Until last week, I had never heard of Recovered Voices, an ambitious program by the L.A. Opera to revive and stage works created by Jewish composers whose lives and work were suppressed by the Nazis. Under the guidance of L.A. Opera music director James Conlon and general director Placido Domingo, the L.A. Opera inaugurated Recovered Voices in the 2006-07 season, exploring works by composers whose careers and lives were cut short by the Third Reich. The first year featured excerpts of suppressed operas by Walter Braunfels, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Ernst Krenek, Franz Schreker, Erwin Schulhoff and Viktor Ullmann, but it wasn’t until the second season that the program really took off with its first fully staged production: a double bill of one-acts featuring “Der Zwerg” (“The Dwarf”) by Alexander Zemlinsky, who died in obscurity in New York after fleeing the Nazis; and “Der Zerbrochene Krug” (“The Broken Jug”) by Viktor Ullmann, who died in the gas chamber at Auschwitz in 1944.
At the heart of the project is a local philanthropist, Marilyn Ziering, who donated $3.5 million and raised a million more from various donors. Ziering and her family usually remain behind the scenes and eschew publicity … until Wednesday, May 29, that is, when Temple Beth Am hosted a gala concert for the Zierings at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, to honor their support of the synagogue, its school, the Pressman Academy, and the greater Los Angeles community. Billed as “Nobody Does It Better,” the concert featured Domingo, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Melissa Manchester and Cantor Magda Fishman.
The 1,800-seat theater was packed with friends and supporters of the temple and the family (which supports dozens of worthy causes, including the American Jewish University, Friends of Sheba Medical Center, L.A. Opera, Hillel, Venice Family Clinic, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and many other organizations in the arts, environment, and education sectors); though not a black-tie event, the audience — always polite and appreciative of the proceedings — was casually dressed up — no T-shirts or shorts here. It was a musical — and spiritual event — that we definitely need more of.
By the way, if you haven’t attended an event at the Saban Theatre, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. The ex-Fox Wilshire Theatre — designed in 1930 by S. Charles Lee (who also designed the Bruin and the Academy theaters) — was a film venue until 1981 when it was renovated and converted to a stage venue. In 2009 Haim and Cheryl Saban donated $5 million for further restoration. The art deco theater is just incredibly ornate and gorgeous, resplendent in gold and glass with cushy seats and great sight lines.
Two DVDs of work from Recovered Voices (which, unfortunately, is on hiatus) have been released: Zemlinsky’s “The Dwarf”/Ullmann’s “The Broken Jug” and Braunfels’ “Die Vogel,” both on the Arthaus Musik label and available via Amazon.com.