At the Kennedy Center Opera House, at any rate, last night's gala inaugural concert was designed according to the Chinese menu plan. Column A was ballet. Column B was opera. There weren't any main dishes however, only appetizers and desserts, that is to say, excerpts and excerpts from excerpts.
The program might also have been Chinese, for all the relation it seemed to bear to the nature of the occasion. Over at the Eisenhower Theater, Aaron Copland's music took up a fourth of the chamber music program. In the Concert Hall, the National Symphony had the good sinse to devote three-quarters of its fare to the work of native composers. But the offerings at the Opera House seemed dedicated to the proposition that the United States has little to show for itself in the way of choreographic or operatic culture.
So, in the land of Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Jose Limon, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille and Eliot Feld, among others, Column A found room for one item among five (Twyla Tharp's "Push Comes to Shove") by an American choreographer, and one other number (from Balanchine's "Who Cares?") with music (Gershwin) by an American. (To be fair, Alvin Ailey's "Cry" was scheduled, but had to be cut due to an injury to dancer Judith Jamison). Column B was given over entirely to the work of those celebrated sons of Old Glory -- Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Ambroise Thomas and Wolfgang Mozart.
The performances, for the most part -- both terpsichorean and vocal -- were polished, but about as exciting as yesterday's egg roll. Among the exceptions: Marianna Tcherkassky; sweetly radiant in the role she created for the Baryshnikiv production of "Nutcracker"; Patricia McBride and Jacques d'Amboise as svelte partners in Balanchine's "The Man I Love" duet; and the skyrocketing Peter Martins in the "Tchaikovsky" pas de deux. Like the other dancers, however, Martins was imperiled by a forshortened stage (apparently the set for "Sophisticated Ladies" couldn't be struck) -- at one point it looked as though he were about to end his leap in the middle of the orchestra pit.
The humor of the "Push Comes to Shove excerpt appeared to be lost on an audience none too familiar with the ballet conventions being spoofed, but in any case, even Mikhail Baryshnikov seemed to be laboring under a gala pall. As for the singing on the evening's second half it was more dutiful than inspired, despite the participation of such luminaries as Grace Bumbry and Roberta Peters. Conductors Robert Irving (of the New York City Ballet) and Lorin Maazel lit a few sparks in their turns at the baton, but neither was around long enough to really turn up the heat.
The truth is that the event's single big charge was the entrance of President-elect and Mrs. Reagan toward the close of the first half, and the acclamation it generated. Perhaps it was fitting that Reagan, who earned a few spurs himself in the performing arts, should have upstaged everything else this night.