Julia Migenes has returned to Los Angeles with a new musical offering. Debussy: His Letters and His Music creates the world of the beloved composer, Claude Debussy, through selected dramatic readings of his voluminous letters, which spanned nearly his entire life from teenage to death. As a composer, Debussy broke with tradition and created a musical impressionism perfectly in sync with the artistic movement of his time. His music seems to have taken root in the collective DNA of the world. Clair de Lune, La mer, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Children’s Corner are instantly recognizable to the music lover and create emotional responses in the listener.
Manuel Arellano at the piano accompanies the readings with exquisite expression. His playing underscores the text and echoes Ms. Migenes’ words, often in an amusing riff, as when Wagner, not a favorite of Debussy, is mentioned. A brief strain from “The Ride of the Valkyries” punctuates the moment.
Julia Migenes clearly loves her audience and the audience responds in kind. Her warm, easy manner is instantly enchanting. Her spontaneous banter is vivacious. She reads the letters’ passages with a spirited sensitivity of the content while making use of both comedy and drama in her interpretations. She wryly mocks the Francophones’ seeming inability to pronounce the English letter “H,” and her description of a famous murder case is hilarious. With warmth, she conveys the sadness of the composer’s decline and ultimate death in 1918, as well as the overwhelming grief of his family, especially that of his beloved young daughter, Claude-Emma, who inspired Children’s Corner.
The performance is a fine homage to the life and works of Claude Debussy and when Ms. Migenes sings, it is with the nuance and power of the opera star she is. I only wish there was more of it.
Directed with wit and sensitivity by Peter Medak, Debussy: His Letters and His Music extends through March 11 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.