L.A. Opera´s 2004-2005 Season Concludes On A High Note

REVIEW By Willard Manus

Los Angeles Opera concluded its 2004-2005 season with productions of two perennial favorites, Richard Strauss' DER ROSENKAVALIER and Verdi's FALSTAFF, starring the Welsh bass-baritone, Bryn Terfel.

Both productions were memorable, for different reasons. Strauss' opera-buffa (written by Hugo von Hoffmannsthal) was sung well, especially by Alice Coote (Octavian), Adrianne Pieczonka (Marschallin), Kurt Rydl (Ochs) and Elizabeth Futral (Sophie), but for once the visual took precedence over the vocal, thanks to Gottfried Helnwein's splendiferous set and costumes, and to Alan Burrett's equally dazzling lighting design. Director Maximilian Schell also weighed in strongly with his cinematic direction, which at times incorporated images from the 1925 silent film of Rosenkavalier, directed by Robert Wiene with a score by Strauss, based on his opera.

Helnwein and Burrett drenched the stage in various colors--blue for the first act, gold and yellow for the second, red for the tempestuous third act. The makeup, masks and costumes (200-odd) were color-coordinated accordingly, resulting in one astounding stage image after another, some reflecting commedia dell'arte, others pantomime, Dr. Seuss, Baroque, Rococco, God knows what. The total effect was truly unique, even unforgettable--but came with a price. The opera itself was overwhelmed, the singers too, buried under the weight of excessive creativity. An opera should be dominated by its composer and singers, not its backstage "helpers."

FALSTAFF was another feast for the eyes, thanks to Hayden Griffin's sets, Michael Stennet's costumes and Rick Geyer's wig & makeup designs, which helped turn Bryn Terfel, the Welsh bass-baritone, into the bibulous, life-loving Shakesperean rogue, Sir John Falstaff.

Terfel's obvious love for this character, his delight in making us laugh at and with him, and above all his rich, soaring voice made for a magnificent performance, one that will long be remembered. (Terfel has also recorded FALSTAFF for Universal Classics on a 2-CD set).

FALSTAFF was Verdi's last opera, written when he was eighty, but its music sounds as if it had been composed by a young man. Light, energetic, even bubbly, it is packed with joy and humor, poignancy too, particularly in its closing moments when Verdi bids farewell to Sir John and salutes him for his humanity and frailty.

FALSTAFF's other roles were sung appealingly by Kallen Esperian and Milena Kitic (the Windsor wives), Jane Henschel (the bawdy Mistress Quickly), Celene Shafer and Daniil Shtoda (the impassioned young lovers), Vassily Gerello (Ford), Greg Fedderly (Bardolph), Dean Peterson (Pistol) and David Cangelosi (Dr Caius). Kent Nagano conducted both ROSENKAVALIER and FALSTAFF with his customary skill and grace.

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