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Entertainment Tips of the Week 2-13-12

By Jean Strauber, Entertainment Tips

LA Opera’s Simon Boccanegra

LA Opera’s company premiere of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” opened last Saturday and, unfortunately, will only be here for six more performances through Sunday, March 4th. Giuiseppi Verdi, along with librettist Francesca Maria Pave, first produced the opera in 1857 when it was not well received by the public. Verdi withdrew it and later, after revising it with the librettist Arrigo Boito presented the revised work in 1881, when it was well-received. Today, it’s the 1881 production that you will see staged in opera houses throughout the world. To simplify the rather convoluted plot: A ruthless pirate has been called upon to serve as “Doge” or leader.

Placido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra

Placido Domingo as Simon Boccanegra

He attempts to reconcile the plebians, or commoners, and the aristocracy. He also wants to see his beloved (and illegitimate) daughter happy with the man she loves. In the title role as Boccanegra, Domingo has fulfilled a longstanding dream by adding the baritone title role to his vast repertoire. The cast features Ana Maria Martinez as Amelia; Ukrainian bass Vitalij Kowaljow as Fiesco; tenor Stefano Secco as Adorno; Paolo Gavanelli as Paolo Albiani; and Robert Pomakov as Pietro.

You will also find a number of musical echoes, namely the brief ballad Paolo sings in the Prologue might seem reminiscent of El Trovatore, and at the end of Act 1 the melody seemed, to me, to resemble the trio performed in the final scene of Aida. “Simon Boccanegra” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is conducted by James Conlon, LA Opera’s Richard Seaver Music Director, and well-staged by Elijah Moshinsky. Arias that I found were performed especially well were “Come in quest’ora bruna” from Act I, Scene 2, where Martinez as Amelia is remembering her childhood with the right touch of sentimentality; and Secco as Adomo performing “Sento Avvampar nell’anima” from Act II, when Adorno goes into a jealous rage over Simon’s and Amelia’s relationship, not knowing that he’s her father.

Visit www.laopera.com for the performance schedule. Tickets range from $20- $270 and can be purchased at the LA Opera Box Office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, by phone at (213) 972-8001 or online.

Clybourne Park At Mark Taper Forum

Theatre-goers and critics have had nothing but praise for the Center Theatre Group productions of “A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and “Clybourne Park” by Bruce Norris now appearing at the Mark Taper Forum. The landmark “A Raisin in the Sun,” which was first produced about 50 years ago, is about an African American family who dream of a better life in a mythical suburb called Clybourne Park. As a result of receiving the benefit of a life insurance policy, their dream of a better life becomes a distinct possibility, but collides with racism and conflicting aspirations. It hit a lot of people close to home as this was an era of “block busting,” when African Americans were beginning to integrate formerly allwhite neighborhoods.

Clybourne Park’s setting in Act I takes place after the family has moved into the house. Interestingly enough Act II is set 50 years later when you find white people “gentrifying” now all-black neighborhoods. Again, it’s the debate of social politics versus real estate values, as one critic put it. As Ben Brantley of the New York Times stated about “Clybourne Park,” “it takes a special vision, both clear and cockeyed, to see the present as if it were the past.” What is especially impressive is the way the cast members are able to shape their multiple roles (the different characters in Act I and Act II) except for the character of Karl, a Clybourne Park Improvement Association representative, who appears in both act. The first act takes place in 1959 as Bev (Christina Kirk) and Russ (Frank Wood) are packing up their house to move, trying to get away from their grief and memories of their son’s suicide.

The superb cast, from the original Playwrights Horizons’ off-Broadway production, Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos and Frank Wood and original director Pam MacKinnon, well deserved the standing ovation given them on opening night. “Clybourne Park” will continue through February 26 at the Center Theatre Group Mark Taper’s Forum before moving to Broadway during the Spring 2012. For ticket information go to centertheatregroup.org, the box office located at the Ahmnanson Theatre or call (213) 628-2772.

Rock of Ages at the Pantages

“Rock of Ages,” the five-time Tony Awards nominated smash-hit musical, is coming to the Pantages Theatre, for a one week engagement March 20-25, 2012. It’s 1987 on the Sunset Strip, a small-town girl met a big-city dreamer — and in LA’s most legendary rock club, they fall in love to the greatest songs of the 80’s. It’s “Rock of Ages,” a hilarious, feel-good love story told through the hit songs of rockers Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Pat Benatar, Whitesnake, and more. Leading the cast of “Rock of Ages” are Dominique Scott as Drew, Shannon Mullen as Sherrie, Matt Ban as Dennis and Matt Nolan as Stacee Jaxx. Did you know the King King Club in Hollywood is where the earliest incarnation of “Rock of Ages” opened in July 2005? A New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. film of the musical starring Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Hough and newcomer Diego Boneta as “Drew” is scheduled to be opening in June 2012. “Rock of Ages” is directed by Tony Award Nominee Kristin Hanggi and choreographed by Kelly Devine. Tickets start at $25. For more information on “Rock of Ages” at the Pantages go to www. BroadwayLA.org.

Jean Strauber

Entertainment Writer

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