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Review: The Colburn Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Dancing and playing into our hearts

The Colburn Orchestra and Dance Academy at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By

Leticia Marie Sanchez

Colburn Orchestra

On Friday evening, the Colburn Orchestra had the audience at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on the edge of their seats. It was a night celebrating the trajectory of of love, from the sweet lightness of the music of Irving Berlin to the dissonant passionate struggle in Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” opened the program with enthusiasm and proved a fitting bookend to the intensity of Prokofiev.From the music of Bernstein, the music flowed smoothly to the music of Irving Berlin arranged by Scott Ninmer. The transportive choreography by L.A Dance Project Founder Benjamin Millepied added to the uplifting nature of the evening. Dancers from Colburn Dance Academy conveyed a soaring spirit of optimism, their Grand Jetés evoking the sunny buoyancy of Berlin’s music.

Got no silver,

 got no gold

What I got can’t be bought or sold

I got the sun in the morning

 and the moon at night”

Irving Berlin

The rich, sonorous voice of tenor Joshua Wheeker augmented shades of profundity to the blithe music of Berlin, enhancing the score in a way not done by prior vocalists who have sung the works of the Broadway king. What Millepied, Wheeker, the Colburn Orchestra, and Colburn Dance Academy were able to accomplish was to create moments where time stood still. Even more than moments, they created an actual atmosphere of endearing lightness. For Angelenos getting off the freeway after Friday night rush hour, this atmosphere proved a much needed balm for the soul.

In sharp contrast to the tripping-the-light-fantastic aura of Berlin, the music of Prokofiev plunged the audience into the tragic, turmoil-filled Sturm und Drang of the ill-fated teen lovers, Romeo and Juliet.

The musicians of the Colburn Orchestra, only a few years older than Romeo and Juliet, performed with boisterous passion akin to those in the throes of love. What made the performance of Prokofiev’s work even more exciting was the fresh and raw energy that the musicians of the Colburn Orchestra brought to the stage. With his dynamic electric physicality, Christian Arming was able to reign in the orchestra when needed and elicit a clean, passionate performance.  The rendition of the rousing theme during the passage of the Montagues and the Capulets was nothing short of thrilling.

More programs that would include dance and vocalization would be welcome at Walt Disney Concert Hall. When the Muses work together, the results can be sublime.

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Review: “The Originalist” at the Pasadena Playhouse- A Must See Production

Sparring with Scalia

Review: The Originalist at the Pasadena Playhouse

by

Leticia Marie Sanchez

All photography ©2017 Leticia Marie Sanchez

New Scalia Image

In Ancient Greece, theater played a central role in keeping citizens of the city-state politically informed. John Strand’s The Originalist, which is currently playing at the Pasadena Playhouse, harkens back to the days of civic-minded theater by delving into political issues and polemics in a way that is equally thought-provoking and entertaining. Beyond the highly engaging Beatrice and Benedick-like sparring of the two talented leads (Edward Gero as uber-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and Jade Wheeler as “flaming liberal” Supreme Court Clerk Cat), the play probes a deeper philosophical issue. In his program notes, playwright John Strand asks, “How did we become so polarized that we see our political opponents as demons? What happened to the political middle?”  The timely play delves into political divergences through its compelling actors, operatic motifs, and humor in a lively verbal jousting match.

The play’s premise is that brash, intimidating conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hires outspoken liberal young clerk Cat. In the play, Scalia boasts, “I like to have a liberal around to remind me how right I am.” Scalia apparently would hire “counter-clerks” to solidify his own views while writing court opinion. A core strength of the play is the acting by leads Edward Gero and Jade Wheeler. The narrative essentially unfolds as a philosophical tug of war, and Wheeler gives as good as she gets, throwing in exceptional punches as the earnest idealist with the chutzpah to challenge the heavyweight. The play includes a brief appearance by Brett Mack as Brad, the fawning obsequious foil (the Supreme Court clerk you love to hate) to Cat’s straight-shooting sparring partner. But other than Brad’s cameo in conservatism, the entire play focuses solely on the formidable acting chops of Gero and Wheeler cast with very little in the way of set enhancements, and the duo successfully keeps the audience engaged for the duration, which is also a testament to Strand’s zinger-filled writing.

Another strength of The Originalist, lies in its operatic motif. The Originalist opens dramatically with the music of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” In real-life Scalia was an opera fanatic who performed with the Washington Opera in Ariadne Auf Naxos with his (surprising) buddy Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. In the play, Scalia compares opera to the Constitution. “A great opera must always be what it is—the notes are the notes then, now, and a hundred years from now…That is also my opinion of the Constitution.” In that line, Scalia encapsulates his position as an Originalist. In addition to legal philosophy, the play explores politics as theatre. Cat tells Scalia that he is a “a showman at heart,” one who enjoys the verbal wrangling of court proceedings. At one point Scalia reenacts his senate confirmation hearings, with Gero humorously mimicking the accents of Senators Kennedy and Strom Thurmond as he relished the clash with gusto, “It’s political theater…the opera of my confirmation.”

Humor and double entendres also add to the fast-paced nature of The Originalist. When Cat asks Scalia how Justice Ginsberg keeps from strangling him, he quips. “That’s what they mean by Judicial Restraint.” In another scene, Scalia recalls that someone named his pet fish after him. When Scalia asked the person if they had any another pet fish named after Supreme Court Justices, the reply was “No, Scalia ate them all.”

The play humanizes a polarizing figure, particularly his regret at not becoming Chief Justice. Scalia reveals to Cat that he was told by the Bush administration.  “You would be as popular as a second invasion of Baghdad.” Dark minor chords are emitted from Scalia’s usually boisterous blustery self, as he bitterly remarks, “Did he (George W. Bush) forget the recount crisis?”

At the play’s conclusion, the graduating clerk announces that she will be leaving her role not for a plum corporate position but to engage in a grassroots effort to bring polarized Americans closer together. Cat observes, “There is a middle, and we’re all hiding in our bunkers.” She remarks that the current state of dialogue is “poisonous,” to which anyone currently fatigued from the political vitriol on Facebook News Feeds can attest. “Half the country sees me as a monster,” Scalia declares. In a year of polarizing figures, Strand’s play is particularly salient. The only way to move past polarization is to take a lesson from the Greeks: use plays like the Originalist as a catalyst for dialogue and civic engagement.

Finally, the play is extremely relevant to the current events that unfold daily. “We are everywhere now,” Scalia warns Cat about Originalists. And Scalia was right. With Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s first week on the job, the play could not be more timely.

Below. The Pasadena Playhouse. April 14, 2017

Pasadena Playhouse 1Pasadena Playhouse 2Pasadena Playhouse 3

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Behind the Scenes with Vittorio Grigòlo: Master Class with the superstar Tenor

Grigolo Master Class 4

Behind the Scenes with Vittorio Grigòlo:

 Master Class with the superstar Tenor

By

 Leticia Marie Sanchez

All photography ©2017 Leticia Marie Sanchez

A master class with Vittorio Grigòlo offered an unexpected lesson in chemistry, conducting, and electricity.

The charismatic opera star has been in Los Angeles where he stars as E.T.A Hoffman in LA Opera’s Tales of Hoffman.

While in Southern California, Grigòlo led master classes with Angels Vocal Art, an organization that fosters emerging vocal talent. Singers auditioned for the chance to perform for the world class tenor.

At the master class, Grigòlo told the students that opera singers are also conductors.“A conductor is not somebody who has a baton in his hand..It’s a tube that can bring energy from the stage, passing through the people in the orchestra seats and sending it through the theatre. Conductors and Semi-Conductors. Electricity. We bring waves of energy with our voices.

Grigòlo whipped the emerging young “conductors” into shape through intense work on the lyrics, the score, and their physicality. While student Ricardo Mota sang Bizet’s “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée,” Grigòlo reminded him, “You are a dark spirit, give me color.” Grigòlo encouraged his students to fully embody their characters. He did not allow small details like a scripted yawn to escape him, and he showed the students how to naturally incorporate even the smallest of nuances into the music. He urged them to probe the text, the notes, and even their own physicality in order to deliver authentic performances. When tenor Tyler Wolsten sang Bizet’s moving “Je crois entendre encore,” Grigòlo stopped him in the middle of his performance to focus on the word “crois,” the French word for believe. “What do you believe?” Grigòlo demanded, insisting that the singer reflect on the text before attempting to express an emotion to the audience. Grigòlo also encouraged the students to fully delve into the shades the notes of the score. When soprano Roksana Zeinapur sang Mozart’s “In Quali…Mi Tradi quell’alma ingrate,” Grigòlo asked her to pause to listen to a chord. “That chord is conveying uncertainty,” Grigòlo explained, encouraging her to convey the same sentiment though her voice.

The indefatigable Grigòlo even asked students to punch his stomach to understand the importance of diaphragm strength.

Under Grigòlo’s exacting instruction, the students showed a clear metamorphoses – for instance, some from shy and tentative, to rousing and convincing. The tenor stayed as late as possible to accommodate every student in the class and give them the opportunity to sing for him, even though he already had tight demands on his schedule that evening.

Like a Mercury heading into the night, the dashing tenor put on a pair of neon sneakers and a hoodie before bidding adieu. As he walked out the door, Grigòlo recapitulated the two days of master classes with one word: “endurance.”

A takeaway from the intense master class is that Grigòlo, in fact, sweats the small stuff. And that’s why he’s the big stuff.

Photo Above: Vittorio Grigòlo and tenor Tyler Wolsten

Photo below: Vittorio Grigòlo and soprano Emily Rosenberg

Grigolo Final Master Class

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Wagner, Robber,and the Flying Dutchman

                                                        Wagner, Robber, and the Flying Dutchman

By Leticia Marie Sanchez

Cultural Cocktail Hour® is a registered Trademark

He not have been an actual thief, but Richard Wagner’s Newfoundland dog Robber successfully stole the composer’s heart. In Wagner Without Fear, author William Berger regales us with colorful tales from Wagner’s life, including his tumultuous journey from Riga to Paris. When the debt-ridden Wagner and his wife Minna decided to escape from present-day Latvia, the composer insisted that Robber join them, despite the great risk. Cossack patrols guarded the Prussian border, with orders to shoot and kill the unlucky fugitives who caught their attention. Miraculously, the pooch did not make a peep as they dashed across the border. One little bark would have meant Sayonara Wagner. Welcome to Valhalla.Wagner then decided that the trio would henceforth travel by sea, avoiding land voyages that would tucker out the legs of his beloved canine.  Unfortunately, turbulence reigned during their voyage on the merchant ship Thetis. This tempest-filled odyssey endured for more than a month, with the sounds of sailors’ shrieks terrifying Wagner.Thankfully, the Wagners arrived safely in London and eventually, Paris. The traumatized composer refused to step foot on a ship for the rest of his days.

His angst-filled voyage, however, inspired the music for the Flying Dutchman. Thus, Robber’s influence on Wagner’s sailing itinerary had its rewards. A dog really can be a Man’s Best Friend and, in some cases, his Best Muse. 

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Schoenberg to Strauss– Thanks but No Thanks

schoenberg

If you don’t have anything nice to say….

Richard Strauss’ caustic jabs about Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg came back to haunt him.

In his delightful Book of Musical Anecdotes, Norman Lebrecht reveals that when Schoenberg was asked to compose a piece for his sharp tongued critic, he wrote back as follows:

Dear Sir,

I regret that I am unable to accept your invitation to write something for Richard Strauss’s fiftieth birthday.

In a letter to Frau Mahler…Herr Strauss wrote about me as follows:

The only person who can help poor Schoenberg now is a psychiatrist…. I think he’d do better to shovel snow instead of scribbling on music paper.

It seems to me that the opinion I myself and indeed everyone else who knows these remarks is bound to have of Herr Strauss as a man (for here is envy of a ‘competitor’) and as an artist (for the expressions he uses are as banal as a cheap song) is not suitable for general publication in honour of his fiftieth birthday.” [Lebrecht, 290-291]

In other words– Strauss, go jump in the DANUBE  (Different Strauss, but you get the picture)

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Review: Pittance Chamber Music

Pittance Chamber Music and the Chambers of the Heart

By

Leticia Marie Sanchez

All photography ©2017 Leticia Marie Sanchez

Founder's LA Opera

Chamber Music comprises music that can be played in a large room or chamber, or as denoted by the French “chambre.”

This week’s concert by Pittance Chamber Music suggests a second meaning: music that penetrates the chamber of the heart.

The ensemble evoked a raw immediacy and poignancy through their talented performance and moving repertoire. Particularly moving were the pieces set to verse. Ralph Vaughan William’s “On Wenlock Edge” was set to “A Shropshire Lad” by A.E. Housman while Benjamin Britten’s “Folk Songs,” included the verses of 18th century Irish Poet Thomas Moore. Tenor Arnold Livingtson Geis sublimely captured the nuanced shades of love, death, loss, and humor in the verses which were simultaneously rooted in nature and soaring in spirit. The intimate setting allows the audience to witness first hand the the rapport between the musicians, a dimension and unquantifiable variable of palpable electric energy which enhances the appreciation of performance. A second benefit of the setting is the inescapability of the music itself. A few feet away from the performers, one more intensely absorbs the music and the layers of meaning in the program.

As Housman wrote: “Here of a Sunday morning/My love and I would lie/and see the coloured counties/and hear the lark so high/about us in the sky.”

What a privilege to listen to an an ensemble that can make the spirit soar like the lark in Shropshire.

All Photography: Founder’s Room. The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  Pittance Chamber Music. March 26, 2017

Founders LA Opera 3Founders Day 2

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Beethoven: In a Stew Over Beef?

by Leticia Marie Sanchez

According to Norman Lebrecht, author of “The Book of Musical Anectodes” (Simon & Schuster, 1985), Beethoven flew off the handle when a waiter at the Viennese restaurant “The Swan,” brought him the wrong meat dish. Some artists are particular about their piano benches (Gould) while others are particular about their beef.  An outraged Beethoven hurled the dish, gravy and all, over the waiter’s head.

Just as the wrong meat could turn him into a raging bull, the right one could turn him into a loving lamb.  When his friend Ferdinand Ries sent him a particular type of roast veal, Beethoven kissed and embraced him, telling him “never had anything given him such pleasure as the roast veal, coming at the very moment when he so greatly longed for it.” (Lebrehct, 81)

Beethoven also adored bread soup, which he ate religiously on Thursdays. Woe to the chef who did not prepare it properly. He or she would have to duck from Beethoven-hurled Eggs Bombs. Yolks on the Cook!

Beethoven obviously felt all of his senses, including his gastronomical ones, intensely. Perhaps that is why the wrong cut of beef could put him into a stew.

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March Highlight- Pittance Chamber Music- Free-Music Center Founder’s Room

A delightful Cultural Cocktail recipe: An infusion of R. Vaughan Williams+ a shot of Britten+ a dose of Korngold= a TOP PICK!

And, it’s free!

Sunday, March 26th 3 pm

Pittance Chamber Music

Ralph Vaughan Williams

Presents Members of the L.A. OPERA ORCHESTRA with ARNOLD LIVINGSTON GEIS, tenor and PAUL FLOYD, piano

Program: On Wenlock Edge,  R. Vaughan Williams; Selected Folk Songs, Benjamin Britten; Sextet, Op. 10, E.W. Korngold

Admission is FREE

Seating is first-come, first-serve

Founders Room Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. 135 North Grand Avenue, LA, CA, 90012

During LA Opera’s Open House

Above left: Composer Ralph Vaughan Williams

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At the Descanso Gardens

All photography ©2017 Leticia Marie Sanchez

“Flowers are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty outvalues all the utilities of the world”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

CCH Tulips 3

CCH Tulips 2

 

CCH Tulips 1

 

 

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Outside of the Broad Museum…

All photography ©2017 Leticia Marie Sanchez

 “It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”- Rainer Maria Rilke

Spring Broad

 

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