Opera

Extra! Extra! A Very Midori Thanksgiving! Ticket Giveaway!

midori-299x300Thanksgiving. The word itself seems like an oxy-moron, especially in LA. Here we are used to saying thanks for getting, and any gift we give should rightfully come with its proper reward in return. And this is all well and good for a city that was built on pure opportunism, but when does this type of self-centered thinking—as opposed to communal—hurt us creatively?

Take the ever-growing Mustaches for Kids craze, for instance: it’s a wildly creative organization whereby volunteers grow mustaches in order to raise money for children’s charities. The thing is that the institution, which is now nation-wide (I even saw filmmaker Darren Aronofsky sporting a mustache), was borne out of Los Angeles. It was started by three friends in a reality TV-show production office who all thought it would be fun to grow mustaches for a month (an act of true creativity, in my opinion). However, despite its success, Mustaches for Kids really took off when it hit New York, the city now considered to be the center of the organization. And there’s only one reason for this re-location: creative pursuits (i.e. no profit involved), whether it be growing mustaches for charity or painting pictures or playing music or putting on plays, etc. can only thrive in a community of supporters.

This is not to say that Los Angeles is completely bereft of such support. In fact, one of the most charitable, not to mention talented, violinists working today, Midori, is based out of LA, and she is performing alongside pianist Robert McDonald at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this Sunday, November 21 at 7:30 PM. Only 28-years-old,  Midori was a musical prodigy sprouting from Japan, who quickly rose to international acclaim, and is now widely recognized as one of the top violinists in the world. But it is her incredible charity work that has truly carved her reputation as an artist. Not only an established educator at USC, she personally founded four different community-centered organizations—Midori & Friends, Partners in Performance, Orchestra Residencies Program, and Music Sharing—beginning the first one when she was just 10-years-old and is still actively involved in all four.

So in the spirit of Midori, and to show our thanks for her giving, we are, in turn, giving away a pair of tickets to see her perform on Sunday night. Not only that, but we are adding in the bonus prize of a pair of tickets to see legendary bass-baritone Bryn Terfel the next night, Monday, November 22nd at 8:00 PM, same location. All you have to do is enter your first name, last name and e-mail address into th form below, and you will automatically be entered into the running to receive both pairs of tickets, and be eligible to win our next three ticket giveaways. Happy Thanksgiving, from Fine Arts LA!

- By Joshua Morrison

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Extra! Extra! Zacharias! Zacharias! Ticket Giveaway to LA Phil!

WDCH-ImageOccasionally a friend—and even more occasionally, a date—will get in the passenger seat of my car and I’ll turn on the radio. Like most LA commuters, I spend most of my car-time alone, with the windows up, free to listen to whatever cool or un-cool music I  please, and the probability of the radio being tuned into Classical KUSC is quite high. For me, classical music is choice on a long trip down the 10 if only because it’s so unfathomable. Most pop and hip-hop music, though enjoyable and satisfying its own right, I can deconstruct. I can imagine the songwriting process, and in my limited musical ability, fathom the instrumentation. There’s little wonder involved; it’s more nostalgia and/or primal reaction.

But for most friends or dates, the mere sound of strings without vocals or brass without beat incites a confused reaction. They look at me like I’m a pretentious ass, as if just before they entered the car, I had switched the radio station to KUSC, then turned it off so as to trick them into thinking how cultured I really am.

The truth is I am just as confused as they are. Listening to classical music is a slow and constant learning process, at least for me, and I often struggle with what makes these so-called masters—these Beethovens, the Bachs, these Mozarts—what makes them so good. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I went to my first symphony voluntarily, that I realized the answer: you have to see it live.

And fortunately for you, our dear and patient reader, FineArtsLA is giving you that chance—for free, no less—to experience all three of the big names listed above (well, almost) in one night. This Saturday, October 30th, 8:00 PM at Walt Disney Music Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, world-renowned conductor and celebrated pianist Christian Zacharias leads the LA Philharmonic and mega-mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in a program featuring all music composed within 53 years.  Mozart’s “Ch’io mi scordi di te?“, C.P.E Bach’s “Keyboard Concerto in D Minor,” and Beethoven’s “Suite from The Creatures of Prometheus” make up the bill. All you have to do is enter your first name, last name, and e-mail address into the form below, and you will be eligible to receive two free tickets to this event (as well as be automatically entered into the running for our next three ticket giveaways).

This way, when your friend or date gives you that confused look when you turn on the radio to KUSC, you can simply say, “This is Beethoven. The music we’re headed to go see.”

- By Joshua Morrison

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Phantom Disappears Into the Night

Phantom-and-ChristineThe idea of life without Phantom of the Opera is almost as unbelievable as a deformed miscreant in a 19th Century English opera house teaching classical vocal technique to one of the ballet’s mediocre but beautiful dancers.  Yet, that is what makes it a thrilling fantasy. The Phantom of the Opera can’t go anywhere. It can’t say goodbye—that’s impossible.  It is one of the most beloved and celebrated musicals of all time.  Its eerily haunting music, dramatic 19th Century set design, and iconic romance story can’t possible bid us farewell.  Phantom is to the theater what hot dogs are to baseball.  It’s a classic. It’s a staple. It’s so much a part of musical theater that it has become a part of our mainstream sonic culture.  It is blasted out of elevator speakers and played at so many people’s weddings that most of us tend to roll our eyes and classify it as cheeseball.  But that’s not Phantom’s fault! We are to blame for taking something captivating and special and playing it ad nauseum. I have always defended Phantom and will continue to go to bat for Andrew Lloyd Weber’s most successful musical until the day I die.   When I saw the “Farewell” posters flanking Wilshire Blvd, I got excited rather than sad, and I toted my boyfriend (a Phantom virgin) with me to Hollywood’s Pantages Theater.Ever since its 1986 debut in London’s West End, the story about a brilliant, disfigured, and mysterious musical genius’ obsession with a young, gorgeous and recently sexually awakened soprano has mesmerized and shocked audiences.  The combination of the story (drawn from Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de l’Opéra), Charles Hart’s sexy and sensitive lyrics, and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s gorgeous compositions, have made Phantom Broadway’s longest running musical ever. If you have never seen this show (like my opening night companion), do yourself a favor and experience it for the first time. Seeing it again through my boyfriend’s eyes brought me back to the first time that I fell head over heels for this mother of all musicals.

The show begins with an auction of opera house antiques—residual evidence of something traumatic from the past.  The action begins when the auctioneer calls out Lot #666, the house’s signature chandelier.  Something supernatural sparks the lamp into light, and the elegantly oppressive chandelier rises into the air, above the audience, in its original, breathtaking glory.  The constraints of time are removed, and as a collective whole, the audience is transported back to when innocence was lost, hearts were broken, and the unbelievable happened.

As soon as the chandelier lights up the stage, the show moves at breakneck speed, and the action doesn’t stop until curtain call.  This may be one of the quickest-moving shows I’ve ever seen.  Even if you’re one of those people that think of the theater as a good napping place, you can be assured that the non-stop entertainment will keep you awake.

Christine Daae (Trista Moldovan), the heroine of the musical, makes her singing debut in the signature song “Think of Me” after the opera’s lead soprano, Carolotta (Kim Stengel), becomes emotionally distressed when the stage backdrop mysteriously collapses.  Christine, we learn, has a vocal coach she’s never met that she calls “the Angel of Music”—but who she knows is indeed the storied Phantom.  She sings, and everyone is so impressed with her talent that nobody misses Carlotta—except for me, the real person, in the real audience, in the real world. Christine’s voice should be crystal clear and pitch perfect in the world of Phantom, but Trista Moldovan was often airy, flat, or sharp when she needed to be perfection. The Angel of Music is her coach for pete’s sake.

The best voice in this production belongs to Christine’s amour, Raoul (Sean MacLaughlin). Every note he sang was pure beauty, and there were many times that I wished that he had been cast as the Phantom (unfortunately played by word-slurring Tim Martin Gleason).  A voice like MacLaughlin’s should be heard more.  Raoul was my angel of music, and the ladies I talked to in the bathroom line during intermission unanimously agreed.  No wonder Christine fell in love with him. I almost did too.

As the story progresses, we start to realize that the Phantom is completely insane. We learn that Phantom is a musical prodigy and brilliant magician who was born with a disgustingly deformed face and escaped from a traveling freak show where he was abused and ridiculed most of his life.  Phantom’s attempts to woo Christine by kidnapping her and holding her captive in his sewer-lair prove fruitless.  Phantom’s life-size doll of Christine in a wedding gown is a major no-no in getting a girl to like you.  Perhaps in Victorian England people were a bit more forward, but good grief that was creepy.  As Christine’s youthful curiosity takes hold of her, she rips off the Phantom’s mask, and the audience learns that to call the Phantom emotionally unstable would be a gross understatement.  As he lies on the floor, reaching out to Christine for compassion and acceptance, you realize that Phantom just yearns to look normal and be loved, and Lloyd Weber’s beautiful music demands that your heartstrings be panged.

Christine longs for a life with a man that can give her a future, a man who lives among other men, a path that is more accepted: she wants the pretty boy, not the Phantom.  Trista Moldovan’s duet with Sean MacLaughlin in “All I Ask of You”  is a highlight of the show—not because of the song, which of course is stunning, but because of MacLaughlin’s flawless performance.  The omnipresent Phantom learns that his flame is hot for another.  Of course, being a total psychopath and outcast, he is unable to deal with feelings in any rational or productive way, so he goes batshit crazy and wills the chandelier to plunge dangerously over the audience.  It’s on.

The second act moves so quickly that your head whirls. Traps are laid, deceptions are had, and the conflict builds to a subterranean showdown between Christine, Raoul, Phantom, and the Victorian equivalent of a SWAT team. In the end, surrounded by police and with capture apparently inevitable, Phantom fools us again, disappearing into the night and leaving only his ivory mask.

I went to the Pantages Theater with every intention but to say farewell to this passionate, spirited, and deeply layered show.  Go fall in love all over again, but don’t ever say goodbye. Phantom should not—and will not—go anywhere.  As long as musicals are playing and people are attending the theater, there will be a place for Phantom. It is indeed the angel of musical theater.

-By Brittany Krasner

The Phantom of the Opera is playing at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd. through Halloween (October 31st).  For tickets and more information, please visit www.pantages-theater.com.

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Don Henley is a Visionary?

dirty_projectors-walt_disney_concert_hall15-608x404The last time the Dirty Projectors played in Los Angeles was on Halloween at the Jensen Recreation Center in Echo Park, where frontman David Longstreth wore a ten-gallon foam cowboy hat and his upside-down guitar with the confidence of a newly minted visionary. Fans of the Projectors’ odd, brilliant, shimmering music had been waiting for the band to play at Disney Hall since November, anticipating their breakout hit, 2009’s Bitte Orca, amplified by a lush string section.

But on Saturday night, Longstreth looked small and befuddled on the Disney Hall stage, fiddling with the tuning of his guitars for a half an hour during intermission. Longstreth is 28, with the refractory brain of a brilliant twelve-year-old with attention deficit disorder and the composing abilities of Mozart on mushrooms in Africa. After Saturday night, the audience learned his musical influences include Ligeti, Wagner, Ravel, and Don Henley.

Don Henley might seem like an odd choice. The program notes include an earnest letter Longstreth sent Henley in 2005, accompanying a free copy of The Getty Address, Longstreth’s 2005 opera about materialism, the homogenization of FM radio, and Sacagewea, or something like that. “I have included a copy of it here for you,” Longstreth wrote to Henley. “The album examines the question of what is wilderness in a world completely circumscribed by highways, once Manifest Destiny has no place to go- but in the end it is a love story.” Clearly, this makes sense to only one person: Longstreth himself.

The program was divided into three parts: the Philharmonic playing alone, the Projectors playing The Getty Address along with the ensemble Alarm Will Sound, and the Projectors playing alone. The program began with selections Longstreth hand-picked for the Philharmonic. Highlights included Ligeti’s Etude No. 13, played by gray-haired John Orge, who lingered on the piano keys after the last high notes for a long, indulgent silence, and Ravel’s beautifully orchestrated Mother Goose Suite. After a long intermission, the Projectors emerged, wearing color-coordinated hooded jackets, to play The Getty Address in its entirety. And here is where the problems began.

dirty_projectors-walt_disney_concert_hall32-608x404Truthfully, the opera is an indulgent college project from a very, very talented student, with glimpses of the Projectors’ current, much more successful musical incarnation nestled in like raisins studded into a very wobbly gray oatmeal. In the first song (er, movement), “I Sit on the Ridge at Dusk,” the beat kicked in, and the Projectorettes (Amber Coffman, Haley Dekle, and Angel Deradoorian) wailed “got a world of trouble on my mind,” in an indistinct language, moving very slightly from side to side, like shy sirens. But momentum was lost on the second song, and the album is so complex, the time signatures so twisted, it seemed that no amount of practice could have nailed it down. It didn’t help that Alarm Will Sound had some spotty synchronicity and tuning moments. The long, drifting passages on “But in the Headlights” and “Gilt Gold Scabs” sounded misguided and naked, as though a player were missing. Some members played on wine bottles, and a base flute was involved, as well as lots of gratuitous hand-clapping, which sounded messy at times, perhaps on purpose. Many in the audience began to get restless, but the ensemble soldiered on to no avail.

After the opera finally ended, the Projectors (minus their drummer) took the stage for three songs: a very slow cover of Dylan’sI Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine,” as well as their own “Temecula Sunrise” and “Cannibal Resource” from Bitte Orca. They sounded good, and Longstreth’s singing sounded much more comfortable, but the band would have sounded much better with a whole orchestra backing them up. None of the women got to sing lead on any song, though Angel Deradoorian singing “Two Doves” would have sounded lovely in this acoustic setting.

All in all, the event demonstrated what the Projectors are capable of musically. It also showed that some misguided musical experiments are better laid to rest, no matter how brilliant their 23-year-old composer may be. As the Eagles said, “And I don’t want to hear any more/ No, no, baby/ I don’t want to hear any more.” Here’s hoping the Projectors stick to Bitte Orca from now on.

By Cassandra McGrath of CWG Magazine

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is located at 111 South Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles.  For more information on upcoming shows, please call (213) 972-7211, or visit www.laphil.com.

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Poisonous! (In The Best Possible Way)

Opera lovers tend to fall in a number of different camps.  There are staunch Wagner lovers who sit for three hours just to get to “Leibestod,” the final aria from Tristan und Isolde.  There are those who swear by Puccini for life and who don’t speak Italian, but can say, “Yes, they call me Mimi, but my real name is Lucia” with a perfect accent. Everyone can agree, however, that love triangles, revenge plots, and small vials of poison will never go out of style – especially not at the opera.  We can also agree that opera singers all have this thrilling ability to steal you from your everyday and throw you into a world of daggers and betrothals.

Baroque composer extraordinaire George Handel’s Tamerlano is in good company. A three-act opera in Italian that follows the story of Bajazet, his daughter Asteria, the evil Emperor Tamerlano, love-struck Andronico, and the confused Irene; it’s more than just a love triangle.

LA Opera’s Tamerlano, which opens November 21, will feature General Director Placido Domingo in the role of Turkish Sultan Bajazet – the gallant father trying to prevent his daughter’s marriage to the malicious Tamerlano. Audiences will undoubtedly be listening for every note that leaves Placido’s famous lips – he has bridged the gap between famous opera singer and household name.  The title character will be played by countertenor Bejun Mehta who has performed at the Royal Opera House in London, the Opera National de Paris, and who marks his return to LA Opera with this role.  Asteria, played by Sarah Coburn, is a part that features some of opera’s most enticing, electric, and technically challenging singing.

While Bajazet sits in chains in Tamerlano’s court, the emperor devises a plan to marry Asteria – he asks Andronico (also in love with Asteria) to relay his message to Bajazet: give me your daughter’s hand in marriage in return for your freedom.  He sweetens the deal by promising his own fiancée, Irene, to Andronico for his trouble.  When Tamerlano reveals his scheme to Asteria, she is shocked and dismayed – mostly by Andronico’s seeming betrayal.  What follows is an operatic series of suicide notes, changes of mind and heart, and a healthy amount of poison.  Handel proves again that it’s not the Italian that can trip you up at the opera, it’s the story itself!

LA Opera’s Tamerlano runs November 21 through December 1.  We recommend getting your tickets early – Placido’s in this one, it will sell out!  Please call (213) 972-8001 or click here for more information.

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The Original Gossip Girls

lrg-429-trv4169In high school, relationships can feel incredibly passionate, melodramatic, and life changing.  Hello Gossip Girl!  The dramas innate in dating someone else whose hormones are just as out of whack as yours can feel serious and potentially catastrophic.  To all the high schoolers out there who think that grownups just don’t understand – Giuseppe Verdi is your man.  One of the grand authors of melodrama in love, Verdi’s La Traviata, being performed by LA Opera through June 21, is practically an ode to the death-defying nature of falling in and out of love.

Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge might serve as a modern-day counterpart to Verdi’s La Traviata as it revolves around a beautiful courtesan with a heart, Violetta, who falls in love with a penniless sitar player.  Okay, so he’s not a sitar player; in La Traviata the love interest is Alfredo, a penniless young nobleman.  When he tells her he loves her, she retorts that she’s not the type of woman he should fall truly in love with.  As she sings those words, however, she feels a stirring in her own heart and ponders if perhaps he’s really the one.

She experiments with true love by shacking up with Alfredo in the second act.  Their love blooms, yet he feels ashamed that she is forced to sell her personal belongings to fund their life together.  A dying courtesan can’t just fall in love, however, and the conflict arrives in the form of Alfredo’s father who is grieving his daughter’s inability to secure an advantageous marriage due to his son’s scandalous affair with a courtesan.

This production is not a new one for LA Opera as Marta Domingo returns to direct the version she staged for LA Opera’s 2006/2007 season.  La Traviata is one of the most performed operas around the world and will close LA Opera’s 2008/2009 season with a bang.  Clearly, courtesans from France, Italy, and beyond have made a lasting impression on us.  They were sexually confident, educated, well dressed, and influential women who were smart enough to use what they had to their advantage.  They were loved, hated, envied, and gossiped about in their time… and still are in ours.

LA Opera’s production of La Traviata runs now through June 21 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center.  For more information, please visit their website or call (213) 972-8001.

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Bringing Down The House

Walt Disney Concert Hall played host for the first time to South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir on December 22nd and what occurred during their concert was an inexplicable kind of magic.  Perhaps the holiday spirit contributed to it or the architecture of Disney Hall, but the a cappella group that has stunned audiences worldwide was in inspiring form on Tuesday.  The theme of the evening was an African spiritual journey, which included songs in Zulu, a beautiful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”, and an awe-inspiring “Amazing Grace” garnering a mid-concert standing ovation.

The Choir is so well choreographed that you forget the majority of their songs are sung without instruments save a couple of drums.  Their colorful, traditional costume and whimsical dance routines make you forget that you are in the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  With a roster of the most renowned classical musicians from around the world, I am sure that these were the first rappers to grace their stage.  One highlight of the concert happened when a table with plates, glasses, and silverware became a percussive instrument for three men.  The rest of the men danced and sang to the beat creating an intricate rhythm and allowing us a choreographed glimpse into the fun they must have on tour.

While the focus is the group as a whole, each member is able to stand out individually – and they do.  Where one breaks from the group to play the guitar in the background, the other moves to the front to do continual high kicks.  Most impressive, though, are the individual voices singled out in each song.  Together they create a cohesive whole, but individually they represent an impressively wide vocal range.  They each sing with their own level of abandon and explosive energy.

Just following their third standing ovation, they sang Christmas carols in honor of the season.  Their versions of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night” introduced a truly magical spirit to the songs we know and love.  Everyone was on their feet, clapping along to the rhythm of the season.

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Forty Unders Soldiers On

Though FineArtsLA is currently floating in limbo without an editor (if you’d like to take it over, contact us at the above address), Forty Unders will soldier on, so continue logging on the site to see the latest ticket giveaways, which should increase now that the concert season has begun anew.

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Website For Sale

FineArtsLA and its ticket-giveaway program Forty Unders are for sale, as the webmaster is moving on to other projects.

Interested buyers may send their inquiries here.

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Tickets On Sale For New Opera Season

Single tickets went on sale today for the LA Opera’s ‘08/’09 season. Saith the opera in a release:

Single tickets for LA Opera’s highly anticipated 2008/09 season are now on sale to the public online at www.laopera.com and will also be available for purchase beginning Sunday, July 20, from 10am to 6pm in person at LA Opera’s Box Office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and by phone at 213-972-8001. Regular Box Office hours are 10am to 6pm, Monday through Saturday. All performances take place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles CA 90012.

LA Opera’s season, featuring nine operas and a total of 67 performances, opens on Saturday, September 6, 2008, and will continue through Sunday, June 21, 2009. The season opens with a new production of Giacomo Puccini’s trilogy of one-act operas Il Trittico, conducted by Music Director James Conlon with directing duties shared by William Friedkin (Il Tabarro and Suor Angelica) and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi, in his operatic debut) and featuring a world-class cast that includes Mark Delavan, Salvatore Licitra, Anja Kampe, Sondra Radvanovsky, Larissa Diadkova and Thomas Allen. The opening weekend continues with the U.S. premiere of Howard Shore’s The Fly on Sunday, September 7, with a libretto by David Henry Hwang. The Fly will be conducted by Eli and Edythe Broad General Director Plácido Domingo and directed by David Cronenberg. The season also includes new productions of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, the first two installments of the Company’s new Ring cycle, as well as a new production of Walter Braunfels’ rarely performed The Birds and popular revivals of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Verdi’s La Traviata.

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