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New & Noteworthy April-May
By Jon Magaril

Lucia di Lammermoor (through April 6)

LA Opera's new Lucia opens in fog. That soon clears but the musically impeccable production remains a visual muddle. Wendall K. Harrington's expressionistic projections dominate, evoking its heroine's increasingly off-kilter mindset. The problem is they're placed in a context that's already unmoored.

Director Elkhanah Pulitzer for instance sets the piece in 1885, fifty years after its composition and a century after events which are discussed in the text as current. She has describing being interested in how the Industrial Revolution wrought changes which helped engender the suffragette movement. There's little in this idea though that has much bearing on the material or in Albina Shagimuratova's lead performance. Admittedly, nothing in the design is all that specific. Pulitzer explains, “We're going for the silhouette of the era but stripped of detail ... so we get this interesting tension between 1885 and now."

The problem is her lines of tension cross between 1885 and now and the late 17th century and, in the projections, early twentieth century films. This strategy may still have worked well if all design elements combined these various influences either in one unified vision or one that grows as helterskelter as Lucia's mental state. Instead, it seems an unwieldy amalgam of interesting ideas.

Fortunately, there's nothing half-baked about James Conlon's stewardship of the music. He guides his orchestra and singers to an artistic peak as high as the opera's setting atop the Scottish moors. Coloratura soprano Albina Shagimuratova's sturdy build makes her seem inappropriately a match for any of the men who run roughshod over her romantic desires. But her virtuosic vocal performance is all one could wish.

The same holds true for every vocal performance. Diminutive tenor Saimir Pirgu is every inch an ardent and eager Edgardo. Like Shagimuratova, he stays fresh throughout, regardless of the mighty demands Donizetti places on him. Similarly, baritone Stephen Powell as Lucia's brother Enrico and James Cresswell's preacher Raimondo compel our respect despite their characters' actions.

Conlon uses the original orchestration, including a glass harmonica which hauntingly reflects Lucia's fragile state. The simplicity and directness of its stirring effect makes us understand why Pulitzer would hope to find a visual approach that accomplished the same. That she doesn't entirely succeed is a minor blemish on a luminous production.

Orpheus (through April 6)

Go to hell. Four Larks' first LA venture, a riff on the mythic lover's refusal to bid farewell to his dearly departed love, is a downright downtown happening.

The company of Aussies and Californians keeps the exact location of its performances secret until tickets are bought. Mystery is maintained through a series of long hallways from the front door to an anteroom dotted by Regan Baumgarten's whimsical sculptures composed of found objects. The front of house staff is stylishly dressed and bountifully good-natured.

Mat Sweeny and Sebastian Peters-Lazaro's inventive “junkyard opera” expands on the enchanting sense of occasion. The set is an artful collection of detritus in natural hues on a bed of sand. The underworld may be envisioned as a desert, but the creators' imaginations couldn't be more lush.

Six musicians sit scattered on a multilevel wooden structure to one side, under which performers make sly appearances and exits. Strewn about are old suitcases, books and, in homage to the building's recent use as textile factory, a giant spool. The ensemble puts each to use in fresh ways, which provide the production's greatest source of energy.

The ethereal score by Sweeny and Ellen Warkentine blends classical and folk sounds. In fact, every element hitches highflown ambition to a DIY aesthetic that keeps pretension at bay. For instance, Zachary Sanders' lithe Orpheus lights many of the characters who step forward in the “underground” with a bucket lamp.

There's no lyre in the musical ensemble but lyricism flows from start to finish. Fluidity marks the performers' movement and the story's episodic nature, which mirrors the string of lights running along the set. There's little sense of context or urgency, but the tide of invention never ebbs.

The young performers are uniformly committed and engaging but variably skilled, especially in the vocal department. While limiting the effect of the music, it all contributes to an inclusive sense of wholehearted naivety.

This enthralling take on eternity passes all too quickly. Four Larks may move from one playing space to another but it would be a boon for Los Angeles if they put down stakes in town. Like Orpheus' love for Eurydice, we're not ready to say goodbye.
LA Opera 135 N Grand Ave Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213) 972.8001
Lucia di Lammermoor (through April 6)The darkly romantic tale of family honor, betrayal and madness returns in a new production starring Albina Shagimuratova in the title role as the dagger-wielding Scottish lass and Saimir Pirgu as her secret lover, Edgardo. The production features an extensive use of state-of-the-art projections created by Wendall K. Harrington, plunging audiences into Lucia's mind as she descends into madness. LA Opera 135 N Grand Ave Los Angeles, CA 90012 (213) 972.8001

Firemen (through April 13) Set in rural Washington state during the first Iraq war, Tommy Smith’s disturbing but darkly humorous drama explores an unthinkable love relationship. The Echo Theater Company @ Atwater Village Theatre 3269 Casitas Ave Atwater Village, CA 90039 (310) 307-3753

Bulgakov/Moliére (April 4 to June 1) In this World Premiere play by Charles A. Duncombe, the Devil and his entourage pay a midnight visit to Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov, whose recent work Moliére has just been shut down by the authorities. By magic, these characters transform themselves and perform the play, transposing the playwright's 1930s attack on censorship and hypocrisy in Stalin's Soviet Union to the America of today. City Garage, building T1, Bergamot Station 2525 Michigan Ave. Santa Monica, Ca. 90404 (310) 453-9939

                                                                           White Marriage ( April 5 to May 25) Chekhov meets Fellini in a surreal and erotic coming-of-age fairytale, set in 1890, that follows a young girl’s poignant emergence into womanhood and frightened resistance to her impending marriage. The Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. (310) 477-2055

Sovereign Body (April 4 to May 24) As a wife and mother of two grown daughters welcomes an uninvited Thanksgiving dinner guest, a family's life is forever challenged and changed.  Is she losing her mind and body or owning them once and for all? Road Theatre 5108 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood (866) 811-4111
Sjalusi (April 18 to May 4) Deaf West Theatre brings Teater Manu, Norway’s professional sign language theater company, to the U.S. for the first time with a black comedy about three women living on different floors of the same luxurious high-rise. Although they have never met, the trio is inter-connected by their secrets, a man and a feisty email conversation. [Inside] the Ford is located at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East in Hollywood, CA 90068. (818) 762-2998
Be a Good Little Widow (April 18 to May 25) Young wife Melody has never been to a funeral – until her husband dies in a plane crash. Expected to instantly assume proper widowhood, Melody is left to wonder, what’s the right way to grieve? NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood. (323) 388-3874

Beyond Sight (April 25 to May 25) Blind actor Robert Smith and former U.S. Marine Ginger Lawrence head the cast of a new musical about a soldier who returns to the U.S. after losing his sight during combat in Afghanistan. Stella Adler Theatre 6773 Hollywood Blvd., 2nd Floor Hollywood, CA 90028 (310) 902-8220

A Delicate Balance (April 26 to June 15) Susan Sullivan and David Selby head the cast in Edward Albee's caustically funny and moving exploration of the bonds of friendship and family in a threatening world. Odyssey Theatre 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90025 (310) 477-2055

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