February, 2008

Handel With Care

German-born George Frideric Handel lost a fortune writing and producing Italian operas for underwhelmed English audiences. In 1742 he got the bright idea to write an oratorio, and Messiah premiered a month later in Dublin. At the age of 57, Handel became an overnight sensation and stopped composing operas altogether. Currently, only a handful of his 42 operas appear regularly on international opera and concert stages.

One of these rare works, “Radamisto,” gets the kid gloves treatment by Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra on Saturday, March 1 at Zipper Concert Hall, and Sunday, March 2, 2008 at UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall.

The Handel operas experienced a surge of new interest in the 1960s, largely due to the ascendance of the now-legendary soprano Joan Sutherland. Her frequent collaborator, USC graduate Marilyn Horne, was one of very few mezzo-sopranos capable of the fiendishly difficult roles Handel had composed for the celebrated castrato, Senesino. As the operas gained popularity, a whole new generation of countertenors, or male falsetto singers, tackled and mastered these roles.

Regarded as Southern California’s premier Baroque ensemble, Musica Angelica features a countertenor in the title role of Radamisto, and plays the work on authentic period instruments. “It’s really special to be able to hear this music as the composer intended it,” says orchestra general manager Laura Spino.

Hamburg Opera presented a staged version of “Radamisto” last season. Another staged version, led by Musica Angelica’s music director Martin Haselböck, recently toured Europe. Haselböck assembles leading singers from both productions for the Los Angeles performances.

The artistic challenges belong to Maestro Haselböck. Spino observes that “his brilliant musicianship, boundless energy, drive and passion for this music” allow him to pull the myriad disparate pieces together, all within the orchestra’s limited allotment of five to six rehearsals.

Although mounting this concert version of a Handel opera is “a massive enterprise,” Spino says the orchestra has plans to feature one opera each year, with fully staged productions the next step in Musica Angelica’s future.

For more information, or a brochure with the full season schedule, call (310) 458-4504 or visit www.MusicaAngelica.org. FineArtsLA also has several pairs of tickets for the March 1 production as part of our Forty Unders program. Send us an e-mail and they’re yours. — Penny Orloff

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Balanchine Act

Colleen Neary knew she faced an enormous challenge in choosing three daunting George Balanchine works for the Los Angeles Ballet’s Spring 2008 program.

Well into the company’s second season, Neary and her husband, co-artistic director Thordal Christensen, are putting finishing touches on Balanchine’s famously difficult “Four Temperaments,” the virtuoso “Tarantella,” and Balanchine’s tribute to Broadway, “Who Cares?” for performances at UCLA’s Freud Theater on February 22 and 23, Glendale’s Alex Theatre on March 1, and Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on March 15.

Balanchine holds a central place in the LAB repertory. After his death 25 years ago, Neary became one of a small group of Balanchine Trust repetiteurs, former colleagues of the legendary choreographer who preserve the dances for the future. In that role, Neary has staged Balanchine ballets for companies around the world. Teaching his uniquely American ballet style and staging the dances is “a big honor for me,” she says. “There’s a whole new generation of dancers who didn’t know him. I try to give them a sense of what he was like, to bring him alive for them.”

It is with this sense of mission that Neary undertook to teach her young company the monumental “Four Temperaments,” created by Balanchine almost 70 years ago. “Musically, it is very challenging,” she explains. “The Hindemith score was so ahead of its time. It is very demanding, but our dancers proved themselves in other, very difficult repertory last year.”

The program will also include “Who Cares?” featuring big Broadway-style chorus numbers and a Gershwin score that includes pop standards such as “The Man I Love,” “Embraceable You,” “S’Wonderful,” “Lady Be Good,” and “I Got Rhythm.” In 1937, Broadway songwriter George Gershwin asked Balanchine to come to Hollywood to work with him on the score of the Goldwyn Follies. During the production, Gershwin collapsed and died of a brain tumor. Thirty-three years later, Balanchine choreographed “Who Cares?” to 16 of his favorite Gershwin songs, arranged and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. A teenaged Neary danced in the original New York City Ballet cast.

A composer in his own right, Hershy Kay also reconstructed Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s Grande Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra for Balanchine’s dazzling stand-alone pas de deux, “Tarantella,” also on the current LAB program.

In addition to preserving the Balanchine legacy, Neary and Christensen’s far-reaching vision for LAB includes commissioning and mounting new ballets by Los Angeles choreographers and designers. Audiences for Spring Repertoire 2008 get the first look at “Lost in Transition,” a world premiere by award-winning choreographer and Los Angeles native Melissa Barak. “’Lost in Transition’ is very edgy and different,” Neary says. “And it’s big. It fits right in with this huge Balanchine program.”

Look for a Forty Unders ticket giveaway for the ballet next week. — Penny Orloff

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Big Hit

This weekend the LA Opera presented three works: Verdi’s “Otello,” and two one-act operas, Ullmann’s “The Broken Jug” and Zemlinsky’s “The Dwarf,” which are part of the “Recoverd Voices” project, devoted to works suppressed by the Nazis.

“The Dwarf” was by far the weekend’s highlight, and this long-forgotten tragedy, presented here in its West Coast premiere, is much bigger than its obscurity would suggest.

For “Otello,” the combination of a beauty-deprived score by Verdi, unexciting production values, and an emotionless portrayal of the tragic hero by Ian Storey, made this telling of Shakespeare’s tragedy considerably less engrossing than American Ballet Theater’s voiceless version we attended last summer.

“The Broken Jug” opened with swirling melodies and a clever ballet scene set in silhouette behind a scrim, then fell into passable material perhaps overhyped because of its previous suppression.

But “The Dwarf,” loosely based on a short story by Oscar Wilde and written in a Richard Strauss-type idiom full of dramatic intensity, proved a giant of emotional pathos, earning Rodrick Dixon (pictured) an enthusiastic and much-deserved standing ovation. The only people who rose for “Otello” were heading to the parking garage.

If your ticket budget only allows for one show this month, you may be tempted to opt for the titanic pairing of Verdi and Shakespeare over two unknown composers. That would be the wrong choice. — CMC

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