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MUSIC REVIEW : Maag, L.A. Philharmonic Bring Opera Back to Hollywood Bowl


Opera at Hollywood Bowl has been a rarity of late, but it was not always this way. Before the financial crisis of 1951, fully staged operas were often part of the season. Afterward, concert versions appeared regularly until the early '70s. Recently, we've heard only single acts in concert form, and those infrequently.

Peter Maag, leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic and soloists from the Teatro Comunale di Treviso workshop in Mozart's more or less complete "Die Zauberflote" Thursday at the Bowl, isn't likely to reverse the trend. It certainly didn't restore the glory days.

For starters, the singing remained at a workshop level, and the nagging thought arose as to why anyone bothered to import these talented, young neophytes all the way from Italy when there is plenty of superior local talent. But even that wasn't the whole problem.

The opera was sung in German with on-again, off-again English translations projected on a screen about the stage. Patrons in the super-expensive pool boxes got to look at three large-screen TV monitors of their own, but the monitors weren't working. The translations were occasionally mistimed and often inadequate. Librettist Schikaneder's 18th-Century misogyny survived in part; the racism did not.

Compounding the absurdity of mostly European vocalists of varying talent singing German with varying levels of comfort to a basically English-speaking audience, Maag excised most of the spoken dialogue and substituted his own charming synopses in accented English, for which he apologized.

His conducting inclined toward rushing the music and slighting the lyricism. Even so, the Philharmonic managed to respond with sluggish routine.

The amplification system treated instruments more kindly than voices, which tended to sound compressed and nasal. Members of the L.A. Master Chorale, however, made a noble chorus, and three of the American Boychoir piped purely. The boys did not sing from scores. Most of the adults did, most of the time. That was disheartening.

Promising members of the cast included Wonjun Lee (Tamino), Theresa Santiago (Pamina), Christoph Wendel (Papageno) and Elisabetta Scano (Queen of the Night). Reportedly, 9,684 people attended.

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