Dudamel conducts the Liceu as Barcelona reopens to music

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Attempt to think about Gustavo Dudamel conducting 50 musicians huddled in an orchestra pit, with 75 singers packed on the stage above and 1,000 individuals readily available simply to look at, all indoors.

That’s precisely what maestro Dudamel pulled off on Saturday evening — albeit 6,000 miles away from a still-closed Walt Disney Live performance Corridor — when the Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor premiered a starry Bavarian State Opera manufacturing of Verdi’s “Otello” on the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

It was all completely authorized and earned a wholesome spherical of applause (and, to be honest, a number of boos). Dudamel made his Spanish opera debut in an uncut, fully-staged manufacturing that many hoped would mark the start of the post-COVID-19 period.

The sold-out viewers was instructed to reach at staggered occasions to keep away from strains and to sanitize palms after scanning tickets. Temperatures had been taken discreetly on the entrance. No printed packages had been out there. Food and drinks weren’t on the market. Each different seat within the 2,292-capacity home was roped off. Black tie was not required, however masks had been. Most patrons wore N95s or blue surgical face coverings, and a superb few donned bejazzled sequined masks. In addition to that, it felt like simply one other evening on the opera.

An "Otello" banner hangs outside the ornate windows and columns of a theater.

Banners tout Gustavo Dudamel as conductor of “Otello” outdoors the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the place indoor performances are shifting ahead.

(James C. Taylor)

Posters outdoors the theater function a photograph of Dudamel with the opera title, “Otello,” which drives house how a lot of a star he’s right here in Spain. Unable to carry out for in-person audiences in California, he’s been at numerous podiums in Barcelona of late, conducting Beethoven’s ninth in September and two live performance performances of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” in October.

Regardless of what the posters may point out, the title function of “Otello” is normally the primary draw of the opera. It’s a taxing function within the repertoire and normally staged with the boldest tenor voices. On Saturday evening, Dudamel carried out a number one interpreter of the half: American tenor Gregory Kunde. Kunde received the 2016 male singer of the yr award on the Worldwide Opera Awards, and in 2017 he shared the function with Jonas Kaufmann in an acclaimed London “Otello.”

Kunde was paired with a veteran Desdemona in soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, who carried out with Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony in a memorable live performance “Otello” again in 2011. And the villainous Iago on opening evening was sung by Spaniard Carlos Alvarez — arguably the world’s main Verdi baritone immediately.

The minimalist staging by Amelie Niermeyer is fascinating for individuals who know the opera, because it makes Desdemona extra current all through the piece.

Performers in flowered gowns and strumming stringed instruments gather on a stage with a bed.

For “Otello,” dozens of singers crowded onto an indoor stage earlier than an viewers of 1,000 in a rustic the place solely about 5% of the inhabitants is totally vaccinated.

(David Ruano / Gran Teatre del Liceu)

It might not be an “Otello” for the ages, however for many of the viewers at this level within the pandemic, it doesn’t have to be. This isn’t Zoom opera or streaming opera; this isn’t drive-in opera heard via a automotive radio. No, that is the true factor: full-throttle, trumpets-blaring, humans-hugging-kissing-and-wailing opera that should be felt by being in the identical shut house — and respiratory the identical air — because the lots of of artists working in tandem on the highest ranges.

Whereas L.A. County live performance halls sit empty — with about 30% of the state’s residents at the least partially vaccinated and about 15% totally vaccinated — the Liceu performances are shifting ahead though solely about 5% of Spain’s adults are totally vaccinated. Catalans watched the opera Saturday with eight worldwide singers performing with out masks, 70 choristers singing with masks, dozens of musicians (together with horns and woodwinds who couldn’t be masked) plus dozens of others working backstage. Dudamel carried out behind 5 plexiglass screens.

Spain is an outlier right here in Europe. Live performance halls in Vienna are shuttered, as are theaters in London. Will the openness in Barcelona backfire? The music world is watching — from a distance.

Spanish well being ministers have made statements to the European press about “tradition being a primary human proper,” and native governments and humanities corporations have negotiated protocols (no coat examine, restricted elevator and restroom entry) that encourage artists to work and audiences to look at. The Liceu launched the primary live performance after the shutdown final yr with its orchestra enjoying to a full home of potted vegetation as an alternative of people. (The fauna was donated to healthcare staff.) This might need appeared like a stunt, nevertheless it stored musicians employed and obtained the general public’s consideration, signaling that the present should go on.

Southern California corporations equivalent to Lengthy Seaside Opera and Pacific Opera Challenge have introduced outside performances in coming months. Though greater corporations just like the L.A. Phil and L.A. Opera are exploring methods to make summer season exhibits occur, for now the earliest anybody expects indoor main-stage performances to return is the autumn, with early 2022 seeming a greater wager. “Il Trovatore” is scheduled, at the least for now, to open on the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sept. 18. The tenor within the title function: Gregory Kunde. If the curtain does rise right here in L.A. this fall, at the least our troubadour — due to Barcelona — won’t be rusty.

Dudamel conducts from behind plexiglass.

Gustavo Dudamel rehearses for “Otello” on the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the place 11 performances are scheduled via April 14.

(David Ruano / Gran Teatre del Liceu)

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