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W as 1988 the year of the dead in the Orange County arts scene? Well, it was the year Pacific Symphony conductor Keith Clark was termed “a dead fish,” the year William Shakespeare was nearly a dead duck in Garden Grove and the year the rock zanies in Oingo Boingo held yet another “Dead Man’s Party” at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre.

Jokes notwithstanding, there were encouraging signs of life locally. South Coast Repertory Theatre won major national recognition with the 1988 Tony Award as best regional theater in the country. The Grove Theatre Co. triumphed over considerable civic adversity that threatened for a time to shut down the county’s only annual Shakespeare festival. The Pacific Symphony demonstrated new enthusiasm , with concerts led by guest conductors vying for the soon-to-be-vacated music director post.

Local rock bands seemed to flourish, live and on record, despite a paucity of clubs in the county that would book them or radio stations that would air their music. The Improv in Irvine paved the way for a significant increase in the quantity and quality of stand-up comedy in the county.


With that in mind, in the following four pages critics for The Times Orange County Edition offer compendiums of the best--and in some cases, the worst and the silliest--that the county had to offer during the year in art, music, dance, theater, pop and comedy. *Opera Pacific offered Verdi’s “Aida” at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in January, with impressive sopranos Leona Mitchell and Carol Neblett appearing in the title role on different dates, and mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajic making a memorable Amneris.

*Albany Symphony music director Geoffrey Simon conducted the Pacific Symphony in a scintillating account of Beethoven’s First Symphony in February at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, then returned in December to lead the orchestra in a muscular, thinking person’s reading of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.

*In his first appearance as permanent music director of the Master Chorale of Orange County, William Hall led a powerful, sensitive performance of Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” in March at the Center.

*Keith Clark conducted the Pacific Symphony and the Roger Wagner Chorale at the Center in a sparsely attended Easter performance of Haydn’s “Creation” that counted as one of the embattled music director’s most stylish efforts.

*Warsaw Philharmonic music director Kazimierz Kord, named principal guest conductor and music adviser for the Pacific Symphony in 1989-90, led the Santa Ana-based orchestra in music by Liszt, Berlioz and Bartok at the Center in April.

*Richard Sheldon and his Opera a la Carte brought a modest but first-rate production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” to the Center in June, courtesy of the Irvine Symphony. Frank Fetta was the spirited conductor.


*--Michael Tilson Thomas brought his Miami-based New World Symphony, a training orchestra for college graduates, for a short but bright summer miniseason, jointly sponsored by the Orange County Philharmonic Society, the Orange County Performing Arts Center and UC Irvine.

*New Mexico Symphony music director Neal Stulberg led the Pacific Symphony in music by Vivaldi, Beethoven and Sibelius at the Center in November.