From Opera Pit to Stage, Pittance shines in chamber music and arias

By Truman C. Wang

In its expanded 2016/17 season, Pittance Chamber Music continues to live up to its name by featuring pit musicians from the L.A. Opera as well as members of the Opera Chorus and the Young Artists Program.  The ticket prices, from $10 to $35, are a bargain given the sumptuous chandeliered venue in the Eva and Marc Stern Grand Hall of the opera house. 

The program for the Sunday season opener, however, was more than a pittance.  In fact, it was a refreshingly varied selection of vocal and instrumental works unlike your typical instrumental music-only chamber concerts.  A bonus was having TV and film personality Miguel Pérez introduce each piece with anecdotes and humor.  The intermission saw an abundance of free-flowing coffee and drinks and the musicians mingling with audience members.  It was also nice to see many adorable young kids hopping around (not during the concert, thankfully), adding to the general festive atmosphere of the occasion. 

The music-making was generally excellent with a high sense of lyricism as befitting an opera orchestra.  Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, K.581 received a warm, glowing reading full of sunshine and breeze, featuring clarinetist Stuart Clark's eloquent virtuoso playing.  The sentiment was that of autumnal glow rather than summer heat.   If, at several points during the Quintet, one had wished for more frisson and drama, that feeling was soon tempered by the knowledge that Mozart, in the desperate life struggles of his last years, continued to write music of such purity and lightness as to transcend all earthly sufferings.  

Mozart’s love-affirmation aria ‘L'amerò, sarò costante’ from his early opera seria, Il Re Pastore/The Shepherd King, contains some beguiling poetry by Metastasio and equally beguiling violin solo and obbligato played here beautifully by Roberto Cani.  In a welcome departure from the usual wan, precious renditions of this aria, soprano Summer Hassan's ample lyric voice soared powerfully and regally in an ardent declaration of love and devotion.  Chausson’s Chanson perpétuelle, in a piano and string quartet arrangement, benefited from the delicate shades and colors from the musicians, as well as Ms. Hassan’s superb feeling for the French text, mirroring in her expressive singing the music's ever-shifting moods of heartache and melancholia. 

Ernst von Dohnányi’s Sextet, Op.37 was an oddball but totally appropriate piece for a chance to hear six different instruments playing and bantering together in a joyful party of sounds.  Dohnányi’s music for the Sextet evokes the late Romanticism of Brahms with fragments of Johann Strauss Jr. and Gershwin flashing by near the end.  It was a surprise crowd-pleaser and a memorable end to an amiable Sunday afternoon at the Music Center.

The three-concert Pittance Chamber Music season continues on 2/3/17 and 3/26/17.  I am sure I speak for many when I say the Los Angeles Opera Orchestra should take a page from the playbook of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and play at the Disney Hall at least once a year.

Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.