Highlights of the Weekend: In Los Angeles

February 27, 2015

By Don Heckman

Stanley Clarke

 

– Feb 27 & 28. (Fri. & Sat.) Stanley Clarke and Friends. Bassist Clarke’s “Friends” aren’t identified in the program for this gig. But Clarke, a world class artist with a stellar resume, can be counted on to surround himself with players capable of functioning at his Olympian jazz levels. In other words, expect the best. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Bel Air Wine Festival’s Celebration Day of Wine, Music and Eight Charities. The afternoon gala starts at 1pm and finishes at 5pm. The evening portion of the day is 6pm – 10pm and will include a delectable dinner. The wine festival features wines from all corners of the globe, food prepared by Vibrato’s chefs and world class live entertainment. Hang Dynasty, whose members have worked with everyone from the Steve Miller Band , Stevie Wonder and Elton John to Pink Floyd and Ringo Starr will perform. There will also be a live auction during the evening gala. 100% of the Festival’s proceeds go to eight charities. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Los Angeles Ballet performs one of the great classics in their repertoire, The Sleeping Beauty. Valley Performing Arts Center. . (818) 677-8800.

The LA Ballet's "Sleeping Beauty"

The LA Ballet’s “Sleeping Beauty”

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Venice Baroque Ochestra with mandolin soloist Avi Avital. Call it an evening of Vivaldi, performed by an ensemble, and a soloist adept at the special demands of Baroque era music. Segerstrom Center for the Arts.  (714) 556-2787.

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The New West Symphony. One of the Southland’s great large ensembles, the NWS once again displays its far-ranging stylistic mastery in a program featuring Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Opus 27, Saint-Sean’s Concerto No. 2 in G minor for Piano and Orchstra Opus 22, and Stravinsky’s Suite No. 2 For Small Orchestra. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.  (805) 449-2100.

Wilson Phillips

Wilson Phillips

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) Wilson Phillips and Billy Ocean. It’s an offbeat combination, but one with a lot of apeal. The hit-making vocal sounds of Wilson Phillips and the r&b grooves of English born singer Billy Ocean. Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.  (562) 916-8500.

Julian Lage

Julian Lage

– Feb. 28. (Sat.) The Julian Lage Trio.  Guitarist Lage, a prodigy as a teen-ager, has matured into a world class jcazz artiat.  And here’s a booking not to miss, in which he’s backed by bassist Scott Colley and drummer Eric HarlandThe Blue Whale.    (213) 620-0908.

– Mar. 1. (Sun.) Seth MacFarlane with The Ron Jones Jazz influence Orchestra. Entertainment world multi-hphenate MacFarlane is an actor, writer, producer, animator and, in recent years, a singer. He’s backed by the lush sound and solid swing of Ron Jones jazz Influence Orchestra. Click here to read a recent iRoM review of a MacFarlane vocal performance. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.


Live Chamber Music: The Hugo Wolf String Quartett at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall

February 15, 2015

By Don Heckman

Ashland, Oregon. The utterly irresistible appeals of string quartet music returned to Southern Oregon University’s Music Recital Hall on Friday night and Saturday afternoon in another prime presentation by Chamber Music Concerts.

The program was delivered by the extraordinarily gifted players of Vienna’s Hugo Wolf String Quartett. In the two hours of the Friday night performance, they offered an exemplary overview of more than two centuries of string quartet music at its most intriguing.

The Hugo Wolf players – violinists Sebastian Gurtler and Regis Bringolf, viola player Thomas Selditz and cellist Florian Berner – each a virtuosic artist in his own right, have been together as an ensemble for more than two decades, performing in major venues around the world. And their musically symbiotic relationship, combined with virtuosic technique and interpretive excellence, produced convincing versions of works reaching from Franz Joseph Haydn to Franz Schubert, climaxing with the premiere of a contemporary quartet commissioned by the Wolf Quartett from Austrian composer Gerhard Winkler.

The Hugo Wolff Quartet

The Hugo Wolff Quartet

The program began with Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat Major, Op. 33, often described as “the Joke Quartet.” And with good reason. Haydn was one of the important founders of the Classical string quartet structures. With this composition, however, he chose to insert some atypical, intentionally humorous twists in the harmonic scheme, clearly hoping to surprise his listeners. Add to that his use of long pauses and sudden bursts of a brief, repetitious melodic fragment. The result, for his 18th century audiences, as well as Friday night’s listeners, was amused bursts of laughter. “Don’t take everything too seriously,” he seemed to be saying in this immensely entertaining work, which was performed by the Wolf Quartett with vigorous enthusiasm.

Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor, D. 810, subtitled Death and the Maiden offered a far different musical mood. Composed in 1824, a few years before his death in 1828, its subtitle traces to a song he wrote in 1817. Both the quartet and the song reflect the illnesses Schubert was experiencing, along with his obsession with what he viewed, correctly, as the approaching end of his life at the early age of 31.

Understandably, his D minor Quartet is a work filled with emotional density, often juxtaposing dark, intense passages with unexpected moments of soaring lyricism. The Wolf Quartett players’ interpretation was gripping, capturing the diverse emotions with a convincing blend of affective expression and technical mastery.

The Winkler composition, identified only as String Quartet offered far different challenges. The concert’s program guide refers to his frequent use of multi-media interaction in his works, often using electronic media. In this work, however, the Wolf Quartett instrumentalists are asked to create the sort of complex textures and dense dissonant sounds often provided by electronics along with the spontaneity associated with indeterminate notation. The result was a stunning collage of sounds, played with brilliant technique by the Wolff Quartet. While the piece offered none of the Classical musical structures usually associated – even in many contemporary works – with string quartets, it was nonetheless a fascinating showcase for the Hugo Wolf String Quartett.

It’s worth noting that the Gerhard Winkler identified in the program guide as the composer of String Quartet, presumably is not the German composer, Gerhard Winkler, who was born in 1906 and died in 1977.  It’s unclear, either in the program guide or in Google, whether or not they’re related.

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Photo by Nancy Horowitz courtesy of the Hugo Wolff Quartet.


Live Music: Caesar Jazz Balladeer at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.

February 12, 2015

By James DeFrances

Los Angeles.  Last Thursday at Herb Alpert’s Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Caesar Jazz Balladeer caught the attention of clubbers in a new way. His angle on the standards was as unique as his proximity to Los Angeles. Only in town for Grammy festivities, Caesar – who lives in Rhode Isand – left his mark on the Southland in the form of three separate performances throughout the course of the Award show weekend.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Pat Senatore

He kicked off his weekend of musical happenings with this night at Vibrato. At first the crowd was thin, but the room filled up quickly and the audience was ever attentive.

Caesar began by explaining on stage how this night almost actually didn’t happen due to a cold medicine snafu he encountered the night before which resulted in an emergency room visit. But ever a resilient fighter, Caesar managed to make a full and speedy recovery with the help of epinephrine. And everyone seemed pleased that he not only was feeling better, but was up on stage doing his favorite thing, performing.

Speaking of the performance, I just couldn’t help but think of how much Nat “King” Cole must have inspired Caesar. There were hints of Cole in Caesar’s body language, his phrasing and above all his set list. Songs like “Nature Boy”, “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” “Mona Lisa” and “Unforgettable” were just a few of his odes to the memory of the late, great Cole.

As my date Bria and I dined on some tasty pine nut-infused bow tie pasta, we watched Caesar accelerate through some of the great classics and standards from the Great American songbook of the 20th century. And with the help of his wireless microphone he was able to make close contact with all corners of the room, a tactic I have only ever seen Robert Davi employ at Vibrato.

Caesar Jazz Balladeer with Tom Ranier, Pat Senatore, Kendall Kay and Alex Otey.

Caesar’s warm and friendly vocals and permanent smile made him hard to resist. Backed up by Tom Rainier at the piano, Pat Senatore on bass, Kendall Kay on drums and Alex Otey on trumpet, the only direction for him to go was up. And that was what he did!

It was a night of positivity, fine music, great food and looking ahead to the Grammy festivities. Caesar’s new album which is on sale now — titled “Jazz Standards for Today’s Audience” – is a must have for your collection!

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Photos by James DeFrances.

To read more reviews by (and about) James DeFrances click HERE.

 


Opera: John Corigliano’s “The Ghosts of Versailles” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (through March 1)

February 9, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Los Angeles.  In an achingly beautiful LA Opera production, the ghosts of monarchies and revolutions past materialize before our eyes at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. We are enveloped in an exquisite postmodern version of Marie Antoinette’s little theatre at Versailles, awash in dusty blues and pearlescent greens. It is the world of John Corigliano’s opera, The Ghosts of Versailles.

The eerie chords of an illusive melody open the scene. Dancers in white courtly attire, their heads shrouded in black to suggest decapitation, glide across the stage. Singers dressed in eighteenth century black gowns and suits, their faces and hair ashen white, give voice to the “headless” figures. Aerial performers float by, balconies harbor spectral characters. Though we are two hundred years in the future, these aristocratic ghosts remain trapped in the horrific past, haunted by the guillotine.

The Ghosts of Versailles

Loosely based on The Guilty Mother (La Mère Coupable), Beaumarchais’ final play of The Figaro Trilogy, Corigliano and his librettist, William M. Hoffman, create a complex wraparound story involving the ghost of Beaumarchais along with the beheaded spirits of Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, and their court. In order to cheer the sorrowful queen, whom Beaumarchais loves, the playwright produces an entertainment starring that irrepressible jack-of-all-trades, Figaro.

Beaumarchais (Christopher Maltman, in white) Marie Antoinette (Patricia Racette, far right), Cherubino and Rosina (Renee Rapier and Guanqun Yu, rear left)

The aristocracy sits attentively before the proscenium of Marie’s stage on which the play, The Guilty Mother, unfolds. Comments from the audience pepper the performance. The play within a play structure brings to mind the delightfully anarchistic Prokofiev opera, The Love for Three Oranges, where Tragedians, Comedians, Romanticists, and Empty Heads quibble over the plot. One wishes the similarities were more pronounced. Where Prokofiev’s structure involves watching a wacky fairytale unfold, Hoffman’s unfolding tale is so complicated that in attempting to understand the whys and wherefores, one is occasionally distracted from the music.

The Beaumarchais story, as it appears on Marie’s stage, goes like this: While Count Almaviva was in South America for three years, his wife, Rosina, slept with her former page, Cherubino. The result was a son, Léon. Almaviva, also unfaithful, had a daughter, Florestine. Of course the two children meet and fall in love. But Almaviva has promised a Tartuffe-like toady, Begearss, the hand of Florestine. Begearss is up to no good. He is a revolutionary with the heart of a greedy monster. Figaro and his wife, Susanna, must save the day.

Figaro (Lucas Meachem, center) Susanna (Lucy Schaufer, far left), Count Almaviva (Joshua Guerrero, far right) and Florestine (Stacey Tappan, second from right

So goes the outline of Beaumarchais’ plot, but this is no simple play within a play or opera within an opera. Another storyline involving Marie’s diamond necklace, which finds its way from the ghost world into the play world, becomes a pivotal element. Figaro rebels from the confines of the plot. Beaumarchais must enter the play to tame his characters. Marie, joining him, winds up being imprisoned again, and is rescued by Figaro and Beaumarchais.

Christopher Maltman as Beaumarchais

Nostalgic, melancholy, hilarious, tragic, and carnival-esque all at once, we appear to be in a postmodern universe, long on whimsy and likability but short on logic. Beaumarchais, calling himself a god, tells Marie he has the power to alter history – the power to save her from the guillotine and take her to America. Here we have the artist as god/creator. If we were in the throes of subtler storytelling, perhaps this notion would grow on us organically and would feel less like a contrivance.

The staging, directed by Darko Tresnjak, tries to avoid pitfalls by separating the world of the play from the ghost world. Beaumarchais’ characters live in a full-colored universe of bright costumes and vivid lighting. The proscenium of Marie’s little theatre becomes a jewel box and picture window onto this other dimension. Particularly effective are the various video projections (designed by Aaron Rhyne), which are framed by the proscenium: clouds rolling by, constellations in the night sky, a hot air balloon floating away.

Corigliano’s music is like a fragrant bouquet: Wisps of Neoclassical, ethereal melodies interspersed with Modernist dissonances, hints of Mozart and Rossini mingled with Richard Strauss. Layered and complex, the score is yet approachable and moving. Corigliano even conjures Gilbert and Sullivan in Figaro’s Act One aria, hilariously rendered by the lyric baritone of Lucas Meachem, who delights at every turn.

Perhaps the most hauntingly beautiful melody in the opera is Act One’s “Come Now, My Darling.” The song begins with Cherubino, expands into a luxurious duet with Rosina, then as the music subtly unwinds into ghostly echoes, Beaumarchais adds his voice. We regain the melody only to have Marie’s suffering cries come to the foreground. Beaumarchais reprises the theme and the four sing a spellbinding quartet.

Corig Marie antoniette

Patricia Racette as Marie Antoinette

With his fluid and commanding baritone, Christopher Maltman as Beaumarchais is every inch the impresario/author. As Rosina, Guanqun Yu delights the eye and ear with her lustrous soprano. She is courted by the impish Cherubino of mezzo Renée Rapier. Patricia Racette, singing Marie Antoinette, brings a tragic dignity to her role, especially heartbreaking in her aria “Once There Was A Golden Bird.”

The Count Almaviva of Joshua Guerrero is suitably grouchy for most of the opera but lacking in the charm that caught Rosina’s attention in the first place. As the conniving Begearss, Robert Brubaker is deliciously Dickensian, reveling in his “Aria of the Worm.” Figaro’s wife, Susanna, is winningly sung by mezzo-soprano, Lucy Schaufer.

The always luminous Stacey Tappan as Florestine and Brenton Ryan as an earnest Léon make a delightful pair of star crossed lovers. Ironic and irresistible, Kristinn Sigmundsson as Louis XVI brings a booming bass and great comedic timing to his curmudgeonly king.

Patti LuPone as Samira

The comedic prize of the evening, however, goes to Patti LuPone as Samira the Entertainer. It’s an eight minute cameo of memorable proportions as LuPone is carried in on a giant pink elephant to sing, mug, wiggle, and cavort across the stage to Philip Cokorinos Pasha. Inspired by Rossini’s The Italian Girl in Algiers, the role originated at the Met with the great mezzo Marilyn Horne. Though LuPone, unlike Horne, needs amplification, her skills more than compensate for the intrusion.

This West coast premiere of The Ghosts of Versailles is a coup for LA Opera, which has put together a production team of unparalleled skill and originality. It was Maestro James Conlon’s long held hope to bring this shimmering work, first commissioned by the Met, back to life in all its splendor. With his impeccable musicians, Conlon has once again added to the prestige of LA Opera.

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Cast:
Marie Antoinette: Patricia Racette
Samira: Patti LuPone
Beaumarchais: Christopher Maltman
Begearss: Robert Brubaker
Figaro: Lucas Meachem
Susanna: Lucy Schaufer
Count Almaviva: Joshua Guerrero
Rosina (Countess Almaviva): Guanqun Yu
Florestine: Stacey Tappan
Léon: Brenton Ryan
Louis XVI: Kristinn Sigmundsson
Marquis: Scott Scully
Wilhelm: Joel Sorensen
Cherubino: Renée Rapier
Woman in a Hat: Victoria Livengood
Suleyman Pasha: Philip Cokorinos
English Ambassador: Museop Kim

Production:
Composer: John Corigliano
Librettist: William M. Hoffman
Conductor: James Conlon
Director: Darko Tresnjak
Scenery Designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer: Linda Cho
Lighting Designer: York Kennedy
Projection Designer: Aaron Rhyne
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Peggy Hickey

Photos courtesy of LA Opera.

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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 and More: Allessandra Belloni’s Tarantata Spider Dance at Redcat

February 6, 2015

by Jane Rosenberg

With her compelling stage presence, throaty mezzo, and raging tambourine, Allessandra Belloni is a force of nature. Through Southern Italian folk music, chant, and dance, Belloni and her company explored the sound and movement world of tarantella trance dancing at Disney Hall’s Redcat.

Allessandra Belloni

Allessandra Belloni

Tarantella traces its roots back to Greco-Roman times. The purging of a woman’s thwarted desires through ecstatic trance dancing, accompanied by vibrant percussion, was precipitated by the bite of the tarantula or “spider love bite.”

In Belloni’s contemporary manifestation, dancers spin, shake convulsively, and writhe on the floor. If this sounds like a personal exorcism of sorts, it is; and this is where the problem of performance sets in. As a healing rite it may have its benefits, or as a fascinating demonstration of an ancient folk tradition it’s effective. But as a two-act dance drama, strung together by narration, it fails. Dancers mime or perform choreographed routines that seem stilted rather than ecstatic. Only Belloni and one of her lead dancers are up to the task.

Belloni’s virtuosity on the tambourine is without question. Along with traditional instruments played onstage by an ensemble of musicians, her music director, Joe Deninzon adds modern electronic dance beats. I suspect this is the reason Belloni’s expressive voice is over amplified with an unfortunate loss of complexity and subtlety.

To be in Belloni’s presence, without the interference of electronic music, amplification, or the distraction of other performers, to my mind, would be the perfect way to sample the tarantella and connect to the true meaning of the spider dance.

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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 and a Lot More: MY DAY AT THE NAMM SHOW

January 28, 2015

By Mike Finkelstein

Anaheim, CA.  For anyone who appreciates music, the NAMM show is a scene you simply must make once in your life, maybe more. NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convenes twice annually, once in the winter at the Anaheim Convention Center and once in the summer, in Nashville. It has become more than a convention, and is now a four day event attended by thousands, with awards given to distinguished artists and manufacturers, concerts all day outdoors on a huge stage, celebrity signings, ongoing celebrity jams, intriguing food trucks, plenty of free stuff, and a whole lot of entertaining people to watch.

I was struck by how many people appeared to be dressed in their rock star costumes. These folks must look like they are on or near a stage every day. The multi-color hair and bizarre tats and piercings are a long-term proposition, a commitment. Of course, that’s rock and roll and we do love it. There were even people in costumes running around simply to provide photo ops, but that felt schticky, a little like Hollywood and Highland.

NAMM floor is a busy place, man!

Entry to NAMM is exclusive. Everyone who gets in must apply for and receive a badge to get through the doors. Physically getting to those doors isn’t so easy, either, as parking is at a premium. I had to park about a mile away from the site, and hoof it in. But it was a gorgeous day and I was with many other like-minded souls so it was cool…and free. Inside the convention center, vendors build a four story musical city, a multi-tiered grid of all conceivable music gear. And sometimes getting from one side of an aisle to the other is not unlike jaywalking in New York City. One must be alert as there are throngs of folks in constant motion on the NAMM floor.

Since so many manufacturers are represented under one roof, you can explore any curiosity on the spot, at the source. This worked out well for me. I cruised into the plush-carpeted Rickenbacker display, giddily strummed several of the shiny guitars, and inquired as to how pros actually deal with restringing their (in)famous 12-strings. These beautiful beasts are a well-known source of aggravation because the whole guitar must be unstrung and laboriously restrung even when one only string is a problem. But I was let in on the masking tape and long nose pliers solution to make things more efficient. Still, the ultra inconvenient “R” tailpiece will endure, as its design is classic and a part of an enduring image. Of course, the equally cool Ricky basses, have a much more string friendly design and will also stay the same.

The Rickenbacker 12 String

Before going to the NAMM show I wasn’t aware that guitar straps actually come in sizes like shirts do. So within a short exchange of dialogue I had learned about strap sizing. I also learned that there are several names for the extension adjustment strap on a leather guitar strap (“tongue” was the best that I heard), that they are sold separately, and can extend a strap by as much as 12 inches. The big idea was that huge vendors only carry some of many things. There is more variety available if one goes straight to the manufacturer, online or in person, than if one goes to a big distributor.

I had a feeling there would be some pleasant surprises nestled into the NAMM grid. Would you believe that somebody developed a product that allows you to actually be heard playing air drums? Yes, a special high-speed camera program gauges your movements, anticipating which drums you are reaching for and attaches sound. Voila, you can be heard. It was uncanny to watch, like some sort of illusion.

Fenders at NAMM. Surf all day, record all night… sounds like a plan!

One thing about the NAMM show, it borders on a muted din most of the time. There are so many displays where you can pick up an instrument to play and whether it was pianos, trumpets, or drums, there were usually a good dozen artists and regular folks just bashing away ecstatically. It’s a great way to make that much noise. The drum neighborhood at the end of the day was particularly lively. Big jam sessions up and down the block at every booth.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the NAMM show is that there are small concerts going on all the time in the booths. And a lot of these gigs are phenomenal. Sometimes it’s one person playing over a pre-recorded backing track. Other times it’s a whole ensemble.

Albert Lee bringing it at Music Man

These jams can get crowded but wow, if you have a good spot you’re in for a treat. I got lucky three times. Albert Lee was tearing it up at Music Man, and then I happened over to Godin guitars where Jose Roberto Hernandez and his friends were doing a sublime job of it. Beautiful guitar work from Hernandez, violin, acoustic bass guitar, and three hand percussionists made for some amazing, layered, poly-rhythmic music. Words won’t do it justice. On the other hand, I really couldn’t get a view of John Popper at Fender or of Doug Wimbash at Burgera.

All star jam in honor of Slash with Skunk Baxter, Richie Sambora, and Orianthi.

The best jam I saw was by far at the Mark Bass booth. If you can believe it, about thirty of us got to watch as guitarist Frank Gambale and six string bass ace Alain Caron strutted their chops and soared into the stratosphere together. The grin on our faces, and on theirs, was ear to ear. One person in the crowd actually had to steady the keyboard from falling off the corner of the amp it was perched upon. It was that casual, and yet that good.

Up on the third floor the heavy hitters of guitar set up shop with lavish booths and lots of decor. This would be Fender, Gibson, ESP, Schecter, and Paul Reed Smith. ESP in particular, had some sculpted guitars that looked as impressive as they were close to unplayable for more than an encore…or a photo session. Paul Reed Smith exhibited some wild inlay work, too.

Elaborate inlay work at Paul Reed Smith

Gibson had a whole table of headphones and Les Pauls to play privately, much like you would see in the Apple store. They seemed to be pushing their self-tuning guitar heads, but hey, the one I played just got confused and like in some silly sci-fi movie, the tuning heads spun about, taking the guitar nowhere close to being tuned. Hmm…

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar ...to ourselves.

Gibson allowed us to plug in and play loud distorted guitar …to ourselves.

At the big name booths I saw a whole lotta desks in sound-proof offices for making deals. People were here to deal and there was plenty of that going on. You literally couldn’t walk across the Martin Guitar booth without an obstacle course of office furniture. And interestingly enough, when I played one of their $6000 guitars, there was so much general commotion that I could scarcely hear what I was playing. It happens.

At six o’clock the lights dimmed as I was being serenaded with Norteno music and learning about Bajo Sextos and Bajo Quintos. That was a great little session. The show was over and it was time for most of us to trudge to our cars, while in the banquet rooms the VIP’s were just warming up for a night of music and awards. Just another day at the NAMM show. I was happily drained on the way home.

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Photos by Mike Finkelstein. 

To read more posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

 


Live Opera: LA Opera Off Grand Presents “Figaro! (90210)” at Barnsdall Gallery Theatre

January 18, 2015

By Jane Rosenberg

Vid Guerrerio, librettist

Vid Guerrerio, librettist

Hollywood.  In a love letter to multicultural America and specifically Los Angeles, librettist Vid Guerrerio creates an hilarious, timely, and heartfelt rendition of Lorenzo Da Ponte’s take on Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro. One need go no farther than Barnsdall Park in Hollywood to find a delicious musical confection worthy of the Broadway stage and the LA Opera’s continuing “Off Grand” series.

In a fast paced two-hour version of Mozart’s beloved opera, Guerrerio rewrites Da Ponte’s libretto in English and Spanish and transplants the characters from eighteenth century Seville to modern day Los Angeles. Reflecting the concerns of the social upheaval of Beaumarchais’ times, yet moving beyond them, this clever libretto deals with the struggles of immigrant communities working to stay afloat in an occasionally beneficent but often hostile America.

Jose Adan Perez and Maria Elena Altany as Figaro and Susana

Jose Adan Perez and Maria Elena Altany as Figaro and Susana

Guerrerio conjures Figaro as a Mexican handyman employed on the estate of a Beverly Hills tycoon, Paul Conti, and his aging Hollywood starlet wife, Roxanne. Guerrerio tackles issues of immigration, assimilation, racism, political correctness, capitalism, and liberal and conservative politics with a heady mixture of intelligence, compassion, wit, and slapstick.

The basic outlines of the plot are still intact but in this scenario, Figaro owes money to a Korean businesswoman and sweatshop owner who paid Susana’s way across the border. Susana, maid to the Contis and Figaro’s fiancée, has only served one of the two years of her contract. This sets the ball rolling. Conti has promised to pay the money but Susana knows he expects to be sexually rewarded for his generosity. As in the original, scheming, flirtations, mistaken identity, and a long lost baby drive the plot; but the lure of a green card and a legalized life in America often propels the narrative.

Craig Colcough as Paul Conti and Maria Elena Altany as Susana

Craig Colcough as Paul Conti and Maria Elena Altany as Susana

Contemporary references abound. Plastic surgery, Botox, boobs, Big Macs, hip hop, cell phones, “sexting,” selfies, Coca-Cola, El Torito, the Dodgers, and the Lifetime Channel are but a sampling. With Melissa Crespo’s directorial skills and Sibyl Wickersheimer’s simple but effective set, we journey through a landscape, not unlike one of a film parodying the rich in Beverly Hills. Add to that Mozart’s incomparable music and the effect is thoroughly engaging.

Under the baton of conductor, Douglas Kinney Frost, the seven-piece ensemble of piano, guitar, violins, viola, cello, and bass create an intimate yet vibrant atmosphere and beautifully support the very talented cast of singers. Figaro as sung by José Adán Pérez is a delight. The Susana of Maria Elena Altany is as adorable as any soubrette has a right to be. As Roxanne, Greta Baldwin plays the actress striving to reclaim her youth and the love of her philandering husband. Both funny and touching, she sings in her melting soprano while unwrapping bandages on her face from a recent procedure: “God, looks like I’ve been cast as the bride of the Mummy.” Then as an afterthought she adds: “I should have also had them tuck my tummy.”

Maria Elena Altany as Susana, Hayden Eberhart as Barbara Conti, Greta Baldwin as Roxanne Conti and Orson Van Gay II as Li’l B-Man

Every inch the lord of the manor in both bearing and singing, Craig Colclough, in his creamy baritone, delivers a spot on, modern day version of Count Almaviva. As Bernard, who longs to be a Rap singer (Mozart’s Cherubino), Orson Van Gay manages to merge the classical with hints of R&B. In love with Bernard, Barbara, sung by Hayden Eberhart, is both petulant and touching as the Conti’s disillusioned daughter, especially when she sings: “Love’s a fairy tale; one big epic fail.” And in one of the funniest and most potently sung arias of the evening, E. Scott Levin as Babayan, a shady businessman, sings of the faults of the ethnic groups of LA, claiming that the Armenians are best. For Los Angelenos, the stoned gardener played by David Castillo and sung in a Valley accent was beyond hilarious.

Maria Elena Altany as Susana, Greta Baldwin as Roxanne Conti and Jose Adan Perez as Figaro

Maria Elena Altany as Susana, Greta Baldwin as Roxanne Conti and Jose Adan Perez as Figaro

As for the audience, there were smiles on every face and laughter that could be heard for blocks from the hilltop of Barnsdall Park. Now if LA Opera could only make a film or TV version of this romp, perhaps the whole country could join together in embracing, not only opera, but also the diverse ethnic spirit that makes this nation unique.

“Figaro! (90210)” continues at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre through tonight (Sunday, Jan. 18).

Photos courtesy of L A Opera.

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To read more opera, 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.  

 


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