Monte-Carlo Opera stages new production of Verdi’s ‘Don Carlo’

Post courtesy Monte-Carlo Opera

Monte-Carlo Opera presents Don Carlo, in a new production by Davide Livermore of Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic and moving story of passion, betrayal, political intrigue and conflict between father and son.

The opera stars Russian tenor Sergey Skorokhodov in the title role, with Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov as his father, Filippo II, king of Spain. Elisabetta di Valois, with whom Don Carlo has fallen in love, is sung by Lebanese-Canadian soprano Joyce El-Khoury, and the role of La Principessa Eboli who is in love with Don Carlo, is taken by Armenian mezzo-soprano Varduhi Abrahamyan. Polish baritone Artur Ruciński is Rodrigo, marquis of Posa and Carlo’s friend, and Russian bass Alexey Tikhomirov is Il Grande Inquisitore. The production is led by Massimo Zanetti.

Verdi started writing his five-act opera in 1867, with a French libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, based on Friedrich Schiller’s play Don Karlos, Infant von Spanien, which Schiller completed in 1787. The opera was commissioned and produced by the Théâtre Impérial de l’Opéra, Paris, and premiered at the Académie impériale de musique on 11th March 1867. Don Carlos – as it is known in the French version – was then translated into Italian as Don Carlo, in the first of a number of revisions set to both French and Italian librettos. This is the second version of the opera, compressed into four acts, and sung in Italian. It premiered at Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 10th January, 1884.

Set in France and Spain between 1567 to 1568, the time of the Spanish Inquisition, the opera is largely fictional, although it features actual historical figures. Don Carlo is the son of King Philip II of Spain and therefore heir to the Spanish throne. Carlo is in love with Princess Elisabetta di Valois of France, but his hopes of marrying her are thwarted by his father, who – as part of a peace treaty signed between Spain and France – takes Elisabetta as his own wife. Undaunted, Carlo comes up against the conspiracies and intrigues of the royal court, and – with everyone under the watchful eye of the Grand Inquisitor – tension and paranoia abound, leading the king to suspect his wife of infidelity with Carlo.

Ultimately, Carlo has to make a choice between loyalty to his father and his love for Elisabetta. In actuality, Philip and Elizabeth apparently had a happy marriage, and the love story between Elizabeth and her stepson was invented by writer Friedrich von Schiller and exploited by Verdi for maximum dramatic impact.

The four acts of this drama are all located in Spain, however Monte-Carlo Opera has placed the prologue of the original version in Fontainebleau, and this is sung in French.

Sergey Skorokhodov comes to Monte-Carlo directly from the Bolshoi Theatre where he appeared in the title role in Don Carlo at the end of October. With a repertoire which includes those of Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Nemorino in Donizetti’s Lelisir d’amore, Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth, Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata, Cavarodossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Calaf in Puccini’s Turandot and the tenor role in Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, he has also appeared on the stages of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, most of the major opera houses in Europe, and in the Glyndebourne and Edinburgh festivals. He was last seen in Monte-Carlo in Tchaikovsky’s Ioalanthe in 2015. Future appearances include a concert performance of Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk at Carnegie Hall and the role of Ivan in The Nose – both works by Shostakovich – at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich.

Ildar Abdrazakov, regarded as one of the greatest interpreters of the role of Filippo II, has become a firm favourite at the Metropolitan Opera, and is also a regular visitor to the Paris National Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. The Independent refers to him as a “sensational bass … who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse”. Having recently appeared as a soloist with Monte-Carlo Opera in Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, he will also participate this season in the Gala Verdiano at the Ravenna Festival, appear as Mustafa in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at Opernhuis Zurich, and at another performance in Verdi’s Messa da requiem at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

According to Presto Classical, Joyce El-Khoury is “Blessed with old-school vocal and physical glamour and a richly coloured flexible soprano that shines particularly brightly in Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti.” Immediately following this performance of Don Carlo, Joyce will appear in an Italian Opera Gala with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester in Berlin, as Christine, Queen of Sweden in Julien Bilodeau and Michel Marc Bouchard’s La Reine-garçon with Opéra de Montreal, and Maria Boccanegra in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at Finnish National Opera.

Following Varduhi Abrahamyan’s performance in Handel’s Ariodante in 2016, Plays to See wrote that as Polinesso, she “…. was sinister and chillingly violent while demonstrating a vocal mastery that was terrifyingly precise”. She last appeared with Monte-Carlo Opera in January of this year as Bradamante in Handel’s Alcina and also in concert in Rossini’s oratorio Stabat Mater. Following this appearance in Don Carlo, Ms Abrahamyan will perform the title role in Bizet’s Carmen at Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona and at Oper Frankfurt, and in concert in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at Cité de la Musique-Philharmonie in Paris.

Having seen Artur Ruciński in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burina, the late music journalist Karl Löbl wrote: “Baritone Discovery at Vienna Musikverein – take note of the name Artur Ruciński and go to every opera in which you can hear this singer…”. Future plans include appearances at the Italian Opera Gala with the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester in Berlin, as Renato/Count Ankarström in Verdi’s Un ballo in maschero at Teatro Regio di Parma in Barcelona and as Lord Enrico Ashton in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Alexey Tikhomirov, he of the “…powerful vocal volume and the impressive interpretation”, according to Bachtrack, has appeared on the stages of many European and wider Asian concert halls and opera houses. Following these performances in Monte-Carlo, he returns to the Helicon Opera in Moscow where he will sing the role of Timur in Puccini’s Turandot, then to Frankfurt for performances as Chub in Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Christmas Eve.

Also in the cast are Reinaldo Macias as Il Conte di Lerma, Madison Nonoa as Voce Dal Cielo, Salvo Vitale as Frate and Mirjam Mesa as Tebaldo.

Davide Livermore has been artistic director of the Teatro Baretti in Turin since 2002 where he focuses on experimental music theatre. He describes this production of Don Carlo as “A show that displays historical aesthetics with all modern technology”. Before returning to Monte-Carlo to direct a production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto, he will fly to Brisbane where Opera Australia will stage his production of Verdi’s Aïda for which he will also do the choreography.

Massimo Zanetti has worked regularly with the Staatskapelle Berlin, for whom he will lead performances of Don Carlo and La bohème in the new year. Codelario describes him as an “electrifying and energetic conductor, who also understands how to charm with the most evocative lyricism”.

Maestro Zanetti leads the Monte-Carlo Opera Choir (choirmaster Stefano Visconti) and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in three performances of Verdi’s Don Carlo on 22nd, 24th and 26th November, at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. For further information and booking details, see the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from

Monte-Carlo programme notes

A version of this article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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New production of Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’ for San Francisco Opera

Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera closes its Fall Season with a new co-production, with Lyric Opera of Chicago, of Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love. The West Coast Premiere of this opera buffo stars tenor Pene Pati as the young peasant Nemorino who is in love with Adina, soprano Slávka Zámečníková as the cool and aloof object of his love, baritone David Bizic as Belcore, the sargeant who hopes to marry Adina, baritone Renato Girolami as the charlatan Dulcamara, and soprano Arianna Rodriguez as Giannetta, Adina’s friend.

The production was conceived by Director Daniel Slater with Associate Producer and Choreographer Tim Claydon, who have brought this delightful romance of 1832 forward to an Italian village in the early 19th century. The conductor is Ramón Tebar, making his Company debut.

Donizetti wrote L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) in 1832 on commission from Teatro della Canobbiana in Milan – an opera in two acts which he completed in six weeks. The libretto was written by Felice Romani after a French libretto by Eugène Scribe for Daniel-François-Esprit Auber’s Le Philtre, which was written in 1831. The opera premiered in Milan on May 12th 1832.

Pene Pati as Nemorino in Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Samoan tenor Pene Pati’s international career began at San Francisco Opera with his debuts as ll Duca di Mantova in Verdi’s Rigoletto in 2017, and as Richard Percy in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at Opéra National de Bordeaux. He returned to San Francisco in 2019 as Roméo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette and debuted as Nemorino in the Paris Opera staging of L’elisir d’amore in 2021. Pati was selected as the Opera Awards Reader’s Choice Award Winner in 2022, and Opera-Online hailed him as “the most exceptional tenor discovery of the last decade”. Much in demand this season, his appearances include those of Germont in Verdi’s La traviata at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Orombello in Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda at Opéra de Paris, des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon at the Staatsoper Hamburg, and Il Duca di Mantova in Rigoletto with State Opera Berlin.

Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’ with Slávka Zámečníková as Adina.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Slovak soprano Slávka Zámečníková makes her American debut in the role of Adina. Having frequently appeared with the Vienna State Opera and Berlin Staatsoper, her roles during the past season include Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen and Marzelline in Beethoven’s Fidelio in Vienna, at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin and Poppea and Dircé Cherubini’s Médée. In concert, she has performed in Haydn’s Creation with the Orchestre national de France. Future appearances include those of Musetta in La bohème at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, and Donna Anna for Vienna State Opera where she will also sing the roles of Micaëla in Carmen and Donna Anna at Théâtre de Champs-Elyseés in Paris.

Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’ with Slávka Zámečníková as Adina and David Bizic as Belcore.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Serbian baritone David Bizic celebrated his 50th performance for the Met last year with his appearance as Marcello in La bohème. Recent performances include the roles of Escamillo in Carmen for Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège, Marcello in La bohème for the Seiji Ozawa Music Academy in Tokyo and Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte for Opéra de Saint-Etienne in Toulon.

Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’ with Renato Girolami as Dulcamara.
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Renato Girolami received critical praise for his portrayal of Dulcamara earlier this year at Glyndebourne, and following this appearance with San Francisco Opera, he appears as Don Bartolo in Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviligia for the Staatsoper Berlin and Don Magnifico in Rossini’s La Cenerentola for Den Norske Opera in Oslo.

Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’ with Arianna Rodriguez as Giannetta
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Soprano Arianna Rodriguez takes the role of Adina’s friend, Gianetta. As a first-year Adler Fellow soprano, she adds this role to her repertoire. American tenor Jonah Hoskins, an ensemble member of the St. Gallen Theater in Switzerland, makes his house debut at San Francisco Opera at the November 29th performance. He sings Nemorino, a role in which he will appear at Santa Fe Opera next year.

Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Spanish conductor Ramón Tebar, of whom Opera World wrote that he “… once again demonstrated the material from which good directors are made”, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene) in these performances of The Elixir of Love. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, it will be staged at the War Memorial Opera House between November 19th and December 9th. For performance tickets and further information, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

This co-production of San Francisco Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago was originally created by Opera North in the United Kingdom.

The production on Sunday, November 26th will be live-streamed, and the opera will also be available to watch on demand for 48 hours beginning on Monday, November 27th at 10.00 am PT. For tickets and more information about livestreams, visit sfopera.com/digital.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

ArtsPreview home page

Barenboim conducts Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ in Monte-Carlo

Giuseppe Verdi by Bice Lombardini – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Barenboim leads the Monte-Carlo Opera Chorus and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic in a Choral Concert featuring the Messa da requiem by Giuseppe Verdi, with guest artists Marina Rebeka, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Michael Spyres and Ildar Abdrazakov.

Among the most well-known settings of the Catholic funeral mass, this masterpiece by Verdi was composed in 1868 for the first anniversary of the death of the greatly admired poet Alessandro Manzoni, a firm supporter of Italian reunification – as was Verdi. The work was inspired by a requiem, on which Verdi had collaborated in honour of Gioachino Rossini. This requiem was however never performed.

Verdi had written the final movement, Libera me, and although he did not use the exact version of it as written for Rossini, he did retain the spirit of the work. The premiere of the Messa da requiem – conducted by the composer – was held at the church of San Marco in Milan, on 22nd May, 1874 – a year after Manzoni’s death. This stirring homage to the Creator was a resounding success. The Requiem was subsequently performed at La Scala, Milan, followed by performances in Paris, New York, London and Vienna. For the English premiere on 15 May 1875, Verdi presented a new version of the Liber scriptus (Sequence) whereby instead of a fugue for choir and orchestra, a solo for the mezzo-soprano was introduced – the version that we know today.

Internationally acclaimed Daniel Barenboim was initially a solo pianist, regularly touring the United States, Europe, South America, Australia and the Far East. He made his conducting debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, was chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris and made his debut as an opera conductor at the 1973 Edinburgh Festival. He frequently led the Bayreuth Festival, was Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was for many years General Music Director of Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, and Music Director at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. In 2000 the Staatskapelle Berlin voted him conductor-in-chief for life.

Perhaps one of Barenboim’s finest achievements was in 1999 with the establishment – together with Palestine literary scholar Edward Said – of the West-Eastern Divan Workshop which brought together young people from Israel and Arab countries to make music, thereby promoting coexistence and intercultural dialogue. As the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the ensemble today performs across Europe, the United States and Asia.

Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka is well known for her interpretation of the bel canto repertoire, as well as for music from the Baroque era and Verdi heroines, through to the works of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. A regular guest at some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and opera houses, Ms Rebeka will this season be appearing in the Messa da requiem with the Munich Philharmonic, as Mathilde in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell at Teatro alla Scala, as Lucrezia Contarine in Verdi’s Il Due Foscari in Piacenza, Italy, and again performs in the Messa da requiem at both Teatro alla Scala and at L’auditori in Barcelona.

Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk has been hailed as a magnificent interpreter of Verdian roles. She has a repertoire which includes the roles of Azucena in Il trovatore, Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, Amneris in Aïda, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Federica in Luisa Miller, Preziosilla in La forza del destino and the mezzo-soprano solo in the Requiem. Still to come this year are performances in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Princess Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Teatro alla Scala, and Amneris in Verdi’s Aida at Teatro Verdi del Salerno.

Baritenor Michael Spyres – described by Opera as “A tenor who has the world at his feet” – has a wide-ranging repertoire. His career has taken him from Baroque to Classical to 20th century music, while he has become an expert within the bel canto repertoire and French Grand Opera.  Most recently he has appeared in Verdi’s Messa da requiem at the Volks Oper in Berlin, and in Mahler’s Song of the Earth with the Wiener Symphoniker. Following this appearance in Monte-Carlo, he takes the role of Erik in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Staatsoper Hamburg, a concert appearance with Joyce DiDonato at the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the title role in Wagner’s Lohengrin at Opera National de Rhin.

Bass Ildar Abdrazakov has become a firm favourite at the Metropolitan Opera, and he is a regular visitor to the Paris National Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. The Independent refers to him as a “sensational bass … who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse”. This current season includes appearances as Filippo II in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Monte-Carlo Opera, he will participate in the Gala Verdiano at the Ravenna Festival, appear as Mustafa in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at Opernhuis Zurich, and another performance in Verdi’s Messa da requiem at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Daniel Barenboim leads the soloists, and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus (director Stefano Visconti) in a performance of Verdi’s Messa da requiem at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on 2nd November, 2023. Tickets may be booked online, and further information is available on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from:

Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes

Artists’ websites

ArtsPreview home page

Met Opera brings Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ to the international screen

Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean and Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

The opening work in the Metropolitan Opera’s award-winning series of Live in HD productions is Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s compelling masterpiece Dead Man Walking, starring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny as death-row inmate Joseph De Rocher, soprano Latonia Moore as Sister Rose and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as De Rocher’s mother. Direction is by Ivo van Hove and the conductor is Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in a scene from Act I of Jake Heggie’s
‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Dead Man Walking is the most widely performed new opera of the last 20 years. With a libretto by the late Terrence McNally, a leading American playwright, screenwriter and winner of numerous Tony and Drama Desk Awards, it is based on the memoir of Sister Helen Prejean about her ministry to condemned murderers on death row. Subtitled The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty that Sparked a National Debate, the book was described by The Washington Post Book World as “An immensely moving affirmation of the power of religious vocation… Stunning moral clarity.”

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

American composer and pianist Jake Heggie is – according to The Wall Street Journal – “Arguably the world’s most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer…”. He has written nine full-length operas and nearly 300 art songs, as well as chamber, choral, and orchestral works. A frequent collaborator with educational institutions and other performing arts organizations, he undertakes artist residencies, and offers mentorship services and master classes to performers and creators.

A scene from Act I of Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ with Raymond Aceto as Warden George Benton, Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, and Christopher Job as a Prison Guard. Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Sister Helen Prejean became a nun in the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph at the age of 18, and began her ministry to convicts awaiting execution in 1982, which she chronicled in the book Dead Man Walking.  The opera concerns her fight for the soul of a condemned murderer, Joseph De Rocher, sentenced to death for his role – with his brother Anthony – in the brutal murder of two teenage girls. He asks for Sister Helen to visit him in prison, and she urges him, during her visits, to admit his guilt and find forgiveness.

Dead Man Walking was written in the late 1990s and given its world premiere by San Francisco Opera, at the city’s War Memorial Opera House in 2000.  It was based on real-life events from the late 1970s and early 1980s, but Heggie set his opera in contemporary times, as questions about the value and morality of the death penalty remain relevant.

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Multi-Grammy Award winner and 2018 Olivier Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in Opera Joyce DiDonato has been described as “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by The New Yorker, and The Times refers to her voice as “nothing less than 24-carat gold”. She returns to the Met later in the season to reprise her critically acclaimed appearance as Virginia Woolf in Kevin Puts’ The Hours, appears with her hometown Kansas City Symphony Orchestra for a series of subscription concerts, performs in Istanbul, Strasbourg and Paris and also appears in recital at Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, Wiener Musikverein and Carnegie Hall.

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Following Ryan McKinny’s appearance as Joseph De Rocher for Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune wrote: “An indelible performance… McKinny proves at once menacing and charismatic. An acting tour de force buttressed by a warmly inviting voice.” This season, McKinny returns to Houston Grand Opera with appearances as Amfortas in Handel’s Parsifal and Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He closes the season with a three-city tour of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s new opera Before It All Goes Dark, commissioned by Music of Remembrance, with world premiere performances in Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago.

Latonia Moore as Sister Rose and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Latonia Moore has a wide-ranging repertoire which includes the title role in Verdi’s Aïda – for which she has received international acclaim – Serena in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Cio Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the title role in Puccini’s Tosca, Elisabeth in Mozart’s Don Carlo, Mimi in Puccini’s La bohème, Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen and Princess Liu in Puccini’s Turandot. She also performed in the 50th Anniversary Gala of the Metropolitan Opera.

Jonah Mussolino as the Younger Brother, Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, and Susan Graham as Mrs. Patrick De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Grammy Award-winning Susan Graham, described by the New York Times as “an artist to treasure”, originated the role of Sister Helen in the opera’s premiere in 2000 – a role which was written specifically for her. Ms Graham is a frequent performer at the Met, as well as maintaining her links with Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, with Santa Fe Opera and the Hollywood Bowl. She is known for her repertoire of French vocal music, and won her Grammy for her collection of songs by American composer, Charles Ives.

Gary Halvorson will direct the Live in HD presentation for cinemas, with Grammy Award–winning musician, MacArthur recipient, and Pulitzer Prize winner Rhiannon Giddens as host.

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher, Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, and Raymond Aceto as Warden George Benton in Act II of Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the soloists, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, as well as the Young People’s Chorus of New York City (Artistic Director Francisco J Nunez) in a transmission live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking.

The transmission will also include an intermission feature filmed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Led by Sister Helen and DiDonato, and in association with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, members of the opera’s cast and music staff, together with some of the resident men at Sing Sing, rehearsed and presented an abridged concert version of Dead Man Walking at the correctional facility.

Following the debut performance at the Met, amongst the rave reviews was this one from The Washington Post: “WILD APPLAUSE AND STANDING OVATIONS… Dead Man Walking makes its arresting Met debut … The finest and most engaged work I’ve ever seen or heard from Joyce DiDonato … Ryan McKinny sang the role of De Rocher with figurative and literal muscular force … Revelatory singing … Commandingly conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.”

The transmission takes place on Saturday, October 21 at 12.55 pm ET. To find your nearest theatre, search this link.

Further information is available on the Metropolitan Opera website.

The Met offers the following content advisory: Dead Man Walking contains a depiction of a rape and murder, as well as other adult themes and strong language.

Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes

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San Francisco Opera continues Fall Season with Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’

Act III of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

New to San Francisco Opera, David Alden’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin is onstage at the War Memorial Opera House, starring tenor Simon O’Neill as the mysterious knight Lohengrin. Soprano Julie Adams is Elsa, the princess of Brabant, wrongly accused of a wicked crime, and baritone Brian Mulligan is Telramund – both making role debuts. Mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi takes the role of Ortrud, making her American debut as the scheming wife of Telramund, and that of King Heinrich is sung by Kristinn Sigmundsson. The conductor is Eun Sun Kim, Music Director of San Francisco Opera, leading this production of Lohengrin for the first time.
 
Wagner wrote Lohengrin – libretto and music – between 1848 and 1850. It was based on an old German legend of Lohengrin, Son of Parsifal, which featured in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (written around 1210) and the novel Lohengrin written by Nouhuwius, a follower of von Eschenbach.

Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The story revolves around Elsa, the princess of Brabant, who faced charges of murder regarding the disappearance of her brother, heir to the duchy of Brabant. Her savior, a mysterious knight who arrives to defend her, marries Elsa on condition that she never ask his name nor his origin. Later, Elsa forgets this promise, and he leaves her, never to return.

Lohengrin – described as a romantic opera in three acts – was premiered in Weimar on August 28th, 1850, a performance supervised by Franz Liszt. Wagner was absent from the premiere, as he’d been forced to flee Germany because of his revolutionary sympathies, however Lohengrin, with its epic score, was one of his earliest triumphs.

New Zealand-born Simon O’Neill is known for his performances of Wagnerian heroes such as Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, Tristan and Parsifal. He is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, and made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2012 as Mao Tse-Tung in the Company premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China. The Houston Chronicle wrote: “O’Neill’s golden tenor, with its easeful command and sweetness of tone, projects Lohengrin’s superhuman nobility”, and reviewing a concert performance of Verdi’s Otello with Sir Colin Davis and the LSO, the Telegraph described him as “the best heroic tenor to emerge over the last decade”.

Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, Julie Adams was praised by The New York Times for her voice that is “rich, full and slightly earthy in an expressive way”. She has appeared as Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème for San Francisco Opera, and as Freia and Gerhilde in the Company’s 2018 performances of Wagner’s Ring cycle. More recently she was praised for her performance as Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Wuppertal Opera, which Die Deutsche Bühne described as “vocally brilliant, sensitive and expressive”.

Judit Kutasi as Ortrud and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Romanian-Hungarian mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi makes her American debut – and role debut – as Ortrud. This season, she will make several more major debuts, including the role of Preziosilla in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Metropolitan Opera. Ms Kutasi makes her house debut at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen with Verdi’s Requiem, and appears for the first time with the Salzburg Easter Festival performing the same masterpiece.

Brian Mulligan as Telramund, Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich, and Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Brian Mulligan – with a “voice that is rich, secure and really really big” according to the New York Times – makes his role debut as Telramund, Ortrud’s husband. Having made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2008, he has been a frequent collaborator with the Company. Highlights of the current season include his role and house debuts as Barak in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, and at Teatro Regio di Torino in the title role of Der fliegende Holländer.

Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This year, Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson has appeared as Fasholt in Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Atlanta Opera and as Bartolo in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at Los Angeles Opera. His collaboration with San Francisco Opera goes back to 2019 and his appearance as the Water Gnome in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and he looks forward to appearances in a double bill of W G Still’s Highway 1, USA, and von Zemlinsky’s Die Zwerg at Los Angeles Opera.

Thomas Lehman as the Herald in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Also in the cast is baritone Thomas Lehman as the Herald, making his first appearance with San Francisco Opera.

David Alden is one of the most influential opera directors today, having won two Olivier Awards and the South Bank Show Award, as well as the Bavarian Theatre Prize for Individual Artistic Achievement to mark his long-time relationship with the Bavarian State Opera. He has brought this version of Lohengrin forward from medieval Germany to a mid-twentieth-century European state at war.

Judit Kutasi as Ortrud, Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin, and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

A co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Opera Vlaanderen, this production of Lohengrin was premiered at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden on April 30, 2018, following which the Express wrote: “ Altogether, this was perhaps as perfect an example of opera at its best as I have ever seen”.

The set designer is Paul Steinberg, costumes are by Gideon Davey, the original lighting designer was Adam Silverman and the production will be relit in San Francisco by Simon Bennison. The projection designer is Tal Rosner and choreography is by Maxine Braham.
 
Eun Sun Kim leads the soloists, San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene) in performances of Wagner’s Lohengrin until November 1st. The opera is sung in German with English supertitles.
 
 San Francisco Opera offers livestreams for each of its productions during the 2023–24 Season. The Saturday, October 21 performance of Lohengrin will be livestreamed at 7.00 pm PT. The performance will also be available to watch on demand for 48 hours beginning on Sunday, October 22 at 10.00 am PT. Tickets for the livestream and limited on-demand viewing are $27.50. For tickets and more information about livestreams, visit sfopera.com/digital.
 
 

Information sourced from:

 San Francisco Opera program notes 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lohengrin-German-legendary-figure

https://www.opera-online.com/en/articles/lohengrin-metaphor-of-the-artist

Artists’ websites

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Nice Ballet stages Cannito’s ‘Marco Polo’

Poster courtesy Nice Ballet

This month Nice Ballet stages Marco PoloLuciano Cannito’s vibrant interpretation of the relationship which developed between emperor Kublai Khan and the Venetian explorer Marco Polo. Commissioned by the Company’s Artistic Director Eric Vu An, and inspired by the 1972 novel Invisible Cities by Italian writer Italo Calvino, the ballet is set to music by Francis Poulenc, edited by Marco Schiavoni.

A fascinating and exhilarating work, it explores the conflict in the relationship between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo is invited to the palace of Kublai Khan, where he marvels at the diversity of Kublai Khan’s cities, and the emperor is impressed by Polo’s travels – each man holding the other in a degree of awe.

Initially, Kublai Khan views Marco Polo as more of a captive than a guest, but after some time, warms to the traveller and begins to trust his advice, however the relationship inevitably evolves into a confrontation between the two. Gradually, their meetings become more and more acrimonious, because when the emperor looks at the souvenirs which Polo has gathered from around the world, he is reminded of his own limitations. Ultimately, Polo escapes from the palace, and the emperor is left examining and brooding over the contents of Polo’s travel bag once more.

In actuality, Marco Polo is considered to be the most famous Western traveler to have journeyed on the Silk Road. He began his journey to China as a young merchant in 1271, and during the 24 years of his travels, he became the confidante of Kublai Khan, founder of China’s Yuan Dynasty. His adventures and rapport with the emperor are told in his book The Travels of Marco Polo, and although other Europeans – his father and his uncle included – had travelled throughout the East, Marco Polo attained fame because of the stories told in his book.

To date, multi-award-winning director and choreographer, Luciano Cannito, has produced more than 45 ballets, three musicals, directed five plays, four video clips, and several works for the Italian broadcast television service. He has worked as a dancer in Israel, Germany, Austria and Italy, with some brief interruptions as an actor for commercials and television fictions, and made his first feature film La lettera in January 2003.

As a choreographer and director, he created Napoli Dance Theatre Company, was Artistic Director of Balletto di Napoli, Artistic Director at Petruzzelli Theatre in Bari, Artistic Director of Balletto di Roma and Artistic Director and resident choreographer of the Ballet Company of Teatro San Carlo Opera House in Naples. His works have been performed and co-produced by the most prestigious theatres and festivals, amongst which is La Scala Theatre in Milan, New York’s Lincoln Center, the San Carlo Opera House of Naples and the Opera of Rome. Some of his works, such as Marco Polo, Cassandra, Amarcord, Five Seasons, Mare Nostrum and Barbie’s World, have been performed around the world.

Alessio Passaquindici is a sympathetic Marco Polo, dancing with elegance and technical brilliance. Eric Vu An is a brooding, charismatic and volatile Kublai Khan – superb in his role – and Cannito’s clean, incisive and lively choreography is impressively performed by Nice Ballet. Costuming by Jean-Pierre Laporte is, for the most part, either sumptuous or sparse, and although the sets are minimal, the mood is eloquently captured.

Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents Luciano Cannito’s Marco Polo at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur between October 14th and 20th. More information can be found on the Nice Opera website. Tickets are available online, and by telephone on 04 92 17 40 40.

Information sourced from:

Ballet Nice Méditerranée programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Nice Opera opens new season with Delibes’ ‘Lakmé’

Poster for Nice Opera’s production of Delibes’ ‘Lakmé’ – courtesy Nice Opera

Nice Opera presents Léo Delibes’ Lakmé in a new staging by Laurent Pelly, a co-production between Nice Opera, the National Theatre of the Opéra-Comique and the National Opera of the Rhine. Lakmé stars soprano Kathryn Lewek in the title role and tenor Thomas Bettinger as her lover Gérald. Her servant, Mallika, is sung by mezzo-soprano Majdouline Zerari, and the role of Lakmé’s father, Nilakantha, is taken by baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra.

An opera in three acts, Lakmé was written in 1883 and based on a book by French naval officer and novelist, Pierre Loti, who had travelled widely and written a number of novels with an exotic theme. The idea of composing an opera based on Rarahu ou le Mariage de Loti (telling of his romantic liaison with an exotic Tahitian girl) was suggested to Delibes by Edmond Godinet who was keen to write a libretto for two stars of the Opéra Comique. Delibes apparently loved the idea, and set his opera in an exotic and beautiful location, with mysterious religious rituals, and the added intrigue of Western colonials living in a foreign country. The score was completed within a year, with a libretto by Godinet and Philippe Gille. A concert version of Lakmé premiered at the National Theatre of the Opéra Comique on 14th April 1883 – where it has been staged over 1,600 times since then.

The opera tells of a Brahmin girl, Lakmé who falls in love with a British officer, Gérald, whom she meets on a river bank where she and her servant Mallika had gone to gather flowers and to bathe. When her father – the stern Brahmin priest Nilakantha – discovers that a British soldier has trespassed and defiled the Temple of Brahmin, he swears vengeance. In the bustling bazaar Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing a distinctive aria, the Bell Song, to attract the attention of the British officer, and as he draws closer to her, he is stabbed by Nilakantha.

Only slightly wounded, he is helped by Lakmé and Nilakantha’s servant, Hadji, to a secret hiding place deep in the forest. Gérald knows that he has been ordered to a new post, and realises that he must fulfill his duty and leave Lakmé behind. On hearing this, she tears a leaf from a poisonous tree and bites into it and as Nilakantha arrives on the scene she dies.

American soprano Kathryn Lewek may be remembered for her performance in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor for Nice Opera last season. She has made her name as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), a role in which she marked her 50th performance at the Metropolitan Opera last season. According to the New York Classical Review, she is said to be “…. the finest contemporary Queen of the Night, bar none”. This season she will reprise this role at Semperoper in Dresden, where she will also sing the role of Olympia in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, before performing the Queen of the Night at the Metropolitan Opera and appearing in Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall. Future seasons include reprisals of the roles of Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, as well as role débuts as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.

French tenor Thomas Bettinger – who appeared in Nice Opera’s production of Massenet’s Werther in May – has a voice described by Forum Opera as “warm, powerful and well conducted”. He has performed in most of the major opera houses across France, including the Opéra Garnier in Paris, in a wide range of roles such as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Lt Pinkerton in his Madame Butterfly, Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon, Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata and Don José in Bizet’s Carmen. In the concert hall, Mr Bettinger has sung the tenor part in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Madeleine Church in Paris, and in Bordeaux and Avignon, and in Haydn’s Creation at Avignon Opéra.

French mezzo-soprano Majdouline Zerari sings the role of Mallika. She has most recently appeared as Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata at Opéra national de Lorraine, also at Wiener Staatsoper, the Festival d’Aix en Provence and in opera houses across France, at which she has also sung the roles of Dritte Dame in Die Zauberflöte and Chamira in the World Premier of Thierry Escaich’s Shirine. As a concert performer, she has sung in Bartók’s Village Scenes, Mozart’s Requiem, Shostakovich’s Jewish Folk Poetry, Ravel’s Mélodies populaires grecques, Vivaldi’s Judita Triumphans and Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été.

Last seen at Nice Opera in the role of Albert in Massenet’s Werther in May, French Baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra takes the role of the Brahmin Nilakantha. His repertoire includes the roles of Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Silvano in Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera, Marcello in Puccini’s La bohème, Lescaut in his Manon Lescaut and Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen. He made his American debut with the San Francisco Symphony in Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole, and has also sung at the Salzburg, Vienna and Aix-en-Provence festivals. This summer he sang the role of Méphistophélès from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in Erfurt and during this current season, he will sing Le Dancaïre from Carmen in Zürich and El Tío Sarvaor from La Vida Breve by Manuel De Falla in Metz.

Also in the cast are Guillaume Andrieux as Frédéric, Lauranne Oliva as Ellen, Elsa Roux Chamoux as Rose, Svetlana Lifar as Mrs Bentson and Carl Ghazarossian as Hadji.                                       

The conductor is Jacques Lacombe, regarded as one of the great specialists of French opera. He was appointed the new Artistic and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Classique de Montréal in February this year. Following this appearance in Nice, he leads the Montreal Orchestra in Slava Ukraïni on October 17, in Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires and Handel’s Messiah. He leads the soloists, Nice Opera Choir and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra in three performances of Delibes’ Lakmé – sung in French with surtitles in both French and English – on September 29th, October 1st and 3rd at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur.

Tickets may be reserved online.

Information sourced from:

Nice Opera programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Monte-Carlo Philharmonic opens new season with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony

In the year which celebrates the centenary of the birth of Prince Rainier III, Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra (OPMC) in the opening concert of the 2023-24 season. The programme features Sir Andrzej Panufnik’s Symphony No 3, Sinfonia Sacra, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2, Resurrection.

The soloists in the Mahler Symphony are Australian soprano Eleanor Lyons and German mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger, backed by the impressive City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus (CBSO), directed by Simon Halsey CBE.

Kazuki Yamada and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra – courtesy OPMC

Artistic and Musical Director of the OPMC, Kazuki Yamada is also Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), 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.

Soprano Eleanor Lyons, according to Resmusica, has “A straight and powerful voice, capable of the most delicate nuances, with seemingly unlimited highs”. Ms Lyons’ current season includes performances of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Strauss’ Four Last Songs with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, a New Year’s Concert with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang with the Balthasar Neumann Choir & Ensemble.

As a concert performer, mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger has a wide-ranging repertoire which covers all major contralto and mezzo-soprano parts in the oratorio and concert repertoire – including the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, as well as 20th century music. Highlights of her career include Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Paris, with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra – part of the International Music Festival in Hamburg – with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon and in Mahler’s Symphony No 3 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus, comprising 180 vocalists, is one of the world’s great choirs and has been trained for almost 40 years by Simon Halsey CBE. With four Grammy Awards to its credit, the Chorus performs in the main with the CBSO, and has also appeared with some of the world’s greatest orchestras, such as the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics. It has a wide-ranging repertoire, from Bach to Henze, the Mahler symphonies and the CBSO’s famous annual carol concerts, and has toured Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.

Warsaw-born Sir Andrzej Panufnik is one of the most important and original symphonic composers of the second half of the 20th century. Having won international admiration and honours in his own country – he became the “father” of the Polish avant-garde – he was appointed chief conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra in 1945, seeking out instrumentalists scattered all over Poland, and in 1946 he was also asked to restore the Warsaw Philharmonic. From 1957 to 1959, Andrzej Panufnik served as Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, before deciding to dedicate his life entirely to composition.

Symphony No 3 Sinfonia Sacra was composed in 1963 as a tribute to Poland’s Millennium of Christianity and Statehood in 1966, and – as the composer says – “as an expression of my religious and patriotic feelings”. As a result he was keen that this work would be Polish in character, with an emphasis on the Catholic tradition. He based the symphony on the first known hymn in the Polish language, the Bogurodzica, a Gregorian chant, the heroic and religious aspects of which were incorporated into the symphony. It was premiered by the Monte-Carlo Opera orchestra, conducted by Louis Fremaux on 12th August, 1964.

Austrian pianist, composer and conductor Gustav Mahler is today known for his emotional, large scale symphonies – characterised as part of the Romanticism movement – and choral works such as Das Klagende Lied, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) and the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). During the early period of his composing career, his work was met the the public lack of comprehension which he was to experience for most of his career. Turning to conducting, he served as director for the Vienna Court Opera from 1897 to 1907, and later led the New York Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mahler ultimately composed 10 symphonies, and is now regarded as a pioneer of 20th century composition techniques, and an influence on composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitry Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten and Alban Berg.

Mahler completed the first movement of his Symphony No 2, Resurrection, in a few months. Four years later, in 1893, he composed an andante in the style of an Austrian folk dance, and a scherzo based on his own setting of the Wunderhorn song. Inspiration for the final movement came during the funeral service for the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, in which a boys’ choir performed a setting of the Resurrection Ode by the German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. The first three movements were heard in Berlin on 4th March, 1895, and the premiere of the complete work took place on 13th December of that year, with the composer again conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, soloists and CBSO Chorus in the opening concert of the 2023-24 season. The performance takes place in the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, on 24th September. For booking information visit the OPMC website.

Information sourced from:

OPMC programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Dutch National Ballet opens new season with Balanchine’s ‘The Four Temperaments’

Anna Ol, Victor Caixeta, Jessica Xuan and Constantine Allen in Balanchine’s
‘The Four Temperaments’ © Marta Syrko

The Dutch National Ballet opens its 2023-24 season with a fascinating programme. The largest ballet company in the Netherlands performs George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Hans van Manen’s Frank Bridge Variations and two new works – The Chairman Dances by artistic director Ted Brandsen and the world premiere of Full Frontal by Juanjo Arqués.

In 1946, George Balanchine choreographed The Four Temperaments to a piece of music which he’d commissioned some years earlier from Swiss composer, Paul Hindemith. Balanchine described the ballet as “an expression in dance and music of the the Greek and medieval notion that the human organism is made up of four different humors, or temperaments”. Each one of us, according to this notion, possesses these four humours, but in different degrees, and the dominance of one of them — melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric — determines our characters. Neither the music nor the ballet itself makes specific interpretation of the idea – it was merely the point of departure for both the composer and choreographer.

Victor Caixeta and Maia Makhateli rehearsing Balanchine’s ‘The Four Temperaments’
©Altin Kaftira

The Four Temperaments – an early experimental work for Balanchine – reflects the genius of the choreographer. A powerful and abstract ballet, the first of his so-called ‘black and white’ – or leotard ballets – with no costumes or stage set, was the forerunner of a number of consecutive works of this kind, a format which proved enduringly successful for the choreographer.

Hans van Manen – winner of numerous awards – is recognised internationally as one of the grand masters of contemporary ballet, having created more than 150 works, which all bear his distinctive signature. A former dancer with the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris, van Manen has worked with the two most important companies in the Netherlands today – he co-directed and has been resident choreographer for Nederlands Dans Theater, and is now resident choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet.

Sem Sjouke, Dingkai Bai and Conor Walmsley in Van Manen’s ‘Frank Bridge Variations’
© Altin Kaftira

His Frank Bridge Variations is set to Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. Written in 1937 as a tribute to Britten’s first composition teacher, Frank Bridge, this piece comprises ten variations, each of which is intended to represent an aspect of Bridge’s character. The ballet reflects the simplicity of van Manen’s choreography, which is just beautiful, and again is unobtrusively costumed and set against a plain background.

The Chairman Dances, the third work on the programme, has been created by the company’s artistic director, Ted Brandsen. It’s billed as “a new ballet for a big ensemble’, and is set to John Adams’ compelling piece of the same name. This piece of music, written in 1985, is said to be an ‘out-take’ from Adams’ internationally acclaimed opera Nixon in China, and the first part of the piece depicts the scene in which Chairman Mao and his wife dance a foxtrot together.

Rafael Valdez and Sebia Plantefève-Castryck rehearsing Ted Brandsen’s
‘The Chairman Dances’ © Altin Kaftira

John Adams is arguably America’s most well-known and successful composer. Winner of numerous Grammys, a Grawemeyer Award and a Pulitzer Prize, he has recently released a 40-CD box of his entire output since 1973. He has longstanding connections with both the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, wrote the opera which opened the San Francisco Opera centennial season and this coming season will see a new production of Adams’s El Niño at the Metropolitan Opera. Also a well-known conductor, Adams has led some of the major orchestras of the world, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera.

Guillermo Torrijos rehearsing Arqués’ ‘Full Frontal’ © Altin Kaftira

This programme by the Dutch National Ballet closes with the premiere performance of Juanjo Arqués’ new piece Full Frontal. A former dancer with the Company, he has achieved international success as a choreographer. This latest work, inspired by the effects of stress on our daily lives, explores the physical obstacles and challenging conditions that we face today. Full Frontal is set to Weather One by Michael Gordon, an American composer and co-founder of the Bang on a Can festival and ensemble.

Dutch National Ballet presents The Four Temperaments on the main stage of the theatre of Dutch National Opera & Ballet from 16th to 30th September. The Dutch Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Matthew Rowe. Further information and tickets are available on the Dutch National Opera and Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

Dutch National Ballet programme notes

Artists’ websites

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San Francisco Opera opens new season with Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’

Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’ with Ekaterina Semenchuk as Azucena and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Eun Sun Kim, Music Director of San Francisco Opera, continues her Verdi cycle, as the Company stages Sir David McVicar’s production of Il trovatore. This story of passion, drama and revenge stars soprano Angel Blue as Leonora, tenor Arturo Chacón Cruz as Manrico, the troubadour of the title. Baritone George Petean takes the role of Count di Luna, who is obsessed by Leonora. The mysterious gypsy Azucena is sung by mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, and Ferrando, captain of the troops, is bass Robert Pomakov.

Robert Pomakov as Ferrando with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in
Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

An opera in four acts, Il trovatore was composed by Giuseppe Verdi between 1851 and 1853, with a libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano. It was based on the 1836 play El toreador by Antonio García Gutiérrez, but Cammarano died before completing the libretto, and Italian poet Leone Emanuele Bardare, a friend and collaborator of his, completed the text. The opera premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on January 19th in 1853.

The original setting of the opera was Aragon and Biscay (now Vizcaya) in 1409, during the Spanish civil war. David McVicar has moved the action to 1808 and set it against the backdrop of the Spanish War of Independence against Napoleon, taking inspiration for his designs from Francisco Goya’s 82 prints, Desastres de la Guerra.

Angel Blue as Leonora and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Manrico in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Il trovatore tells of Leonora, a young noblewoman in the queen’s service, who is in love with Manrico, a troubadour who serenades her every evening. Count di Luna, however is obsessed by her. He has also sworn to avenge what he believes to be the death of his infant brother at the hands of a gypsy woman, Azucena. Manrico has been brought up to believe that the gypsy is his mother, but he isn’t aware that Azucena accidentally killed her own child, kidnapped Manrico and brought him up as her own – and he is actually the brother of the Count. The actions of Azucena all those years ago affect each of the main characters in the story, and lead to a train of events which end in tragedy.

Angel Blue as Leonora in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Grammy Award-winning Angel Blue was also the recipient of the 2020 Beverly Sills Award and the winner of the 2022 Richard Tucker Award. She earned international acclaim in the role of Mimí in Puccini’s La bohème in her house debuts at the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia, Vienna State Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Semperoper Dresden, Hamburg State Opera and Metropolitan Opera. Future highlights of Angel Blue’s current season include a performance at Vienna State Opera of the title role in Puccini’s Tosca – following a recent performance of which Seen and Heard International wrote: “Angel Blue soars as the divine Tosca in Los Angeles” – in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, a soloist in the Celebrating Maria Callas Concert at Carnegie Hall and as Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera.

Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Manrico with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in
Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Arturo Chacón Cruz has sung over 60 roles in 30 countries during his career, including those of Rodolfo in La bohème and the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto for San Francisco Opera. Other performances include those of Manrico and the title role in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Oronte in Verdi’s I Lombardi in Monte-Carlo, Jacopo Foscari in Verdi’s I due Foscari in Paris, as well as one of his signature roles, the title role in Massenet’s Werther at the State Opera in Stuttgart.  Upcoming performances this season include those of des Grieux in Manon in Tenerife, Riccardo in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera at Teatro Regio di Palma, Gustavo in the same opera at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and Don José in Carmen in  Liege.

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Azucena and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Manrico in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Ekaterina Semenchuk has previously appeared at San Francisco Opera as Federica in Verdi’s Luisa Miller, as Amneris in Aida and as Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. She is a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival and has also performed on stages of opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Opéra de Bastille in Paris, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Berlin Staatsoper unter den Linden, the the Arena di Verona, the Opera in Rome and Teatro alla Scala Milan. Her wide-ranging repertoire also includes mezzo roles in operas such as Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, Bizet’s Carmen, Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame, Prokofiev’s War and Peace and Wagner’s Die Walküre.

George Petean as Count di Luna in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

George Petean is known for his performances in Verdi operas, and has performed the title roles in Simon Boccanegra with Opera Australia, Macbeth at Wiener Staatsoper and as Giorgio Germont in La traviata at Dutch National Opera. He appeared in numerous roles as a member of the ensemble of the Hamburg Opera between 2002 and 2010, and has also performed as a guest artist in leading opera houses such as Madrid’s Teatro Real, Paris Opéra, Staatsoper Wien, Teatro Regio di Parma, Berlin State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Robert Pomakov as Ferrando with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Verdi’s
‘Il Trovatore’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Robert Pomakov made his company debut with San Francisco Opera as Monterone in Rigoletto, and later returned to sing Mathieu in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. In recent seasons he has made house debuts with Opéra National de Paris as the Bonze in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and with Den Norske Opera as Gremin in Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin.

Eun Sun Kim leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (director John Keene) and soloists in six performances of Verdi’s Il trovatore at the War Memorial Opera House until October 1st. For further information and details of reservations visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Angel Blue

Arturo Chacón Cruz

Ekaterina Semenchuk

George Petean

Robert Pomakov

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