmartre. +45 31 72 34 94.

 London

All Jarreau

All Jarreau

- Feb. 16. (Sun.) Al Jarreau. The seven-time Grammy award winner and all around versatile jazz artist celebrates the 30th anniversary of his album, Jarreau the Album. Ronnie Scott’s+44 (0)20 7439 0747.

Milano

- Feb. 13 – 15. (Thurs. – Sat.) Ray Gelato and the Giants. Vocalist Gelato and his European jazz masters describe their music in the all-inclusive label of “Swing + Rhythm ‘n’ Blues + Jive.” Expect to be well-entertained. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Ballet: Royal New Zealand Ballet’s “Giselle” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

February 2, 2014

By Jane Rosenberg

Whether it’s Wilis, bird, sylph, or sprite, nineteenth century ballet is replete with woman as enchanted creature. And it’s no wonder. Place a willowy beauty on point and earth’s gravity faded as the imagination of such choreographic giants as Petipa, Perrot, and Bournonville soared.

Even in the twenty-first century, the fate of jilted girls and bewitched princesses created in the long-ago age of romantic idealism still resonates. In a production of “Giselle” from the Royal New Zealand Ballet performed in Los Angeles last night, we were given a poetic window into the minds and hearts of that romantic age. Fashioned by Johan Kobborg and RNZB artistic director, Ethan Stiefel, after Marius Petipa, this “Giselle,” though produced on a smaller scale, was a deeply felt and intelligently executed addition to the pantheon of world-class productions.

.

.Gillian Murphy as Giselle and Qi Huan as Albrecht

Led by a superb Gillian Murphy (guest artist from American Ballet Theater) as Giselle and partnered by Qi Huan, the company met the challenges of both acts, from the exuberance of Act One to the solemnity of Act Two. Whether dancing with the youthful abandon of peasant girls or the controlled power of the Wilis (ghostly maidens who punish wayward suitors), the female corps, in particular, impressed with their timing, precision, and musicality. This was no small feat – at only fourteen Wilis instead of the approximately thirty dancers of larger productions, they somehow managed to create the feel of a full ensemble.

There were carefully considered modifications by Stiefel and Kobborg to the “Giselle” first imagined by Perrot and Coralli and later revised by Petipa. The first was a wraparound to the plot supplied by an older Albrecht, who is first seen behind a scrim of painted tree roots, mourning the tragedy of his youth. Thus we see the action unfold in flashback. Though an interesting notion, it was not necessary for comprehension. Albrecht’s maturation and understanding of his folly is inherent in the structure of the role and was poignantly conveyed in Qi Huan’s excellent performance. The replacement of a harvest festival by a peasant wedding celebration was, however, an interesting change of pace, adding another layer to the story. Witnessing a happy, young bridal couple at the festivities contrasted eerily to Giselle’s fate – the rejection of an appropriate suitor, Hilarion, for the love of a man who, unknown to our heroine, is beyond her station and engaged to another.

Gillian Murphy, often seen in the role of the Queen of the Wilis with ABT, here portrayed a fully realized Giselle – transforming from shy, fragile village maiden to ennobled spirit in the course of the two acts. As in the dual role of Odette/Odile of “Swan Lake,” “Giselle” requires the same high level of acting and performance so critical to both ballets. From Romantic arabesques, to pirouettes in attitude, to ronds de jambe en l’air, Murphy supplied us with the technical mastery, the musicality, and the acting chops to give us a convincing Giselle. Only in the mad scene, did I wish for more fluidity and pathos. Without Bathilde’s locket around Giselle’s neck, which functions to unhinge her hair, there were distracting manipulations with the hairdo by Murphy and Maree White, playing her mother, Berthe. Though an adequate portrayal of the onset of madness, Murphy never surpassed adequate here. One longed for a hint of the confusion so poignantly realized in Natalia Makarova’s portrayal: unhinged limbs moving like a marionette, voices unheard by others, and deep physical pain – all contributing to a defining moment in the history of the role.

As Albrecht, Qi Huan shone as the elegant count in disguise as a peasant. From youthful rake to tragic, remorseful lover, Huan seamlessly handled the transitions. In the push and pull of their partnership, Murphy and Huan created suspense and an exquisite tension, particularly in Act Two, when Albrecht dances with Giselle, not yet realizing that the ghost of his beloved is really there. As for Murphy, her fragility in Act One gives way to the heroic in Act Two, as she saves her beloved Albrecht from the fury of Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. Abigail Boyle proved an able queen, negotiating the demands of the role with a commanding presence. The role of Myrtha presents a difficult challenge: how to act the part of an ethereal specter and at the same time, convey the authority of a queen and executioner. Though more commanding than ethereal, she still convinced.

.

.Abigail Boyd as Myrtha and Jacob Chown as Hilarion

As Hilarion, Jacob Chown had the right blend of earthiness, swagger, and helplessness. He was able to meld technical proficiency with a loose and easy portrayal of the jealous gamekeeper. As Giselle’s mother, Maree White was unfortunately cast, since she was too young for a role usually reserved for an older, character dancer. Clytie Campbell as Bathilde and Martin Vedel as her father, the duke, were appropriately aristocratic; and MacLean Hopper as Albrecht’s faithful subject, Wilfred, cut a fine figure. Lucy Green and Rory Fairweather-Neylan were delightful as the wedding couple of Act One, and as Myrtha’s two handmaidens, Green and Mayu Tanigaito danced with both strength and refinement.

The large orchestra of local musicians, many from the LA Opera, under the baton of Nigel Gaynor, brought out both the piquancy and turbulence of Adolphe Adam’s score. Traditional sets by Howard Jones and nineteenth century style costumes by Natalia Stewart were enhanced by the lighting design of Kendall Smith.

When finally, Albrecht was forced by the Wilis to dance to his death, we witnessed a series of entrechats that startled and amazed. Huan took to the air with his standing jumps, throwing himself into the act with utter abandon. In this moment, the reality of his deed and its aftermath hit. When dawn broke and he was saved from annihilation by his constant Giselle, we felt, with a sharp pang, the power and pathos of this iconic ballet. His later return, as an aged Albrecht seeking death, added emphasis to an already fully realized production.

Photos by Evan Li courtesty of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

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.  


Picks of the Weekend: Jan. 30 – Feb. 2

January 30, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Stanley Clarke

Stanley Clarke

- Jan. 30 – Feb. 1 (Thurs. – Sat.) Stanley Clarke Trio and the Harlem Quartet. Eclectic bassist and band leader Clarke blends his always-fascinating trio work with the unique sounds of the Harlem
Quartet. Catalina Bar & Grill (223) 466-2210.

- Jan. 30. (Thurs. Lauren Kinhan. A CD Release party for a young singer with a voice to remember. Vitello’s (818) 769-0905.

- Jan. 31. (Fri.) Billy Childs Electric Band. Pianist/composer Childs’ versatility runs the complete gamut of jazz genres. This time out, it’s all electric. The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Hilary Hahn

Hilary Hahn

- Jan. 31. (Fri.) Hilary Hahn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Russian conductor Andrey Boreyko leads violinist Hahn and the L.A. Phil in a program of Nordic music by Sibelius, Nielsen and Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. Disney Hall.  (323) 850-2000.

- Jan. 31. (Fri.) Gina Saputo. A rising star if there ever was one, Saputo’s vocals are the product of a compelling young talent. Steamer’s.  (714) 871-8800.

Gary Foster

Gary Foster

- Feb. 1. (Sat.) Gary Foster Quartet. Saxophonist Foster has been one of L.A.’s prime first call players for years. Here, he’s in action fronting his own band. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc (310) 474-9400.

- Feb. 2. (Sun.) The Webb All-Stars. All-Stars is an appropriate title for a band featuring Doug Webb, saxophones, Mitch Forman, keyboards, John Ziegler, guitar, Jimmy Earl, bass, Danny Carey, drums. The Baked Potato.  (818) 980-1615.

Seattle

Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell

- Jan. 30 – Feb. 2. (Thurs. – Sun.) Bill Frisell’s “Guitar in the Space Age.” Always on the crest of trying something new, Frisell’s latest effort features Greg Leisz, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen. Jazz Alley,  (206) 441-9729.

Washington D.C.

- Jan. 29. (Wed.) Diane Marino. The warm and engaging voice of singer Marino offers a performance celebrating the relese of her latest CD, Loads of Love. Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York City

John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie

- – Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. (Thurs. – Sat.) John Abercrombie Quartet. Guitarist Ambercrombie does a convincing job of blending fun, fusion and straight ahead bebop. The Jazz Standard.  (212) 447-7733.

Copenhagen

- Jan. 30 – 31. (Thurs & Fri.) Dado Moroni: “The Legacy of John Coltrane.” An international all-star jazz ensemble commemmorates the incomparable music of the great John Coltrane. Featuring pianist Moroni from Italy, vibist Joe Locke from the U.S., tenor saxophonist Max Ionata and bassist Marco Panascia from Italy, and drummer Morten Lund from Denmark. Jazzhus Montmartre.  +45 31 72 34 94.

Milano

Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham

= Jan. 30 – Feb. 1. (Thurs. – Sat.) Billy Cobham Spectrum 40. Drummer Cobham’s crisply rhythmic Spectrum features the guitar work of Dean Brown, the keyboards of Gary Husband and the bass of Ric Fierabracci. Blue Note Milano.  +39 02 6901 6888.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 209 other followers