LA Opera “Recovered Voices”

He likes to speak to early-comers
to the Dorothy Chandler as part of the “lecture” events, and his work with the orchestra so far,
and their response to him, indicates a solid relationship being established.

He has also brought with him a passion for the music of a particular set of the composers who
were exiled, banned, or killed by the Nazi regime. He expressed his happiness at having Brecht
and Weill’s Mahagonny as part of this season, and he also helped find the support (primarily
from Marilyn Ziering and the Ziering Family Foundation) for two concert evenings called
“Recovered Voices.” At the second performance, March 10th, he appeared before both halves of
the program to speak with enthusiasm and erudition about the composers and their works. The
evening, it seems, is a preview of repertoire that Conlon intends to bring to the regular LAO
season schedule. In fact, next season he makes a start, with a double-bill evening of Zemlinsky’s
Der Zwerg and Ullman’s Der Zerbrochene Krug.

The first half consisted of a sort of suite that Conlon devised from the music of six composers.
The conductor asked the audience to hold its applause until the end of the final segment, and they
dutifully did so. First came the dark swirl of textures in Franz Schreker’s prelude to Die
. Somewhat ironically, this opera recently appeared on DVD in a performance
conducted by Kent Nagano, Conlon’s predecessor at LAO.

Stacy Tappan, a soprano who has specialized in high-lying roles so far (she sang the Dew Fairy
in LAO’s recent Hansel und Gretel), appeared first on the bare stage, with a screen for
projections behind her. Maiko Nezu designed the tasteful images that evoked the moods if not
always the settings of the various selections. Ms. Tappan sang a charming aria from Walter
Braunfels’ Die Vogel, left and then reappeared with a pianist (uncredited in the program) for a
number from Ernest Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf. A huge hit in its day, even in this short excerpt
one could hear why the opera has become a curiosity today – the jazz elements not very well
incorporated into a timidly modernistic fabric.

Donnie Ray Albert (the father in that same Hansel und Gretel) sang “The Emperor’s farewell”
from Viktor Ullamn’s The Emperor of Atlantis. Out of context, the aria still managed to create a
mood of wistful resignation, an amazing achievement for a man writing in a concentration camp,
and too soon to die there.

Tenor Roderick Dixon took on an aria from Erwin Schulhoff’s Flammen, a discursive affair that
gave a more prominent role to orchestral texture rather than to the vocal line.

All of this music boasted to one degree or another a power and sweep to the orchestration, but
rather less in the way of memorable thematic material. That cannot be said of the final segment,
from Erich Korngold’s Die tote Stadt. Unlike the other operas represented, Korngold’s has
managed to keep a precarious hold on a place on the fringes of the standard repertory. It helps
that the opera features two smashing arias. First Tatiana Pavlovskaya sang “Marietta’s lied,” with
Mr. Dixon joining her. Although her top grew a little wild, Ms. Pavlovskaya had the warm
sensuality needed for Korngold’s exquisite tune. Then the fine baritone Martin Gantner, currently
singing Wolfram in the new Tannhäuser at LAO, sang a poignant “Pierrot’s Tanzlied.”

After intermission came a one-act opera from Alexander Zemlinsky, with only minimal direction
for the singers and a few chairs as props, while the projections became a bit more literal in an
attempt to convey the essence of Oscar Wilde’s A Florentine Tragedy. Speaking before the
audience, Conlon detailed Zemlinsky’s unhappy love affair with Gustav Mahler’s future wife
Alma, and suggested that Zemlinsky at least took that pain as a form of creative inspiration.
Basically a psychological battle of wills between a gruff merchant and a young nobleman over
the merchant’s wife, the piece ends with the sort of “twist” which smacks a bit too much of a
Freudian-era Twilight Zone episode. Never short on drama and formal invention, the score would
probably be better known if it had more memorable melodies. And that was true of most of the
evening’s fare. Albert, Pavlovskaya, and Anthony Dean Griffey as the nobleman had to work
against the minimal staging and the story’s claustrophobic nature, and all managed to deserve the
audience’s respect for their efforts.

Much of this repertory was written in the first third of the last century, and in an opera world
eager for fresh material, it seems unlikely that an undiscovered masterpiece lies among the works
of these composers. The works must stand on their own, regardless of the tragic fate of their
composers. Conlon’s passion, however, makes him a brilliant advocate, and Los Angeles Opera
audiences will at least know that a steady diet of Traviata and Bohème will be interspersed with
the dark, sometimes acerbic work of these composers over the coming seasons.

Chris Mullins

image_description=Donnie Ray Albert as Simone and Tatiana Pavlovskaya as Bianca in Alexander Zemlinsky’s Eine florentinische Tragˆdie (A Florentine Tragedy) Photo by: Robert Millard
product_title=Above: Donnie Ray Albert as Simone and Tatiana Pavlovskaya as Bianca in Alexander Zemlinsky’s Eine florentinische Tragˆdie (A Florentine Tragedy)
Photo by: Robert Millard