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Second acts worth noting at the L.A. Phil and L.A. Opera

November 22, 2011 |  1:10 pm

Castronovo and Machaidze
We like to keep reminding ourselves that the reason to attend live performances is because they are always different, and sometimes stuff happens.

On Sunday afternoon, I returned to the Los Angeles Philharmonic to hear how the orchestra was getting along with Emmanuelle Haïm, the feisty French early music specialist. The orchestra had seemed a little uptight for her debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday. And I also hoped that she would include a Rameau encore that was played on Saturday but not Thursday. She did.

As it happened, the L.A. Phil program ended during intermission of the Los Angeles Opera, and stuff was happening there as well. The tenor, Vittorio Grigolo, had a head cold, and with less than a day’s notice, Charles Castronovo had agreed to substitute in the company’s penultimate performance of its production of Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.”

My Sunday started at Disney, where I arrived in time for the performance of Handel’s cantata “Il Delirio Amoroso.” This was its third performance and a far more fluid one than the first. Haïm was urging a remarkable flamboyance that was clearly still a stretch for the ensemble, but the players were starting to cook.

The soprano, Sonya Yoncheva, also new to our parts and also one of the year’s most startling debuts, had smartly toned down the poutiness a touch, and now she was all wow all the time. The Rameau romp, “Forets Paisibles” from “Les Indes Galantes,” was such a delight I doubt a single soul in Disney wanted it to end.

Not only was the orchestra beginning to catch on to Haïm but so was the public. Thursday night, the hall was not full; Sunday it nearly was.

Across the street, Castronovo’s presence at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was sheer luck. Although he lives in Los Angeles, the tenor has been in Chicago rehearsing for “The Magic Flute,” which Lyric Opera opens on Dec. 6. He had been back home Saturday night to help out with an L.A. Opera fundraiser. And that is when Plácido Domingo, the company’s general director and also the conductor for the Gounod opera, tapped him to substitute. Castronovo had sung the role in Dallas in February.

Castronovo happened to have seen the “Roméo" dress rehearsal, but that -- and a few quickly rattled-off pointers Sunday morning from his Juliette, Nino Machaidze, with whom he was soon in bed, bare-chested -- was it. Grigolo is an athletic and charismatic singer, and Ian Judge’s production had him prodigiously leaping over walls, fighting, making love and dying.

I missed the fight scene, which is in the first half, but made it in time for the bedroom. Castronovo, who had starred in the company’s “Il Postino” last year (and which will be televised on PBS' "Great Performances" Friday), was credible if obviously improvising as he went. The spectacular sparks that flew between Grigolo and Machaidze were, of course, missing.

Still, to bring back a full role on the spot, and deal with a new staging, is enormously impressive by itself, let alone to do so with a new cast and conductor. To cope with unfamiliar staging on top of that is multi-tasking of an exceptionally high degree.

He was awarded a tremendous ovation, and that was impressive too. There are those who think more highly of this pulp Shakespearean opera than I (if there weren’t, the score would be fodder for spider webs and mold in a basement somewhere), but it is unlikely that many at the sold-out Pavilion had paid as much as hundreds of dollars because they just had to see Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette.” No, they wanted to witness the two hot young opera stars who were the selling point of this production.

But Castronovo is a local and there was, in the audience, a palpable sense of rooting for the home team. With Domingo in the pit and a grateful cast on stage, everyone seemed to be on Castronovo’s side. He saved the day and then some.


Music review: Emmanuelle Haim makes her L.A. Phil debut

Opera review: 'Romeo and Juliet' at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Opera review: L.A. Opera premieres 'Il Postino'

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Nino Machaidze and Charles Castronovo in Gounod's "Roméo et Juliette" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sunday afternoon. Credit: Los Angeles Opera.