The Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame Opening Night concert is now 10 seasons old, and the driving ideas behind it — induct a handful of worthies into the Bowl’s pantheon of stars, offer something for almost everyone at the concert and channel it all into a good cause — remain in place. Yet the net seemed to shrink this time, since the two inductees — veteran operatic soprano Kiri Te Kanawa and young pop chartbuster Josh Groban — are essentially two sides of the same coin. Thus stylistically, the evening was restricted mostly to a range from straight opera to the wildly popular hybrid known as popera, with a single detour into classic rock from the Who’s Roger Daltrey.
The presentation is already looking like a lot of other awards shows in the business — many acts, many stilted speeches and dialogues, and the bang-up finale (literally, in a facility noted for its inventive fireworks designs). As before, the program was a benefit for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s music education program, Music Matters, raising nearly $1 million.
Though Dame Kiri quietly retired from the operatic stage after singing in Barber’s “Vanessa” in Los Angeles in 2004, Germany’s Cologne Opera has announced a Te Kanawa comeback in Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” for April 2010. Judging by a collection ranging from arias by Cilea and Puccini to the Gershwins’ “By Strauss” and a perky duet from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” with her chum, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, she should pull it off. Though Te Kanawa’s vibrato has widened, she retains exquisite control over the line, particularly in a dangerously languorous rendering of Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro.”
Groban’s last studio album, “Noel” (Reprise), was the bestselling CD of 2007, spending five weeks at No. 1, so one shouldn’t have been surprised by the screams of delight that greeted his entrance. There’s no doubt Groban has a powerful vocal instrument and a likable personality; it’s just that his material remains squeezed into much the same primary-colored, big-ballad container of pop pap. As such, his refined timbre was a smooth match for Te Kanawa’s pop side in their “True Love” duet, and clashed with the blunter delivery of Angelique Kidjo in “Pearls.”
The indomitable Daltrey came loaded for bear with “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me Feel Me/Listening to You” — in heroic voice, gleefully whipping his microphone lariat around as always. Yet the bombastic backing by Thomas Wilkins and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra sounded like a throwback to Lou Adler’s symphonic “Tommy” album — and thus fit pretty well with the rest of the program. Nor was there much contrast in Trisha Yearwood singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” or John Williams leading his ubiquitous “Star Wars” theme.
Don’t rely upon this program as a guide to the 2009 Bowl season, which looks to be more diverse and interesting than in many a past summer.