Record rainstorms swept into the county at the beginning of 1995, flooding Ballet Pacifica administrative offices in Costa Mesa and causing other major damage. The 32-year-old dance company had already struggled up from the ashes of the 1993 Laguna Beach fire, which had destroyed all its sets and costumes. But this was another unexpected blow. Fortunately, the troupe would recover from this, too, and find a new home in Irvine in September.
Still, an ominous signal for the year had been sounded: Dance in Orange County could be risky.
It was risky for the Orange County Performing Arts Center too. After expanding its dance series from the usual four companies to six for the '95-96 season, the center ran into trouble.
Caught in a financial crisis, the Joffrey Ballet canceled its April engagement. Pacific Northwest Ballet and Miami City Ballet were booked as substitutes. The Kirov Ballet, facing its own financial troubles, canceled its entire U.S. tour, so there went the October engagement here. No replacement could be found in time.
Even when a company did show up, audiences didn't--necessarily. The San Francisco Ballet drew a meager 39% of the house--a record low for ballet at the center--for its mixed repertory programs in November. The troupe's "Nutcracker," not surprisingly, drew much better, at 70%.
The fabled Royal Danish Ballet, which had been the sleeper hit of the 1992 ballet series, also drew a small audience. Admittedly, it brought new company director Frank Schaufuss' dismal production of Bournonville's classic, "La Sylphide," which managed to turn this powerful classic into a misdirected bore. But it also brought "A Folk Tale," which was Bournonville's favorite ballet, and so one with special meaning for the Danes.
Even so, the center, a major presenter of dance, expressed commitment to supporting the art, come what may. It also brought the Dance Theatre of Harlem to Orange County for the first time, in November. An encouraging sign.
Music in Orange County took a beating, too. After much ballyhoo and a two-year wait, Elliot Goldenthal's Pacific Symphony commission commemorating the suffering of the Vietnam War finally arrived in April. It landed with a well-intentioned thud.
The orchestra and conductor Carl St.Clair gave Goldenthal's "Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio" 110% effort, but the immense topic proved too much for the limited talents of the composer, whose bread and butter has been scoring Hollywood films. Still, the piece has a future. The Pacific recorded it, and Boston Symphony conductor Seiji Ozawa plans three performances by his orchestra at different venues on the East Coast in the spring.
Two weeks after the Goldenthal premiere, incidentally, the orchestra played composer-in-residence Frank Ticheli's fourth piece, "On Time's Stream," a modest two-part work loaded (maybe overloaded) with ideas. Less was more in this case.
Fortunately, the musical highs for the year were high indeed. James Levine brought the superlative Met Orchestra--the orchestra for the Metropolitan Opera in New York--to the center for two programs in May.
Shockingly, audiences didn't come to that either. The low attendance--37%--was a cultural embarrassment for the county, and a missed opportunity of unimaginable proportions since this orchestra rarely tours.
Audiences did line up for Cecilia Bartoli's first Orange County recital, made possible by the Philharmonic Society in September, however. In fact, all the tickets for this fabled mezzo's local appearance had been gobbled up long before the event. Fans and connoisseurs (the two are not mutually exclusive) who managed to get in were not disappointed. If anything, their expectations were too low.
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma ennobled the ennobling Dvorak Cello Concerto in two concerts with the Pacific Symphony led by St.Clair at the center in October.
We can thank Opera Pacific impresario David DiChiera for giving us the chance to encounter the hotly controversial Tiziana Fabbricini. Fabbricini made her West Coast debut here in January as the heroine of Verdi's "La Traviata."
She failed on this occasion, however, not only to justify comparisons made before and since with the legendary Maria Callas, but even raised questions how such comparisons could have arisen.
The real find during this run was Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas, who alternated with Fabbricini as Violetta. Gallardo-Domas revitalized everyone involved, not least of whom was conductor Stephen Mercurio, who led the Pacific Symphony with Italianate flair and style.
1995 also was a year of name changes. Downplaying the "Orange County" in their names in a year when the term became synonymous with "bankruptcy," the Master Chorale of Orange County became the William Hall Master Chorale and the Orange County Philharmonic Society became the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. A rose by any other name?
In other happenings: