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MUSIC REVIEW

The pull of the moon

October 20, 2003|Donna Perlmutter | Special to The Times

To enact, or not to enact? That has been the question.

Ever since the 1912 premiere of Arnold Schoenberg's landmark "Pierrot Lunaire," interpreters have taken steps either toward or away from the composer's edict not to theatricalize its performances. Yet the impulse to play the piece for all its inherent dramatic power, as Daisietta Kim and the ensemble Xtet did Friday at the Getty Center, is a winning one.

Drawn from a poem by Albert Giraud, "Pierrot" is the eerie fantasy of Looney Peter, a strange, mocking specter who both scorns the world and feels menaced by it. So why wouldn't Kim, portraying Pierrot in commedia dell'arte white-face and ecru satin pajamas, extend herself to the limit? Sing, enact and dance the part all at once, since she's that rarest and most versatile artist, one who can pull it off? Surely Schoenberg would grant dispensation in her case.

Kim clearly knew how to command the stage -- she peeked from the wings, sat at its edge, twirled in mid-phrase, swooned ecstatically, rushed here and there, mimed the cello and, of course, conjured repose when necessary. All of these deft calculations seemed organic to the poetry and to the cool half-speech, half-song of Sprechgesang given in Andrew Porter's English translation. The silver-toned soprano ventured the dangerously quixotic solo lines as chaste utterances when invoking Pierrot's moonstruck sorrow. And when the mood turned manic she reinforced it with a grander scale, but still within the dictates of intimacy.

The conductor-less ensemble, which first performed "Pierrot" 17 years ago in its inaugural season, played the quirky score with unanimity of spirit and clarity of instrumental textures. But the whole enterprise would have benefited enormously from a lighting scheme. Kim's staging, and especially her sorrowfully nuanced facial expressions, deserve as much.

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