The top music and dance events in 1996:
1. "Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc," score by Richard Einhorn; 1928 silent film by Carl Dreyer; Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra, I Cantori and vocal soloists led by Lucinda Carver, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa (Oct. 10-11). Silent films, of course, were never silent; live music always accompanied them. Recently, some composers have been writing scores for classics such as Dreyer's overwhelming "The Passion of Joan of Arc." Carver conducted Einhorn's music as Dreyer's film was projected on screen, creating a powerful experience. Sometimes the music strongly reinforced the images; sometimes it receded discreetly. It never got in the way and often evoked the appropriate emotions. The program was sponsored by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
2. Nederlands Dans Theater, OCPAC (July 27-Aug. 3). Nederlands Dans Theater electrified local audiences when the company first came to the center in 1994. This year the troupe repeated the triumph, maybe even topped it. The company danced two fetching works--"Softly as I Leave You" and "Start to Finish" by young British choreographer Paul Lightfoot and several astonishing works by artistic director Jiri Kylian. These included "Bella Figura," in which Kylian utilized the stage curtains to keep adjusting the size and view of events on stage, and "Soldier's Mass," in which he honored Czech resistance to Hitler's invasion. Bohuslav Martinu's music for this work ("Field Mass"), incidentally, suggested what might have resulted had Pacific Symphony commissioned a composer of similar stature for its "Vietnam Oratorio."
3. Bryn Terfel, OCPAC (Oct. 24). Welsh baritone Terfel lived up to all the considerable hype when he made his West Coast recital debut in a program sponsored by the Philharmonic Society, beating the Los Angeles debut by more than a week. A natural communicator, Terfel sang works by Schubert, Gerald Finzi and Ralph Vaughan Williams with heroic vitality and outsized personality. He also brought some people to tears in his quiet second encore, "How to Handle a Woman" from Lerner and Loewe's "Camelot."
4. Stomp, OCPAC (July 16-21). Originally a wildly successful British troupe but on this tour to Orange County populated mostly by an American cast, Stomp captivated audiences with its audacious inventiveness--creating dance, music and theater by using everyday objects for percussive extravaganzas.
5. The Pacific Symphony, conductor Carl St.Clair, in the West Coast premiere of William Bolcom's "Gaea" Concertos for Left Hand, OCPAC (Nov. 6-7). Bolcom wrote two concertos for piano left hand in such a way that they could be played separately or simultaneously. Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman, for whom the works had been written, gave the West Coast premiere of this highly crafted composition. Each pianist played one concerto separately, then teamed up for the combined version. Opinions differed over which of the three worked best, but the experience was rare and intriguing.
6. Feld Ballets/NY, OCPAC (April 9-11). New York choreographer Eliot Feld brought two programs of inventive ballets, from his first work ("Harbinger" in 1967) to a new suite ("Paper Tiger" created two months before the local date). Times dance critic Lewis Segal called them "brilliant experiments with classicism" and called Feld "forever young in his response to the world, to music and to the building blocks of choreography."
7. William Hall conducts his Master Chorale, Orchestra and others in Mahler's Eighth Symphony, Crystal Cathedral, Garden Grove (May 2-3). Despite acoustics that turn loud and complex music into sonic soup, the Crystal Cathedral was probably the only indoor space that Hall could use for Mahler's biggest symphony, the so-called "Symphony of a Thousand." It's big not only because of the huge forces it demands (very large orchestra, two large choruses, children's chorus, eight soloists and an organ) but also in its conception: setting a 9th century Latin hymn as the first movement and the long final scene of Goethe's "Faust" (Part II) as the second. An audacious enterprise for composer and conductor.
8. Bill T. Jones' "Still/Here," Irvine Barclay Theatre (Oct. 15-19). Orange County got to see one of the most controversial dance-theater pieces of recent years when the Barclay sponsored Jones' "Still/Here," a work that combined dance and videotaped interviews with AIDS and terminally ill cancer patients. Some people found the mix quite moving. Others, including this critic, didn't. Still, the theater should be commended for bringing a work of such currency to the county.
9. Opera Pacific's staging of Marc Blitzstein's "Regina," OCPAC (March 16-31). Opera Pacific pinned a lot of hope on this "American premiere of the original stage version" of Blitzstein's opera (based on Lillian Hellman's play "The Little Foxes"). The work had been cut on its way to Broadway in 1949 and the opera stage in 1953. This production restored the missing pieces. Shorter turned out to be better. Though the hype didn't pan out, it was an interesting gamble on the part of the usually cautious local company.
10. Mark Morris' staging of Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice," OCPAC (April 24-25). Opera Pacific and the Philharmonic Society teamed up to sponsor Morris' staging, again bringing a hot item to Orange County, again before Los Angeles saw it. Dance audiences tended to love the music (Christopher Hogwood leading the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra and chorus, plus several vocal soloists); music audiences tended to love the dancing. People who knew both tended to feel the production didn't live up to all its hype. At least we all had the chance to judge for ourselves.