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).
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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.