Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus

The San Francisco Symphony and Chorus © Cory Weaver

One of the joys of the Christmas season is Handel’s Messiah – and the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus present this magnificent work at Davies Symphony Hall this weekend. This performance, conducted by Chorus Director Ragnar Bohlin, features the harmony of 100 voices, with soloists Lauren Snouffer (soprano), countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, tenor Ben Bliss and bass Adam Lau.

George Frideric Handel – said by Beethoven to be the “greatest composer that ever lived” – wrote this glorious oratorio in the space of four weeks, over August and September, in 1741, and originally conceived it as an Easter offering. Weary of the emotional and financial burden of producing operas, with their requirement for elaborate scenery and foreign soloists – and to some extent conscious of the changing tastes of audiences – Handel started writing oratorios in the 1730s.

Messiah had its preview at the Musick Hall, Fishamble Street in Dublin, on 13th April, 1742 – before an audience of 700, who flocked to see the oratorio (as well as one of the soloists who was the subject of much gossip at the time). Ladies were asked, in advance, by the management to wear dresses without hoops, in order to make “Room for more company”, and gentlemen were asked not to wear their swords. A great benefactor of orphans, retired musicians and those who suffered ill health, Handel donated a portion of the proceeds of this debut to a debtors’ prison and a hospital in Dublin.

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting in rehearsal on Tuesday evening, June 28, 2016 © Stefan Cohen

Messiah became an Easter tradition, and was revived in London in 1745, in 1749, and again in 1750. By 1777 performances had spread to major cities throughout the United Kingdom, as well as the German cities of Hamburg and Mannheim, and by the 1780s to Boston, New York and Philadelphia. By the 19th century, however, Handel’s oratorio had become firmly entrenched as a Christmas tradition – even more so in the United States than in Britain.

The Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Symphony Chorus (eight awards in all) was established in 1973 at the request of the Symphony’s then Music Director Seiji Ozawa. The Chorus numbers 32 professional artists – who are part of the American Guild of Musical Artists – and more than 120 volunteer performers, and it performs more than 26 concerts each season. One of a few choruses in the world devoted solely to one orchestra, it has a repertoire which ranges from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to A Charlie Brown Christmas – which the Chorus will be performing on 21st to 23rd December. Prior to that – on 19th and 20th December – the Chorus will appear in ’Twas the Night – a Festival of Carols – both at Davies Symphony Hall and with the San Francisco Symphony.

The San Francisco Symphony Chorus with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting in rehearsal on Tuesday evening, June 28, 2016 © Stefan Cohen

The line-up of soloists for Messiah is impressive as well. American soprano Lauren Snouffer has a wide-ranging repertoire, embracing the music of Monteverdi through to contemporary composers such as Missy Mazzoli and George Benjamin. Multi-award-winning countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen – with a “commanding stage presence, gorgeous tone and musical sensitivity” (Houston Chronicle) – is regarded as one of opera’s most promising young stars. He was a member of San Francisco Opera’s 2018-19 Adler Fellowship program. Tenor Ben Bliss, described by the New York Classical Review as “one of the leading Mozartian tenors,” is considered to be among the most versatile performers of his generation, and award-winning bass Adam Lau is appearing in Messiah with the Oratorio Society of New York and Musica Sacra this season as well. He has sung in some of the nation’s leading summer programs including San Francisco’s Merola Summer Festival, Aspen Opera Theater, and Santa Fe Opera.

Ragnar Bohlin leads the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus and soloists in Handel’s Messiah at Davies Symphony Hall on 13th and 14th December. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

Smithsonian Magazine
San Francisco Symphony program notes
San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Lauren Snouffer
Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen
Ben Bliss
Adam Lau

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Mariss Jansons – 1943-2019

With the passing of Latvian conductor, Mariss Jansons, the world of classical music has lost a towering figure. Maestro Jansons passed away at his home in St Petersburg at the age of 76 on 30th November.

Born in Riga – the son of conductor Arvīds Jansons – he studied in St Petersburg, assisting Yevgeny Mravinsky at the Leningrad Philharmonic, before entering the city’s Conservatory where he studied piano and conducting. He worked with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna, and with Herbert von Karajan in Salzburg.

Mariss Jansons held a number of eminent roles over his lifetime – the most recent having been Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for more than a decade from 2003, together with that of Chief Conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam from 2004 to 2015. He was only the sixth conductor to hold this role, and became the Orchestra’s Conductor Emeritus after his departure.

In 1979, Maestro Jansons was appointed Music Director of the Oslo Philharmonic – a position he held until 2000 – and from 1997 to 2004, he was Music Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Maestro Jansons also made numerous appearances as an international guest conductor. He was appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic in 1997, and was a regular guest of ensembles such as the Berlin and Vienna philharmonic orchestras, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mariss Jansons was a prolific recording artist, on labels such as Chandos – for whom he recorded the Tchaikovsky symphonies with the Oslo Philharmonic – and focused mainly on the Russian repertoire in his EMI recordings. He also recorded on the Royal Concertgebouw’s own label and released a number of recordings during his time at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Among the numerous honours bestowed on Maestro Jansons were the Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit, memberships of the Royal Academy of Music in London, the Society of Music Friends in Vienna, the Order of the Three Stars (Latvia’s highest honour), the Bavarian Maximilian Order for Science and Art, the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, and honorary membership of the Berlin Philharmonic.

He won a Gramophone Award in 2004 – for the Grieg and Schumann piano concertos with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Berlin Philharmonic – and he was named Conductor of the Year by Opernwelt in 2011 for his performances at Dutch National Opera of Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The following year he and Jan Raes, Managing Director of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, received the IJ-Prize of the City of Amsterdam, and in 2013, Mariss Jansons won the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, became a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion, and was awarded the Grand Merit Cross with Star of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Earlier this year, Maestro Jansons was further honoured with the Herbert von Karajan Prize at the Salzburg Easter Festival, and given the Opus Klassik Lifetime Achievement award.

This truly inspirational conductor will be sadly missed.

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Paris Opera Ballet presents Nureyev’s ‘Raymonda’

Visually sumptuous, vibrant, and set to a gorgeous score, Raymonda is one of the delights of the classical repertoire. The Paris Opera Ballet production opens next week.

This tale – based on a medieval legend – was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, with a libretto by the author and columnist, Countess Lidia Pashkova, and set to a score by Alexander Glazunov. The ballet had its world premiere at the Mariinsky Theatre on 7th January, 1898, and this production, by Rudolf Nureyev, was first staged for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1983, the year in which Nureyev became Director of the Comany.

French-born Petipa – who became one of the most influential ballet masters and choreographers in the history of ballet – spent more than six decades at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, his name becoming synonymous with most of the great ballets in the Russian repertoire – and ultimately the classical repertoire worldwide. Having made his first appearance there as Premier Danseur in 1847, he rose through the ranks of choreographer to Chief Choreographer, and was ultimately promoted to the position of Premier Maître de Ballet of the Imperial Theatres in 1871, his genius leading to what was known the Golden Age of Russian Ballet.

Raymonda was Glazunov’s first ballet score, and is regarded as perhaps his best-known work. The commission came following the death of Tchaikovsky, when the Director of the Imperial Theatre was looking for a composer to work with the then Ballet Master, Marius Petipa. Very much representative of the Romantic style, Glazunov – who had been a student of Rimsky-Korsakov – is known for producing richly melodic symphonies, concertos for various instruments, and ballet scores. Regarded as a great Russian composer from an early age, he became an instructor in composition and orchestration – and ultimately head – of the St Petersburg Conservatory, before leaving the Soviet Union in 1928. He made his final home in France, where he died in 1936.

Raymonda has the distinction of being the first great ballet staged in Europe by Rudolf Nureyev after his dramatic defection from the Soviet Union in 1961. Largely unknown outside Russia until the Nureyev productions were staged, it was first seen in a production by The Royal Ballet at the Spoleto Festival in Italy in 1964. Nureyev subsequently staged three other versions before the opening of the 1983-84 season of the Paris Opera Ballet.

His version remains true to the Petipa original as far as the variations, the pas de deux, and Act III are concerned. Changes to Acts I and II included adaptations of the variations for the character Jean de Brienne, and two variations for Abderam in the second act – thus creating a new role for this character, and replacing the role which had previously been mimed only.

The role of Raymonda is considered to be one of the most demanding in the classical ballet repertoire. The virtuosity of the dancer needs to combine the vivacity of the variations with the elegance of the adagios, the graceful dignity of the Pas d’action and the grandeur of the spirited Grand pas Classique – never departing from the unmistakable Hungarian influence which runs through the ballet, which is also reflected in Glazunov’s score.

Nureyev commissioned the brilliant Greek designer, Nicholas Georgiadis, to create the wonderfully exotic scenery and costumes which bring an oriental flair to this production. Georgiadis – who produced some of his best known work for British choreographer Kenneth MacMillan – developed a close partnership with Nureyev, creating designs for his production of The Sleeping Beauty for London Festival Ballet, as well as several works for Paris Opera Ballet. Georgiadis is also known for the many opera productions which he designed.

The story of Raymonda tells of the love between the young Raymonda and the serene and noble knight, Jean de Brienne, who has to leave her to accompany the King of Hungary on a crusade. In his absence, the malevolent Saracen chief, Abderam, who covets Raymonda, offers her power and riches in return for her hand. When she rejects him, he tries to abduct her, but the knight de Brienne returns in time to save her from this fate. In challenging Abderam to a duel, de Brienne overpowers him, and the lovers are reunited. The King blesses the union, and the wedding celebrations culminate in a vibrant and colourful Hungarian dance.

Estonian conductor Vello Pähn – Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Estonian National Opera – conducts the Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris, the Étoiles, Premiers Danseurs and the Corps de Ballet de l’Opéra in Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of Raymonda at the Opéra Bastille from 2nd to 31st December 2019. For further information and tickets, visit the Paris Opera Ballet website.

Information sourced from:Paris Opéra Ballet programme notese

Ballet and Opera

The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation

The Marius Petipa Society

The Bolshoi Ballet

The Royal Opera House

Estonian National Opera

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New production of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ for San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s production of Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

After a break of nearly 20 years, San Francisco Opera brings Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel back to the War Memorial House in the final work of this Fall season. A new co-production with The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the opera features mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke as Hansel, soprano Heidi Stober as Gretel, and tenor Robert Brubaker as the Witch. Staged by Royal Opera director and production designer Antony McDonald, performances of Hansel and Gretel are conducted by Christopher Franklin.

Sasha Cooke (left) and Heidi Stober as Hansel and Gretel
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

German composer Engelbert Humperdinck set his version of the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm to a libretto by his sister, Adelheid Wette. The opera began as a series of four songs which Adelheid Wette had requested of her brother for her children to perform. Humperdinck then expanded these four songs into a singspiel, and finally into a full opera which had its premiere in Weimar on December 23rd, 1893 – a performance conducted by Richard Wagner.

Sasha Cooke and Heidi Stober in Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This San Francisco Opera presentation, sung in English, has been translated by David Pountney, and tells how Hansel and Gretel’s mother sends them out to pick strawberries to prevent their causing chaos inside the home. The two children venture into the forest, not knowing about the terrifying Witch who inhabits the forest and is said to eat children. Lost, tired and hungry, they fall asleep, watched over by the Sandman, the Dew Fairy and other fairytale creatures from the forest. The following day they come across the Witch’s house which is partly edible, and while nibbling at it, are taken prisoner. Eventually managing to outwit their captor, they not only save themselves, but the other children who had been imprisoned by her.

Woodland creatures – San Francisco Opera’s production of ‘Hansel and Gretel’
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is well known to San Francisco Opera audiences, having appeared in a number of roles for the Company, including Mary in the world premiere of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Anna in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, Magdalene in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and the title role of Handel’s Orlando during this year’s summer season. Following Ms Cooke’s debut performance with Los Angeles Opera last year, the L A Times wrote of her “rich-voiced performance as Hansel”, and her “effortless midrange power”. Other Bay Area appearances by Ms Cooke this season include performances with the Violins of Hope, an artist-in-residence engagement with the San Francisco Symphony, and her return to San Francisco Opera next summer as Laurene Powell Jobs in Mason Bates and Mark Campbell’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs.

Watching over the children as they sleep
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Having made her critically acclaimed debut performance with Deutsche Opera in 2008, lyric soprano Heidi Stober has appeared in a number of roles for the German company, including that of Gretel, as well as in works by Mozart, Bizet, Donizetti and Verdi. Ms Stober first appeared with San Francisco Opera two years later, and has since made memorable appearances at the War Memorial Opera House – as Zdenka in Strauss’ Arabella, Angelica in Handel’s Orlando, Johanna in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, and Magnolia Hawks in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat.

Hansel and Gretel come across the Witch’s house
©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens is Gertrude (mother to Hansel and Gretel), having previously sung Cassandra in Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Klytaemnestra in Strauss’ Elektra for San Francisco Opera. Bass-baritone Alfred Walker – appearing as the children’s father, Peter – made his debut with the Company as Orest in Elektra in 2017, and the role of the Witch is sung by Robert Brubaker who has previously performed this role at the Metropolitan Opera. San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows, soprano Natalie Image and mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, are the Dew Fairy and Sandman, respectively. 
British director Antony McDonald – Royal Designer for Industry and winner of the 2013 McDonald Set Design Award at the International Opera Awards – has designed sets and costumes for a number of Royal Ballet productions, and sets and costumes for Royal Opera productions – including Verdi’s Nabucco, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová. Other works in his repertoire include Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen for Nederlandse Reisopera, Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges for the Bolshoi Opera and Tristan und Isolde for Opéra National du Rhin. Of Hansel and Gretel, he says: “I appreciate that this is an opera that very often is the first that many children see and therefore wanted it to be visually arresting and engaging, creating a balance of fear and delight”.

Heidi Stober (Gretel), Robert Brubaker (the Witch) and Sasha Cooke (Hansel) ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

American conductor Christopher Franklin is based in Lucca, Italy, having launched his career in that country, and appeared at several major Italian opera houses and festivals. As a guest conductor, he has also appeared with a number of notable British and European orchestras – such as the London and Royal philharmonic orchestras, Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, Orchestre de la Monnaie in Brussels, and the Orchestra di Verdi and Accademia della Scala in Milan. Maestro Franklin made his Company debut in 2017 with Puccini’s Turandot, and returned last year to conduct the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows in concert.

Michaela Martens (Gertrude) and Alfred Walker (Peter) in Humperdinck’s ‘Hansel and Gretel’ ©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In this production of Hansel and Gretel, Christopher Franklin leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus, and the children’s chorus – prepared by Ian Robertson, and comprised of members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus (Artistic Director Valérie Sainte-Agathe) and the San Francisco Boys Chorus (Artistic Director Eric Choate).
Associate stage director is Danielle Urbas, associate designer Ricardo Pardo, Lucy Carter is lighting designer, revival lighting is by Neill Brinkworth, and choreography by Lucy Burge – all making their Company debuts.
San Francisco Opera’s production of Hansel and Gretel is sung in English, with English supertitles, and runs at the War Memorial Opera House for eight performances until December 7th. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica  

Sasha Cooke

Heidi Stober

Antony McDonald

Christopher Franklin

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SFJAZZ Collective salutes two influential albums

The SFJAZZ Collective ©Jay Blakesberg

The SFJAZZ Collective is in residence at San Francisco’s Jazz Center this week, during which they’ll celebrate the 50th anniversary of two hugely significant albums recorded in 1969 – Stand! by Sly & the Family Stone, and Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way. Not only did these albums represent what SFJAZZ terms “a beacon of hope during a turbulent time in American history”, but they were instrumental in pointing jazz, funk and soul music in new directions.

The eight-strong Collective was founded by SFJAZZ in 2004, and – as it does each year – uses the SFJAZZ residency to showcase new arrangements of works by a modern master in these categories, and to feature a recently-commissioned piece by each member of the group. In so doing, not only are they paying tribute to some of the great names of music, but also maintaining the relevance of this music – right in keeping with the commitments of SFJAZZ itself.

In its 15-year existence, the Collective has paid tribute to the music of masters such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Horace Silver, Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, and Antonio Carlos Jobim, creating over 100 new arrangements and original compositions.

This year, as they celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stand! and In A Silent Way, the Collective will, for the first time in its residency history, feature two guest artists – vocalist Martin Luther McCoy, and guitarist Adam Rogers. So the line-up this week has David Sánchez on tenor saxophone, trumpeter Etienne Charles, Warren Wolf on vibraphone, pianist Edward Simon, Matt Brewer on bass and Obed Calvaire on drums, together with Rogers and McCoy.

Martin Luther McCoy – guitarist, singer, songwriter and producer – was born and raised in San Francisco. A former member of the Roots touring ensemble, he was the star of Julie Taymor’s 2007 film, Across The Universe – inspired by The Beatles. He has also performed with artists such as Dave Matthews, Jill Scott and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Andy Rogers – jazz guitarist and bandleader – has toured extensively in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Russia, and – having appeared and recorded with a wide range of artists – he’s probably best known for his work with Chris Potter, David Binney and Randy Brecker. Also a trained classical guitarist, he was the featured soloist with the Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra in the summer of 1999.

The album Stand! by Sly and the Family Stone, released in May 1969, has been described by Ultimate Classic Rock as “ideal-based music, with pieces such as Everyday People, I Want to Take You Higher and Sing a Simple Song, deftly blending thoughts on peace and love with of-the-moment calls to purpose such as You Can Make It If You Try”.

This album is regarded as having defined the group which had been gaining in popularity for the previous two years. It was seen as their taking a stand for what they believed in, and representing what bassist Larry Graham described as “a rainbow”, having, for example, an African-American rock guitarist, a female front-line horn player, a white funk drummer and a group of singers performing a combination of all types of music, including R&B, jazz, rock and even country.

Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way – released a month later – is representative of Davis’ involvement in what’s known as his ‘Electric Period’. Gathering together a host of talented individuals – names such as Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Josef Zawinul and John McLaughlin – and influenced by pop, R&B and funk, Davis produced an album which represents his exploration of the underlying tensions inherent in the future of jazz and how they related to new technology. Controversial at first, it ultimately became regarded as possibly the best that Davis had made in some time.

The SFJAZZ Collective performs in the Miner Auditorium at the JAZZ Center in San Francisco on October 30th and 31st, and November 1st, 2nd and 3rd. For more information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from:
SFJAZZ program notes
SFJAZZ Collective
Martin Luther McCoy
Adam Rogers
Ultimate Classic Rock
Classical Album Sundays

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Metropolitan Opera presents Massenet’s ‘Manon’ Live in HD

Lisette Oropesa stars in the title role of ‘Manon’ © Marty Sohl/Met Opera

Jules Massenet’s passionate and tragic opera, Manon, is the second of this season’s Live in HD cinema broadcasts by Metropolitan Opera. The largest provider of alternative cinema content in the world, the Met is broadcasting a season of ten productions live from the stage at Lincoln Center to cinemas in more than 70 countries on six continents.

This revival of Manon by Laurent Pelly stars Lisette Oropesa in the title role, with Michael Fabiano as the Chevalier des Grieux. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by conductor Maurizio Benini.

Metropolitan Opera’s production of ‘Manon’ © Marty Sohl/Met Opera

Jules Massenet – regarded as the leading French operatic composer of his day – had a particular gift for portraying the intimacies of human relations, and Manon is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It was written in 1884, with a libretto by Henri Meilhac & Philippe Gille, and 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.

The opera tells of a beautiful, but desperately poor young girl, whose love of romance is matched only by her love of wealth. Adored by the student Des Grieux, she elopes with him to Paris, but their 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.

Lisette Oropesa (Manon) and Michael Fabiano (des Grieux) © Marty Sohl/Met Opera

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. They are both sent to a penal colony in America, where Manon – ill and exhausted – collapses in Des Grieux’s arms and dies.

Cuban American soprano Lisette Oropesa has been described by Spain’s Notodo as “… one of those exceptional things …. like Halley’s Comet”, and according to Place de l’Opera, “everything she touches turns to gold”. Winner of the 2019 Beverly Sills Award and the Richard Tucker Award, she appears in two of opera’s most demanding roles in the current Met season – Manon, and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Appearances later this season include her debut at Teatro alla Scala as Amalia in Verdi’s I Masnadieri.

Metropolitan Opera’s production of ‘Manon’ © Marty Sohl/Met Opera

Tenor Michael Fabiano also has the double honor of winning both the Beverly Sills and Richard Tucker awards – in 2014 he was the first singer to achieve both in the same year. His Royal Opera debut as Lensky in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in 2015 was described by The Independent as “out of this world”. Later this season, Mr Fabiano will sing the title role in Don Carlo at both Opéra Bastille and The Royal Opera, the role of Hoffman in Les Contes d’Hoffman at Opéra Bastille, and Alfredo in La Traviata at the Teatro Real. He is one of the founders of ArtSmart, a non-profit organization that provides free voice lessons to students in public schools in under-served neighborhoods within the United States.

Also in the cast are Carlo Bosi (Guillot de Morfontaine), Artur Ruciński (Lescaut), Brett Polegato (de Brétigny), Kwangchul Youn (Comte des Grieux)

Specializing in the French and Italian repertoire, conductor Maurizio Benini is a frequent guest at opera houses such as the Met, The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Paris Opéra, Vienna State Opera, Liceu in Barcelona, Teatro Real in Madrid, La Scala Milan, La Fenice in Venice, and the Glyndebourne Festival. This season, he’ll lead performances of La Traviata at The Royal Opera House, Nabucco at De Nationale Opera in Amsterdam, and return to the Met for Maria Stuarda.

Lisette Oropesa is Mann © Marty Sohl/Met Opera

Having worked in some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, French opera and theatre director Laurent Pelly, who often does costume designs as well, has an exciting list of new productions scheduled this season – La Cenerentola for Dutch National Opera and Offenbach’s Le Voyage Dans La Lune for L’Opéra Comique. Revivals include I Puritani at Opéra national de Paris, Le Roi Carotte in Lyon and Don Pasquale in Seville.

A co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, Milan and Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, Manon is sung in French, with titles in English, German, Spanish and Italian, and will be broadcast Live in HD in cinemas around the world on October 26th.

Lisette Oropesa and Michael Fabiano in the Met Opera production of ‘Manon’
©Marty Sohl/Met Opera

To find the nearest cinema screening The Met Live in HD, follow this link.

Information sourced from:

Metropolitan Opera program notes

Lisette Oropesa

Michael Fabiano

Maurizio Benini

Laurent Pelly

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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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