Review: Josh Groban, Kiri Te Kanawa at Hollywood Bowl opening night

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It was a chocolate and champagne sort of night at the Hollywood Bowl.

The festive mood at Friday’s season-opening concert proved extra-conducive for enjoying those consumables from one’s picnic basket, while, in a more fanciful sense, those flavors wafted on the air as cocoa-voiced Josh Groban and effervescent soprano Kiri Te Kanawa performed separate sets as new inductees into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame.


As a double bill, these talents might have seemed an odd combination -- the 28-year-old boy-man who sends his female fan base swooning with a repertoire that is a bit pop, a bit classical and a bit world music, yet not really any of them, and the celebrated, ever-radiant 65-year-old opera star who’s gone largely missing for more than a decade now.

Yet diversity is one of the qualities embraced by the Hall of Fame, which showcases performers who ‘embody the spirit of the Bowl,’ as Thomas Wilkins, the evening’s conductor and genial emcee, explained.

Proof of that precept promptly materialized as the hall’s first inductees, country singer Garth Brooks and composer-conductor John Williams manned a stage-side lectern to introduce this 10th anniversary Hall of Fame concert.

When, more than two hours later, Groban and Te Kanawa twined voices for a surprise duet on Cole Porter’s “True Love,” they proved remarkably complementary, with Te Kanawa skimming like a bird just above Groban’s deep waters.

Their fans, on the other hand, were grin-inducingly eclectic. Pre-performance, one Grobanite was the talk of adjoining boxes of concert-goers after she walked by proudly baring the singer’s portrait, tattooed on her upper arm. Later, when Te Kanawa arrived on stage, a shout of “Aotearoa” – the Maori phrase that characterizes her New Zealand homeland as the land of the “long white cloud” – rang out in greeting from one exuberant spectator.

During his five-song, post-intermission performance, hometown boy Groban faced a hillside rainbow of glow sticks and was bathed in a continuous strobe effect from camera flashes. He moved athletically from keyboard to drum kit before planting himself at a standing mike, backed, as Te Kanawa earlier had been, by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

The capacity audience of nearly 18,000 whooped for the Groban staple “February Song,” a bittersweet ballad about a young man in search of himself, and “Pearls,” a mournful-resilient tribute to the people of Somalia, performed with Angelique Kidjo, the Beninese singer who’s been his tour mate. A still louder response greeted Groban’s set-capping performance of “Anthem,” from the rock musical “Chess.” He headlined a concert version of the show last year in London; Friday, he was backed by young singers from his alma mater, the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

In the first half, Te Kanawa elicited anticipatory applause as, in the middle of her five-song set, she sent aloft the first phrase of “O mio babbino caro,” the Puccini aria for which the world has recognized her ever since her rendition of it was used in the 1985 film “A Room With a View.” Through the rest of the song, the purity and languor in her voice seemed to float gently down upon the audience like feathers released from some heavenly pillow-cloud. That downy quality also was evident in a graceful pairing with pal and fellow star Frederica von Stade in the fond, playful “Ah guarda, sorella” duet from Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte.”

Prior Hall of Fame inductees Trisha Yearwood and Roger Daltrey made brief, 10th anniversary appearances. The country singer struggled to fit her voice to a cross-genre song choice, the standard “I’ll Be Seeing You”; Daltrey half-roared, half-spoke a pair of songs that he once delivered so smoothly in the Who’s “Tommy.”

Te Kanawa and Groban, conversely, made singing seem effortless – though, as any singer knows, that is absolutely not the case. Proper technique requires physical stamina and years of training. Both Te Kanawa and Groban are enthusiastic supporters of music outreach and training, another reason for their presence at this fundraising concert for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s educational Music Matters program. The evening raised nearly $1 million, according to a post-performance news release.

-- Daryl H. Miller

Photos, from top: Josh Groban and Kiri Te Kanawa, Groban with Thomas Wilkins, Te Kanawa. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

John Williams and Garth Brooks

Roger Daltrey

Trisha Yearwood