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MUSIC: Ventura County | SOUNDS

Performances of Opera, Jazz, Film Themes Hit a Variety of Notes

September 11, 1997|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Romantic music and Hollywood have enjoyed a lasting relationship, legitimate and otherwise, ever since the movies and music have intersected. In shrewd recognition of this truth, pianist John Bayless wears heart on sleeve on his current project, in which movie themes are segued into familiar nuggets from the classical repertoire.

On "The Movie Album-Classical Pictures," on the Angel label, Bayless dares to stitch together the theme from "Il Postino" with an aria from Puccini's "Tosca," the "Summer of '42" theme with Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" and "Moon River" with Rachmaninoff, and mostly gets away with it.

And why not? After all, film composers have freely borrowed from the classical repertoire throughout the history of the young art of film scoring, just as directors, Stanley Kubrick on down to Oliver Stone, have pasted great musical themes onto their work. Bayless' scheme doesn't always play smoothly, as the maudlin swerves into the sublime, but it's a good, and even logical, idea.

You can hear Bayless perform this movie-music stitchery when he appears at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza tonight. A Juilliard-trained pianist who leans toward the romantic end of the spectrum, Bayless isn't afraid to mix high and low (or at least middling) culture. He can issue near-florid phrasings, with echoes of both Lizst and Liberace, and project both musicality and crowd-pleasing, critic-disconcerting tactics.

In Thousand Oaks, he'll play pieces from the movie album, as well as from an earlier concept album that topped the Billboard charts, "The Puccini Arias for Piano." In addition, he'll open the second half of the concert with a segment of improvisations, taking suggestions from the audience and treating them in the style of a given composer.

* John Bayless, tonight at 7:30 p.m., Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. $16-$40. (805) 449-2787.

Speaking of Puccini: The Santa Barbara Grand Opera, having further solidified its goals and production values last season, is back with a three-production season, which opens this week with "Tosca." Singing the title role will be Amy Johnson, a Music Academy of the West alumna, along with tenor Randolf Locke in the role of painter Mario Cavaradossi, and baritone Vernon Hartman, a Metropolitan Opera veteran.

Puccini's agreeably tragic opera about misplaced love kicks off three operas connected to the theme "Women are Like That!" Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" will play in January and Donizetti's "Don Pasquale" arrives in February.

Suddenly, the Lobero Theater seems to have become a safe haven for opera in the area, between this company's ongoing work and the impressive level of professionalism of the summer's Music Academy of the West production of Rossini's "Il viaggio a Reims," under Marilyn Horne's guidance. Bring it on.

* "Tosca," Sept. 13 at 8 p.m. and Sept. 16 at 7 p.m., Lobero Theater, 33 E. Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. $28.50-$48.50. (805) 898-3890.

Clarinet King: Veteran jazz clarinetist Buddy DeFranco plays clean and fast, pushing the technical limits of his instrument, even if his instincts as a jazz musician are fairly straight down the middle. But don't hold that against him: When he plays, as he will at Santa Barbara's Jazz Hall this Saturday with his old pal Terry Gibbs on vibes, notes fly and solid music is made.

DeFranco's clean-machined approach can be heard, in good company, on the fine album "You Must Believe in Swing," a duet with pianist Dave McKenna released on Concord last spring. DeFranco, who had played with legendary pianists Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson in the '50s, holds his own alongside McKenna's feisty and formidable inventions.

Gibbs, who played at Jazz Hall in July, shares with DeFranco a penchant for crisp flurries and uncorked energy, as well as a polished melodic sense. It should be a hot night in mainstream jazz mode.

* Buddy DeFranco, at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Sept. 13, Jazz Hall, 29 E. Victoria St., Santa Barbara. $15. (805) 963-0404.

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