GETTY

Anytime you get the premonition that civilization might be doomed, you need no
firmer assurance of survival that the Saturday night series of concerts at the
J. Paul Getty Museum. You can’t get in, of course; the series is always sold
out. But it helps just to know it’s there: civilized, highly imaginative
programs presented in the most civilized setting.
Saturday’s program was the collaboration of two of UCLA’s blithe spirits, the
musical scholar Robert Winter and the theatrical director John Hall, who
between them concocted a replica of an 18th-century London musical and
dramatic entertainment. The framework, as conceived by Hall, consisted of a
confrontation between a troupe of hoity-toity Italian opera singers and some
English comedians. They squabble as to whose is the higher art and then, in
the manner of Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos,” they reconcile their
difference and put on their combined show.
The idea was genial, but what made it work was the high quality of the music
— a pastiche of songs and arias by popular composers of the time, including
Thomas Arne, George Friedrich Handel and Stephen Storace — and the level of
performance. All six singers — sopranos Laura Freeze, Frances Young and Shawn
Daywalt; countertenor Brian Asawa, tenor Dale Trecy and baritone Jeff Calof —
are active in opera workshops in and around Los Angeles — and all were first
rate. Young Asawa, 23 and still finishing his studies at U.S.C., sang his
stratospheric roulades with a marvelous ease and purity of style; he is
someone to watch.
The music was mostly unfamiliar and included some delightful rareties: songs
and ensembles from a 1794 opera by Stephen Storace called “The Cherokee,”
whetting the appetite for a complete performance; a ravishing trio from
Handel’s “Imeneo” and, as an encore, Thomas Arne’s original operatic setting
of “Rule, Britannia.”
It was, then, a captivating idea for a concert, and brilliantly brought off,
with surprise and delight around every turn. Robert Winter officiated at the
harpsichord. The evening’s damp air did raise some havoc with the fragile old-
style instruments of Greg Maldonado’s Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra; the group
has sounded better-tuned on other occasions. Oh well, a small price to pay for
an evening of treasures beyond price.
There’s one concert left in this summer’s series, on August 25, sold-out as
usual. Maybe if you sneaked in a couple of days before, and hid behind the Van
Gogh…