La Bohème in the round at the Royal Albert Hall


Scene from Francesca Zambello’s ‘La Bohème’

The Royal Albert Hall hosts an unusual production of La Bohème over the coming week.  Directed by Francesca Zambello, Giacomo Puccini’s passionate but tragic story of doomed love – originally set in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s – moves on 100 years, taking place in wartime Paris in this revival of Zambello’s hugely popular 2004 production.

Performed completely in the round, this production of La Bohème contrasts the vibrant café society of 1940s Paris with the harsh reality of the times.  Moving from the chill of Rodolfo’s bleak lodgings, to the celebrations at the Café Momus, and back to the intimacy of the garret, the action reflects the tenderness, spectacle and passion which ultimately turn to despair and tragedy, interpreted through Puccini’s glorious score.  It’s one of Puccini’s best loved and most widely performed operas, and includes some of his most beautiful arias – Che gelida manina, Si, Mi chiamano Mimi and O soave fanciulla.

For La Bohème, Francesca Zambello has brought together an award-winning creative team and a cast of internationally acclaimed artists.  The role of Mimi will be shared by sopranos Jessica Rose Cambio, Alyson Cambridge and Danielle Pastin, and that of Rodolfo by Sean Pannikar, Rame Lahaj and James Edwards.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is conducted by Musical Director, Oliver Gooch.  Set design is by Peter J Davison and costumes are by Sue Wilmington.  Choreography is by Arthur Pita, lighting by Andrew Bridge, and sound by Bobby Aitken.

A leading American opera and theatre director, Francesca Zambello made her debut in the US at the Houston Grand Opera in 1984 with a production of Fidelio, and in Europe at Teatro La Fenice with a production of Beatrice di Tenda in 1987.  Since then she has staged new productions at major theatres and opera houses across Europe and the USA – including The Royal Opera House, the Paris Opéra and the San Francisco Opera – collaborating with exceptional artists and designers.  Promoting emerging talent, she takes a special interest in new music theatre works, innovative productions, and opening up theatre and opera to a wider audience.

Winner of numerous prestigious awards, Francesca Zambello has recently developed and directed the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ Heart of a Soldier for the San Francisco Opera, where she served as Artistic Advisor from 2006-2011. Other recent opera projects have included the first international production of Carmen to be presented at the National Centre for the  Performing Arts in Beijiing, and the world premiere of An American Tragedy for the Metropolitan Opera.

RAH_Exterior_South_Entrance copy

The Royal Albert Hall – south entrance
Photo: Marcus Ginns

La Bohème is presented by Raymond Gubbay and the Royal Albert Hall.  It runs from 27th February to 9th March.  Tickets are available from the Royal Albert Hall Box Office – 020 7838 3100 – or online at

Francesca Zambello

Raymond Gubbay

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New York City Ballet wraps up its Winter Season in grand style


Maria Kowroski and Sara Mearns in George Balanchine’s ‘Concerto Barocco’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet’s extraordinarily varied Winter Season draws to a close this week, and there’s still time (just!) to catch some of the most interesting and creative works from the Company’s vast repertoire.


Sara Mearns and Adrian Danchig-Waring in Liam Scarlett’s ‘Acheron’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

À la Francaise is devoted to ballets choreographed to the music of French composers.  The first of these is by Liam Scarlett – artist in residence at The Royal Ballet – and is his first work for NYCB.  Entitled Acheron – name of the Greek River-God – and set to Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani – it’s an abstract work, described as both sensual and somber.

Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun is a variation on the theme of Nijinsky’s original ballet, created for the Ballets Russes.  Robbins’ subtly sensual pas de deux – set to the hauntingly beautiful Debussy score – depicts a chance encounter between two young dancers in a studio.


Craig Hall in Jerome Robbins’ ‘Afternoon of a Faun’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Walpurgisnacht Ballet is one of a number of dances which George Balanchine created to Gounod’s score for the opera, Faust.  An elegant and joyful work, it was choreographed for a 1975 production of the opera by the Théâtre National de l’Opéra, and danced by the Paris Opéra Ballet.  In the opera, the Walpurgisnacht scene takes place when Mephistopheles brings Faust to watch the traditional celebration on the eve of May Day – when the souls of the dead are released to wander at will – and although the ballet doesn’t actually depict Walpurgisnacht as such, it certainly has an air of revelry about it.

Ravel’s score, La Valse, was originally commissioned by Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes, but he  rejected it as “untheatrical”.  In 1951, Balanchine saw the potential of the work, and, combining it with Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales, created his ballet La Valse – depicting couples waltzing in a cavernous ballroom in which a woman in white is transfixed by the uninvited figure of death.

New York City Ballet performs À la Francaise on February 26, and in two performances on March 1.


‘Bal de Couture’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

The program entitled Scenic Delight opens with Peter Martins’ Bal de Couture, a work created for NYCB’s 2012 Fall Gala, as a tribute to fashion designer, Valentino. With the dancers costumed in Valentino creations, the ballet is set to selections from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin.


Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle in Wheeldon’s ‘DGV’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse was inspired by one of the world’s fastest trains, France’s TGV (train á grande vitesse).  The ballet is set to a piece of music which Michael Nyman wrote to mark the inauguration of the north European line of the TGV in 1993.  Against a backdrop of metallic sculpture, the dancers move through what’s described as “shifting physical and emotional landscapes”.


Jerome Robbins’ ‘The Four Seasons’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Jerome Robbins based his ballet The Four Seasons on Verdi’s libretto for his opera, I Vespri Siciliani, in which Janus, the God of New Year, introduced a series of dances, each representing one of the seasons.  Following Verdi’s general theme, Robbins’ lighthearted, yet technically challenging, creation (choreographed during the year in which Mikhail Baryshnikov was a member of NYCB) is set to the music from the opera, to which he added pieces from the ballet music from Verdi’s I Lombardi and Il Trovatore.

Scenic Delight has two more performances – on February 27 and 28.


Lauren King and Allen Peiffer in George Balanchine’s ‘The Four Temperaments’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

The grand finale of the season is a program entitled Balanchine – Black and White – featuring three of his signature ballets in which there are no costumes to detract from the purity of the choreography.

Concerto Barocco – regarded as one of Balanchine’s earliest masterpieces – is set to Bach’s Double Violin Concerto.  The first movement features the two lead ballerinas each interpreting the role of one of the two solo instruments.  The pas de deux which follows is danced to the largo, and in the allegro, the entire ensemble brings to life the vivacity of Bach’s music.

The score for The Four Temperaments was commissioned by George Balanchine from Paul Hindemith in 1940.  Another early work, it’s a skilful blend of classical movements with a decidedly contemporary style, depicting the four different “humors or temperaments” which, he said, each of us possesses to a different degree.


Sterling Hyltin and Robert Fairchild in George Balanchine’s ‘Stravinsky Violin Concerto’
Photo: Paul Kolnik

Balanchine created his Stravinsky Violin Concerto for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival, an eight-day tribute to a composer whom Balanchine admired tremendously and with whom he collaborated on a number of works.  In his interpretation of the Concerto, Balanchine followed the structure of the work, opening with a Toccata, followed by two Arias, with a Capriccio for the finale, the two Arias providing the inspiration for what are considered to be amongst Balanchine’s most unique pas de deux.

There is only one performance of Balanchine – Black and White, on March 2.

Details of performances, timing and tickets are available on the weblinks given above.


New York City Ballet

George Balanchine

Jerome Robbins

The LA Phil celebrates the music of Tchaikovsky

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Portrait of Tchaikovsky by Nikolai Kuznetsov in the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow – via Wikimedia Commons

Oh to be in Los Angeles towards the end of February – when Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil are joined at Walt Disney Concert Hall by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, and by violinist Alina Pogostkina and cellist Alisa Weilerstein – for a 10-day TchaikovskyFest!

This exciting collaboration gets underway with a concert hosted by the Chamber Music Society on February 20, as musicians from these two great orchestras unite to play some of Tchaikovsky’s greatest chamber works – his String Quartet No 1 and the elegant Souvenir de Florence.  The performance is, rather stylishly, preceded by a wine tasting.


Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo: Vern Evans

The celebrations really get underway – from February 21 to 23 – with three performances, by Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic – of the great composer’s first and last symphonic works – his Symphony No 1, Winter Dreams, a work influenced by Mendelssohn and also by Russian folksongs – and the heartrending Symphony No 6, known as the Pathétique.

Violinist Alina Pogostkina

St Petersburg-born violinist, Alina Pogostkina, is the soloist in the February 21 program which features Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto – one of the most frequently performed in the classical repertoire.  It’s paired with his Symphony No 2 – the Little Russian – so called because Tchaikovsky incorporated into it a number of folksongs from the Ukraine which was known at the time as ‘Little Russia’.

The Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela takes center stage on February 22 and March 1 in two performances entitled Toyota Symphonies for Youth: Tchaikovsky’s World.  Aimed specifically at a young audience, these performances will be conducted by a Dudamel Conducting Fellow, and staged by theater artists, who will perform a cross-section of the composer’s simply beautiful music.  Each concert will be preceded by interactive workshops related to the musical themes of the program.


Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
Photo: Nohely Oliveros

Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos 3 and 4 feature in the February 24 performance by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela.  The Third Symphony bears the nickname the ‘Polish’ because of the inclusion of a Polish dance, the polonaise, in the fifth – and final – movement.  Tchaikovsky, who wrote most of his Fourth Symphony in Italy, considered it at the time to be “… definitely the best work I have written so far”, as he wrote to his brother, Modest.

A Shakespeare Fantasy is the title of the concert taking place on February 26.  Performed, again, by the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, and conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, the program comprises three Tchaikovsky Fantasy Overtures – Hamlet, The Tempest and his achingly beautiful overture, Romeo and Juliet.  Prior to the performance of each piece, the Orchestra will be joined by actors portraying a scene from these works by Shakespeare, a playwright so beloved of Tchaikovsky that he once thought of learning English, to enable him to read the Bard’s plays in their original language!


Cellist Alisa Weilerstein
Photo: Jamie Jung

Cellist Alisa Weilerstein is the soloist in Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations – the composer’s homage to his musical idol, Mozart – to be presented on February 27 and 28, and March 1.  Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in this program, which also includes the delightful Polonaise and Waltz from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, and his glorious Symphony No 5 – which was the main work in the concert in which Dudamel made his US debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 2005.


Gustavo Dudamel
Photo; Richard Reinsdorf

The TchaikovskyFest Finale takes place on Sunday, March 2, when Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in some of the composer’s best-known tone poems.  Included are his Capriccio Italien, Francesca da Rimini, and waltzes from Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty.  Rounding off the performance and the season in fine style is Tchaikovsky’s stirring Festival Overture to Mark the Consecration of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, built – in Moscow -to commemorate the Russian defeat of Napoleon in 1812 – known more simply as the 1812 Overture.

Details of this magnificent celebration of some of the greatest works in the classical repertoire are all to be found on the LA Phil website.


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‘Rusalka’ from The Met – Live in HD


John Relyea as the Water Sprite and Renée Fleming in the title role of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

On Saturday, February 8th, the Metropolitan Opera in New York presents Antonín Dvořák’s most famous opera, Rusalka, featuring soprano Renée Fleming in one of her signature roles.  On this occasion, the enjoyment of the performance will not be limited to the audience at the Met, for the production is being screened in cinemas around the world as part of the Met’s Live in HD series.

One of America’s most beloved and celebrated musical ambassadors, Renée Fleming won the Met’s National Council Auditions 25 years ago, singing the most famous aria from Rusalka, the Song to the Moon.  She has sung the title role from the opera more than any other artist in Met history – and is known for her magnificent voice, supreme artistry and compelling stage presence.  A recipient of the National Medal of Arts – America’s highest honor for an individual artist – Ms Fleming was also the winner of the 2013 Grammy® Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo.  On February 2nd, Ms Fleming became the first classical singer in history to perform the national anthem at the Super Bowl.  This production marks Renée Fleming’s first performance for The Met: Live in HD.


Piotr Beczala as the Prince and Renée Fleming in the title role of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Rusalka, Dvořák’s lyric fairy-tale opera, received its premiere at the National Theatre in Prague on March 31st, 1901.  A fusion of magic, Czech folklore and mythology, the opera has a score inspired by tunes and harmonies typical of the ancient folk melodies of the composer’s native land. The libretto, by poet Jaroslav Kvapil, is drawn from several sources, including the fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben and Božena Nĕmcová, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, and Undine by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué.

The opera tells of a water nymph, Rusalka, who falls in love with a human prince whilst he’s out hunting near the lake in which she lives.  According to Slavic folklore, rusalki – female ghosts, water nymphs or mermaid-like demons – are the spirits of girls who died “before their time” and who returned to our world, inhabiting places near to where they had once lived and died.


Renée Fleming in the title role of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Wishing to become human, Rusalka sings her soulful but enchanting Song to the Moon, in which she pleads with the moon to tell the prince of her love for him.  She drinks a potion given to her by a witch, Ježibaba, despite the warning that  by becoming human, she will lose the power of speech, and if she is betrayed by the prince, both of them will be eternally damned.  When Ježibaba’s prophecy comes true, and the prince betrays the water nymph, he dies, and Rusalka returns to the depths of her lake as a demon of death.


Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Photo: Marco Borggreve

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra is conducted by the dynamic young Canadian maestro, Yannick Nézet-Séguin – Music Director of The Philadelphia Orchestra since the start of the 2012/13 season, and Music Director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, and Principal Guest Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, since 2008.


Piotr Beczala as the Prince and Emily Magee as the Foreign Princess in Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

He leads a cast which includes Polish-born tenor Piotr Beczala, acknowledged as one of the most vocally exciting, impressive, and sought-after lyric tenors of our time.  Mr Beczala sings  the role of the handsome prince with whom Rusalka falls in love.  Dolora Zajick is Ježibaba, the swamp witch;  Emily Magee the Foreign Princess – Rusalka’s rival – and John Relyea is her father, the Water Sprite.

Production of Rusalka is by Otto Schenk, set design by Günther Schneider-Siemssen and costume design by Sylvia Strahammer, with lighting by Gil Wechsler, choreography by Carmen De Lavallade and stage direction by Laurie Feldman.  The Met: Live in HD is hosted by American mezzo-soprano, Susan Graham, and running time is approximately 4 hours.


More information on this production of Rusalka can be found on the Metropolitan Opera’s website

Rusalka takes place at the Metropolitan Opera on Saturday, February 8th, at 12.55 pm (ET).  Please check your local theatres for dates and times from one of the weblinks listed below.

The United States



Renée Fleming 

Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Piotr Beczala  


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