Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Baroque suites, Mozart's Zaide, and Poulenc's Carmélites

Reviews by Rodney Punt

Harpsichordist Jory Vinikour Leads LACO Baroque Ensemble

There are conductors who flail their hands, scowl or swell at every musical phrase. Then there is Jory Vinikour, who cues musicians and telegraphs rhythms with the slightest of gestures while busy at the harpsichord. Let’s call it leading by example.

A Baroque specialist to the manner born, Vinikour’s confident bonhomie and effortless virtuosity were on fine display February 17 at the downtown Colburn School’s Zipper Hall, latest in a series from the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Equally at ease facing an audience as his musicians or harpsichord, Vinikour’s introductory remarks and closing Q & A were also engaging and informative.

Works included Georg Muffat’s Propitia Sydera (Lucky Stars) concerto grosso, Handel’s Chaconne from Terpsichore, a W.F. Bach harpsichord concerto, Rameau’s suite of dances from Hippolyte et Aricie, and a solo harpsichord suite by Pancrace Royer. If all Baroque music stems from dances, these extravagantly propulsive works confirm the assertion and suggest the era’s contemporaneous discovery of electricity was no fluke.


Mozart’s Zaide Exhumed by Musica Angelica at The Broad Stage

Before Magic Flute there was Abduction from the Seraglio, and before that an incomplete torso now known as Zaide. Mozart was drawn to the singspiel format as prototype for a German national opera, but put aside this first effort when commissioned for Idomeneo. Eventually the later, greater Abduction’s similar plot of rescue from a Turkish harem co-opted it. Recent champions have “completed” the charming chunk with additional text, the earlier Symphony in G major, KV 318, as overture, and the somewhat Italianate quartet, KV 479, as finale.

Zaide was performed at Santa Monica’s Broad Stage on February 20 under the stylistically informed direction of Musica Angelica’s Martin Haselböck with period orchestra and four singers: up-and-coming quicksilver soprano Valerie Vinzant, promising lyric tenor Andrew Bidlack, tenor Christoph Genz, and baritone Christian Hilz. Brian Michaels translated the stilted period dialogue and directed a sketchy staging with gratuitous puppetry too archly cute for its own good. In this case, better to have let the music speak for Mozart.


Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at UCLA

Francis Poulenc’s haunting opera, Dialogue des Carmélites, has the French Revolution’s progressive social program going badly astray against religious orthodoxy when a Carmelite nunnery refuses to vacate, setting up a fatal test of wills amongst varied personalities. Its drama wears the habit of monastic fealty in emphatically tonal music of astringent solemnity, minor third motifs, and no showy pyrotechnics but plenty of vocal challenges. Requiring audience concentration, Carmélites’ performance history remains spotty but it retains passionate adherents amongst opera cognoscenti in major music capitols.

In Opera UCLA’s production at Schoenberg Hall, seen February 24, designer Cameron Mock’s stark scenes and lighting had three oversized abstract crosses leaning on their sides, suggesting the martyrdom to come. Peter Kazaras’s austere staging, Neal Stulberg’s well-coached orchestra, and Caitlin Talmage’s mixed-periods costumes inspired solid performances from the student cast. Most affecting scene: the guillotining, one by one, of the martyred nuns, each falling into the shadows with the swishing sound of the blade.

Photos: top, Jory Vinikour and harpsichord at Zipper Hall, photo by Rodney Punt; middle, Musica Angelica in Zaide at Broad Stage, photo by Laura Spino; bottom, UCLA student cast of
Dialogue des Carmélites, photo by Henry Lim
Rodney Punt may be contacted at [email protected]

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