by randy hope -
The gifted Hungarian composer/conductor/teacher Peter Eötvös will take part in a mini-residency, including the world premiere of his Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, as well as a Green Umbrella staging of his operatic setting of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America.
A luminous cast, conducted by a stylistically omnipotent young Spanish maestro who has racked up a series of successes with the L.A. Philharmonic in recent seasons is all the reason to start the year off on a right note at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Tony Kushner’s epic, two-part play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes received its world premiere on the West Coast 20 years ago—the first part in San Francisco and the full, two-part play at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.
The play was and still is, shocking and inspiring in the depth of its ambition, covering AIDS, sexuality, love, death, religion and American politics and culture during the Reagan years.
After making its debut on Broadway and around the world, receiving the Pulitzer Prize and numerous other awards and being adapted into a TV mini-series on HBO, the play is now set as an opera by Péter Eötvös, with the libretto adapted by Eötvös’ wife, Mari Mezei.
On Tuesday, January 15, the play is set to return to Los Angeles for the West Coast premiere of its operatic adaptation, in the guise of a concert staging by David Gately at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
This is a performance not to be missed, as Angels in America is now a classic, widely considered to be one of the most important plays of the late 20th century and the critical consensus is that Eötvös’ opera is an effective distillation of the original. At Disney Hall, the opera will be performed with David Gately’s critically lauded concert staging for the BBC Symphony.
“This is a performance not to be missed, as Angels in America is now a classic, widely considered to be one of the most important plays of the late 20th century and the critical consensus is that Eötvös’ opera is an effective distillation of the original.”
Pablo Heras-Casado, who was unanimously awarded the 2007 Lucerne Festival Conductors’ Competition by a jury that included Eötvös and Pierre Boulez, will conduct a fantastic cast and the L.A. Phil New Music Group.
So, how is it possible to set an opera to the multi-layered, seven-hour play that is Kushner’s Angels in America? Opera, as a genre, is known for its psychological rather than narrative strengths and scenes must necessarily be elided in any operatic adaptation of a play.
But Eötvös’ opera, which lasts only a little over two hours, represents an extreme condensation of the action of the play. Critics have, in general, appreciated Mezei’s concise libretto and the intense fantasy and mysticism highlighted by Eötvös’ music.
Some are understandably disappointed that the political and era-specific aspects of the play are largely stripped away, as is much of the lightness of Kushner’s campy humor and wit. But what remains is the harrowing essence of the drama.
Kushner has commented, “There was a particular atmosphere surrounding everything to do with AIDS back in the early ‘90s, an atmosphere of agony, that has to some degree been erased.”
Though his compositional approach is now more improvisatory and experimental, Eötvös’ background is in the modernist, serialist musical language of Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez, both composers with whom he has worked. Electronics and exotic sounds are, as expected, prominent in the instrumentation of the opera.
However, critics have also remarked on the opera’s striking similarities with Sondheim’s musicals, which help to establish the distinctly American tone of the opera.
What: Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes West Coast operatic premiere with the LA Philharmonic
When: Tuesday, January 15 at 8 p.m.
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Avenue in Los Angeles
For tickets and more information visit laphil.com.