Los Angeles Opera presents a joyous Mark Morris masterpiece

As seen Friday, May 6, 2011

"Not to be missed. A joyous, deeply moving experience." (David Gregson)

Mark Morris Dance Group

“L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato”

Music of George Frideric Handel

Presented in collaboration with LA Opera

Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Four performances May 5 – 8, 2011

Review by David Gregson

Not as a dance work but as a musical composition, George Frideric Handel’s “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,” has long been a favorite work of mine. However, I must confess the ""Moderato" sections only became familiar to me after the release of John Nelson’s marvelous CD recording on the Virgin Label. Before that I had owned an LP of the piece with "Il Moderato" omitted. I still have it — and in fact, it’s right here before me now: David Willcocks conducting the Philomusica of London with soloists the likes of Helen Watts and Peter Pears (London Records’ Editions de L’Oiseau Lyre).

Handel’s conception, a rather unusual one in fact, was to make a sort of dramatic ode out of John Milton’s famous pastoral poem, "L’Allegro ed Il Penseroso" — and to add a third non-Miltonic section "moderating" the two contrasting classical "humors" of cheerfulness and melancholy. His librettist, Charles Jennens, wrote the additional (and not-as good) poems, and he also arranged the pieces for musical setting. Sometimes, as on my long out-of-print LP recording, the non-Miltonic parts are omitted.

The brilliant American choreographer Mark Morris was drawn to the full Handel composition, and in 1988, he used it as the basis for one of his most inspired dance creations. It is almost incomparably wonderful to see truly "live" on stage with his own brilliant company of dancers. Seeing this work or almost any other great performance of dance on a video recording is absolutely not comparable. Opera can survive roaming camera work and close ups, but dance really cannot.

The Los Angeles Opera is presenting this work as part of a Mark Morris 30th anniversary celebration — and the eighth season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, May 5 through 8, 2011. It is a joyous, deeply moving piece and not to be missed.

Morris, who was present to accept an enthusiastic ovation on opening night, had wonderful musical collaborators down in the pit: Grant Gershon conducting the LA Opera Orchestra — plus four big-name vocal soloists: sopranos Hei-Kyung Hong and Sarah Coburn, tenor Barry Banks and bass-baritone John Relyea. This musical excellence was all very gratifying and pleasurable, of course, although I must confess, I could not understand a single word being sung– and I actually know the texts fairly well. On the other hand, I have seen this Morris work performed before when there was exactly the same problem, so I was not surprised or disappointed. Supertitles, of course, are totally inappropriate for dance events.

In any event, Morris and his dancers create such a magical world, one hardly needs to hear the poems clearly. All the "humors" are so vividly conveyed, one never feels a loss of words. In fact, in certain memorable sections — such as when the boys alternatively traipse around hand in hand and then fist-fight and ass-slap each other — the poems seem unhelpful. The text for this whimsical stretch has to do with seeing plays by Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. Morris may, however, be making a pun with the punches: "I’ll to the well-trod stage anon / If Jonson’s learned sock be on."

The brilliant lighting and costume color scheme based on William Blake water colors is another joy of this show. What is basically a bare stage is made into layers of a wonderland in which the lowering or lifting of a scrim turns things into reflections, dreams, and parallel universes. Meanwhile the dancers all seem tapped into an invisible sweep of energy that makes the whole evening flow by in a thrilling rushing stream. Their precision is utterly stunning — and they form a flawless ensemble while at the same time projecting their individual personalities.

But amongst this exhilarating current of human energy, marvelous little scenes remain in the memory. The bird-like movements of "Sweet bird that shuns’t the noise of folly;" the human bustle of "Populous cities please me then:" the church-like solemnity of "There let the peeling organ blow;" and the foxes, hounds, and hunters of "To listen how the hounds and horn."

Special kudos must go to the trumpet soloists in the finale when mirth conquers all.


April 12,2011 — The Music Center continues the eighth season of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center on May 5-8, 2011 with the Mark Morris Dance Group and the landmark work “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato,” (“L’Allegro”) choreographed by Mark Morris to the music of George Frideric Handel. This engagement is presented at the Music Center in collaboration with LA Opera.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the Mark Morris Dance Group will perform “L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato” with 24 dancers and the LA Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Grant Gershon, as well as a quartet of world-class singers: sopranos Hei-Kyung Hong and Sarah Coburn, tenor Barry Banks and bass-baritone John Relyea. With Handel’s pastoral ode as the musical landscape, “L’Allegro” is set to the poetry of John Milton (sung in English and performed without supertitles) and features sets inspired by William Blake’s later watercolors. Morris’ landmark work is presented as part of the first-ever collaboration between the Music Center and LA Opera.

“L’Allegro” was Mark Morris’ premiere dance as Director of Dance at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium, where the company was in residence for three years.

"A work of genius…it fills the soul with wonder." – The New York Times 

For more information see Los Angeles Opera website.

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