Vittorio Grigolo and So Young Park in "The Tales of Hoffmann" at LA Opera. Photo: Ken Howard.
Forget New York. Right now Los Angeles looks like the new center of vocal arts, with Plácido Domingo as its long-time major benefactor.
Yes, the tenor-turned baritone/conductor whose celebrity and insider connections lifted the LA Opera that he directs to upper reaches -- now in its 31st season -- can be called the promoter-in-chief here.
After all, you don't go around the world for years sponsoring opera contests, then grooming the best of the winners for international careers and come up with nothing.
Even if you are the most over-achieving, immensely prolific and famous singer of our time. Even if most others of such high note wouldn't dream of adding more activities to an already pressured schedule.
Well, he's still doing it. And we just witnessed his last talent roll-out filled with names you never heard of. But you will. The ravishing results of these performances attest to that. More on Domingo's downtown debutantes later...
Meanwhile, Santa Monica's Broad Stage continued its singers' extravaganza and added to our riches with Michael Fabiano (right), another tenor unknown hereabouts, judging from the sea of empty seats at his concert there. Next time, I predict a box office stampede because this American, who won the 2014 Richard Tucker and Beverly Sills prizes respectively, is a genuine artist. Not only because he can sing Lensky's Aria ("Eugene Onegin") with deep Russian soulfulness and two contrasting Straus lieder --"Morgen," lit with poetic subtlety and Cäcilie," infused with heroism -- and Don José's "Flower Song" ("Carmen") in pure ardor and with a gorgeous soft ending as Bizet instructed.
But because Fabiano has that same deliciously liquid tone as Franco Corelli, a vibrato cultivated for warmth, a musicality to his phrasing and a dimension to his singing that turns every note leading to a melodic climax into a multi-colored revelation. Can this happen in a house with 4000 seats, as opposed to what we heard in the Broad's much smaller hall? I don't know. But we'll see next season when he performs in LA Opera's "Rigoletto."
Not surprisingly, some of those featured at Domingo's Music Center song-fest were spotted in the audience at Fabiano's concert. And just like their illustrious predecessors starting out at LA Opera -- Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazon, et al -- so are Liv Redpath, So Young Park, Theo Hoffman, Brenton Ryan just some of those who could go on to become bold-faced names at the Met and its world-wide facsimiles. That's how gifted and poised and theatrically adept are they.
The final dollop of the program's delight came with the diva Sondra Radvanovsky (soon to repeat her role of Tosca here), singing Puccini and Verdi. Her uncanny technique --in spinning out a line of high soaring tone, legato-sure, shaved to a thread -- held us in thrall. And the pathos she unearthed in ("Senza mamma" from "Suor Angelica") was shattering.
But what can be said about the revival of LA Opera's hodge-podge "Tales of Hoffmann"? Offenbach's beloved rendering -- with its bouncy drinking songs, seductively swirling waltzes and romantic outbursts of lyricism -- is hard to defeat.
In Marta Domingo's directorial hands, though, it did not show much power of imagination at its premiere, nor does it now -- but makes us wonder why such blatant nepotism continues to pervade the company, aside from budgetary concerns. Take a look at any of the other stagings visible on YouTube and you'll see what better editing and more coherence mean.
This time there were deficits beyond the production itself. Two of the principals struck out with throat infections -- so we had the indisposed Nicolas Testé standing silent onstage as the multiple nemeses while another's voice emanated as some disembodied thing from the pit (with Plácido, himself, laboring heroically to preside over orchestra and stage). And Diana Damrau reduced to just one of the three-role heroines. But the absence of coaching could be seen in Vittorio Grigòlo's over-the-top Hoffmann, particularly in his drunken careening around, almost comically bent-kneed and wild throughout the first tavern scene.
(Given guidance, as was his case in the PBS airing of the Met's conventional "Roméo et Juliette," the tenor uses his strengths to great advantage. He certainly did so here in Ian Judge's production 6 years ago.)
Still, there's no question that LA voice-fanciers are having a bonanza this season.
And so are dance fans. But I'm sure that LA Ballet, notably, does not get enough recognition from the city's controlling establishment or philanthropic institutions. Because the company's last Royce Hall program -- all-Balanchine -- was masterly. If I could wave a magic wand directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary would repeat it at the Music Center and elsewhere, even tour other cities.
There was "Divertimento No. 15," with the dancers engaged in Mozart's music as though breathing in it, floating on its airiness, living in its pauses. Balanchine choreographed those features with classical design and here you got to see what he understood.
His "Prodigal Son," created back in the day of Diaghilev, boasted that same performance level. It's a marvel of expressionism based on biblical lit that fits into my own take on the Balanchine biographical profile: the allure of a woman, the ballerina, to the young man. But here, of course, he flees from her, back to the father. Elizabeth Claire Walker personifies the Siren's statuesque imperiousness, as an all-out Kenta Shimizu enacts the Son's physical do-or-die drama.
That's not all. Completing this brilliant choreographic spectrum there was "Who Cares?" And to see these three pieces on a single bill had to answer anyone wanting to know why Balanchine qualifies as an absolute master.
Here's "Who Cares?" It's Gershwin. It's American sweetness of another age. It's Hershy Kay's orchestrations. And Balanchine got it. He designed these undying dances with affectionate spirit and director Neary knew how to transfer that quality to the dancers. All were stand-outs, but newcomer Tigran Sargsyan, Armenian-born, even pulled off the Baryshnikov trick: he exuded the bravura style like a Broadway native.
Also from a time of highest creativity there was the José Limón Dance Company at Beverly Hills' Wallis Center. And it's endlessly gratifying to know that an innovator's death does not mean the end of his/her company. The new director, Colin Connor, is serving notice of this living enterprise.
So even though it's hard to duplicate the Othello character that Limón himself created for "The Moor's Pavane" (where would you see again that powerful neck and upper spine, erect and commanding? nowhere, in my experience), the piece yields a myriad of dramatic details each time you watch it. Especially so in this performance.
And "Concerto Grosso," to Vivaldi, reminded us where Paul Taylor came from, with an upward élan that once was a mainstay. (Ah, yes, his company is coming here next month.) Also, choreographer Connor's contribution "Corvidae," set to the 1st movement of Phillip Glass's eminently atmospheric Violin Concerto, reminds us that lively, engaging dance/theater ideas can grow up even in the shadow of a towering figure.
"Who Cares?" at LA Ballet. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.