Friday, April 24, 2015

LAAPFF 2015: THE CHINESE MAYOR

A scene from The Chinese Mayor.
A different cultural revolution

By Miranda Inganni
Geng Yanbo, the newly-elected mayor of Datong, China wants to transform the city into a tourist-attracting cultural center. Datong, the most polluted city in China, thanks to its coal mining history, has a massive ancient city wall that Geng envisions containing museums and meeting spaces. The problem is that at least 30 percent of the residents of Datong, many of them poor and their housing illegal, live around that city wall. These residents must be relocated and their dwellings demolished in order for Geng’s reconstruction of the city to take place.
Despite the fact that demolition and construction are very slow and behind schedule, the government wants the residents out. But there is no place for many of them to go. People who cannot afford to move are told that they can apply for low-rent housing, but they know the reality is that there is a long waiting period. Some residents protest by simply not leaving their abodes or by blocking the heavy machinery. A few residents who refuse to move face forcible demolition and threaten suicide.
We follow Geng, in Zhou Hao’s The Chinese Mayor, as he inspects the progress of destruction and construction throughout the city, as he attends meetings in his official capacity, and as he is scolded by his wife who thinks he is working himself to death. He appears tough when he deals with contractors who have put in sub-par paving, taken other shortcuts or are not performing their jobs to his satisfaction. But when the affected residents appeal directly to Geng, he is sympathetic and tries to right the wrongs -- helping folks find housing, ensuring the children of rural residents who gave up their farmland for development have access to the city schools, and even trying to move a woman from her 6th floor apartment to one on the ground floor as she can no longer walk up the stairs (what the hell happened to the elevator anyway?).
Geng wants to leave the reinvented and revitalized Datong as his legacy. Will he be able to oversee all of the construction through to completion before his mayoral term is up? Is he simply a megalomaniac bankrupting a city for his own status? Director Zhou does a masterful job of not getting in the way of the story. Clearly the residents are the one’s suffering in this scenario, but Geng is not without sympathetic sensibilities. He believes so strongly in “cultural industry” that even if he cannot bring his vision to fruition in Datong, the viewer gets the sense that that will not stop him. He will give this city, or any other, his masterful cultural makeover. Even if it kill him.

The Chinese Mayor screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival April 26, 4 p.m., CGV Cinemas. For more information: Mayor.
 

LAAPFF 2015: OPENING NIGHT WITH EVERYTHING BEFORE US

Ben (Aaron Yoo) and Sara (Brittany Ishibashi) in Everything Before Us.
When love is just a number

By John Esther

The 31st edition of the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (LAAPFF) kicked off last night with Everything Before Us.

The first feature film by Wong Fu Productions, co-directed and co-written by Wesley Chan and Philip Wang, along with co-writer Chris Dinh, Everything Before Us is set in a quasi-future California (USA?) where everyone has an Emotional Intelligence score.

In short, Emotional Intelligence scores are based one's ability to maintain a monogamous relationship. These scores not only affect who is available for romance, they can also effect one's ability to get into college, get into a nightclub, receive a loan or land a job.

It is an interesting premise -- which would make for a dystopian future where status, power, reproductive rights and liberties could be based on one's EI score -- but in Everything Before Us the EI score is used in the form of comedy and romance.

Ben (Aaron Yoo) is still suffering from the end of his relationship with Sara (Brittany Ishibashi). Thanks to his role in their breakup, Ben's score is too low to get the job he wants (and deserves). So, after years apart, he reaches out to Sara to help rectify the situation.

Thanks to Sara's cooperation, Ben lands the new job, which also results in a new girlfriend, Anna (Joanna Sotomura). However, there is tension in the air as Ben and Sara still pine for one another.

Meanwhie, Seth (Brandon Soo Hoo) and Haley (Victoria Park) are young Los Angelinos madly in love with one another.  When Haley gets accepted to college in San Francisco, their love is put to the test. Determined to beat the formidable odds of young lovers sticking together "forever," the two agree to register as a couple with the Department of Emotional Intelligence (deliciously portrayed like the DMV) and maintain a long distance relationship.

Despite the rude behavior of some of the film's filmmakers whipping out their phones during the screening to text and go online (dimming the phone light does not cut it), Everything Before Us proved to be a highly enjoyable, smart, very funny, well written story about young people in love. While the narratives of the leads takes a more serious tone, albeit not too serious, there is plenty of comic relief provided by the supporting characters like Anna, along with Ben's friend, Henry (Chris Reidell), Henry's wife, Sandy (Katie Savoy), Haley's dweeby colleague, Taylor (Edward Gelbinovich), and Randall (Randall Park), the DEI representative.

Moreover and more importantly, is here you have an entertaining film where Asian Americans take front and center in the mise-en-scène. Although Asian Americans only make up five percent of the U.S. population they are nearly invisible when it comes to film and television. And, with few exceptions -- John Cho, Lucy Liu, Fresh Off the Boat and the short-lived All American Girl immediately come to mind, when Asian Americans are seen in American film and television, they are often relegated to supporting roles.

This underscores the importance of LAAPFF and good films like Everything Before Us.


LAAPFF runs through April 30 in Downtown LA, Koreatown and West Hollywood. For more information: LAAPFF.



 

NBFF 2015: CALAMITY JANE

Martha Canary/Calamity Jane (Kay Campbell) in Calamity Jane: Wild West Legend.
Martha, thy dreary

By Miranda Inganni

Calamity Jane, nee Martha Canary, was born in 1852 (most likely) in Missouri. According to Greg Monro’s film, her unstable childhood included the 8 year-old Martha traveling the Oregon Trail with her family, her parents’ subsequent deaths and Martha and her siblings being sent to an orphanage. First adopted at age 12, Martha was soon sent away for bad behavior. Where she went and/or what she did is not fully known. What historians do know is that Martha joined the Newton-Jenney Party into the Black Hills in 1875. Dressed in men’s attire, when reporters found out that Martha was a she, the public’s interest grew, leading to many articles, dime novels and even an autobiographical pamphlet Martha dictated (as she had no formal education) for publication. We also know that in 1876 she travelled to Deadwood, South Dakota, along with Wild Bill Hickock, though the full extent of their relationship is unknown.

Martha was daring and caring (as long as we are not talking about Native Americans). Not only was she a professional scout in the Wild West, she helped nurse smallpox sufferers back to health in Deadwood in the late 1870s. She was also, by all accounts, a raging alcoholic. She had two children, who were placed in foster care, and despite her infamy, died destitute in 1903 at the age of 51.
Told with reenactments -- with Kay Campbell playing the titular character, vintage photographs and lots of moving shots of pastoral and pristine rolling hills, wind-swept plains, and mountain ranges, director Monro’s film also employs many “experts,” most of whom rely heavily on hypothetical phrases such as, “I imagine… ,” or “it was possible… .” They make many suppositions about Martha and her family.
Martha was known for her colorful stories, but many of the tales about her life are unsubstantiated. Historical facts have disproved many of the musings about Calamity Jane. Unfortunately, Monro’s Calamity Jane is just as colorful yet unreliable as Martha’s own history. Monro tries to straddle the line between fact and fiction, but just can’t seem to ride it out.
 
 
Calamity Jane: Wild West Legend screens at the Newport Beach Film Festival April 26, 2:45 p.m. For more information: Calamity Jane.

FILM REVIEW: 24 DAYS

Ruth (Zabou Breitman) in 24 Days.
Poor Jew

By Ed Rampell

Director Alexandre Arcady’s taut, suspenseful new film, 24 Days, is like the similarly monikered now-defunct Fox TV series, 24, in that it deals with torture within a set period of time.

However, 24 Days is based on a real life tragedy: The January 2006 abduction in Paris of French Jew Ilan Halimi (portrayed by Syrus Shahidi), a cell phone salesman of Morrocan ancestry. Arcady shares the screenwriting credits with Antoine Lacomblez and Emilie Freche, who co-wrote with Ruth Halimi (played by Zabou Breitman in the movie) a book called 24 Days, The Truth on Ilan Halimi’s Death.

Using a very realistic style, Arcady’s probing camera takes us inside the kidnapping, from Sub-Saharan Africa to France. In addition to being a policier, 24 Days is also an intense family drama. The Halimis seem like a very close knit family, although Ruth (Zabou Breitman) and Didier Halimi (Pascal Elbe) are actually divorced, which adds to the already considerable amount of tension. This leads towards the acting being occasionally overwrought in a few scenes: How many crying babies and screaming sisters, mother, etc., can a viewer stand?

The film is gripping with a political subtext and reminiscent of Costa-Gavras. 24 Days implies that the bungling police were extremely incompetent in carrying out their investigation and attempts to rescue Halimi. Most importantly, the movie explores the big question as to whether Ilan's kidnapping and abuse while being held prisoner was an act of anti-Semitism? The authorities try long and hard to deny this -- but others thought differently, including Ruth.

Arcady has a North-African background similar to Ilan's -- the director was born in Algeria and is also Jewish. He moved from Algiers to France when he was 15 and many of his movies have focused on Jewish issues and subjects, hence his interest in l’affaire Halimi. However, if 24 Days is indeed asserting that Ilan's hijacking was because of anti-Semitism, Arcady’s dramatization does not make a very convincing, strong case.

In terms of motive, there is only a very quick specific Islamicist reference and the inept kidnappers appear to be acting more on the basis of greed than on hatred per se for Jews. Yes, they targeted Ilan because he was Jewish, but not out of contempt for the Chosen People, but due to their foolish belief that all Jews are rich. So while Ilan's abductors did indeed act under the impression of a false stereotype of Jews, they did not seem to be motivated by a deep seated hatred per se of Jews, unlike inquisitors, Nazis, Islamicist extremists and other fanatics since Biblical days. The movie does not suggest that overzealous Zionist militaristic policies vis-à-vis the  Palestinians and the like provoked the body snatchers. They just wanted to make a fast, easy buck but stupidly chose a wrong target because they ignorantly believed an incorrect, idiotic caricature of Jews.

Of course, France has a history of persecution of the Jews, notably the notorious Dreyfus affair and the roundup of Jews and collaboration with the Nazis during the German occupation and the Holocaust.  As said, the Ilan events played out in 2006 and they indicate the ongoing precarious position of French Jews -- and, perhaps, of members of this long despised minority group everywhere. The resulting roundup of alleged abductors -- mostly or all non-white, in French ghettoes -- can also be seen in a different context in 2015.
 

 


 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

COLCOA 2015: GEMMA BOVERY

Gemma (Gemma Arterton) and Martin (Fabrice Lucchini) in Gemma Bovary.
Madame Se(x)e

By John Esther

Rather than another adaptation of Madame Bovary, co-writer and director Anne Fontaine's Gemma Bovery is a light lit-crit cinematic reinterpretation of Gustave Flaubert's great novel.

After years in the publishing business, Martin Joubert (Fabrice Lucchini) has returned to the Northern France town of Normandy (the name of which works better as a play on words in English than in French). Martin may still be a voracious reader, but he now runs his deceased father's bakery. Martin is a natural at baking and seems happiest at work. At home, he has a nice wife, Valérie (Isabelle Candelier), plus a teenage son, Julien (Kacey Mottet Klein) who does not share his father's love of reading.

Life is fairly rudimentary in Normandy for Martin until the day his new neighbors from London arrive: Charles (Jason Flemyng) and Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton). For anyone educated in the French system, Charles and Emma Bovery are two of the most famous names in French literature. (Gemma is close enough.) For someone like Martin, the introduction to these people with such notable names is an existential punctum. 

Curious if life will imitate literature, Martin begins to watch Gemma. Sure enough, the bored housewife of Normandy begins to imitate the bored housewife of Normandy. Love, affairs, betrayal and tragedy ensue. But there are differences between the literary archetype and the cinematic simulacrum; only Martin ignores what does not necessarily fit into his narrative.

A film that could only be made in a country where literature is widely consumed and considered worthy of one's time, Gemma Bovery, is an entertaining, smart film with strong performances.



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

STAGE REVIEW: OCCUPATION

Florian (Brandon Bales) and Bets (Hall Chareton) in Occupation.

Buy, bye

By Ed Rampell

Playwright Ken Ferrigni’s outrageous Occupation appears to possess the hallmarks of Sacred Fools’ productions such as Bill & Joan, Jon Bastian’s Beat Generation play about scrivener William S. Burroughs; Stoneface about comedian Buster Keaton; and the company’s two Sherlock Holmes parodies. Occupation has originality.

In the not-too-distant future an indebted USA sells Florida to the Peoples Republic of China. This leads to an Everglades insurgency fought in the swamps, pitting the South Florida Christian Militia against the People’s Liberation America (PLA).

This is a pretty hilarious notion. Montages of faux news clips with a Jon Stewart panache appear on the stage’s three flat screen TVs. The Chinese consul’s name, Zedong (Robert Paterno), riffs on Chairman Mao Zedong’s moniker. Redbook aficionados are pitted against Bible-thumpers -- one of those Jimmy Swaggart Southern televangelist types, Bay Ray (Bruno Oliver), and his son, Florian (Brandon Bales). Florian and Zedong also cleverly appear in stagecraft stretching videos shot in-house that are played on the playhouse’s screens live (kudos to video designer Anthony Backman). It seems as if all’s well on the satirical frontlines and we’re off and running to the races.

Alas, while the preposterous premise is far out, Occupation’s problem is in its execution. Instead of playing the Sunshine Patriots in the Sunshine State versus socialists saga for laughs as a farce, the Reds vs. Rednecks storyline veers towards tragedy. By taking itself too seriously, as if the credulity-stretching plot was plausible, this dystopian drama loses credibility. At times the acting becomes histrionic.

Sacred Fools is a bold theater company, and in productions such as it s version of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal, it hasn’t flinched from presenting onstage nudity and/or violence, but Occupation arguably becomes too bloody, while the plot’s harrowing denouement is pregnant with mass extermination of biblical proportions. Meanwhile, director Ben Rock’s staged sex is, for some reason, less graphic: It’s a case of make war, not love.

Setting the mood, scenic designer DeAnne Millais does yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) work in conjuring up a set which convincingly evinces three or four different locales: The office where the corrupt, married Zedong makes out with mistress Mei Mei (willowy Rebecca Larsen); the Everglades where the Swamp Foxes led by Gare (K.J. Middlebrooks) are based and launch their sneak attacks on the PLA invaders from; and the campsite of the pregnant Bets’ (Halle Charleton), who comes across like a female counterpart to Deliverance’s demented hillbillies.

Unfortunately, by buying into its unbelievable hypothesis the satire retires at Florida and is a misfire. Well, they can’t all be Louis and Keely Live at the Sahara -- the much extended hit that premiered at Sacred Fools and found its way to a larger theatrical venue.


Occupation runs through April 23 at the Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A., CA 90004. For more info: 310-281-8337; www.sacredfools.org/.

 

 

 

Friday, April 17, 2015

FILM REVIEW: TRUE STORY

Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) and Christian Longo (James Franco) in True Story.
 
Trope-a-dope
 
By John Esther
 
Micheal Finkel (Jonah Hill) is in a bad way. He has just embellished and contrived a story for the New York Times and NYT has found out. Now a journalistic pariah (whose lack of integrity nowhere reaches the lows of Bill O'Reilly), Finkel has retreated to Montana with his girlfriend, Jill Barker (Felicity Jones), where he suffers rejection after rejection to write another piece.
 
If things were not bad enough for Finkel -- at his own fingers, mind you -- an accused killer out an Oregon has been using his name as an alias. Who needs publicity like that? Well, Finkel might.
 
So Finkel heads out to Oregon to meet Christian Longo (James Franco), who is in prison now awaiting trial. Longo is accused of killing his wife (Maria Dizzia) and their three young children (Connor Kikot, Charlotte Driscoll, and Stella Rae Payne).
 
On a basic level the two connect and strike up a deal, which could be mutually beneficial. Then again, and again, and again, people are known to lie.
 
Based on the titular book by Finkel and co-written by David Kajganich and director Rupert Goold, True Story is not a comedic endeavor from two of Hollywood's leading, busiest funny men. It is actually tragic when you consider the basic lesson of this true story is "never trust anyone."
 
While most of the film is fairly interesting and entertaining, there are a few scenes in True Story which ring a bit embellished and contrived as well. For example, Baker confronts Delongo in prison, giving him her two cents on what she thinks of him. Essentially, she is playing the mouthpiece of the indignant audience member(s). Then there is the scene where Finkel slugs out a men's bathroom stall in a court house. Nobody hears that...in a courthouse? Maybe that did happen but, in the spirit of True Story, this testimony on behalf of the filmmakers -- perhaps based on Finkel's account -- requires a little corroboration.
 
Nonetheless, in an era of rampant journalistic lies (hiding behind the faux-facade of "entertainment"), True Story reminds us to take anything we view with a grain a salt and a sneer of incredulous while truly appreciating those who do not lie for their own selfishness (or propagandistic endeavors).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, April 3, 2015

FILM REVIEW: THE HAND THAT FEEDS

A scene from The Hand That Feeds. Photo Credit: Jed Brandt.
Not keeping mum about mini wages

By John Esther

Winner of numerous film festival awards, co-directors Robin Blotnick and Rachel Lears' documentary, The Hand That Feeds, is a fast and furious look into the plight of the working poor.

Earning less than minimum wage in New York City, undocumented workers at the Hot and Crusty bakery can work up to sixty hours a week and still make less than $300. There is no overtime pay, paid vacation time or sick leave. They are paid in cash. Of course, undocumented workers are reluctant to complain less they garner attention from authorities. Those who hire them know this and exploit the men and women for maximum profit.

Eventually, Mahoma Lopez and some of his coworkers have had enough and decide to organize. But they will not be able to do it alone so they enlist the help of people in the Occupy Wall Street movement and other concerned citizens. The bosses, who declined to be interviewed for the documentary, are not happy.

What follows is a yearlong massive struggle on the upper eastside for a living wage between the workers and the investors who are highly reluctant to pay a decent wage or accord these workers any decency, much less power. For those who do not know what happened, The Hand That Feeds becomes an intense battle for pride and prosperity. Investors and management have the power and money. The workers only have themselves. If they are to win they will have to unite, but that is easier said than done. Management or someone they hire, usually know how to drive a wedge between the working poor.

As the minimum wage debate takes center stage in Los Angeles and the rest of the country (where the minimum asking is too little), members of the working and shrinking middle classes will have plenty to gain by investing in the price of a movie ticket to view The Hand That Feeds.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

FILM REVIEW: SAGRADA

A scene from Sagrada.

From The Circle to the steeple

By Ed Rampell

Fresh off The Circle, writer-director Stefan Haupt’s documentary Sagrada, El Misteri de la Creacio (Sacred, The Mystery of Creation) is about one of the world’s most enigmatic, unique, celebrated churches.

In 1882 a then-30 year-old architect Antoni Gaudí took over the process of creating and guiding Sagrada Família (Holy Family) in Barcelona. Although the Catalan architect died in 1926, almost 90 years later his minor basilica remains a major construction site still being built.

Gaudí’s eye-popping, imaginative architecture is iconic, sort-of-gothic aesthetics colliding with Art Nouveau, a cross between the surrealistic paintings of his fellow Catalan, Salvador Dali, and the Watts Towers. The Spaniards’ spires reach for the sky, soaring towards the heavens with curvy topsy-turvy towers and facades melting like Dali’s watches. Woody Allen used it to great effect as a setting for 2008’s Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Sagrada Família really has to be seen to be believed and Haupt’s nonfiction film does a good job in revealing it, as well as the controversies, mysteries and mystique surrounding this unfinished monument to God and Gaudí. The filmmaker also explores the subterranean depths of the creative process.

Haupt, a gifted director, tells his tale through spiritual, sweeping cinematography -- interior, exterior and often aerial -- and with usually subtitled interviews plus narration, which Haupt co-wrote with Martin Witz. The English version is narrated by Trevor Roling.

Sagrada’s cast of characters includes a number of unusual eccentrics who have found meaning in what would otherwise likely be drab existences by attaching their personal fates to that of fulfilling the unfolding of Gaudí’s visionary edifice. The talking head who seems most striking is stonecutter Etsuro Sotoo, a Japanese Zen Buddhist who, while sculpting Sagrada Família, converted to Catholicism in order to understand and pursue what he imagines Gaudí was trying to achieve.

Watching Sagrada may make a true believer out of you. This documentary is especially for those interested in architecture, religion, travel and creativity. Haupt’s latest film proves, once again, that Swiss cinema is a force to be reckoned with on the international stage - or rather screen.

 


 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

STAGE REVIEW: THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO

 A scene from The Marriage of Figaro.
Flesh class-ical

By Ed Rampell

The Overture to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 1786 masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), is among the most popular in opera, while the glorious music overall is among the best in the entire operatic and classical canon. Wearing an open black shirt and his white hair flying, maestro James Conlon went all Lenny Bernstein exuberantly conducting The Marriage of Figaro with flair, from first to final note.

It’s interesting to see The Marriage of Figaro this season with its cornucopia of Figaro-themed productions based on Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais’ original 18th century plays, onstage at not only the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, but at A Noise Within’s theater. I had just seen the latter’s rather freewheeling version of Figaro, which is basically the same story as The Marriage of Figaro sans Mozart’s sublime score, so this made it easier for me to follow the action.

As the lascivious, devious Count Almaviva’s (bass-baritone Ryan McKinny) servants, Figaro (bass-baritone Roberto Tagliavini) and Susanna (soprano Pretty Yende), prepare for their nuptials the newlyweds-to-be must contend with aristocracy’s despicable droit du seigneur. This ancient feudal law allowed the lord to deflower proletarian brides before they consummated their weddings with their commoner husbands. So the ever resourceful Figaro and Susanna must scheme to thwart their “master’s” marital rape of the bewitching bride-to-be.

At the same time, the aristocrat’s scorned, forlorn wife, Countess Almaviva (soprano Guanqun Yu), seeks to reign in her adulterous husband’s serial philandering and to be reunited with him. (As depicted in Rossini’s 1816 The Barber of Seville, which LA Op presented earlier this season, the fickle Count Almaviva had ardently pursued Rosina to make her his Countess, but years later, when Marriage takes place, he has become bored by his now-downcast wife.)

As the plot thickens the randy cross-dressing male Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier), his adolescent hormones raging out of control, lusts for Rosina, Susanna and Barbarina (portrayed at the premiere by soprano So Young Park and on April 9 & 12 by soprano Vanessa Becerra). Cherubino, who dresses up in women’s clothing, becomes a soldier who’d prefer by far to make love, not war. Further complicating matters, Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) has her own designs on Figaro, and it is one of the opera’s biggest surprises when we find out why she really loves Figaro. Bass Kristinn Sigmundsson, who recently played Don Basilio (depicted here by tenor Robert Brubaker) in The Barber of Seville, portrays The Marriage of Figaro's Doctor Bartolo with the same comic panache he displayed in The Barber of Seville.

In other words, this opera is mostly about sex. Although the Count and lowly servant have a war of wits, pitting the patrician against the plebian, Mozart mostly plays this class struggle for laughs. There are also lots of war-between-the-sexes jokes and jibes.

However, as the issue of diversity and show biz has been much in the news of late, it’s worth noting that what’s called “non-traditional casting” actually enhances this production. The aptly named Pretty Yende is black, which adds another layer (no pun intended) to the cum-plexity of the plot, wherein the aristo seeks to assert his reprehensible droit du seigneur. The casting of an African woman as Susanna is redolent and reminiscent of those loathsome slave masters who coerced their female “chattel” to have sex with them at Southern plantations. While the casting of Yu as the Countess may be a reference to how some Westerners view Asian women as “trophy” wives and/or lovers (although Yu’s Rosina is no stereotypical lotus blossom).

The casting of these talented non-white women in roles portrayed since the 18th century by mostly European performers demonstrates what “affirmative action” really is in action: opening up the doors so individuals possessing god-given gifts can use them to their fullest expression. And in doing so, enriching the overall theatergoing experience, while giving jobs to deserving artists and others. From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.

Yu’s rendition of the Countess’ arias “Porgi amor” (“Love, thou holy purest impulse”) and “Dovo sono” (“They are over”) are as lovely as anything a Westerner could warble, and we are all the better for it when inclusion, rather than exclusion, is the watchword of the day, on- and offstage.

This is also true for the transgender role playing. Rapier’s rendition of the (purportedly) male Cherubino’s aria “Voi che sapete” (“What is this feeling?”) about adolescent love is utterly beguiling and charming. Sigmundsson’s mock malevolent interpretation of the aria, “La vendetta, oh, la vendetta” (“Revenge, oh, sweet revenge”) is likewise excellent.

As I wrote circa 2010 when LA Opera last presented The Marriage of Figaro, Ian Judge again deftly directs the players, but scenery designer Tim Goodchild’s humdrum sets still only come alive in the gorgeous garden scene, with its full moon -- although I don’t quite understand how chandeliers could be suspended outdoors. (Unfortunately, we are beset by the same sets - apparently Goodchild didn’t read my review. Bad child!) And once again this production also unnecessarily inserts modern references, such as telephones and flashlights, into the 18th century milieu, which only serve to distract from what is otherwise a period piece. These intrusions do not enhance the work but are only 20th century distractions that really don’t belong here. But these are mere quibbles. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo and Chad Everett Allen, plus chorus directed by Grant Gershon, however, are all grand.

The production clocked in at three and a half hours-plus. For that period of time one is transported from Earth to Planet Mozart. Wolfgang’s vision of love reigning supreme is a sublime splendor, with music to match. A splendid time was had by all.


The Marriage of Figaro runs through April 12 at L.A. Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. For more info: 213-972-8001; www.laopera.com.