THE WEEK THAT WILL BE: So here’s December, when the music lightens up for the holidays, and we get to turn off the brains for a few weeks of jingle-bells, Hah! December 4: Gustavo Dudamel leads the Philharmonic at Disney in Kurtág’s Stele, Mozart’s A-major Piano Concerto (with the heartbreaking slow movement, and with Rudolf Buchbinder, who hasn’t been here in years) and with, oh well, Richard Strauss’s Alpine Symphony. December 5 at Zipper, Gloria Cheng and the Calder Quartet play Tom Adès’ Piano Quintet, among other treasures. Saturday night I must forsake the LA Weekly’s 30th Anniversary Party because Mark Robson is playing all of Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt Regards at Jacaranda at Santa Monica’s First Pres. Sunday, the sublime Anonymous 4 sings as nobody else can, at a Historic Site downtown. The Monday Evening Concerts resume at Zipper on guess when, with an imaginatively-planned “avant-garde” program of music daring in its time, “its time” ranging from the Middle Ages to approximately yesterday. Tuesday, there’s the Green Umbrella at Disney: Cage, Stockhausen and Ligeti. Too tired for Brahms the following Friday? Don’t blame you!
I seem to have forgotten to write about the L.A. Opera’s Carmen, Understandable. I don’t think this is a bad opera; some of Bizet’s music greatly illuminates the characters onstage, and I think he hit exactly the right tone for the drab ordinariness of his Micaëla. It needs to be performed as written, however, with spoken recitative — rather than the hackwork recitatives supplied by others after Bizet’s death – that sets the big musical number in greater relief. But nobody at the Chandler Pavilion – not the conductor, not the ladies and gentlemen of the first of the two casts – performed with any inkling of how to make this opera glisten with sex appeal; it’s all “ho-hum another night of ‘Carmen.’ Why couldn’t someone have watched Denyse Graves at the Bowl, gee whiz? I’d like to know which misguided optimist in the company decided to schedule this for ten performances rather than the usual seven. On opening night most of the seats were filled at the start; by the last act you could have played basketball in the wide open spaces. There hasn’t been a good new recording or DVD of Carmen in years. My favorites, both with a young and lively Plácido Domingo, are the 1984 Francesco Rosi movie, with the lithe, insinuating Julia Migenes-Johnson – which does have spoken recits – and the even-older Franco Zeffirelli staging from Vienna on TDK, conducted with great thrust by Carlos Kleiber, with a Carmen, Elena Obraztsova, who might be Mom to all the other aforementioned Carmens here, but who has learned to put those years to good use.
Someday, of course, the inevitable and magnificent idea will descend upon some operatic impresario, that the salvation for Carmen: the totality of the spirit of this potentially great opera for our time and for the years to come, resides in our own Gustavo Dudamel. Not that his music-making among us this past week had anything to do with this particular score. It had, instead, to do with the worn-out journeyman Philharmonickers from Israel, never a first-rate band but especially road-weary at the end of their cross-country tour, saddled with a tsimmis of a hackwork by Leonard Bernstein that employed everything short of vacuum cleaners to celebrate 50 years of second-rate orchestral performance. Four days later, same podium same hall, different orchestra and, you’d swear, different conductor – this was, I swear, the most eloquent, moving, poetically motivated Beethoven “Pastoral” Symphony you could imagine or even dream about. If you weren’t there you just can’t imagine the beauty in the orchestral balance this young genius fashioned, between winds and strings, between low winds and high winds. My, oh my it was beautiful. Just think…this is our Gustavo!!!