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Jonathan Pell News

Motezuma at Long Beach Opera

* Notes *
Long Beach Opera just gave the American premiere of Vivaldi's Motezuma at the end of March. I attended yesterday's second and final performance of this run, over at Santa Monica High School. From the very beginning things went awry, the overture was not played well under the direction of conductor Andreas Mitisek. The horn and trumpet were ridiculously out of tune, the trills were unclear, and it was almost as if they were goading the audience into booing. As the afternoon progressed, the brass players did not redeem themselves, though at least there were brief gorgeous moments between the harpsichord and the strings.

Likewise, the singing was, for the most part, not impressive. Motezuma (Roberto Gomez) himself sounded fairly strong in the recitative, with a warm resonance, but his sound was notably dampened during his arias, when the full orchestra played. Though louder, Cynthia Jansen as Mitrena either gulped or cracked during the recitatives more than once, she was rather out of tune at times. Charles Maxwell was a husky and shrill Fernando, he even managed to shriek out of tune in a completely unmusical manner that rivaled the problems of the brass section. The trio between these three at the end of the first half was a disaster. At least they were good actors, Maxwell in particular was graceful in his various leaps and somersaults. The other singers were less offensive musically. Neither Courtney Huffman (Teutile) nor Caroline Worra (Asprano) were bad, they did have too much vibrato for this piece. Worra's movements were more solid than Huffmann's, but in general the choreography did not sit well on the body. Peabody Southwell as Ramiro, on the other hand, did well, her first aria displayed a warm, beautiful voice and one could at least get the gist of the fineness of Vivaldi's music. She also acted well, and was not unconvincing as a male.

The post-modern production set the opera in an ethnographic museum, and involved many clips of anthropological topics dealing with Mexico. Many of the images used were arresting, however, there lacked a cohesiveness overall. The effect was rather surreal, the people wore contemporary clothing at first, but took on period accouterments over time. This could have been compelling but somehow it just missed the mark. Also, having the recitatives in English, but the arias and ensemble parts in Italian was jarring and unexpected. Again, the immediacy of being able to understand the plot as it is being sung is a good idea, it is an interesting compromise to not translate the other text into English, but it just was weird in this case.

* Tattling * 
Somehow the tickets I had ordered online for this opera did not make it to the box office, but the kind people there sorted it out quickly, and we were even given an upgrade. The performance started 20 minutes late, due to traffic, it was said. We were read a letter from "Vivaldi," which asked us to donate money to Long Beach Opera, to turn off our cellular phones, and to locate the nearest exit door in case of an emergency. Patrons were seated after the music began, and one of these latecomers had a cellular phone that rang during the performance. People seemed to speak aloud throughout. I admit that I could hardly contain my laughter at the various intonation issues, as they were so numerous and embarrassing.

My companion had also planned for us to go to a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in Santa Monica at 7pm, and was a bit delighted that he was to make the Opera Tattler late for said event, as Motezuma was to end just then. Unfortunately, by intermission we decided to leave early from the opera instead, as it was going so poorly. We heard three arias in the second half and high-tailed it over to First United Methodist Church. It is such a shame, Vivaldi deserves better treatment. One really does want a community-based opera like Long Beach Opera to do well, especially since they make exciting choices in repertoire, so this performance was disappointing.