Pasadena Conservatory of Music’s ‘Bel Canto’ Performance is Enchanting

Based on popular Ann Patchett novel, the school’s third and final online concert film of the year is a captivating production
By EDDIE RIVERA, Weekendr Editor
Published on Jun 21, 2021

The pandemic is waning, and restrictions are lifted, but for the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, safe is better than sorry.

The Conservatory premiered its third virtual “Musical Interlude” concert film on Sunday—all based on books—this time an enchanting original production based on  Ann Patchett’s acclaimed novel, Bel Canto.

Conservatory Board Member and popular actress  Jane Kaczmarek read brief summaries from the book, a tale of a terrorist kidnapping attempt gone wrong. The novel is based on the Japanese embassy hostage crisis (also called the Lima Crisis) of 1996–1997 in Lima, Peru, and follows the relationships of a group of young terrorists and their hostages, mostly high-profile executives and politicians, over several months.

Soprano Mariné Ter-Kazaryan, accompanied by pianist Gayane Simonyan, sang selections from the novel which highlights the performances of a renowned diva caught up in the kidnapping attempt turned hostage drama, whose voice captivates the leader of the terrorist gang.

Conservatory Board Member and popular actress Jane Kaczmarek

The performance included Dvořák’s “Song to the Moon”, from Rusalka; Schubert’s Ave Maria; “O Mio Babbino Caro,” by Puccini, from Gianni Schicchi; Bizet’s “Habanera”, from Carmen; and Catalani’s “Ebben? Ne Andrò Lontana”, from La Wally.

Also featured during the evening were  pianist Vatché Mankerian, performing Ginastera’s “Argentinian Dance No. 2,” and “Malambo” along with Franz Liszt’ “Liebestraum,” along with Cellist Andrew Cook, and pianist Susan Svrček performing Pärt’s  “Spiegel im Spiegel.”

The program was shot at Villa del Sol d’Oro, a 1924 Italian villa designed by architect Wallace Neff. The villa, now part of the Alverno Heights Academy campus in Sierra Madre,  is a two-thirds scale replica of the Villa dei Collazzi near Florence rumored to have been designed by Michelangelo.

Integrating elements of his own architectural style, Neff included an elegant black and white checkered floor in the foyer as well as a curving staircase with a wrought iron banister, signature facets of his  design style.

In a live, post-performance “Green Room” discussion, PCM Executive Director Stephen McCurry explained, “There was a choice to make about how to use the book to inspire our program selections. And in this one, there were two threads. And one was obvious. There were lots of operatic pieces that were mentioned specifically in the book, that were sung well if people were in captivity and in the standoff.

“And so we selected some of those that were well-suited to our musician’s talents and some personal preferences as well, of course,” he said.

McMurry continued, “The instrumental selections were really in response to passages (in the book). We had many, many passages chosen, and then you narrow it down to what you want to include in a very, very short script. And I think everybody could pick up on the theme of time, which seemed appropriate for where we are in our current circumstances, as sort of the through line.”

Production director Matt Bookman, also discussed the idea of the Alverno Heights Academy location as part of the storytelling, saying that the characters in the book are holed up in the Vice-President’s palatial estate, “but there is a sort of a warmth and a coziness, to the situation. And when just touring through that building, we found that room and it just felt like the right place to shoot everything. And then we had Mariné sort of touring around a little bit,  and it just felt important.

Bookman continued, “There was an omniscient, third person narrator in the book. And the best that we could do with that was have Jane sort of just sort of be wandering around the exterior of the place. And that allowed us to sort of create this atmosphere, by showing the different aspects of the grounds of the building.”

The captivating Pasadena Conservatory of Music performance is available here.

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