Tobias Picker’s ‘Thérèse Raquin’ has local premiere at Long Beach Opera
What would opera do without tales of adultery, murder and revenge?
A new ‘Magic’ for Mozart’s opera
Opera director Barrie Kosky didn’t like Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” when he first saw it at age 10. Mozart’s Singspiel — a genre of opera characterized by spoken dialogue, along with singing — was a big hit in 1791, and the composer himself goofed around on stage during some of the performances. Ideally, given its broad comedy and fantastical characters, the opera should be able to engage kids.
“I have been attending opera since I was 7 years old,” Kosky, artistic director of the experimental Komische Oper, said from Berlin, where he was preparing a new German production of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” for the company. But “The Magic Flute” didn’t appeal, Kosky said. “I found it boring and not funny.”
Now 46, Kosky said he came to appreciate the opera as he got older, which led him to explore fresh ways of conjuring its magic for a new generation — a magic that, for him, had been tamped down by an awkward and talky libretto.
Kosky began by cutting all of the dialogue, reconfiguring his production by using elements drawn from silent film. “The Magic Flute,” which premiered last spring to sold-out audiences at the Komische Oper Berlin, will have its American premiere at the L.A. Opera on Nov. 23. The five evening and two matinee performances run through Dec. 15 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Kosky’s idea to reimagine the opera crystallized after he attended a performance by the alternative British theater company called 1927 — its name comes from the year of “The Jazz Singer,” the first feature-length talking picture. 1927 was co-founded in 2005 by director Suzanne Andrade and animator Paul Barritt and proved the perfect company to help develop Kosky’s silent film concept for “The Magic Flute.”
“Their work is witty, weird, grotesque, childish, profound and deeply moving,” Kosky said. “Like the opera.”
While Kosky was in Berlin shepherding “West Side Story” to its Nov. 24 opening — (he’s scheduled to attend the final matinee performance of “Flute” here) — Andrade has directed the Los Angeles rehearsals of “The Magic Flute.”
“His style is different from ours, but we shared a sense of humor — slightly dark and a bit silly,” Andrade said of Kosky during a rehearsal break. “And we were all into cartoons and silent films, which really helped.”
After agreeing to work on “The Magic Flute,” Andrade found she had second thoughts. “I watched a YouTube video of the Papageno-Papagena Duet done traditionally in a bird outfit and thought, ‘What have we agreed to do here?’ It was so hammy and awful. But these moments kept pushing us to come up with good ideas.”
Andrade said they were careful not to be too campy, silly or dark. “We didn’t impose our own vision on it,” she said. “We let it come from the music, characters and story. We borrowed heavily from early animation, comic books and graphic novels. Kids will love it because there’s such an element of spectacle.”
For example, the Queen of the Night (coloratura soprano Erika Miklósa) is portrayed as a huge angry spider.
Andrade added that using classic Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin gags also helps keep this “Flute” afloat. “But it’s done stylishly and as simply as possible,” she said. “They’re universal. One of the things Barrie said to us was, ‘I want this production to be loved by 8-year-olds to 80-year-olds.’ That was the challenge he set for us.”
The cast also faced its own challenges. For instance, the spoken dialogue is replaced with projected titles of text and colorful, inventive animations that force the singers to freeze and hold poses.
“As an opera singer, we’re trained to tell the story not only with our voices, but also with our entire bodies,” soprano Janai Brugger, who plays Pamina, said. “Since a lot of the film animation is helping to tell the story, as well, you want to be synchronized with what’s happening behind you on the screen.”
For tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who portrays Tamino, holding poses has been a fun part of Kosky’s unorthodox version of “Flute.” “My background includes working at an amusement park for several years as a singer and dancer,” Brownlee said, “so there were times we had to strike poses or use our body in certain ways.”
Christopher Koelsch, L.A. Opera’s president and CEO, said James Conlon, the company’s music director, was charmed by Kosky’s Berlin production. The score remains complete, with additional excerpts from two of Mozart’s Fantasias for Piano — K.475 and K.397 — used as interludes. Only a duet between two priests, about four pages, was cut from the Mozart original.
Koelsch said the awkward dialogue in traditional productions has always been the opera’s Achilles heel. But Kosky’s and 1927’s inventive and sensitive streamlining may make this a “Magic Flute” for people who think they don’t like “The Magic Flute.”
“Sometimes when you get into the second act, you can lose the forest for the trees,” Koelsch said, “but this production is so fleet of foot that people can’t believe how fast it goes by.”
Kosky, who was born in Melbourne, said his parents “always supported my love of music and theater.” He added: “There is a huge Jewish population in Australia. It’s not the South Pole.”
For Kosky, risk is part of the fun of being an opera director. Before he became artistic director of Komische Oper Berlin, he presented controversial shows in Australia, like “The Operated Jew” at the Gilgul Theater Company, which he founded.
“ ‘The Operated Jew’ was a vaudeville show exploring the theme of how the Jewish body manifests itself through Jewish self-hatred and anti-Semitism,” Kosky said. “I did a version of it in Vienna, home of Jewish self-hatred!”
Kosky’s Komische Oper plans include programming little-seen operettas by early 20th century Jewish composers, including Kurt Weill’s “Der Kuhhandel” and Paul Abraham’s “Ball im Savoy.”
“I can do anything I like at the Komische Opera,” Kosky said. “It is a fantastic playpen for me and my team. I would love to rework ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ sometime.”
Full of sound and fury: Bloch’s ‘Macbeth’ opera gets a rare airing
Ernest Bloch, the renowned 20th century Swiss-born American composer, wrote just one opera, “Macbeth,” and it has rarely been produced in the United States since its 1910 Paris premiere. Now, the Long Beach Opera is presenting the opera’s first U.S. staging since John Houseman’s 1973 production, at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro on June 15, 22 and 23.
Like Houseman’s “Macbeth,” which was presented at the Juilliard School in New York, the Long Beach Opera’s production of Bloch’s three-act adaptation of Shakespeare’s five-act play will be sung in English in a libretto rescored by the composer in the early 1950s from the French to fit the English dialogue.
It will feature baritone Nmon Ford in the title role, with soprano Suzan Hanson as the malevolently ambitious Lady Macbeth, tenor Doug Jones in the roles of Banquo, Duncan and Lennox, and baritone Robin Buck as Macduff. The Long Beach Camerata Singers will make up the chorus.
Although Bloch later became famous for his enduring Jewish-inspired works — “Schelomo” for cello and orchestra, the “Baal Shem Suite” and the “Sacred Service” —”Macbeth” shows him as a young composer absorbing the whirl of music around him, not only of Wagner and Mussorgsky, but of Debussy and Richard Strauss, as well.
Completed in 1906 when he was 26, Bloch’s “Macbeth” already shows a striking confidence and maturity, not least because the young composer was risking comparison with the other operatic “Macbeth” up to that time — Verdi’s, which premiered in 1847.
“It’s very impressive for a first and only opera,” said Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s music director, who is also stage director for this production.
“Bloch had a great sense of timing and a gift for building tension and suspense,” Mitisek said. “He knew how to use music and a wide vocal range to underscore and portray emotions.”
Mitisek especially admires the composer’s powerful handling of famous scenes like Macbeth’s dagger scene (“Art thou but/A dagger of the mind …?”) and the guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, memorable for lines like, “Out, damned spot!”
The conductor, who plans to use a Romantic-size orchestra of 40 or so musicians to convey Bloch’s very melodic, lush sound, added that even the orchestral interludes in “Macbeth” “carry an emotional charge.”
Because Bloch’s operatic version of Shakespeare’s narrative of witches, power struggles, murder and madness is heightened, Mitisek said it’s important to keep the focus around the two main characters. “Everything feeds into their thirst for power,” Mitisek said. “The play is like a Greek tragedy. The truth in it speaks to our time. We see these things happening over and over again.”
Mitisek, who is also general director of the Chicago Opera Theater, recently announced that that company will be giving performances of “Macbeth” in September 2014 at the city’s Harris Theater.
Although the Nobel Prize-winning French author Romain Rolland rated Bloch’s “Macbeth” highly in 1910, and, more recently, critic Andrew Porter called it the best opera based on a Shakespeare tragedy, Bloch didn’t write another.
“Bloch was not enamored of the intrigues and politics he observed in getting ‘Macbeth’ to the stage in Paris,” said David Z. Kushner, music professor emeritus at the University of Florida and author of “The Ernest Bloch Companion.”
Nonetheless, according to Kushner, between 1911 and 1918, Bloch worked on but did not complete a biblical opera, “Jezabel.” The sketches and drafts are in the Ernest Bloch Collection in the Library of Congress.
Ernest Bloch, second from left, with the cast of “Macbeth” in Rome, 1953. Photo courtesy of the Ernest Bloch Foundation
In his later years, Bloch, like Saul Bellow in literature, came to dislike being thought of as a Jewish artist, preferring to be seen in a more universal light. Bloch’s daughter, Suzanne, a renowned early music specialist who died in 2002, promoted her father’s legacy for years, often noting that his Jewish-inspired music, which amounted to less than one-third of his total output, was crowding out other major works.
Kushner agreed, citing Bloch’s five string quartets (“I wish they could find their way into the standard chamber music repertoire”), violin concerto, “Concerto Symphonique” (for piano and orchestra), “Sinfonia Breve,” the two violin sonatas and two concerti grossi as among the composer’s greatest accomplishments.
Bloch was the son of a cantor and not himself a practicing Jew, but he delved deeply into spiritual impulses. “It is the Jewish soul that interests me,” he wrote, “the complex, glowing, agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible … the sacred emotion of the race that slumbers far down in our soul.”
After he arrived in America in 1916, his “Jewish Cycle,” which includes “Three Jewish Poems,” the “Israel Symphony” and settings for voice and orchestra of Psalms 22, 114 and 137, made him famous. (Bloch became an American citizen in 1924.)
Kushner noted that Bloch’s” Jewish label” was also “cemented by the imprimatur of a Star of David with his initials, EB, encased within on the cover” of his scores.
Bloch’s grandson, Ernest Bloch II, 75, who plans to attend the opening of Long Beach Opera’s “Macbeth” on June 15, is taking up where his late Aunt Suzanne left off.
“My major purpose is to enlarge and extend the Bloch legacy,” he said by phone from Oregon. Ideally, he said, he would like to digitize all of his grandfather’s works to make them more available to the public.
Bloch was 21 when his grandfather died in 1959, and recalled visiting him many times at his home on the Oregon shore. “He loved America,” Bloch said. “He endured anti-Semitism and man’s inhumanity to man. When he got to New York, it was like coming to another planet.”
After a tumultuous, itinerant life, which included significant stints as the first director of the Cleveland Institute of Music and five years as director of the San Francisco Conservatory — Bloch’s students include George Antheil and Roger Sessions — Bloch finally fetched up on the shores of Agate Beach in Oregon.
The grandson observed that Bloch composed many of his finest works there, including most of his five rhythmically intense, brooding and meditative string quartets.
“When he settled in 1941 in the only home he ever owned, he finally got to a place where he could do what he was put on earth to do,” the younger Bloch said. “The later works were in many ways his best works.”
The composer also was once treated like a rock star. “He had one heck of an ego,” the grandson said.
But, he added, Bloch also had a softer side: “I got to know him in the 1940s, and when I contracted polio at age 5, he showed me the importance of patience.”
In “The Essential Canon of Classical Music,” Juilliard professor David Dubal said the composer “used his art to probe his psychological states,” calling him “an artist of lofty feeling, often with an agonized sense of suffering humanity.”
Bloch’s early score for “Macbeth” already embodies this sensibility. Moreover, Mitisek’s staging for Long Beach Opera’s production poses a question that tormented Bloch for most of his life. The audience, Mitisek said, will observe the opera from the left and right of the stage.
“The action will take place between them,” the conductor said. “Like watching voyeuristically, with everyone looking at it from different angles. All the characters, good and bad, are also parts of us we don’t let out. Have we learned how to become more human? One hopes.”
Israeli understudy takes Carmen role on opening night at Masada
An Israeli understudy for the role of Carmen, in the opera being performed at the foot of Masada, was thrust on stage opening night after the star lost her voice in the dry desert air.
Na’ama Goldman, 27, took over for international opera soloist Nancy Fabiola Herrera for the second act of opening night on June 8. The second Carmen, Italian Anna Malavesi, who was scheduled to perform in rotation with Herrera in the Israel Opera production, had been injured during an earlier rehearsal and was not ready to go on stage.
Goldman serves as the cover, or understudy, who stands in for the lead international soloists in rehearsals until they arrive from overseas for the dress rehearsals and performances.
Two days earlier, she had been called on at the last minute to take over for Malavesi during the dress rehearsal, the first time she had ever performed on the stage itself.
This is the third year that the Israel Opera has staged a performance at Masada.
Garcia Lorca’s art, death inspire genre-expanding opera
When Federico Garcia Lorca was a child, long before his ascension to the heights of Spanish literary circles, he idolized his mother’s gift for playing the piano. The young Garcia Lorca studied piano, hoping that he shared some of his mother’s talent, but Garcia Lorca would never become an influential musician. It was through the pen that he found his voice. Nevertheless, Garcia Lorca’s first works, with titles like “Nocturne” and “Sonata,” drew heavily upon his musical background, and throughout his short life, his poetry and prose would reflect an obsession with music and rhythm, with Beethoven and Chopin. So it seems natural that nearly a century later, a man who was inspired by Garcia Lorca’s words would turn his life into music.
When Osvaldo Golijov was a child growing up in La Plata, Argentina, he read Garcia Lorca’s plays and poems and found himself entranced. When the composer was commissioned to write an opera for the Tanglewood Music Center, in 2003, he turned back to his childhood hero for inspiration.
“I grew up with his poems and loved them, and also his plays, so they were a part of my life for as long as I can remember,” Golijov said in a phone interview from his home in Massachusetts.
“When looking for a subject for an opera, I realized that he [Garcia Lorca] had predicted his own death in his first serious play, ‘Mariana Pineda,’ and I thought together with David [Henry] Hwang, who wrote the libretto, that it would be a very dramatic and operatic idea.” And so, “Ainadamar” was born.
“Ainadamar,” meaning “Fountain of Tears” in Arabic, tells the story of Garcia Lorca’s life, and his death at the hands of the Falangists, through the eyes of the actress Margarita Xirgu, his onetime lover and colleague. “The idea is that the entire opera occurs while Margarita hears the ballad of Mariana Pineda, this folk ballad,” Golijov said. “And while she hears, she remembers her entire life together with Garcia Lorca, his death and so forth. It’s like a moment that explodes three times.”
Compacting the narrative was paramount to Golijov in constructing the piece. “The idea is that in music … you listen to a song that is three minutes, and within three minutes you can relive your entire life. That’s the power of music.”
Much has been written of Golijov’s casting a woman in the role of Garcia Lorca, but according to Golijov, it was more a matter of convenience than a conscious choice. “The truth is, there was not any ideological statement or anything; it was a very practical thing. I was commissioned by Tanglewood, and I was working on a different opera that was an all-women cast, and then things were not cooking, so I decided to contact David [Henry Hwang] and start a whole new project, but we were stuck with all women because the women had already been chosen,” Golijov said, laughing.
In fact, according to Golijov, the original idea was that Garcia Lorca wouldn’t even appear in “Ainadamar.” “The idea was to do an opera … about [Garcia] Lorca, but without [Garcia] Lorca. But, then I went to review the audition tapes for the young singers from Tanglewood, and I was really struck by Kelley O’Connor’s voice. … She had this incredibly mysterious and dark voice that was both a woman and a man. And I called David, and I said there’s this woman that actually sings in a very dangerous way. And he said, if you want to reconsider, we can have [Garcia] Lorca played by her.”
O’Connor’s performance was widely praised, and “Ainadamar” ended up winning two Grammy awards in 2006. This month, the work is being restaged by the Long Beach Opera as part of its 2012 season, again with a woman as Garcia Lorca, this time Peabody Southwell, who made her debut with the Long Beach opera in Leos Janácek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen.” “Ainadamar” will have its second of two performances in Long Beach on May 26.
If “Ainadamar” seems a natural choice of subject for a Spanish-speaking Jew who grew up idolizing Garcia Lorca, the piece that brought Golijov his first big international exposure would seem a much more puzzling piece for a man of his background to tackle: “The Passion of St. Mark.”
“It was clearly a very difficult choice for me, and my first reaction when asked to do it was ‘no,’ ” Golijov said. “But then I reconsidered.” The idea of challenging himself was appealing, but he had absolutely no idea where to start.
“I froze in fear for a couple of years, and then I remembered this great painting of Rembrandt’s, ‘Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem.’ My great-grandmother had a reproduction of the painting in her kitchen, and I always thought, looking at her face and looking at the painting, that Rembrandt had captured the Jewish soul in the truth that evaded every Jewish painter that I knew. And Rembrandt was not Jewish but was living among the Jews. I was not Christian, but I grew up among Christians in Argentina, so I said, well, obviously, I’m not Rembrandt, and I don’t have that talent, but if part of ‘The Passion’ would have a truth about Christianity that would be comparable to the truth about Judaism that Rembrandt’s paintings had, that would be a good enough reason for me to do it.”
Golijov’s work on “The Passion of St. Mark” brought him acclaim from around the world and opened up doors for him in the world of classical music. But for a man whose early work heavily reflected his Jewish upbringing, he never forgot his roots.
Asked whether he feels there’s such a thing as Jewish music, Golijov paused before answering.
“The problem with answering that question is that if I say yes, there’s such a thing as Jewish music, it will be misinterpreted, because people will immediately try to associate it with surface things in the music — does it sound like my bar mitzvah? But it’s not anything like that; it has to do with an attitude, with a perspective, with a point of view. It can be as diverse as Mahler and Gershwin, to Bernstein.”
Golijov, who spent several years in Israel studying at the Rubin Academy under Mark Kopytman in the 1980s, credits his experience in the Holy Land with much of his musical awakening. “It was like a second childhood. … I mean childhood as the time of discovery, not only of life, but also of music or whatever else will occupy you later in life.”
He said his time there was spent “discovering all the Sephardic music that I didn’t know in Argentina … most Jews there are Ashkenazi … but also the Arab music, the Christian music, and also the culture. This collision of civilizations was seminal in my life.”
The Jewishness of his own music is subtler. “It’s not noticeable when people look for those melodies or harmonies or rhythms, it’s noticeable because of the way in which things unfold,” Golijov said. “Jewish music is a point of view, it’s a way of experiencing the world that is translated into the music. It’s so diverse that it’s impossible to give a definition.”
Golijov said he often draws on ethnic music from around the globe for inspiration. “All those cultures are part of the human experience. If you think of us having a soul and the soul having a map, like the world has a map, that’s what I try to do. If I’m going to a melancholy region, what music aches [with] that melancholy better than any other? So I study it and I try to make it part of my palette.”
And unlike Garcia Lorca, who often felt more deeply connected to theater and music than writing, Golijov feels secure in his art. “There is something about music that transcends any need for explanation. I always feel that music is sort of a philosophy that’s understood without a need to read the book,” Golijov said. “Not all music is universal, but all good music is universal.”
“Ainadamar” will be performed by the Long Beach Opera on May 26.
“Ainadamar” will be performed by the Long Beach Opera on May 26. For more information, visit www.longbeachopera.org
Annie Leibovitz, Ed Asner, Shelly Berman, Lainie Kazan and Elliot Gould
SAT | NOVEMBER 15
Jack and Robin Firestone, an average American Jewish couple, were vacationing in Paris in 1997. Then tragedy struck — right before their eyes, a car carrying Princess Diana fatally crashed in a Paris tunnel. The Firestones have since written a book, “Chasing Diana,” about their tumultuous experience and their role in the ensuing investigation. “You never want to believe it was anything more than an accident, but the more we saw, we could not help believe that there’s something deeper here,” Robin said. “The inquest, the verdict, the book; it’s all closure for us. Now we’ll just let the reader decide.” Sat. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.belairfilmfestival.com.
You can lend a hand in the fight against cancer by playing a hand at the eighth annual Visions Israel Cancer Research Fund’s Monte Carlo Night. Dressed in chic evening attire, you can dance, bid on auction goodies, roll the dice in craps, take a chance on roulette and don your poker face in Texas Hold’em while feeling good that your money is going to the best hospitals, universities and cancer research institutions in Israel. Visions, the ambitious “next generation” of charitable organizations, will honor Rachael Tanenbaum and Benjamin Sternberg with its “Visionary of the Year Awards.” Sat. 8 p.m. $80 (before Nov. 14 at noon), $95 (thereafter). Petersen Automotive Museum, 6060 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 651-1200. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.westsidejcc.org.
SUN | NOVEMBER 16
Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews are a minority within a minority. The largely understudied cultures of Jews from Iraq, Syria, Georgia, Iran, Morocco and other Arab countries are the focus of an academic-minded conference, “Integrating Sephardi and Mizrachi Studies, Research and Practice,” co-sponsored by Hebrew ” target=”_blank”>http://www.huc.edu/sephardic/conference.
Going Metro is becoming all the rage in our eternally traffic-jammed city. Even ATID is hopping on the bandwagon with its Outdoors Metro Rail Art Tour — a sightseeing trip that takes you below ground to view the eclectic artwork in and around the Metro Rail system in Los Angeles. Knowledgeable guides will point out the works, tell you about the artists and provide insight into the communities they beautify. The tour, beginning at the Union Station Metro stop, will also provide a chance to try out the city’s burgeoning public transportation system — it ain’t New York, but it’s a start! Sun. 10:45 a.m. Free (members), $8 (guests). Metro Station at Historic Union Station, 900 Alameda St., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.aabgu.org.
The West Coast Jewish Theatre invites you to “An Evening of Stars!” The benefit show, starring Jewish theater favorites Ed Asner, Shelley Berman, Hal Linden and others, will enable the organization to continue producing quality theater that presents Jewish themes, traditions and ideas. Famous former host of “Let’s Make a Deal,” Monty Hall, will be the master of ceremonies at this grand evening of entertainment. Sun. 6:30 p.m. $150-$225. American Jewish University, Gindi Auditorium, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (323) 650-6973. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>relationship with the courageous German businessman who saved the lives of hundreds of Jews, at “Little Leyson — The Youngest Schindler’s List Survivor Tells His Story.” Mon. 8 p.m. $15-$20. Hyatt Westlake Plaza Hotel, 880 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake Village. (818) 991-0991. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.
WED | NOVEMBER 19
Painting and poetry meld together beautifully in Marcia Falk’s new exhibition, “Inner East: Illuminated Poetry and Blessings.” Falk, author of “The Song of Songs: Love Lyrics from the Bible” and “The Book of Blessings: New Jewish ” target=”_blank”>http://www.uclahillel.org.
THU | NOVEMBER 20
“M*A*S*H” and “Ocean’s Eleven” star Elliot Gould will be honored at the Laugh Factory during a special night for Hillel 818. The comedy-filled evening will feature Elon Gold, Bret Ernst and The Skylar Brothers. Proceeds from the event will help support Hillel programs at Cal State Northridge, and Pierce and Valley colleges. Thu. 7 p.m. (VIP reception) 8 p.m. (show) $10-$25; $75 (VIP). The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 887-5901 or (818) 886-5101. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jmcla.org.
What can the Jewish community expect from our next president? Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay will host Jonathan Adelman, a professor at University of Denver’s Joseph Korbel School of International Studies and author of “The Rise of Israel: A History of a Revolutionary State,” for a special Shabbat service that will address this and many other questions. Adelman will speak on “What Does Our New President Mean for Israel and the Middle East?” If you’re not already impressed with Adelman’s credentials, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice can vouch for him: She was his former doctoral student. Fri. 6:15 p.m. Free. Congregation Ner Tamid, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 377-6986.
Master of horror Cronenberg ‘Flies’ into opera
Director David Cronenberg has created some of the most viscerally repulsive and disturbing images ever on film — the most famous of them “marked by shocking images of the body made fantastic,” The New York Times says.
In his 1979 film, “The Brood,” a psychotic woman gives birth to mutant children; in “Scanners,” humans with mind-controlling powers make peoples’ heads explode; in “Videodrome,” a VCR gapes like a vaginal slit in a character’s stomach; and in 2007’s “Eastern Promises,” linoleum knives slash Viggo Mortensen’s nude body.
This month, from Sept. 7-27, the modern master of celluloid horror will bring his cringe-worthy visions to a new and perhaps unexpected venue: the Los Angeles Opera and the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Cronenberg will direct the United States premiere of the opera based on what is perhaps his best-known work: his 1986 remake of the 1958 film, “The Fly,” which in turn was based on a 1957 George Langelaan short story.
Like Cronenberg’s film, the opera should be both gut churning and heartbreaking — the saga of a scientist, Seth Brundle (Daniel Okulitch), who accidentally splices his own DNA with that of an insect and morphs into the vomit-spewing “Brundle-Fly.”
The opera reunites Cronenberg with three-time Oscar-winning composer Howard Shore (“The Lord of the Rings”) and playwright-screenwriter David Henry Hwang (“Yellow Face”), who all collaborated on the film version of Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play, “M. Butterfly,” in 1993.
Shore’s composition, performed by a 75-piece orchestra and conducted by the opera’s general director, Placido Domingo, echoes the late romantic qualities of Shore’s cited influences, Richard Wagner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Bernard Herrmann. As the doomed scientist Brundle descends into an arthropodan hell, the lush elements of the music give way to a harsher orchestration.
If the music and libretto reflect the predilections of Shore and Hwang, respectively, the Brundle-Fly costume, designed by the director’s sister Denise, is pure Cronenberg — which means possibly the most hideous, slimy creature ever to appear (and sing) in an opera house. The production design — including Brundle’s teleportation pods — is by Oscar-winner Dante Ferretti (“Sweeny Todd”), who is also making his opera debut.
“The Fly: The Opera” — which was commissioned by Los Angeles Opera — received a standing ovation in March at its debut at the Theatre du Châtelet in Paris; audiences reportedly loved the production, though reviews proved mixed. French critics were particularly harsh, calling the opera “boring” and “unimaginative,” according to New York magazine — which nevertheless ran a photograph of the hairy antihero and queried, “Wouldn’t you go see that?”
Cronenberg is part of an ongoing trend of movie directors to work with the Los Angeles Opera; also on the program this season, William Friedkin and Woody Allen will direct one-acts of Puccini’s trio, “Il Trittico” (Sept. 6-26). (Allen said a relative nagged him into the endeavor: “I was very reluctant, because I don’t want to disappoint everybody, which I’m sure I will,” he told the Village Voice.)
As Cronenberg transformed “The Fly” into an opera, he drew, as he often does, on his preoccupation with the Jewish existentialist author Franz Kafka — especially Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” in which a man morphs into “a monstrous vermin” and thereafter finds himself reviled and ostracized.
While hardly reviled nor ostracized himself, Cronenberg said he has felt himself to be a kind of “double-outsider” as an atheist and existentialist. He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Toronto, but in a home where there was no religious upbringing or content; he did not attend Hebrew school, and he did not become bar mitzvah; his parents were staunchly secular, and, he added, he did not believe in a deity from an early age.
“The school that I went to in Toronto was about 95 percent Jewish,” he recalled. “And my Jewish friends would talk to me about their experiences in Hebrew school, and that was interesting but foreign to me.”
As for the iconic grotesquerie that would become a hallmark of his work, he said: “Some of the things that are horrific are quite beautiful to me. It’s the entomologist in me that finds insects and the alien life forms that we find on earth, that many people find disgusting and repulsive, I find are incredibly fascinating and beautiful. That’s one of the reasons that those things are disturbing, because they’re attractive at the same time. I think that’s why people are freaked out by my movies, like ‘Crash’ and ‘Dead Ringers,’ because there’s attractiveness to things that are considered dangerous or politically incorrect. The [horror] genre itself deals with primordial things and its view of death tends to be extremely physical, and as an atheist existentialist that seems like the truth.”
Cronenberg has known Shore, who is also Jewish, since the two were teenagers in Toronto; they have collaborated as director and composer more than a dozen times, starting with “The Brood” in 1979, “The Fly” and as recently as “Eastern Promises.” It was Shore who initially suggested Cronenberg turn “The Fly” into an opera, which, Shore has said, “seemed like a classic story for opera” with its tangled relationships involving Brundle, his girlfriend, Veronica, and her ex-lover.
Cronenberg said the idea of a “Fly” opera had never previously occurred to him: “I had mixed feelings at first … I was not interested in remaking a movie of mine — or rewriting it. But Howard said, ‘Let’s get David Henry Hwang to write it — it’ll be different.'”
The story, Cronenberg added, is “an interesting combination of science fiction and emotional intensity. It’s a love triangle, basically, and when I made the movie I thought it had a power that would have made it difficult to make as a straight drama. You have two attractive, eccentric people who fall in love — one of them, Brundle, [essentially] contracts a horrible wasting disease and gradually deteriorates until his lover helps him commit suicide — and that’s the story.
“If you did it as a straight drama it would be very depressing and hard to take. The fact that it was protected by the genre of horror and sci-fi suddenly made it quite possible to make that movie and have it be very popular and yet not lose any of the emotional impact or resonances.”
The opera version reflects the film in terms of its structure, but the libretto is original. At one point, Brundle sings to Veronica: “I see myself, I see something new, something hideous, unspeakable. A fly in the pod, confused the computer. Two genetic patterns it spliced us together, mated us, me and the fly.”
Cronenberg created the character of Brundle when he wrote the screenplay for “The Fly”; the chance to rework the story was his condition for agreeing to direct the film. Although Cronenberg said it was not a conscious decision to make the film’s scientist Jewish, the casting of actor Jeff Goldblum in the role did give the character a definite ethnicity. “Brundle became quite Jewish without it being pushed in any particular way,” Cronenberg recalled.
The Jewish sensibility (and the Kafkaesque paranoia) is far more blatant in Cronenberg’s four-minute film, “At the Suicide of the Last Jew in the World at the Last Cinema in the World,” which premiered last year at Cannes (along with “Eastern Promises”). He envisioned the movie when the Cannes Film Festival asked him, along with some 30 other directors, to create a short on the occasion of the festival’s 60th anniversary.
“At the Suicide of the Last Jew” is a satire, with Cronenberg sitting in the bathroom of the last remaining cinema, pointing a revolver at different parts of his head as a cable news network covers the event live. As the last Jew ponders the best angle for his fatal gunshot, newscasters comment casually to each other about the demise of the man and the medium: “It’s been a long time coming. You know, they say the Jews invented the movies, and we know the horrific cost of that little creation.”
The short, which Nextbook.com calls “a raised third finger,” is described by the director as a response to worldwide anti-Semitism and, in particular, political parties and cultures that advocate the annihilation of Jews.
“When you’re hearing calls from the leader of Hezbollah saying that ‘it’s our goal to kill every Jew in the world,’ of course I take that personally,” Cronenberg said. “Then it makes me think, ‘What if that was happening, what if we were down to the last Jew in the world? Here he is, about to kill himself, so that will be it. What is the attitude of the world as reported by the international media?'”
The movie isn’t specifically about French anti-Semitism, he insists. “You could just as well say it’s a slap at America or, in fact, my suggestion that the world might be quite indifferent to the disappearance of the Jews,” he says.
Even with this short film, Cronenberg admitted to having lived up to his reputation as a master of the disturbing: “A critic who saw it at a screening said she never expected a four-minute film could shock a Cannes audience, which is certainly one of the most jaded in the world.”
The U.S premiere of “The Fly: The Opera” will run for six performances only at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from Sept. 7 – Sept. 27.
Cronenberg’s 1986 film of “The Fly” will be shown at the Arclight Hollywood Cinerama Dome on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m. A question-and-answer session with David Cronenberg and Howard Shore will follow the screening.
Cronenberg’s short film, “At the Suicide of the Last Jew,” is viewable at www.nextbook.com.
Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks August 23 – 29: Benny Goodman, opera, magic and more
SAT | AUGUST 23
Today, the importance of recalling the horrors and magnitude of the Holocaust are more important than ever. The children at LA Opera’s annual summer camp (photo,below) will present Hans Krasa’s moving piece, “Brundibár.” The enchanting tale of tolerance and hope is a work that is historically significant because it had been ” target=”_blank”>http://www.laopera.com.
Here’s how to market a charity event: Just plug the words “fantasy” and “illusion” into the title. And that’s exactly what you’ll get during “A Night of Fantasy and Illusion” hosted by The Guardians of the Los Angeles Jewish Home for the Aging. Illusionists and fire-eaters will sweep through the mysterious Houdini estate, entertaining guests as they drink, dine and dance while beats spun by the Playboy mansion’s resident DJ wake up the neighbors in the Hollywood Hills. All this and a good cause! Sat. 8 p.m. $150 (women), $200 (men). The Harry Houdini estate, 2400 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Hollywood Hills. (310) 479-2468. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.sababaparties.com
Women always worry about guests. Will there be enough food? Will they like it? Oy vey! Enter Abigail, the protagonist of Mike Leigh’s middle-class comedy, “Abigail’s Party,” who forces food and cigarettes on her guests to cover up that her dinner party and her marriage are falling apart. Sat. 8 p.m. Through Oct. 12. $15-$45. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>in a showcase of musical flavors. Expressing the cultural diversity of Jews in the Diaspora, guitarist Adam del Monte joins Cantor Marcelo Gindlin, harpist Marcia Dickstein and the Mariachi Divas for a musical feast in the outdoor air. Sun. 7:30 p.m. $25-$36. The Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood. (323) 461-3673. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.kreativekidsla.com.
We’ve all heard the horror story where the happily-in-love betrothed couple get to the fateful aisle and someone gets the urge to run. “Lovers and Other Strangers” tells such a tale, set in the 1960s against the backdrop of women’s lib. The story examines the impact of the women’s movement on marriage, work and family — with the unfortunate groom having to bear the brunt of a new and unfamiliar world. 6 p.m. (Sun.), 8 p.m. (Fri.-Sat.). $20. Through Sept. 28. Theatre 68, 5419 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-7827. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.cerritoscenter.com.
TUE | AUGUST 26
Nessah mixes fun with philanthropy at its “Glamour Summer Night” party at one of the hippest clubs in West Hollywood. Sam Nazarian, the business brain behind some of Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan’s favorite haunts, is donating his club to raise money for Nessah Young Professionals and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. Twenty and thirtysomethings are invited to dress to the nines and blow out summer with a bang. Tue. 8:30 p.m. $50 (presale), $75 (door). AREA, 643 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 631-1000. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Social Circle at Steven S. Wise Temple, why not learn a bit more about your options? Renowned plastic surgeon Dr. George Sanders will answers all the nitty-gritty questions of getting sliced and diced to look oh so nice. And even if you choose not to go under the knife, who can say no to a night of food, drinks and some laughs? Wed. 7-10 p.m. $15 (members), $20 (guests). Hershenson Hall, Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 204-1240. email@example.com.
THU | AUGUST 28
(FILM AND TELEVISION FESTIVAL)
What do you get when you mix Israeli pilots, a star-crossed and love-struck Nazi-Jewish couple and Plato? A taste of the emerging talent at the August Sun Film and Television Festival. Director Robert J. Locke and August Sun Productions looked for movies, TV pilots and shorts with two things in common: quality and promoting world peace. Today, when we struggle with the idea of peace both in the Middle East and around the world, maybe the perfect solution is relaxing and enjoying a show. Thu. 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Also Fri. $25 (half pass for screenings only), $50 (full pass for screenings and seminars). The Crest Theatre, 1262 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. (818) 284-9084, (310) 474-7866. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.bcc-la.org.
–Jina Davidovich contributed to this article
Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks August 9-15: Tisha B’Av, music, opera, comedy and Brad
SAT | AUGUST 9
The rabbinical prohibition of kol isha
SUN | AUGUST 10
A multifaith gathering will commemorate Tisha B’Av with a traditional service and a provocative film screening. “The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America,” by filmmaker Gabriela Bohm, chronicles the plight of Crypto-Jews from South America, who repressed their Jewish identities for centuries (largely as a result of the Inquisition). Woven through the personal stories of six individuals
TUE | AUGUST 12
Thanks to a brilliant marketing campaign that takes advantage of its audience’s online socializing addiction, you can now see the high school docudrama, “American Teen,” in theaters, “friend” and chat with the cast of real life characters on Facebook, hang out with them at one of the American Teen Nights and win all kinds of “American Teen” goodies
” title=”The God Blogger”>The God Blogger, will be holding the reins of “The Young Jewish Vote,” where Republican Jewish Coalition Director Larry Greenfield will face Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Pasadena) in a battle to win the hearts and educated minds of young Jewish professionals between the ages of 21 and 39. Come for the fireworks and stay for the martini-infused, dessert-laden afterglow. Sponsored by ATID, HIAS and ZOA. Thu. 7 p.m. $10 (advance), $15 (at the door). Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3244. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.skirball.org.
Jina Davidovich contributed to this article
Mitisek and Co. expand boundaries of opera with puppets, poetry and ‘Frankenstein!!’
Critics have called the Long Beach Opera (LBO) “daring,” “unconventional” and “innovative.” While all those are accurate, another word that perhaps better describes the company is “playful.”
Still, one wonders how the seasoned, classically trained LBO musicians reacted when their artistic and general director, Andreas Mitisek, unveiled a box of plastic toy instruments. The toy saxophones and tiny flutes will be played by band members as part of contemporary composer H. K. Gruber’s bravura work for orchestra and singing narrator, “Frankenstein!!” Set to witty and often wacky poems by H.C. Artmann, the piece will be presented at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center March 14-16.
“It’s really funny to get a box of toy instruments,” Mitisek said. “But our orchestra really appreciates what we do, because they get to play what they don’t get to play anywhere else. They know they will have some challenges and new music.”
Described as “a ‘pan-demonium’ for chansonnier and orchestra,” “Frankenstein!!” makes up the second half of a concert that also features Richard Strauss’ 1897 melodrama for voice and piano, “Enoch Arden,” based on a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.
Actor Michael York performs the demanding vocal parts in both works. Luckily, he clearly has a fine sense of humor — he played Basil Exposition in all three “Austin Powers” movies and worked with Richard Lester in the 1970s.
According to Mitisek, who is Viennese, the musicians will perform “Frankenstein!!” on multiple instruments in Gruber’s 12-piece ensemble version — scored for strings, piano, brass and woodwind players. Simon Rattle and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra gave his original version for large orchestra a whirl in 1978, with, according to music critic Paul Griffiths, Gruber as soloist in a “vampirical vocalizing of horror-comic ditties.”
If all this sounds a bit “out there,” even by LBO standards, last month the company staged Ricky Ian Gordon’s song cycle “Orpheus and Euridice” at the Belmont Plaza Olympic pool in Long Beach, with the pool setting re-imagined as the River Styx ï¿½”entrance to the underworld. And last year’s haunting, claustrophobic production of Grigori Frid’s monodrama for soprano, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” took place in parking garages at Sinai Temple and in Lincoln Park.
So given this history, maybe staging Gruber’s eerie comic-book world is a return to earth for Mitisek and the LBO. At least the work is being presented in a theater with properly cushioned seats, not on metal bleachers.
But did we mention the puppets? Strange and unique as Gruber’s work was conceived to be, leave it to Mitisek to kick it up another notch by adding the Long Beach-based Rogue Artists, a group specializing in masks and puppetry.
Gruber’s piece is not normally performed with puppets, but that didn’t restrain Mitisek’s own wacky imagination.
“Gruber calls it ‘instrumental theatre,'” Mitisek said. “I think it’s an open art form, and it’s also something very Long Beach Opera-like, expanding the boundaries of whatever we do.”
So the conductor turned to the Rogue Artists Ensemble. In 2005, the group collaborated with Opera Pacific on a story about puppets that interact with human stagehands while performing Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle. The title: “Das PÃ¼ppet.” One of their more recent projects is an original adaptation of “Mr. Punch,” a dark graphic novel. “They have a vein for the macabre,” Mitisek said. “They are not regular puppeteers — their aim is not little-kid shows.”
Tyler Stamets, the 27-year-old associate artistic director of Rogue Artists, agrees. While his favorite parts of the show are “the toy instruments that have a crazy, whimsical feel that lends itself to the type of work we do,” he says “Frankenstein!!” is not for kids.
“It’s great for teenagers of the ‘Simpsons’ generation,” he said. “But it’s not sweet and sunshiny.”
Readers can sample some of Artmann’s deceptively simple poems “after children’s rhymes” online.
Mitisek also sees the work as appealing to adults.
“Being childlike is something to keep in our lives,” the 43-year-old conductor said. “[Gruber’s] piece appeals to the sophisticated adult in us and also to the fun part that we, hopefully, still keep from our childhood.”
For Mitisek, staying “young at heart and mind” is crucial. As for Rogue Artists, they don’t have to “stay” young; they still are. And it was Artmann’s comic-book references to Batman, Dracula and Superman, among others, that resonated most with them. Founded in 2003 at UC Irvine, the company came together when Stamets met Patrick Rubio, one of the two lead designers for the “Frankenstein!!” project; the other is veteran puppeteer, Joyce Hutter.
“We’ve been heavily influenced by that [comic-book] style,” Stamets said, “and this is a great chance for us to put some of that work on stage. Andreas has given us free rein to build on these ideas to make it all come to life.” Indeed, to create this Frankenstein, the Rogue Artists, like the LBO, are “pushing it to the extreme.” They will be using everything from shadow puppetry projected onto large screens to 10-feet tall puppets. Spoiler alert: one of the culminating theatrical moments in “Frankenstein!!” shows how the monster comes together out of objects scattered about the stage.
Of the several different styles of puppetry the Ensemble will present, one is Bunraku, an early 19th century Japanese art in which a puppet is so large it requires three people to manipulate it.
“It’s not just one person with his hand in a sock,” Stamets said. “We work with puppets on the scale of Walt Disney and Cirque du Soleil, but without the budget.”
According to Mitisek, the composer’s title, “Frankenstein!!” may be a bit misleading, since only one of the poems is set to music about that fabled 19th century monster. “But they all have that flavor,” Mitisek said, “a poem about Little Miss Dracula and comic-strip heroes. It’s all a little nightmarish and scary.”
One of the key elements in any production of “Frankenstein!!” is the “chansonnier,” in this case actor Michael York, who will also be intoning Strauss’s tragic story of “Enoch Arden” in the show’s curtain-raiser with pianist Lisa Sylvester.
Trailer for the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, May 8
Sun., March 9
Barrage in “High Strung.” The young, hip cast of Barrage, a contemporary string ensemble, will dish out high-energy virtuosity in their newest show. The international cast features six violinists/vocalists, a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist who will present an amalgam of music, song and dance with a diverse fusion of cultures and musical styles. Join in on the spine-tingling fiddle-fest. 2 p.m. $35 (adults), $20 (17 and under), $10 (Pepperdine students). Pepperdine University Smothers Theatre, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (310) 506-4522. http://www.barrage.org.
Tue., March 11
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The renowned dance company, founded by a giant of American dance, comes to Orange County for a program that incorporates gospel, jazz and popular music, modern dance and ballet. Highlights will include Ailey’s masterpiece “Revelations,” which has been performed on hundreds of stages around the world and has been received with awe and delight since its debut in 1960. As an added bonus, ticket holders are invited to a free performance preview with a member of the Ailey company, one hour before the show. 7:30 p.m. Through March 16. $25-$85. Orange County Performing Arts Center, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787. http://www.ocpac.org.
“Lessons From Bernard Rudofsky.” In a day and age where body image is the craze, an exhibition of the work of late Austrian-born Bernard Rudofsky will display innovative concepts of the body and fashion in an exhibit presented by the Getty Center Research Institute. Rudofsky, an architect, designer and critic, believed that people in Western society lost their spontaneity to design liberating, not restricting, clothing. Devoting his life to exposing the West to foreign architecture paradigms and unfamiliar customs, this breakthrough artist wrote nine books and more than 100 articles on the subject. View Rudofsky’s work accompanied by a 296-page catalogue with contributions from several talented artists. Tue.-Sun. Through June 8. $8 (parking). The Getty Center, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-7300. http://www.getty.edu/.
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” It’s difficult to separate the dashing Johnny Depp from Sweeney Todd’s character, after having seen the recent film. Although Depp won’t be on stage at this show, you can still have an up-close-and-personal look at the eerie character in an exciting theatrical performance based on the 19th-century legend of a London barber driven to madness after a judge takes his wife and child away. Sweeney Todd, played by David Hess, plots his revenge with Mrs. Lovett, played by Judy Kaye, who conjures up surprisingly tasty meat pies infused with a secret ingredient. Adapted from a book by Hugh Wheeler, the production’s music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim with musical orchestrations by Sarah Travis. 8 p.m. Through April 6. $30-$90. Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. For tickets and additional show times, call (213) 628-2772. http://www.centertheatregroup.org.
Fri., March 14
“Beaufort.” The Israeli war film “Beaufort” stirred up scads of excitement this year with its Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination. Although the film didn’t win, it won many people’s hearts. Based on a novel by Ron Leshem, “Beaufort” was directed by Joseph Cedar and recreates the events prior to the Israeli troop withdrawal from the Beaufort military base in Southern Lebanon. Led by 22-year-old commander Liraz Liberti, played by Oshri Cohen, the small Israeli cohort of troops become weary of their mission when fellow soldiers are killed and injured. The film takes an in-depth look at the fear and drudgery of soldiers’ daily routines and examines the country’s ambivalence toward the 18-year presence in Lebanon. Playing in two locations: Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; and Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For tickets and show times, call (310) 274-6869 or (818) 981-9811. http://www.laemmle.com/index.php.
Tori Spelling at Barnes and Noble. Admit it, you have a tinge of curiosity about how Aaron Spelling’s daughter is prolonging her 15 minutes of fame. Since playing Donna Martin on “Beverly Hills, 90210,” the high-school soap-drama that started it all, Spelling has appeared on various reality TV series, wed and borne children and endured a public tussle with her mother over her alleged exclusion from her late father’s estate. Now, Tori Spelling is telling the story like it is with her new memoir, “sTORI Telling,” and today she’ll appear to sign books you can place alongside old “90210” posters. Just don’t expect her to talk about her “poor little rich girl” reputation. 7:30 p.m. Book purchase required for signing. Barnes and Noble at The Grove, 189 Grove Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 525-0366. http://www.bn.com.
“Strauss Meets Frankenstein” at the Long Beach Opera. In a dramatic and different double-bill, actor Michael York will perform Tennyson’s epic poem “Enoch Arden,” about the love and loss that ensues when three friends find themselves romantically entwined. The heartbreak of destiny is deepened by Richard Strauss’ rich, evocative score. The performance changes tone when the audience enters the wild, macabre underworld of Frankenstein where rodents, vampires, werewolves, John Wayne and Superman coalesce in a real monster of a musical. 8 p.m. Also March 15 and 16. $45-$95. Long Beach Performing Arts Center, Center Theatre, 300 E. Ocean Boulevard, Long Beach. (562) 432-5934. http://www.longbeachopera.org.
Pasadena ArtWeekend. During a fun-filled weekend featuring more than 20 exhibitions, performances and cultural activities, Pasadena will host a comprehensive celebration of fine arts, visual arts, poetry, spoken word, music, storytelling and theater. Several cultural institutions will open their doors for “ArtNight,” offering a free peek at their collections. “ArtTalk” features a variety of performances, and the weekend is rounded off with “ArtMarket,” a design open market focusing on the work of students, faculty and alumni from Art Center College of Design and Pasadena City College, which will be available for sale. Sponsored by the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs with the Arts & Culture Commission. ArtWeekend will take place at various venues and times over the course of three days, and all events are free and open to the public. For more information, call (800) 307-7977 or visit http://www.pasadenaartweekend.com.
Gypsy Kings at Cerritos Center. Starting on the shores of the French Cote d’Azur, the Gypsy Kings fused South American rumba with fiery Spanish flamenco and their colorful blend of rhythms, leading to international success and recognition on the World Music scene. Tonight they “cast their spell” for a Southern California audience. 8 p.m. $45-$100. (562) 467-8818.
Opera: Restoring Nazi-suppressed ‘Recovered Voices’
When James Conlon premiered the “Recovered Voices” program at Los Angeles Opera last year, the Los Angeles Times noted the “evangelical zeal” with which he conducted works that had been suppressed by the Nazis — Conlon’s musical mission since discovering the vast (and largely forgotten) repertoire in the 1990s. “We presented the work of seven composers to offer a glimpse of the immensity and the variety of the music — and we had a standing ovation even at intermission,” Conlon said between rehearsals for the next “Voices” concerts, which will be performed Feb. 17 through March 8.
“The response was astonishing when you consider that with the exception of several people, nobody in the audience had ever heard a single note of the program. It gave me such immense gratification to see the music had hit its mark.”
With almost $5 million raised by philanthropist Marilyn Ziering, and hopes to double that sum, Conlon will launch “Voices'” second season with its first fully staged production: a double bill of one-acts featuring “Der Zwerg” (“The Dwarf”) by Alexander Zemlinsky, who died in obscurity in New York after fleeing the Nazis; and “Der Zerbrochene Krug” (“The Broken Jug”) by Viktor Ullmann, who died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz in 1944.
While some of the suppressed music has enjoyed limited revivals in Europe in recent years, the United States is behind the curve. “The Broken Jug” has never before been seen in this country, and “The Dwarf” has been staged only rarely. Ziering hopes to raise up to $400,000 more to produce a DVD of the production, which could be distributed to opera houses around the nation.
“This project is not designed to be tokenism, to be presented for a year or two,” Conlon said in his second-floor office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where posters and CDs representing the once-suppressed music are prominently displayed.
“The music is something I want to see become a permanent feature at every musical institution in America. And the first step is showing that it can be done in a major opera company, and that it can be done successfully.”
Conlon — who has conducted “The Dwarf” in France and Italy — selected this year’s program with an eye toward filling the house. “I thought ‘The Dwarf’ was the way to start, because I believe it is one of the great operas of the 20th century — that’s how strongly I feel,” he said. “It’s a tearjerker worthy of any Puccini opera, and I’ve never seen it fail with an audience. I’ve seen it move people to such a degree that they came back to see it three or four times.
The lushly romantic opera — based on Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Birthday of the Infanta” — tells of a captured dwarf who is given to a princess as a birthday present.
“With his poetic and humane soul, he naively believes himself as beautiful physically as his intentions,” Conlon wrote in the program notes. “He does not realize that those who see him are mocking him.”
After the infanta spurns him, he looks in a mirror for the first time, realizes he is physically hideous — and dies.
The opera was in part inspired by Zemlinsky’s conflicted feelings about his own short stature and unattractive appearance: When he completed the opera he was still suffering from the breakup of an affair with his former student, Alma Schindler, who had remarked upon his ugliness in her diaries and left him for another composer, Gustav Mahler. The seeds of what would become “The Dwarf” began in 1909, when Zemlinsky asked his colleague, Franz Schreker, to write him “a text on the tragedy of an ugly man.”
Conlon selected Ullman’s “The Broken Jug” for the double bill because the comic opera contrasts so well with “The Dwarf.” The brisk political satire centers upon a trial conducted by a judge who is himself the culprit. “The opera can be understood as a wry and witty commentary on the corruption of the Nazi regime,” Conlon said.
Ullman completed the work just before he was to be shipped off to Terezin: “It was the last piece he finished after he had received a reprieve of several months,” Conlon said. “He used that time to put the music he had in order, and to send it to different [addresses] for safekeeping. He even wrote a sort of last testament, telling people what to do with the music in such a way that it would not be lost.”
“The Broken Jug” was sent to Prague, where it remained, unplayed, for decades.
The 57-year-old Conlon — who grew up Catholic — has been a champion of such music since hearing a piece by Zemlinsky on the radio in Cologne in 1992. He began performing and recording music by persecuted composers, often earning laudatory reviews. But a few critics have questioned whether some of the music is deserving of a revival, or whether it is the tragic story of the Holocaust — rather than the work itself — that has riveted audiences.
Conlon bristles at the suggestion.
“I would never present a piece unless I was utterly convinced of its artistic merit,” he said. “I’m not in the business of memorialization, however noble that is. This is not about finding every scrap of paper that was written by a victim and performing it. It’s about the quality and the importance of these composers.”
We’ve written what we think is the history of 20th century music without knowing a whole body of work that was overlooked,” he continued. “I’m not saying that every piece is the equivalent of the ‘Mona Lisa.’ But I am saying that judgment has to be suspended until people really digest this music as a body of work, and not after a single listening of a single piece.”
Conlon hopes to present one such opera per season, with Walter Braunfels’ rarely performed “The Birds” (based on Aristophanes’ play), slated for April 2009, and Franz Schreker’s “Die Gezeichneten” (“The Stigmatized”) planned for 2010.
Stark locations make perfect sets for ‘Anne Frank’ opera production
Few subjects resonate like the story of Anne Frank and her diary. The tale is familiar to many, yet even those who know little about the young writer’s life equate her name with courage in the face of grim reality. Beyond the much-translated diary, published in various incarnations (original, unexpurgated, revised critical), Anne’s story lives on in Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s Tony Award-winning play, first mounted on Broadway in 1955 and then revived in 1997, as well as the Oscar-winning 1959 movie derived from it.
Anne’s diary also inspired an opera composed in 1969 by Grigori Frid (sometimes credited as Fried because of the vagaries of transliteration), that had its premiere in Moscow in 1972 and was later performed in the Netherlands. It was first seen in the United States in 1978, and it has continued to be mounted in this country, albeit rarely.
Now Long Beach Opera, a company known for its daring repertory and unconventional interpretations, is presenting the West Coast premiere of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with three performances, from April 17 to 21 at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and at Lincoln Park in Long Beach. (Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood will also present a semistaged performance on Yom HaShoah, April 15.)
Conducted and directed by Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s artistic and administrative head, this production takes a daring new turn. He is staging the opera — really an hourlong monodrama for soprano — in parking structures at Sinai Temple and Lincoln Park.
Museum-hopping in Madrid, sans ham
What is the best museum town in the world?
Paris comes to mind, as does New York.
But as a certified art museum lover, I put my money on Madrid.
Madrid, the proud and stately capital of Spain, is home to three of the finest collections of art anywhere: the Museo del Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, each of which would be the standout attraction in a city with less to offer, and a reason to visit in its own right. The three museums form a triangle of sorts around the Paseo del Prado, allowing visitors to walk easily between them.
Madrid has lately receded into the shadow of showy Barcelona, which gets all the buzz for being a European capital of style. And indeed, with its spectacular Mediterranean setting, whimsical, unique architecture and international fashion scene, Barcelona deserves its stylish accolades. But its museums are limited to small, idiosyncratic or single-artist collections; the greatest visual thrill is walking its streets.
Madrid is arguably less glamorous, more conservative, more closely associated with Spain’s troubled past than its exhilarating future. It is also the guardian of Spain’s wonderful aesthetic legacy, and serious lovers of art could easily get lost inside its museums for a week at a time.
Jewish travelers will find a flourishing community in today’s Madrid. The freedoms of post-Franco Spain, combined with an influx of Argentine Jews who settled here in the wake of political and economic crises over the past 30 years, have contributed to an active, if small, Jewish community.
Observant travelers will want to acquaint themselves with the Jewish Community of Madrid (Comunidad Judia de Madrid), a nexus of Jewish life here for nearly 100 years. The community provides information, both online and in person, about Orthodox worship services, activities and Jewish resources throughout Madrid.
Bet El Synagogue is affiliated with the Masorti, or Conservative, movement and has a helpful Web site; there is also a Chabad center in Madrid.
On to the art: The Prado is a surprisingly small museum that can hold your attention longer than the encyclopedic Louvre. Rather than being vast and comprehensive, the Prado contains only the most exciting works by a small number of wonderful artists.
In one room you’ll find virtually all of the greatest works of 15th- and 16th-century Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch, including his famous “Garden of Earthly Delights.” Even if you’re jaded by endless Madonnas, the soft, glowing religious portraits of Raphael will force you to stop and stare in admiration. Upstairs, many of Goya’s most famous works — from his “Maja” series to his controversial “black” paintings — are grouped together, inviting contemplation. The collection also includes major works by the Spanish giants Velazquez and El Greco.
When it opened a decade ago, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum was a major event on the international art scene: the acquisition by the Spanish government of the personal collection of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, comprising some seven centuries of European and American painting, with emphasis on the Italian primitives and Renaissance, Dutch and Flemish masters, German expressionism, French impressionists and 19th- and 20th-century Americans like Hopper and Rauschenberg.
In 2004, the museum made waves again when it added the collection of the baron’s widow, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Together the two collections represent more than 1,000 works of art, mostly paintings, which have been called the 20th century’s most significant private collection.
As with the Prado, nearly every work is stunning. But more importantly, the Thyssen-Bornemisza represents a perfect pan-Western complement to the Prado’s smaller, more focused collection, and the more contemporary Reina Sofia. In fact, it was the availability of space in such close proximity to these other collections that motivated the Thyssen-Bornemisza family to choose Spain to house its legacy.
On view through Jan. 7 is “Sargent/Sorolla,” an exhibition that looks at the parallel careers of John Singer Sargent, who is having a big year in the United States, and Joaquin Sorolla, his Spanish contemporary.
It’s also a Rauschenberg year. On the heels of the fabulous Rauschenberg “Combines” show at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art this past year comes “Rauschenberg:Express,” an exhibition of 1960s silkscreen print collages from the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s permanent collection.
An apt metaphor for today’s Spain, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia unites the aesthetic cutting edge — modern and contemporary art, including some daring conceptualism and Picasso’s famous “Guernica” — with a historic 16th century formal national hospital building.
A very Madrid counterpoint to all this art is an evening of zarzuela, Spain’s answer to opera. Culturally distant from the main currents of Western Europe for much of the last few centuries, Spain developed its own distinctive idioms, of which zarzuela, which is closer to what we think of as operetta, is one. (If you have ever wondered why there are no Spanish operas at the Met, this is why.)
The Teatro Lirico Nacional de la Zarzuela, on Jovellanes Street, presents a regular schedule of faithfully presented classics. Join the elegant evening crowd, draped in fringed shawls and diamonds, and go out afterward for a glass of sherry at one of the nearby tapas bars. If awards were handed out for cities least hospitable to kosher eating, Madrid would certainly be in the running. As in most of Spain, the main ingredients on Madrid restaurant and cafe menus are ham, shrimp, ham, calamari, ham, octopus — and ham. Madrid even boasts a “Museo del Jamon,” which feels less like a curated collection and more like a temple, with shrines and icons of hanging pork.
For advice on a ham- and shellfish-free visit, a friend recommended the Madrid listings on Kosher Delight’s Web site.
Rising Singing Star Pitches New Sound
Many young girls dream of a life on the stage, but few could have envisioned the career now enjoyed by Hila Plitmann, a Jerusalem-born soprano who these days makes her home in Studio City. Plitmann, 32, is not famous in the way that, say, sopranos like Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt and Anna Netrebko are. She is not a star. But she is making a name for herself, and not by singing music by Puccini, Mozart, Strauss and Wagner.
Instead, Plitmann is building a career based largely on new music by composers like David Del Tredici, John Corigliano, Roger Reynolds and Esa-Pekka Salonen, the latter the longtime music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and something of a Plitmann champion. Indeed, Plitmann was one of two featured soloists in the premiere of Salonen’s “Wing on Wing,” written for the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003 and dedicated to its architect, Frank Gehry.
That work — for orchestra, two sopranos and Gehry’s voice sampled on tape — has become something of a calling card for the soprano, who most recently sang it at Disney Hall on May 31. That concert came on the heels of another at Disney Hall on May 9, in which she participated in premieres of Unsuk Chin’s vibrant “Cantatrix Sopranica” and Reynolds’ sprawling, multidimensional “Illusion,” two works commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group.
On June 7, she’ll appear in a less likely space, at Valley Beth Shalom synagogue in Encino, joining two other singers — mezzo-soprano Alma Mora Ponce and tenor Mark Saltzman, cantor at Congregation Kol Ami synagogue — for a performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “From Jewish Folk Poetry” and a selection of Yiddish songs. (The trio gave the same program at the Jewish Community Center in La Jolla on May 24.) She’s doing this in part, out of friendship for Neal Brostoff, who is producing the concert and accompanying the singers.
Though Shostakovich, who died in 1975, used Russian translations of the poems for his song cycle, musicologist Joachim Braun restored the original Yiddish texts in the 1980s. And it’s that version Plitmann and her colleagues are singing.
“From Jewish Folk Poetry” doesn’t require Plitmann to enter the vocal stratosphere, but her ability to do so has served her well and marked her for distinction. A coloratura soprano with a silvery tone who seems utterly at ease projecting high notes, Plitmann says, “I was always a screamer.”
She describes her father, an academic, as having “a beautiful voice” and her mother as a classical music enthusiast, but neither was more than a hobbyist. Both remain in Israel, as do the singer’s sister and brother.
Early on, Plitmann was an ambivalent pianist, and though she sang in a youth choir, she gave it up for athletics, particularly gymnastics, dancing and running — something her needle-thin dancer’s body still attests to. But she missed singing and soon found herself taking private lessons and enrolling in a music high school.
Unable to find the advanced vocal training she needed in Israel, Plitmann, at her teacher’s urging, enrolled in New York’s Juilliard School, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But talented singer or not, she still had an obligation to the Israel Defense Forces.
“I did my basic training for the Israeli army in the summers, during my second and third years at Juilliard,” she says. “I learned how to shoot Uzis and run around in the dirt. It was very bizarre.”
Juilliard is also where she met her husband, Eric Whitacre, a composer.
“He wouldn’t leave me alone, so I married him,” she says. They now have an 8-month-old son, Esh.
Whitacre is composing an opera for his wife. Titled, “Paradise Lost,” and described as “opera electronica” on Whitacre’s Web site, the work is an amalgam of styles, including, techno, rave and ambient. Plitmann likens the music to that of Bjork and the Postal Service (the band, not the letter carriers).
Often, classical artists come to appreciate the rigors of modern music once they mature, but not Plitmann. Her interest in the new dates back to her childhood. That youth chorus her mother sent her to emphasized contemporary Israeli music. At 14, she appeared in her first opera, singing the role of Flora, the bewitched little girl at the center of Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.” And while still in high school, she sang Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” with the Israel Philharmonic.
Plitmann describes her specialization in new music as “an accident that turned into a choice,” noting that she likes “the challenge of learning something difficult, whatever the era,” yet singling out modern works for their “many dramatic elements.”
She says that audiences can’t be forced to love new music but insists that committed performances from artists like her can help sway them to be more open-minded.
“I find there’s more in contemporary music that can be used expressively than both musicians and audiences realize,” she says. “People think contemporary music is cold and intellectual, but that’s not always true.”
Plitmann is certainly no snob when it comes to music. Her personal interests extend to various forms of pop music, and even professionally, she makes choices that some might consider too populist. Her limited discography will soon include a song cycle to Bob Dylan texts called “Mr. Tambourine Man” by Corigliano, who won an Oscar for his score to the film, “The Red Violin.” And though she isn’t exactly getting star billing, Plitmann is the vocal soloist on Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack to “The Da Vinci Code.”
She got the job through a close friend of her husband’s and made the recording in London, an experience she calls “amazing.” The lyrics, she says, are meant to mimic Latin, though no actual language is being sung. The soprano admits that the score is “not the most complex music,” yet it has another virtue: it sounds good.
“I love singing beautiful music,” Plitmann says.
Spectator – A Night at the Hebraic Opera
Opera fans don’t mind watching theater unfold in a foreign language. So perhaps Molière fans will enjoy seeing his work performed in Hebrew.
That’s one of the hopes of Ori Dinur, director of “The Imaginary Invalid,” Molière’s 17th century comedy about a hypochondriac and his machinations, playing in Hebrew at the University of Judaism on Feb. 16.
“If you know Hebrew a little bit or you just love theater and you want to enjoy something different, it’s enough to have synopsis in your hand,” said Dinur, 40. The Israeli writer-director-teacher adapted Natan Alterman’s complex translation into a simpler Hebrew play so that even more basic Hebrew speakers can understand it.
The cast is comprised of 11 Jewish actors of different backgrounds, including Iran, Yemen, Russia, Poland, Morocco, Gibraltar and the United States. All but one of the actors — Jordan Werner — are Israeli. The 31-year-old Floridian, just a year in Los Angeles, can read Hebrew from his Jewish day school upbringing but barely understands it. For his part, as the lover Cleante, Werner memorized all his lines with coaching from the rest of the cast; he still betrays an American accent thick on the “rrrs.”
“As an actor, I really believe you get the feeling from a connection with someone. And I have to look into their eyes and feel what they’re saying so it’s really a lesson to me, how to react to only what they feel,” Werner said.
“The Imaginary Invalid” is Dinur’s first project for her new organization, The Jewish-Hebrew Stage. Together with Yoram Najum The Jewish-Hebrew Stage plans to bring Hebrew and Israeli theater to Los Angeles, as well as teach Hebrew through drama.
“I notice there is awkwardness between Israelis and the American Jewish community here, a little alienation,” said Dinur, who has been living in the Valley for the last five years. “I’d very much like to create an atmosphere of creation that has to do with Israelis and Jewish Americans. We share so many things, and we can learn so much from people who lived here for generations — and they can learn so much from us, too.”
“The Imaginary Invalid” plays Feb. 16, at 8:30 p.m., at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mullholland Drive, Bel Air. For tickets, call (818) 763-7379.
7 Days in The Arts
Saturday, February 4
It’s the year of the gay cowboy, so why not the privileged lesbian? Head to the Geffen Playhouse for the Los Angeles premiere of David Mamet’s,”Boston Marriage” titled after the Victorian euphemism used to describe a long-term, intimate relationship between two unmarried women. The play about two upper-class women involved thusly is also directed by Mamet and stars Rebecca Pidgeon, Alicia Silverstone and Mary Steenburgen.
Through March 12. $35-$69. 10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood. (310) 208-5454.
Sunday, February 5
Israeli musician Ehud Banai comes to the Avalon Hollywood. Hear songs from the folk/rock/traditional songwriter’s album, “Answer Me” which won Best Album of the Year at the 2004 Israeli Music Awards, and other favorites tonight only.
9 p.m. $45. 1735 Vine St., Hollywood. (323) 462-8900. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Monday, February 6
See “Lady and the Tramp” fall in love again on the big screen this week. Coinciding with the DVD release, Disney screens a digitally restored Cinemascope of the film at the El Capitan through Valentine’s Day, complete with live visit by Mickey and Minnie before every show. Never have meatballs and spaghetti been more romantic.
$8-$9. El Capitan Theatre, 6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (800) 347-6396.
Tuesday, February 7
Valley Beth Shalom and L.A. Jewish Symphony bring piccolos and bassoons to the young masses today. “Linking Our Heritage: Songs of the Generations” is a free educational concert, with special guest artist Sam Glaser, that aims at bringing second- and third-graders and their parents and grandparents together through music. An instrument petting zoo precedes the show.
10 a.m. (petting zoo), 11 a.m. (concert). Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. R.S.V.P., (818) 728-1923.
Wednesday, February 8
The Gerard Edery Ensemble winds Ladino, Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew cultures and languages through their latest CD of songs, “Amid the Jasmine.” Unifying the recordings is the group’s particular sound, as well as Edery’s distinctively deep voice. It is released this week.
Thursday, February 9
L.A. Jews head south this week for the 16th annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival. Catch up on Jewish films you’ve been meaning to see, including opening night movie “Live and Become” and closing night’s,”The First Time I Turned Twenty.” Bonus: get your parents off your case by attending the singles-aimed Flix-Mixer on Sunday night.
Feb. 9-19. Various locations and prices. (858) 362-1348. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Friday, February 10
Don the walking shoes for tonight’s interactive entertainment, care of Collage Dance Theatre. You won’t be dancing, but you will be walking through parts of Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club, for the site-specific dance company’s production of it’s opera: A Dance Opera.
Feb. 9-12, 16-19. (In case of rain, performances rescheduled to Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.) $25-$40. 1880 N. Academy Drive, Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Spectator – Two Worlds, Two Girls, One Dream
Vienna Glories in Past and Present
Sixty years after the end of World War II, Vienna has reclaimed its roots as a city of culture. Not the culture of stoic monuments to faded glory or landmarks illuminated by historical plaques, but in a living, breathing, heart-still-pumping way. Grand-yet-graceful music, art and architecture are the lifeblood of this city and those fortunate enough to live here.
Strolling along the wide pedestrian mall of the Kartnerstrasse, you cannot help but feel swept up in the art and culture of this elegant city. The impressive architecture rises up and surrounds you as the beauty of the city embraces you.
As the sun sets on the Kartnerstrasse, Viennese girls window shop Euro chain stores for platform shoes and designer scruff denim, shadowed by elegant palaces that line the cobbled street. A girl plays Strauss on a grand piano. Down the street, a man plays a symphony on crystal glasses of water, as students in black tie and spiked hair saunter past with cellos. The street comes to life with people who seem to not be in a hurry to go anywhere in particular.
Music is at the heart of Vienna, and since 2006 is being celebrated as the Mozart Year in Austria, the most rewarding Mozart experience is the city that inspired him. By all means, visit Mozart’s statue and the house he lived in, but to really experience Mozart’s Vienna, wander the cobbled lanes like the Blutgasse, where Mozart lived and worked. While away a morning by lingering over café and strudel in a plush coffee house (complete with charmingly polite tuxedoed waiters).
The best way to discover Mozart here might be a night at the Vienna Opera. I was lucky enough to attend a performance of “The Magic Flute” during my visit, which was sponsored by Austria Tourism. This was classical Mozart through and through in terms of the music, but the performance was strikingly modern.
A minimalist industrial set was the backdrop for bearded ladies painted blue and dressed in 18th-century industrial corsetry, while the priests of Sarastro were done up in white, minimalist hazmat suits. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’ll concede, but that completely sums up a city that glories in its past but revels in its modernity.
Lets remember that Mozart was cutting-edge cool in his day. It’s fitting that this city still pushes the artistic envelope while embracing its artistic history. Vienna is a place where the elegant Hofburg Palace can stand alongside stunning Hundertwasser House.
Vienna’s influence as a cultural center also drew such Jewish composers as Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg and Alexander Zelimsky, in addition to numerous Jewish writers, actors, artists and doctors. And while the city’s Jewish history has been a tumultuous one — only 2,000 of the city’s pre-World War II population of 183,000 Jews survived the Shoah — Vienna today boasts a very active community of about 7,000 Jews.
The city features 15 synagogues (including a Sephardic congregation), a yeshiva, a Jewish museum and an office of Jewish Welcome Service. Most of Vienna’s Jews live in the city’s Second District, where you’ll find kosher supermarkets, butchers and restaurants.
The other must-see on any Austrian Mozart tour is the quaint city of his birth, Salzburg, where the Hohensalzberg fortress looms over the Salzach River, and the pastel shades of the shops in the Aldstadt are undeniably photogenic.
In Salzburg, you’ll have the opportunity to see the house where Mozart was born and visit the Mozart museum, which struggles to understand the composer’s genius. Both are worth a look, but the truly hot ticket in Salzburg is the Marionetten Theater, which regularly stages Mozart’s operas.
Appreciating the preservation of a centuries-old art is the key to enjoying Salzburg, a town that seems content to linger in its past. And provided that a look into a time capsule is all you expect, you may not be disappointed.
Jewishly speaking, Salzburg never fully recovered following the Holocaust. Only about 100 Jews inhabit the city, which features a single synagogue at Lasserstrasse 8. But despite its anti-Semitic reputation, the city was host to such Jewish luminaries as dramatists Max Reinhardt and Carl Zuckmayer, who were drawn to its Salzburg Festival and its cultural scene.
However, Mozart himself preferred the energy and vibrancy of cosmopolitan Vienna. Like a deep breath of fresh air, it’s a city that will make you sigh.
Israeli Government Gets on With It
‘Aida’ Not So Tragic for Israeli Maestro
Dan Ettinger looks nothing like the popular image of a classical conductor.
The Israeli is making his American debut with the Los Angeles Opera in Verdi’s “Aida.” Appearing considerably younger than his 33 years and standing a sturdy 6-foot-1, Ettinger wears his hair short-cropped, his approach is casual, and he speaks of his work with the care of a skilled craftsman.
Dealing with an unfamiliar orchestra of more than 80 instrumentalists in “Aida,” advertised as “the grandest of grand operas,” is a major challenge, especially for a self-described “control freak” and “young pisher” (genteelly translated as a “young squirt”).
We talked to Ettinger in the Maestro Room of the downtown Music Center the morning after opening night. He seemed fairly satisfied, although he said that it takes three or four performances before a new opera production hits its peak.
Ettinger is descended from Romanian immigrants to Israel — his father and grandmother are Holocaust survivors — and he grew up in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.
Early on, he was exposed to his parents’ large classical and jazz collection and the boy showed an early interest in music.
“I wasn’t a child prodigy and I had a normal childhood, but I always knew that I wanted to be a musician,” he said.
Ettinger attended a special high school for the musically talented, training as pianist and singer, and then enrolled in the Rubin Academy of Music at Tel Aviv University. He quit after one year, because “the school system didn’t work for me, I wanted to do things my own way,” he recalled.
From then on, he developed his diverse musical talents by doing, rather than studying, although he credits the help of private mentors.
Ettinger started his professional career as a baritone at age 19 and cites as his favorite role Papageno in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Nowadays, Ettinger no longer sings on stage, although when rehearsing “Aida,” he sings along all the parts.
“I find my singing background a real advantage as an opera conductor, because I can identify with the singers, I can phrase with them and breathe with them.”
In a third career, Ettinger continues as a concert pianist, accompanist and coach, and he describes his “ultimate musical experience” as doubling as pianist and conductor in a Mozart piano concerto,
Since 2003, Ettinger has been the resident director of the prestigious Berlin Staatsoper Unter den Linden, handpicked for the job by fellow Israeli Daniel Barenboim.
Many of the current leading musical figures in Berlin are Israelis, Ettinger said, perhaps an ironic footnote to recent world history.
In the coming fall, Ettinger will also become the music director and principal conductor of the Israel Symphony Orchestra in Rishon L’Zion, ranked second in his native country only to the more established Israel Philharmonic.
Yet, he is not entirely happy with the state of opera around the world. For one, budget problems everywhere have forced cuts in rehearsal time, including in his present “Aida” stint.
Of more concern is a shift in the staging of operas.
“It used to be that an opera was the conductor’s world, but now the emphasis is more and more on spectacular visual productions,” he said, though he hopes for a gradual return to more traditional presentations.
After he finishes his current assignment, Ettinger is off to Tokyo to conduct Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte,” but he will return to Los Angeles next year, leading the orchestra in Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”
Performances of “Aida” will continue on select dates through Feb. 19 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. For tickets and information, call (213) 972-8001 or visit www.LosAngelesOpera.com.
The Once and Future Yiddish Language
7 Days in the Arts