Der Zerbrochene Krug and Der Zwerg at LA Opera
February 18, 2008
* Notes *
Der zerbrochene Krug had its US premiere at Los Angeles Opera yesterday, along with the West Coast premiere of Der Zwerg, both part of James Conlon's Recovered Voices: A Lost Generation's Long-Forgotten Masterpieces project. Both operas are impressive. The comedic Der zerbrochene Krug (1941/1942) was Viktor Ullmann's last composition before he was sent to Theresienstadt. Based on Heinrich von Kleist's 1806 play of the same name, the 40 minute opera treats a seemingly simple story, the standard Commedia dell'arte love triangle. However, Ullmann's opera can be read on literal, sexual, and political levels, and is all the more fascinating for it. The music has some wonderful percussive parts, which the orchestra well. The production, directed by Darko Tresnjak, is perfectly charming. Peggy Hickey's choreography for the overture is particularly brilliant, a shadow ballet clearly explains all that happens before the scrim comes up is both helpful and very funny. As for singing, I was glad to hear Melody Moore as Eve, she is one of my favorite sopranos in recent years to come out of the Adler Program in San Francisco. She has a good handle on her vibrato, and never sounds harsh, yet her volume is fine. Elizabeth Bishop (Frau Marthe Rull) made me a bit uncomfortable, and her voiced uvular fricative was not quite right, especially in the word "hier." Richard Cox has a pretty tenor voice, though a bit quiet, and he played the indicant Ruprecht well. James Johnson was hilarious as Adam, his diction was clear and dramatically, he never missed a beat.
Alexander Zemlinsky's Der Zwerg is reminiscent of both R. Strauss and Mahler, and I was very surprised indeed to have liked it, even moved to tears. The opera is based on Oscar Wilde's The Birthday of the Infanta, which in turn was inspired by Velázquez's Las Meninas. Ralph Funicello and Linda Cho outdid themselves in set and costume design, as adorable as their work for Der zerbrochene Krug is, the Velázquez world come to life is gorgeous. No less important was David Weiner's contribution as the lighting designer, the use of light through the many doors worked well. Mary Dunleavy was certainly imperious and cold as Donna Clara, she was perfect as the cruel Infanta, though at times it was difficult to understand her German. Ghita, the kindly maid, was sung beautifully by Susan B. Anthony. Rodrick Dixon was excellent in the title role, his volume was good and acting quite fine, though also, at times, I found his diction less than perfect.
* Tattling *
The house was not full, which was sad considering how good the performances were. The applause did last a long time. During the intermission I overheard some ladies speaking with security guards and ushers. Apparently there was some altercation due to a cellular phone that had been on, but had not rung. One of the ladies was turning her phone off during the performance and another patron hit her shoulder rather brusquely and admonished her not to speak on the phone. One of the ladies felt it was because they happen to be Latinas, and in her account explained that they had not just come out of the jungle and knew their manners. The opera employees said they could not do much about what had happened unless the ladies wanted to press charges against the person in question, in which case the police would come, but the report would go on that person's record at Los Angeles Opera. They were also moved down to the Loge. I've never seen an altercation at LA Opera, but one of the employees mentioned that it was rather common, as people are quite passionate about opera.