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Theater Building

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk.

Last month, the Doolittle Theater in Hollywood-after substantial renovation-reopened as the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. Kirk Douglas Theater will open in Culver City, where it will be the home for the Center Theatre Group-s new works.

These new venues will no doubt change the theatrical landscape here in Southern California, but this season also witnessed the opening of an unlikely theatrical building: the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Much has been made about REDCAT, the small experimental theater housed deep in the Disney Hall parking lot, but the main concert hall itself-while not technically a theater-holds great potential as a theatrical performance space.

Earlier this season, Disney Hall-s main occupants, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, tested out Disney Hall-s theatricality by inviting Simon McBurney to conceive and direct a show to accompany a concert featuring Berlioz-s Symphonie Fantastique. McBurney, the man behind Complicite-a world-renowned theater troupe-was a excellent choice as the first person to stage something at Disney Hall.

The LA Phil event, titled Strange Poetry: Berlioz and the Chemistry of Dreams began much like Complicite-s most recent New York work Mnemonic, with McBurney-s opening disclaimers slowly turning into an extended monologue about life and art.

As the night progressed, video images began appearing on the hall-s curved walls and Berlioz-s likeness was similarly projected onto a large scrim. Eventually a few members of the orchestra began taking off their jackets and their instruments began to take flight, lifting slowly towards the ceiling.

McBurney-s Strange Poetry proved to be an interesting evening; but sadly, for all the strange effects, only a few were very poetic. But it was a start, and it showed encouraging signs that the folks in charge at Disney Hall are not going to shy away from the inherent theatricality of their space.

Next weekend marks the end of this inaugural season at Disney Hall, which will close with a concert featuring the work that opened the hall, Stravinsky-s The Rite of Spring as well as a new work by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The piece is called Wind on Wing, and it was composed specifically for Disney Hall.

Wind on Wing receives its World Premiere this Saturday and it will be interesting to see if it is performed with the orchestra in traditional fashion. For the opening concert, Salonen placed musicians all over the hall and used these creative spacial arrangements-as well as dramatic lighting-to evoke a sense of wonder about the possibilities of this new space.

Alongside the Salonen premiere, the LA Phil and the Getty Center are collaborating on a project they-re calling Building Music. This series of concerts, lectures, and discussions aims to explore the intersection of music and architecture.

It was Richard Wagner who was one of the first artists to insist that music and architecture be fused. His final opera Parsifal was written specifically for his Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, and in his will he stipulated that it never be performed elsewhere. For over a hundred years, opera companies around the world have defied Wagner-s wishes-but the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion still has not seen Parsifal grace its stage.

Disney Hall might be the best space for an LA Parsifal, but while there are no plans for it anytime soon; next season Disney Hall will be the site of a major staging of Wagner-s greatest music-drama, Tristan und Isolde.

In Collaboration with L-Opera National of Paris, the LA Phil will present The Tristan Project, to be directed by Peter Sellars and designed by artist Bill Viola. This ambitious production will stage the opera-s three acts over three nights and couple each act with other musical works that were influenced by Tristan.

Classical music will always be the main event at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but if world-class directors like Sellars and McBurney keep coming to 1st and Grand, Disney Hall will certainly be another major building in Los Angeles- growing theater community.

This is James Taylor with Theatre Talk for KCRW

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