Chorégies d’Orange celebrates 150th year

The Théatre Antique, Chorégies d’Orange Festival © Colas Declercq

In the heart of France’s Rhône Valley, just north of the Provençal city of Avignon, is an open-air theatre which is regarded as one of the finest remnants of the Roman Empire. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Théâtre Antique is the best preserved theatre in Europe, and it’s here, every year, that the internationally renowned summer festival of the arts, Chorégies d’Orange, is held.

Some of the greatest names of lyric art have performed here, and this year, Chorégies d’Orange celebrates its 150th anniversary, with a programme which includes not only opera, but ballet, recitals and concerts – all celebrating the joy of musical expression.

‘Carmina Burana’ – at the Théâtre Antique in 2014 © COSMO AV

The Théâtre Antique was built as a venue for performances during Roman times – and now it hosts France’s oldest active festival, dating back to 1869. Performances are played out in front of the magnificent stage wall which Louis XIV described as “the finest wall in my kingdom”. The terraces, carved out of a hillside, can seat an audience of 8,300, and the acoustics are regarded as outstanding.

The first performance of the Chorégies d’Orange Festival in 1869 was Méhul’s opera, Joseph. At the time, the theatre was dedicated to performances of the French dramatic authors of the day, and also to the rediscovery of the great Graeco-Roman tragedies. In 1971, the ‘Nouvelles Chorégies’ were founded, and the Roman theatre embraced more ‘modern’ lyric and musical works – a highly successful decision.

The 2013 production of ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’ © Philippe Gromelle Orange

Although the theatre wall dates back to Roman times, the glass roof over the stage today is contemporary. The wooden structure and roof built by the Romans were destroyed by fire in the 4th century, and it wasn’t until 2006 that the existing glass canopy, which protects the ancient façade from the elements, was completed. It has been designed with an upward tilt, so that the sound soars out over the terraces.

The introduction to the Festival, the Mass of the Chorégies d’Orange, is held each year at Our Lady of Nazareth Cathedral. The original cathedral, which dated back to the 6th century, was severely damaged in 1561 during the religious wars, but later restored, and listed as a historic monument on 4th January, 1921. During the Festival, the Cathedral features Musical Hours for tourists, passers-by, or anyone who is interested, as well as performances by members of the choirs from each of the two operas on the programme.

The 2013 production of ‘Un Ballo in Maschera’ © Philippe Gromelle Orange

Jean-Louis Grinda, Director of the Festival, is keen to have as much diversity in the programme as possible, so in addition to opera, it features recitals, concerts, dance and a cinématic production.

This year’s Festival opened on 19th June, with the traditional Musiques en Fête des Chorégies d’Orange, a celebration of music in all its forms – from the traditional, to opera, to operettas and musicals – by some of the world’s greatest artists, and accompanied by some 200 musicians, performers and dancers. It was followed a few days later by Pop the Opera, a performance – by 600 middle and high school students from Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur – of a repertoire including some of the greatest opera choruses, the latest pop songs and themes from the cinema.

The first of the two operas to be presented at this year’s festival is Gioachino Rossini’s French-language opera, Guillaume Tell, based on Friedrich Schiller’s play William Tell, which itself drew on the legend of the Swiss folk-hero. Italian baritone Nicola Alaimo takes the title role, French soprano Annick Massis is Matilde, and Gianluca Capuano leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, and the Chœurs des Opéras de Monte-Carlo et Toulouse, with choral co-ordination by Stefano Visconti.

The 2018 production of ‘Mefistofele’ © Philippe Gromelle Orange

Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni – based on the legends of Don Juan, a fictional libertine and seducer – features bass-baritone Erwin Schrott in the title role. Rumanian bass Adrian Sâmpetrean is Leporello, and Donna Anna is sung by American soprano Nadine Sierra. A co-production with the Festival de Macerata, Don Giovanni is conducted by Frédéric Chaslin who leads the Orchestre de l’Opéra de Lyon and the Chœurs des Opéras d’Avignon et de Monte-Carlo, with choral co-ordination by Stefano Visconti.

In the only symphony concert of the Festival, Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and the Orchestre National de France, with the Choeur de Radio France, and the Choeur Philharmonique de Munich, in Mahler’s epic Symphony No 8, one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire. Known as the Symphony of the Thousand, it’s a fitting work for a celebratory season.

Victoria Ananyan and Simone Tribuna in a scene from Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s ‘Roméo et Juliette’ by J-C Maillot © Alice Blangero

What more appropriate setting could there be for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s production of Roméo et Juliette than the ancient Roman wall of the Théâtre Antique? Creator Jean-Christophe Maillot, the Company’s Artistic Director, says “We could almost imagine that we created Roméo et Juliette for Orange ….”. The action, which takes place in medieval Verona, lends itself so naturally to the setting. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s sumptuous score, the performance will be danced to a recording by the Kirov Orchestra of Saint Petersburg, under the baton of Valery Gergiev.

One of the highlights of the Festival will be the debut at Chorégies d’Orange of Russian soprano Anna Netrebko and Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov. Joined by Italian mezzo-soprano Daniella Barcellona, British baritone Christopher Maltman, a chorus and orchestra, Netrebko and Eyvazov – two of the world’s finest opera performers – present an evening of songs and duets by Guiseppe Verdi.

‘Nuit Espagnole’ – Placido Domingo with a member of the Antonio Gades Company – Courtesy Chorégies d’Orange

Nuit Espagnole is an evening of Spanish music and dance, starring soprano Ana María Martínez, tenor Ismael Jordi, and baritone Plácido Domingo, with dancers of the Antonio Gades Company and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo, led by Óliver Díaz.

The Cour de Saint-Louis, now the courtyard of the Conservatoire d’Orange, is the venue for the Festival’s recitals. The first is by Mexican tenor, Ramón Varga, who has a repertoire which ranges from Italian classical songs to romantic German Lieder, and melodies by French, Mexican and Spanish composers from the 19th and 20th centuries. There’s another recital by Le Soleil de Naples, a trio of tenors – Giandomenico Cappuccio, Pasquale Ferraro and Vincenzo Di Nocera – from the Chorus of Monte-Carlo Opera, who share a passion for the joy and romance of classic Neapolitan song.

The 2011 production of ‘Rigoletto © Courtesy Chorégies d’Orange

The Cour de Saint-Louis also hosts the Concert des Révélations classiques de l’Adami – an introduction to some of the upcoming talent of the future. Owing to the collaboration of the Artistic Association of the Adami with organizations such as Chorégies d’Orange, more than a hundred artists each year are introduced to the world of entertainment – artists representing classical music, jazz, dance, acting and conducting – and this concert features four operatic artists, with four classical musicians.

To further illustrate the spirit of diversity which Jean-Louis Grinda is introducing to the Festival, there’s a concert by American DJ Jeff Mills – the first DJ to have collaborated and recorded with a classical orchestra. Together with the Orchestra National d’Ile-de-France, conducted by Christophe Mangou, Jeff Mills presents Light From the Outside World.

Scene from the 1926 silent film ‘A German Folktale’ – Courtesy Chorégies d’Orange

The ciné-concert is a recital entitled Faust, une Légende Allemande, which features the 1926 silent film, A German Folktale, directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, and set to music by Jean-François Zygel – French pianist, improviser, composer and improvisation teacher for piano at the Conservatoire de Paris. He is also known for introducing classical music programs on television and radio.

The 2019 Chorégies d’Orange runs until 6th August. For further information, visit the official website.

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San Francisco Symphony presents Ravel’s ‘L’enfant et les sortilèges’

In the final performance of the 2018-19 Season, the San Francisco Symphony presents a program of music by French composers – Debussy, Fauré and Ravel – the highlight of the concert being a semi-staged production of Ravel’s enchanting lyric fantasy, L’enfant et les Sortilèges (The Child and the Magic Spells). Led by British conductor Martyn Brabbins, this staging by animator Grégoire Pont and director James Bonas, was commissioned by Opéra de Lyon in association with L’Auditori de Barcelona and Maestro Arts.

In 1915, Jacques Rouché, director of the Paris Opera, commissioned the French author Colette to write the text for a fairytale ballet. Maurice Ravel was apparently the third choice of composer for the score, but since he was on active duty on the Western Front during the First World War, he didn’t receive the commission until 1917, and wasn’t able to start work on it until the War ended. The completed work was ready for publication and production in 1925, and L’enfant et des sortilèges, with choreography by a young George Balanchine, was premiered on March 21st of that year by Opéra Monte-Carlo. It was a triumph.

By contrast, the first performance in Paris, on February 1st, 1926, at Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique, had a turbulent reception, however this was followed by successful productions in Brussels, Prague, Vienna and San Francisco (its US premiere in 1930), but not staged again in Paris during Ravel’s lifetime. It wasn’t until 1939 that the work was performed in Paris, directed by Jacques Rouché, and it is now one of the most beloved of French operas.

A story based on the wonder of childhood imagination, L’enfant et des sortilèges tells of a young boy, sent to his bedroom for bad behavior, who wreaks havoc with everything in his room. Falling into a deep sleep, he dreams that the objects of his rage come to life and turn against him – the armchair, the grandfather clock, the teapot and cup, the fireplace, the characters on the wallpaper which he’d torn, and even his arithmetic homework. Out in the garden, and still in his dream, the boy exacts his revenge on a tree, a dragonfly, a frog, a bat, a nightingale, and even his pet squirrel, but after an act of mercy in which he binds up the squirrel’s paw with a ribbon, the creatures take pity on him and lead him back to the house, leaving the garden bathed in the magic of moonlight. Full of regret on waking, he turns to his mother for forgiveness.

L’enfant is an extraordinary work,” says director James Bonas, “a miniature so detailed, so finely wrought that it contains whole worlds within it. The combination of Colette’s imagination and Ravel’s emotional and ambitious response to her text creates an amazing opportunity.” 

Conductor Martyn Brabbins is Music Director of English National Opera, Artistic Advisor for the Huddersfield Choral Society and Visiting Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music. He has held the positions of Associate Principal Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic, and Artistic Director of the Cheltenham International Festival of Music.

He is regarded as an inspirational force in British music, with a career in opera which includes tenures at the (then) Kirov Opera, and more recently at La Scala, and the Bayerische Staatsoper, and he has performed regularly in Lyon, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Antwerp. He frequently leads performances at the BBC Proms concerts, as well as those of most of the leading British orchestras, and is a regular performer with international orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouw, the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony.

Maestro Brabbins has previously conducted performances of L’enfant et des sortilèges at the Opéra de Lyon in France in 2012, at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich in 2013, and most recently again in Lyon, in 2016 – at the premiere of the new production which will be staged at Davies Symphony Hall this week. Following the performance in Lyon, La Letter du Musicien wrote that “…… Martyn Brabbins delivered conducting that was full of zest and vitality, beautiful even in the smallest details”, and – according to Classique News – he “…. directed the Lyon Opera Orchestra with a refinement and precision that demanded respect”.

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard heads an international cast as The Child in the San Francisco Symphony performances of Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges – a role she recorded with Seiji Ozawa and the Saito Kinen Orchestra on the Decca Classics label, winning a 2016 Grammy Award® in the category of Best Opera Recording. Leonard made her debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 2013, and has appeared in several notable performances since then, including Michael Tilson Thomas’ From the Diary of Anne Frank in November 2018, Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles in September 2017, and the semi-staged production of his On the Town in May 2016, and Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole in June 2015.

The production team for this San Francisco performance also includes Lighting Designer Christophe Chaupin, Stage & Costume Designer Thibault Vancraenenboeck, and Stage Manager Marie-Cécile Leclerc.

© Jean-Pierre Maurin courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Excerpts from Debussy’s delightful Children’s Corner open the program this week – a work which he dedicated to his young daughter whom he called Chou-chou – followed by his homage to the Hungarian café culture, Le Plus que lent. Fauré is represented by the Allegro motto from his Piano Quartet No 1 in C minor, and the second work by Debussy is his Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maison – the voice of a child in a plea against the atrocities of World War I. Preceding Ravel’s main work for the concert is The Enchanted Garden from his Ma Mére l’Oye (Mother Goose) – children’s stories from 17th and 18th century French collections, especially Charles Perrault’s Contes de ma Mère l’Oye.

Martyn Brabbins leads the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony Chorus (director Ragnar Bohlin), the Chamber Musicians of the San Francisco Symphony, the Young Women’s Choral Projects of San Francisco, and the San Francisco Boys Chorus (director Ian Robertson) in works by Debussy, Fauré and Ravel, at Davies Symphony Hall on June 27th, 29th and 30th. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

All photographs of the Opéra de Lyon performance are by Jean-Pierre Maurin, courtesy of San Francisco Symphony

Information sourced from:
San Francisco Symphony program notes
Philharmonia Orchestra program notes
Martyn Brabbins – website

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San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season ends with Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’

Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera wraps up its Summer Season with a work which is recognized as Antonin Dvořák’s most successful creation for stage – Rusalka.  In a production by David McVicar, with stage designs by John Macfarlane, the title role is sung by Rachel Willis-Sørensen, with Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince, Jamie Barton as Ježibaba, Kristinn Sigmundsson as Vodník and Sarah Cambidge as the Foreign Princess. The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus are led by South Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim in her first engagement with the Company.

In early 1900, Antonin Dvořák was looking for a libretto for a new work for the theatre – preferably something based on Czech history. He was given a text written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil which bore the title Rusalka. This text was based on the story of Ondine (also known as Undine) – a traditional European mythological figure who, according to folklore, gave her love to a human prince at the risk of losing her life should he be unfaithful to her.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Rusalka and Brandon Jovanovich as the Prince in Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

It is thought that Kvapil’s inspiration most probably came from Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid written in 1837, although a version of this myth had already been adapted into a novella by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué in 1811, and been the subject of a libretto by E T A Hoffman in 1816. Other manifestations included Albert Lortzing’s libretto for his opera Undine in 1845, Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1892 play Pelléas et Melisande was partly based on the myth, and more recent manifestations have been Jean Giraudoux’s 1939 drama Ondine, and Sir Frederick Ashton’s ballet of the same name, written in collaboration with composer Hans Werner Henze – memorably performed by Dame Margot Fonteyn.

Kvapil deliberately placed his libretto in the context of a Czech scenario, and the setting of Dvořák’s opera was almost certainly dictated by the composer’s well-known love of nature. The title comes from Slavic mythology – rusalki being creatures similar to the Celtic mermaids or Green sirens, and described as beautiful young women who were symbols of fertility, living in bodies of water, and who enjoyed enticing you men.

Simone McIntosh, Ashley Dixon and Natalie Image as the Wood Nymphs with members of the Dance Corps in Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Dvořák’s Rusalka premiered at the National Theatre in Prague in 1901, and although his music was celebrated internationally during his lifetime, Rusalka is the only one of his operas to gain a following outside Bohemia.

American soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen first appeared for San Francisco Opera as Eva in the Company’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. She has won international acclaim in a wide repertoire of roles, from Donna Anna in Don Giovanni to Leonora in Il Trovatore, Elsa in Lohengrin to the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. A regular guest at leading opera houses around the world, her appearance as Donna Anna at the Metropolitan Opera earlier this year was described by Operawire as: “…. a truly powerful interpretation. From the opening notes to the very end of the opera her performance was marked by tremendous vocal confidence with arguably the most challenging role in opera”.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Rusalka and Kristinn Sigmundsson as Vodník the Water Goblin in Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

American tenor Brandon Jovanovich has sung the role of the Prince in Vienna, New York and Chicago as well as in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Rusalka which was broadcast on PBS in 2017. He made his San Francisco Opera debut as Lt B F Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly in 2007, and has returned to the Company in a variety of roles, including those of Luigi in Il Tabarro, Siegmund and Froh in both the 2011 and 2018 Ring cycles, the title role of Lohengrin, Sam Polk in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah, and Walther von Stolzing in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  Highlights of this season for Mr Jovanovich include the roles of Enée in Les Troyens for Opera Bastille, Florestan in Fidelio for Vienna State Opera, Dick Johnson in La Fanciulla del West at Bayerische Staatsoper, and he makes his title role debut in Parsifal at Deutsche Oper Berlin. 

American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings the witch Ježibaba – a role which she has also sung at the Metropolitan Opera. Having made her debut with San Francisco Opera in 2014, as Adalgisa in Norma, Ms Barton has also sung Fricka, Waltraute, and Second Norn in the Ring cycle, and made her role debut as Sara in Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux. Following her appearance at The Royal Opera in the Verdi Requiem, Classical Source praised Jamie Barton’s voice as a “wonder of majestic fullness and character”. In September, she joins conductor Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus to celebrate the Last Night of the Proms.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson appears as Rusalka’s father, the Water Goblin Vodník. He made his San Francisco Opera debut as Méphistophélès in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in 2003, and has returned on several occasions in roles which include King Marke in Tristan und Isolde and Baron Ochs in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Of his portrayal of this role, the Financial Times wrote: “His tone dark and his dynamic range broad, he exuded raw power, crusty lust and comic bravado, all reinforced by a trace of gravitas”. Mr Sigmundsson has appeared regularly with Opéra National de Paris, the Metropolitan Opera, Vienna State Opera, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera, and Dresden’s Semperoper, and highlights of this current season include performances as Dansker in Britten’s Billy Budd with the Norwegian National Opera, the Commendatore in Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Daland in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer with Houston Grand Opera.

Canadian soprano, and recent San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow alumnus, Sarah Cambidge takes on the role of the Foreign Princess for the first time. She last appeared for San Francisco Opera as Angel First Class in Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s It’s a Wonderful Life, prior to which she appeared as Ortlinde and Third Norn in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen last summer, and won acclaim earlier this year for her role debut as Chrysothemis in Strauss’ Elektra for Badisches Staatstheater in Karlsruhe. Ms Cambidge’s repertoire includes Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin, Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Mimì in Puccini’s La Bohème, the Countess in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Micaëla in Carmen, and the title role of Suor Angelica.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen in the title role of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The collaboration of Sir David McVicar and John Macfarlane is always an occasion to celebrate. Sir David has directed opera performances with companies such as the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, La Monnaie, the Glyndebourne Festival Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. Recent productions for San Francisco Opera include Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

John Macfarlane has designed for a number of international dance companies, and for classical ballet productions such as Swan Lake in Munich, Giselle for The Royal Ballet, The Nutcracker and Le Baiser de la fee for Birmingham Royal Ballet, and The Nutcracker for Australian National Ballet. For opera, he also works with German producer Willy Decker, with Richard Jones and Francesca Zambella, and in addition to his work for opera and dance, he exhibits regularly as a painter and print maker in the United Kingdom.

Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Rusalka and Jamie Barton as Ježibaba in Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

South Korean maestra Eun Sun Kim, Principal Guest Conductor for Houston Grand Opera, is described by the Cincinnati Business Courier as “… a brilliant rising star in the conducting world. A maestra to watch ….”. Applauded for her performances at Staatsoper Berlin, Frankfurt Opera, Munich’s Bavarian State Opera and Dresden’s Semperoper, Eun Sun Kim made her American debut in 2017 with Verdi’s La Traviata at Houston Grand Opera, and in 2018, she led Verdi’s Requiem at the Cincinnati May Festival – the first female conductor in the choral festival’s 145-year history.
Eun Sun Kim leads the cast and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) in the Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Dvořák’s Rusalka. Sung in Czech with English supertitles, Rusalka runs at the War Memorial Opera House for five performances, until June 28th. Tickets are available at and (415) 864-3330.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Antonin Dvořák

Ancient Origins


Artists’ websites

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A cavalcade of stars at the SFJAZZ Festival

The SFJAZZ Festival opens tomorrow! A highlight of the San Francisco entertainment calendar, the Festival showcases 41 performances, over 13 days, in the city’s Hayes Valley district.

Following the traditional free, open-air Block Party this evening, the Festival gets underway in earnest on Wednesday in the Miner Auditorium, with vocalist Jazzmeia Horn whose 2017 debut album, A Social Call, was nominated for a 2018 GRAMMY Award and voted best jazz vocal debut in the 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.

The Festival line-up is as impressive as ever, continuing with a double bill featuring pianist and composer Fabian Almazon – voted #1 Rising Piano Star on the Downbeat Magazine Critics 2014 Poll, and granted the Chamber Music America 2014 NEW Jazz Works commission – and bassist Linda May Han Oh – a recent recipient of the Jerome Foundation Fellowship, and a member of Pat Metheny’s most recent quartet project. Almazon appears with his seven-member group Rhizome – of which the star bassist is a member – and Linda MayHan Oh with her quartet, in which Almazon is the pianist.

The Matson 2 -Identical twins Jared and Jonathan – play numbers from their 2018 release, Play A Love Supreme – their re-interpretation of the 1964 John Coltrane masterwork. They’re joined by jazz guitarist Calvin Keys who’s enjoyed partnerships with luminaries such as Ray Charles, Ahmad Jamal, John Handy, Bobby Hutcherson and Pharoah Sanders.

Cuban vocalist Bobi Céspedes – she of the deep, rich and distinctive voice – is joined by John Santos – seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist, US Artists Fontanals Fellow, and 2013-2014 SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director – considered to be one of the foremost exponents of Afro-Latin music in the world today. Celebrating a 25-year collaboration with Santos, Céspedes presents a world premiere performance of a selection of brand new songs.

From Cuba comes Orquesta Akokán, a 16-piece ensemble led by vocalist José ‘Pepito’ Gómes, featuring “…. some of the island’s greatest instrumentalists” (The New York Times). Orquesta Akokán made its US debut last year, already has an appearance at Lincoln Center under its collective belt, and will continue to tour the US for the remainder of this year.

The music of Antônio Carlos Jobim will have the JAZZ Center swaying once more as Claudia Villela – the “Brazilian-born genius with a blistering voice” (JazzTimes) – returns to SFJAZZ, to present an evening of some of Jobim’s finest songs. She’s accompanied by special guest Chico Pinheiro – guitarist, pianist and arranger – and regarded as a leading exponent of modern jazz in Brazil.

The Cookers – a seven-member ensemble of jazz giants – is described by the Detroit Metro Times as “ …. the greatest jazz super-band working”. Founded by trumpeter David Weiss, this septet comprises tenor saxophonists Billy Harper and Donald Harrison, trumpeter Eddie Henderson, pianist George Cables, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart, and each of them has an association with at least one among some of the greatest names in jazz – names such as Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Sanders, Wayne Shorter, Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis and Stan Getz.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – originally founded by Caterina ‘Rina’ Durante in the mid-1970s – has been introducing the music of Southern Italy to audiences ever since. Originating in Puglia’s Salento region, the ensemble – now led by Durante’s son, Daniele – has successfully combined the ancient folk music of the region (pizzica tarantata) with a contemporary style, most recently taking the title of Best Group at the 2018 Songlines Music Awards in London. Described by The New Yorker as a band that “has few peers in contemporary world music”, the group has frequently collaborated with Ludovico Einaudi, most recently on his highly-acclaimed 2015 Taranta Project.

Referred to as the “Godfather of Neo Soul”, vibraphonist, composer and band-leader, Roy Ayers – among the most respected artists in contemporary R&B, hip-hop and soul today – returns to SFJAZZ. Still in great demand, he’ll be a popular attraction at the Festival, with the feel-good, funky sound with which he’s been associated for over four decades.

Zakir Hussain – winner of the 2017 SFJAZZ Lifetime Achievement Award and former SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director – presents a an evening of solo tabla, raga, and the rarely heard music of Natya Sangeet – which translates literally as ‘drama music’ and is a unique kind of musical theatre that combines Natya-drama and Sangeet-music. This musical theatre originated in the Maharashtra state of India, and developed over the centuries under the guidance of the singers, poets and actors for which this region is known. For this unique presentation, Zakir Hussain will be joined by violinist Kala Ramnath – described by Songline magazine as one of the 50 world’s best instrumentalists – and special guest vocalist Mahesh Kale – winner of the Best Playback Singer award at the 63rd National Film Awards in India.

Legendary soul singer and songwriter William Bell pays tribute to the soul music of Memphis and the Stax Records sound in an evening of some of his most memorable songs. His early hit for the label You Don’t Miss Your Water (Until Your Well Runs Dry) is now considered one of the finest early examples of soul music, as well as being one of the most covered songs in blues/rock music history. Apart from releasing an amazing succession of soul hits, Bell has also been recognized with honors such as the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s R&B Pioneer Award, the W C Handy Heritage Award from the Memphis Music Foundation, and the BMI Songwriter’s Award. A member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Bell features prominently in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and in 2017 received the Epitome of Soul Award, which was presented to him by Stevie Wonder, the 2016 honoree.

The 2019 SFJAZZ Festival runs from June 11 to 23. For all details and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites

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Monaco hosts International Television Festival

A Golden Nymph statuette – Courtesy Monte-Carlo TV Festival

Glamorous and stylish, the Principality of Monaco is the focus of the international television industry this month, as it hosts the 59th Monte-Carlo Television Festival. This annual event brings together celebrities, producers, directors, writers and studio heads, to showcase the finest in television programming, and to compete for the Golden Nymph Awards.

Established by Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1960, and now under the Honorary Presidency of H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Festival is one of the most prestigious of its kind in international television programming, and an event which attracts the elite of the industry.

This year’s Festival has an added dimension to the presentation of the dazzling Golden Nymph Awards and the cavalcade of programmes and stars appearing in the Principality – the premiere of the National Geographic documentary APOLLO: Missions to the Moon.

This documentary – featuring much material hitherto unseen – will be screened in partnership with the Embassy of Monaco in Washington DC, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 11 lunar landing, and man’s first steps on the surface of the moon. The event will also throw a spotlight on Monaco’s little-known involvement in aerospace technology, which saw the Principality’s first communications satellite launched in 2015, and will herald the launch of MonacoSat-2 within the next few years.

Prestigious and highly coveted, the Festival’s Golden Nymph statuettes which will be presented to the winning artists, are copies of La Nymphe Salmacis, a sculpture created in 1826 by Monégasque artist François-Joseph Bosio – chief court sculptor to Louis XVIII. The original sculpture is on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris.

La Nymphe Salmacis in the Louvre Museum, Paris – François-Joseph Bosio

The Opening Ceremony, which takes place in the Salle des Princes of the Grimaldi Forum – free and open to the public – will be presented by Belgian television and radio presenter Julie Taton, and features a roll-call of international names synonymous with the most popular television series worldwide. The juries for the Golden Nymph Awards will also be presented at this ceremony, followed by the French premiere of the first episode of L.A.’s Finest , starring Gabrielle Union (Bad Boys II) and Jessica Alba (Sin City).

The Golden Nymphs are awarded in two categories – Fiction and News. Fiction is subdivided into Drama, Comedy and Long Fiction, and News into Documentary, Live Breaking News and TV News Item. Readers will recognize several familiar TV programmes and performers in these line-ups.

There are also five Special Prizes. The Prince Rainier III Special Prize features two documentaries – Drowning in Plastic (United Kingdom) and The Curse of Abundance (Poland) – the AMADE Prize and the ICRC Prize which will both be awarded to Yemen: Kids and War (France), the Monaco Red Cross Prize for the British production of Care and the SIGNIS Prize which goes to a German film entitled War.

A full list of nominations in all categories can be seen on this link.

A special Golden Nymph Award will also be presented to an actor or actress considered to have made an extraordinary contribution to the global entertainment industry. Previous winners have included Helen Mirren, Mariska Hargitay, Marg Helgenberger, Patricia Arquette and Donald Sutherland, and this year the honour will go to American actor Michael Douglas, described by Festival CEO Laurent Puons as “…. one of today’s most highly-respected actors”, noting “…. the huge impact his work has had on the global television industry”.

Michael Douglas’ television career began with his appearance in a 1969 CBS-TV “Playhouse” special, entitled The Experiment, and his first significant role was in the multi-award-winning series The Streets of San Francisco which ran from 1972 to 1976. Among the many honors which Douglas has received are two Academy Awards (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976 and Wall Street in 1988), and an Emmy, Golden Globe and SAG for his portrayal of Liberace in Behind the Candelabra. Most recently he has just finished filming the second season of The Kominsky Method, with Alan Arkin. Mr Douglas will be present at the Festival to collect his award from Prince Albert at the closing ceremony on 18th June.

The 59th edition of the Monte-Carlo Television Festival takes place from 14th to 18th June. For more information, visit the Festival website.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the online lifestyle magazine Riviera Buzz

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San Francisco Opera’s Summer Season opens with Bizet’s ‘Carmen’

J’Nai Bridges as Carmen and David Leigh as Zuniga in Bizet’s Carmen
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera opens its 2019 Summer Season at the War Memorial Opera House this evening with the work regarded as the most popular opera in the repertoire – Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Staged by American director Francesca Zambello, this production of Carmen – new to San Francisco Opera – celebrates a number of debut performances. Mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges makes her professional role debut in the title role, tenor Matthew Polenzani sings Don José for the first time, and soprano Anita Hartig, as Micaëla, makes her debut appearance with San Francisco Opera. Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen has appeared with the Company previously, and returns as the bullfighter Escamillo, however conductor James Gaffigan fulfills his first opera engagement with the Company, leading the cast, the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

In 1872, Georges Bizet was commissioned by the Paris Opéra-Comique to write a new work. Historically, this institution was known for light, moralistic pieces – those suitable for ‘family theatre’, safe and predictable – and although Bizet received the commission to try to raise the theatre from its somewhat dull reputation, the co-directors had no idea just how revolutionary Bizet’s opera would be. Based on an 1845 novella by Prosper Mérimée, with a libretto in French by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Bizet’s Carmen broke new ground, focussing on the underclass – the so-called ‘common folk’, which included gypsies, smugglers and factory workers, women who smoked in public, who were involved in physical fights and who were sexually free. Consequently, when the opera premiered at the Opéra-Comique in March 1875, it was condemned by the critics as immoral and vulgar.

Bizet’s Carmen with the San Francisco Opera Dance Corps, J’Nai Bridges as Carmen (center), Natalie Image as Frasquita (left) and Ashley Dixon as Mercédès
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Bizet, who had taken a lot of care to familiarize himself with the music of Andalusia – the region in which Carmen is set – was devastated by this reception, and at the time of his death from a heart condition three months after the premiere, he was certain that he’d written the greatest failure in the history of opera. He didn’t live to see how successful his Carmen would become – nor did he know of the prediction of Tchaikovsky that within 10 years, it would become “the most popular opera in the world”.

A Francesco Zambello production at the War Memorial Opera House is always keenly anticipated. This internationally recognized, multi-award-winning director of opera and theatre is hugely popular. Included in her recent productions for San Francisco Opera are Der Ring des Nibelungen, Aida, Luisa Miller, Show Boat, Porgy and Bess, and the world premieres of Heart of a Soldier and Two Women (La Ciociara). In January of this year, she staged Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas for Houston Grand Opera, in March her production of Bernstein’s West Side Story opened in Sydney, in April Fort Worth Opera presented Porgy and Bess, and Atlanta Opera staged La Traviata, Lyric Opera Chicago presented West Side Story last month, and Show Boat and La Traviata open at the Glimmerglass Festival in July. General Director of The Glimmerglass Festival since 2010, and Artistic Director of The Washingtion National Opera at the Kennedy Center since 2012, Francesca Zambello was Artistic Advisor to San Francisco Opera between 2005 and 2011, and Artistic Director of the Skylight Theater from 1987 to 1992.

Kyle Ketesen as Escamillo with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Bizet’s Carmen
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

J’Nai Bridges first appeared with San Francisco Opera as Bersi in a 2016 production of Andrea Chenier, and in 2017 she created the role of Josefa Segovia in the world premiere of John Adams’ Girls of the Golden West. Recent highlights of Ms Bridges’ operatic career include her debut as Preziosilla in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino with Opernhaus Zürich, a debut at Bavarian State Opera as Bersi, she appeared as Nefertiti in Philip Glass’ Akhnaten with Los Angeles Opera, and at Vancouver Opera as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking. Her 2016 performance as Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly at San Diego Opera drew the following critique from “Vocally gifted with effusive, smoky substance, her softness and soulfulness fit like a glove as the devoted servant. …. Ms Bridges expresses her character with moving delicateness; she will go far.”

David Leigh as Zuniga, Zhengyi Bai as Remendado, Natalie Image as Frasquita, Ashley Dixon as Mercédès (partially obscured) and J’Nai Bridges in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

American tenor Matthew Polenzani was last seen at San Francisco Opera in 2013, in the title role of Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. His 2018/19 season has included a return to Lyric Opera of Chicago in his signature title role of Mozart’s Idomeneo, an appearance at Teatro Massimo di Palermo as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème, a role debut as Vaudémont in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and the title role of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito at the Metropolitan Opera. Mr Polenzani has also recently appeared with Michael Fabiano and Bryan Hymel, under Riccardo Frizza, at The Dallas Opera Gala. According to Opera News, “Few singers today command the sheer beauty of timbre and dynamic control of Matthew Polenzani …”, noting his “almost impossibly beautiful pianissimo ….”, and the New York Sun refers to his “ringing, clarion lyric tenor that he can push to heroic heights ……”.

Anita Hartig as Micaëla, Matthew Polenzani as Don José and J’Nai Bridges in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Romanian soprano Anita Hartig’s rise to international recognition has been swift since her successful series of debut performances as a member of the Vienna State Opera ensemble between 2009 and 2012. Her debut performance in 2012 as Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème for Teatro alla Scala, Milan, led to a CNN documentary on her artistry, and she has since appeared in the same role for The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, the Bayerische Staatsoper and the Opéra de Bastille in Paris. Ms Hartig has also appeared as Violetta Valery in Verdi’s La Traviata for Gran Teatre de Liceu in Barcelona, as Liù in Puccini’s Turandot at the Metropolitan Opera, and she recently returned to the Vienna State Opera to perform the role of Micaëla, prior to her performance in San Francisco. Later this season, she returns to the Metropolitan Opera to sing Violetta, which she will also perform for the Toulouse Opera, and she will appear for Opéra de Paris as Amelia Grimaldi in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.

Matthew Polenzani as Don José and J’Nai Bridges in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Bass-baritone Kyle Ketelsen was described by Opera News as having “… a naturally beautiful, superbly trained voice, rich and clear at the low end, smooth and flexible in the middle range and effortless at the top”. This season, Mr Ketelsen has sung the role of Escamillo for the Metropolitan Opera, and also that of Golaud in Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande. He has appeared as Conte Rodolfo in the Opernhaus Zurich’s production of La Sonambula, and will also appear as the King of Scotland in the premiere of Handel’s Ariodante at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Méphistophélès in Les Siècles’ La Damnation de Faust throughout France. Included in his schedule will be concert appearances with the Madison Symphony.

Other members of the cast include bass David Leigh as Zuniga, making his Company debut, and current San Francisco Opera Adler Fellows soprano Natalie Image as Frasquita, and mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as Mercédès. Tenor Christopher Oglesby sings El Dancairo, tenor Zhengyi Bai El Remendado and baritone SeokJong Baek is Moralès.

Although this production of Carmen will be the first time that James Gaffigan has led an opera performance for the Company, he led the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Adler Fellows in the concert The Future is Now in 2017. Michelle Merrill conducts the June 20th performance (a debut with the Company), and the Director of the San Francisco Opera Chorus is Ian Robertson.
Sung in French with English supertitles, Carmen runs at the War Memorial Opera House for seven performances, until June 29th. Further information and tickets are available on the San Francisco Opera website, and tickets may also be reserved on (415) 864-3330.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

and artists’ websites:

Francesca Zambello

J’Nai Bridges

Matthew Polenzani

Anita Hartig

Kyle Ketelsen

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