Sunday, April 21, 2013

Los Angeles Opera does Britten’s Noye’s Fludde

By Douglas Neslund

2013 is the hundredth year of the birth of Benjamin Britten, one of the most singular composers of the 20th century, whose centenary is being celebrated in Los Angeles by a series of events throughout the year. His “Noye’s Fludde” is one of the milestones of his creative genius presented at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels over the weekend just past in conjunction with LA Opera’s annual productions at the Cathedral with expenses underwritten by the Dan Murphy Foundation and the Britten-Pears Foundation. Admission was free to the public and both performances were packed to the walls.

This is the seventh year of the LA Opera at the Cathedral series that has produced such early operas as Noye’s Fludde, which are recreations of miracle plays emanating from church performances of Biblical themes from which the art form of opera was born. In 2012, for instance, the opera/miracle play was an adaptation of the 12th century Play of Daniel brought to life by Noah Greenberg and his New York Pro Musica in the late 1950s.

What distinguishes this series of opera productions at the Cathedral is the remarkable professional team of conductor James Conlon, director Eli Villanueva, educationand community programs director Stacy Brightman, and a supporting cast of thousands, or so it seemed.

Professional soloists Yohan Yi, portraying Noye (Noah), Ronnita Nicole Miller as Noye’s wife, and Jamieson K. Price providing an impressive Voice of God, drawn from Maestro Conlon’s rich talent stable at LA Opera, were all first rate (and as we understand it, the only paid) performers.

One cannot imagine a better character performance than Mr. Yi’s. His intensity and focus in the role projected to the Cathedral’s baptistery with stentorian authority and a rich, darkly colored voice. 

Ms. Miller’s role allowed for humor as she resisted boarding Noye’s ark until literally pushed in by her three sons: Caleb Glickman as Shem, Anthony Karambelas as Ham, and Patrick Mayoral as Jaffett. The boys formed the best such trio since Fludde was first performed seven years ago. (All solo voices were amplified.)

Behind the headliners, a massive collection of exceedingly well-trained instrumentalists and choristers were assembled to provide turba support, plus what seemed to be an endless parade of little humans dressed as the great variety of animals boarding Noye’s ark to avoid certain extinction, who also sang along and danced at various points. Kudos to Caleb Barnes for shepherding the little ones as production assistant.

All the costumes, props and animal approximations were wonderful but within a narrow color scheme, which made the rainbow, the sign of God’s promise never to flood the earth again, that much more vivid. Most impressive again were the “birds” skillfully given flight.

The greatest single additions to this year’s performances were the projections behind the actors that helped greatly in the audience’s understanding of the old English as well as ongoing story.

One would wish to name all performers, especially the choirs and excellent orchestra, which was seeded with Los Angeles Opera Orchestra personnel, but comprised primarily of music students from Hamilton High School’s Academy of Music, all under the direction of LAO conductor James Conlon. One cherishes especially the beautiful ‘cello solo by LA Opera’s Rowena Hammill. The Cathedral's own Samuel Soria made the pipe organ roar when needed.

Appreciation to Los Angeles Opera and Downtown News for the above photographs.

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