HAPPINESS: It hit me during Wednesday afternoon’s Magic Flute at the Music Center that I had become beset by a wave of unusual happiness. The reason was easily traced: this was, simply, the best performance I had ever heard of Mozart’s wonderfully wise and daffy music – or, let’s say at least, the best performance I could, or cared to, remember out of probably four or five dozen. Everything was in balance, beginning with Jimmy Conlon’s orchestra, exactly the right size. This was the second cast, and it was over-all excellent: Joseph Kaiser, a fresh-voiced, expressive Tamino, winner of one of Plácido’s Operalalia comps; Erin Wall a lovely Pamina; Albina Shagimuratova a dazzling Queen of the Night with every high F resplendent; Morris Robinson a Sarastro just a shade gruff but moving even so; Markus Werba a scene-stealing Papageno. The old (1993) Gerald Scarfe sets are still hilarious; someone has apparently touched them up somewhat.
I had missed the first-cast performances; the Philharmonic, Jacaranda and other music-makers had created an unusually chaotic (and exciting) January. At this writing there are two first-cast performances left (January 22 and 25) and one with this splendid second cast (January 24). All three performances include Greg Fedderly’s hilarious Monostatos and Matthias Goerne’s expressive stint as the “Speaker,” on whose haunting A-minor recitative the whole plot of the opera turns.
(While I’m on that subject: The Kenneth Branagh Magic Flute, which Mark Swed wrote about several weeks ago and which is available from British dealers but only in PAL format, double-casts the roles of Sarastro and The Speaker with the same singer, the wonderful René Pape. The expressive gain is beyond calculation.)
LOUIS BLOOIE: Andriessen’s week here was capped at the Green Umbrella with a super-production of De Stijl,: spellbinding music for swinging brass, electric guitars, grinding rhythms. The sound itself bounced all over that great space one piano tucked implausibly on one of the audience terraces, Susan Narucki (great, imaginative angel of new music) wandering hither and yon hurling forth gobs of wisdom; supertitles linked the music’s implausibility to the scraps of somebody-or-other’s text on the principles (!) of visual mathematics; the stage biz carried this further into the spirit of Mondrian; the music attached itself utterly in the cause of a splendid insanity.. Sad, that Louis couldn’t be there; he’d been called home by a death in the family. Performances of De Stijl can’t be all that common, and this one – devised with great skill by the Philharmonic’s marvelous young assistant Lionel Bringuier, left ‘em gasping in the aisles. All Louis got to hear during the Philharmonic’s great new-music celebration was his new piece The Hague Hacking, bland by comparison, inspired (he insisted) by the Tom ‘n’ Jerry cartoon about the Hungarian Rhapsody.
Otherwise, there wasn’t much under the Umbrella. Stephen Mackey’s Ars Moriendi, played by Philharmonic members, struck me – as it had when the Borromeos played it here eight years ago – as a piece both distasteful and boring. Distasteful, in the matter of drawing descriptive music, complete with titles, from the death of a parent; boring, in the matter of being boring.
LEOS JANACEK had a happy week, and deserved no less. Salonen and the Philharmonic began the last of their January programs here with the Sinfonietta, that grand whoop-de-doo that begins with massed brass spilling out of the balcony, wanders off into a couple of bucolic dance episodes of great charm but no particular consequence, and ends up back with the brass. I love the work, but don’t try to pin me down to explain why. At this concert, with Andriessen’s Hague piece in the middle, the Sinfonietta served as the opener; Salonen’s signature performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring served as the closer. How’s that for a pair of mismatched bookends?
Further down the pike, the Long Beach Opera began to behave like an opera company again with Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen that was splendid in the way the Long Beach Opera used to be splendid: ten cents worth of production, a million dollars worth of spirit and imagination. I love the way this warm, wise, immensely human piece has come into its own. Even the legendary East Berlin staging by Walter Felsenstein from the 1950s is now available on DVD, in a box of several of his productions released on Naxos. Andreas Mitisek came to local light conducting quite a different Janacek opera, the harrowing House of the Dead; that work and, now, this Vixen, are his best work at Long Beach; they suggest a direction for a restoration of that company’s importance and distinction. With opera dead or dying in Orange County, and our local company about to immolate itself in a festival of citywide Apfelstrudel, the road is open for Mitisek’s company – with the blessing of founder Michael Milenski from his far-away paradise on the Midi – to restore former glories.