Die Vögel

The Birds at LA Opera

Dievoegel * Notes *
Walter Braunfels' Die Vögel opened at LA Opera last night. Unfortunately, the production did not cohere. Good Hope and Loyal Friend were dressed in a nondescript early twentieth century manner, they looked more American than Athenian. The Birds, on the other hand, were garishly dressed, some were adorned with Isis Wings, invoking Vegas showgirls. The set involved a steep rake shaped like a cloud with several cut-out clouds atop it. It was not clear where the earth was in this scenario, or how exactly the Athenians made it up to the clouds. The choreography fit the singers and dancers, nothing looked terribly uncomfortable, though the incline was clearly something to contend with. During the ballet, it looked like one of the dancers skinned her right knee. The lighting, for the most part, held together. The various flower projections in the Act II love scene were campy, but the bird-shaped ones that appeared a few times were appealing.

The musicians of the orchestra sounded as if they were still trying to get their bearings. James Conlon did get a lush, pleasing quality out of them, but they were often not with the singers and the brass was hazy. The singers fared better, for one thing, the chorus was delightful. Désirée Rancatore had some lovely moments as the Nightingale, her bright voice is especially beautiful in her lower range, though her higher notes feel a bit precarious. Tenor Brandon Jovanovich certainly was loud as Good Hope, but thankfully his voice is tempered with warmth. James Johnson (Loyal Friend) had less volume than Jovanovich, but he did well in his comedic role. Baritone Martin Gantner's voice has a certain heft and richness, he was also quite amusing as the Hoopoe. The other baritone, Brian Mulligan, turned out a fine performance as Prometheus. His commanding presence and luminous voice were the highlight of the evening.

* Tattling * 
In the pre-opera interview of James Conlon, he spoke about the story of Procne and Tereus, saying that the former was turned into a nightingale, and the latter into a hoopoe. I felt very confused, as I thought it was Philomela, Procne's sister, that was turned into a nightingale, as retribution for having her tongue cut out by Tereus. Evidently, it is Procne that is turned into a nightingale in Aristophanes, but in Ovid, she is turned into a swallow.

The Loge looked rather empty, and the people around me were rather good during the first half. Naturally, after the intermission, a rather annoying couple sat behind me in D 10 and 11. They unwrapped candies, ate them noisily and unceasingly, spoke aloud a few times, and kicked my seat. At least it was just them, and they were easily ignored.

After the performance, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Brian of Out West Arts. At Kendall's Brasserie we were seated right next to many of the dancers and the production crew, who seemed to be having a jolly time.

LA Opera's 2008-2009 Season

September 6-26 2008: Il Trittico
September 7-26 2008: The Fly
October 2-18 2008: Madama Butterfly
November 15- December 14 2008: Carmen
January 10-25 2009: Die Zauberflöte
February 21- March 15 2009: Das Rheingold
April 4-25 2009: Die Walküre
April 11-26 2009: Die Vögel
May 21- June 21 2009: La Traviata

Two U.S. premieres and the company's first Der Ring des Nibelungen. Quite a lot of film directors this season: William Friedkin (Il Tabarro/Suor Angelica), David Cronenberg, and Woody Allen (Gianni Schicchi). I'm most interested in hearing Nathan Gunn as Papageno and Plácido Domingo as Siegmund. I have to say I'm disappointed that LA Opera is starting Der Ring the same year as Seattle Opera and Washington National Opera, and only a year after San Francisco Opera unveils Francesca Zambello's production on the West Coast.

Press Release [PDF] | 2008-2009 Season Official Site