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Subject: Review: L.A. Barbiere // L.A. Opera 97-98 (long)
From: Joe Schallan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Thu, 6 Mar 1997 16:36:47 -0700

text/plain (182 lines)

Hello list,

Here's a novice's review of last Saturday's (3/1) matinee performance
of Barber of Seville at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
Go easy on me -- remember that not too long I didn't know legato
from Los Gatos or fach from FAQ.

Almaviva . . . . . . . . Bruce Ford
Figaro . . . . . . . . Rodney Gilfry
Rosina . . . . . . . . Jennifer Larmore
Bartolo . . . . . . . . John Del Carlo
Basilio . . . . . . . . Louis Lebherz
Fiorello . . . . . . . . Malcolm MacKenzie
Berta . . . . . . . . Suzanna Guzman
Sergeant . . . . . . . . William George
Ambrogio . . . . . . . . Nicholas Gunn

Conducted by Marco Guidarini.
Stage direction by Kai-Andreas Luft.

Production from Cologne Opera.  Sets
from Kunitachi College of Music, Tokyo.

Customs of the house

A rant about house policy on latecomers.  The program
stated that the L.A. Opera seats latecomers at the discretion of house
management.  On this particular Saturday, that meant playing
the overture and then holding things up so that numerous latecomers
could be seated.  This was my fifth opera performance and the second
one at which I've encountered this practice, and already I loathe it.

The overture's whole point is to put you in the mood for the
opera that follows.  I want to go from there right to "curtain up"
and not have my mood shattered by commotion and hubbub.

Though I appreciate the predicament of latecomers (especially
in transportation-challenged Los Angeles), and almost became
one myself (due to really rotten directions I downloaded from
the Los Angeles Ticketmaster website), I would have been willing
to watch the monitors in the lobby so as not to spoil things for the
others.  Am I unreasonable in thinking that house management
should not in any case seat latecomers after the overture?

As if this wasn't bad enough, once things got going again many
in the audience kept chattering right up to and well past the
appearance of Almaviva.  I'm talking chatter loud enough to drown
out singers and players (and I was in orchestra, not terribly far from
either).  Now this I had never encountered before, neither in Santa Fe
nor at home here in Phoenix, where the audiences have been respectfully

I finally had to laugh at the irony of the situation -- "Piano,
pianissimo, senza parlar," indeed!  That's exactly what I wanted
to say to all the idiots around me.

End of rant.  Is chatter this outrageous -- *during singing* --
encountered elsewhere?  Is it an LA thing? Did I just have the
misfortune of landing among some Saturday afternoon louts?
What took the shine off this performance for me was all the
preliminary seating chaos, commotion, and chatter.  Ugh!

The performance

Bruce Ford (Almaviva) got off to a shaky start.  Even this novice
detected some problems with pitch early on.  But as so often seems
the case (at least in the five performances I've attended), the singer
warmed up and finished strong.  (This phenomenon has made me
think that cast and orchestra ought to perform an act *before*
the audience is admitted to the auditorium!)   For the rest of the
performance, Ford had no difficulty with singing or diction.  His is a
small but quite pleasing voice.  I ended up enjoying his performance.

I was disappointed with Rodney Gilfry as Figaro.  No glaring problems
with his singing, but he just didn't have enough baritone power and
verve for this role on this afternoon.  I did not imagine that I would
a problem *hearing* Largo al factotum. His rendition, besides being a
quiet one, also seemed perfunctory.  My only comparisons are two
recordings -- Leo Nucci on CD and John Rawnsley at Glyndebourne
on video.  Say what you may about these performances, neither
can be accused of "quietness" or of being telephoned in.  Phrases
that I was used to hearing Nucci sing (or almost bark) and
Rawnsley sing, Gilfry handled almost as a sort of soft recitative.

The most powerful voice of the afternoon belonged to Jennifer
Larmore.  I was amazed by how big her voice is.  She easily
filled the auditorium with sound, and the only other cast
members able to do likewise were the two basses.

She was singing a lot of notes that are not on the recordings I
know.  I enjoyed and appreciated this ornamentation, even
though in one case it didn't quite work.

It would be disingenuous of me to go any further without
mentioning that my judgment has been skewed by the power
of Ms. Larmore's stage presence.  Not only is she a convincing
actress but is, my lord, one spectacular looking woman!  Yes,
I gave my binoculars quite a workout.  My wife nudged me
at intermission and told me that there were, after all, others
on stage.

My biases duly noted, I still found the voice powerful, the
sound warm, the ornamentation a lot of fun to hear attempted,
and the technique nearly flawless.  Jennifer Larmore alone would
have made my trip to Los Angeles worthwhile.

The two basses -- Del Carlo and Lebherz -- were strong and
in good form.

The sets were delightful -- quite three-dimensional and convincing.
Stage direction was crisp.  Orchestra and singers had no problems
with one another.

The acting, especially on the part of Larmore, Del Carlo, Lebherz, and
Ford, was convincing.  Only Gilfry seemed a little perfunctory.
(I have my own prejudices about the Figaro role -- if ever there
was a place in opera for a no-holds-barred, over-the-top, gonzo
performance, this is it.)

That's it.  You see, even the inexperienced have opinions.  (And
I do feel you all need to hear about opera on that other North
American coast.)


The L.A. Opera 1997-98 Season

Fedora . . . . . . . . Sept. 3-20, 1997
With Placido Domingo and Maria Ewing, conducted by
Edward Downes.  La Scala production.

La Boheme . . . . . . . . Sept. 6-24, 1997
With Inva Mula, Ana Maria Martinez, Rodney Gilfry,
Greg Fedderly, and Richard Bernstein.  Evelino Pido

Florencia en el Amazonas . . . . . . . . Oct. 5-18, 1997
With Sheri Greenawald (LA debut), Rodney Gilfry,
Gabor Andrasy, Greg Fedderly, and Suzanna Guzman.
Roderick Brydon conducts.

Countess Maritza . . . . . . . . Nov. 22 - Dec. 7, 1997
With Ashley Putnam, Kevin Anderson, Constance
Hauman, and Gert Henning-Jensen.  Santa Fe Opera's
John Crosby conducts.

Salome . . . . . . . . Jan. 15-31, 1998
With Hildegard Behrens (LA debut), Tom Fox (LA debut),
Timothy Mussard, Helga Dernesch, and Kurt Streit.
Richard Hickox conducts.

The Magic Flute . . . . . . . . Feb. 13 - March 1, 1998
With Gwendolyn Bradley, Greg Fedderly, Sally Wolf,
Jaakko Ryhaenen, and Wolfgang Holzmair (as
Papageno).  Julius Rudel conducts.  Set design by
Gerald Scarfe.

Il Trovatore . . . . . . . . April 25 - May 13, 1998
With Carol Vaness, Vladimir Bogachov (Manrico),
Jorma Hynninen, and Nina Terentieva (Azucena).
Gabriele Ferro conducts.

Samuel Ramey in Recital . . . . . . . . Feb. 12, 1998
With Warren Jones, piano.

For subscription info or a brochure, call
(213) 972-8001, Mon-Sat, 10 am - 6 pm.
Joe Schallan in not affiliated with the L.A. Opera!


Joe Schallan
[log in to unmask] (professional)
[log in to unmask] (personal)
Glendale, Arizona  USA

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