For those who missed last year’s sold-out staged production of Lou Harrison’s long-evolving opera “Young Caesar” at Walt Disney Concert Hall, you can now experience it through The Industry Records’ digital release of the live performance recorded with the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s New Music Group.
Yuval Sharon, the LA Philharmonic’s artist-collaborator, directed the 2017 production of Harrison’s “Young Caesar,” which boldly depicts Caesar’s love for another man. The opera’s original 1971 debut was considered scandalous by the public and incited protests.
As a celebration of what would have been the late composer’s 100th birthday (May 14, 2017), Sharon’s 2017 rendition of the opera fuses Harrison’s original gamelan-inspired orchestration with his later, lush orchestral writing.
Leading the LA Phil New Music Group in this new recording is conductor Marc Lowenstein, the Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Music Composition in The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts. Fellow Music faculty Timur Bekbosunov (Music MFA 08) is also featured in the recording as Dionysus. Timur, a noted Kazakh-American opera singer of contemporary and cross-cultural music, has made numerous solo appearances with the LA Philharmonic.
Mark Swed from the Los Angeles Times describes the live Walt Disney Concert Hall performance:
“Sharon, in conjunction with his opera company, the Industry, mounted a fanciful, visually stunning, endearingly mercurial, marginally risqué, momentarily over-the-top and ultimately touching production. The LA Phil New Music Group, conducted by Marc Lowenstein in the final Green Umbrella program of the season, was sensational, revealing layer upon layer of sheer musical gorgeousness capable, from the first bars, of lifting the spirits.”
Despite the early controversy over “Young Caesar’s” subject matter, which included protests and production cancellations, the opera is considered a summation of Harrison’s musical ideas spanning his entire career.
Harrison made subsequent revisions to “Young Caesar” up until his death in 2003, including the addition of three rapturous arias from his late musical style. The recently released recording of Sharon’s 2017 production of the opera is in part a commemoration and monument to Harrison’s legacy.
The 2017 cast includes Bruce Vilanch (narrator), Adam Fisher (Caesar), Hadleigh Adams (Nicomedes), Nancy Maultsby (Julia), Delaram Kamareh (Cornelia), Bekbosunov (Dionysus) and also features dancers, along with men of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
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— Oscar Burrows-Rangel