Music Review: GREAT OPERA & FILM CHORUSES (Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Hall)

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by Barry Creyton on May 6, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


In 1770,  Jean Jacques Rousseau employed music to accompany certain dramatic scenes in his play Pygmalion. A hundred years later, music to accompany theatrical melodrama was de rigueur. By natural progression, music became an essential part of silent cinema. Phonograph, piano, organ or a loosely assembled band played along with the earliest movies, and when silents reached their artistic peak in the twenties, lavish orchestral scores were composed. Then movies began to talk, and seldom was heard an unaccompanied word again.

The logic of this has always escaped me. Talking pictures were more closely related to theatre plays which were rarely accompanied by music, yet music became an essential part of the talking film and has remained so for more than ninety years. Logic aside, I’ve always considered the scores written by the greats of the “golden age” —  Steiner, Waxman, Herrmann, Tiomkin, North, Korngold, and that whole crowd — to constitute some of the finest and most spectacular descriptive symphonic music of the twentieth century.

Last night at Disney Hall, the Los Angeles Master Chorale & Orchestra under the perfectly assured baton of Grant Gershon offered a treat for movie and operagoers alike under the banner Great Opera & Film Choruses, and proved unequivocally that film music is not only here to stay, but is better than ever.

Gershon described the musical “mashup” as “Godzilla meets Wotan.” The opera choruses — including Puccini’s “Humming Chorus” from Madama Butterfly and Leoncavallo’s “Bell Chorus” from Pagliacci —  were treated with respect and affection, all beautifully realized by the Chorale, although I must say that the endless repetition of A major / F-sharp minor chords in Philip Glass’s “Funeral Chorus” from Akhnaten caused me to reconsider the second amendment. I have the feeling if I asked Glass to decorate for me, I’d have a living room furnished with 100 chairs of the same size, shape and color.

The movie music was, for me, the great joy of the evening. Hearing these excerpts and suites as standalone concert pieces is always a revelation.

John Williams’ distinctive compositions add luster to every movie he’s ever scored and the excerpt from The Last Jedi was no exception. Emotion and grandeur combine to remind us of the impact of the Star Wars movies, all of which owe an incalculable debt to Williams’ majestic scoring. Similarly, Michael Giacchino’s suite from Star Trek is reminiscent of the “golden age” of movie scores in which grand musical statements were made to underline the spectacle.

Elfman’s Edward Scissorhands score melds chorus and orchestra in a subtle melancholy, while the sinister repetition of whispered Swahili (“Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” — “listen to your ancestors”) in Michael Abels’ great score for Jordan Peele’s Us raises goosebumps.

Germaine Franco is rightly described as a trailblazer, and her Dove’s Loophole from the climax of the movie TAG gives us spirited irony via a lusty chorus.

Two boy sopranos made a great impression — David Kakuk movingly with the main theme from Elfman’s Alice in Wonderland, and Angelito Garcia all but stopped the show with his flashy Proud Corazón (Germaine Franco reminding us of her great versatility) from the animated movie Coco.

Best laughs of the program: Dylan Gentile and Elyse Willis as minions singing the Modern Major General parody from Despicable Me 3 — no apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, but deserved cheers for Hector Pereira’s laugh-out-loud parody.

Perhaps the greatest joy of the evening for me was the suite from How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World which, as a standalone piece, would be a handsome and respectable addition to any symphonic program regardless of theme. This assemblage from the feel-good score by the greatly accomplished John Powell.

The only unfulfilling score chorus came from young female composer Pinar Toprak for Captain Marvel — dull, superhero conventionality in every last note of it.

The sole downer of the evening was the almost inevitable cell phone which rang, loud and clear, during the finale to Verdi’s “Va Pensiero” from Nabucco. The guilty woman a few rows in front of me dived into her handbag head first and rummaged. And rummaged. And rummaged. By the time she’d found the bloody thing, I’d gathered a small band of concertgoers together who were happy to help me drag the woman, handbag and all, to the end of Santa Monica pier and drop her into the Pacific.

However, that incident entirely apart, the evening was a moving, uplifting, smile-inducing triumph for a great orchestra, a great chorale and the great Gershon.

photos by Jamie Pham

Great Opera & Film Choruses
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Walt Disney Concert Hall
reviewed on May 5, 2019
for LAMC events, call 213-972-7282 or visit LAMC

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