In the summer of 1953, more than 130,000 people attended nearly 40 performances of opera and ballet at the Greek Theatre. The following year, both figures were even higher.
Those days are gone. In recent seasons, the closest thing to culture at the Greek has been Culture Club.
On Saturday, before a minuscule crowd, the guitar-strumming Romeros officially opened the classical season at the Greek Theatre. The next "cultural" event is a pops program by flutist Jean-Pierre Rampal on Aug. 26.
As of the moment, it is also the last.
According to Roy Rosenbluth, a spokesman for the theater, the Greek still maintains an agreement with the City of Los Angeles to present cultural attractions, though in unspecified number and definition. "The subject of booking classical acts comes up at every meeting," he said, adding with a shrug, "It's all a matter of economics."
For the 1,500 who congregated at the front of the 6,200-seat amphitheater on a perfect summer evening, the lack of commitment from management seemed as irrelevant as the scarcity of substantive programming--including the absence of printed programs.
Perhaps to overcome the inherent lack of intimacy, the Romeros' dropped their standard procedure of mixing solos, duets, trios and, to open and close each set, quartets, Instead, the four players--Celin, Pepe, Angel and their father, Celedonio--spent the vast majority of their time on stage together. A serenade by Belli (played by Celin and Angel) and a fluffy suite by Giuliani (Celin and Pepe) were the only non-quartets.
Taking turns introducing each piece, the guitarists plowed through their familiar transcriptions of dances by Praetorius, an allegro from Bach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 3, a suite from Bizet's "Carmen" and some concluding flamenco-flavored crowd-pleasers by Chapi, Jimenez and Falla.
Audience response increased with each piece, building to a spontaneous standing ovation--despite a continual sprinkling of minor and major technical lapses.
Surprisingly, the use of amplification proved a plus to the players. Though Celin and Celedonio have for some time now been relegated to the secondary roles of bass and rhythm guitar, accompanying the virtuosic turns of Pepe and Angel, the sound mix on Saturday gave each voice its due. At one point, Pepe and Angel took advantage of the close miking to offer some crisp, extended left-hand-only passages a la Jimi Hendrix--with the expected oohs and ahs.
If the relative few who attended the concert Saturday had such a good time, why quibble? The Romeros and Rampal can't compete with rock 'n' roll.
But why must the Greek Theatre tradition vanish so ingloriously? Think back: New York City Ballet. Grand Kabuki. American Ballet Theatre. National Theatre of France. Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Tallchief. Eglevsky. Nureyev. Alonso. . . . Years from now, will anyone remember Weird Al?