Concert Review: CHRISTINA AGUILERA (The Hollywood Bowl)

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by Tony Frankel on July 17, 2021

in Concerts / Events,Theater-Los Angeles

THE POP DIVA AND THE ORCHESTRA

The excitement and playfulness was palpably flowing among the patrons at the recently reopened Hollywood Bowl last night, July 16. I’d like to say that it was due to finally being released from the COVID stay-at-home restrictions, but I’m rather certain the sold-out house (over 17,000 seats) was reverberating with celebration for the headliner Christina Aguilera, whose throngs of fans — many or most of whom were queer or allies, I think — were elated to see their goddess in person. And accompanied by Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil with new arrangements, no less. In fact, the Bowl press tells us that this will mark the first time that Christina has performed an entire concert live with an orchestra. There’s one more show tonight; go to Hollywood Bowl for tickets.

While the latter part was not as successful as hoped for, the fans didn’t care, as a few near us came from far away (San Jose and Portland) to see their idol in person, recording the entire show, which — although Christina was vulnerable, in great voice (50 different vocal pyrotechnics? Check!) and looked amah-zing — needed help. It started out terrific, as the multitalented producer, composer, singer, etc. came out looking gorgeous with her platinum-blonde hair, haute couture accoutrements (furs, studs) over a black body stocking, and slathered in glittery diamond (or diamond-like) superstar jewelry and her trademark white headscarf, used in different configurations throughout the night.

The opener was Mark Gordon & Harry Warren’s 1941 “At Last”, first recorded by Glenn Miller and popularized by Etta James twenty years later. It was at that point I was praying that this would be an evening of standards, as she had great enunciation, vulnerability and steadfast delivery. But it was not to be. She had to give her fans her biggest hits. Adapting pop anthems for an orchestra proved to be tricky, as the stunning sound only pointed out the stylistic disconnection between band and singer (the three performers I’ve seen do a concert with full orchestra for the first time also had sketchy balance issues). Sure, we heard every soulful yodel she delivered, but I think Dudamel was overpowering her. It’s tough enough that a good majority of her soulful ballads and raucous dance tunes simply aren’t memorable.

Complicating the event was having the giant bowl screens showing all Xtina all the time. I felt awful for the folks in back who no doubt couldn’t see the dancers . However, they did miss the mens’ jester-like unitards with sparkling tops — yuck. Most of the costumes, in Black & White to match the formality of the orchestra — were downright odd. Many in the audience were better and more whimsically dressed than her back-up gang.

Still, she scored big with her hits “Genie in a Bottle”, “The Voice Within”, “Say Something,” Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” and — naturally — the gay anthem “Beautiful.” And when Christina walked around the perimeter of pool area in front of the stage, the joy was contagious. In other words, the concert was huge, and to millennials, I suppose, a great success. While connecting to the crowd was easy, connecting to the event was not.

Maestro Dudamel opened the first half of the program with a well-received Danzon No. 8 from Mexican composer Arturo Márquez Navarro (1950-) which was made famous by Dudamel with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra; its swaying, conga-like rhythms were perfect for a balmy night. The West Side Story Symphonic Suite not only quieted the somewhat talkative crowd, but ultimately enraptured them. The Dude allowed the melodies to linger by stressing individual players, and the sensational performance made me mourn both the death of Leonard Bernstein and — later during Aguilera’s set — the dearth of melodies in today’s music.

Upon exiting, I heard someone ask a woman how she liked the show. “I loved it!” she squealed. The other asked, “Why?” “Because I’m thirty,” was her reponse.

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