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January 2000    

Running with the Devil

 Gounod’s Faust comes to town

By Linda LaRoche

 Many ballads, folk tales and dramas have been inspired by the legend of Faust’s sinister pact with the devil, but the first production of the Los Angeles Opera’s 2000 season executes a feat of magic. Faust composer Charles François Gounod synthesizes the tragic tale with overtures, passionate French melodies, a waltz, an oratorio and ballet.

 The tale begins as Faust, an aged chemist who has grown weary and disillusioned with the pursuit of knowledge, resolves to commit suicide.  Cursing life, he calls for Satan’s help.  Mephistopheles appears and suggests that, in return for wealth and power, Faust signs away his soul.  The philosopher demands youth and love instead.

 Immediately he begins to woo the lovely Marguerite.  Once he seduces her, however, Marguerite is unable to cope with reality.  She hears taunting voices goes mad and murders their illegitimate child.  Imprisoned, she awaits death.  With diabolical designs on her soul the obsessive Mephistopheles urges Faust to see her and asks her to join him in his pact.  In anguish, Marguerite calls out to God for protection accompanied by a choir of seraphic voices.  As her soul is borne to heaven, she damns Faust.  Fantasy and sorcery come to an end with Mephistopheles gloating “Condemned!” as he drags his victim off to perdition.

 The production features renowned bass baritone Samuel Ramey in his signature role as the quintessential Mephistopheles.  Ramey previously performed with the company’s recital in 1998 to considerable acclaim. Entering the third decode of an extraordinary career, Ramey is extraordinary in this role. He’s a striking man with the stage presence of a dancer. But it’s his commanding and expressive voice that allows him to convincingly portray various incarnations of devils, villains and malicious characters.  In Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman he sang all four villains, prompting one critic to write “It was the best interpretation I can remember in 25 years.  This is the stuff of which operatic legends are made.”

 The all star cast includes the L.A. Opera debuts of Marcello Giordani as Faust and Romanian-born soprano Leontine Vaduva as the beautiful Marguerite.  Also starring are Malcolm MacKenzie as Valentin, Megan Dey-Toth as Siebel, Catherine Cook as Marthe Schwerlein and Cedric Berry as Wagner.  Conductor Philippe Auguin will make his debut at the podium.  Christopher Harlan will direct the revival of Frank Corsaro’s  enticing 1994 staging of Gounod’s tragic tale.  The production will work its charm on the public from January 19 to February 5 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.



September 12, 1998    

Slow Boat

Actors Alley’s production admirable, but lacks pace, rhythm

By Linda LaRoche

Though admirable in its intentions, the songs of Kander and Ebb’s “The World Goes Round” at North Hollywood’s Actors Alley El Portal Theater is a non-descriptive music hall revue that feels it age with glitches weaving in and out of its 34 songs. Styled as mini-Broadway productions, the show bloats with a cast of 10 often assembled on a small stage refraining from vigorous movements.

Choreographer and director David Mingrino is the weak link.  His pace lacks rhythm and drive and can best be described as soporific.  Loosely assembled, a number of songs missed the cue of good solid invigorating tap dance.  Often falling at the seams, one number would shine toward a slight upbeat tempo only to be followed by an unconvincing vignette that would throw one back into a state of blasé mediocrity.  Since neither the performers nor the dancers galvanize, the direction is constructed on a sandy foundation.

“All That Jazz”, performed by Lori Allen Thomas, Bobbi Stamm, Nora Linden, Carol Keis and Karen Reed, a too infrequent jazz dance, had a lot of derrieres shaking to the cymbals of the back-beat of a drum. Light Designer Peter Strauss lacked imagination by not dimming the lights, so it merely hinted at the potential of sensuality, teasing the viewer with diluted sexy magnetism.

Karen Reed softened the mood with a ballad called “A Quiet Thing,” which recounts the sweet fanciful fall into love from a feminine point of view.  Also deserving mention is Marcia Rodd and Jonathan Maller in “Arthur in the Afternoon,” a playful rumble of two lovers who rendezvous daily.  Their rendition has humor, and delightful lyrics that set to percussive music that set the middle-aged woman and her young gigolo into a racy beat.

Richard Scully’s set is strikingly New York in feeling and inviting at first glance, yet oddly unimpressive without the compliment of the lighting design.  Daian Ross has done particularly well with costuming.

Despite choreographic failings, of memorable note s “New York, New York,” sung up-tempo in multiple languages.  Yet it comes at the finale, a very long wait for a moment of brisk staging.


July 21, 2001    

A Bittersweet Musical

 Everybody Loves Leona

By Linda LaRoche

A single middle-aged teacher from the Midwest with romantic ideas of love waits to be discovered amidst the canals and gondolas of Venice, Italy.  If this sounds like a summer read, you’re only warm.  The story line isn’t on the bestseller list- it’s the theatrical revival of the 1965 musical, “Do I Hear a Waltz” that opened at the Pasadena Playhouse on July 15.

 This play has a history filled with several incarnations that have altered its originality.  Its first life came in 1952 with the Arthur Laurent's play, “The Time of the Cuckoo”.  Later it was adapted into the 1954 film “Summertime” directed by David Lean and starred Katherine Hepburn and the Italian bello, Rozzano Brazzi. It’s worth renting just to look at Brazzi’s European old-world sensibility and charm. The film was compelling and although sentimental reflects a woman searching for love, yet once found has a hard time accepting it in a form that she is not familiar with culturally. She also comes to grips with crushing disappointments consequently gaining self- knowledge and her world. My favorite scene is where Hepburn seductively shops for a pair of red high heels for her last date- “with him” an occurrence that so many women can identify with.

 The third manifestation was a 1965 Broadway musical that featured collaboration between famed composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Now in its fourth existence, “Do I Hear a Waltz” seems outdated.  Directed by “Frasier” creator David Lee, the all-star cast includes Carol Lawrence, as the Italian highfalutin donna Fioria.  Anthony Crivello stars as Renato, the married Italian shopkeeper and Alyson Reed stars as Leona the American single schoolteacher. Lawrence is as glib and natural as she was when she starred in her own television show.  “Darling, there is no divorce in Italy, only discretion” she states as she doles out advice and gets her share of laughs.  No one can gainsay her timing.

 As a woman if you want a play to speak for you or to be a part of your language then this production may not take you on an internal journey however, the film version achieved that result superbly. But you will walk out with a sense of lightness coming from the sounds of the 60-piece orchestra and a magical spell from Crivello’s singing voice.  When I asked him about his talent, I could hear a New York accent, and he seems to bubble over at the suggestion that his voice has the power of a lion.

 The party wasn’t held at the usual venue but at a private home to accommodate over 200 guests. The architecture was Spanish Revival, stunning, no compromising of space and lined with religious artifacts that captivated a flow of guests throughout the interiors.  In the backyard tables were set for dining al fresco. You could never feel claustrophobic here.  Peggy Dark with The Kitchen for Exploring Foods created an Italian light supper buffet that would make anyone say with delight, “Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). Selections were fresh and satisfying.  Elegant with a touch of “California” a.k.a. produce driven although fit for a Roman Legion. They included a Tuscan bean white salad, antipasto platter with salami and imported cheeses, eggplant caponata with chevre, figs with gorgonzola wrapped with prosciutto, spinach dip and saffron aioli served with olive bread, a fava bean puree and misto fritto, an array of artichokes, fennel and zucchini fried in tempera.

 Sampling in the good times was a collection of actors and from the original production, Jack Manning. 


February 10, 2001    

Good Vibrations

A Short Tour of "The Universe"

By Linda LaRoche

“Respecting Our Past, Creating Our Future” were the six words that were written across the colorfully painted buses.  Destination: “The Universe”- a convergence of eight cultural venues throughout the city of Pasadena celebrating the millennium of art, music and science.

Haven’t we had enough of the millennium you ask?  Apparently not; on Feb.3, the sites were buzzing with enthusiasts. 

First on my agenda: the Pacific Asia Museum.

This exhibition included objects from four Asian-born religions, Buddhism, Jainism, Daoism (Taoism) and Hinduism. Did I hear anyone say Om? The first lesson in Zen philosophy: Time doesn’t exist.  There were woodcuts on paper and hanging scrolls with scenes indicative of our interest in the past springing from a desire to understand the present.  Set against blue slate walls, the art provided powerful imagery.

The main attraction was in another room- an enormous mandala, blessed by his holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet.  This three-dimensional cosmic diagram was constructed to promote universal peace.  Second lesson in Zen: Less is more.  The offerings surrounding it red roses, greens, cookies, and candles, were of great significance.

I must have been in the right place at the right time: I had a conversation with a museum trustee. Clad in black jersey tunic and matching slacks offset by an antique silver Indian choker, she avoided eye contact but then began to speak about her personal transformations. “Some time ago I documented all my belongings” she said. “It’s truly amazing to see the interconnection between things and the people I meet.  It validates that I’m living my life as I’m suppose to".  The third lesson in Zen; old souls meet again.

In the courtyard flanked by Bodhi trees were hordes of gatherers munching on a nirvana of brownies and lemon bars dipped in cream.  On the path to enlightenment no one should travel hungry.

Next Stop: East meets West in spirit.

In the beginning: A familiar story from Genesis is that of Jacob’s ladder.  Jacob sleeps on the rocky ground and dreams of a ladder on earth reaching to heaven.  At the top of the ladder stands God who speaks to Jacob.  Ascending, existing in two realms.  If this sounds like the ordinary stress of life, it isn’t.  Nor is it part of an oral or written tradition.  This concept is a painting, loaned by the Los Angeles Museum of Art.

“Creation, Constellations and the Cosmos”, was the theme that examined how artists define spiritual connections using various artistic media.  And then there were the cosmic circles. As a symbol of universality, a circle can take on many meanings, a sacred emblem as infinite as the universe itself.  One favorite symbolic icon is from India.  “Shiva, as Lord of dance”, Shiva dances with his left leg raised in the center of a circle.

End of Cycle: Science

Continuing my journey, I stopped at the Art Center College of Design. It is here artist and astronomer Russell Crotty documents his drawings with ball point pen on paper.  “The Universe from my backyard” is what Crotty calls his own observatory, a hilltop in Malibu.  His playful style reminded me of Maurice Sendak of “Where the Wild Things Are”.

Invoking the pastime of viewing that stars at night, Crootys generates renderings in large journals of his vision. Gallery attendants leaf through the journals wearing white cotton gloves narrating the result of the combination of art and science.

The fabulous night ended with a gong and we were all gone.

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