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MUSIC REVIEW : Perick Conducts Opera as Concert

TIMES MUSIC CRITIC

This, in case you’ve been away from the planet lately, is Mozart Year. It also happens to be the year in which Christof Perick was appointed music director designate of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Both milestones, momentous and relatively modest, were commemorated Thursday night at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, where a rather sparse though eminently enthusiastic audience braved the damp to attend a concert performance of “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.”

Neither theatrical fish nor musical fowl, concert performances often tend to be frustrating affairs. This time, however, one had to be grateful even for limited favors. Mozart’s semi-serious Turkish delight had not been heard in the Los Angeles area since 1985, when it was mustered by the Long Beach Opera.

For this potentially festive occasion, Perick placed the orchestra center stage, an enthusiastic chorus from Occidental College at the rear, and the solo singers--decked out in formal attire--at either side. The noble protagonists inhabited a platform behind the fiddles, while the comic characters dwelt in similar fashion behind the cellos.

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The arrangement seemed a bit fussy, and it put the principals at something of a visual as well as acoustical disadvantage. But it did suggest a useful semblance of dramatic definition.

That semblance was compromised, unfortunately, by the omission of all dialogue. In its place, someone decided to employ a new narration by Marvin Himelfarb. The text mocked the essential Baroque conventions, disrupted the dramatic flow, trivialized the pathos of the libretto and--given the presence of a plot synopsis in the program booklet--seemed patently redundant. Alan Chapman read the arch interpolations archly.

Still, it would take more than fatuous or cutesy monologues to destroy the impact of this intimate masterpiece. The music was, for the most part, well served.

Perick had demonstrated his affinity for the Mozartean rhetoric--delicate one moment, grandiose the next--when he led the memorable Music Center Opera production of “Cosi fan Tutte” in 1988. He inspired comparably elegant playing from his little orchestra-to-be amid the exotic intrigues of “Entfuhrung.” He again accompanied the singers sensitively, apart from oddly hasty tempos in “Wenn der Freude Tranen fliessen” and the great second-act finale.

That finale came, not incidentally, at a surprisingly anticlimactic moment: shortly after intermission. Perick chose to play the three acts in two unequal parts, sending the audience out to stretch after the bravura flights of “Martern aller Arten” and damaging Mozart’s precise structural balances in the process.

Replacing the originally scheduled Susan Patterson as Constanze, Elizabeth Carter conquered the ornate, stratospheric hurdles of that great aria with heroic thrust and compelling agility. Under the circumstances, it didn’t seem very important that her tone sometimes turned harsh under pressure and evaporated in the impossible descending passages.

Janet Williams as Blondchen provided the proper contrast of a sweeter, smaller coloratura soprano and, some inexactitude aside, exuded soubrette charm. Craig Estep complemented her as an eager, exceptionally bright-voiced Pedrillo.

Jonathan Mack, the romantic Belmonte, and Kevin Langan, the wily Osmin, had performed similar duties at a concert “Entfuhrung” presented by the now-defunct L.A. Opera Repertory Theater at the Music Center a decade ago. Here, the tenor made up in vocal finesse for what he lacked in vocal allure, and earned special gratitude for venturing the often deleted “Baumeister” aria. The basso demonstrated a genuine flair for comic portraiture and, despite increasing strain at range extremes, mustered a reasonable mini-growl for the bottom D in the florid vengeance aria.

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The cast could boast no dizzying virtuosos. Nevertheless, everyone sang with style and point. It was enough.

Additional performances are scheduled tonight at the relatively cavernous Wiltern Theatre and Wednesday at the intimate Irvine Barclay Theatre.


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