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'Candide' in Long Beach, LA Dance Project at the Wallis

candide-lbo.jpgA scene from the recent 'Candide' at Long Beach Opera.

Old loves stay locked in the heart. Take "Candide," for instance, Leonard Bernstein's incandescent pastiche based on Voltaire's scalding social satire from the 18th century.

Why that one?

Well, just think of what Lenny wrote for it -- the most delicious compendium of Straussian-Mahlerized waltzes, mock-lugubrious tangos, soaringly sincere ballads, patter songs that bounce along on wildly witty lyrics.

And who do you think helped him with the book back in 1955? No less than Lillian Hellman, with hilariously knife-edge lyrics by Richard Wilbur, assisted by John Latouche, Stephen Sondheim and even -- get this -- the wise-cracking poet Dorothy Parker.

So I ask you: Why do we languish in the absence of "Candide" on all our stages all the time?

Because some have called it not quite stageworthy -- based on its Broadway premiere, which did bomb compared to the usual tired-businessman fare so popular back then.

But since that time when Bernstein worked with creators of highest caliber, others have had at "Candide," largely for tweaking purposes.

Finally, we just saw the version put on by Long Beach Opera -- that company known as indefatigable, irreverent, unsinkable, irrepressible, (often a bit rag-tag, too). And if you couldn't get to one of its only three performances, that's a pity.

But let's petition for a replay in L.A. proper. And let's advertise "Candide" as a tragi-comic opera, a rare, satiric piece of musical theater with a ribald underbelly and a philosophic bent.

Not because this Royal National Theatre edition by John Caird was allowed to be perfect. Far from it, owing to the zealous pursuit of stagecraft juvenilia inflicted by LBO designer Sean T. Cawelti. Without that, though, director David Schweizer had some excellent ideas -- among them, making the opening scene a rehearsal led by Pangloss (the Voltaire stand-in).

Still, there was far too much stage shtick, too much busyness every which way. After all, the Center Theater's intimacy invites less of it -- singers can resort to dramatic nuances and subtle interactions. Nor are body mics, amply in use here, anything but superfluous and distorting.

And that's a pity because other L.A. "Candide" performances -- Hollywood Bowl's (2010) concert version, long on padded narration and New York City Opera's decades-old floundering production at the Music Center -- missed the mark.

This one hits it. So forgive LBO any errors, because mostly it's on target.

The whole cast excels. Robin Buck makes a pseudo-haughty Pangloss, instructing the others about their improbably "best of all possible worlds;" Jamie Chamberlin hurls out Cunegonde's coloratura gem "Glitter And Be Gay" with thrilling bravura amid all her gold-digger goals; and Todd Strange, as the title character who only ever wanted to "Make Our Garden Grow," sings with tenorial sweetness. Conductor Kristof van Grysperre animated the score's pulse, despite his chamber orchestra's somewhat scrappy playing.

But closer to home there was much else going on. Notably at Beverly Hills' Wallis Theater. Should I say again just how hospitable this intimate venue is? Have all concert-goers who are engaged with music and dance been alerted to the Wallis?

If not, consider the latest attractions there. First, there was the Shanghai Quartet playing Beethoven Quartets. And it proved again -- after the Calders and Brentanos did last season -- that there's no finer place to be for hearing chamber music played live. It's something about the air in that acoustic space where a notated rest can land and hang in suspension -- which happened in Beethoven's F-minor Quartet, Op. 95: The 1st movement ended in a riveting question, and it was left unanswered in a miracle of quietude. You can't get that on a recording. But you heard it from these marvelous musicians in this hall.

So, of course, did the mostly sedate audience. But it was an ever-so-sleek populace that crowded into the Wallis when L.A. Dance Project took to the boards. Result: this nine-member company looks best here, especially after its disaster at the Ace Hotel Theater downtown two seasons ago, although an earlier gig at Disney Hall -- using the full, forward stage -- was sensational.

But remember, this chamber group gets to travel the world, what with its director, French-born Benjamin Millepied, a bonafide celeb and head of the Paris Opera -- until last week.
(Naturally, he'd been able to parlay dates for LADP at various Parisian theaters, too.)

New to the repertory here was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's "Harbor Me," such a far cry from his "Myth" (2008), that sitcom circus with multi-lingual wackadoodles, tumbling acts and sight gags. But now, with this entry, any trace of disorder is gone and we could see real choreographic invention at work.

ladanceprojectwallis.jpgWhat the Moroccan/Belgian dance-maker showed us was mesmerizingly organic, fully developed movement that links its arcing plastique to moody, middle eastern strains of music. Huzzahs to LADP's dancers for their versatility in embracing this undulating sinewy style as easily as the typically jaunty works with their balletic accents.

Those would be the two previously seen numbers, by Millepied and Justin Peck -- cookie-cutter pieces influenced by the Balanchine method at New York City Ballet where the two trained and performed. Meaning that the works are eminently watchable and well-crafted, but also quickly evaporate from the mind. (And I can't figure out why costumes that foreshorten leg lengths, as these do, would ever come into stage vogue, just to follow street fashion.)

By the way, does anyone recall when Millepied plied his trade at Geneva Ballet and came up with that unforgettable take-off on "Spectre de la Rose"?

Maybe some do in his posh Wallis audience -- and I'm talking about those other watchables, the offbeat, artsy chi-chi, well-to-do, hip, but older crowd beating a path here.

If, in fact, someone wants to take a sociological survey of audiences there was a perfect case at UCLA's Royce Hall when Denis Matsuev took to the Steinway onstage.

No, we were not in Moscow. But scarcely an English word did I hear among the throng of Russian speakers -- colorfully cosmopolitan and chic -- cramming the house for the International Tchaikovsky Competition winner's recital.

Did the burly Russian play like a winner, a pianist of obvious no-nonsense mastery? Without doubt. There was Tchaikovsky, of course, those 12 lovely miniatures titled "The Seasons, which he delivered with classical restraint. And a more poetic reflection came in Schumann's "Kreisleriana." But with the piano transcription of "Petrouchka" he set off a blaze that ripped through the hall. This was playing that electrified. It's what technical virtuosity was made for. It earned the native son a roaring ovation from his compatriots.


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