Julia Bullock appears with Esa-Pekka Salonen & the San Francisco Symphony

Music Director Designate Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the San Francisco Symphony in the first of two February programs this week, featuring soprano Julia Bullock.

The program opens with a work which is new to the Symphony – Steven Stucky’s Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary (after Purcell) – written in 1991 for the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the suggestion of Esa-Pekka Salonen, and premiered by the L A Phil in February 1992.

Soprano Julia Bullock then performs Britten’s Les Illuminations – the British composer’s song cycle set to the verse and prose poems of Arthur Rimbaud, and first performed in 1940. She follows this with a work by Maurice Ravel, his Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé – three art songs based on works by the French poet, and leader of the Symbolist movement.

Ms Bullock – Artist-in-Residence to the San Francisco Symphony this season – has a voice described by the L A Times as “…. deeply rich and richly deep …”, and by Opera News as a “vibrant, dark-hued lyric soprano”. Not only does Ms Bullock have a voice which is drawing superb reviews, but she’s also noted for her curatorial abilities. She was the 2018-19 Artist-in-Residence of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the opera-programming host of new broadcast channel All Arts, a founding member of the American Modern Opera Company (AMOC), and she’s also a member of a cross-disciplinary artistic team recently assembled by Esa-Pekka Salonen for his inaugural season in 2020-21.

As part of her residency with the Symphony, Julia Bullock will also perform at the Symphony’s experimental SoundBox space, and she’ll present an expanded version of her recital program “History’s Persistent Voice” – a mixed-media concert of newly commissioned works by award-winning composers Rhiannon Giddens, Camille Norment, Cécile McLorin Salvant, and Pamela Z.

The program ends with Ravel’s delightful suite Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose), originally written in 1908 as five pieces for piano with four hands, and orchestrated by Ravel in 1912. Choreographer Jerome Robbins created a ballet entitled Mother Goose for the 1975 New York City Ballet’s Ravel Festival, using the music which Ravel had composed.

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the San Francisco Symphony, and Artist-in-Residence Julia Bullock, in a program of works by Steven Stucky, Benjamin Britten and Maurice Ravel, at Davies Symphony Hall, from 20th to 22nd February. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

‘Classical (Re)Vision’ and ‘Dance Innovations’ from San Francisco Ballet

Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet is well known for its innovative and creative programming, ably slotting contemporary and experimental works into its schedule between the traditional classical and ‘story’ ballets which form part of every season. The Company’s 2020 season provides as fascinating a mix of versatility as any we’ve seen in recent years, and this week sees the opening of two programs of mainly contemporary works – Classical (Re)Vision and Dance Innovations.

Sasha De Sola and Lonnie Weeks in Welch’s Bespoke // © Erik Tomasson

Classical (Re)Vision opens with one of the works which featured in the 2018 Unbound Festival. Bearing the simple title Bespoke, it was created by Australian choreographer Stanton Welch. He uses two of J S Bach’s violin concertos – the A minor and E major – to illustrate the theme of this work, which revolves around what he terms the “bittersweet” love of dancers for their art – the all-consuming passion with which they willingly devote their lives to it, even though the career of a performing dancer is relatively short.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in the white swan pas de deux from Dawson’s Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson

The program goes on to feature a selection of works which fall under the heading of Director’s Choice, three of which will feature in different performances. These works are drawn from ballets already in the Company’s repertoire – Val Caniparoli’s Foreshadow, Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain pas de deux, Helgi Tomasson’s Soirees Musicales, Myles Thatcher’s 05:49, Danielle Rowe’s For Pixie, Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique, David Dawson’s Swan Lake pas de deux, and Tomasson’s Concerto Grosso.

San Francisco Ballet in Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson) *** Local Caption *** SAB09REP-ET011.jpg

Ending the program on a light-hearted and upbeat note is a ballet which Mark Morris created for the Company in 1999. Sandpaper Ballet is neoclassical in style, but set to the music of the hugely popular composer of light orchestral works, Leroy Anderson. The score includes some of his best-loved pieces – Sleigh Ride, Fiddle-Faddle, The Typewriter, A Trumpeter’s Lullaby and The Syncopated Clock. It’s a fun and entertaining piece, with costumes by American fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi.

San Francisco Ballet rehearse McIntyre’s The Big Hunger // © Erik Tomasson

Program 03 – a selection of both classical and contemporary ballets – is entitled Dance Innovations, and opens with a world premiere by American dancer and choreographer Trey McIntyre – one of the contributing choreographers to the 2018 Unbound program. The McIntyre work featured in this program is The Big Hunger, which the choreographer relates to the search for a purpose in life.

For the score, he’s selected Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2, a work which McIntyre describes as “…. complex and original, and somehow melodic and danceable, but also discordant and strange, and off-putting and embracing and lovely”. It will be played in these performances by Yekwon Sunwoo, winner of the 2017 Van Cliburn Gold Medal.

San Francisco Ballet in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean. (© Erik Tomasson)

The Infinite Ocean is the third work created for San Francisco Ballet by Edwaard Liang – and it also premiered during the Unbound Festival. According to Liang, the setting of the ballet is that space in time between life and death, before a spirit crosses the infinite ocean of the title. The score is a beautiful violin concerto commissioned by Liang from contemporary British composer, Oliver Davis.

San Francisco Ballet in Lander’s Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)

Completing this program is Études, a ballet by Danish dancer and choreographer, Harald Lander – Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Ballet from1932 to1951 – who was inspired to create this work by Danish composer, Knudåge Riisager. The work traces the progression of ballet from the basics with which every dancer’s day begins – a rigorous repetition of exercises – to the ultimate goal of the performance. For the score, Riisager arranged for orchestra a set of piano studies by Austrian composer Carl Czerny, which themselves mirror the increasing challenges faced by the dancer. Études is a grand opportunity for the Company to showcase the artistry of its principal dancers, as well as that of the corps de ballet.

San Francisco Ballet is accompanied by the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, led by Music Director and Principal Conductor, Martin West, sharing conducting duties with Ming Luke.

Classical (Re)Vision and Dance Innovations will be performed at the city’s War Memorial Opera House between 11th and 27th February. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes

Oliver Davis

Harald Lander

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Bieito’s staging of ‘Carmen’ returns to English National Opera

Scene from ENO’s production of Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, staged by Calixto Bieito
© Richard Hubert Smith

Georges Bizet’s Carmen is regarded as one of the most popular operas ever composed, thrilling audiences the world over. This revival by English National Opera, however, is Carmen with a difference – a bold and gritty production by Catalan director Calixto Bieito, which was first staged at ENO in 2012.

In 1872 Bizet was invited to collaborate on a new full-length work by the theatre director of the Opéra-Comique in Paris. The composer suggested to librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy (who had previously worked with Jacques Offenbach) an adaptation of the novella, Carmen, by Prosper Mérimée, written and first published in 1845.

The production duly opened in Paris in 1875, but it wasn’t particularly well received. Audiences were apparently shocked at the obsession and violence conveyed in the storyline, and although it initially ran to more performances than any of Bizet’s previous works, the influence of the criticism was significant. Nevertheless, it was still running some three months later, when Bizet died at the age of 36. It wasn’t long, though, before the opera opened in Vienna to great acclaim, with subsequent and very successful performances around the world. Sadly, Bizet wasn’t to know that his work had become so popular.

Carmen is usually associated with a vision of 19th century Seville, of Spanish señoritas in swirling skirts, flicking their fans, but Bieito – well known for his radical reinterpretations of classic works – set his opera in Ceuta, the autonomous Spanish city situated at the tip of North Africa, and brought it forward in time to the post-Franco Spain of the 1970s. Interestingly, this version is considered to be closer to the setting of the original Mérimée novel than the adaption by Bizet and his librettists.

Acknowledged as one of the most sought after opera and theatre directors of his generation, Calixto Bieito – who describes his Carmen as “intuitive, earthy, passionate, melancholy, sensitive …. living in a dangerous and violent society” – has previously directed for ENO productions of Don Giovanni , A Masked Ball, Fidelio and The Force of Destiny.

Sean Pannikar and Justina Gringytė in ‘Carmen’ – © Richard Hubert Smith

The role of the defiant, seductive and bewitching Carmen is sung by Lithuanian mezzo-soprano Justina Gringytė, who has previously appeared in this role for Scottish Opera, at Teatro Massimo in Palermo, Teatro National São Carlos in Lisbon, Lithuanian National Opera and Novosibirsk Opera and Ballet. Major opera houses in which Ms Gringytė has also appeared include the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Teatro Real Madrid and the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and this season sees her return to Lithuanian National Opera as Carmen, to Korean National Opera as Hänsel in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, and to Scottish Opera in her role debut of Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana.

In 2016, Ms Gringytė launched a charity foundation in her name, in aid of young musicians. “To be a talented musician is a gift,” she says, “but to develop that talent requires dedication, discipline and funds. This is why I was compelled to create this foundation; so that musically gifted children can be assisted financially to further their education and fulfil their potential.”

American tenor Sean Pannikar – an alumnus of San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship – makes his house debut as Don José in this ENO production of Carmen. Opera News writes of Mr Pannikar: “His voice is unassailable—firm, sturdy and clear, and he employs it with maximum dramatic versatility”. He has a number of engagements with the Metropolitan Opera to his credit, including the company premiere of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer, a new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos. Mr Pannikar has also appeared at Washington National Opera, in Francesca Zambello’s La Bohème at the Royal Albert Hall, at Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Santa Fe Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival, and in symphonic performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Soprano Nardus Williams makes her role and house debut as Micaëla in this production of Carmen. Ms Williams won a Kiri Te Kanawa Scholarship whilst training at the International Opera School at the Royal College of Music, before joining the Houston Opera Studio for the 2018-19 season. A former Jerwood Young Artist at Glyndebourne, she appeared as Adina in L’elisir d’amore with the Glyndebourne Tour in November 2019. With a “superbly controlled, sensuous soprano which has sheen and shimmer as well as real focus of tone” (Opera Today), Ms Williams will appear as Countess Almaviva in ENO’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in March, and as Donna Anna in his Don Giovanni for Nevill Holt Opera this summer.

Nardus Williams and Sean Pannikar in ‘Carmen’ © Richard Hubert Smith

The role of Escamillo is sung by British bass-baritone Ashley Riches. A former member of the King’s College Choir at Cambridge, and a former member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House, Mr Riches has subsequently appeared with the Royal Opera, Opera National de Lorraine, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Gabrieli Consort and the Philharmonia Orchestra, with some of the world’s finest conductors, including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Robin Ticciatti, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Simon Rattle, Christian Curnyn and Sir Roger Norrington.

Tenor David Butt Phillip will sing the role of Don José for two performances towards the end of Carmen’s run. Recent role debuts include appearances at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Glyndebourne, Teatro Real Madrid, Opéra de Lille, Opera North and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. His current season includes appearances at Wiener Staatsoper, Staatsoper Berlin, Opera Australia, the Metropolitan Opera and returns to the Royal Opera House, Teatro Real and Glyndebourne.

Also appearing are ENO Harewood Artists Samantha Price, Matthew Durkan and Alex Otterburn.

Justina Gringytė and Sean Pannikar in ‘Carmen’ © Richard Hubert Smith

Leading these performances of Carmen is ENO Mackerras Fellow, Valentina Peleggi, conducting her first main house production at ENO. Principal Conductor of the OSESP Choir São Paulo, Guest Music Director at Theatro São Pedro in São Paulo – where she was voted Best Opera Conductor in Brazil 2019 by Movimento magazine – Honorary Conductor at Coro Universitario di Firenze and an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, Ms Peleggi was Resident Conductor of the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra from 2016 – 2018, and Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the orchestra’s professional chorus from 2017 – 2019.

This co-production with Den Norske Opera and Ballet is sung in English, with English subtitles, and runs at the London Coliseum until 27th February, alternating with Barbora Horáková’s production of Guiseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller. For further information and tickets, visit the English National Opera website.

Information sourced from:

English National Opera programme notes

Justina Gringytė

Sean Pannikar

Nardus Williams

Ashley Riches

David Butt Philip

Valentina Peleggi

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