Category: Vocal music

Opera Review: 'Albert Herring' at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

March 15, 2012 | 12:51 pm

Christine Brewer performs on stage.
Aficionados of big voices have been waiting for Christine Brewer to appear in a Los Angeles Opera production for a long time.  Indeed, there were a couple of occasions where she was dangled tantalizingly before us, singing song recitals somewhere in town while Wagner’s “Ring” operas -- her natural habitat -- were playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. 

But Brewer’s LA Opera debut finally came Wednesday night in a most unorthodox way -- slipping into the cast of Britten’s chamber opera “Albert Herring” toward the end of its run.  That’s right -- a chamber opera, and a comedy at that, written for an ensemble cast of equals. 

Fortunately, Brewer’s part -- that of the lordly arbiter of small-town morals, Lady Billows (which she sang in the Santa Fe edition of this production in 2010) --  can sort of lend itself to a Wagnerian soprano. Britten used one, Sylvia Fisher, on his own recording of “Herring.” 

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Catching up with young soprano Jackie Evancho [Video]

February 18, 2012 |  9:00 am

Jackie Evancho
Is Jackie Evancho a prodigy? A product? A cautionary tale in the making? It depends on whom you ask. One thing is for certain: Any mention of the 11-year old soprano with a mature voice is sure to generate passionate comments. As Evancho is set to be in Los Angeles on Friday for a concert at Nokia Live Theatre, we add our thoughts to the mix in this article in Sunday's Arts & Books section.

For those just catching up: Evancho did the local talent show circuit before joining "America's Got Talent" halfway through the 2010 season as part of a YouTube talent search. Her parents posted the first video of Evancho singing when she was 7 years old, which provides an easy way to see how the voice has changed and grown over the last four years.

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Music review: Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Concert Hall

February 13, 2012 |  2:11 pm

Now and then, you may hear a Bruckner symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but did any of Bruckner’s big choral works ever receive a performance there?  The answer is: Not until Sunday night, when Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale took on Bruckner’s somewhat peculiar Mass No. 2 in E minor.

And what kind of a sensibility would program a Bruckner mass alongside a piece by Stravinsky?  An iconoclastic one, yes, but also a practical one, since both the Bruckner mass and to a large extent Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” are powered and colored by wind and brass ensembles.

While Bruckner’s First and Third Masses bear the distinct signatures of the symphonies all over the place, you have to listen hard to find streaks of his sound in the Second Mass, with its backing by a small wind band and throwbacks to the choral styles of the Renaissance. 

The piece sounds as if it was tailored to the acoustics of a cathedral; some of the wind timbres even seem to imitate certain stops on a pipe organ.  A cathedral Disney Hall is not, yet Gershon’s fast tempos were appropriate for this less-reverberant space, as was the Master Chorale’s fresh, bright, plush, not-at-all-ascetic singing.

The Master Chorale is no stranger to “Symphony of Psalms” -– this was the piece the chorale memorably sang at Esa-Pekka Salonen’s farewell concert here in 2009 -– and Gershon carried out another inventive programming scheme by prefacing Stravinsky with a brief, luminous a cappella Bruckner motet, also set to a psalm text, “Os justi.”

Yet this performance (of the Stravinsky) could not quite generate the cool yet paradoxically emotional fervor of the sequence of magically heartfelt, dense chords near the close of Part 3. Gershon tried, slowing the tempo down as marked to let the passage breathe, but it didn’t work.


Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Phil start things in Caracas

Opera review: Placido Domingo in L.A. Opera's 'Simon Boccanegra'

Grammy Awards 2012: Gustavo Dudamel, L.A. Philharmonic win

-– Richard S. Ginell

2010 photo of Grant Gershon and the Master Chorale. Credit: Lee Salem Photography


Music review: Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra at AT&T Center

January 29, 2012 |  2:51 pm

A 500-seat auditorium is hidden within the 1965-vintage corporate confines of the 32-story AT&T Center at 12th Street and Olive, an area of downtown Los Angeles that looks desolate at night -– off the charts, as it were.  But when KUSC moved into the AT&T Center in 2010, they saw a possible staging ground for small- to medium-sized groups in this underused hall –- and so on Saturday night, the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra became the first group to try out the facilities.

The hall looks like an artifact of its time –- a gleaming-white, fan-shaped, multipurpose room with maroon-colored theater-type seats –- and sounds rather dry, with hardly any resonance.  Yet the makeshift shell that KUSC erected on the stage did its job well, pushing the sound forward and out to the audience with good balances among the six period instruments and a full bass response.  The voices of a pair of early-music stars -– soprano Emma Kirkby (working with Musica Angelica for the first time) and countertenor Daniel Taylor -– sounded a bit recessed, but they could be heard clearly from a right-center seat toward the stage and farther back on the left.

In other words, it’ll do.

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Music review: Vivica Genaux and Europa Galante at Disney Hall

January 26, 2012 | 12:57 pm

Europa Galante 6_Cr
Squeezed in between Mahler symphony cycle dates, Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Baroque Variations series soldiered on Wednesday night with a return visit by violinist Fabio Biondi’s period-performance ensemble Europa Galante. For someone attending all these events, the rasping, delicate sounds of period instruments in Vivaldi seemed like a bracing, perhaps slightly acidic splash of cold water in between the massively scaled mood swings of Mahler.     

Nevertheless, there was another form of firepower on the Disney stage Wednesday -– the Fairbanks, Alaska-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who is the focal point of Europa Galante’s current six-city U.S. tour. 

It was a platform for Genaux to show off her rare and astounding ability to wind her way through some of Vivaldi’s hair-raising obstacle courses of notes at lightning-speed tempos (plus encores by Giacomelli and Brioschi).  All of the Vivaldi arias are featured on her appropriately-named CD, “Pyrotechnics,” with Europa Galante -– and none are what could be considered standard fare.

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Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff retires from the concert stage

January 11, 2012 |  5:40 pm

German bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff announced Wednesday that he will, effective immediately, no longer be giving concerts.

In a press release posted on his website, Quasthoff writes,

“After almost 40 years, I have decided to retire from concert life. My health no longer allows me to live up to the high standard that I have always set for my art and myself. I owe a lot to this wonderful profession and leave without a trace of bitterness.

"On the contrary, I am looking forward to the new challenges that will now enter my life. I
would like to thank all my fellow musicians and colleagues, with whom I stood together on
stage, all the organizers, and my audience for their loyalty.”

Quasthoff has serious birth defects from thalidomide poisoning, which shortened his arms and legs.

He has long been a committed professor of voice and encourager of young singers. He will continue in his post at the Hanns Eisler Hochschule in Berlin, as well as giving master classes and overseeing his biennial voice competition, "Das Lied."

Have a listen to Quasthoff, one of the few classically trained singers who can do jazz, pop and blues as idiomatically as they do Schubert, singing "Georgia on My Mind" from his 2011 disc "Tell It Like It Is."

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Straight No Chaser's hit 'Twelve Day of Christmas' comes to L.A.

December 8, 2011 | 12:15 pm

Straight No Chaser

"The Twelve Days of Christmas" is one of those songs that seems a good idea and then somewhere around the maids-a-milking, everyone desperately wants to abort mission. This and the seemingly nonsensical lyrics have made it a holiday favorite on the comedy circuit.

There's Jeff Foxworthy's redneck version, the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre (a few swears), the Muppets with John DenverJulie Andrews & the King's Singers, a Cajun version and Béla Fleck making all sorts of musical jokes.

The most popular version of all -- at least according to YouTube --is by the a cappella group Straight No Chaser. In 1998, the members made a video of themselves singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at a concert. Nothing much happened.

Then, in December 2007, on newfangled video sharing site called YouTube, millions of viewers discovered Straight No Chaser, one of which was Atlantic Records Chief Executive Craig Kallman, who then signed the group to a record deal.

Now the group is on a 50-city cross-country Christmas tour, which rolls into the Wiltern on Friday night. The concert will be a blend of holiday and pop music.

Keep reading to watch the group's live version of "Twelve Days of Christmas."

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5 beloved Christmas carols: Listen and deck the halls

December 7, 2011 |  9:53 am

"A Charlie Brown Christmas"
In Wednesday's Los Angeles Times we look at some common words and ideas in Christmas carols and explore their meaning and history. Listen below for some of the carols that represent each of the themes we discovered:


Often rendered in modern times as "Here We Come A-Caroling," "Here We Come A-wassailing" is a faux-archaic carol created in the mid-19th century just as Christmas was becoming the nostalgia-draped festival we know it as today. Hear the King's Singers and the City of London Sinfonia do their best to take us back to the Middle Ages.

Church Bells

There are many seasonal songs that mention bells but most ("Silver Bells," "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day") are midcentury novelties meant for the crooning set. Handily, the easy-on-the-ears "Carol of the Bells" from the Ukraine is now popular in the United States. This arrangement performed by the London Symphony Orchestra is far less percussive than most choir versions.

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Music review: Karita Mattila at the Broad Stage

December 4, 2011 |  4:55 pm


 We’re so used to hearing Karita Mattila, Finland’s prima donna assoluta, in big opera houses and recordings confronting the likes of Richard Strauss, Janácek and Wagner that it was a novelty to sample her at the relatively cozy Broad Stage on Saturday night -- alone with her redoubtable accompanist, Martin Katz.  And not only that, but she also chose to present a rarefied program of art songs outside the experience of all but a  small minority of classical concertgoers.       

Nevertheless, Mattila the dramatic diva could burst through the stylized formality of the vocal recital format -- holding an imaginary cigarette between her fingers as she languorously bent the notes of “Hotel” in Poulenc’s song cycle “Banalités"; finding the emotion and force in passages of Aulis Sallinen’s stark, mildly dissonant musical language in “Four Dream Songs.”  

“Cinq poémes de Baudelaire” is not top-drawer Debussy to these ears, but Mattila found some resonance in its debt to Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” as her top A eventually flooded forth.  Toward the evening’s close, in five Joseph Marx lieder -- overripe relics even in their time -- her voice was in full, opulent bloom, fitting quite comfortably within the room.

Then, Mattila’s playful side suddenly emerged in “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” -- a throwback to another Scandinavian force-of-nature Birgit Nilsson’s campy turn with same on a recording -- and a comical, almost gypsy-like Finnish folk song, “Viisi Suomalaista Kansanlaulua,” in which she cut loose with a maniacal laugh.

No one was more aware of the challenge of this program to her listeners than Mattila herself, who sagely saved her comments about that until the close of the evening.  “Spread the word, and I will come back and sing more,” she said -- and given the vociferous reaction from the faithful, she won’t have to ask twice. 

-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Soprano Karita Mattila in recital at the Broad Stage. Credit: Amy Graves / WireImage.

Music review: Carl St.Clair, Pacific Symphony at Segerstrom Hall

November 18, 2011 |  1:06 pm

Gustav Mahler’s emotionally conflicted, musically prophetic Ninth Symphony was once a rarity in the concert hall.  Yet in the span of a little more than a year, Southern California orchestras will have performed it on at least four occasions -– Gustavo Dudamel led the Ninth last January and will reprise it next February, the San Diego Symphony performed it just last week -– and the Pacific Symphony made the Ninth the capstone of its “Departures” trilogy Thursday night at Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

Those who came early were treated to actors Nick Ullett and Jenny O’Hara's dramatically charged readings from Mahler’s letters and his wife Alma’s diaries and memoirs (assembled by artistic advisor Joseph Horowitz); Gustav’s bluntly alpha-male ultimatum on what he expected from Alma drew gasps of amazement from this 21st century audience. Another prologue followed in which three songs from “Rückert-Lieder” were performed with a big, rolling timbre by baritone Christòpheren Nomura and pianist Hye-Young Kim, with linking commentary from music director Carl St.Clair.  

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