Met Opera screens Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ ‘Live in HD’

Angel Blue as Destiny, Walter Russell III as Char’es-Baby, Latonia Moore as Billie, and Will Liverman as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

The Metropolitan Opera continues its season of Live in HD cinema productions with Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, an adaptation of the memoir by Charles M Blow and the first opera by a Black composer to be presented by the Met. The Washington Post describes the production as “A defiant, tender, and vital work of art … A starting point for something new, a refresh of where opera can take us”.

The name of jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has become synonymous with what are described on his website as “artistic works of conscience’’. The Oscar nominee, six-time Grammy winner and 2018 USA Fellow is as well known for his music which makes powerful statements on tragic events in American history as for his significant contribution to the world of jazz. He has composed over 50 soundtracks for film and television, debuted his first opera – Champion: An Opera in Jazz – in 2013, and recorded more than 30 albums. Fire Shut Up in My Bones is described by Associated Press as “…. a triumph for Terence Blanchard … Beautifully composed with nuances of shade and color …”. It has a score which contains elements of both classical music and jazz, requiring singers to have the power of classical training, but also ease with jazz and gospel singing.

Will Liverman as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Fire Shut Up in My Bones is based on the life of Charles M Blow, well known as an American journalist, commentator, op-ed columnist for the New York Times and current anchor for the Black News Channel. The critically acclaimed memoir, described by People Magazine as “searing and unforgettable”, was a New York Times bestseller, won a Lambda Literary Award, the Sperber Prize and made the lists of many best-sellers published in 2014. The opera relates the story of a young man’s journey to overcome a childhood of trauma and hardship, telling of his life in and around the small and impoverished town of Gibsland in northwestern Louisiana, and moving to his alma mater, Grambling State University, across a timescale ranging from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Walter Russell III as Char’es-Baby and Will Liverman as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’ Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

This Metropolitan Opera production is co-directed by James Robinson, Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, who has created productions for major opera companies in the USA and abroad, and Camille A Brown, the first Black director to create a mainstage Met production. The libretto is by award-winning director, writer, actress and professor Kasi Lemmons, marking her first foray into opera.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones stars baritone Will Liverman as Charles, who – according to the Observer – “…. took his lyric voice to the very limits of its capabilities in Charles’s violently emotional arias. And in more reflective moments, he revealed a piano sound so delicious you couldn’t help falling in love with him purely on the basis of timbre.”

A scene from Act I of Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Soprano Angel Blue sings Destiny/Loneliness/Greta with what the New York Times describes as “.… her luminous soprano voice and unforced charisma”. A rising star, she opened the Met’s 2019/20 season as Bess in a new production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, following her acclaimed French opera debut – and role debut – as Floria Tosca at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in July of that year.

The role of Billie is sung by soprano Latonia Moore, described as “richly talented” by the New York Times, which also praised her performance of Serena in the Met’s 2019/20 season production of Porgy and Bess, writing that she “stopped the show…from almost vibrato-less, celestial high stretches to chilling, chesty low phrases, all of which she sang grippingly”.

Treble Walter Russell III takes the role of Char’es-Baby. Making his Met debut at the age of 13, he “… got the biggest individual cheers” writes Associated Press.

A scene from Act I of Terence Blanchard’s ‘Fire Shut Up in My Bones’
Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin, whom Associated Press says “…. brought out a vibrant performance ….”, and the broadcast is hosted by Emmy, Grammy and six-time Tony award winner, Audra McDonald.

Fire Shut Up in My Bones – described by the New York Times as “inspiring,” “subtly powerful” and “a bold affecting adaptation of Charles Blow’s work” – is a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, L A Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago and commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Originally commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, co-commissioned by Jazz St Louis, it premiered there in June 2019.

The opera will be transmitted to cinemas around the world on Saturday, October 23rd at 12:55pm ET. Search for your nearest cinema in the USA via this link and the rest of the world via this link.

Content Advisory: Fire Shut Up in My Bones addresses adult themes and contains some adult language.
 
 
 
Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes 
 
Charles M Blow  

Artists’ websites

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ABT’s New York Fall Season opens with ‘Giselle’

Skylar Brandt and Herman Cornejo in ‘Giselle’  Photo:  João Menegussi

American Ballet Theatre opens its first New York Fall Season for two years with the gorgeous Romantic-era ballet Giselle. With choreography after Jules Perrot, Jean Coralli and Marius Petipa, Giselle – set to Adolphe Adam’s sumptuous score – is one of the oldest classical ballets continually performed by ballet companies around the world.

Regarded as the most famous of the Romantic era ballets, Giselle was the result of the collaboration of the three French artists – Ballet Masters Perrot and Coralli, and composer Adam. In 1841 the Ballet du Théâtre de l’Academie Royale de Musique was keen to feature a new Italian dancer, Carlotta Grisi, in a ballet, so Adam – who had previously composed for the company – and librettists Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier, were commissioned to create a vehicle for Grisi’s talent.

It was Gautier who initially started working on the story, drawing inspiration from two sources – the poem Fantômes from Victor Hugo’s Les Orientales, which told of a Spanish girl who died after a night of frenzied dancing, and a passage in prose entitled L’Allemagne by German poet, writer and literary critic Heinrich Heine, about a Slavic tale of supernatural maidens called Wilis, young brides-to-be who die before their wedding day. Perrot and Coralli were brought in to choreograph the work, and Giselle premiered at the Théâtre de l’Academie Royale de Musique in Paris on 28th June, 1841, with Carlotta Grisi in the title role, French dancer Lucien Petipa (brother of Marius Petipa) as Albrecht and Adele Dumilatre as Myrtha.

In 1842, this version of Giselle was staged in St Petersburg, and this is where Marius Petipa became involved in the choreography. As Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg from 1871, he staged four revivals of Giselle between 1884 and 1903, and it’s this final version on which most interpretations have since been based.

The ballet tells of a frail young peasant girl who is betrayed by her beloved, the aristocratic Count Albrecht, as a result of which she dies of a broken heart. Giselle finds herself in a moonlit glade surrounded by the supernatural Wilis and their queen, Myrtha. Albrecht enters the glade to lay flowers on Giselle’s grave, and is summoned by Myrtha and her Wilis to dance to his death. Giselle – ever forgiving, and touched by his exhaustion – pleads for mercy on his behalf, and Myrtha ultimately frees him from the vengeance of the Wilis.

American Ballet Theatre’s production of Giselle is staged by Kevin McKenzie with John Lanchberry’s orchestration of Adolphe Adam’s score. Scenery is by Gianni Quaranta, costumes by Anna Anni and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Performances take place at the David H Koch Theatre, New York, New York from October 20th to 31st. For further information on the 2021 Fall Season, visit the American Ballet Theatre website and tickets are available on this link.

Information sourced from:
American Ballet Theatre program notes
The Petipa Society
Encyclopaedia Britannica
The Smith Center

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San Francisco Opera opens new production of Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’

Russell Thomas as Florestan in Beethoven’s Fidelio
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera opens a new production of Beethoven’s Fidelio this week.

Directed by Matthew Ozawa, whose “strikingly spare productions” (New York Times) are, says Opera News “a vivid demonstration of what opera is all about”. This new production brings forward Fidelio’s setting from an eighteenth-century prison to a modern government detainment center, with set and projection design by Alexander V Nichols.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This production of Fidelio features South African soprano Elza van den Heever as Leonore. Ms van den Heever, who made her debut with San Francisco Opera while still an Adler Fellow, is described by Associated Press as being “Blessed with a plush, dramatic voice capable of formidable power and dazzling high notes …”. The Telegraph writes of her as “…. a superb South African soprano who looks and sounds remarkably like the young Joan Sutherland ..”, and Forum Opéra says that she “…. moves us deeply, enthrals and captivates… she delighted us with her powerful and controlled voice, with a splendid midrange that does not exclude dazzling high notes”.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Beethoven’s Fidelio – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The role of Florestan is sung by Russell Thomas -“A tenor of gorgeously burnished power…” writes the New York Times. Mr Thomas was last seen in San Francisco in 2018 in the title role in Roberto Devereux, following which Seen and Heard wrote: “With a pure, focused tenor sound, remarkably even from top to bottom, Thomas managed to convey both the nobility and anguish of the title character…he created a time-stopping moment as he awaited his execution in Act III.”.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley takes the role of Don Pizarro. Regarded as one of the most prominent Wagnerian singers of our day, Mr Grimsley last appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2018 as Wotan/The Wanderer in the Ring cycle. Following that performance, The Mercury News wrote: “As Wotan, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley was a swaggering captain of industry; singing with forceful dark power, he was in suave, commanding voice.”.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore, Anne-Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, James Creswell as Rocco and Christopher Oglesby as Jaquino in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and cast are led by Music Director Eun Sun Kim. Chorus Director Ian Robertson has prepared the ensemble for this performance – two of the most memorable choruses being the Act I Prisoner’s Chorus and the opera’s finale, both of which are said to be comparable to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from the 9th Symphony.

James Creswell as Rocco, Elza van den Heever as Leonore, and Greer Grimsley as Don Pizarro in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The plot of Fidelio revolves around the unjust jailing of Spanish aristocrat, Florestan, by a political enemy, Don Pizarro, the cruel governor of the State prison who would face a corruption scandal if the identity of his secret prisoner were to be revealed. It tells how Florestan’s wife Leonore devises a plan to rescue him from the death penalty. Taking the name Fidelio, she disguises herself as a man, and goes to work as a deputy gaoler at the prison where Florestan is being held. Don Pizarro – concerned about a proposed inspection of the jail by the king’s minister, Don Fernando – orders the head jailer, Rocco, to kill Florestan, which Rocco refuses to do. When Pizarro goes down to Florestan’s cell to do the deed himself, Leonore reveals her true identity, threatens the tyrant, and Florestan’s life is saved by the arrival of Don Fernando.

Soloman Howard as Don Fernando, James Creswell as Rocco, Anne-Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, Elza van den Heever as Leonore, Russell Thomas as Florestan in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’ – Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Beethoven was commissioned in 1804, by the Theater an der Wien, to write his only opera, the story of which was based on a true incident of a woman disguised as a man who liberated her husband from a Jacobin prison. A judge named Jean-Nicolas Bouilly witnessed this event, and developed it into a story, entitled Leonoré, which was transferred to Spain. The theatre director and writer Joseph Sonnenleithner, translated the French libretto into German and Beethoven set about writing the score for the opera Leonore. The premiere in Vienna on November 20th, 1805, was disrupted by the arrival in the city of Napoleon’s troops, and was an abject failure. The libretto was then subject to a number of edits by Stephan von Breuning, and after the failure of this second version in 1806, Beethoven consigned the project to a drawer for eight years. The final version was fundamentally revised, and with a libretto by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, Fidelio premiered at the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna on May 23rd, 1814.

Elza van den Heever as Leonore and Russell Thomas as Florestan in Beethoven’s ‘Fidelio’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Beethoven wrote four different overtures for the opera first known as Leonore. The first – with which he wasn’t satisfied – was never played during his lifetime and was followed by a new overture for each of the three staged versions. The last overture written, in E major, is the one that has prevailed.

Also in this San Francisco Opera production of Fidelio are James Creswell as Rocco, Soloman Howard as Don Fernando, Ann-Marie MacIntosh as Marzelline, Christopher Oglesby as Jaquino, Zhengyi Bai as the First Prisoner and Stefan Egerstrom as the Second Prisoner.

Costumes are by Jessica Jahn and lighting by JAX Messenger and Justin A Partier

Sung in German with English supertitles, San Francisco Opera’s production of Fidelio runs at the War Memorial Opera House between October 14th and 30th. Further information and tickets are available on the San Francisco Opera website.

This production will also be available as a livestream on October 14th, 17th and 20th. Tickets for livestream performances are available on this link. The livestream can be viewed on desktop, mobile or tablet devices, and starts promptly at curtain time. It cannot be rewound or watched on-demand. Upon purchase, you will receive a link that will direct you to the livestream.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Opera Inside

Opera Online

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Ballet Nice Méditerranée pays tribute to the influence of black artists

Ballet Nice Méditerranée, under the artistic direction of Éric Vu-An, presents five works in a programme entitled Black Dances Matter – paying tribute to the influence of black artists in the history of dance. The company has a well-deserved reputation for versatility, and this is amply displayed across Vu-An’s Eden and Le Ballet de Faust, Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, Dwight Rhoden’s Verse Us and Alvin Ailey’s Night Creature.

In Eden, Éric Vu-An – who is of Franco, African and Vietnamese descendancy – depicts a harmonious time when Humanity gave birth to all, regardless of race or colour, but – as the music from Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice foretells – this Utopian state doesn’t last, as tolerance, universality and love descend into conflict.

The second work comprises solos from Maurice Béjart’s Chaka, a ballet in which Béjart reconnects with his African heritage (he had a Senegalese grandmother). Chaka is based on a text by Senegalese poet, politician and cultural theorist, Léopold Sédar Senghor, who served as the first president of Senegal for 20 years. Set to Brazilian and Ivory Coast music, the ballet has Chaka, the founder of the Zulu kingdom, as its central character, demonstrating what Senghor saw as the influence of Africa on modern culture.

Éric Vu-An created his Le Ballet de Faust in 2018, setting it to the music of Charles Gounod. This work is his interpretation of Walpurgis Night – the scene in Gounod’s opera Faust when Mephistopheles shows Faust the folk celebration before May Day, the night on which the souls of the dead are briefly released to wander as they choose. Building on a sense of joyful reverie, the ballet paints a vivid, colourful picture of the dancers reaching a stage of total distraction, in which dance and trance are never far apart.

Dwight Rhoden, a former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey Company, is the co-founder, and one of the two artistic directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York – widely regarded as America’s original multicultural dance company. His Verse Us is a dramatic piece with jazzy undertones, and an impressive display of movements in a bold, almost athletic style. Even the score is unusual – bringing together the music of Philip Glass, contemporary German composers Nils Frahm and Sven Helbig, and Estonian-born American conductor, curator and producer Kristjan Järvi. In a nod to tradition, the score also features music by Mozart and Claude Debussy.

The final ballet on the programme is Night Creature, created by the prolific American choreographer Alvin Ailey, founder of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a multi-racial modern dance company which had a significant effect on the popularity of contemporary dance, not only in America, but around the world as well. His Night Creature, dating back to 1974, is set to Duke Ellington’s Night Creature for Jazz Band and Orchestra. A spirited work, it features the antics of a group of bright young things in the Jazz Age, who come into their own after nightfall – as they strut, slink, leap and soft-shoe shuffle their way, 1920s style, through Ailey’s sassy choreography and Ellington’s fabulous score.

Black Dances Matter will be stage at the Nice Opera from 15th to 21st October. Reservations can be made by telephone on 04 92 17 40 79, or online at www.opera-nice.org.

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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English National Opera goes for diversity in 2021-22 season

English National Opera has something to suit all tastes for the 2021-22 season – ranging from the seriousness of actuality to the frivolous and lighthearted, with a healthy dash of passion and tragedy thrown into the mix.

Satyagraha © Eric Standley

Satyagraha, Philip Glass’s account of Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, opens the season. Set to a text from the ancient Sanskrit scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, it looks at Gandhi’s concept of non-violent protest as a positive force for change, relating the experiences which were instrumental in his development as a great leader. Staged by Phelim McDermott, Satyagraha stars Sean Panikkar as Gandhi, Musa Ngqungwana as Lord Krishna and William Thomas as Parsi Rustomji. With conductor Carolyn Kuan – making her ENO debut – Satyagraha runs between 14th and 28th October.

HMS Pinafore © Simon Webb

Award-winning Cal McCrystal stages Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera HMS Pinafore (29 October – 11 December) for the first time in the Company’s history. It tells the hilarious story of a group of preposterous characters aboard a naval ship, and – with its tale of forbidden love – takes a swipe at the British class system. Will the captain’s daughter marry the lowly sailor or the First Lord of the Admiralty as expected? Les Dennis is Sir Joseph, John Savournin is Captain Corcoran, and the roles of Ralph and Josephine are played by Elgan Llŷr Thomas and Alexandra Oomens. The conductor is Chris Hopkins, and HMS Pinafore runs between 29 October and 11 December.

The Valkyrie © Rekha Garton

Norse mythology, scheming Gods and the conflict between Wotan, leader of the gods, and his warrior daughter, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, form the backdrop to Richard Wagner’s The Valkyrie – the second part of his Ring cycle. Richard Jones directs this dramatic production in which Wotan’s son Siegmund, together with Sieglinde, is fleeing for his life from her husband Hunding, with a showdown looming between the two men. The cast includes Matthew Rose as Wotan, Rachell Nicholls as Brünnhilde, Nicky Spence as Siegmund, Emma Bell as Sieglinde, Brindley Sherratt as Hunding, and Susan Bickley as Fricka. The ENO Orchestra is conducted by Music Director Martyn Brabbins in a production which runs from 19th November to 10th December. Over the next five years, the other three parts of Wagner’s Ring cycle – Das Rheingold, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung will be staged at London’s Coliseum.

La bohème © Louisa Parry

La bohème, Puccini’s passionate and heartbreaking portrayal of love, friendship and loss in the bohemian quarter of Paris, brings to the stage of the Coliseum some of the most beautiful music ever written for opera. This Jonathan Miller production – which returns to ENO – was inspired by the photographs of Paris and Parisians taken during the 1930s by Hungarian-born French photographer Brassaï. The role of Mimi is shared between Sinéad Campell-Wallace and Nadine Benjamin, and that of Rodolfo by David Junghoon Kim. Louise Alder is Musetta, Charles Rice is Marcello, William Thomas is Colline, and the role of Schaunard is shared by Benson Wilson and Alex Otterburn. Ben Glassberg conducts the performances which run between 31 Jan and 27 Feb 2022.

The Cunning Little Vixen © Tim Booth

Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen explores the relationship between man and nature, as Sharp Ears, the clever Vixen of the title, is captured by a Forester. She ultimately manages to escape, but he is forever haunted by her memory. Progressing through the different worlds of both Vixen and Forester, the opera shows how just one chance meeting between two beings can change the lives of both. This new production is directed by Jonathan Manton, and ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins leads the orchestra, chorus and soloists who include Sally Matthews as the Vixen and Lester Lynch as the Forester. The Cunning Little Vixen runs between 18 February and 1 March 2022.

Così fan tutte © Jonathan Kitchen

Director Phelim McDermott brings Mozart’s Così fan tutte forward to the brash and gaudy Coney Island in the 1950s, where sisters Fiordiligi (Nardus Williams) and Dorabella (Hanna Hipp) are holidaying with their fiancés, Ferrando (Amitai Pati) and Guglielmo (Benson Wilson. Don Alfonso (Neal Davies), however, decides to gamble with the lovers’ feelings, causing much confusion and delivering some surprising results. Some of Mozart’s best-loved music is conducted by Kerem Hasan in a production which runs between 10 and 22 March 2022.

The Handmaid’s Tale © Nicky Hamilton

Poul RudersThe Handmaid’s Tale is based on the novel of the same name by Margaret Attwood. This production, directed by ENO’s Artistic Director Annilese Miskimmon, tells of a Handmaid named Offred, one of the women forced to reproduce with Commanders of the Republic of Gilead. This sobering production focuses on the daily terrors experienced by Offred, as she endures the lack of rights and freedom which is the fate of all of the women of the Republic. The score by Danish composer Ruders – influenced by minimalism, medieval chanting and gospel music – is conducted by contemporary music specialist Joana Carneiro. Kate Lindsey takes the role of Offred, Susan Bickley is her mother, Emma Bell is Aunt Lydia, and John Findon is Luke.  The production runs between 4 and 14 April 2022.

Visit the ENO website for more information and for tickets.

Information sourced from ENO programme notes

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Met Opera opens new ‘Live in HD’ season with ‘Boris Godunov’

René Pape in the title role of Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Modest Mussorgsky’s magnificent historical opera, Boris Godunov, currently running at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, opens the Company’s Live in HD 2021-22 season. This production by Stephen Wadsworth, stars German bass René Pape in the title role, David Butt Philip as the pretender Grigory, and Maxim Paster as the powerful boyar Shuisky. German conductor Sebastian Weigle leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, and the transmission is hosted by soprano Angel Blue.

Set in Russia between 1598 and 1605, the opera is Mussorgsky’s depiction of the troubled life of the rise and fall of the 16th century Tsar, Boris Godunov. He became Regent after the deaths of Ivan the Terrible and his son Fyodor – at a time when Ivan’s surviving son Dmitry, the Tsarevitch, was still a child. Dmitry, however, died in mysterious circumstances, following which Boris, at the behest of a group of politicians, reluctantly agreed to become Tsar, hoping that no one would discover the secret that troubled him – his role in the assassination of the rightful heir to the throne.

Ain Anger as Pimen and David Butt Philip as Grigory in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Boris was considered to be a good ruler, until the young monk Grigory, who bore a remarkable resemblance to the deceased Tsarevitch, decided to impersonate Dmitry and seize the throne. With pressure mounting on him from all sides, Boris began to lose his sanity, until ultimately, naming his son Feyodor the heir to his throne, Boris bade a loving farewell to his children and died.

Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881) was not only the composer of Boris Godunov, but he also wrote the libretto which was based on Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin’s play, written in 1825 and published in 1831. Puskhin took his inspiration from the Shakespeare play, Boris Godunov, but he was also heavily influenced by Nikolay Karamzin’s History of the Russian State. The opera was completed in 1869, but it was rejected by the Directorate of the Imperial Theatres in St Petersburg, so in 1872 Mussorgsky revised his opera, and it premiered in 1874 at the Mariinsky Theatre.

A scene from Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Some years later, the Russian pianist and musicologist, Pavel Lamm, who was director of the State Music Publication Department in Moscow between 1918 and 1923, established a storehouse for scores which had been confiscated from nationalised music publishers in Russia. One of these scores was the original which Mussorgsky had written for Boris Godunov, and which is much closer to Pushkin’s text than the revised one. This 1869 version of Boris Godunov was premiered at the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, in what was then Leningrad, on 16th February, 1928, and it’s this one-act version which is staged by the Metropolitan Opera.

Aleksey Bogdanov as Shchelkalov in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

René Pape, whose “dark, penetrating voice is ideal for the role” according to the New York Times, has been a member of the Berlin State Opera since 1988, where he has performed most of the great roles of his career. He made his debut with the Met in 1995, since when has appeared in 18 roles and more than 160 performances, including four major debuts – Méphistophélès in Faust, Gurnemanz in Parsifal, Escamillo in Carmen, and the Old Hebrew in Samson et Dalila. Winner of two Grammy Awards, named Musical America’s Vocalist of the Year in 2002, Artist of the Year by the German opera critics in 2006, and winner of an ECHO award in 2009, René Pape is described by Opera News as “an artist who thrills his audiences with charisma, intelligence, and a one-in-a-million voice”.

The role of the Pretender Grigory is taken by British tenor David Butt Philip of whom the Guardian, following an appearance at The Royal Opera House, wrote: “He sings with uncompromising conviction and blazing intensity. He’s a superb actor, too … It’s an exceptional, career-making achievement.”

Maxim Paster as Shuisky, Megan Marino as Feodor, and René Pape in the title role of Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Making his Met Opera debut is Russian tenor Maxim Paster as Shuisky who brings Boris news of the Pretender to the throne. Mr Paster has recently sung this role at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper and Opèra national de Paris Bastille, and whom – according to Bachtrack – “….has flair and panache, and fills the scene with his presence both physically and vocally”.

Other members of the cast include Russian baritone Aleksey Bogdanov as the boyar Shchelkalov, who, according to Opera News, has “…a dark, rich baritone with plenty of luster … star quality in every way”. Estonian bass Ain Anger, described by the Guardian as “One of the great Wagner basses of our time”, is the monk Pimen who relates to Grigory the accounts of the death of the Tsarevich Dmitry, and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green – who has rapidly gained an international reputation as a ‘breakthrough star’ – is the vagrant monk, Varlaam.

Aleksey Bogdanov as Shchelkalov, René Pape as Boris, and Maxim Paster as Shuisky in Mussorgsky’s ‘Boris Godunov’ Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Conductor Sebastian Weigle who leads Mussorgsky’s towering masterwork, has appeared on the stages of some of the world’s finest opera houses, including The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Berlin State Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Hamburg State Opera and Zürich Opera, as well as at the Bayreuth Festival. He has held the roles of Principal Conductor for Berlin State Opera, Music Director of the Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, and since 2008 has been General Music Director of Frankfurt Opera.

Stephen Wadsworth is director of the Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program at the Juilliard School, and also head of dramatic studies in the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. As well as at the Met, he has directed operas at La Scala, Milan, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Vienna State Opera, Netherlands Opera, Edinburgh Festival and at San Francisco Opera, and plays on and off Broadway, and in London’s West End. Among works which he has written is the libretto for Leonard Bernstein’s opera A Quiet Place.

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Boris Godunov Live in HD (sung in Russian with English titles) will be screened on October 9th in cinemas in the US and in and around the London area in the UK, at 12.55 pm ET. To find your nearest cinema, please follow this link.

Live performances of Boris Godunov at the Met will take place on October 9th at 1.00 pm, October 14th at 7.00 pm, and October 17th at 3.00 pm – all ET. Further details of this production, and others in the Metropolitan 2021-22 season, can be found on the Metropolitan Opera website.

Information sourced from:
Metropolitan Opera program notes
The Royal Opera House programme notes
Oxford Music Online
Pavel Lamm
Artists’ websites

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An unusual season opening for Salonen and San Francisco Symphony

Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall, June 17, 2021 © Kristen Loken

In Esa-Pekka Salonen’s first opening night concert as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, he has opted for an unusual selection of works in a program which features the music of John Adams, Alberto Ginastera, Wayne Shorter and Silvestre Revueltas. The guest artists are dancers of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet and jazz stars Esperanza Spalding, Leo Genovese and Terri Lyne Carrington.

The first work of the Re-Opening Night Concert at Davies Symphony Hall is John Adams’ Slonimsky’s Earbox which the Bay Area composer wrote in 1995 on commission from the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, England, and the Oregon Symphony in Portland, Oregon, and which he dedicated to conductor Kent Nagano, a longtime friend and supporter of Adams’ music. The piece was inspired by Russian author Nicholas Slonimsky’s The Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns – a compendium which Adams says “has had a singular impact on my music since the Chamber Symphony of 1992”. “Earbox,” he goes on to say, “might be a word worthy of Slonimsky himself, a coiner who never tired of minting his own”.

Adji Cissoko of Alonzo King LINES Ballet © RJ Muna

The music which Alberto Ginastera wrote during the earlier years of his career tended to reflect the more ‘folkloric’ characteristics of South American music, and his ballet Estancia – written in 1941 on commission from Lincoln Kirstein’s America Ballet Caravan – was inspired by the 1870s poem Martín Fierro by José Hernández. The ballet was never performed, but a suite of four dances from the score – telling of various episodes in a day in the life of a gaucho – became a standalone concert piece, first performed at the Teatro Coloacuten in Buenos Aires in 1943. In this week’s concert, dancers of the LINES Ballet perform Ginastera’s Estancia to original choreography by Alonzo King.

Wayne Shorter debuted his new orchestral-vocal piece Gaia with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in February of this year. Named after the Greek goddess of the Earth, Gaia was written, on commission from Herb Alpert’s organisation, specifically for the LA Phil. The libretto – written by fellow Grammy Award-winner and jazz vocalist Esperanza Spalding – urges us not to take our surroundings or our planet for granted. “It’s not enough to be comfortable” Shorter says. “We have to reach beyond. That’s what this piece is saying.” Esperanza Spalding, on vocals and bass, appears with pianist Leo Genovese, percussionist Terri Lyne Carrington and the San Francisco Symphony.

Esperanza Spalding © Holly Andres

Silvestre Revueltas’ Noche de encantamiento is the final movement of a concert suite, arranged by fellow Mexican José Ives Limantour, from Revueltas’ film score to Chano Urueta’s 1939 film La noche de los Mayas (The Night of the Mayas). This movement is a compelling, dramatic, percussive piece of music, which assumes ritualistic, trance-like qualities – not too dissimilar from The Rite of Spring, scored by Stravinsky, to whom Revueltas has been likened.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the San Francisco Symphony in the Re-Opening Night concert on Friday, October 1st at 7.00 pm. From 6.00 pm, the audience will be treated to a complimentary glass of sparkling wine prior to the performance, and invited to attend the outdoor After-Party, featuring live music entertainment.

Esa-Pekka Salonen with the San Francsico Symphony – © Brandon Pato

Re-Opening Night will be recorded live for transmission on PBS. The program, Great Performances: San Francisco Symphony Reopening Night, will be broadcast on Friday, November 19 at 9.00 pm on PBS (check local listings), on this link and also available on the PBS Video app.

For tickets and further information on this performance, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

This concert will be repeated at Davies Symphony Hall on Saturday, October 2nd – for further information and tickets, visit this page of the San Francisco Symphony website.

The traditional All San Francisco Concert – an essential part of the San Francisco Symphony’s opening week celebrations – takes place at Davies Symphony Hall this evening, September 30th. This concert is dedicated to, and presented for, the people involved with the Bay Area’s nonprofits, social services groups and community organizations, in recognition of, and gratitude for, the work these groups do to serve and enrich the lives of Bay Area citizens.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony programme notes

Slonimsky’s Earbox

Estancia Suite

Gaia

Noche de encantamiento

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Bychkov & Czech Philharmonic open new season with Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony

Semyon Bychkov & the Czech Philharmonic © Petra Hajska

The Czech Philharmonic, under Chief Conductor and Music Director Semyon Bychkov, opens its 126th season this week with a performance of the Shostakovich Symphony No 7 in C Major, Op 60 – Leningrad.

Marking his fourth year in charge of the Orchestra, Maestro Bychkov has chosen to launch the new season with the symphony which Shostakovich wrote during the siege of Leningrad by German forces during World War II, and which he dedicated to the people of that city, who had suffered so much. The symphony has a special significance for Semyon Bychkov – Leningrad is the city of his birth, and his mother was a survivor of the 900-day siege which claimed an estimated three-quarters of a million civilian lives.

Applause for Maestro Bychkov & the Czech Philharmonic © Petr Kadlec

It is thought that Dmitri Shostakovich started writing his Seventh Symphony before the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, and remained in Leningrad at the start of the siege in September of that year. In October he was sent to Kuybyshev in the Volga, for his own safety, and finished the symphony there, where it had its first informal performance at a gathering of the composer’s colleagues, on March 5th, 1942. In a somewhat dramatic sequence of events, Shostakovich had the score microfilmed, and it was smuggled to Iran, driven to Egypt and flown via South America to the United States where it was given its American premiere by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony.

In the summer of 1942, the inhabitants of the city of Leningrad were starving, having lived under siege and bombardment by German forces for nearly a year. Conductor Karl Eliasberg was given instructions to start rehearsing the symphony with the Leningrad Radio Orchestra, but many of the orchestra’s players had succumbed to starvation. A call for help was put out over the city, and any soldier who was able to play an instrument sufficiently well to last the length of the performance, was released from military duty to participate in rehearsals and the performance.

The Czech Philharmonic led by Semyon Bychkov © Petra Hajska

With empty chairs in the orchestra to denote musicians who had died, the Leningrad premiere of the symphony was performed on August 9th, 1942, by “…. players who were victims of bombings and hunger and starvation and they were barely able to hold their instruments to play,” says Bychkov. The concert was broadcast on speakers throughout the city, and to the German troops as well. A German General was later quoted as saying: “When it finished I realised that never ever shall we be able to enter Leningrad. It is not a city that can be conquered.” The siege continued until January 1944 when the Soviet army penetrated the encirclement of Leningrad.

Semyon Bychkov leads the Czech Philharmonic in two performances of the Shostakovich Symphony No 7 on September 29th and 30th in Prague’s Rudolfinum, at 6.30 pm BST and 7.30 pm CET. The first performance will be broadcast on Czech TV (and will be available for 7 days afterwards on Czech TV’s iVysilani web player). International subscribers to takt1 can watch the live stream of the second performance on September 30th.

Other highlights of the 126th Czech Philharmonic season include appearances by conductors Alain Altinoglu, Manfred Honeck, Michael Tilson Thomas and Franz Welser-Möst. Pianist Yuja Wang will be Artist-in-Residence, and the season will also feature world premieres of new commissions by Bryce Dessner, Julian Anderson and Slavomír Hořínka. The season brochure can be downloaded via this link.

Information sourced from:

Czech Philharmonic programme notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Mark Wigglesworth

BBC News

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Yamada & Monte-Carlo Philharmonic open new season with Beethoven

Kazuki Yamada with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra © J C Vinaj

Principal Conductor and Artistic Director Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a rousing opening to the 2021-22 season with music by Beethoven – his Overture to Leonore No 2, Opus 72a, and his Symphony No 9 (Choral) Opus 125.

The soloists in the final movement of the symphony – the Ode to Joy – are soprano Genia Kühmeier, mezzo-soprano Sophie Rennert, tenor Werner Güra and baritone Johannes Weisser. They are accompanied by the London Symphony Chorus – Director Simon Halsey.

The programme opens with Beethoven’s Overture to Leonore No 2, one of at least four overtures which he wrote for an opera originally entitled Leonore. The opera premiered in Vienna in November 1805, but the following year became known as Fidelio, a name given it by the administration at Theatre an der Wien.

Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 – part symphony and part oratorio – is widely regarded as his greatest composition. In 1812, he was apparently determined to include in a grand symphony his setting of Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy which the German poet, playwright, and historian wrote in the summer of 1785. It took Beethoven 10 years to complete the work, and it wasn’t premiered until May 7, 1824, in Vienna, by which time Beethoven was completely deaf. He apparently appeared onstage as the general director or the performance, but the kapellmeister Michael Umlauf, baton in hand, led the orchestra, taking tempo cues from the composer – who never heard his Ode to Joy other than in his head.

Alongside his role at the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, Kazuki Yamada has also been appointed Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, as of April 2023. Among other roles, he is Permanent Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Chairman of The Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo and Music Director of Yokohama Sinfonietta. Maestro Yamada has led major orchestras such as the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, MDR-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig, Orchestre de Paris, St Petersburg Philharmonic, and the Czech Philharmonic. He is also known for his operatic work, such as Berlioz’sThe Damnation of Faust and Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila in Monte-Carlo, and a semi-staged production of Arthur Honneger’s Joan of Arc at the Stake with both the Orchestre de Paris and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic.

Soprano Genia Kühmeier is a frequent guest on the stages of some of the world’s finest opera houses – the Vienna State Opera, La Scala Milan, the Theater an der Wien, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Ms Kühmeier recently appeared in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig, in his Mass in C Minor with the symphony orchestra of the Bayerischer Rundfunk, and his Missa Solemnis at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg. Other recent appearances include those in Mozart’s Requiem at La Scala, Bach’s St John Passion at the Konzerthaus Vienna, and Brahms’ A German Requiem at the Salzburg Pentecost Festival.

Austrian mezzo-soprano Sophie Rennert – described by The Arts Desk as “A mezzo of many colours, subtlety, dramatic intelligence and a crucially brilliant top” – has appeared in engagements which include Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in Gothenburg, Mozart’s Requiem with the Orquesta Nacional de España in Madrid, and the Missa Solemnis in Birmingham. Her operatic performances include the role of Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo at the Salzburg Landestheater, Angelina in Rossini’s La Cenerentola at the Nationaltheater Mannheim, and the Flower Maiden in Wagner’s Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival.

In addition to appearances at Semperoper Dresden and Staatsoper Berlin, tenor Werner Güra received high praise for his roles as Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Ferrando in Così fan tutte and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni at Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova, Opéra de Lille, La Monnaie in Brussels, and the Opéra National de Paris. In the vocal-symphonic and oratorio repertoire, he has appeared in opera houses such as the Konzerthaus and Musikverein Wien, Royal Festival Hall, Covent Garden, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Philharmonie Berlin and Philharmonie Paris.

Concert and oratorio singer, baritone Johannes Weisser has a repertoire which ranges from the early 17th century music of Monteverdi to more contemporary works such of those by Kurt Weill and Benjamin Britten. Mr Weisser’s recent operatic engagements include the title role in Eugene Onegin, Germont in La Traviata, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Don Pizarro in Fidelio and Schaunard in La bohème.

One of the world’s foremost concert choirs and one of classical music’s leading recording ensembles, the London Symphony Chorus is internationally renowned, with several of its 140 critically acclaimed recordings having received honours such as Grammy Awards, the Edison Preis and the Grande Prix du Disque, as well as recognition by the BBC Music and Gramaphone magazines.

Chorus Director Simon Halsey also holds positions across the UK and Europe, including Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus, Artistic Director of Orfeó Català Choirs, Artistic Adviser of Palau de la Música Barcelona, Artistic Director of Berliner Philharmoniker Youth Choral Programme, Director of the BBC Proms Youth Choir, Artistic Advisor of Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival Choir and Conductor Laureate of Rundfunkchor Berlin.

Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, soloists and the London Symphony Chorus in the Opening Concert of the Grande Saison 21/22 on Sunday 26th September at 18h00. To reserve tickets, follow the link on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra website.

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

Information sourced from:

Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra programme notes

Beethoven Symphony No 9 – Encyclopaedia Britannica

Leonore Overture No 2

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English National Ballet premieres Akram Khan’s ‘Creature’

English National Ballet presents the long-anticipated world premiere of its new ballet, Akram Khan’s Creature.

The ballet, described as “an unearthly tale of exploitation and human frontiers” takes its inspiration from the stage play Woyzeck by 19th century German dramatist Georg Büchner, which provided the libretto for Alban Berg’s 1925 opera Wozzeck.

The action takes place in a dilapidated former research station in the Artic, and tells of the ordeal of the Creature who is the subject of a scientific experiment being carried out by the Doctor, to establish how well he deals mentally and physically with extreme cold, isolation and homesickness. This experiment is seen as necessary to prepare for mankind’s proposed colonisation of the ‘final frontiers’ on earth and beyond. This bleak existence is tempered only by the presence of the Creature’s keeper, Marie, and his friend, Andres.

Artistic Director, choreographer and dancer Akram Khan is regarded as one of the most respected dance artists of today, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including an MBE for services to dance in 2005, the Laurence Olivier Award, the Bessie Award (New York Dance and Performance Award), the prestigious ISPA (International Society for the Performing Arts) Distinguished Artist Award, the Fred and Adele Astaire Award, the Herald Archangel Award at the Edinburgh International Festival, the South Bank Sky Arts Award and eight Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards. He is an Associate Artist of Sadler’s Wells and of Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London, and Curve, Leicester.

Creature is Khan’s third collaboration with English National Ballet, and follows the success of Dust (performed as part of Lest We Forget in 2014), and Giselle, his first ever full-length ballet. His works – which have been performed both in the UK and abroad – include XENOS, Until the Lions, Kaash, iTMOi (in the mind of igor), DESH, Vertical Road, Gnosis and zero degrees. “The outcast, the stranger, have been a common theme in my work”, he says. “In Creature, I am looking further into the areas related to the sense of abandonment, rage and loss.”

Included in Khan’s creative team for Creature is Tim Yip, best known for his Academy Award for Best Art Direction for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Composer and sound designer for the ballet is London-based Italian musician and producer Vincenzo Lamagna who also collaborated with Khan on Giselle for ENB. Lighting design is by Michael Hulls who has worked exclusively in dance over the last 20 years and is known as a “choreographer of light”, and dramaturgy is by Ruth Little who has worked with the Akram Khan company since 2010.

English National Ballet presents Akram Khan’s Creature at Sadler’s Wells from 23rd September to 3rd October. The English National Ballet Philharmonic will be conducted by Gavin Sutherland and Gerry Cornelius. Further information and booking details can be found on the ENB website. [www.ballet.org.uk

The postponed international premiere of Creature will take place at Chicago’s Joan W and Irving B Harris Theater from 24-26 February 2022.

Information sourced from:

English National Ballet programme notes

Georg Büchner – Encyclopaedia Britannica

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