Chorus of the Sicilian Opera makes its mark on the national and international stage

The Chorus of the Sicilian Opera in a performance of Zeffirelli’s ‘Aida’ at the Guangzhou Opera House – courtesy Coro Lirico Siciliano

The Chorus of the Sicilian Opera (Coro Lirico Siciliano) might be a relatively young ensemble, but it’s most certainly making its mark on the musical, theatrical, operatic and symphonic output of the island of Sicily, whilst devoting itself to the research, development and promotion of Sicilian art, both nationally and internationally.

Since the founding of the Coro Lirico Siciliano in 2008 – by the current choir master Francesco Costa, soprano Giovanna Collica and the organisation’s president, Alberto Munafó – it has become the official choir of the two major Sicilian operatic seasons – the Taormina Opera Festival and the Luglio Musicale Trapenese. The versatility and style of its members have enabled the Chorus to diversify from the traditional operatic repertoire to include both symphonic and sacred music in its range of virtuosity.

The Chorus of the Siciian Opera at a Bellini Opera Gala directed by Steven Mercurio at the Greek Theater of Taormina – courtesy Coro Lirico Siciliano

Among the honours which have been bestowed on this ensemble are the Golden Opera Award at the 2017 International Opera Awards – the ‘Oscars of Opera’ – held in Verona, the International Sicilian Prize ‘Il Paladino’ on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the award, the 2015 Bellini Prize, the Belcanto Ambassador Prize and the Academy of Arts Prize.

Drawing artists from the various provinces of Sicily, the Chorus is based in the city of Catania – a city steeped in musical history, and the birthplace of Vincenzo Bellini. It’s not surprising, then, that the Chorus of the Sicilian Opera identifies closely with the composer of operas such as I Capuleti e i Montecchi, La sonnambula, Norma and I puritani. Indeed, the Chorus has dedicated itself to promoting the music of the composer known as Cigno Etneo, which translates as ‘the Swan of Catania’ because of the poignant melancholy of much of his music. (Etneo, an adjective meaning ‘Catania’, is derived from the name of the Sicilian volcano ‘Etna’.) The first Opera Gala at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, under the direction of Steven Mercurio, was devoted to the music of Bellini, and the ensemble’s first appearance in China – at the Macau International Festival – was in a production of Norma by the Royal Theatre of Turin.

One of the proudest achievements of the Sicilian Lyric Chorus has been its production of Bellini’s little-known opera Zaira, which was presented in Catania at the Greek-Roman Theatre on the occasion of the Bellini Festival in September 2012 – a production which featured some of the performers of the original cast of the opera’s world premiere in 1976. The ensemble hopes, in the future, to take a revised version of this opera to the world, with the inclusion of excerpts which have since been discovered, but never performed.

The Choral Institution has also performed some of the sacred works of the young Bellini, including some first performances which it has discovered, and it’s hoped that the ensemble will be able to create and record the complete collection of his sacred works.

As of last year, the Chorus of the Sicilian Opera has become the organiser of the annual Festival dei Teatri di Pietra which takes place in the three ancient theatres of Sicily – the Greek theatre of Taormina, built in the 3rd century BC; the Greek theatre of Syracuse first built in the 5th century BC, rebuilt in the 3rd century BC and renovated again in the Roman period; and the Greek Theatre of Tindari, an amphitheatre built in the 4th century, with views of the ocean, in the Province of Messina.

In the field of sacred music, the Chorus works with the annual International Sacred and Renaissance Music Week, held in early September, with concerts taking place in the churches of San Martino, San Cataldo, San Cataldo and San Giovanni Battista, and live broadcasts from the Teatro Antico in Taormina via the RAI and Sky channels, and to over 700 cinemas worldwide via the Microcinema circuit.

The Chorus collaborates with institutions such as the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana, the International Music Festival of Macau, the China Opera Festival and the Orchestre national d’Île de France. Illustrious names with which it has been associated include José Carreras – at a special New Year’s gala at the inauguration of the Harbin Opera House in Heilongjiang Province, China, in 2017 – Fabio Armiliato, Marius Stravinsky, Franco Zeffirelli, Andrea Bocelli and the Sistine Chapel Choir

At the present time, of course, the Chorus has had to suspend live performances, but planning has already started for the second edition of the Festival dei Teatri di Pietra, at which the ensemble hopes to appear in productions which include Verdi’s La Traviata, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. Tours of Spain, China and the Lebanon are also currently being negotiated for the forthcoming autumn and winter seasons, when – it is hoped – music and art will again be thriving.

This article has also appeared in the Features section of Riviera Buzz

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English National Ballet streams Derek Deane’s ‘Swan Lake’

Jurgita Dronina and Isaac Hernández in Swan Lake © Laurent Liotardo

This week’s presentation in English National Ballet’s Wednesday Watch Parties features Derek Deane’s version of Swan Lake – and marks the first time that audiences around the world have an opportunity to watch this free-to-view full-length production online.

Filmed during a live performance at the Liverpool Empire in 2018 – during ENB’s annual Autumn tour of the United Kingdom – this production stars Lead Principals Isaac Hernández as Prince Siegfried and Jurgita Dronina as Odette/Odile, with Tchaikovsky’s utterly gorgeous score played by the English National Ballet Philharmonic conducted by Gavin Sutherland.

It’s now more than two decades since the premiere of Derek Deane’s Swan Lake, at the Royal Albert Hall in 1997. It delighted audiences then, and has continued to do so ever since. A graduate of The Royal Ballet School, Derek Deane became a principal dancer for The Royal Ballet, and following his retirement from the stage, he became artistic director of the English National Ballet in 1993. In 2000 he was honoured with an OBE. Deane has created works for a number of other ballet companies, as well, including The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Teatro alla Scala and Shanghai Ballet.

Russian dancer Jurgita Dronina joined English National Ballet in 2017, following an appearance as guest artist with the Company in the title role of Mary Skeaping’s Giselle. Having danced with the Royal Swedish Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, Ms Dronina was Resident Guest Principal with the Hong Kong Ballet from 2015 – 2017, and has appeared as a guest artist with the National Ballet of Canada – where she remains a Principal Dancer. The most recent of Ms Dronina’s honours are the 2014 Alexandra Radius Award, and the Order of Merit to Lithuania, Cross of the Knight, in 2018.

Isaac Hernández joined English National Ballet following a guest appearance as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake in 2015. In autumn 2016, he created the role of Albrecht in Akram Khan’s Giselle, and other leading roles he has danced for the Company include Ali and Conrad in Le Corsaire, Romeo in Nureyev’s Romeo & Juliet, Franz in Ronald Hynd’s Coppélia, the Nephew/Prince in Eagling’s Nutcracker and Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings.

English National Ballet’s Swan Lake will premiere online at 7.00 pm BST on Wednesday, 27th May, on Facebook and YouTube and will be available for 48 hours thereafter. 

Information sourced from:

English National Ballet programme notes

Isaac Hernández

Jurgita Dronina

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The Royal Ballet streams MacMillan’s ‘Anastasia’ online

The Royal Ballet is providing audiences with a wonderfully wide range of works in its current selection of online performances, and this next production – Kenneth MacMillan’s Anastasia – demonstrates just how diverse the Company’s repertoire is.

Anastasia brings to the stage of the Royal Opera House the story of Anna Anderson, a psychiatric patient in an institution in Berlin during the 1920s, who was convinced that she was the only survivor of the appalling massacre of the Imperial Russian family by the Bolsheviks in Ekaterinburg in 1918. She suffered vivid nightmares, fact and fantasy swirling around in her mind, as she recalled events from her previous life.

This case had a powerful effect on Kenneth MacMillan, and in 1967 he created a one-act work, Anastasia, for Deutsche Opera Ballet in Berlin, of which he was Director at the time. He set this ballet to the Sixth Symphony of Bohuslav Martinů, an appropriate choice, since when he wrote the symphony, the composer was himself struggling to come to terms with the confusion caused by a serious head injury sustained several years earlier.

Returning to The Royal Ballet in 1971, MacMillan created a full-length version of Anastasia for the Company, choreographing two new acts to precede the existing one. Since these acts recounted episodes of what Anna believed to be her past – as the Grand Duchess Anastasia, daughter of the last Tsar, Nicholas II of Russia – MacMillan set them to music from the First and Third symphonies (Winter Dreams and the Polish) by Tchaikovsky, who must surely be the composer most closely identified with the grandeur of Imperial Russia. Additional music was composed by Fritz Winckel, with electronic music by Rüdiger Rüfer.

In the ballet, MacMillan makes no claim with regard to the veracity of Anna’s belief as to whom she is, leaving that decision to his audience, but he never wavered from his view that her story was poignant and powerful, and what comes through very clearly in the ballet is Anna Anderson’s absolute certainty of her origins. She died in 1984, and it wasn’t until 1994 that the result of a DNA test proved that she couldn’t have been a member of the Romanov family.

The role of Anastasia in this performance is danced by Royal Ballet Principal, Natalia Osipova, who has performed a vast number of roles with the Company, had numerous roles created on her, and has appeared as a guest artist with many leading ballet companies around the world. Among the awards with which Ms Osipova has been honoured are two Golden Masks – for her performances in In the Upper Room (2008) and La Sylphide (2009) – three Critics’ Circle National Dance Awards (Best Female Dancer, 2007, 2010 and 2014), two Positano Dance Awards (Best Female Dancer, 2008 and 2011) and a Benois de la Danse Award (Best Female Dancer, 2008).

Anastasia was dedicated to Dame Ninette de Valois, founder of The Royal Ballet.

The Royal Ballet’s online premiere of Kenneth Macmillan’s Anastasia is broadcast free on Friday 15th May at 7.00 pm BST – part of the Royal Opera House’s #OurHouseToYourHouse series – on Facebook and YouTube. Anastasia will be available to view online until 28th May.

Find out more on the Royal Opera House website.

Information sourced from:

The Royal Ballet programme notes

Kenneth MacMillan

Natalia Osipova

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San Francisco Opera launches Opera in ON with Boito’s ‘Mefistofele’

San Francisco Opera’s production of Boito’s ‘Mefistofele’ © Cory Weaver
Courtesy San Francisco Opera

In September 2013, San Francisco Opera staged a remarkable production of Arrigo Boito’s Mefistofele. Regarded as one of the most impressive productions ever staged at the War Memorial Opera House, Mefistofele – from the Company’s archives – is being streamed online on May 9, in the first production of Opera is ON, the Company’s online initiative to connect with the community and its audiences worldwide.

Based on Goethe’s version of the Faust legend, Mefistofele has a libretto by the composer, and was the only opera that Boito completed. It premiered on March 5, 1868, at La Scala, Milan, under the baton of the composer, despite his apparent lack of experience and skill as a conductor.

This production stars Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov in his staged debut in the title role, Mexican tenor Ramón Vargas is the philosopher Faust who sells his soul to the devil, and American soprano Patricia Racette sings the roles of Margerita, the village girl who is the object of Faust’s desire, and Elena (Helen of Troy) when Mefistofele transports Faust back in time to Ancient Greece. Direction is by Robert Carsen, and former Music Director of SF Opera, Nicola Luisotti, leads an opera chorus of 90 singers and a children’s chorus of 30.

Sung in Italian with English supertitles, San Francisco Opera’s production of Mefistofele streams free of charge on Opera is ON on Saturday, May 9, at 10.00 am Pacific. It will be available until 11.59 pm, the next day. No registration is necessary.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Opera Wire

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San Francisco Ballet presents free weekly streams of performances

Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ © Erik Tomasson Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

San Francisco Ballet is currently presenting a free weekly stream to audiences the world over, featuring commissioned works from the 2018 Unbound festival, and well as performances from the Company’s extensive repertoire.

Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ © Erik Tomasson Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

For its first full-length online presentation, the Company has selected Romeo and JulietHelgi Tomasson’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic story of the doomed young lovers of Verona – and within the coming week, there’ll be two different performances of this ballet for audiences to enjoy. Both were recorded at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House during the Company’s 2015 season.

Sean Bennett and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ © Erik Tomasson
Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

The first performance will be streamed on Facebook, IGTV, YouTube, and SF Ballet @ Home from Friday, May 8, at 2.30 pm PDT. Starring Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno in the title roles, this screening will be preceded by a Meet the Artist interview with Mathilde Froustey and Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, on Facebook Live on May 8, at 2:00 pm PDT.

Maria Kochetkova in Tomasson’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ © Erik Tomasson
Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

The second performance marked the inauguration of the film series Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance in 2015, and was screened in cinemas across the United States. The title roles in this performance are danced by Maria Kochetkova and Davit Karapetyan, and it will be available to view online on Lincoln Center at Home and on Lincoln Center’s Facebook page from Monday, May 11, at 2.30 pm PDT.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ © Erik Tomasson
Courtesy San Francisco Ballet

Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet premiered during San Francisco Ballet’s 1994 Repertory Season and was scheduled to close the Company’s 2020 season this month. Set to Sergei Prokofiev’s enduringly beautiful score, the ballet has Italian Renaissance designs by the late Jens-Jacob Worsaae, lighting by Thomas R Skelton, and features dramatic sword-fighting scenes choreographed by Martino Pistone and Helgi Tomasson.

This production has been performed live at The John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, and the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California. The balcony scene was performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, and most recently, the Company took the full-length production to the Royal Danish Opera House in Copenhagen last November.

San Francisco Ballet streams two performances of Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet:

From Friday, May 8, on Facebook, IGTV, YouTube, and SF Ballet @ Home.

From Monday, May 11, on Lincoln Center at Home and on Lincoln Center’s Facebook page.

Each of these streams will be available for one week.

For further information, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes

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English National Ballet streams Nureyev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

English National Ballet in Nureyev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Bill Cooper

Continuing its Wednesday Watch Parties on ENB at Home, English National Ballet this week presents Leading Principal Dancers Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández in Rudolf Nureyev’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragic tale of young love – Romeo and Juliet.

The work was created for the Company (then known as Festival Ballet) to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, and is set to Prokofiev’s gorgeous score, played by the English National Ballet Philharmonic, led by Gavin Sutherland. This performance was recorded live at The Bristol Hippodrome in 2015, during the Company’s annual Autumn UK Tour.

Prokofiev was initially commissioned in 1934 to write the score for Romeo and Juliet by choreographer Leonid Lavrovsky at the then Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now the Mariinsky in St Petersburg). When these plans failed to materialise, the composer offered the work to the Bolshoi Ballet, but the music was considered by the dancers of the Moscow company to be difficult and impossible for dancing. The ballet was finally produced in Brno, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) in 1938, with choreography by Ivo Vana Psota. Due to the success with which it was received, the Kirov asked Prokofiev to return to Leningrad, and in January 1940 the Lavrovsky version was given its Leningrad premiere.

Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández in English National Ballet’s production of
‘Romeo and Juliet” © Bill Cooper

After Lavrovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, other versions were created – by choreographers such as John Cranko for La Scala Ballet in Milan, and Kenneth MacMillan for The Royal Ballet – but Nureyev’s version is said to be the closest to Shakespeare’s text. Set in Verona during the Italian Renaissance, it features a colourful and busy piazza, with market traders and street entertainers, against which is set the quarrelsome relationship between the Capulet and Montague families, the warring supporters of each – and ultimately the doomed love shared by Romeo and Juliet.

Alina Cojocaru and Isaac Hernández in Nureyev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Bill Cooper

Ever-popular Romanian dancer Alina Cojocaru trained in both Kiev and at The Royal Ballet School, before returning to the Kiev company as a principal dancer. In 1999 she joined The Royal Ballet, was promoted to soloist, then principal dancer, and joined English National Ballet in 2013 as Leading Principal Dancer. Possessing a vast repertoire , Ms Cojocaru also appears as a guest artist for leading ballet companies worldwide, returning frequently to both Hamburg Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

Alina Cojocaru is partnered in this performance by Mexican dancer, Isaac Hernández. He danced with ABII, San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, before joining ENB in 2015. The most recent of his awards was the 2018 Benois de la Danse – he was the first ever Mexican recipient – and he has appeared as a guest artist with Paris Opera Ballet and the Rome Opera Ballet.

English National Ballet’s production of Nureyev’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ © Bill Cooper

English National Ballet’s presentation of Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet is free to view on Wednesday 6th May, at 7.00 pm BST, on both Facebook and YouTube. It will be available online for 48 hours after the first transmission.

Information sourced from:

English National Ballet programme notes

Alina Cojocaru

Isaac Hernández

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Royal Ballet streams Wheeldon’s ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Christopher Wheeldon’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale, for The Royal Ballet, will be shared with audiences the world over as it streams online this evening, 1st May.

Created as a co-production between The Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, The Winter’s Tale – scored by Joby Talbot, with designs by Bob Crowley – is now regarded as a modern ballet classic, praised by both critics and audiences, and receiving a standing ovation at its World Premiere at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 12th April, 2014.

The Winter’s Tale – a tale of jealousy, passion and forgiveness – was written between 1609 and 1611, and produced at the Globe Theatre in London. It tells of King Leontes of Sicily who is convinced that his wife, Hermione, is having an affair with his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia. Leontes has Hermione imprisoned, where she gives birth to their daughter, and subsequently dies. On Leontes’ instructions, the baby is exiled and taken away by Antigonus, the husband of one of Leontes’ courtiers, Paulina. The child, Perdita, is raised by shepherds for sixteen years, and ultimately falls in love with the son of one of Leontes’ friends. She returns home, a statue of Hermione seemingly ‘comes back to life’, and all are reconciled and forgiven.

Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet, trained at The Royal Ballet School, and danced for the Company in the early 1990s, since when he was created the first Resident Choreographer for New York City Ballet and has become one of today’s most successful choreographers. He has choreographed works for leading international ballet companies, and is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including a London Critics’ Circle Award, an Olivier Award, a Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway production of An American in Paris, and, for The Winter’s Tale, was the winner of both the Best Classical Choreography award and a Benois de la Danse – regarded as the ‘Oscar of dance’ – in the Choreographers’ category in 2015. Christopher Wheeldon is President of the Benesh Institute, and was made an OBE in 2016. The Winter’s Tale is his second full-length work for The Royal Ballet, the first having been Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 2011.

The score for The Winter’s Tale is by English composer Joby Talbot, who also received a Benois de la Dance in the Composers’ category. An interesting touch to his score is the inclusion onstage of a group of Bohemian folk musicians, providing the musical accompaniment to a village springtime festival, during which Perdita is crowned Queen of the May. Talbot made his debut for The Royal Ballet in 2006 with Chroma, created by then Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor, and also composed the score for Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 2011.

The Royal Ballet’s production of Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale premieres free on the Company’s YouTube and Facebook channels this evening, 1st May, at 7.00 pm BST, and will be available to watch for 14 days.

For more information, visit The Royal Opera House website

Information sourced from:

The Royal Ballet programme notes

Christopher Wheeldon

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