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Recovered Voices’ Second Season in Los Angeles

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
02/17/2008 -  and February 23*, March 1 and 8
Viktor Ullmann: The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochene Krug)
Alexander Zemlinsky: The Dwarf (Der Zwerg)

The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochene Krug): James Johnson (Judge Adam), Steven Humes (Judge Walter), Bonaventura Bottone (Licht), Elizabeth Bishop (Frau Marthe Rull), Melody Moore (Eve), Richard Cox (Ruprecht), Jason Stearns (Viet Tümpel), Natasha Flores (Frau Brigitte), Rena Harms (First Maid), Lauren McNeese (Second Maid), Ryan McKinny (Servant)

The Dwarf (Der Zwerg): Rodrick Dixon (The Dwarf), Mary Dunleavy (The Infanta), James Johnson (Don Estoban), Susan B. Anthony (Ghita), Melody Moore (First Maid), Lauren McNeese (Second Maid), Elizabeth Bishop (Third Maid), Karen Vuong (First Playmate), Rena Harms (Second Playmate)
Stuart Canin (Los Angeles Opera Concert Master), Grant Gershon (Associate Conductor/Chorus Master), James Conlon (Conductor)
Darko Tresnjak (Director), Ralph Funicello (Set Designer), Linda Cho (Costume Designer), David Weiner (Lighting Designer), Peggy Hickey (Choreographer)

Los Angeles Opera continues with the second season of Recovered Voices, a multi-year project created by James Conlon that brings to stage select operas of several German and Eastern European composers, operas that disappeared during the Nazi atrocities of World War II. This year’s double bill includes Viktor Ullmann’s The Broken Jug (1942) and Alexander Zemlinsky’s The Dwarf (1921).

The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochene Krug) is a pithy fifty-five minute satirical comedy that can be summarized by the quotation: “None shall play the judge’s part if he be not of purest heart”. Ullmann’s music begins with a quirky, fun-loving five-minute overture partnered with Ralph Funicello’s craftily silhouetted pantomime within a contoured jug. Behind the scrim we see a whimsical set of a Dutch village complete with windmills and tilted eighteenth century buildings that signify the subject’s absurdity while the dozen-plus characters, charmingly dressed in colorful period garb designed by Linda Cho, maintain a coalesced storyline.

The plot focuses on Judge Adam, played by American baritone James Johnson whose anchored voice and blundering antics fit the bill as the hypocritical man and culprit in the provincial village of Huisum, Holland. Additionally, the Czech-born composer’s orchestration delivers a “punch” to the lines the characters sing. Strongly associated with the quarter-tone department during Schoenberg’s tenure in Prague, Ullmann’s score contains music reminiscent of Gershwin and Richard Strauss that is ultimately invigorating, fresh, and spiritually uplifting.

In contrast we find Alexander Zemlinsky’s, The Dwarf (Der Zwerg) whose tragic folk tale is based on Oscar Wilde’s literary work, The Birthday of the Infanta. Dona Clara, Infanta of Spain, is presented a dwarf as the ultimate gift of entertainment for her eighteenth birthday. She falsely leads the protagonist into believing he’s handsome and that she loves him (which is reciprocated), but quickly shatters when the dwarf sees himself in a mirror and finds his true deformities, all to the delight of the frivolous and aloof Infanta.

The opera begins with the Infanta’s back turned to the audience. Lyrical soprano Mary Dunleavy shines in every aspect, complete with subtle nuances that are fitting with the ravishing royal white dress harkening back to Diego Velázquez’s painting Las Meninas while Peggy Hickey’s choreography smartly transmogrifies the painting on stage. A retinue of the Infanta’s playmates, adorned in bluish-grey taffeta dresses and swept up hair, gracefully float into the room through a series of moveable mirrored doors, just a part of Funicello’s majestic interior, and bathed in luscious lighting provided by David Weiner.

Making his L.A. Opera debut in last year’s Tannhäuser and Recovered Voices, Rodrick Dixon’s portrayal of the dwarf is exceptional in acting and vocal fireworks that dovetails with Conlon’s superb orchestration of the Zemlinsky work, truly a pièce de résistance. Accomplished Susan B. Anthony is not new to the works of Zemlinsky for she made a previous EMI recording of Der Traumgörge with James Conlon, and in The Dwarf she is the empathetic Ghita, the Infanta’s favorite maid who holds the broken-hearted dead dwarf as the curtain falls.

Zemlinsky’s score has a deft quality, filled with emotion on all levels. He is masterful, and to the discerning ear one can even hear patterning of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West.

Recovered Voices would not be possible without the financial efforts of philanthropist and L.A. Opera Board member Marilyn Ziering who has graciously provided a
$ 3.25 million gift and raised $ 750,000 from fellow L.A. Opera members. We are indebted to her diligence so that all opera enthusiasts can experience what would otherwise have been a forgotten trove of neglected works.

These two one-act operas are unparalleled in content and form, all to the credit of director, Darko Tresnjak and those members contributing on every level. This is a “must see” if you are in Los Angeles. We look forward to next year’s Recovered Voices with great anticipation.

Christie Grimstad



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