Maestro James Conlon, whom I’ve know well for the last two decades, is extraordinary: a great conductor indeed, at ease with wide swaths for the repertoire and someone whose expertise with opera has landed him the top posts in Cologne, Paris and, for the last 17 years, Los Angeles. He also may be one of the most interesting speakers on earth, whose pre-opera talks in LA regularly fill all the lobby spaces in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
I was thrilled that the same year (2006) that I came to the Mondavi Center, Conlon began his work in LA, quickly putting his mark of excellence on that relatively young opera company. One of the projects he launched was “Recovered Voices”, putting on stage long neglected operas by composers whose careers (or lives) had been derailed and shortened by the Nazis. It was an amazing project and, among other pieces, rescued from obscurity the Zemlinsky one-act opera “Der zwerg” (The Dwarf), as moving and poignant a piece as anything Puccini or Strauss ever wrote.
I’d been speaking with James for years to find an opportunity for him to bring Recovered Voices to the Mondavi Center. (He did give an amazing talk on the project in the Vandehoef Studio Theatre back in 2009). Recently he found a permanent home at the wonderful Colburn School with the “Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices at Colburn”. After a brief chat outside the opera house in LA last year, we began to develop this project that comes to fruition with two concerts and a symposium on April 10 and 11. Associate Executive Director Jeremy Ganter worked closely with Conlon’s artistic colleagues at Colburn and this program took its final shape.
I’ve been listening to the music programmed on these concerts and I believe that these will be among the very top musical events of this 20th Anniversary season. After you experience these concerts, you won’t believe that with the exception of Schonberg’s Transfigured Night (on the April 11 program), you have never heard any of this music and very likely not even of several of the composers (Zemlinsky, Schreker). With James Conlon preparing the ensembles from the Colburn School, the musical quality will be excellent; and with Conlon on the podium (and giving the keynote at the Recovered Voices Symposium) we will learn the stories of these pieces and these composers, who despite the roadblocks set up by the Nazis, created masterworks.
We’ve made these concerts free, thanks to the generous donors to our Artistic Ventures Fund, because we wanted to lower the barriers to attending concerts of the mostly unknown, and we wanted this rare opportunity (the only one outside LA) to be open to as many audience members as possible. As your soon-to-be retired Director, one of my favorite activities has been selecting Director’s Choice events for you. This season, among all the wonderful works we present, these Recovered Voices events sit at the top of that list.
Podcast of Don Roth’s Interview with James Conlon