ENO’s unconventional take on Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’

ENO ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ © Clive Barda

In complete contrast to Gluck’s season opener, English National Opera’s current production in the Orpheus quartet is Offenbach’s satirical operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld, with tenor Ed Lyon and soprano Mary Bevan in the title roles, and Sir Willard White as Jupiter. Director Emma Rice makes her ENO debut, and the production is led by former ENO Music Director Sian Edwards.

Set to a libretto by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy, this riotous take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was the first full-length classical operetta, and premiered on October 21, 1858, at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in Paris. It was greeted with shock by the critics, partly because they felt that it was mocking of Gluck’s revered interpretation, and partly because it destroyed the hallowed perception of ancient Greece. It proved hugely popular with audiences, though, and became an international success.

ENO’s production of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ © Clive Barda

Offenbach’s score is peppered with instantly recognizable music – the overture being the most well-known part, and very popular as a standalone piece. It includes what is probably the most famous piece, known as the Can-can, although Offenbach’s title for it was the Galop-infernal. Interestingly, the dance which is performed in the operetta is a completely different one from the rather raunchy and scandalous one which was first seen in Paris in the 1830s, and became so popular throughout the 19th century.

The operetta depicts Eurydice as an unfaithful wife who falls in love with Pluto, and having been fatally bitten by a snake, accompanies him to the hedonistic hell of the underworld. Orpheus reluctantly (and persuaded by Public Opinion), tries to rescue his errant wife, but as he leads her out of this bacchanalian revelry, Jupiter (who has also fallen in love with her), uses a thunderbolt to scare Orpheus into turning back, and Eurydice disappears back into the underworld.

ENO’s production of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ – © Clive Barda

Ed Lyon has a repertoire which ranges from the baroque to contemporary music, and he has appeared on the stages of many of the world’s leading opera houses and concert halls. Among recent highlights are roles such as Colin in Denisov’s L’écume des jours for Stuttgart Opera, Hylas in Les Troyens, Steuerman in Der fliegende Holländer and Walther in Tannhäuser for The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni for Scottish Opera, and Freddy in My Fair Lady for the Châtelet in Paris.

Mary Bevan, in her role debut as Eurydice, is an internationally renowned artist in the baroque, classical and contemporary repertoire. A winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist award and UK Critics’ Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent in music, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2019.  This season sees her performing Sifare in Mozart’s Mitridate for Garsington Opera, reprising the role of Rose Maurrant in Weill’s Street Scene for Opera de Monte-Carlo, and on tour with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as Diana in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride.

Willard White (Jupiter) and Mary Bevan (Eurydice) in ENO’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ ©Clive Barda

Sir Willard White sings Jupiter, father of the gods. One of the most popular opera stars of the past 40 years, and regarded as one of the most versatile, he has performed at some of the world’s finest opera houses and concert halls, and appeared with some of the most celebrated conductors, directors and orchestras. In addition to these performances at ENO, Sir Willard will also appear this season as Luther/Crespel in Les contes d’Hoffmann at La Monnaie, as Trinity Moses in Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny for Dutch National Opera, and as Arkel in Pelléas et Mélisande for LA Opera.

The cast also includes Lucia Lucas as Public Opinion, Anne-Marie Owens as Juno, Alan Oke as John Styx, Ellie Laugharne as Cupid, Keel Watson as Mars, Judith Howarth as Venus, and ENO Harewood Artists Alex Otterburn as Pluto and Idunnu Münch as Diana.

Ed Lyon (Orpheus) and Mary Bevan (Eurydice) in ENO’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ © Clive Barda

This new production for English National Opera was adapted from the original French by Emma Rice and Tom Morris, and is presented in association with Rice’s new company, Wise Children. Former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, and actor, director and Artistic Director for Kneehigh, Emma Rice has also directed the West End productions of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Oedipussy, The Empress for the RSC, and An Audience with Meow Meow for Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Sian Edwards – ENO Music Director during the 1990s – leads these performances, apart from those on November 1st, 26th and 28th when Valentina Peleggi takes the baton. Ms Edwards has been Head of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music since 2013.

Set designs are by Lizzie Clachan, costumes by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, and choreography by Etta Murfitt.

English National Opera’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld runs at the Coliseum until November 28th. For more information and tickets, list the English National Opera website.

Information sourced from:
ENO program notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Ed Lyon
Mary Bevan
Sir Willard White
Emma Rice
Sian Edwards

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Young Spanish violinist debuts with San Francisco Symphony

Maria Dueñas © Tam Lan Truong – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

This week the San Francisco Symphony is delighted to welcome young Spanish violinist Maria Dueñas in her debut performance with the Symphony. Miss Dueñas will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in a program which includes Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, and Mozart’s Symphony No 41, Jupiter. The performance will be led by Polish-born German conductor, Marek Janowski, making a popular return to Davies Symphony Hall.

It’s always exciting to showcase a new musical talent, and 16 year-old Maria Dueñas from Granada certainly looks set to make her mark on the world of classical music. Currently studying at the Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna and the University of Graz, Miss Dueñas has already been recognized as an important arrival on the concert stages of the world. She has won a number of competitions, including the 2017 Zhuhai International Mozart Competition in China, Belgium’s Leonid Kogan International Violin Competition, and the Georg Philip Teleman competition in Poland. She won first prize at the 2018 Vladimir Spivakov International Violin Competition in Ufa – at which she was presented with a 1912 Riccardo Antoniazzi fine violin – and first place at the 2018 Yankelevitch International Violin Competition in Omsk – where her prize was an 1890 violin by the Venetian maker Eugenio Degani.

Maria Dueñas warms up at Davies Symphony Hall ahead of her debut performance with the San Francisco Symphony

In addition to her studies and participation in competitions, Miss Dueñas has an array of other debuts coming up. These include appearances with the Oslo Philharmonic, Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, and a tour of Spain and Russia with the National Philharmonic of Russia.

She is, she says, “extremely happy about my American debut with such a renowned orchestra as the San Francisco Symphony” and also that she’s appearing with Maestro Janowski, who “makes my debut still more special because he has supported me and given valuable and very wise advice from the first moment he met me”.

Marek Janowski © Felix Broede – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Marek Janowski, regarded as one of the great masters of music in the German tradition, is the Artistic Director and new Principal Conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic. During his tenure as Chief Conductor of this orchestra, between 2001 and 2003, he developed a deep connection with the Philharmonic, and regularly appeared with the ensemble as a guest conductor following the reopening of the Kultuurpalast concert hall in 2017, whilst holding the position of artistic director and chief conductor of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Other positions which Maestro Janowski has held were musical director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, chief conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, and musical director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

This week’s program opens with Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, a work commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and premiered by the orchestra on April 3rd, 1931, in a performance conducted by Serge Koussevitzky – an enthusiastic supporter of contemporary music. The work was performed by the San Francisco Symphony in 1939, at which performance Hindemith himself was the conductor.

The final work in this program is Mozart’s Symphony No 41, known as the Jupiter, thought to have been composed in a matter of weeks during July and August 1788. Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, author of a biography on Mozart, described it as “truly the first of all symphonies”, adding: “In no work of this kind does the divine spark of genius shine more brightly and beautifully”.

Marek Janowski leads the San Francisco Symphony and soloist Maria Dueñas in a program of music by Hindemith, Mendelssohn and Mozart, at Davies Symphony Hall from October 3rd to 5th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Maria Duenas – Musical America

Marek Janowski

Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass

Mozart Symphony No 41

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English National Opera’s new season opens with ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Sarah Tynan © Donald Cooper

English National Opera opens the 2019-2020 season with an unusual and innovative programme, a quartet of works – each dedicated to a different interpretation of the Orpheus myth. Over the next two months, the London Coliseum will stage four very individual productions – Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, The Mask of Orpheus by Harrison Birtwhistle, and Philip Glass’s Orphée.

The first production in this entrepreneurial venture is Orpheus and Eurydice, a retelling of one of the most famous of ancient Greek legends, by the Bohemian-Austrian composer Christophe Willibald Gluck. Composed in 1762, the opera tells of the love of Orpheus for his wife Eurydice, after whose death, Orpheus learns that he is able to lead her out of the underworld on condition that he does not look back at her, or she will be lost to him forever. On seeing the sun as they ascend from the Underworld, Orpheus turns to share his joy with Eurydice, and the tragic prediction is fulfilled.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Sarah Tynan, Soraya Mafi and Alice Coote © Donald Cooper

Written in Italian, the opera premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1762, but in 1774 Gluck revised it in French for Parisian audiences, with a libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline, and added two dances. In the mid-19th century, Hector Berlioz’s new staging of the opera, with music reworked from both the Viennese and French scores, premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in 1859. It’s this version on which ENO’s production is based.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, dancers from Company Wayne McGregor © Donald Cooper

This new production of Orpheus and Eurydice is directed by multi-award winning British choreographer and director, Wayne McGregor CBE, Resident Choreographer at The Royal Ballet, making his directorial debut for ENO. As a choreographer, McGregor has previously collaborated with the Company on its 2005 production of Salome, and more recently he created the Raven and Dove Dance for the production of Noyes Fludde. In this staging of Orpheus and Eurydice, the two dances which Gluck added to his French interpretation – the Dance of the Furies and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits – will be performed by members of Company Wayne McGregor.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Alice Coote, Sarah Tynan © Donald Cooper

Alice Coote OBE the “superlative British Mezzo” (San Francisco Chronicle), sings the role of Orpheus. With a repertoire which spans recital, concert and opera stages, Ms Coote has appeared in venues as prestigious as the Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw, the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Lincoln Centre and Carnegie Hall. She has also sung at the BBC Proms and more recently at The Stars of the White Nights Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

Eurydice is sung by Sara Tynan, described by What’s On Stage as “the divine soprano”, whose repertoire embraces the baroque, classical and contemporary styles, and who is also much in demand for bel canto roles. Ms Tynan has appeared in a number of roles for ENO, and has sung for Glyndebourne on tour, at the Salzburg Festival, for Cincinnati Opera, Scottish Opera, at La Monnaie, Opera de Oviedo, Théâtre des Champs- Élysées, Opéra de Lille and Opéra de Lausanne.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, dancer from Company Wayne McGregor, Alice Coote, (c) Donald Cooper

The role of Love is sung by rising soprano Soraya Mafi, who appeared for ENO as Edith in The Pirates of Penzance, and as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Telegraph writes that “When Mafi is singing, we get lift-off”.

These performances of Orpheus and Eurydice are led by conductor, harpsichordist and organist Harry Bicket – currently Artistic Director of The English Concert, and Music Director of Santa Fe Opera.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Sarah Tynan, dancer from Company Wayne McGregor, Alice Coote, (c) Donald Cooper

Set design is by Lizzie Clachan, costumes by Louise Gray, lighting by Olivier Award-winning designer Jon Clark, and video designer is Ben Cullen-Williams.

English National Opera’s Orpheus and Eurydice, in collaboration with Studio Wayne McGregor, runs at the London Coliseum for eight performances, between 1st October and 19th November.

Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld opens on 5th October, Birtwhistle’s The Mask of Orpheus on 18th October, and Glass’s Orphée on 15th November.

For more information on ENO’s 2019-2020 season – which features some of opera’s best-loved works, in seven new productions and three revivals – visit the English National Opera website.

Information sourced from:
ENO programme notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Wayne McGregor
Alice Coote
Sarah Tynan
Soraya Mafi

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The Royal Ballet opens new season with MacMillan’s ‘Manon’

From the trailer of The Royal Ballet’s 2018 screening of ‘Manon’

The Royal Ballet opens its 2019-2020 season with one of the Company’s showpiece works – Kenneth MacMillan’s gorgeous ballet Manon – the passionate and ultimately tragic story of a young girl who was as much in love with romance as with the trappings of wealth.

Everything about this production is sheer enchantment – the brilliant choreography of Kenneth MacMillan, the stylish and elegant design by Nicholas Georgiadis, and the beautiful score by Jules Massenet.

The story of Manon is based on the 1731 novel L’Histoire du Chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut by the Abbé Prévost. Set in 18th century Paris, it reflects a time when decadence, corruption and depravity were rife in the city.

Trailer for the 2018 cinema screening of The Royal Ballet’s ‘Manon’

Manon, a beautiful but desperately poor young girl, is adored by the student Des Grieux. Having eloped with him to Paris, their love is confirmed in what must surely be one of the most exquisite pas de deux in the repertoire – one is reminded of MacMillan’s equally beautiful pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet. Manon and Des Grieux’s idyll is interrupted by the intrusion of Manon’s brother, Lescaut, and Monsieur GM, a wealthy older man to whom Lescaut has sold her. Attracted by the lure of the luxury on offer, Manon deserts Des Grieux.

Manon and Des Grieux meet up again at a night of revelry in the establishment of a local Madame, and they escape together after he’s caught cheating at cards. Manon is later arrested for prostitution, and – followed by Des Grieux – finds herself being deported to the penal colony of New Orleans. She escapes from gaol and the two lovers flee to the swamps of Louisiana, where Manon collapses in Des Grieux’s arms and dies.

Kenneth MacMillan was the first British choreographer to be produced entirely by the then Sadler’s Wells Ballet – now Royal Ballet – where he trained as a dancer from the age of 15. He enjoyed a very successful career as a dancer, but stopped dancing at the age of 23, mainly because of the terrible stage-fright which he experienced. He was responsible for the creation of a vast repertoire of works for The Royal Ballet, which included his best known three-act ballets, Romeo and Juliet, Manon and Mayerling.

Marianela Nuñez as Manon and Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux
in the 2018 cinema screening of ‘Manon’

Manon, the second of these ballets, was written in 1974, during MacMillan’s seven-year tenure as Artistic Director for The Royal Ballet. Following scathing criticism of the subject of his previous work, Anastasia, he opted for a less controversial story, and one which had already been used for an opera by both Massenet and Puccini.

Jules Massenet was regarded as the leading French operatic composer of his day – he lived from 1842 to 1912. His music is lyrical, melodic and appealing, displaying his particular gift for portraying the intimacies of human relations. It was in the early 1870s that Massenet started writing operas, his first success being Le Roi de Lahore at the Paris Opéra in 1877. The following year he was invited to become a professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The opera Manon – considered by many to be his masterpiece – was written in 1884, and an orchestral arrangement of the music from this opera forms the score for the ballet.

The Royal Ballet presents Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from 2nd October to 6th November. For more information and tickets, visit The Royal Opera House website.

Information sourced from:

Royal Opera House programme notes

Kenneth MacMillan

Jules Massenet: Encyclopaedia Britannica and All Music

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San Francisco Opera presents Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’

San Francisco Opera’s production of Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The new San Francisco Opera season continues this weekend with Benjamin Britten’s powerful and turbulent work, Billy Budd. Written for an all-male cast of 75 artists, this production of Herman Melville’s dramatic sea-faring tale features tenor William Burden, baritone John Chest and bass-baritone Christian Van Horn. Dutch-Maltese conductor Lawrence Renes leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, 44 male members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus (directed by Ian Robertson) and eight members of the Ragazzi Boys Chorus. The director is Tony Award-winning Michael Grandage.

Christian Van Horn as John Claggart in Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Billy Budd is the second of Benjamin Britten’s ‘grand operas’ (the first having been Peter Grimes) and once again was no doubt inspired by the North Sea – of which he had a fine view from his home in Aldeburgh, on the East Anglian coast. Britten based Billy Budd on the unfinished novella by American novelist, short story writer and poet Herman Melville, well known for his novels about the sea, Moby Dick in particular. These performances at San Francisco Opera coincide with the Melville bicentennial and the 100th anniversary of the discovery of his manuscript of Billy Budd. The book was written in 1891, posthumously published in 1924, and the definitive version issued in 1962.

Brenton Ryan as a Novice and John Chest as the title role in Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

With a libretto by E M Forster and Eric Crozier, Britten’s opera – related in a series of flashbacks – tells of a naïve young sailor, Billy Budd, on board the 18th century warship HMS Indomitable, who accidentally kills the Master-at-Arms, John Claggart. The captain of the vessel, Captain Vere, is faced with the decision of sparing Billy’s life or abiding by naval law which decreed that he should be hanged. Vere ultimately gives in to the law, but he is haunted by his decision for the rest of his life.

Britten himself conducted the premiere of Billy Budd at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on December 1st 1951.

Christian Van Horn as John Claggart and William Burden as Captain Vere in Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

William Burden, a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, has appeared in a number of San Francisco Opera productions, the most recent of which was Jake Heggie’s It’s a Wonderful Life, in which he sang the role of George Bailey. According to the New York Times, “Subdued emotional intensity permeates every line of Mr. Burden’s elegant singing”.

John Chest, in the title role, makes his Company debut in this production. Another graduate of the Merola Opera Program, he was the 2010 winner of the Stella Maris International Vocal Competition, a finalist in the 2017 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and has recently been awarded a Richard Tucker Music Foundation Career Grant. He first sang the role of Billy Budd as a member of the ensemble at the Deutsche Oper Berlin. Gramophone describes his voice as “…. both beautiful and immediately engaging, virile but distinguished by an appealing vulnerability and urgent catch in the timbre”.

John Chest as Billy Budd and Edward Nelson as Bosun in Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn – who sings the role of the Master-at-Arms, John Claggart – is a frequent guest at San Francisco Opera, his most recent appearance having been in the role of Zoroastro in Handel’s Orlando this past summer. The 2018 Richard Tucker Award is one of the many awards Mr Van Horn has received, he has performed in most of the major opera houses in the world, and he also recently appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcast of Falstaff. Opera News refers to his “… firm, elegantly deployed bass-baritone ….”, and his “… intelligent, self-possessed performing style …”.

Michael Grandage’s production of Billy Budd was first performed at the 2010 Glyndebourne Festival, and revived at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2014. “Britten has this brilliant capacity to conjure up the huge, surging sound of the sea through the orchestra,” he says. “Therefore, I wanted to leave the sea to the orchestra and focus on creating the claustrophobic, violent, capricious shipboard world that these characters inhabit.”

John Chest in the title role in Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Lawrence Renes, formerly Music Director of the Royal Swedish Opera, is an enthusiastic champion of the contemporary repertoire, and is particularly associated with the music of John Adams. He led productions of Nixon in China at San Francisco Opera, and Doctor Atomic at both English National Opera and De Nederlandse Opera. Among other companies with whom he has appeared are the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the Stockholm and Hong Kong philharmonic orchestras.

San Francisco Opera’s Billy Budd is sung in English with English supertitles, and runs at the War Memorial Opera House for six performances, until September 22nd. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Tomorrow, the stars of San Francisco Opera’s 2019 Fall Season, in concert with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, will appear in the San Francisco Chronicle Opera in the Park. This annual al fresco event, held at Robin Williams Meadow in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, is free and open to the public. For more information, visit sfopera.com/park.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Britten-Pears Foundation

William Burden

John Chest

Christian Van Horn

Lawrence Renes

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San Francisco Opera opens new season with Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra as Romeo and Juliet © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

It’s a busy week in San Francisco. With the opening of the new season there’s a lot going on, and San Francisco Opera is there in the midst of it all, with a wonderful weekend of performances ahead.

Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet opens the season this evening, Britten’s Billy Budd follows tomorrow, and Sunday sees the traditional Opera in the Park free concert, featuring a line-up of superb operatic stars.

This San Francisco Opera production of Romeo and Juliet stars tenor Pene Pati and soprano Nadine Sierra in the title roles. Staging is by Jean-Louis Grinda – Director of Opéra de Monte-Carlo, in his American debut – and French-Canadian conductor Yves Abel leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson)

Nadine Sierra as Juliet © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Shakespeare’s tale of the tragic young couple from 14th century Verona has for hundreds of years been the inspiration for so many creative artists in producing some of the most enduring and popular works in both the visual and performing arts, and this particular opera has French composer Charles Gounod to thank for its existence. He created his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet for the Lyric Theatre in Paris in 1867, and commissioned Jules Barbier and Michel Carré to write the libretto – having enjoyed great success with his opera based on Goethe’s Faust, on which he had collaborated with these librettists.

Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet was originally staged by San Francisco Opera during the Company’s inaugural season of 1923, in a performance conducted by Gaetano Merola, starring tenor Benjamin Gigli and soprano Queena Mario, and although it has featured in subsequent seasons since then, it is 32 years since the Company’s last production in 1987.

Pene Pati as Romeo and Daniel Montenegro as Tybalt © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Pene Pati and Nadine Sierra – both making a role debut in this production – are well known to San Francisco Opera and its audiences, both having graduated from the Merola Opera Program and the Company’s Adler Fellowship Program.

New Zealand-born Mr Pati – described by Opera Online as “the most exceptional tenor discovery of the last decade” – was most recently seen at the War Memorial Opera House as the Duke of Mantua in San Francisco Opera’s production of Rigoletto in 2017 (while he was still an Adler Fellow), and since then has appeared with New Zealand’s Festival Opera in Madama Butterfly, at Opera San José as Alfredo in La Traviata – which he also sang at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow – with New Zealand Opera as Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore, and with Opéra National de Bordeaux as Percy in Anna Bolena. Future plans include house debuts for Washington National Opera, Berliner Staatsoper and Wiener Staatsoper. He is also a member of Sol3 Mio, a trio formed together with his tenor brother and baritone cousin, who appeared in concert for San Francisco Opera in 2017.

The ball scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Nadine Sierra – winner of the 2017 Richard Tucker Award and the Metropolitan Opera’s Beverly Sills Award in 2018 – has previously appeared for San Francisco Opera as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro, Pamina in Die Zauberflöte and in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor. Last season’s appearances included the role of Nannetta in Falstaff at the Staatsoper Berlin, Gilda in Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera, a role debut as Manon at the Opéra national de Bordeaux, Gilda in Staatsoper Berlin’s new production of Rigoletto with conductor Daniel Barenboim, and Maria in a concert-version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story with Antonio Pappano at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Stereophile describes her voice as “…. alive, gorgeous, and positively thrilling higher in the range”

Pene Pati (Romeo), James Cresswell (Friar Lawrence) and Nadine Sierra (Juliet)
© Cory Weaver /San Francisco Opera

On October 1st, Juliet will be sung by the Egyptian-born New Zealand soprano, Amina Edris, in a role debut. Ms Edris – also a graduate of the Merola Opera Program and an Adler Fellow – and Pene Pati will appear as a husband and wife duo.

This production also features baritone Lucas Meachem as Mercutio – a role he has previously performed with the Metropolitan Opera – and tenor Daniel Montenegro, another former Adler Fellow, as Tybalt. The cast includes bass James Creswell as Friar Lawrence, baritone Timothy Mix as Capulet, bass-baritone Philip Skinner as the Duke of Verona and, in their Company debuts, mezzo-sopranos Stephanie Lauricella as Stéphano and Eve Gigliotti as Gertude.

San Francisco Opera’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This staging of Romeo and Juliet premiered in 2012 – a co-production of Genoa’s Teatro Carlo Felice and Opéra de Monte-Carlo. Director Jean-Louis Grinda – who has directed over 50 operas and musicals – has been the Director of Opéra Monte Carlo since 2009, the Director of Chorégies d’Orange since 2016, and is Co-Founder of Les Musiciens du Prince with Cecilia Bartoli. He says: “To ensure this drama of absolute love touches every spectator, we respect its original setting and gracefully simplify its scenographic presentation. Without being minimalistic, we suggest Renaissance splendor and leave the imagination to work, focusing the attention on the stage artists.” Sets are by Eric Chevalier, costumes by Carola Volles, and lighting by Roberto Venturini.

Yves Abel is currently Chief Conductor of the NordwestDeutsche Philarmonie, and held the position of Principal Guest Conductor of the Deutsche Oper Berlin from 2005 to 2011. He regularly appears at opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, Vienna Staatsoper, Opera National de Paris and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona.  

San Francisco Opera’s seven performances of Romeo and Juliet – sung in French with English subtitles – take place at the War Memorial Opera House between September 6th and October 1st. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes


Pene Pati

Nadine Sierra

Jean-Louis Grinda

Yves Abel

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Glittering celebration opens San Francisco Symphony’s new season

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony © Stefan Cohen

It’s the season that none of us wanted to to contemplate ever taking place – Michael Tilson Thomas’ final year as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony – but it promises to be as sensational a program of top flight performances as ever, and we shall revel in the glorious selection of works to be played, knowing that we shall surely see MTT on the podium of Davies Symphony Hall for many seasons to come.

The partnership between Tilson Thomas and the Symphony is widely acknowledged as being one of the most creative, innovative and prestigious worldwide. Quite simply, this collaboration has been a class act over the past 25 years that they’ve been together, turning everything they touch to gold – whether in performances at Davies Symphony Hall, concerts on tour, or recordings on the Symphony’s own label, SFS Media.

Michael Tilson Thomas © Spencer Lowell

The 2019-2020 season is also MTT’s 25th as Music Director of Symphony, and it launches at Davies Symphony Hall on September 4th with the traditional celebratory Opening Night Gala, this year honoring both Tilson Thomas and his husband Joshua Robison. The Gala is followed by the All San Francisco Concert on September 5th, and a performance with Metallica at San Francisco’s new Chase Center on September 6th.

This season is special for two other reasons as well. In December, Michael Tilson Thomas – conductor, composer and educator – is to be a recognized as a 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree in recognition of a lifetime of artistic achievement and visionary leadership, and the San Francisco Symphony has been nominated for the 2019 Gramophone Orchestra of the Year Award.

The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded to Americans – or those from other nations – in the sphere of performing arts, in recognition of their lifetime of contributions to American culture. Presented during a gala celebration in the Kennedy Center Opera House each December, the Honors were established in 1978, and among the first recipients were names as illustrious as Marian Anderson, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine, Richard Rogers and Arthur Rubinstein. The opening speech was delivered by Leonard Bernstein (who was similarly honored in 1980). The 42nd Annual Kennedy Center Honors ceremony takes place on December 8th this year.

The Gramophone Orchestra of the Year Award, now in its second year, recognizes ensembles that have made significant contributions to recorded music in the past year, and is decided by public vote. The San Francisco Symphony is one of ten nominees, and the winner will be announced at the 2019 Gramophone Classical Music Awards ceremony in London at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms on October 16.

MTT leads the San Francisco Symphony © Stefan Cohen

For the Opening Night Gala, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Symphony in a program of music by Glinka – his spirited Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila – Aaron Copland’s The Dodger and Golden Willow Tree from Old American Songs, and Shenandoah by Gordon Getty. The program also features Benjamin Britten’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Purcell from The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and culminates in the Ode To Joy, the rousing finale from Beethoven’s Symphony No 9, featuring soprano Susanna Phillips, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor Jonathan Tetelman and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (directed by Ragnar Bohlin).

Ryan McKinny will also appear in the two works by Copland, and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus will feature in Getty’s Shenandoah. We’re told to expect some interesting multi-media effects during the evening as well, with lighting design by Luke Kritzeck.

For further details on this glittering celebration, visit the San Francisco Symphony website where more information is also to be found on the indoor/outdoor after-party, and the VIP dinner packages. Proceeds from the Gala will benefit the Symphony’s many artistic, community and education programs.

The San Francisco Symphony Opening Gala concert will be broadcast live on Classical KDFC 90.3/89.9/104.9 FM and streamed online at kdfc.com.

Davies Symphony Hall © Monalani Jeffrey Photography

The traditional All San Francisco Concert which takes place on September 5th, is held in recognition of local community service organizations in the city – the Symphony’s tribute to these groups for what they do to serve the citizens of San Francisco.

For this special audience, Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Symphony in Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, and it’s followed by Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous and emotional Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, a recording of which is available on the SFS Media label – and regarded by some as the finest recording of this work ever. Next on the program is Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra which is followed by a performance of Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, and Ravel’s Tzigane, featuring violinists Alina Ming Kobialka and Hannah Tarley – both former members of the SFS Youth Orchestra.

Rounding off this celebratory week is a concert, on September 6th, which marks the 20th anniversary of the Grammy Award-winning performances and album of S&M2 – the collaboration between the San Francisco Symphony and rock band Metallica. Conducted by Edwin Outwater, this concert also has the honor of being the inaugural performance at the Chase Center, the new sports and entertainment arena in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood, and home of the NBA Champion Golden State Warriors. 

The original S&M concerts performed by Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony, were conducted by the late Michael Kamen in spring 1999 at the Berkeley Community Theatre. The two-disc S&M album was released later that year, selling over 10 million copies and winning a Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy Award for its version of The Call of Ktulu. The concert was filmed by director Wayne Isham and released on video and DVD. The September S&M2 concert will feature the first live performances of these arrangements in 20 years, and will also include new songs and arrangements created by Bruce Coughlin.

Edwin Outwater leads S&M2 at San Francisco’s Chase Center on September 6th, with a special appearance by Michael Tilson Thomas. A limited number of tickets for this performance may be available at chasecenter.com.

There’s good news, however, for S&M2 fans who don’t manage to get tickets, and for those in other countries as well. The San Francisco Symphony goes global with Metallica, as Trafalgar Releasing screens a recording of this concert in cinemas around the world on October 9th. To find out more, visit the S&M2 website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony

Kennedy Center

World Premiere of André Previn’s last work

André Previn – © Lillian Birnbaum, courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

With the passing of André Previn in February this year, the world lost an illustrious and wonderfully versatile conductor, composer, arranger, orchestrator and virtuoso pianist. Equally comfortable in both the classical and jazz arenas, Previn was working on what turned out to be his last composition when he died – a musical portrayal of Penelope, the heroine of Homer’s Odyssey. The world premiere of this work, set to a text by Tom Stoppard, will be presented at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, on July 24th.

This unusual performance features in the title role soprano Renée Fleming, who has graced the pinnacle of the operatic world for more than three decades, and has a repertoire of some of the world’s most beautiful arias. Ms Fleming will be accompanied by the Emerson String Quartet, of whom The Times in London wrote: “… with musicians like this there must be some hope for humanity”, and pianist Simone Dinnerstein – described by The Washington Post as “spellbinding”, with an “intoxicatingly rich, velvety sound ….”. Award-winning actress, Uma Thurman – to whom Ms Fleming refers as “dazzling” – takes the newly created part of the narrator.

Soprano Renée Fleming – © Andrew Eccles, courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

Penelope – dedicated by André Previn to Renée Fleming – is a concert work to words for string quartet and piano, telling of the loyal and steadfast wife of Odysseus, who waited 10 years for her husband’s return, following his conquest of the Trojans. To spare herself the attentions of numerous suitors, Penelope insisted that they all wait until she had woven a shroud for Laertes, the father of Odysseus, and every night for three years – until one of her maids revealed her secret – she unravelled the piece that she had woven by day so that she would not have to give up hope for the return of her beloved husband.

Award-winning actress Uma Thurman – courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

The incomplete manuscript for Penelope was found in Previn’s apartment, and his editor, David Fetherolf, created from it a full working score, to bring it to the concert stage. Prior to Mr Previn’s passing, the premiere of this work was intended to form part of Tanglewood’s celebration of his 90th year. Penelope – commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Ravinia Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, and the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – is dedicated to the life and music of the legendary André Previn.

Pianist Simone Dinnerstein – © Liza-Marie Mazzucco

André Previn was the recipient of numerous honors and awards – the Austrian and German Cross of Merit, the Glenn Gould Prize, Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Kennedy Center, the London Symphony Orchestra, Gramophone magazine and Classic FM. As well as winning 10 Grammy Awards for his recordings, he was also honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award from The Recording Academy, and won four Academy Awards. Maestro Previn frequently appeared as a guest with many of the world’s finest orchestras, was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, and held chief artistic posts with ensembles such as the Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The Emerson String Quartet – © Liza-Marie Mazzucco

One of André Previn’s most remarkable collaborations was with the LSO – a relationship which spanned more than 50 years. His appointment as Principal Conductor in 1968 marked the beginning of a new era for the LSO. He introduced new works to the Orchestra, many of the recordings that they made together remain the definitive versions even today, and under Previn’s leadership, the LSO performed to large audiences both in the concert hall and on television. The program André Previn’s Music Night not only turned the maestro into a star, but the LSO into a household name. When he stepped down after 11 years – the Orchestra’s longest serving Principal Conductor at the time – he became Conductor Laureate in 1992, and Conductor Emeritus in 2016. André Previn was given an honorary knighthood in 1996.

As a composer, André Previn was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque for his first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire. The second, Brief Encounter, was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, and among his other compositions were a Harp Concerto – commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony – and a Double Concerto for Violin and Viola, written for Anne-Sophie Mutter and Yuri Bashmet.

The Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, courtesy Boston Symphony Orchestra

According to Tom Stoppard, Penelope came about as the result of Previn’s frequently-made request for Stoppard to write a monodrama for the maestro’s friend, Renée Fleming. “I could never think of a story,” says Stoppard. “Then – from somewhere – came the story of Penelope …… It had love, it had grief, it had drama, it had a happy ending.” Stoppard writes about Previn with great warmth. Of their first meeting, he says: “We took to each other right away. Who could not take to André? He was, despite himself, glamorous. He was brilliant, funny, with Beatle looks, a huge hit with the LSO, and a popular favourite on TV.” (Who, indeed, could forget Previn’s legendary appearance with British TV comedians Morecambe and Wise! That a great man such as he should have participated in a comedy sketch at the expense of his own reputation speaks volumes about him as a person, as well as of his natural sense of fun.)

In a poignant footnote, Tom Stoppard says: “Previn’s Penelope for string quartet and piano, which would have been a 90th birthday present to himself, is now in memoriam.”

The world premiere of André Previn’s Penelope takes place at the Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, on Wednesday, July 24th. For more information, please visit the Tanglewood website. Boston Symphony Orchestra program notes www.bso.org

Information sourced from:

Boston Symphony Orchestra program notes

London Symphony Orchestra obituary to André Previn

Artists’ websites:

Renée Fleming

Emerson Quartet

Simone Dinnerstein

Uma Thurman

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Chorégies d’Orange celebrates 150th year

The Théatre Antique, Chorégies d’Orange Festival © Colas Declercq

In the heart of France’s Rhône Valley, just north of the Provençal city of Avignon, is an open-air theatre which is regarded as one of the finest remnants of the Roman Empire. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Théâtre Antique is the best preserved theatre in Europe, and it’s here, every year, that the internationally renowned summer festival of the arts, Chorégies d’Orange, is held.

Some of the greatest names of lyric art have performed here, and this year, Chorégies d’Orange celebrates its 150th anniversary, with a programme which includes not only opera, but ballet, recitals and concerts – all celebrating the joy of musical expression.

‘Carmina Burana’ – at the Théâtre Antique in 2014 © COSMO AV

The Théâtre Antique was built as a venue for performances during Roman times – and now it hosts France’s oldest active festival, dating back to 1869. Performances are played out in front of the magnificent stage wall which Louis XIV described as “the finest wall in my kingdom”. The terraces, carved out of a hillside, can seat an audience of 8,300, and the acoustics are regarded as outstanding.

The first performance of the Chorégies d’Orange Festival in 1869 was Méhul’s opera, Joseph. At the time, the theatre was dedicated to performances of the French dramatic authors of the day, and also to the rediscovery of the great Graeco-Roman tragedies. In 1971, the ‘Nouvelles Chorégies’ were founded, and the Roman theatre embraced more ‘modern’ lyric and musical works – a highly successful decision.

The 2013 production of ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’ © Philippe Gromelle Orange

Although the theatre wall dates back to Roman times, the glass roof over the stage today is contemporary. The wooden structure and roof built by the Romans were destroyed by fire in the 4th century, and it wasn’t until 2006 that the existing glass canopy, which protects the ancient façade from the elements, was completed. It has been designed with an upward tilt, so that the sound soars out over the terraces.

The introduction to the Festival, the Mass of the Chorégies d’Orange, is held each year at Our Lady of Nazareth Cathedral. The original cathedral, which dated back to the 6th century, was severely damaged in 1561 during the religious wars, but later restored, and listed as a historic monument on 4th January, 1921. During the Festival, the Cathedral features Musical Hours for tourists, passers-by, or anyone who is interested, as well as performances by members of the choirs from each of the two operas on the programme.

The 2013 production of ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ © Philippe Gromelle Orange

Jean-Louis Grinda, Director of the Festival, is keen to have as much diversity in the programme as possible, so in addition to opera, it features recitals, concerts, dance and a cinématic production.

This year’s Festival opened on 19th June, with the traditional Musiques en Fête des Chorégies d’Orange, a celebration of music in all its forms – from the traditional, to opera, to operettas and musicals – by some of the world’s greatest artists, and accompanied by some 200 musicians, performers and dancers. It was followed a few days later by Pop the Opera, a performance – by 600 middle and high school students from Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur – of a repertoire including some of the greatest opera choruses, the latest pop songs and themes from the cinema.

The first of the two operas to be presented at this year’s festival is Gioachino Rossini’s French-language opera, Guillaume Tell, based on Friedrich Schiller’s play William Tell, which itself drew on the legend of the Swiss folk-hero. Italian baritone Nicola Alaimo takes the title role, French soprano Annick Massis is Matilde, and Gianluca Capuano leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and the Chœurs des Opéras de Monte-Carlo et Toulouse, with choral co-ordination by Stefano Visconti.

The 2018 production of ‘Mefistofele’ © Philippe Gromelle Orange

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni – based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer – features bass-baritone Erwin Schrott in the title role. Rumanian bass Adrian Sâmpetrean is Leporello, and Donna Anna is sung by American soprano Nadine Sierra. A co-production with the Festival de Macerata, Don Giovanni is conducted by Frédéric Chaslin who leads the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon and the Chœurs des Opéras d’Avignon et de Monte-Carlo, with choral co-ordination by Stefano Visconti.

In the only symphony concert of the Festival, Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and the Orchestre National de France, with the Choeur de Radio France, and the Choeur Philharmonique de Munich, in Mahler’s epic Symphony No 8, one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire. Known as the Symphony of the Thousand, it’s a fitting work for a celebratory season.

Victoria Ananyan and Simone Tribuna in a scene from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s ‘Roméo et Juliette’ by J-C Maillot © Alice Blangero

What more appropriate setting could there be for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s production of Roméo et Juliette than the ancient Roman wall of the Théâtre Antique? Creator Jean-Christophe Maillot, the Company’s Artistic Director, says “We could almost imagine that we created Roméo et Juliette for Orange ….”. The action, which takes place in medieval Verona, lends itself so naturally to the setting. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s sumptuous score, the performance will be danced to a recording by the Kirov Orchestra of Saint Petersburg, under the baton of Valery Gergiev.

One of the highlights of the Festival will be the debut at Chorégies d’Orange of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov. Joined by Italian mezzo-soprano Daniella Barcellona, British baritone Christopher Maltman, a chorus and orchestra, Netrebko and Eyvazov – two of the world’s finest opera performers – present an evening of songs and duets by Guiseppe Verdi.

‘Nuit Espagnole’ – Placido Domingo with a member of the Antonio Gades Company – Courtesy Chorégies d’Orange

Nuit Espagnole is an evening of Spanish music and dance, starring soprano Ana María Martínez, tenor Ismael Jordi, and baritone Plácido Domingo, with dancers of the Antonio Gades Company and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, led by Óliver Díaz.

The Cour de Saint-Louis, now the courtyard of the Conservatoire d’Orange, is the venue for the Festival’s recitals. The first is by Mexican tenor, Ramón Varga, who has a repertoire which ranges from Italian classical songs to romantic German Lieder, and melodies by French, Mexican and Spanish composers from the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s another recital by Le Soleil de Naples, a trio of tenors – Giandomenico Cappuccio, Pasquale Ferraro and Vincenzo Di Nocera – from the Chorus of Monte-Carlo Opera, who share a passion for the joy and romance of classic Neapolitan song.

The 2011 production of ‘Rigoletto © Courtesy Chorégies d’Orange

The Cour de Saint-Louis also hosts the Concert des Révélations classiques de l’Adami – an introduction to some of the upcoming talent of the future. Owing to the collaboration of the Artistic Association of the Adami with organizations such as Chorégies d’Orange, more than a hundred artists each year are introduced to the world of entertainment – artists representing classical music, jazz, dance, acting and conducting – and this concert features four operatic artists, with four classical musicians.

To further illustrate the spirit of diversity which Jean-Louis Grinda is introducing to the Festival, there’s a concert by American DJ Jeff Mills – the first DJ to have collaborated and recorded with a classical orchestra. Together with the Orchestra National d’Ile-de-France, conducted by Christophe Mangou, Jeff Mills presents Light From the Outside World.

Scene from the 1926 silent film ‘A German Folktale’ – Courtesy Chorégies d’Orange

The ciné-concert is a recital entitled Faust, une Légende Allemande, which features the 1926 silent film, A German Folktale, directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, and set to music by Jean-François Zygel – French pianist, improviser, composer and improvisation teacher for piano at the Conservatoire de Paris. He is also known for introducing classical music programs on television and radio.

The 2019 Chorégies d’Orange runs until 6th August. For further information, visit the official website.

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San Francisco Symphony presents Ravel’s ‘L’enfant et les sortilèges’

In the final performance of the 2018-19 Season, the San Francisco Symphony presents a program of music by French composers – Debussy, Fauré and Ravel – the highlight of the concert being a semi-staged production of Ravel’s enchanting lyric fantasy, L’enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Magic Spells). Led by British conductor Martyn Brabbins, this staging by animator Grégoire Pont and director James Bonas, was commissioned by Opéra de Lyon in association with L’Auditori de Barcelona and Maestro Arts.

In 1915, Jacques Rouché, director of the Paris Opera, commissioned the French author Colette to write the text for a fairytale ballet. Maurice Ravel was apparently the third choice of composer for the score, but since he was on active duty on the Western Front during the First World War, he didn’t receive the commission until 1917, and wasn’t able to start work on it until the War ended. The completed work was ready for publication and production in 1925, and L’enfant et des sortilèges, with choreography by a young George Balanchine, was premiered on March 21st of that year by Opéra Monte-Carlo. It was a triumph.

By contrast, the first performance in Paris, on February 1st, 1926, at Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique, had a turbulent reception, however this was followed by successful productions in Brussels, Prague, Vienna and San Francisco (its US premiere in 1930), but not staged again in Paris during Ravel’s lifetime. It wasn’t until 1939 that the work was performed in Paris, directed by Jacques Rouché, and it is now one of the most beloved of French operas.

A story based on the wonder of childhood imagination, L’enfant et des sortilèges tells of a young boy, sent to his bedroom for bad behavior, who wreaks havoc with everything in his room. Falling into a deep sleep, he dreams that the objects of his rage come to life and turn against him – the armchair, the grandfather clock, the teapot and cup, the fireplace, the characters on the wallpaper which he’d torn, and even his arithmetic homework. Out in the garden, and still in his dream, the boy exacts his revenge on a tree, a dragonfly, a frog, a bat, a nightingale, and even his pet squirrel, but after an act of mercy in which he binds up the squirrel’s paw with a ribbon, the creatures take pity on him and lead him back to the house, leaving the garden bathed in the magic of moonlight. Full of regret on waking, he turns to his mother for forgiveness.

L’enfant is an extraordinary work,” says director James Bonas, “a miniature so detailed, so finely wrought that it contains whole worlds within it. The combination of Colette’s imagination and Ravel’s emotional and ambitious response to her text creates an amazing opportunity.” 

Conductor Martyn Brabbins is Music Director of English National Opera, Artistic Advisor for the Huddersfield Choral Society and Visiting Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music. He has held the positions of Associate Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic, and Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music.

He is regarded as an inspirational force in British music, with a career in opera which includes tenures at the (then) Kirov Opera, and more recently at La Scala, and the Bayerische Staatsoper, and he has performed regularly in Lyon, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Antwerp. He frequently leads performances at the BBC Proms concerts, as well as those of most of the leading British orchestras, and is a regular performer with international orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw, the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony.

Maestro Brabbins has previously conducted performances of L’enfant et des sortilèges at the Opéra de Lyon in France in 2012, at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich in 2013, and most recently again in Lyon, in 2016 – at the premiere of the new production which will be staged at Davies Symphony Hall this week. Following the performance in Lyon, La Letter du Musicien wrote that “…… Martyn Brabbins delivered conducting that was full of zest and vitality, beautiful even in the smallest details”, and – according to Classique News – he “…. directed the Lyon Opera Orchestra with a refinement and precision that demanded respect”.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard heads an international cast as The Child in the San Francisco Symphony performances of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges – a role she recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra on the Decca Classics label, winning a 2016 Grammy Award® in the category of Best Opera Recording. Leonard made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 2013, and has appeared in several notable performances since then, including Michael Tilson Thomas’ From the Diary of Anne Frank in November 2018, Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles in September 2017, and the semi-staged production of his On the Town in May 2016, and Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole in June 2015.

The production team for this San Francisco performance also includes Lighting Designer Christophe Chaupin, Stage & Costume Designer Thibault Vancraenenboeck, and Stage Manager Marie-Cécile Leclerc.

© Jean-Pierre Maurin courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Excerpts from Debussy’s delightful Children’s Corner open the program this week – a work which he dedicated to his young daughter whom he called Chou-chou – followed by his homage to the Hungarian café culture, Le Plus que lent. Fauré is represented by the Allegro motto from his Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor, and the second work by Debussy is his Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison – the voice of a child in a plea against the atrocities of World War I. Preceding Ravel’s main work for the concert is The Enchanted Garden from his Ma Mére l’Oye (Mother Goose) – children’s stories from 17th and 18th century French collections, especially Charles Perrault’s Contes de ma Mère l’Oye.

Martyn Brabbins leads the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (director Ragnar Bohlin), the Chamber Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Boys Chorus (director Ian Robertson) in works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel, at Davies Symphony Hall on June 27th, 29th and 30th. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

All photographs of the Opéra de Lyon performance are by Jean-Pierre Maurin, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Information sourced from:
San Francisco Symphony program notes
Philharmonia Orchestra program notes
Martyn Brabbins – website

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