Off-Ramp host John Rabe and contributors share thoughts on arts, culture, and life in L.A.

Review: LA Opera's 'Billy Budd' hard to surpass

Robert Millard/LA Opera

Greer Grimsley (top) as John Claggart and Keith Jameson as the Novice.

LA Opera performs Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd" through March 16 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The opera is based on Herman Melville’s book of the same name, adapted by E.M. Forster and Eric Crozier, and features baritone Liam Bonner as Billy, tenor Richard Croft as Captain Vere, and bass Greer Grimsley as Claggart in a production by Francesca Zambello. James Conlon leads the LA Opera orchestra and chorus.

“Billy Budd” was Herman Melville’s literary time bomb. A parable of guilt and innocence, it wasn’t until long after the great novelist’s death that this story was found unfinished in his archives. But it instantly took its place, alongside “Moby Dick,” as one of his major works.

Perhaps because it is both great and incomplete, people ever since have struggled to make whole Melville’s tale of a near-perfect man destroyed by his own goodness. I first saw it as a live TV play in 1955, when it starred, of all people, a very young William Shatner as Billy.


Marc Haefele: Sid Caesar saved my childhood



Comedian Sid Caesar in the backyard of his Beverly Hills, Ca., home on May 11, 1982.

I think it was Matt Groening who said that the prime virtue of television was that it allowed  families who wanted to kill one another to sit together  peacefully for hours on end.

That’s exactly what the various iterations of Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows” did for my beleaguered family unit back in the early 1950s — my mother wasting away from a series of degenerative ailments for which she refused to seek medical attention,  my father abraded on the millstone of a dead-end white-collar job, and my brother and I struggling through troubled early adolescence with a minimum of positive parental attention.

In other words, we were like many, perhaps most, of the real-time families of that Eisenhower era, silently miserable in an age of plenty for many — and hypocritical happiness for all.


CD Review: Schreker's 'The Stigmatized,' a great moment in LA Opera history

Robert Millard

The LA Opera's 2010 dress rehearsal for Franz Schreker’s not quite forgotten 3-hour masterpiece, “Die Gezeichneten,” or “The Stigmatized." It's now available in a 3-CD set from Bridge Records.

Off-Ramp contributor Marc Haefele reviews a newly released recording of “Die Gezeichneten,” by Franz Schreker. It's a 3-CD set from Bridge Records featuring the Los Angeles Opera and soloists under James Conlon, from the 2009-2010 season.

One of the proudest accomplishments in the 28-year history of the Los Angeles Opera has finally gone on the record, literally. It's a production brought to the Dorothy Chandler stage in an unprecedented, if controversial, demonstration of the company’s maturity, raising its international reputation as a leading-edge musical institution.

No, I am most certainly not talking about the notorious  Achin Freya-designed Wagner Ring Cycle, a $30 million fiscal sinkhole that, with a production that looked like a collaboration between Bertolt Brecht and Pee-wee Herman, has hamstrung the company’s ambitions ever since. I'm talking about L.A. Opera’s courageous mounting, for the first time in the Western Hemisphere, of Franz Schreker’s  not quite forgotten three-hour masterpiece, “Die Gezeichneten,” or “The Stigmatized."


Valentine's Day: Crowdsourced non-icky date options, or 'What, they're all out of Cold Duck!?'

LAPL/Herald-Examiner collection

"Heart-shaped box of candy, silver belt, and Valentine greetings found in Eugene H. White's blood-stained car." c. 1947.

Here's the thing. This is bad:

What, they're all out of Cold Duck!? You don't want this in your mouth or even on your table.

But come Valentine's Day, it's the kind of thing you'll get at about 9-million restaurants in Southern California, along with a fixed-price menu, inflexible dining times, and high prices. Even my beloved Musso & Frank is doing it, and is booked solid.

So we put out the call to listeners to show a little #kpcclove and suggest some refuges from the Valentine's Industry.

Note: The following are all possibilities, based on listener suggestions; please call the restaurants themselves to confirm if they have room, and if they're doing the Valentine's shtick.

On KPCC's Facebook page, Kelly Kubik recommends The Park in Echo Park (as of presstime, there was room at 9:30pm). Sean Hise says Rice Thai Tapas on Glenarm in Pasadena is a good option; although I checked and they only have space at 5:30pm. Benjamin Alvarez posted: Taco Joe's restaurant in Highland CA. Nice sit down restaurant. Less than $30 per couple."


From huge to humble: Architect Moshe Safdie at the Skirball

Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Part of the Safdie exhibit at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Marc Haefele writes for Off-Ramp on literature, arts and and culture. Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie, is at the Skirball Center through March 2.

More than any other living architect I can think of, Moshe Safdie has tried to change the face of the inhabited world, and he’s done this on nearly every continent. For 44 years, he’s been thinking about new ways for people to inhabit places.

Safdie does this in the form of innovative housing that consists of aggregates of units, but he breaks away from the clichés of both suburbia and of the urban skyscraper tower housing block, be they Fifth Avenue millionaire co-ops or Chicago’s Cabrini projects.

He’s brought the same originality to all of his other buildings, public and private.

His latest ideas are on display until next month at the Skirball Cultural Center — which, as it happens, is another creation of Safdie, completed late last year. The exhibit is organized by the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, Ark., a creation of the Walmart Walton family. Their museum is another Sadie project.