Cher Public

Going Hollywood

DudamelThe Hollywood Bowl is truly the preeminent musical venue in Los Angeles and it has seen a veritable “March of Time” history of performances since it was established in 1929. Opera, either staged or in concert, has always played a role and the summer festival atmosphere lends itself to grand displays. 

The annals tell about the first staging of Carmen in 1921 that featured a cast of nearly 500 and a legendary Die Walkure in 1938 that starred Maria Jeritza as Brunnhilde with her Valkyrie sisters on horseback riding down from the hills. I’m sure even back in the day someone always dropped a bottle of wine during the quietest moment of the evening so 15,000 people could enjoy listening to it roll down the concrete stairs to musical accompaniment.

Since taking the reigns of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 Gustavo Dudamel has kept that tradition alive starting with a Carmen in 2010 and adding, among others, Rigoletto, Aida, Turandot, and Traviata, and in 2013 a stellar reading of Verdi’s Requiem that was released on video and broadcast on PBS. This year’s offering was Tosca and it proved an creditable assignment for the gifts of our firebrand conductor, his players, and an able cast.

With all its pungent atmosphere it’s no wonder that that Tosca has gained a reputation as a conductor’s opera, in spite of providing three of the most exciting vocal and dramatic roles in the operatic canon. Hearing Maestro Dudamel have his way with the score certainly reaffirmed that label in spades. It was a passionate and finely judged reading right from those first crashing chords.

The glory of the LA Phil has always been the deep sonorities of its string playing and Sunday night was no exception. Fearless and striking in attack they blazed and simmered throughout the evening. They were joined by brass that were particularly pointed and a percussion and timpani that outdid themselves for virtuosity. I’m hard pressed to explain why after watching and hearing countless performances the Act III prelude with the synchronized church bells that Puccini meticulously used to represent a Roman morning suddenly made an indelible impression on me. The clarity, definition and variety of the tones were mesmerizing and Dudamel seemed to revel in the gentle cacophony.

The supporting cast was very good starting with the strong bass-baritone of Andrew Craig Brown as the escaped Angelotti who sets the plot in motion. The Sacristan’s duties inside the church were seen to by Valeriano Lanchas who refreshingly sang the part straight, and because of the concert staging, remained generally schtick-free. Character tenor Keith Jameson was a conniving Spoletta whose Latin was well versed and Metropolitan Opera Grand Prize winner Patrick Guetti made a favorable impression as Sciarrone. Boy soprano Grant Anderson displayed an enviable legato as the shepherd and since 2013 has amassed a surprisingly long list of appearances with LA Opera.

But the success of any performance of Tosca lies in its three principals. Falk Struckmann wielded his ample bass-baritone like a sledgehammer from the beginning of the evening and appeared later to be cannily covering for an indisposition by the end of Act II. In his defense we’re having brush fires so massive that the sky above my neighborhood was brown and yellow all day Saturday and I’m 30 miles away from the blaze.

Health advisories were issued for those of us who breath and the winds had mostly shifted Sunday. Still neither the air quality nor the sweltering temperatures were anything close to ideal for singing outside. Even if he did have to parlando a bit here and there it only added to his general air of menace which made him a lesson in professionalism.

I’m sure there’s a story behind how we got Russell Thomas at the ninth hour as the painter Cavaradossi instead of the originally announced Fabio Sartori but I think we were all the better for it. Mr. Thomas made a stunning Pollione for LA Opera this past December and he proved himself a highly skilled Puccinian. He flaunted an extraordinary breadth of phrasing and a solid legato line throughout the evening.

If he propels himself perhaps a little aggressively above the staff for effect he always remains true in pitch. He also showed the welcome propensity to a beautiful mezzo piano at many points in the score. Especially nice considering how most Cavarodossi’s simply bawl their way through the role without a second thought.

Now the libretto of Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa is so ripe with oaths, curses and reproachments of both a political and personal tack it probably hosts some of the juiciest lines of any opera this side of La Gioconda. How these lines are delivered, especially by the soprano singing Floria Tosca, is like a combination litmus test and mine field of adequacy on how all singers are judged in the role.

In the first interview with Scarpia in the church do you sing, shout, or scream,”Giuro!”(I swear!) after being confronted with the proof of your faithless lover? I could write a thesis on the various line readings for,”E avanti a lui tremava tutta Roma” ( And before him all Rome trembled) that she sings/speaks/sprechts after Scarpia’s death..

This was Julianna di Giacomo’s role debut as Floria Tosca and she has become a favored colleague of Maestro Dudamel. Her lyric-spinto has grown since that time to encompass surer projection at the top and a very well integrated baby chest at the bottom. The notes above the staff, especially the B’s and C’s were incredible strong and rang out freely without hindrance. All of her choices in the parlando passages were valid and showed proper attention to the composer’s markings as well as a modicum of interpretation. She also put plenty of bite into the text.

This being her first Tosca she can be forgiven for keeping her score close at hand. She wasn’t married to it per se but they were at the very least engaged. I’m happy to say that she and Thomas were so excitingly stentorian in their last act duet they elicited spontaneous applause before it was even over. They also landed the tricky a capella line up and down the staff and managed to finish in the correct key signature which is always a pleasure. Her “Vissi d’arte” showed rare poise and a long spun legato that built from a position of helplessness to a shattering climax crowning her performance. She was rewarded for her efforts with an enormous ovation from her home-town audience.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus did a superlative job in the Te Deum of the Act I finale and it was interesting to note that only the children were off book.

The staging, such as it was, took place on a long ramp at the back of the Bowl shell overlooking the orchestra. This was problematic in that, although it allowed the singers to remain closely linked to the conductor, our only real connection with the performers was through the Jumbotron’s that not only followed the singers but displayed the subtitles for those who needed them. I hope that things can be improved in this regard because I think the distance from the audience is deadly to our own involvement.

Then you add the layer of sound amplification necessary to project to the 10,000 patrons in the audience. All the singers not only sang in front of microphones but wore Janet Jackson-style over the ear body mikes with a little puffy yellow ball at their cheek. To say that the audio engineers of the Hollywood Bowl are the unsung heroes of every performance is an understatement. Cavarodossi’s offstage interjections during the torture were all well placed as was the cantata section from the courtyard.

My only disappointment was the Act I cannon fire since I attended a ‘greatest hits’ concert at the Bowl years ago where they used an actual one out back in the parking lot. Sunday’s was just a sound effect. Still with the nearly perfect balance between the chorus, the soloists, the organ and those bells if whomever was at the knobs happened to hit the gas pedal for those last few minutes, making all of our hair blow back momentarily, it was a stunner and I thank them.

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.

  • aulus agerius

    I wonder if this Tosca will be broadcast or otherwise available at some point? And I especially would like to hear the West Side Story of a couple weeks ago too! I read raves about it.

  • Camille

    Thanks, so much, for the starlit memories, PMack.

    The first Tosca I ever experienced was there, many years ago, and it was thrilling to me. It was with Dorothy Kirsten and who knows what others but it was the kind of OTT experience which hooks a kid, for life.

    Over the course of a lifetime and starting from an early age, there have been many, many moonlit serenades and great music with great artists in The Bowl, all of them memories which I treaaure, perhaps Maestro Giulini’s Beethoven’s Ninth, of all of them, is the one To be recalled with the greatest love and tenderness. A night when the sound of that love reached out into infinity and beyond, and the way that particular Ode to Joy should always be done. Somewhere beyond the stars, there, Maestro Giulini and the Phil plus the Chorale may still be heard, resoundingly and triumphantly, or so it would seem to me.

    • Melot’s Younger Brother

      Camille, could you be thinking perhaps of Tosca at the Greek Theater with Dorothy Kirsten in 1971? James Levine was the conductor.

      • Camille

        You know--as soon as I typed that I began to get this nagging feeling that it might have been the Greek Theatre, funny you should say it!!!

        I seem to recall a Tosca just a couple summers AFTER that first Bouème, in 1961--I think! Thing is, I really don’t recall hearing Kirsten as late as ’71 at all and now I am not sure at all of when or where I did, but only know I heard Kirsten as Tosca. Sorry, it’s a long time ago.

        I’ll see if I can find out anything definitely, but thanks for seconding my second thoughts!

        • phoenix

          Camille, I remember her singing Tosca in early November 1965 at War Memorial (SF) and Shrine Auditorium (LA), both with Corelli as Cavaradossi. But previous to that, in 1962, she also sang Tosca at Shrine Auditorium. Prio to that, in 1960 she sang Tosca again at both venues with Gobbi as Scarpia.
          -- Don’t remember the Greek Theater 1971 Tosca -- I was out of the country.
          -- Camille, to each our own. I found Kirsten’s 1965 Tosca such a turnoff it took me 30 years to get to like it again.

      • Camille

        I still can’t remember for sure but I am pretty certain I saw that Tosca whilst still a virgin maiden (as the fact that Mr Baron Scarpia had such rapacious intent shocked my little virgin self!), and that would not have been the case by 1971. I am unsure about the Greek Theatre as I do recall having seen a couple concerts or operas there, back before the Christian Era.

        Pardonnez-moi, mais ce n’était pas mon premier voyage et je ne me souviens plus heaucoup de choses. Hélas!

    • Patrick Mack

      I bet Kirsten was something back in the day.

  • grimoaldo

    “I’m sure there’s a story behind how we got Russell Thomas at the ninth hour as the painter Cavaradossi instead of the originally announced” tenor

    Russell Thomas is an excellent singer. It baffles me why he is not first choice for major assignments at leading houses.

    • Camille

      He is. I was quite impressed by his Pollione on last Saturday’s broadcast of Norma from Los Angeles. Maybe it’s just a matter of getting the breaks and the right one hasn’t happened yet: READ, the Met hasn’t got him on their radar—or maybe he has been there--let me to look—no, he’s sung at th Met since 2005 in a variety of roles, most notably as Tamino and, curiously, in a Summer in the Parks thing in 2014--which they usually present the latest Met Pets in. Must be the agent of something. Anyways, looking forward to hearing him again sometime as he knows what he is doing.

      • dr.malatempra

        Next season at the Met, including the HD..
        January 7, 2017 Casting: Conductor, James Levine, Abigaille Liudmyla Monastyrska,Fenena Jamie Barton,Ismaele Russell Thomas Nabucco,Plácido Domingo,Zaccaria Dimitry -- See more at:

        • Camille

          Yes, thanks, but Ismaele has even less to do than Foresto has in Atilla. Maybe he will get a chance as Pollione in the opening of Met ’17-’18 season?

          • Camille

            That’s ATTILA, you dumme Kuhe.

    • chicagoing

      Mr. Thomas is scheduled to make his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Pollione opposite Sondra Radvanovsky’s Norma next season.

      • Hippolyte

        Russell Thomas is appearing next month in two very interesting concerts as part of the Puccini festival at Bard.

        August 5 he’s singing Act 4 of Manon Lescaut along with excerpts from Boito’s Nerone and Catalani’s Loreley.

        And on August 14 Busoni’s Turandot is being performed semi-staged followed by act 3 of Puccini’s opera done in the Berio completion with Thomas as Calaf.

        • Camille

          Merci, Hippolyte! I had forgotten all about the August 5th concert. A chance to hear not only Loreley but the weird Nerone! Once in a great big longtime treat.

          Today, Hippolyte, you have made me a happy alte Frau!

        • Patrick Mack

          I wish people would forget the Berio completion ever happened. I really prefer to hear ‘Alfano I’ take precedence without the cuts and abbreviations Toscanini made. At least it’s echt. The portions of the Berio that are Berio stick out worse than red-headed stepchild. Ugh.

          • Camille

            Patrick dear--first things first--I’m so sorry to read about that brown and yellow glow in the skies over L.A. The fires. Terrinle.

            More like Alfano ICK!!

            The Berio is sort of like a visitation from Star Trek, or so it strikes me. And I can hardly wAit to hear it in a few weeks.

            Have you been yet to the cemetary to visit Rosa Raisa and Fortunio Bonanova? They’re waiting.

            I miss my California “eternamente!”

            Ciao 4 now.

            • Patrick Mack

              Ma Chere Camille, a cloudy sky is the slightest price to pay for all the horribleness that’s been going on with the fires. I have friends in Santa Clarita and everyone’s holding their breath.

              I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about the Berio. Saw it here at LA Opera for the US Premiere and I vividly remember the curtain coming down and the guy sitting next to me saying,’What the hell was that?”

              I still have not gotten over to see Rosa at Holy Cross. Culver City isn’t really on my radar but I do plan on it.

  • Milady DeWinter

    I was too, Camille!- that is, impressed by Mr. Thomas’s Pollione, especially alongside Mme. Meade’s generic, bobbly singing (graced with a few lovely but irrelevant high pianissimi and an occasional swath of nice tone) and Mme. Barton’s enthusiastic but ear-splitting assaults on the stratosphere. Bass Morris Robinson was also a vocal winner as Oroveso.

    • Camille

      Exactly. I couldn’t have described any of those singers more accurately or better than how you have, complimenti! I do hope Barton learns how to, I don’t know how to say, vary or moderate her sound so as to become a little more interesting and specific. It is a wonderful sound. Meade, I have just given up on. Will she ever sort it all iut? There is so much there.

      Mr Thomas has had a curious kind of Met career this far and I wonder if it will change in the future? A lot of entry level roles (Herald, Steuermann), with a Tamino about five years ago and that thankless task, Foresto, in Attila, so I have heard him there but he has passed under my radar.

      In other news, Milady, have you tried out “Lune Rouge” or “Eros” from Mariage Frères yet? Prefer the former one to the latter, MAH…..!

      • brackweaver

        I agree with both of you about the singing of the ladies. It made me give up at intermission.

  • Milly Grazie

    Just looked at the short clip here --
    Embarrassing! Scarpia wandering around arms flailing and then without any point throwing one leg up onto a chair -- he looked like a bad Carmen (clearly a director’s touch which was meaningless)… THEN at end of the act NOTHING happens and he just stands there for many measures till black out … surely the audience merited better!? His singing was more controlled shouting and lacked any musicality (that combined with his hysterically bad melodramatic acting no wonder some folks in the USA are left wondering, “is THIS what Opera is all about? no thanks I’ll pass”

    • manou

      This is a clip from the Orange production which I attended. There are more than 8,000 spectators in the Theatre Antique, and the stage is huge and wide, which does pose many logistic challenges. On the other hand, there are always several very large choirs, and they sound very dramatic in the amphitheatre.

      Struckmann was not in great voice as I recall, but Naglestad was a very good Tosca and managed to tirer son épingle du jeu in the difficult circumstances.

      Scarpia had several very handsome greyhounds which did some very creditable canine acting.

  • Milly Grazie

    FYI before anyone pitches in… I do realize that the video I sent link of is NOT a clip from the Hollywood Bowl Tosca, but none the less my comments stand!
    The review of the “Dude’s” Tosca by Mark Swede appears sycophantic towards the maestro…..
    Quote > But from beginning to end, it was Dudamel’s “Tosca.”<
    No I am sorry Mr. Swede it is Puccini's Tosca ….by constantly brown nosing and comparing the Dude to Herbert Von K (the ORIGINAL spin meister) who started the whole shebang of putting a conductor's name (his own) ABOVE the composer's you are collaborating with other sycophants (and record labels) and perpetuating the "Maestro Myth"!!

    • Patrick Mack

      Thank You Milly, I still can’t believe that review and I’ve read it twice. Not that I’m not a fan of that recording, Price is magnificent, but to somehow hold it up as the ne plus ultra performance of Tosca verges on the ridiculous. To say nothing of the fact that Dudamel had a much more organic way with the score that HerbieVK completely lacked. Also, somehow construing the performance as some sort of indictment of Fascism…huh? It ain’t that deep.

      • luvtennis1

        Patrick -- he is not saying that. He holds up the HvK recordings as great “conductor” driven recorded Tosca’s. The point is that Dudamel’s Tosca has antecedents in HvK’s recordings.

        At least, I think that was his point. But my greatest Tosca ever is the ’62 with Price, Corelli, and my fave Scarpia, Cornell M.

        • mjmacmtenor

          That broadcast is available also on the Met player.

        • Patrick Mack

          Whatever he was trying to say there was almost more talk about a 50 year old studio recording than there was about the actual performance he was reviewing. Whatevs.

        • Patrick Mack

          I love that performance and listen to it often but the review was almost more about a 50 year old studio recording than the actual performance he was supposed to be reviewing.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      I don’t seem to recall anyone mentioning that Dudamel was LOUDLY booed at his Wiener Staatsoper debut with the “Turandot” which premiered in April, and that every single newspaper and online critic in Austria totally trashed him.

    • Camille

      When I lived in L.A. For a few years in the last decade, occasionally I would pick up the Times to try and pay heed to Mr Swed’s reviews but—not once--not ONCE--was I either able to finish reading one, or not to end up chuckling at some of the things written.
      Just disregard.

  • Milady DeWinter

    Greetings ma chere Camille -- yes indeed, I have the Freres’ Eros on hand -- holy lavendar, is that good! Have not tried the other yet, but so many delices, I’m working my way through the catalogue.
    Re: Norma and Angela: you nailed it exactly. I have just given up on Angela with a big sigh. Could have been such a contender, but I find nothing there to grasp on to.
    On the other hand, Barton has a lot going on, but I really fear her imminent plunge into the Eboli/Amneris roles. Just don’t hear them, but I hope I’m wrong- it would not be the first time!

    • Camille

      Oh, you are so right — about the lavender, I mean! As yet I had not noticed. I have fixed myself a big cup of jet fuel and drink to thee only with mine eyes. Or something like that!

      Meade is a different edition of herself every single time I see or see/hear her. What she is about, actually, I don’t know but I do know that singing an aria well in a competition (“Casta diva”) does not necessarily mean one should sing the entire role. Now, the Trovatore Leonora on this last broadcast (not the one a few years back!) was a big plus in my book. Her latest apparition as Parisina was just typical and par for the course. I give up. Who knows, maybe sometime in her forties she’ll stop with all the faceplace ppppppp’s and reveal her true self vocally.

      Barton is going to take what she can get and singing Eboli or Amnesia beats the schite outta singing crappy Fenena or hopping around as Jezibaba, but at least that one is FUN! Fenena is a big drip with a drippier aria. She sang the difficult role of Jane Seymour quite nicely but didn’t begin to suggest any allure, so that is a problem for glam roles such as Eboli, so I just don’t know. To tell the truth, I have YET to ever see an Eboli that actually suggests she has enough ‘don fatal’ about her personage to suggest it as fact. I missed Borodin in that one. Maybe if Garanca sings it….?

      My tea awaits--I’m off into the arms of Eros, Milady!

      • Camille

        “FaKeplace”. Damn U autocorrect!

      • armerjacquino

        Verrett was a stunning-looking woman; no ‘don fatal’ discords there!

        • Camille

          Oh lord yes to that, and the best sung, too, but I never got to hear her sing it on stage. I’m just intending the ones I’ve seen. La Krasteva wasn’t bad, the last one but Mmes NN were fatale, all right, but not in the correct sense!

      • I hear an Amneris or Eboli in this Duet from the Tucker Gala. Barton and Goerke in E un Anatema.

        • And Barton as Eboli from this past March.

          • Wow, Barton is terrific here. She just had a Toronto recital a few days ago that I had to miss.

        • armerjacquino

          The last thirty seconds of that video have put a great big smile on my face. That’s how to do it.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      Afternoon Milady, think I’m inclined to agree with you on Barton. I heard her live for the first time recently and was very disappointed by how sort of 2-dimensional the voice is. The chest register is a very rich, full, beautiful sound but the rest of it seemed hard and pressed to me. I think she sounds quite stressed out by the Eboli aria in the clip posted here.

      • Milady DeWinter

        Hi Cocky -- you are ao right about Barton -- all the best sound is in the lower half of the voice. I just can’t imagine her sacrificing that for those Verdi ladies! Nor is it realistic of her. I hear a lot of similarity between her and the young Blythe, and we know how Verdi Bad Girls have turned out for Blythe.
        On the other hand, as Camille wisely points out, nothing seems to be happening for her at the Met, so why not Throw Her Hands in the Air Like She Just Don’t Care and go for the gusto. Fenena and Jezibaba -- really? Cant say I blame her.
        As speaking of Ebolis, I don;t think there has been a truly Gold Standard set since the days of Tatiana and Shirley and Grace. I heard and saw the wonderful Podles do it in Philly a number of years ago, and it was powerful, but that Fatal Don almost done her in. And I’m pretty certain that it was transposed down.
        Olga B. brought some distinction to the role, yet again. the higher reaches of this Zwischenfach Poster Role caused her grief (as did Amneris later on). Well, it caused me grief.
        But no grief to you lovely folks -- have a great day and weekend. The DNC convention has left town on a note of hope and sanity, the heatwave is receding, and I am curious about the broadcast of I Due Foscari from Los Angeles tomorrow afternoon.
        Camille, I tip a tasty cup of my go-to favorite French Breakfast tea to you and yours!

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          There’s no doubt that Barton can be phenomenally classy -- I loved her in her Cardiff performances. But having heard her I just don’t think the voice has very much range -- it seems to lack the refulgence to be a true dramatic mezzo. I’m struggling to think what it would be really good for beyond Didon -- maybe Handel and Mozart?

          Goerke on the other hand I think could be a wonderful dramatic mezzo, but we’ve been here before.

          Borodina I saw as Amneris and she was very exciting, but there’s no doubt the voice is/was much lower set than would be ideal for the role. Still, she shirked nothing -- not even the top c-flats in the triumphal scene which she could easily have left to the chorus (Monastyrska did!). Borodina is one of the most exciting singers I’ve ever seen, I think, and certainly one of the biggest voices.

        • Krunoslav

          One other world-class Eboli, though she didn’t seem to linger long abroad ever: Lucia d’Intino, whose Met debut role it was in 2005, with Richard Margison, Sondra Radvanovsky, Dwayne Croft, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Paata Burchuladze under Fabio Luisi ( also debuting).

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            D’Intino was Amneris at my first ever visit to the ROH, as a young teenager. I’ve looked out for her ever since, but like you say, she really hasn’t come up much outside Italy.

          • armerjacquino

            Luciana, I believe.

            • Krunoslav

              In fatto: come la Principessa Pignatelli.

            • manou

              In fatti -- even…

  • Russell Thomas was an excellent Don José in Toronto a couple of months ago. He and Rachvelishvilli were on fire in the final act.

  • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

    I first heard Russell Thomas as The Prince in the world premiere of John Adams’ “A Flowering Tree,” which also served as my intro to Eric Owens and Jessica Rivera way back in Peter Sellars’ crazy “New Crowned Hope” festival-within-a-festival in the last Mozart Year. I fell in love with all three voices on the spot (especially Owens’). If I am not mistaken, Thomas was in some other projects in that mini-festival I definitely seem to remember him in a staging of the “Zaide” fragments and being mightily impressed and the power and beauty of his voice.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      Indeed, the complete “Zaide” is available on Medici TV:
      from Aix in 2008. I saw the same Sellars production which either premiered in Wien or came here at some point on its tour.

  • Donna Anna

    We were in Colorado when Cincinnati Opera offered Fidelio with Thomas as Florestan and Goerke as Leonora. The reports were on the side of ecstatic. I’m sorry we missed it…well, not really, since we were in Aspen. Renee Fleming’s master class was excellent--she is a superb diagnostician and a teacher who possesses the rare gifts of being able to instruct and provide solid, constructive criticism. But did she ever need a wardrobe adviser.