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Ensemble

Vocal Radiance

MARIA NOCKIN reports on the beginning
of a new season at Los Angeles Opera

 

On 6 September 2008, Los Angeles Opera presented a new production of Giacomo Puccini's Il Trittico for its gala opening night. Following the company's tradition of using directors from the world of cinema, the productions of Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica were given to William Friedkin and that of Gianni Schicchi to Woody Allen. Friedkin told his tragic tales with well-thought out realistic action. You could see why Giorgetta cheated on Michele in Tabarro and you felt the nun's sorrow in Suor Angelica.

Woody Allen, Laura Tatulescu, Saimir Pirgu and Sage Ryan in rehearsal. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Woody Allen, Laura Tatulescu, Saimir Pirgu and Sage Ryan in rehearsal. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

Allen added some comic touches to Schicci with amusing faux movie credits that preceded the opening of the opera. He utilized split-second timing during most of the piece that kept the laughs coming one after the other. His main departure from the traditional was at the very end. He had the dead man's cousin, Zita, kill Schicchi in revenge for his awarding the best properties to himself. It worked well enough with Giuseppe Adami's original text, too.

All the scenery was by Santo Loquasto who provided intricate detail and depicted the local culture in Il Tabarro and Gianni Schicchi. The heavily laden barge sailed in to its mooring on the Seine as the sun set in the background. Mark Jonathan's excellent lighting design allowed the orange reflections in the water to slowly be overcome by relentless darkness as the plot thickened.

Jill Grove and Samir Pirgu in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Jill Grove and Samir Pirgu in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

The set for Schicchi is vintage lower class living from the 1950s. Laundry is hanging from every possible pillar and post, but all of it is in the shades seen in a black and white film. Here Schicchi is a gangster and the loving couple, Schicchi's daughter Lauretta and Zita's nephew, Rinuccio, seem to be scheming just as much as their elders.

Only in the middle opera, Suor Angelica, was there some respite. The set was a plain cloister with a running fountain in its garden. Sam Fleming's costumes were off-white with purple scapulars except for the total black garb of the evil princess. Here the beautiful voice of Sondra Radvanovsky dominated everything. She is a soprano who can hold the hearts of the audience in thrall for as long as she is on stage and this performance included the aria 'Amici Fiori', which she sang with luminous vocal radiance. At the other end of the vocal scale, mezzo-soprano Larissa Diadkova created a riveting portrait of the villainous princess who had no sympathy whatsoever for her niece.

Thomas Allen and Laura Tatulescu in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Thomas Allen and Laura Tatulescu in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

The singing was excellent in all three operas. Salvatore Licitra sang like god as the lover, Luigi, in Il Tabarro. As his beloved Giorgetta, Anja Kampe used the dramatic aspects of her voice and proved to be a fine actress. Also strong were the sonorous interpretations of John Del Carlo as Talpa and Matthew O'Neill as Tinca while Ticina Vaughn was an amusing, smoky-voiced Frugola. Mark Delavan gave a vivid portrayal of Michele, the husband that Giorgetta no longer loves. He sang with ringing tones and his final revelation of Luigi's body under the cloak was thoroughly chilling.

Thomas Allen was a commanding Schicchi who dominated the third opera but he met his equal in Jill Grove as Zita who eventually stabbed him to death. Both of these artists have amazing vocal and dramatic abilities, which they displayed generously in the final work. Making their Los Angeles Opera débuts were soprano Laura Tatulescu and tenor Saimir Pirgu who provided the elegant lyrical moments in Puccini's well-balanced score. Others who sang securely and kept the comedy flowing were: Greg Fedderly as Gherardo, Rebekah Camm as Nella, Andrea Silvestrelli as Simone, Steven Condy as Betto di Signa, Lauren McNeese as La Ciesca and Levi Hernandez as the Doctor.

Brian Leerhuber, Rebekah Camm, Steven Cody, Lauren McNeese, Jill Grove and Greg Fedderly in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Brian Leerhuber, Rebekah Camm, Steven Cody, Lauren McNeese, Jill Grove and Greg Fedderly in Gianni Schicchi at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

Conducting all three very different pieces of music was Music Director James Conlon. He brought out all the early twentieth century influences in the dramatic music of Il Tabarro, the impressionistic sequences of Suor Angelica and the piquant combination of harmony and dissonance in Gianni Schicchi. It was a tour de force, but the LA Opera orchestra brought it off with graceful ease.

This evening, which began with a glass of sparkling wine for each ticket holder, ended just as beautifully with a grateful audience rendering thunderous applause.

The following afternoon, many of the same opera lovers were back at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to hear Howard Shore's new opera, The Fly.

Ruxandra Donose (Veronica Quaife) and Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Ruxandra Donose (Veronica Quaife) and Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

In 1957, George Langelaan wrote a science fiction short story called The Fly, which was made into a motion picture starring Vincent Price the following year. In 1986, director David Cronenberg remade that film, setting it to music by Howard Shore who would later win an Academy Award for his work on The Lord of the Rings. For the 2008 opera, Shore wrote the music but Canadian playwright Henry David Hwang wrote the reasonably singable libretto. Cronenberg directed the production, however, which was first seen in Paris and then in Los Angeles.

Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

Shore's orchestral writing is sometimes powerful and at other times rather repetitive. He orchestrates well, however, and some of his scoring for low brass and woodwinds is quite memorable. His vocal writing, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired. This is his first opera, though, and he has said he will write another. The Fly is never boring and may hold the seeds of better things to come.

Daniel Okulitch, Ashlyn Rust (Tawny) and Jay Hunter Morris (Marky) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Daniel Okulitch, Ashlyn Rust (Tawny) and Jay Hunter Morris (Marky) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

David Cronenberg's production was a good example of the science and culture of the United States in the 1950s. Set designer Dante Ferretti, noted for his collaboration with Federico Fellini, created teleportation devices and furniture that evoked the era, while the singers were appropriately costumed by Denise Cronenberg, the director's sister.

Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

As Seth Brundle, Daniel Okulitch was onstage almost every minute the curtain was up and he sang the long and arduous role with vigorous sonorities despite its limited tessitura. Ruxandra Donose, who portrayed Veronica, also used mainly her middle register, but her tones were beautifully colored. Thus, she was an impressive feminine lead. Gary Lehman gave an incisive portrayal of her editor and former boy friend, Stathis Borans, while Beth Clayton was an officious Lab Doctor and Officer.

Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

It is always fun to watch dramatic tenor Jay Hunter Morris create a cameo character and this was no exception. His Marky was a believable arm-wrestling barfly, while Ashlyn Rust was cute and provocative as his girlfriend, Tawny Perkins. The chorus is important in this work and Associate Conductor Grant Gershon directed it admirably. As promised, Plácido Domingo conducted, giving his singers every consideration and at the same time bringing out all the interesting harmonies of Shore's detailed orchestration.

Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard
Daniel Okulitch (Seth Brundle) in 'The Fly' at Los Angeles Opera. Photo © 2008 Robert Millard

While there can be no comparison between the two opening performances, it can be said that both were interesting and will keep audiences flocking to Los Angeles for a long time to come.

Copyright © 14 September 2008 Maria Nockin, Arizona USA

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