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 Jazz: Ariana Savalas at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill, Jazz…etc.

April 11, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air, CA. Ariana Savalas. The name may have a familiar ring to it. Especially the surname “Savalas” which will be familiar to most fans of television and movies. And especially familiar when a first name is also included, adding up to “Telly Savalas,” the late actor best known for playing the title role in the ’70s crime drama Kojak and numerous villains in dozens of films.

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas is Telly Savalas’ daughter (the youngest of six siblings), and a rapidly emerging actress and musical star in her own right. Her performance at Vibrato on Thursday night – one of her too rare appearances in the Southland – was an impressive display of her creative skills. Not only is Ariana a musical artist who delivered her songs with the gripping qualities of a born musical story-teller. She also engaged her audiences between songs with a warm blend of wit and humor.

Backed by the stellar ensemble of Joe Bagg, Andy Senasi and Steve Venz, Ariana made the most of a program of songs reaching from standards to her own originals. Kicking off her set with the Yiddish classic, “Bei Mir Bistu Shein,” she opened with a dynamic interpretation, clearly pleasing the overflow crowd.

Ariana Savalas and her band

Ariana Savalas and her band

Ariana followed with one appealing standard after another: “You and the Night and the Music,” “I Get A Kick Out of You,” “I See Your Face Before Me,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “Sophisticated Lady,” “Making Whoopie” and more. Each was interpreted with her unique creative view.

Corky Hale

Corky Hale

Some of the additional intriguing moments of the evening took place when veteran singer/pianist/harpist Corky Hale – who has been an avid supporter of Ariana’s rising star – moved from her seat in the audience on stage to the piano bench. Backing Ariana’s intimate renderings of several tunes, Corky also added a brief but appealing vocal interpretation of her own.

Ariana followed with an expanded display of her versatility, singing several of her original songs, as well as  the intriguing “Mechanical Man,” and accompanying herself on both piano and ukulele.

Ariana Savalas

Ariana Savalas

No wonder the restless audience insisted upon warming up in the glow of Ariana Savalas’ musical artistry, asking for as many encores as she would provide. The result was another of the many nights to remember at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Let’s hope that, in future weeks and months, there’ll be more frequent performances by this gifted young talent.

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Photos by Faith Frenz. 

 


Photo Review: Bianca Rossini at Vibrato Grill Jazz etc…

April 6, 2014

By Don Heckman

Photos By Faith Frenz

Bel Air, CA. Bianca Rossini brought a colorful touch of Brazil to Vibrato Grill Jazz..etc. Thursday night. The busy actress/singer/songwriter and author makes rare live performances. But when she does, they showcase all of her many skills, enlivened by the rich, emotional Brazilian roots that are at the heart of her art.

Most of her selections, chosen from Rossini’s growing collection of original songs, were sung with the solid backing of keyboardist Yuko Tamura, guitarist Capital Violao Guitarra, bassist Sezin Ahmet Turkmenoglu and drummer Aaron Rafael Serfaty.

The songs covered everything from captivating bossa novas to ballads and rhythm tunes. Understandably, the often uneven aspects of the material reflected the fact that Rossini works with a range of writing partners. But it was her dark-toned voice and dramatic presentation that brought all the music together into one engaging interpretation after another.

Since Rossini’s performance was so visually oriented, emphasizing her lithe and expressive skills as a dancer and actress, it seemed appropriate to call in our stellar photographer, Faith Frenz, to provide a colorful photo essay of Bianca Rossini in action.

Bianca Rossini and her band

Bianca Rossini and her band

Bianca Rossini

Bianca Rossini

 

Bianca Rossini

Bianca Rossini

 

Bianca Rossini

Bianca Rossini

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Live Music: Steve Tyrell at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 29, 2014

By Don Heckman

Bel Air.  Mention an area of the music world and Steve Tyrell has been there and done that. Whether it’s from a business perspective, running a record company or producing albums by major artists, or if it’s in the creative arena, clearly establishing his own identity as a performer Tyrell knows how to do it.

On Wednesday night at Herb Alpert’s Bel Air club – Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. – Tyrell displayed the vocal artistry he has developed as a master interpreter of the Great American Songbook.

The Songbook, of course, with its extraordinary collection of works reaching from Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, Kern and beyond, has been the foundation for the careers of numerous singers. But Tyrell’s far-reaching interpretive skills have brought new perspectives to this rich catalog of material.

Performing with the skillful backing of a stellar band of players, Tyrell was at his best.

Steve Tyrell and his Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz...etc.

Steve Tyrell and his Band at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

Among the rich list of songs he sang, every selection was memorable. Starting with “I’ll Take Romance,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” he proceeded with classics such as “I Can’t Get Started,” “I Get A Kick Out of You” “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “This Guy’s In Love With You” and a climactic “Stand By Me.”

He introduced most of the songs with a few insightful comments about the songwriters. On some, he often included the usually omitted verses of the songs. And he frequently added fascinating anecdotes providing intriguing insight into a song’s history.

Steve Tyrell

Steve Tyrell

But the real evaluation of Tyrell’s performance has to mention what he brought to both the music and the lyrics of every song he sang. Tyrell is often praised for the appeal of his warm, Texas accent, brisk rhythmic swing and easygoing on stage manner.

Add to that, however, his innate skills as a musical story teller. In song after song, he blended his jazz-driven phrasing with a thoughtful interpretive ability. The result was the opportunity to experience a musical poet in action, finding the most gripping lyrical moments in every song he touched.

So call it an evening showcasing the best of American song, rendered with complete creative authenticity. And listening to Steve Tyrell’s performance one couldn’t help but imagine how delighted the legion of American Songbook composers might have been to hear their musical brilliance evoked with such care and enthusiasm.

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Photos by Faith Frenz.

 

 


Live Music: Liza Minnelli at Walt Disney Hall

March 26, 2014

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles. Liza Minnelli’s performance at Disney Hall Tuesday night was dramatically different from her most recent previous Southland appearance at the Hollywood Bowl in August of 2012.

Reviewing that show, I wrote that “it was her convincing dramatic abilities as well as her ever-dependable ability to tell a story, rather than her undependable vocalizing, that carried her through the show.”

Liza Minnelli

Liza Minnelli

This time out, however, Minnelli was at her best in every aspect, including her richly interpretive singing, while delivering a warmly engaging performance that was understandably greeted with responsive enthusiasm by the overflow crowd at Disney. Although she clearly did not demonstrate the dancing skills that have been a strong element of past performances, she nonetheless moved with the elegant stage mastery that has been so present in earlier appearances.

Backed by a sterling seven piece band led by pianist/composer/singer Billy Stritch, Minnelli offered an hour and a half program of songs stretching across her long, impressive career. The range of selections was far reaching – from an opening “Teach Me Tonight” and a definitive “Liza With a Z” to “Come to the Cabaret” and “New York, New York.” Add to that a pair of Charles Aznavour songs and such standard classics as “Our Love Is Here To Stay,” “Maybe This Time,” “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (done as a superb duet with Stritch) and “Every Time We Say Goodbye.”

Good songs, all of them. But what really made this evening so captivating was the way Minnelli brought all of them vividly to life. Once again, her interpretations were driven by her gripping musical story telling. Yes, there were a few times in which she pushed her voice to its limits. But more often than not, her performance recalled the stunning work that has earned Minnelli – over the past decades – Grammy, Tony, Golden Globe and Oscar awards.

And let’s not overlook the highly supportive contributions of her extraordinary musicians, as well as the  piano playing, singing, musical partnership and whimsical humor provided by Stritch.

Call it another Minnelli performance to remember. One that was eminently listenable. And one that solidly affirmed Minnelli’s still potent skills as one of the music and dramatic world’s incomparable entertainers.

 


Live Music: Blood, Sweat & Tears at the Saban Theatre.

March 23, 2014

By Don Heckman

Beverly Hills. They’re back. That’s right. Blood, Sweat & Tears, one of American popular music’s great iconic ensembles of the ’60s, ’70s and beyond.

After decades of uncertainty about B,S&T’s future, the new millenium did not initially appear to offer high visibility for a band who, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, was one of the most popular, best selling musical acts in the world.

Bobby Colomby

Bobby Colomby

Enter Bobby Colomby. As one of the original founders of Blood, Sweat & Tears, as well as the band’s drummer and producer in its early, high visibility years, he felt that it was time for the New Blood, Sweat & Tears to make an appearance. And, last Saturday night at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, Colomby introduced Los Angelenos to a brand new version of the band designed to play a visible and vital role in the 21st century.

“We’re not trying to target just one generation,” says Colomby.,. “That would be a mistake. With this updated version, I want to gain a wider audience. I want people of all ages to come and say, ‘Next time I’m bringing more friends to the show; they gotta see this band.”

Blood, Sweat & Tears

Blood, Sweat & Tears

And that’s pretty much what Colomby and the gifted players of the New Blood Sweat & Tears offered in their Saturday night show.

Most pop music acts who have reached beyond their prime years often depend completely upon their greatest hits, or similarly crafted material, to carry them through a performance. Which is not surprising. But Colomby’s wide pop music experience and creative devotion to the band he founded have always led him to more imaginative ambitions.

“We’re not just looking for songs that sound like they’d be good for Blood, Sweat & Tears,” he says, “but looking for really great songs. Period. The original B,S&T,” he continues, “was designed to introduce jazz elements to pop music. That was my passion… it still is. Always, of course, done in an entertaining way.”

And there was no lack of Colomby’s view of the band’s entertainment capacity in their high energy Saturday night performance at the Saban Theatre. And it was especially valuable as an opportunity for the overflow crowd to meet the stellar instrumental sound richly reminiscent of B,S &T’s most memorable jazz big band qualities.

The band, man for man, pound for pound, is better than the original B, S & T.,” says Colomby. “Without a doubt.They’re a ridiculously talented bunch,The drummer’s better than I am, or was.”

Bo Bice

Bo Bice

Equally important, maybe even more so, new lead singer Bo Bice provided captivating performances, calling up images of David Clayton-Thomas’s B,S &T’s hard driving vocals at their best. No one can really top David C-T, but Colomby’s discovery of Bice’s impressive singing added the final touch that the new Blood, Sweat and Tears needed to establish its relevance as a pop music act with a potential similar to the successes of the band’s ’60s and ’70s’ accomplishments.

So let’s call the band’s Saturday night performance a captivating introduction to a band that combines the memory of a brilliant musical past with a wide open potential for a brand new future.

Don’t forget the name: Blood, Sweat & Tears.

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Full Disclosure: For what it’s worth as a reference point, I co-produced the last big Blood, Sweat & Tears album, “B,S&T 4” with Bobby Colomby and engineer Roy Halee.


Live Jazz: Herb Alpert and Lani Hall at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

March 20, 2014

By Don Heckman

Herb Alpert

Herb Alpert

Bel Air, CA. It was another rare performance to remember Tuesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. On stage, veteran jazz trumpeter, band leader and club owner Herb Alpert and his wife, singer Lani Hall, were backed by their fine rhythm team: pianist/keyboardist Bill Cantos, bassist Hussain Jiffry and drummer Michael Shapiro.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Offering a program reaching from jazz classics and Songbook standards to a medley of tunes from the hit recordings of Alpert’s Tijuana Brass, the performance took place at the center of the rich, colorful environment Alpert has been creating for Vibrato since he first bought the Bel Air club and transformed it into his perspective of what a fine jazz club/restaurant can be. In the process, his paintings and sculptures – abstract but visually gripping – combined with the re-designing of the room to provide the perfect setting for his always-engaging music.

There were no real surprises in the program for anyone who’s heard Herb and Lani in their recent performances at Vibrato. But no worries there. Whether Herb was playing “A Taste of Honey” or singing “This Guy’s in Love with You”; whether Lani was singing Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance” or the bossa nova delight “O Pato,” the results were always fascinating.

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Lani Hall and Herb Alpert

Hearing repetitions of familiar songs can be less than appealing from artists who basically play their “hits” like living juke boxes. With Herb and Lani, however, hearing them perform over the years –singing and playing together — has provided unique opportunities to experience a pair of gifted artists bring new interpretive perspectives to everything they played and sang. As they did on this memorable evening.

Herb has always had a gift for melodic paraphrasing in his solos, and recent years have seen him find even more expressiveness in his improvising, often suggesting the sort of clear-cut, lyrical melody-making long associated with Miles Davis.

Lani Hall

Lani Hall

Lani has been a fine musical story teller since the release of her first album Sundown Lady in the ’70s. In reviewing that album for the New York Times, I referred to her “mix of drama, song, soul and universal emotion that uncovers the real pathos in the lyrics of a song.” Which is precisely what she did in this performance with a deeply emotional interpretation of “Fly Me To The Moon.”

Add to that the superb support of the rhythm section of Cantos, Jiffry and Shapiro, creating a warm setting for Herb and Lani, with Cantos contributing a briskly rhythmic scat version of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and Jiffry offering some guitar-like bossa nova backing on his bass.

In sum, call it a mesmerizing musical offering performed with dynamic creativity. No wonder that the overflow audience responded enthusiastically to every song, demanding and getting encores, and wishing for more.

Photos by Faith Frenz.


Live Jazz: Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra at the Valley Performing Arts Center.

March 18, 2014

By Don Heckman

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra have been making regular appearances in the Southland for the past few years. And it’s always a musical delight to hear this stellar assemblage of jazz artists in action. On Sunday night they took the stage at the acoustically accurate environment of the Valley Performing Arts Center, once again reminding us of the great music that exists in the nearly century-old repertoire of big jazz bands.

Wynton Marsalis

Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis’ carefully planned programming reached from Duke Ellington to Count Basie, while making additional stops at the efforts of Benny Carter, Henry Mancini, Gerald Wilson and Charles Mingus. The results were extraordinary.

I’m tempted to name (and praise) the impressive soloists who stepped into the spotlight. But the fact is that virtually every member of the JLCO displayed world-class improvisational skills. Suffice to say that the combination of extraordinary ensemble playing, blended with superb individual artistry, led by Marsalis’ deep historical overview (which he offered between numbers) of the creative potential of the big jazz band, resulted in an incomparable evening of music.

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra

And the thought that kept surfacing throughout the memorable two hour program was the JLCO’s far ranging capacity to remind us of the big bands’ historical role as the symphony orchestra of American music. Evolving over the decades from the ’20s to the present, the big bands have provided one composer/arranger after another with the instrumentation to express musical creativity comparable to the work of European symphonic composers.

In the hands of jazz artists such as Marsalis and the gifted members of the JLCO, performing some of the great, jazz-oriented big band works of the 20th century, the music left little to be desired. Add to that the opportunity to compare the big band works of such iconic composers as Ellington, Mingus, Carter and Wilson, among numerous others.

And the result, in this extraordinary performance, was a musical night to remember – a beautifully articulated, inventively played display of big band jazz at its finest.


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.

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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.  

 


Live Jazz: The Gerald Wilson Big Band at Catalina Bar & Grill

March 14, 2014

(Editor’s note)  Jazz critic, author and historian Scott Yanow joins the International Review of Music reviewing staff with this characteristically thoughtful commentary.  We look forward to more posts and essays from Scott’s thoughtful perspective.

By Scott Yanow

Gerald Wilson probably does not know it but he is the last survivor. The 95-year old bandleader-arranger-composer first recorded in 1939 when he was a 20-year old trumpeter with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Although a few other living performers preceded him onto records (including singer Herb Jeffries who is now 100, violinist Svend Asmussen and singer Kay Starr), they have all retired. Wilson stands alone as the only active jazz musician to have recorded before 1940. He outlasted everyone else.

Gerald Wilson

Gerald Wilson

At Catalina Bar & Grill, Wilson led his 17-piece orchestra through a long set of his arrangements. While Gerald Wilson’s recounting of his familiar stories to the audience found him occasionally forgetting names and details, he looked pretty healthy and, amazingly enough for someone in his mid-nineties, he did not sit down once during the entire two-hour set.

Inspired by his presence, Wilson’s big band played at their very best throughout the night. “Blues For The Count” had many solos including one from violinist Yvette Devereaux, who always adds a lot to the band’s power and ensemble sound.

Carl Saunders

“Blues For Yna Yna” included four choruses full of musical miracles from trumpeter Carl Saunders (who consistently plays the impossible flawlessly), and some enjoyable Stanley Turrentine moments from the soulful tenor-saxophonist Louis Van Taylor. Taylor and altoist Randall Willis starred on “Perdido” while many soloists (including the fine high note trumpeter Winston Byrd) were featured on a driving “Milestones.” John Coltrane’s “Equinox” was intense and had strong spots for Devereaux and tenor-saxophonist Kamasi Washington.  Other selections including “Viva Tirado,” the majestic “Carlos” (with Carl Saunders in the spotlight), and a closing medium-tempo blues.

Gerald Wilson

Gerald Wilson

Throughout the night, the Gerald Wilson Orchestra was inspired. Kamasi Washington on tenor was consistently fiery and inventive, creating his own version of sheets of sound. The trumpet section, led by Winston Byrd’s stratospheric notes, never let up, the trombonists (with Les Benedict often having the solos) had a unified sound, and the rhythm section, which included Wilson’s long-time pianist Brian O’Rourke, kept the music swinging.

Gerald Wilson’s last few recordings have found him leading an all-star group of East Coasters through some of his classic charts, but he should really document his real band, particularly after this recent performance. They kept him smiling and youthful for the full two hours.

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Scott Yanow (www.scottyanow.com) is the author of 11 books on jazz and over 750 liner notes. He can be reached at scottyanowjazz@yahoo.com.


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