Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra to perform in Europe, the UK and USA

Many nations the world over have enormous respect for the resilience and determination of the Ukranian people in the defence of their country – a national characteristic which is also symbolised by the creative artists which it has produced – wherever they happen to reside. This is the background to the formation of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra – an ensemble founded and led by Canadian/Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynne Wilson, which is about to undertake a tour which will include performances in Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Under the auspices of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera, this orchestra features first-class musicians from ensembles such as the National Opera of Ukraine, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kharkiv Opera. They’re joined by recent refugees and Ukrainian members of European orchestras such as the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna, the Belgian National Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

With the co-operation of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, musicians have been able to exchange their weapons for their instruments, in a palpable display of the triumph of art over adversity.

The programme includes the Symphony No 7 by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov whose music is described by the BBC’s Andrew McGregor as “…. profoundly beautiful, timeless, and unforgettable”.

Also on the programme is Chopin’s lovely lyrical Piano Concerto No 2. The soloist is Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova whose interpretation of Chopin is, according to Gramophone magazine, “…. unfailingly sensitive, poetic and tasteful ….”. In March, she and Interartists Amsterdam organised a charity concert with members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, cellist Maya Fridman, and percussionist Konstantyn Napolov, to raise humanitarian aid for the victims of the war in Ukraine.

There will also be a performance by Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska of Leonore’s aria Abscheulicher from Beethoven’s Fidelio. Plays to See International Theatre Reviews writes that in her interpretation of this role, her “… passion, fear, and anguish are articulated with pitch perfect intensity and coloratura”. Ms Monastyrska recently appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot.

The programme also features either the Brahms Symphony No 4 or Dvořák’s Symphony No 9, From the New World.

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra is currently in Warsaw, preparing for the opening night of the tour on July 28th. The Orchestra then travels to the United Kingdom for a televised performance at the BBC Proms, to Munich, to the Chorégies d’Orange Festival in France, to Berlin, back to the UK for the Edinburgh International Festival and a performance at Snape Maltings, then to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Festival, and Hamburg, before departing for three performances in the United States – two at Lincoln Center in New York, and the final concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Maestro Wilson grew up in Winnipeg, home of the largest concentration of Ukrainians in North America. With an international career spanning over 20 years, she has led some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras – such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks – and operas at major venues, including The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Bavarian State Opera, Bolshoi Theatre and the Vienna State Opera. In forming the Orchestra, she says she “…wanted to bring the best orchestral musicians of Ukraine together, from both inside and outside of their country, in a proud display of artistic unity …. This tour is an expression of love for their homeland and to honor those who have died and have suffered so much.”

Both the Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera have played leading roles in the cultural world in support of Ukraine against Russian aggression, and for the victims of the war. The Met was one of the first performing arts organizations to hold a benefit concert for Ukraine, conducted by its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on March 14th, and the Polish National Opera has not only been harbouring refugees from Ukraine, but also presenting benefit concerts in support of its neighbouring country.

Funds raised from the tour will go to support Ukrainian artists, and donations can be made to the Ministry of Culture.

Tickets for the individual performances are available from the venues listed below:

Thursday 28 July 2022 –Teatr Wielki–Polish National Opera, Warsaw
Sunday 31 July 2022 – Royal Albert Hall, London (BBC Proms)
Monday 1 August 2022 – Isarphilharmonie, Munich (MünchenMusik)
Tuesday 2 August 2022 – Les Chorégies d’Orange
Thursday 4 August 2022 – Konzerthaus Berlin
Saturday 6 August 2022 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival)
Monday 8 August 2022 – Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Snape
Thursday 11 August 2022 – The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Saturday 13 August 2022 – Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
Sunday 15 August 2022 – National Concert Hall, Dublin
Thursday 18 August 2022 – Lincoln Center, New York
Friday 19 August 2022 – Lincoln Center, New York
Saturday 20 August – 2022 – Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.


Information sourced from:

Keri-Lynn Wilson – Ukranian Freedom Orchestra

Valentin Silvestrov

Anna Fedorova

Liudmyla Monastyrska

ArtsPreview home page

Sicily’s Opera Festival of the Stone Theatres

The Andromeda Theatre of Santo Stefano Quisquina, Sicily

The Opera Festival of the Stone Theatres is now an established feature of the summer season on the Mediterranean island of Sicily. This annual festival, launched by the internationally renowned Sicilian Lyric Choir – under the direction of Francesco Costa and chairman Alberto Munafò Siragusa – is a travelling event which runs from June to September, featuring operas, symphonic concerts, opera concerts, recitals and even film music.

The Sicilian Lyric Choir

What makes the Festival unique is the range of gorgeous ancient Roman and Greek amphitheatres, built of stone, marble or carved from rock, in which these events are staged. The theme of this year’s Festival is Il Risveglio (The Awakening), and the mission is the revival of what are known as the theatres of Mare Nostrum, through symphonic and operatic music, starting from Greek and Roman Sicily, arriving at the archaeological sites of Calabria (Locri, Soriano Calabro and the ancient Kaulon) and concluding in the Roman amphitheater of El Jem in Tunisia. There will also be concerts at the Timoleontee Walls of Gela and the Greek Theatre of Palazzolo Acreide, the archaeological area of Morgantina, and the cities of Milo, Catania, Adrano, Castelmola, Ferla, Falcone.

The Roman amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia

A novelty of this year’s Festival will be the rediscovery and promotion of authentic open-air theatres such as the Archaeological area of Gioiosa Guardia on 3rd August, the Marine Reserve of Capo Milazzo and the Andromeda Theatre of Santo Stefano Quisquina on 10th August, the Roman mausoleum of Centuripe on 13th August, the Hellenistic necropolis of Abakainon in Tripi on 22nd and 25th August, and the agora of Megara Hyblaea in the archaeological area of Caucana on 16th September.

The Greek Theatre of Syracuse, Sicily

Highlights of this celebration of the arts still to come include a tribute to Franco Battiato and Lucio Dalla, the Italian musicians, singers and composers, at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse on 22nd July, and the re-introduction of classical ballet to pay homage to one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, Carla Fracci. Organised by the Milan Ballet Company exclusively for the Stone Theatre Festival, the Carla Fracci Memorial will take place on 23rd July at the cavea of the Temenite Hill in the Archaeological park of Neapolis in Syracuse.

Important anniversaries to be celebrated include the Renata Tebaldi centenary on 31st July at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse, with the Puccini & Verdi Gala, and a performance of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga on whose play the opera was based.

The ancient Theatre of Taormina, Sicily

There’s a tribute to composer Ennio Morricone on 2nd August at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina and on 8th August in Piazza Armerina, and a “film concert” La dolce vita will be held at the Greek Theatre of Tindari on 26th August. The featured opera this year is Bizet’s Carmen, and this will be staged at the ancient theatres of Syracuse on 6th August, Taormina on 9th August and Tindari on 12th August.

The Greek Theatre of Tindari, Sicily

The orchestra in residence for this year’s Festival of the Stone Theatres will once again be the Calabria Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Filippo Arlia – Principal Director of the Festival. The orchestra has collaborated with musicians such as Michel Camilo, Ramin Bahrami, Sergej Krylov, Ilya Grubert, Sergei Nakariakov, Yuri Shiskin, as well as with artists such as José Carreras.

For further information on The Opera Festival of the Stone Theaters, contact Coro Lirico Siciliano at grancoro@hotmail.it.

San Francisco Playhouse stages Sondheim’s ‘Follies’

San Francisco Playhouse opens another first-class musical this week – Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, described by The New York Times as “One of the greatest musicals ever written”.

Directed by Bill English, Follies has a book by American playwright, novelist and screenwriter, James Goldman, who won an Academy Award for the screen adaptation of his play The Lion in Winter. Goldman also wrote the screenplays for Robin and Marion, Nicholas and Alexandra and White Nights, and other stage plays include Evening Primrose – his second collaboration with Stephen Sondheim – Oliver Twist, Anna Karenina, Anatasia: The Mystery of Anna, and Tolstoy.

Dimitri Weisman (Louis Parnell) welcomes his guests

The late Stephen Sondheim – referred to by The New York Times as a “titan of the American musical” – is well known for both his music and lyrics. In addition to Follies – his seventh Broadway production – he wrote both songs and words for shows such as Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. He is equally well known for having written the lyrics for Bernstein’s West Side Story, for Jule Styne’s score for Gypsy, for Richard Rogers’ Do I Hear a Waltz? and additional lyrics for Bernstein’s Candide.

‘Beautiful Girls’ – a scene from Sondheim’s ‘Follies’

Follies is set in 1971 in the deteriorating Broadway theatre of impresario Dmitri Weismann, before it closes for demolition. It tells of a reunion of girls who had performed in Weismann’s Follies between the two world wars, and how they reminisce about their past in songs which they had sung in their earlier performances. The focus of Follies falls on two middle-aged couples, each with a failing marriage, as they face up to some unpleasant truths about their respective pasts, and confront the future.

As producer Ted Chapin says in his memoir about the show’s original production – When Everything Was Possible – “It is really about the effects the past has on the present and the future”. Music Theatre International says, Follies is “Surreal, sophisticated, compelling, heart wrenching and epic in scope … a true showcase for powerful dramatic actors.”

Chachi Delgado as Young Buddy, Samantha Rose Cárdenas as Young Sally, Danielle Cheiken as Young Phyllis, and Cameron LaBrie as Young Ben in ‘Waiting for the Girls Upstairs’

Follies earned seven 1972 Tony Awards, the 1971 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical, two 1971 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Lyrics respectively, the 1987 Olivier Award for Best Musical, and an Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival in 2017. 

This production of Follies stars Natascia Diaz as former showgirl Sally Durant Plummer, Samantha Rose Cárdenas as Young Sally, Anthony Rollins-Mullens as Sally’s travelling salesman husband Buddy Plummer, and Chachi Delgado as Young Buddy. Maureen McVerry is Phyllis Rogers Stone – also a former showgirl – Danielle Cheiken is Young Phyllis, Chris Vettel is Benjamin Stone her self-absorbed husband, Cameron La Brie is Young Benjamin and Louis Parnell is impresario Dimitri Weismann.

Phyllis Rogers Stone (Maureen McVerry), Sally Durant Plummer (Natascia Diaz), Solange LaFitte (Jill Slyter), Carlotta Campion (Cindy Goldfield), and the Follies ensemble (Emily Corbo, Ann Warque, Catrina Manahan, and Samantha RoseCárdenas) join in the fun

Music Direction by is Dave Dobrusky and choreography by Nicole Helfer.

Follies runs at the San Francisco Playhouse from July 20 – September 10, 2022. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website.

All photos by Jessica Palopoli

Information sourced from:
San Francisco Playhouse program notes
Everything Sondheim
MTI Shows
The National Theatre

ArtsPreview home page

Met Opera’s ‘Live in HD’ season opens with Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’

Alek Shrader as Camille de Rosillon, Renée Fleming as Hanna and Nathan Gunn as Danilo, in Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This week, the Metropolitan Opera opens the first of the Summer Encores performances from its Live in HD season. Lehár’s The Merry Widow will be screened in cinemas across the US and in select locations internationally, on Wednesday, July 13.

Staged by five-time Tony Award winning director and choreographer, Susan Stroman, The Merry Widow is set in Paris and tells of the fabulously wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari, who is being courted by her former lover, Danilo, to ensure that her fortune remains in their home country of Pontevedro. The title role is taken by soprano Renée Fleming, “superstar of the operatic world” (according to London Theatre), with the role of Danilo sung by Nathan Gunn – described by The Mercury News as “the sensational baritone… with intense charisma and a voice like honey”. Soprano Kelli O’Hara is Valencienne, the flirtatious young wife of Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris, sung by baritone Thomas Allen, with tenor Alek Shrader as her suitor, Camille de Rosillon.

A scene from Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The original German libretto of this three-act comic operetta was written by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, and based upon the book L’Attaché d’ambassade by Henri Meilhac. Die lustige Witwe (the German name) did not have an easy path to success, since the score by Austrian composer Richard Heuberger was not to the liking of the librettists. Lehár, who had not previously written this kind of comic operetta, was suggested as a composer by the secretary of the Theater an der Wien – where the operetta was scheduled to run – and although the theatre manager was not completely happy with the finished product, it premiered on December 30, 1905. Within a few years, Die lustige Witwe had become an international success and ultimately became one of the most popular operettas in the repertoire.

A scene from Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Originally transmitted on January 17, 2015, This Metropolitan Opera production was translated into English by Jeremy Sams.

Andrew Davis leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, soloists and Chorus in Franz Lehár’s gorgeous score to The Merry Widow. Find your nearest cinema on this link.

A scene from Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This Metropolitan Opera Live in HD season continues with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, starring soprano Patricia Racette in the title role in Anthony Minghella’s acclaimed production; Franco Zeffirelli’s lovely staging of Puccini’s La Bohème, with soprano Sonya Yoncheva and tenor Michael Fabiano; and Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, featuring soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Juan Diego Flórez.

Information sourced from:

Metropolitan Opera program notes

Susan Stroman

Renée Fleming

Nathan Gunn

Encyclopaedia Britannica

ArtsPreview home page

‘Soirée 3 chorégraphes’ closes Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s ‘L’Été Danse!’

Poster for ‘L’Été Danse!’ © Alice Blangero

The final production of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s summer dance programme, L’Été Danse!, is a triple bill entitled Soirée 3 chorégraphes, which features works by the Company’s Choreographer-Director Jean-Christophe Maillot, Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián and Swedish choreographer Mats Ek.

J-C Maillot’s ‘Back on Track 61’ © Alice Blangero

Ravel’s Concerto in G has occupied a place in the mind of Jean-Christophe Maillot ever since his father introduced this piece of music to him when he was a child, and last year – as he celebrated his 61st birthday – he finally created a ballet, Back on Track 61, based on this Concerto – which could well have been written for this very purpose. Composed between 1929 and 1931, the Concerto was written – according to Ravel – “very much in the same spirit as those [concertos] of Mozart and Saint-Saëns”. He felt that the music of a concerto should be “lighthearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects”. With its jazzy influence and a dash of Spanish flavouring, this Concerto certainly lives up to the composer’s ideal, opening with a breezy melody, followed by a lovely slow waltz, and ending with a rousing finale. Back on Track 61 reflects Maillot’s outlook on the passing of time and the constant need to create.

The ballet is performed to the recording of Ravel’s Concerto in G by the Martha Argerich/Claudio Abbado collaboration, with scenography and lighting by J-C Maillot and Samuel Théry, and costumes by Jean-Michel Lainé. It was premiered on 29th October 2021 at the Salle Garnier Opéra de Monte-Carlo.

Claude Pascal is described as a “tragicomic encounter between the past and the present”. One group of dancers, representing the era around the late 1800s, appears to be playing a form of tennis, while the other group – dressed in minimalist, contemporary costumes – dances to a contemporary score. The message which the ballet conveys is that the present, and future, will one day become the past. One of Jirí Kylián’s 100 creations, Claude Pascal, premiered on 29th May, 2002, at the Lucent Danstheater in The Hague.

‘Claude Pascal’ Nederlands Dans Theater 1 Choreografie: Jiri Kylian –
Urtzi Aranburu & Shirley Esseboom © Joris-Jan Bos Photography

Having become joint artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater in 1975, together with Hans Knill, Jirí Kylián is credited with having given that company international status in 1978 with his ballet Sinfonietta – the same year in which he established NDT 2, which acted as a bridge between school and the professional company, to provide young talent for the company. In 1991, he created NDT 3, providing opportunities for dancers above 40 years of age. In 1999, Kylián retired as artistic director, but remained the company’s house choreographer for a further 10 years. He has since created ballets for companies such as the Stuttgart Ballet, the Opéra de Paris, the Munich Bayerisches Staatsballett and the Tokyo Ballet, and his works are frequently performed by dance companies and schools around the world.

Claude Pascal is danced to a score by Dirk Haubrich which was written in 2002, with décor by Kylian, costumes by Joke Visser, and lighting and technical co-ordination by Kees Tjebbes.

Mats Ek made his choreographic debut in 1976 with a work for the Cullberg Ballet – the first of many for the company. Having initially shared the artistic directorship of the company with Birgit Cullberg, Mats Ek was appointed sole artistic director in 1985, and it was then that he showed an interest in reinterpreting works from the classical repertoire, with his versions of Giselle and The Rite of Spring. These were followed by interpretations of Swan Lake and Carmen for the Cullberg Ballet, and The Sleeping Beauty for the Hamburg Ballet. As a guest choreographer for leading companies of the world, he has worked with those such as the Royal Swedish Opera, the Norwegian Opera, Stuttgart Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala, Milan, Metropolitan Opera, and Paris Opera Ballet.

Scene from Mats Ek’s ‘Casi Casa’ © Vallinas

Ek takes much of his inspiration from everyday life. “I watch a lot of film and theater and look at a lot of art,” he says. “But what’s important to me most is reading the newspaper, watching my children, watching animals move in the park, watching the traffic; things that are not made to be seen. The stage set at the social level is very rich”. His ballet Casi Casa, created in 2009, revolves around three very common household objects – a stove, a rocking chair and a door. These three objects are onstage throughout the ballet, and around them everyday things happen, but the audience is also drawn in by new elements which start to emerge. The ballet premiered on 4th December, 2009, at Théâtre Garcia Lorca in Havana.

The music for Casi Casa is by Flesh Quartet, originally a string quartet which has become an experimental group mixing classical music with dub and techno. Costumes are by Peder Freiij, lighting by Erik Berglund Ballet, and origination by Ana Laguna and Mariko Aoyama

Soirée 3 chorégraphes runs at the Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, from 14th to 17th July. Further information and ticket reservations can be found on Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s website.

Information sourced from:

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo programme notes

Jirí Kylián

Mats Ek

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

ArtsPreview home page

Opera Rara & Britten Sinfonia stage Mercadante’s ‘Il proscritto’

Opera Rara and the Britten Sinfonia present the first performance of Saverio Mercadante’s Il proscritto since the opera’s première in Naples in 1842. Carlo Rizzi, Artistic Director of Opera Rara, leads the Britten Sinfonia, soloists and the Opera Rara Chorus in a concert performance of Il proscritto (The Outlawed) at the London Barbican on Tuesday, 28th June.

For more than 50 years, Opera Rara – in a mission to widen the operatic repertoire – has specialised in the rediscovery and restoration of neglected works, having already restored, performed and recorded three of Mercadante’s operas – Orazi e Curiazi, Emma d’Antiochia and Virginia. Il proscritto is the Company’s 46th restoration project since its founding in 1970.  

Carlo Rizzi, Artistic Director of Opera Rara © Opera Rara/Russell Duncan

At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 – the year which marked Opera Rara’s 50th anniversary – Carlo Rizzi discovered Mercadante’s original autograph score online at the Naples Conservatory Library, and during the lockdown which followed, Maestro Rizzi led the complete restoration of this work. He was assisted by Opera Rara’s Artistic Dramaturg Roger Parker, in collaboration with Ian Schofield, via Casa Ricordi, the distributor of Opera Rara’s editorial catalogue – a catalogue which now includes more than 30 complete operas. This week, a studio recording of Il proscritto is being made – for the first time ever.

Mercadante (1795-1870) was the leading Italian composer between Donizetti and Verdi, who was responsible for composing a series of “reform operas” during the 1830s – to distinguish his work from that of Bellini and Donizetti. In Il proscritto – which represents one of his most daring and innovative scores – he restored aspects of bel canto lyricism, while still retaining facets of his “reform operas”. This combination proved difficult for the audience of Naples, however, and following the première at the San Carlo Theatre on January 4, 1842, the opera was never performed again after its initial run.

Ramón Vargas is Giorgio Argyll © Opera Rara/Russell Duncan

“What makes Il proscritto so interesting for me,” says Maestro Rizzi, “is its melodic inventiveness, fascinating orchestral textures and unique sound world …. there is so much musical variety for audiences to enjoy and look forward to, in a fascinating and dramatically involving evening of music.”

Iván Ayón-Rivas is Arturo Murray © Opera Rara/Russell Duncan

Set in Edinburgh against the backdrop of Oliver Cromwell’s rule, this story of lost love and political treachery has a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, based on the 1839 play Le proscrit by Frédéric Soulié. Some time before the action begins, Malvina Douglas was married to Giorgio Argyll (a supporter of the Royalist cause), but following a shipwreck he was presumed dead. Malvina is urged by her mother and half-brother (a supporter of Cromwell) to marry Arturo Murray (also a Cromwellian). Despite wishing initially to kill herself, Malvina gradually finds that love has blossomed between her and Arturo, although she is riven with guilt at the thought of her former husband.

Matters become complicated when, on the day of her marriage to Arturo, Malvina’s first husband, Giorgio, arrives on the scene incognito, having obviously survived the shipwreck. Despite his love for Malvina he urges her to marry Arturo who, when he discovers Giorgio’s identity, challenges him to a duel. Malvina decides that the only way out of this debacle will be by her death, and the opera inevitably ends in tragedy.

Elizabeth DeShong is Odardo and Irene Robers is Malvina Douglas
© Opera Rara/Russell Duncan

Heading Opera Rara’s cast is Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas who takes the role of Giorgio Argyll. Peruvian tenor Iván Ayón-Rivas, winner of the 2021 Operalia competition, is Giorgio’s rival Arturo Murray. The role of Malvina Douglas is sung by American mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts, and her brother Odoardo is sung by American mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong. The cast is completed by Sally Matthews, Goderdzi Janelidze, Susana Gaspar, Niall Anderson and Alessandro Fisher – the first singer to appear in Opera Rara’s new Salon Series for emerging artists which launched in May.  

Carlo Rizzi conducts the Britten Sinfonia, soloists and the Chorus of Opera Rara in a concert performance of Mercadante’s Il proscritto on Tuesday, 28th June, at 7.30 pm at The Barbican in London. Tickets can be reserved online via this link.

Information sourced from:

Opera Rara programme notes

Saverio Mercadante

More information on the artists available on the following websites:

Ramón Vargas

Iván Ayón-Rivas

Irene Roberts

Elizabeth DeShong

ArtsPreview home page

Nice Philharmonic closes season with Bringuier and Moreau

Cellist Edgar Moreau © Julien Mignot

The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra brings the 2021/22 season to a close with a programme of music by Smetana, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák. The concerts are led by Niçois Lionel Bringuier – the Philharmonic’s Artiste Associé – with guest soloist Parisian cellist Edgar Moreau.

Edgar Moreau charted the course of his career at a young age, becoming the winner of the Young Soloist Prize in the 2009 Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris at the age of 15, and two years later as the recipient of Second Prize in Russia’s formidable Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.

Roma, Auditorium Parco della Musica 24 05 2018 Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Jakub Hrusa direttore Edgar Moreau violoncello ©Musacchio & Ianniello

“Rostropovich,” he says, “was always a hero for me! I remember when I was little, I used to have fun playing along to his recording of the Haydn concerto; that’s how I cut my teeth on the repertoire.”

Moreau regularly performs in some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, including Carnegie Hall, Berlin Philharmonie, Vienna Musikverein and Konzerthaus, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Paris Philharmonie and Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Scala de Milano, La Fenice and the Wigmore Hall. He frequently appears at festivals such as Verbier, Salzburg, Gstaad, Montreux, Hamburg and Edinburgh, collaborates with some of the world’s finest soloists and conductors, and performs with major orchestras internationally, such as Filarmonica della Scala, London Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Saint-Petersburg Philharmonic and Simon Bolivar Orchestra.

Conductor Lionel Bringuier © Simon Pauly

Lionel Bringuier travels extensively across the globe, appearing with symphonies, chamber orchestras and at opera houses. He is well known across Europe, in the United States and in Asia, and his appointment as Artiste Associé of the Nice Philharmonic gives him the opportunity to curate and conduct a series of special programmes to which he is able to invite several of his closest musical partners.

He is described by the Financial Times as “A natural talent whose good instincts are bolstered by good taste plus a strong technique. And unlike those Wunderkinder, past and present, who value personal flash over artistic substance, he steps back and just lets the music show off.”

The Moldau is a symphonic poem by Bohemian composer Bedřich Smetana, which forms the second of a six-movement suite Má vlast (My Country), a devoutly patriotic work which captures in music Smetana’s love of his homeland. Each movement of the suite – which took Smetana the better part of the 1870s to write – is a self-standing symphonic poem with its own story. The Moldau describes the flow of the Vltava River (Moldau is the German translation of Vltava), from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the Czech countryside, to the city of Prague. Má vlast was premiered in its entirety in Prague on 5th November, 1882.

The Variations on a Rococo Theme Op 33 for cello and orchestra was the closest Tchaikovsky ever came to writing a full cello concerto. Written between December 1876 and January 1877, these Variations were inspired by Mozart – whose music Tchaikovsky greatly admired – and the work was dedicated to the cellist Karl Friedrich Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who premiered this masterpiece in Moscow on 18th November, 1877, with Nikolay Rubinstein conducting the Russian Musical Society.

It would appear that Tchaikovsky first wrote an arrangement for cello and piano which he gave to Fitzenhagen for checking. Fitzenhagen made some changes to a large section of the cello part, inserting them over parts of Tchaikovsky’s manuscript, and it seems as though Tchaikovsky orchestrated the work from the piano arrangement as amended by Fitzenhagen, even though he was apparently distraught by the changes that the cellist had made. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Tchaikovsky’s original text of the Variations was completely reconstructed, and published in a 1956 edition of Tchaikovsky’s Complete Collected Works under the editorship of Viktor Kubatsky.

The concert ends with Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 in E minor Op 95, known as From the New World. Commissioned by the New York Philharmonic in 1893, it premiered on December 16th of that year at Carnegie Hall, with Anton Seidl leading the Philharmonic. It was written within the first year of the composer’s residence in the United States, at a time of great contentment for him. With strong impressions of his new environment, financial independence, a sense of his role as an ‘ambassador’ of Czech music, and his ambitions to ensure that he would not fall short of expectations, Dvořák was at the height of his creative powers.

There has been much discussion about the extent to which this symphony was inspired by Native American music and Afro-American songs, however in an article published in the New York Herald shortly before the premiere, Dvořák was quoted as saying: “It is merely the spirit of Negro and Indian melodies which I have tried to reproduce in my new symphony”. What is unquestionable, though, is the fact that it’s widely regarded as Dvořák’s most popular symphony in an international context.

Lionel Bringuier leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra, with guest soloist Edgar Moreau, in works by Smetana, Tchaikovsky and Dvořák, in the final programme of the 2021/22 season. Performances take place on 17th June at 20h00, and 18th June at 16h00 at Nice Opera. Reservations may be made online.

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

Information sourced from:

Nice Philharmonic programme notes

Lionel Bringuier

Edgar Moreau

Smetana’s The Moldau

Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme

Dvořák’s Symphony No 9

ArtsPreview home page

‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ returns to San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang as Dai Yu in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

In the second production of its new season at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco Opera stages the return of Dream of the Red Chamber. A Company-commissioned work, Dream of the Red Chamber is based on the classic 18th century Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin, with a score by Chinese-American composer Bright Sheng, who co-wrote the libretto with David Henry Hwang.

Dream of the Red Chamber – which is as much of a classic in Chinese literary culture as is Romeo and Juliet in the Western World – revolves around a love triangle in which Bao Yu, the young heir of the illustrious Jia family finds himself involved. He is in love with Dai Yu, his spiritual soulmate, but is also attracted to Bao Chai, who is beautiful and more worldly than Dai Yu. In addition, Bao Chai comes from the wealthy Xue Clan, and Bao Yu’s mother, Lady Wang, has it in mind to arrange for her son to marry this wealthy heiress, in the hope that the Jia family will be able to repay a long-standing debt to the Imperial Court. This becomes of increasing importance when the Emperor rejects Princess Jia as his favored concubine, and the Jia family’s wealth is threatened, along with Bao Yu’s desired union with Dai Yu.

The poetry and sadness of the tale is related by a mysterious figure, The Monk, in a series of dreamlike sequences, starting with a prologue in which he tells of a stone which was left behind from the construction of Heaven, and a crimson pearl flower, which was nurtured for 3,000 years by dew from the stone. Stone and Flower wish to fulfil their love as mortals on earth, and – despite The Monk’s advice to the contrary – they travel to earth through a magic mirror. Bao Yu and Dai Yu are the human incarnations of Stone and Flower.

Konu Kim as Bao Yu with members of the San Francisco Opera Dance Corps in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

Taking the role of Bao Yu, and making his Company debut, is Korean tenor Konu Kim, a graduate of the young artist program at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, whose most recent appearance was as Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan tutte for San Diego Opera.

Meigui Zhang as Dai Yu in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

Also making her debut with San Francisco Opera is soprano Meigui Zhang – a graduate of the Merola Opera Program – who takes the role of Dai Yu. Ms Zhang has recently appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as Thibault in Sir David McVicar’s new production of Verdi’s Don Carlos, and reprised her role as Barbarina in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Hongni Wu as Boa Chai and Konu Kim as Bao Yu in an early rehearsal of
‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

In another Company debut, Chinese mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu appears as Bao Chai. Ms Wu joined the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in the 2018/19 season, and has since appeared in roles such as Flora in Verdi’s La traviata, Mercédès in Bizet’s Carmen, Zweite Dame in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Siébel in Gounod’s Faust.

Hyona Kim as Lady Wang in an early rehearsal of ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

Korean mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim reprises her role as Lady Wang, as does Taiwanese soprano Karen Chia-ling Ho as Princess Jia, both of whom appeared in the world premiere cast. Mezzo-soprano Sabina Kim makes her debut as Granny Jia and mezzo-soprano Guang Yang is Aunt Xue. Ms Yang, a winner of both the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World and Operalia competitions, first appeared with San Francisco Opera in 2010 as Amneris in Verdi’s Aida.

Francis Jue as the Monk in an early rehearsal of Bright Sheng’s ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

San Francisco-born actor Francis Jue who will perform the non-singing role of the Monk, is well known for his work in theater, including roles in the David Henry Hwang plays Soft Power, Yellow Face and M. Butterfly.

Composer, conductor and pianist, Bright Sheng is regarded as one of today’s foremost composers, whose works are regularly performed throughout North America, Europe and Asia. In 2001 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and in the same year, Mr Sheng was also the recipient of an American Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He won an ASCAP Achievement Award the following year.

An English libretto to Dream of the Red Chamber was planned from the outset, to make the opera easily accessible to non-Chinese-speaking audiences. Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang is probably best known for his 1998 Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, which also won Drama Desk, John Gassner and Outer Critics Circle awards, and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Included in his musicals are a Tony-nominated new book for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, and Disney’s Tarzan.

Francis Jue as The Monk and Konu Kim as Bao Yu in an early rehearsal of Bright Sheng’s ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’

This production is again directed by award-winning playwright, director and translator Stan Lai who is known as one of the most celebrated theatre artists in the Chinese-speaking world. Sets and costumes are by Tim Yip, Academy Award-winning designer of Crouching Tiger – Hidden Dragon, for which he also won a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for costume design.

In his first appearance for the Company, Singaporean conductor Darrell Ang leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene). Maestro Ang is currently Artistic Director/Chief Conductor of the Sichuan Orchestra of China.

Dream of the Red Chamber is sung in English with English and Chinese supertitles. It runs at the War Memorial Opera House for seven performances between June 14th and July 3rd. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.

The matinee performance on Sunday, June 19th, will be streamed live at 2.00 pm (PT). The performance will be available to watch on-demand for 48 hours beginning on Monday, June 20th at 10.00 am (PT). Streaming tickets are $25. For more information, visit sfopera.com/online.

All photographs © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites:

Bright Sheng

David Henry Hwang

Konu Kim

Meigui Zhang

Hongni Wu

 Stan Lai

Tim Yip

Darrell Ang

ArtsPreview home page

MTT leads Czech Philharmonic in works by Copland and Schubert

Michael Tilson Thomas © Spencer Lowell

Michael Tilson Thomas, Music Director Laureate of the San Francisco Symphony, Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra and Co-Founder and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony in Miami, this week leads the Czech Philharmonic in a programme of music by Aaron Copland and Franz Schubert. The featured works are Copland’s ballet score for Appalachian Spring and Schubert’s Symphony in C major (D944), known as the ‘Great’.

Michael Tilson Thomas is a legend in his own right. Having worked with artists such as Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland as a young musician, he subsequently became Principal Guest Conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic, Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and he co-founded the New World Symphony in Miami Beach.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 on September 3, 2010 in Davies Symphony Hall.

It was as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, however, that Michael Tilson Thomas achieved his greatest success, forging a long and highly successful collaboration with the Symphony. This relationship was widely regarded as one of the most inspirational and successful in the United States and represented a remarkable period of growth and recognition for the Symphony. MTT has a reputation for creative and artistically adventurous programming, producing a continual stream of innovative ideas, attracting new audiences to classical music and showcasing the works of American composers. During his 25-year tenure, he led the Symphony on numerous international tours and together they won twelve Grammy Awards, made more than 120 recordings and made numerous televised performances, including Tilson Thomas’ enduringly popular Keeping Score series, broadcast by PBS in the States.

Aaron Copland – courtesy CBS Television

It’s appropriate that the opening work of this Czech Philharmonic concert is by Aaron Copland – the score commissioned by choreographer Martha Graham for her ballet Appalachian Spring. From his early twenties Copland’s mission was to promote American music – an objective shared with Michael Tilson Thomas – and his works bear the influence of jazz and Latin American music, as well as the European music with which he became familiar during his time in Paris, studying under Nadia Boulanger.

The title Appalachian Spring is taken from a poem The Dance by Hart Crane (1899-1932) which is a tribute to spring. The ballet, celebrating rural life, tells the simple story of immigrants to their new country, America, their lives and their rituals. The seventh movement of the work is a variation on the 1848 song Simple Gifts, attributed to Joseph Brackett (1797-1882) and regarded as the anthem of the Shaker movement of which Brackett was a member. Appalachian Spring – which won for Copland the 1945 Pulitzer Prize in composition – was written in 1944, initially for a 13-member chamber ensemble, and premiered on 30th October 1944 at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The work has since undergone various orchestral arrangements, and the one featured in this week’s performance is an arrangement by Michael Tilson Thomas.

The Czech Philharmonic in the Dvořák Hall at the Rudofinum in Prague © Petra Hajska

Franz Schubert began work on his Symphony in C major (D 944) in the summer of 1825, and it was thought to have been completed in 1828, or possibly before. It was given the title of ‘Great’ to distinguish it from his Symphony in C major (D 589) of 1818, and chronologically was his last symphony. The first performance of the work was given in a sight-reading rehearsal by the Vienna Society of the Friends of Music, but it was not performed publicly until after the composer’s death in November 1828.

It was Robert Schumann who was responsible for the premiere of Schubert’s ‘Great’ Symphony. On a visit to Vienna in 1838 he heard of the existence of the manuscript in the possession of the composer’s brother, Ferdinand Schubert. Schumann passed it to his friend Felix Mendelssohn, and the Symphony in C major (D 944) finally premiered on 21st March, 1839, in a performance by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig, with Mendelssohn conducting.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the Czech Philharmonic in a programme of music by Aaron Copland and Franz Schubert in the Dvořák Hall at the Rudolfinum in Prague, from 8th to 10th June. For details on booking tickets, visit the Czech Philharmonic website.

Information sourced from:

Czech Philharmonic programme notes

San Francisco Symphony programme notes

More information available on:

Michael Tilson Thomas

Aaron Copland

Martha Graham

Franz Schubert – Symphony in C major (D 944) ‘Great

ArtsPreview home page

San Francisco Opera opens new season with Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’

Etienne Dupuis in the title role in Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’

San Francisco Opera opens its new season with the final part of its multi-year Mozart-Da Ponte Trilogy in which the Company has presented all three collaborations by Mozart with librettist Lorenzo De Ponte. Each of these productions has been set in the same American house at different stages of a 300-year span. With production once again by Michael Cavanagh, Don Giovanni rounds off his staging of these operas, which began in 2019 with Le Nozze de Figaro, followed by Così fan tutte in 2021.

Cavanagh’s Le Nozze de Figaro was set in early post-colonial America when the house was newly built. Così fan tutte was set in the 1930s, when the house had been converted into a country club, and the characters were facing a moral dilemma. The action in Don Giovanni takes place 150 years later, at a time of uncertainty, when both the house and society are crumbling.

Etienne Dupuis in the title role of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’

In this production of Don Giovanni, the cast is headed by Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis as lothario Don Giovanni, Romanian soprano Adela Zaharia as his potential conquest Donna Anna, and Australian soprano Nicole Car as Donna Elvira who has been betrayed by Giovanni. This production represents a Company debut for all three artists. Austrian soprano Christina Gansch is Zerlina, the young bride whom Giovanni tries to seduce, Italian bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni is Giovanni’s servant Leporello, Samoan tenor Amitai Pati is Donna Anna’s fiancé Don Ottavio, Cody Quattlebaum is Zerlina’s intended husband Masetto, and Soloman Howard is the Commendatore, father of Donna Anna. Leading this production is Parisian conductor Bertrand de Billy, making his Company debut.

Don Giovanni, commissioned right after Mozart’s highly successful trip to Prague in 1787, is a two-act dramma giocoso – a particular type of comic opera, described by Daniel Heartz in The Musical Times as “A frolic with serious elements” – and is based on the fictional character, Don Juan, created by Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina. Da Ponte based his libretto on Giovanni Bertati’s version for a former opera entitled Don Giovanni Tenorio. Don Giovanni premiered in Prague at the Estates Theatre on October 29th in 1787. It was somewhat misunderstood at first, but ultimately it came to be regarded as one of the greatest of all operas.

Etienne Dupuis as Don Giovanni and Adela Zaharia as Donna Anna

The opera tells of Don Giovanni, a serial seducer with a huge ego, who cannot resist the charms of any woman, casting each lover aside without an ounce of remorse, and one who isn’t shy of murderous intent either – he kills the Commendatore who confronts him as Giovanni tries to seduce his daughter. Ultimately Giovanni meets his match in a graveyard in which a huge statue of the Commendatore stands. The statue urges him to repent of his ways, but Don Giovanni, unwilling to amend his lifestyle, succumbs to the fate which the Commendatore has predicted for him, and is consumed by the flames that have sprung up around him, as a chorus of demons condemns him to eternal damnation.

Etienne Dupuis has appeared in major opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera – where he was fêted for his recent performance as Rodrigue in Verdi’s Don Carlos – Deutsche Oper Berlin, Opéra de Montreal, Opernhaus Zurich and the Glyndebourne Festival. Future engagements include his Wiener Staatsoper debut as Valentin in Gounod’s Faust, performances as Count Almaviva Le Nozze di Figaro at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Albert in Massenet’s Werther and Marcello in Puccini’s La bohème at the Vienna State Opera, and Russian concerts at the Opera de Paris. Further engagements include returns to the Metropolitan Opera, Wiener Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin and the Opéra de Montreal.

Nicole Car as Donna Elvira and Etienne Dupuis as Don Giovanni

In this current 2021-22 season, Adela Zaharia has sung her signature role of Donna Anna at De Nationale Opera in Amsterdam, at the Opéra Nationale de Paris and at the Metropolitan Opera. She has also appeared in this role at the Teatro Real in Madrid and in her house debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. In addition, she has appeared in the Bayerische Staatsoper premiere of Nikodijević’s The Seven Deaths of Maria Callas, singing the part of Lucia Ashton, which she reprised at the Opéra de Paris, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper, Greek National Opera and Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

Nicole Car as Donna Elvira

Nicole Car has appeared as Donna Elvira at the Opéra de Paris and at the Metropolitan Opera. She has most recently sung the role of Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in a concert-staged production with Dallas Opera and is scheduled to appear in San Francisco Opera’s Eun Sun Kim Conducts Verdi later this month. Future engagements include those of Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore at Opéra de Montreal, Ellen Orford in Britten’s Peter Grimes at the Metropolitan Opera and Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen at Opéra Nationale de Paris.

Michael Cavanagh is currently the Director/Producer in Residence at Opera on the Avalon, a young artist program in St John’s, Newfoundland. Having directed well over 100 productions in North America, he is a regular at San Francisco Opera, having made his debut with John Adams’ Nixon in China. His next production for San Francisco Opera will be a new production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, starring Diana Damrau.

Christina Gansch as Zerlina and Cody Quattlebaum as Masetto

Set and projection design for Don Giovanni are by Erhard Rom, costume design by Constance Hoffman and lighting design by Jane Cox.

Bertrand de Billy has held the role of Music Director at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and of the Radio Symphony Orchestra in Vienna. He has been principal guest conductor of the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne and of the Dresdner Philharmonie, and has appeared at the state operas of Vienna, Berlin, Hamburg and Munich, as well as at opera houses such as the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Grand Théâtre de la Monnaie, Opéra National de Paris, the Metropolitan Opera and at the Salzburg Festival. In this production of Don Giovanni, Bertrand de Billy will conduct the 1788 version of the score, in which Mozart added arias and made various changes for the staging in Vienna in April 1788. In his first performances since joining the Company in January, San Francisco Opera’s Chorus Director John Keene prepares the Opera Chorus.

Luca Pisaroni as Leporello

Don Giovanni runs at the War Memorial Opera House for eight performances from June 4th to July 2nd.

San Francisco Opera will also make available live-streams of select performances from the 2022 Summer Season, so that opera lovers around the world will have the opportunity to watch Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber and the Eun Sun Kim Conducts Verdi concert, featuring Nicole Car, Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Etienne Dupuis and Soloman Howard. These performances will be live-streamed as follows:
 
Don Giovanni – Sunday, June 12th at 2.00 pm (PT) with a 48-hour on-demand feature from 10.00 am (PT) on Monday, June 13th through 10.00 am (PT) on Wednesday June 15th.

Dream of the Red Chamber – Sunday, June 19th at 2.00 pm (PT) with a 48-hour on-demand feature from 10.00 am (PT) on Monday, June 20th through 10.00 am (PT) on Wednesday, June 22nd.

Eun Sun Kim Conducts Verdi – Thursday June 30th at 7.30 pm (PT)

Tickets for all live-streams cost $25 and are available at sfopera.com

All photographs © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera – taken during an early rehearsal of Don Giovanni

Information sourced from:

SF Opera program notes

Etienne Dupuis

Adela Zaharia

Nicole Car

Michael Cavanagh

Bertrand de Billy

Further information available on:

Soloman Howard

Christine Gansch

Luca Pisaroni

Amitai Pati

Cody Quattlebaum

ArtsPreview home page