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Summer Splash | Performing Arts

A Car Key Is Key to This Fare


Los Angeles doesn't really have a signature summer performing arts festival along the lines of, say, Salzburg, Aix or Edinburgh. Too bad, it really should.

Fortunately, Southern California--a.k.a., the greater Los Angeles area, which is to say anywhere you can drive from here in a couple of hours or less--certainly does. In fact, it's got several, including that Salzburg of the West, the Ojai Music Festival, and the chamber blowouts at the Huntington and in La Jolla.

Then too, there are the nonfestivals, such as the annual blossoming of the intrepid Long Beach Opera, an internationally renowned company that has long gone underappreciated on its home turf. Or, for those who prefer to travel a shorter distance in a longer period of time, summer just wouldn't be summer without the occasional sojourn to the Cahuenga Pass for a program at the Hollywood Bowl or the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre.

To really savor what the season has to offer, you've got to hit the road, Jack. Since there's so much to choose from, we suggest you take the Chinese restaurant approach--one from column A, one from column B. And we even more strongly suggest you take our suggestions. They follow, in roughly chronological order, including both road trips and in-town events. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

Ojai Music Festival (May 31-June 4). This prestigious gathering takes place in that bucolic hamlet, which means overnight accommodations may be hard to come by at this late date. However, you can also hole up in nearby Ventura or make it a road trip. This year's festival, led by that gent from across the pond, Sir Simon Rattle, focuses on British and French fare. Highlights of the 54th annual gathering include concert performances of two early 20th century French operas, Ravel's "The Child and the Magic Spell" ("L'Enfant et les Sortileges") and Poulenc's "The Breasts of Tiresias" ("Les Mamelles de Tiresias"), as well as works by the festival's two composers-in-residence, British wunderkinder Thomas Ades and Mark-Anthony Turnage. The June 2 evening and June 4 evening bills look to be the best, for those inclined toward the vocal. If you favor instrumental music, catch pianist Gloria Cheng on the afternoon of June 3. Information and tickets: (805) 646-2053.

"Billy Budd," Los Angeles Opera (June 3-17). This is Benjamin Britten's adaptation of the Herman Melville novella about a sailor whose innate goodness leads him unwittingly into conflict, and it's one of the British composer's most poignant works. But you don't have to be an opera aficionado to appreciate the drama, or the scenery. The opera features an all-male cast that, at least in this production, includes a couple of serious lookers. The final stand of the Peter Hemmings regime, the staging is directed by Francesca Zambello and features two talented and charismatic baritones who not only launched their careers under the auspices of L.A. Opera's resident artists program, but also make their homes here today. The staunch Rodney Gilfry, who created the role of Stanley in Andre Previn's "A Streetcar Named Desire," sings Billy Budd. And the always compelling and soulful John Atkins, one of the best singing actors anywhere, assays the role of Mr. Flint. Hey, sailors. Information: (213) 972-8001. Tickets: (213) 365-3500.

Melodramas, Long Beach Opera (June 10-11, 17). Leave it to the Italians to come up with a concept so enduring that its key components dominate virtually every form of storytelling in our culture: film, TV, pop music, theater and dance. From opera to soap opera, the underpinnings are the same. Such is melodrama, or melodramma, which the inveterate Long Beach Opera takes as its topic this season. With a double bill of Italian works, plus film screenings and a related colloquium (June 10), LBO takes a look at the essence of this most emotional form. The crowning glory, of course, will be the operas themselves: Giacomo Puccini's 1918 work "The Cloak" ("Il Tabarro") and Luigi Dallapiccola's 1940 "Night Flight" ("Volo di Notte"), performed on a double bill on June 11 and 17. Information and tickets: (562) 439-2580.

Southwest Chamber Music Summer Festival at the Huntington (July 8-Aug. 20). Ever been to the Huntington in San Marino? It's one of the most stunning, magical places in all L.A., a wonderland of gardens, art galleries and genteel tranquillity. This seventh annual Southwest Chamber Music Summer Festival would make for a great first--or 100th--visit. The festival has been developing a reputation for the performance of music by female composers, so the return of national treasure Thea Musgrave is of special interest. Information and tickets: (800) 726-7147.

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