Lyric Festival of Stone Theatres 2024

The Ancient Stone Theatre of Syracuse

July is traditionally the month in which the celebration of the 1,000 year-old stone theatres of Sicily opens. This Festival of Stone Theatres, directed by Francesco Costa and promoted by the Sicilian Opera Choir, administered by Alberto Munafò Siragusa, takes place each summer, in some of the most beautiful and ancient stone theatres of Sicily, such as Taormina, Syracuse, Tindari, Morgantina and Palazzolo Acreide.

Recognized as an initiative of high cultural and artistic importance, this Festival of over 40 performances – dedicated to the theme of ‘Wonder’ – will open on July 21 and also includes venues such as the Andromeda Theater of Santo Stefano Quisquina, the Roman Villa of Terme Vigliatore, the Theater of Giardini Naxos, the Roman Mausoleum of Centuripe, the city of Piazza Armerina, the Greek Theatre of Monte Jato, Ragusa Ibla, Catania, the Temple of Hera in Selinunte, the Norman Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul of Agrò, Casalvecchio Siculo and the Palazzo Cagnone of Francavilla di Sicilia, representing the connection between art, music, history and mythology.

The Ancient Theatre of Taormina

Among the events of this festival are are Puccini’s unfinished opera Turandot at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, featuring soprano Elena Mosuc as Liù, on August 9. Puccini started writing Turandot in 1920, but work on the score went slowly – it was five years before Puccini had written most of it – then, tragically, he died in 1924, before he could complete it, and without being able to enjoy the success of one of his most popular and most often performed works. The last duet and finale were written by Italian composer and pianist, Franco Alfano in 1926. This performance will be repeated on August 11 at the Greek Theatre of Tindari.

Also this year, the organization continues the experimental and pioneering project of the simultaneous translation of opera into sign language, which marks the beginning of a real cultural and social revolution, with the prestigious partnership of Rai Accessibility and Rai Public Interest.

The Greek Theatre of Tindari

Guests can see a tribute to the great Italian musician, composer and arranger Ennio Morricone – a traditional event at this Festival – at the Greek Theatre of Tindari on August 2, and at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina on August 10. Lyric tenor Alberto Urso will star in a concert dedicated to the “prince of 20th-century Italian music”, to be repeated on August 21 in the heart of Sicilian baroque – the open air theatre of the Noto staircase.

Also at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina on August 6 there will be suites from three other Puccini operas – Tosca, La Boheme and Madama Butterfly.

The legendary Sicilian Domenico Modugno – the original singer of the 1958 hit Volare – will be celebrated on August 13, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the passing of this great singer, actor and composer. This performance will feature Sicilian names, such as Mario Incudine, and take place exclusively at the Greek Theatre of Tindari, under the artistic direction of Anna Ricciardi.

Another novelty is the format dedicated to the spirituality of Franco Battiato, Batti(A)to Spirituale, for vocal ensemble, strings and Celtic harp, which will combine the energy of the ancient rocks with the mysticism of the songs of this well-known Etnean singer-songwriter and also celebrate the centenary of the philosopher of ‘asystematicity’, Manlio Sgalambro.

Soprano Diana Damrau – © Simon Fowler

The season will close with a recital, Amore e vita, by soprano Diana Damrau, of whom Operawire says “… Damrau’s vocal delicacy [is] able to open a phrase with a delicate crescendo, while often ending them with soft holds as if she were embracing them to the fullest”. This performance takes place at the Catania Teatro Romano on September 22.

The Lyric Festival of Stone Theatres 2024 takes place during July, August and September this year. For more information and to reserve tickets, visit the Coro Lirico Siciliano website.

All photographs courtesy of Coro Lirico Siciliano except where otherwise stated

Information sourced from:

Coro Lirico Siciliano programme notes


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A Monaco Summer Favourite – Concerts at the Prince’s Palace

Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, Monaco – © Axel Bastello

The end of July in Monaco heralds a series of Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, and this year the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra has a superb selection on offer, running from 11th July to 4th August.

The series opened with a sold-out concert led by American conductor James Gaffigan, General Music Director of Komische Oper Berlin, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia and of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra. The soloist in this concert was French pianist Alexandre Kantorow, and the programme featured the symphonic poem Le chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman) by César Franck, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 2, and George Gershwin’s An American in Paris.

This concert is followed on Thursday, 18th July, by an evening led by Cristian Măcelaru, Music Director Designate of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Măcelaru is quoted as saying: “Art is a deep necessity in our world today, not just to portray an image or tell a story, but to communicate the deepest of our human emotions”.

Spanish violinist María Dueñas – © C Felix Broede

The soloist is Spanish violinist María Dueñas, winner of the first prize in the 2021 Yehudi Menuhin Competition. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has praised her for the “freedom and joyous individuality” of her playing, and The Strad has described her rising-star status as “seemingly unstoppable”. She plays Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1. Also on the programme are two works by Tchaikovsky – his ever popular Capriccio Italien – inspired by the sound of bugles which the composer heard from the nearby barracks during a trip to Italy – and the symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante, dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s friend and former pupil, Sergei Taneyev.

The concert on Friday, 26th July is led by Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, said by The Times to “…. still galvanise musicians as few others ever will”. Having held the positions of Music Director of orchestras such as the Philadelphia and Teatro alla Scala, as well as Chief Conductor of the London Philharmonia, he has led ensembles such as the Berlin, New York and Vienna philharmonics, and was Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 2010, of which he has now been appointed Music Director Emeritus for Life.

Riccardo Muti – courtesy

Under Maestro Muti, the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic plays the elegant Contemplazione by Alfredo Catalani and Franz Schubert’s grand Symphony No 9, known as The Great, and regarded by some as the most important of the 19th century’s post-Beethoven symphonies.

This concert will be repeated on Sunday evening, 28th July.

Thursday 1st August sees the Orchestra led by Russia conductor Stanislav Kochanovsky, he of the “aristocratic gesture” according to GB Opera Magazine. Currently Chief Conductor of the NDR Philharmonic, Maestro Kochanovsky has been described by Diapason Magazine as having “… confirmed his place among the great conductors of our days”.

Pianist Nikolay Lugansky – © Marco Borggreve

The soloist in this all-Russian programme is Russian pianist Nikolay Lugansky, described by Le Monde as “… not simply the most wonderful Russian pianist of modern times; he is one of the most outstanding artists of our epoch …”. Lugansky’s album, Richard Wagner: Famous Opera Scenes, has been named one of the best classical music albums of 2024 to date by Gramophone Magazine.

Following Mikhail Glinka’s overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, he plays Tchaikovsky’s magnificent Piano Concerto No 1 – which Moscow Conservatory Director Nikolay Rubinstein refused to play because he felt it was so badly written. Tchaikovsky, to his credit, refused to change a single note of the concerto and offered the premiere to German virtuoso Hans von Bülow who played it for an American audience, where it was hugely successful, a success followed up in Europe. The concert ends with Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from his opera Prince Igor, where the Prince and his son, having been taken prisoner by the Polovtsian leader Khan Konchak, bear witness to the slaves’ performance of these thrilling dances.

The season draws to a close on Sunday, 4th August, with Music Director Kazuki Yamada leading the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. Maestro Yamada is also Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, strengthening the link between the CBSO and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic at the beginning of the current season with performances of the Verdi Requiem and the Mahler Symphony No 2, featuring the CBSO Chorus.

Pianist Simon Trpčeski – © B Ealovega

The soloist in this final concert is Macedonian pianist Simon Trpčeski, highly regarded for his powerful virtuosity and deeply expressive approach. Having appeared with some of the major international orchestras – such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre National de France, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Deutsche Sinfonie Orchester Berlin and Dresden Philharmonic, and as an acclaimed recitalist, Trpčeski has this past season been Artist in Residence with both the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. In this concert, he plays the Brahms Piano Concerto No 2 Op, completed in 1881 as Brahms emerged from the shadow of Beethoven – a daunting inhibition surely.

Smetana’s Ma vlast – courtesy Naxos Records

Also on the programme is The Moldau, the second movement of Bedřich Smetana’s patriotic symphonic suite Má vlast (My Country), completed in 1874. Má vlast depicts the flow of the Vltava River from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside to Prague, celebrating the composer’s love of his homeland. The concert ends with Antonín Dvořák’s Carnival Overture. This is a high-spirited piece, reflecting the tumult and festivity of a carnival, which was originally the second of a trio of concert overtures depicting Nature, Life and Love. Dvořák subsequently separated the three pieces which he renamed In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello.

The Concerts at the Prince’s Palace take place in the Cour d’Honneur du Palais Princier, Monaco, from 11th July to 4th August. Tickets may be reserved on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website.

Information sourced from:
OPMC programme notes


Dvorak Carnival
Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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San Francisco Playhouse stages Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice hit ‘Evita’

Eva Perón (Sophia Alawi) addresses her people in the San Francisco Playhouse
production of ‘Evita”

In what must be the highlight of the current season, San Francisco Playhouse stages the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice hit musical Evita. Winner of 9 Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Score, Evita was described by The Stage as “…. the greatest musical the UK has ever created”.

Juan Perón (Peter Gregus) is charmed by radio star Eva Duarte (Sophia Alawi) as
Che (Alex Rodriguez looks on

The musical tells of the rise of Eva Peron from a poor illegitimate child, born in 1919, to the most powerful woman in Latin America, rallying the nation of Argentina to bring about a new era in the country’s history. Set between 1934 and 1952, the story is told in part through the eyes of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, and follows the journey of Eva Duarte through her life as an actress, to the wife of the military leader, Juan Peron, who became president of his country. Evita, as she became known to the people of Argentina, died of cancer at the age of 33.

Juan Perón (Peter Gregus) embraces Eva Perón (Sophia Alawi) as she addresses the public

Evita was originally a rock opera concept album which was released in 1976, the success of which led to the creation of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice. Originally directed by Harold Prince, Evita premiered at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End on June 21st, 1978, with Elaine Paige in the title role, and David Essex as Che Guevara, winning the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Musical. It opened on Broadway a year later, starring Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin.

It was hailed by The Guardian as “Audacious and fascinating. A beautiful score from Andrew Lloyd Webber”, and The Hollywood Reporter described it as “a ravishing spectacle”.

The Descamisados rally for the Peróns

Andrew Lloyd Webber is known for composing the scores of some of the world’s finest musicals – Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Sunset Boulevard, CATS, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom Of the Opera among them. He has the distinction of having had shows continually running in the West End for 48 years and on Broadway for 41, and equalled Rodgers & Hammerstein’s record of four shows running simultaneously on Broadway.

Lloyd Webber is one of the select group of artists with EGOT status, having received Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards – one of only 17 people worldwide. He was knighted in 1992, created an honorary life peer in 1997 and has now become a member of The Most Noble Order of the Garter – an order of chivalry founded by Edward III of England in 1348 and the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system.

Che (Alex Rodriguez) and Eva Perón

Lyricist Tim Rice is also among those 17 people known as EGOTs, having worked in music, theatre and films since 1965 – the year in which he met Lloyd Webber. Their first collaboration was The Likes of Us, based on the life of Victorian philanthropist Dr Thomas Bernardo, since when they have worked on Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, as well as Evita.

Rice has also collaborated with distinguished contemporary composers such as Elton John on The Lion King and Aida, Alan Menken on musicals such as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, and Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson on Chess. He has written the lyrics for songs for a number of high-profile artists including Sarah Brightman, Michael Crawford, Sacha Distel, Placido Domingo, Elton John, Elaine Paige, Elvis Presley, Bobby Vee and Rick Wakeman. He was knighted by HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1994.

Eva (Sophia Alawi) and Juan Perón (Peter Gregus) address the crowd

This production for San Francisco Playhouse is directed by Bill English, with music direction by Dave Dobrusky and choreography by Nicole Helfer. In the title role is Sophia Alawi who won the 2019 San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for Groundhog Day The Musical. The role of Che Guevara is taken by Alex Rodriguez, seen at the Playhouse last season in A Chorus Line and winner of a Theatre Bay Area Award for his performances in Ray of Light’s Triassic Parq, Bay Area Musicals’ Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Broadway By the Bay’s Evita. Peter Gregus makes his Playhouse debut as Juan Perón. He originated the role of Bob Crewe in the Tony Award-winning musical Jersey Boys, and other Broadway performances include Ain’t Broadway Grand and the Tony Award-winning show Contact.

Evita runs at the San Francisco Playhouse until September 7th. Further information and details of ticketing can be found on the San Francisco Playhouse website.

All photographs by Jessica Palopoli

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Playhouse program notes

Artists’ websites

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Tribute to Éric Vu-An

Éric Vu-An – courtesy Nice Ballet Méditerranée

It is with great sadness that we note the death, earlier this month, of Éric Vu- An, Artistic Director of Nice Méditerranée Ballet.

Éric Vu-An, of Vietnamese origin, was born in Paris in 1964, and at the age of 10, joined the Paris Opéra Ballet School. He became a member of the Paris Opéra corps de ballet in 1979, and was promoted to the rank of soloist in 1987.

During his career at the Palais Garnier, Éric Vu-An appeared in ballets such as Don Quixote, Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, The Rite of Spring, Boléro, Arépo, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Afternoon of a Faun, working with choreographers like Rudolf Nureyev, George Balanchine, Roland Petit, William Forsythe and Maurice Béjart.

In 1995 he became Artistic Director of the Bordeaux Grand Theatre Ballet, followed by the position as guest professor at the Paris Opéra School of Dance. As Director of the Avignon Opera Ballet, he created works such as (Ivresse(s) de Dionysos, Faust’s Walpurgis Night and Coppélia. As Associate Master of Ballet for the Marseille National Ballet from 2005, he created Le Petit Prince, adapted Swan Lake (Act I) and performed with the company in works such as The Afternoon of a Faun, La Pavane du Maure and Swan Lake.

When Éric Vu-An took over the artistic direction of the Nice Opéra ballet in 2009, he aimed to raise the level of excellence, first renaming it the Nice Méditerranée Ballet. He successfully revisited great classics of dance, such as Cantate 51, Marco Polo, Don Quixote, Coppélia and Raymonda. He introduced to the repertoire new creations by talented choreographers – Lucinda Childs, Dwight Rhoden, Luciano Cannito and Julien Guérin – and returned to the stage himself in several ballets – Marco Polo, Cassandra, Le Rendez-vous, Don Quixote and Eden, for example. He also developed the Company’s presence both nationally and internationally, with numerous performances in France, Europe, Asia and America.

Éric Vu-An was recognised as an Officer of the National Order of Merit, Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters and Officer of the Legion of Honour.

The Paris Opéra says of Éric Vu-An that he will always be remembered for his “… immense talent and grace, his elegance, the power, precision and delicacy of his art, which have made him one of the most emblematic dancers of his generation”.

Information sourced from:

Nice Ballet Méditeranée

Paris Opéra Ballet

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San Francisco Opera brings back Handel’s comic opera ‘Partenope’

Scene from Handel’s ‘Partenope’

As part of its 2024 Summer Season, San Francisco Opera once more stages George Frideric Handel’s first comic opera, Partenope. Last seen on the stage of the War Memorial Opera House in 2014, this Olivier Award-winning production by Christopher Alden is co-produced by English National Opera and Opera Australia, and led by conductor Christopher Moulds.

Carlo Vistoli as Arsace and Julie Fuchs in the title role in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Partenope stars French soprano Julie Fuchs, in her American debut, in the title role of Partenope – originally the first queen of Naples – who is in love with Arsace. Italian countertenor Carlo Vitolo makes his US stage debut as Arsace, one of Partenope’s four hopeful suitors. The other three are sung by countertenor Nicholas Tamagna as Armindo, tenor Alek Shrader as Emilio, the military general, and baritone Hadleigh Adams as Ormonte. Argentinian mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack takes the role of Rosmira, former betrothed of Arsace.

Handel wrote his three-act opera in 1730, to an anonymous libretto adapted from that of Silvio Stampiglia, Italian poet, librettist and founder member of the Accademia dell’Arcadia. It premiered at the King’s Theatre in London on February 24, 1730.

Daniela Mack as Rosmira and Carlo Vistoli as Arsace in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

In this production, the action has been brought forward from the mythical founding of Naples to a 1920s Parisian salon, where Partenope is the most eligible lady in town, with more suitors than she can manage, each of whom is keen to have her hand in marriage. Described by San Francisco Opera as “….. a witty and sexy staging of Handel’s romantic comedy”, the opera tells of the merry-go-round of deception and cross-dressing which follows, leading The Mercury News to write that Alden’s staging “…. turns the opera’s gender-bending plot into a nonstop parade of visual and vocal delights”.

Julie Fuchs sings the role of Partenope, the Parisian salon hostess whose gatherings are frequented by social elites and Surrealist artists. Described by Diapason as having “A voluptuous timbre and virtuosic coloratura”, Ms Fuchs has a repertoire which ranges from Baroque to contemporary music, with a special focus on Mozart and bel canto heroines. Her 2023-24 season began with a return to the Opéra National de Paris as Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, followed by her role debut as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

Julie Fuchs in the title role in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Specialising in Baroque music, Carlo Vistoli is regarded as one of the leading Italian countertenors of his generation. He has won acclaim throughout Europe and Australia with what Parterre describes as his “rounded, resonant Italianate sound and elegant phrasing” in the works of Gluck, Cavalli, Mozart and especially Handel. After these performances with San Francisco Opera, he will perform in Giulio Cesare in Egitto at Wiener Staatsoper, where he will also appear with Les Musiciens du Prince Monaco.

Daniela Mack – who takes the role of Rosmira, the estranged lover of Arsace who appears in disguise to win him back – is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program and a former SF Opera Adler Fellow. She appeared in San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production of Partenope. Prior to that, Ms Mack was seen at the War Memorial Opera House as Frida Kahlo in the Company’s premiere of Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz’s El último sueño de Frida y Diego. Earlier this year, she appeared in the Met Opera’s production of the John Adams Oratorio El Niño and in Handel’s Alcina at Teatro Maestranza in Seville.

Nicholas Tamagna as Armindo in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Nicholas Tamagna, making his Company debut as Armindo, is a Baroque specialist and frequent interpreter of the Handelian repertoire, including appearances at the Handel Festivals in Halle an der Saale, Göttingen and at the Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe. He has sung Narciso in Handel’s Agrippina at the Met Opera, has made number of international appearances and has sung roles in operas by Vivaldi, Hasse and Handel on tour in Greece, Russia, France, and Germany with the baroque specialist orchestra Armonia Atenea.
 Alek Schrader is Emilio, the military general and Prince of Cumae, who courts Partenope, and who is portrayed in this staging as an avatar of Surrealist photographer Man Ray. A graduate of San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship Program, he sang the same role in San Francisco Opera’s 2014 production of Partenope, following which he was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a vocal dynamo”. He has sung the roles of Jago in Rossini’s Otello, Septimus in Handel’s Theodora and Dan White in Stewart Wallace’s Harvey Milk.

Julie Fuchs as Partenope and Alek Shrader as Emilio in Handel’s ‘Partenope’

Hadleigh Adams is another graduate of the Merola Opera Program and a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, whose voice is described by Limelight Magazine as a “burnished baritone”. He has appeared in a wide repertoire with San Francisco Opera, including works by Britten, Offenbach, Poulenc, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi, and in the world premieres of Mark Adamo’s The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne and John Adams’ Antony and Cleopatra.
Christopher Moulds, an early music expert known for his interpretations of the operas of Monteverdi, Cavalli, Purcell, Handel and Mozart, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra in five performances of Partenope between June 15 and 28, with a livestream on June 23. Handel’s Partenope is sung in Italian with English supertitles. Further information and details of ticketing can be found on the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

All photos © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

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Monte-Carlo Philharmonic ends season with Tchaikovsky and Bruckner

Photo courtesy Riviera Buzz © Larisa BirtaUnsplash

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra brings the 2023-24 season to an end with a concert featuring Tchaikovsky’s lovely Variations on a Rococo Theme Op 33 and the Symphony No 5 in B-flat minor by Anton Bruckner.

The concert is led by the Orchestra’s Artistic and Musical Director, Kazuki Yamada, who is also Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Permanent Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra and Guest Conductor of the Seiji Ozawa International Academy. The soloist is the Spanish cellist Pablo Ferrández whom the LA Times describes as having “Pop idol magnetism, superb technique and exhilarating musicality [which] reveal a sure star in the making”.

Recent highlights of Pablo Ferrández’s current season include his debut at David Geffen Hall in New York with the Orquesta del Teatro Real, as well as with orchestras such as the Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Tonhalle Orchestra and Orchestre Philharmonique de Liege. Return visits include those to the Rotterdam Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Dusseldorf Symphony and Orchestra National de France. Hailed by Le Figaro as a “new cello genius” and by El Pais as “A captivating performer”, Ferrández is also frequently invited to internationally renowned festivals such as Verbier, Salzburg, Dresden and the Dvorak Prague Festival.

Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme Opus 33 was the closest Tchaikovsky ever came to writing a full cello concerto, and it was his first composition for cello and orchestra. Written between December 1876 and January 1877, the work was inspired by Mozart – whose music Tchaikovsky greatly admired – and dedicated to cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhage. It would appear that, having composed the Variations, Tchaikovsky submitted the work to the cellist for checking, and Fitzhagen made some significant changes to it. Even though Tchaikovsky wasn’t entirely happy with these amendments, he nevertheless orchestrated the piece from the piano arrangement by Fitzenhagen.

Pablo Ferrandez photo Igor Studio

This version premiered in November 1877 at a symphony concert in Moscow with Fitzhagen as soloist, given by the Russian Musical Society, conducted by Nikolai Rubinstein. Tchaikovsky was abroad at the time and missed the performance, but press comment was said to be very favourable. Tchaikovsky’s original version of the Variations was performed for the first time on 24th April 1941 in Moscow, played by Daniil Shafran, conducted by Aleksandr Melik-Pashayev.

Anton Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony is one of the grandest of his so-called ‘cathedrals in sound’ – as his symphonies were known. A monumental work, it is considered by many to be his symphonic masterpiece. He began composing the Fifth Symphony in 1875 and finished it the following year, although he did make a few minor changes over the following years. At the time of writing, he was in a state of despair, unable to settle in Vienna and missing his previous post in Linz. As with many of his works, it was greeted with indifference, and in 1893, the conductor Franz Schalk led a performance in Graz, but he apparently re-orchestrated the entire work, cut the Finale and added an extra brass band at the end.

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic photo Sasha Gusov/OPMC

Fortunately Bruckner was too ill to attend this performance. In fact, Bruckner never heard his symphony performed by an orchestra – just a two-piano version by Josef Schalk and Franz Zottman – and it was not until 1935, 39 years after Bruckner’s death, that the original full orchestral score was performed – as written by Bruckner with only minor amendments – in Robert Haas’s definitive edition.

Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of the Variations on a Rococo Theme Opus 33, by Tchaikovsky, and Bruckner’s Symphony No 5 in B-flat major, in the Auditorium Rainier III on Sunday June 16th, 2024 at 18h00. Further information and details of ticketing can be found on the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic website.

Information sourced from:
OPMC programme notes
Variations on a Rococo Theme
Bruckner Symphony No 5

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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New production of Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’ for San Francisco Opera

Christina Gansch as Pamina and Lauri Vasar as Papageno in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This evening, San Francisco Opera presents a new staging of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), led by Music Director Eun Sun Kim.

The production stars New Zealand-Samoan tenor Amitai Pati as Tamino, the prince who has to surmount various challenges to be united with Pamina, a role taken by Austrian soprano Christina Gansch. Estonian bass-baritone Lauri Vasar sings the role of the bird-catcher Papageno, South Korean bass Kwangchul Youn is Sarastro, leader of a brotherhood that values wisdom above all, and Polish soprano Anna Simińska is the Queen of the Night who enlists Tamino to rescue her daughter – all three making their house debuts.

 Amitai Pati as Tamino in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This award-winning production of the Komische Oper Berlin, co-produced by Los Angeles Opera and Minnesota Opera, is by Barrie Kosky and Suzanne Andrade. Written by Mozart as a singspiel – featuring the spoken word as well as singing – the opera in this production has been inspired by the silent film era and 1920’s Berlin cabaret, with early Hollywood-style animation and inter titles replacing the spoken dialogue. The Los Angeles Times describes it as “a wonderful show … great for opera lovers, newbies and the whole family; great for Mozart; great for reminding us of the wonders of silent cinema”. Staged by revival director Tobias Ribitzki, the production has been designed by Esther Bialas, with animation design by Paul Barritt.

Christina Gansch as Pamina and Zhengyi Bai as Monostatos in Mozart’s
‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Mozart wrote The Magic Flute in 1791, just three months before his death. One of his most popular works, it has a German libretto by Austrian actor and theatrical producer Emanuel Schikaneder, who was director of the theater where the opera had its first performances, and who created the role of Papageno. The Magic Flute appears to be a simple fairy tale about a damsel in distress who is rescued by a handsome prince, but it’s actually a story of the search for wisdom and enlightenment. It premiered at the Theater auf der Wieden near Vienna on September 30, 1791, and today is frequently performed around the world.

Amitai Pati as Tamino (center) with Thomas Kinch and James McCarthy (the Armored Men) in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Amitai Pati, a former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, first appeared for San Francisco Opera as Don Ottavio in the Company’s 2022 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. In recent seasons, he has also appeared as Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte at Tanglewood, Tamino in Montpellier and has taken leading roles in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and Verdi’s La Traviata in Europe. He is also a member of the award-winning New Zealand vocal group Sol3 Mio with his brother Pene Pati and cousin Moses Mackay.

Lauri Vasar as Papageno, Christina Gansch as Pamina, and Zhengyi Bai as Monostatos in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Christina Gansch is well remembered for her appearances in SF Opera’s 2019 presentation of Handel’s Orlando and her return as Zerlina in Don Giovanni. An experienced Mozartian, Gansch has appeared as Servilia in the composer’s La Clemenza di Tito with London’s Royal Opera, Covent Garden and in Salzburg earlier this year.
Highlights of this current season for Lauri Vasar include appearances as Orest in Richard Strauss’ Elektra, John the Baptist in Strauss’ Salome at the State Opera Berlin, and as the Count of Gloster in Aribert Reimann’s Lear at the Teatro Real in Madrid.

Amitai Pati as Tamino, Kwangchul Youn as Sarastro, Christina Gansch as Pamina, and Zhengyi Bai as Monostatos in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Kwangchul Youn, a highly regarded interpreter of Wagner’s music dramas, is well known in the world of international opera and concert hall. This year, he has appeared in the role of Jacopo Fiesco in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegro at the Wiener Staatsoper, as Hunding in a Wagner Gala at the Festspielhaus in Baden Baden and as Gurnemanz in Wagner’s Parsifal at Houston Grand Opera.

Anna Simińska is the Queen of the Night, a role which she has performed around the world in major theaters including Opéra national de Paris, Vienna Staatsoper, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Hamburg Staatsoper, Washington National Opera, Staatsoper Berlin, Opéra de Montréal, and Oper Frankfurt.

Amitai Pati as Tamino in Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Also in the cast are former Adler Fellow tenor Zhengyi Bai as Monostatos, current Adler soprano Olivia Smith and mezzo-sopranos Ashley Dixon, a former Adler, and Maire Therese Carmack, making her Company debut. Current Adlers Arianna Rodriguez (Papagena), Jongwon Han (the Speaker), Thomas Kinch and James McCarthy (the Armored Men) and three boy sopranos Niko Min, Solah Malik and Jacob Rainow (the three spirits) complete the cast.

Eun Sun Kim leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene) in nine performances of Mozart’s The Magic Flute between May 30 and June 30 at the War Memorial Opera House. Performances are sung in German with English supertitles. Further information and details of ticketing can be found on the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Artists’ websites
Opera Base

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Nice Opera presents a double bill of two 20th century masterpieces

Poster courtesy Nice Opera

Nice Opera continues its current season with a double bill of Stravinsky’s mythical tale Le Rossignol and Poulenc’s somewhat off-beat Les Mamelles de Tirésias. A co-production with Champs-Elysées Theatre and Oper Köln, this dual staging is led by conductor Lucie Leguay, with direction by Olivier Py.  

Igor Stravinsky began work on his opera Le Rossignol in 1908. With a libretto by the composer and Stefan Mitoussov, it was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Nightingale and the Emperor of China. When Sergei Diaghilev, impresario of the Ballets Russes, asked Stravinsky to provide the score for his ballet The Firebird – followed by Petrushka and the phenomenonal Rite of Spring – Stravinsky put aside Le Rossignol to concentrate on Diaghilev’s ballets. By the time that he turned his attention back to Le Rossignol in 1914, much had changed in the composer’s life. The two remaining acts featured much more modernistic trends than the lustrous influence of Stravinsky’s teacher, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, on the first act.

Le Rossignol tells how a fisherman is fascinated by the beauty of the song of a nightingale. Courtiers of the Emperor persuade the bird to go with them to the court of the Emperor, who is equally charmed by it. The Emperor however is subsequently seduced by the singing of a mechanical bird brought to him by emissaries from Japan. The angry nightingale flies away from the court, but does not forget the disloyal Emperor, who falls ill and longs to hear the real nightingale again. The bird arrives and strikes a deal with Death in that he will spare the Emperor if the nightingale sings one more song. This the nightingale does, dawn comes and the emperor recovers. The bird promises to return again each night.

The work was premiered by the Paris Opera at the Théâtre National de l’Opéra on 26th May, 1914 – the eve of the First World War – in a performance conducted by Pierre Monteux. In 1920 the opera was adapted into a ballet, Le Chant de Rossignol, by Diagheliv’s Ballets Russes.

Francis Poulenc is regarded as having made an important contribution to French music in the decades after World War I, and whose songs are considered among the best composed during the 20th century. Like Stravinsky, he also contributed to the repertoire of Diaghilev with his score for the ballet Les Biches, and is well known in the opera repertoire for his work Les dialogues de Carmélites.

 Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a two-act opera bouffe with a prologue, the mocking music of which is humorously appropriate to the text by the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, upon which it is based. The term “surrealist” was used by Apollinaire to describe his play – considered scandalous in its time. The opera has a frivolous, jazzy score, inspired by the sound of the Twenties, and is probably best summed up by Glyndebourne Opera: “Les Mamelles de Tirésias is a giddy romp of an opera that throws questions of politics, gender and society up into the air and watches them shatter into hundreds of glittering pieces”. It was written in 1945 and premièred at the Opéra-Comique on 3rd June, 1947.

Following the Prologue – in which the Theatre Manager announces that the moral of the drama is that everyone must make more babies – the opera tells of Thérèse, a young married woman, who is fed up with the life of an obedient housewife. She is a feminist, and full of ambitions. She unbuttons her blouse, and her breasts detach themselves and fly away like balloons. Thérèse then updates her husband on this new situation: she will no longer be his wife, and henceforth will be known not as Thérèse but as Tirésias, and determined to campaign against the slavery of childbirth. Her husband – who has temporarily transitioned to a woman – decides that if the women will no longer have babies, then he will undertake the task himself.

In Act II the curtain rises on a stage full of cradles. The lesson, he says, is simple: the more children you have, the richer you will be. Tirésias gets into a fight with a policeman, kills him (although he subsequently recovers), she reveals herself as Thérèse, and she and her husband are happily reunited.

The major roles in these two operas are taken by Rocío Pérez as The Nightingale and Thérèse-Tirésias, and Federico Longhi as the Emperor of China and Thérèse’s husband, and the productions are sung in French with surtitles in French and English.
                                                                                                                            Performances take place at Nice Opera from 28th May to 1st June. Further information and details of ticketing are available on the Nice Opera website.

Information sourced from:

Nice Opera programme notes

Le Rossignol –

Poulenc –

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Opéra Royal de Versailles stages Mozart’s ‘l’Enlèvement au Sérail’

Scene from the Opéra Royal de Versailles’ production of l’Enlèvement au Sérail
© Pascal Le Mée

The Opéra Royal de Versailles stages a new production of Mozart’s l’Enlèvement au Sérail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) this month. Directed by Michel Fau and led by conductor Gaétan Jarry, the production stars Mathias Vidal as the hero Belmonte, Florie Valiquette as his lover Constance, Gwendoline Blondeel as Constance’s servant Blonde, and Enguerrand de Hys as Pedrillo, valet to Belmonte.

The magnificent interior of the Opéra Royal de Versailles © Thomas Garnier

There can be few opera houses as magnificent as the Opéra Royal at the Chateau de Versailles. One of the greatest works by architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the concert hall was conceived during the reign of Louis XIV, and built during the reign of Louis XV. The largest concert hall in Europe at the time, a great technical achievement and impressive feat of decorative refinement, it was inaugurated in 1770.

Mozart composed l’Enlèvement au Sérail in 1782, on commission from the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. Written in German as Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the original libretto was by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner, reworked by Johann Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger. This production however is sung in French, using a translated version of the libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline, a French playwright, librettist and a contemporary of Mozart.

This comical romance was written as a singspiel – featuring dialogue that is not sung but spoken. Set in a Turkish harem, the plot surrounds the attempt by Belmonte to rescue his beloved Constance from the clutches of Pasha Selim. The opera premiered at the Vienna Burgtheater on 16th July, 1782, with the composer conducting. The premiere was a great success and launched Mozart’s Viennese career.

Mathias Vidal as Belmonte and Enguerrand de Hys as Pedrillo © Pascal Le Mée

Tenor Mathias Vidal – who takes the role of Belmonte – is best known for his French romantic repertoire, and has also sung roles including those of Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore and Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Almaviva in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Ramiro in La Cenerentola. In this current season, he has appeared as Nadir in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, the title roles in of Rameau’s Platée at Zurich Opéra and in Massenet’s Don Quixote as well as in numerous concerts.

The up and coming young Canadian soprano Florie Valiquette opened this season in two new productions at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, taking the roles of Matilde in Vaccai’s Giulietta & Romeo and Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, as well as Gabrielle in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne at the Opéra de Montpellier. Having also undertaken various concert appearances, she was described by La Libre Belgique as “… imaginative and committed with a ravishing treble”.

Florie Valiquette as Constance and Michel Fau as Selim Bassa © Pascal Le Mée

Highlights of this season for soprano Gwendoline Blondeel, known for her “pure emission and her musical intelligence” says Forum Opera, include appearances of the roles of Poesia/Fiordiligi in Luigi Rossi’s Il Palazzo Incantato at Opéra National de Loraine, Sangaride in Lully’s Athys at the Théâtre des Champs Elyseés and several concert performances of Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine with Cappella Mediterranea.

Among the recent engagements of tenor Enguerrand de Hys are the roles of Bobinet in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne at Opéra de Bordeaux, Tybalt in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette at Opéra de Nice, Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, as well as the tenor solo in Mozart’s Great Mass in C minor at Opéra de Limoges.

Mathias Vidal as Belmonte © Pascal Le Mée

Also in the cast are Nicolas Brooymans as Osmin and Michel Fau in the spoken role of Selim Bassa. Fau is a French actor and writer, known for his roles in the films Cyrano de Bergerac, Swimming Pool and Marguerite.

Gaétan Jarry leads the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra Royal de Versailles in performances of Mozart’s l’Enlèvement au Sérail between 22nd and 26th May at the Opéra royal de Versailles. This production will be recorded for release on the Château de Versailles Spectacles label.

Information sourced from:

Opéra Royal de Versailles programme notes

Chateau de Versailles

Chateau de Versailles Spectacles

Artists’ websites

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Semyon Bychkov returns to Concertgebouw to lead Orchestra & soloist Vilde Frang

Semyon Bychkov © Umberto Nicoletti

Ever-popular conductor Semyon Bychkov returns to the Concertgebouw Orchestra for a programme of music which includes Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, the Shostakovich First Violin Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. The guest artist is the inspirational Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang.

Semyon Bychkov has a particular love for Russian music – hardly surprising since he was born in St Petersburg. He subsequently emigrated to the US and now lives in Europe, where he is Chief Conductor & Music Director of the Czech Philharmonic. He also holds the Otto Klemperer Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and the Günter Wand Conducting Chair at the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra © Simon Van Boxtel

Maestro Bychkov has long-standing and successful relationships with many of the major orchestras and opera houses of the world, as well as with the Concertgebouw, having made his debut with the Orchestra in 1984, and been a regular guest since then. An outspoken supporter of Ukraine, he was one of the first musicians to express his position on the outbreak of the war in that country, and has since spoken in support of Ukraine in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, and on radio and television in the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Austria, the UK and the USA.

Vilde Frang, said by The Strad to possess “Startling emotional sincerity and inspired musical imagination”, plays the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1. Making a return visit to the Concertgebouw, she has also appeared at venues including London’s Wigmore and Royal Albert halls, the Tonhalle in Zurich, the Rudolfinum in Prague and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Hall. She regularly appears at festivals such as Salzburg, Verbier, Lucerne and the London Proms, and since 2020 she has been a member of the artistic board of the Oslo Chamber Music Festival. 

Highlights among Ms Frang’s recent and forthcoming engagements include performances with Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and Santa Cecilia Orchestra in Europe, as well as the St Petersburg Philharmonic and ensembles in the US such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra.

Dmitry Shostakovich started working on his challenging and dramatic First Violin Concerto in early 1948 – a time during which he was being denounced by the Soviet authorities for his perceived ‘counter revolutionary’ sympathies. His great friend and contemporary, violinist David Oistrakh, was doubtless the inspiration for this concerto, and even though Oistrakh played it privately and apparently made a recording of it at home, Shostakovich decided that it was too risky to publish the work, so he hid it in a desk drawer for seven years.

It wasn’t until 1955 – two years after the death of Stalin – that Oistrakh premiered the work, with Yevgeny Mravinsky leading the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, at Leningrad Philharmonic Hall, on 29th October of that year. The composer couldn’t, however, resist making a point – he very deliberately made sure that the date on which the work had been composed was made public.

Sergei Rachmaninoff, the last great figure of Russian Romanticism, was regarded as the leading piano virtuoso of his day. He finally left Russia after the 1917 Revolution – the second of his self-imposed exiles – and he ultimately settled in the United States. He missed his homeland, though, and the Russian people, and spent most of his time performing, not composing.

The Symphonic Dances, written in 1940 – roughly two years before his death – was the last work that he wrote, and the only one which was composed in its entirety in the United States. In it, he looks back at his career, quoting excerpts from his past compositions, and hoped that the Symphonic Dances would eventually become a ballet, which it ultimately did, although not until 40 years after Rachmaninoff’s death. The work – which was written for and dedicated to Eugene Ormandy – was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra on 3rd January, 1941.

The programme opens with the Carnival Overture by Antonín Dvořák – one of his liveliest and popular short works for orchestra – which celebrates the human capacity for life and joy. Initially part of a trilogy entitled Nature, Life and Love, this triptych was ultimately published as three separate works under the titles In Nature’s Realm, Carnival and Othello. The original work was premiered by the Orchestra of the National Theatre in the Rudolfinum, Prague, under the baton of the composer, on 28th April, 1892.

Semyon Bychkov leads Vilde Frang and the Concertgebouw Orchestra in works by Dvořák, Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw on 16th and 17th May. Further information and details of ticketing are available on the Concertgebouw website.

Information sourced from:

Concertgebouw programme notes
Artists’ websites
Shostakovich Violin Concerto No 1
Rachmaninoff Symphonic Dances
Dvořák Carnival Overture

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