Die Voegel (The Birds)

Not heard of Walter Braunfels? Welcome aboard! A distinguished pianist and educator who lived from 1882-1954, he turned out more than a dozen operas. Half-Jewish, he was proscribed by Hitler but remained close to Germany and regained his posts after 1945.

With:
Nightingale - Desiree Rancatore Good Hope - Brandon Jovanovich Loyal Friend - James Johnson Hoopoe - Martin Gantner Prometheus - Brian Mulligan Wren - Stacey Tappan Eagle/Zeus - Matthew Moore Raven - Daniel Armstrong

Not heard of Walter Braunfels? Welcome aboard! A distinguished pianist and educator who lived from 1882-1954, he turned out more than a dozen operas. Half-Jewish, he was proscribed by Hitler but remained close to Germany and regained his posts after 1945. His setting of Aristophanes’ satire, composed in 1920 with anti-Nazi touches added post-WWII, is still occasionally performed in European houses and was done some years ago at Spoleto-USA. Its L.A. Opera production is in line with the company’s “recovered voices” series of Nazi-suppressed music dramas. It may be argued, however, whether “recovery” in this case is entirely in the patient’s best interest.

Aristophanes’ satire on earthly matters vs. godly power first attracted Braunfels’ interest in 1920, and act one of his opera is a fairly straight retelling of the usurpation of the gods’ power by the massed power of Birdland. By the mid-1920s, the rise of Nazi power caused Braunfels to change course; midway in act two, his straightforward story turned into a conflation of several other storylines, resulting in an overstuffed and confused dramatic mishmash with, alas, music to match. What goes on at the Music Center is, to put it mildly, a confused mess of story, dance and poorly developed stage biz (including an utterly chaotic storm sequence that reflects poorly on efforts by director Darko Tresnjak).

More’s the pity; some wonderful singing by coloratura soprano Desiree Rancatore as a Nightingale and basso Brian Mulligan as the fearsome Prometheus goes for naught. So does David P. Gordon’s clever set of clouds, moonscapes and shining stars, a superior Las Vegas hotel lobby wonderfully in tune with much of Braunfels’ soupy music, which none of James Conlon’s usual orchestral eloquence can save this time around.

Die Voegel (The Birds)

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 3,098 seats, $250 top

Production: A Los Angeles Opera presentation of Walter Braunfels' two-act opera; libretto by the composer, based on the Aristophanes play. Conductor, James Conlon, with the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Director, Charles Tresnjak.

Crew: Set, David P. Gordon; costumes, Linda Cho; lighting, David Weiner; choreography, Peggy Hickey. Opened and reviewed, April 11, 2009. Runs through April 26. Time, 2 HOURS, 50 MIN.

Cast: Nightingale - Desiree Rancatore Good Hope - Brandon Jovanovich Loyal Friend - James Johnson Hoopoe - Martin Gantner Prometheus - Brian Mulligan Wren - Stacey Tappan Eagle/Zeus - Matthew Moore Raven - Daniel ArmstrongWith: Valerie Vincent, Courtney Taylor, John Kimberling, Renee Sousa, Rebecca Tomlinson, Ayana Haviv, Nicole Fernandes, Tara Victoria Smith, Adriana Manfredi, Helena Quintana, Amber Erwin, Jennifer Wallace, Yvette Tucker, Seth Belliston.

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