In the Gustavo Dudamel regime so far, the gala opening concert has become the face that the Los Angeles Philharmonic presents to the outside world. Last year, it was an unusually demanding, high-minded image for a gala — a world premiere by John Adams and a large-scale Mahler symphony. This year, Dudamel and company reverted to something more traditional: short pieces not too taxing on the attention span, with a guest star as a lure. But Dudamel and Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez gave the old formula a neat thematic twist of their own — all-Rossini in the first half, all-Latin in the second — and one went away entertained, perhaps even enlightened.
As with the 2009 gala, the marketers had almost every format covered. PBS will televise the concert as part of its Great Performances series on Dec. 29 (in L.A.). Deutsche Grammophon was onboard again with an iTunes release tentatively set for Oct. 19 and a possible DVD at some future date. KUSC-FM and NPR.org carried the audio live.
Not all went off as planned, for Dudamel had to scale back his agenda, scrapping the overture and a scene from Rossini’s “William Tell”. But he came up with a charming metaphor as an explanation, likening his original program to an overstuffed suitcase.
There was, however, enough Rossini left for Dudamel to demonstrate his winning ways with the Italian bel canto master. One of Dudamel’s predecessors at the Philharmonic, Carlo Maria Giulini, used to say that Rossini’s music always has a smile — and that’s the way Dudamel conducts it. He let the tempos of the “La Gazza Ladra” and “Semiramide” overtures fly, building the crescendos with a grin, a wiggle of the hips, a raised eyebrow, and pinpoint motions with the baton.
Florez, who has made a specialty of Rossini, easily peeled off arias from “La Cenerentola” and “Semiramide,” his lyrical tenor still youthful and fresh, though it sounded rather dim from the acoustically skewed perspective of Disney Hall’s left Garden Level.
For the Latin half, Dudamel rocked the house with two of his dance-based specialties: José Pablo Moncayo’s “Huapango” and Arturo Márquez’s Danzon No. 2 (the LA Phil displayed a good grasp of the clave rhythm in the latter), and Florez served up four highly Romantic canciones.
Florez cooked up one of the arrangements (“La flor de la canela”) himself, generously lacing it with so much detail in the winds that his own voice got lost in the thicket.
In effect, though, Florez seemed to be warming up all night for one of his encores, Donizetti’s infamous “Ah, mes amis” with its nine treacherous high Cs. Flòrez nailed them all brightly and clearly, wowing the Disney Hall crowd as he has at the Met. Finally, he and Dudamel clowned around with Verdi’s “La donna e mobile,” for which clowning seems to have become a tradition since the Three Tenors went at it.