Netopil leads Czech Philharmonic at Smetana’s Litomyšl National Festival

Tomáš Netopil – courtesy Harrison Parrot

Following tradition, the Czech Philharmonic brings the current season to a close with two performances at the Smetana National Festival held each year in Litomyšl, the birthplace of Bedřich Smetana.

Both performances will be led by the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, Tomáš Netopil – the first featuring concertmaster Jiří Vodička as soloist in Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, with the second devoted to a performance of Smetana’s Má vlast.

Litomyšl Castle – courtesy Litomyšl Castle

This festival – dating from 1949 – is the second oldest music festival in the Czech Republic, and is held each year in honour of Bedřich Smetana – known as the founder of Czech national music. The festival features operas, gala concerts, oratorios, cantatas and songbook evenings, as well as ballet productions, church and promenade concerts. It is held at the magnificent Litomyšl Castle – a classic example of Italian Renaissance architecture. Built between 1568 and 1581, the Castle has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1999. Performances take place either in the second Castle courtyard – which has excellent acoustics and a unique retractable roof – or in the 18th century theatre.

Tomáš Netopil is currently celebrating his eighth season as General Music Director of the Aalto Musik Theater and Philharmonie Essen. Recent highlights include performances of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, Salome, Così fan tutte, Rusalka, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Pique Dame, and Der Rosenkavalier.  He has a regular relationship with Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, and additional guest conducting performances this season include appearances with Dresdner Philharmonie, Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mozarteumorchester Salzburg and the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tomáš Netopil – Photo: Marco Borggreve

Maestro Netopil – who, according to Res Musica “…. impresses every moment […], with a remarkably beautiful and subtle intelligence…” – is also the Founder and Artistic Director of the International Summer Academy in Kroměříž in the Czech Republic, and this summer – in association with the Dvořák Prague Festival – the Academy establishes the Dvořákova Praha Youth Philharmonic, with musicians from conservatories and music academies coached by principal players of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

The programme opens with Smetana’s Festive Overture in D Major, Op 4, written in 1848-49. The inspiration for this work was purely patriotic and political, conveying as it does a mood of national democratic revolution – a movement in which the composer himself participated.

This overture is followed by Antonín Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor, Op 53. Commissioned by the composer’s publisher, Simrock, this concerto was due to have its world premiere performed by Joseph Joachim, but Joachim prevaricated for almost four years, requesting various amendments to the score, and it’s thought that he ultimately lost enthusiasm for the work. Dvořák engaged the young Czech violin virtuoso Frantisek Ondricek to perform the world premiere in Prague’s Rudofinum on 14th October, 1883, with the National Theatre Orchestra, conducted by Moric Anger.

Jiří Vodička –

The soloist in this performance of the concerto is Jiří Vodička, concertmaster of the Czech Philharmonic since 2015. Winner of many international competitions, Vodička is considered to be among the best of the current generation of young Czech violinists, and is one of the soloists of Vivaldiano RELOADED – the internationally acclaimed audiovisual project by Michal Dvořák, telling the story of the life of Antonio Vivaldi, using modern arrangements of his music.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest symphonies of the Austro-German tradition, Brahms’ Symphony No 1 in C Minor, Op 68 took the composer nearly 20 years to write, the work ultimately receiving its premiere performance on 4th November, 1876, in the Germany city of Karlsruhe. Although Brahms spent years under the shadow of Beethoven, and although this symphony was compared to Beethoven’s Ninth, Brahms no doubt gained much fulfilment from the high praise with which it was received by reviewers.

This concert by the Czech Philharmonic takes place at Litomyšl Castle on Thursday, 1st July, at 8.15 pm (CEST).

The performance on the following evening is devoted to Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) – a cycle of symphonic poems to which Smetana referred as “musical pictures of Czech glories and defeats”, inspired by the legends and landscapes of the composer’s homeland. Each movement of this work is a self-standing symphonic poem with its own story, and Smetana spent the most part of the 1870s writing it. Má vlast was premiered in its entirety in Prague on 5th November, 1882.

Tomáš Netopil leads the Czech Philharmonic in Smetana’s Má vlast at Litomyšl Castle on Friday, 2nd July at 8.00 pm (CEST).

For more information, visit the Czech Philharmonic website.

Information sourced from:

Czech Philharmonic programme notes

Litomyšl Castle

Dvořák Violin Concerto

Brahms Symphony No 1

Smetana – Má vlast

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San Francisco Jazz Festival streams Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona

Michel Camilo, Gonzalo Rubalcaba & Chucho Valdés – courtesy SFJAZZ

At this week’s San Francisco Virtual Jazz Festival, SFJAZZ streams a tribute to one of the most important and influential figures in Cuban music – pianist and composer Ernesto Lecuona. He is honored by three of today’s greatest Latin Jazz pianists – Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Michel Camilo – in a concert recorded at an SFJAZZ concert in May 2017.

Ernesto Lecuona was a prolific composer who probably wrote close to 1000 songs – numbers such as Malagueña, Andalucia (popularly known as The Breeze and I), Siempre en Mi Corazon (You are Always in my Heart), La Comparsa and Noche Azul – but he also composed operettas, ballets and an opera.

Originally taught to play the piano by a sister, Ernesto Lecuona was first known as a concert pianist, having furthered his studies in Paris with none other than Maurice Ravel, but his career took off in the 1930s, during which Lecuona composed the scores for four MGM films, and his group – known as the Lecuona Cuban Boys – enjoyed a highly successful tour of America. Lecuona was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1942 film Always in My Heart, and in 1943 became the cultural attaché to the Cuban embassy in Washington, DC. After the War, he returned to his farm in Cuba, but left in 1960 following Castro’s revolution, and never performed publicly again. He died while on holiday in the Canary Islands in1963.

Cuban pianist, composer and arranger, Chucho Valdés – a highly respected figure in modern Afro-Cuban jazz – is known for his distinct style which, apart from Afro-Cuban jazz, incorporates elements of classical and rock music. “One of the world’s great virtuosic pianists”, says The New York Times, he’s won six GRAMMY® and three Latin GRAMMY® Awards, of which the most recent was Tribute to Irakere: Live at Marciac, a celebration of the 40-year success of the band of which he was co-founder – with Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval – and which he directed.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba – described by The New York Times as “one of the greatest musicians in jazz …. a pianist of almost supernatural abilities” – was born into a musical family in Havana, and initially trained as a classical pianist, obtaining a degree in music and composition from Havana’s Institute of Fine Arts. He now tours internationally as a solo pianist – both jazz and classics – and as a band leader, having developed a unique style. In 2002 he won two Latin GRAMMY© Awards – for co-production, with bassist Charlie Haden, for their album Nocturne on the Verve label, and his Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio won the award for Jazz Album of the Year for their album Supernova (Blue Note Records). His 15 GRAMMY® nominations include five for Jazz Album of the Year.

Pianist, composer, bandleader and producer, Michel Camilo is said by Jazz Review to be “one of kind when it comes to piano jazz explorations, and his unique playing style is all his own”. With a doctorate from Berklee, a Latin Grammy Award for the 2000 Verve album Spain and a 2004 GRAMMY in the Best Latin Jazz Album category for Live at the Blue Note, he is known for his brilliant technique, his artistry and virtuosity – spanning jazz, classical, popular and world music. At the age of 16 he became a member of the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, and made his debut as a conductor of the Orchestra in a recital in 1987, the year in which he became musical director of the Heineken Jazz Festival, a post he held through 1992.

The Tribute to Ernesto Lecuona by Chucho Valdés, Gonzalo Rubalcaba and Michel Camilo can be seen on the SFJAZZ Fridays at Five session on June 25th at 5.00 pm (PT), 8.00 pm (ET), and for night owls, at 1.00 am (BST) and 2.00 am (CEST). Access to Fridays at Five – along with the Virtual San Francisco Jazz Festival – is available with SFJAZZ Digital membership, starting at just $5 per month, and $50 annually. For more details, visit the SFJAZZ website.

Also this week, SFJAZZ is streaming the High School All-Stars Virtual Summer Concert – on Thursday, June 24th. Free to view, this performance comprises two ensembles – the Big Band, led by Paul Contos, and the Combo, led by Dann Zinn.

The SFJAZZ High School All-Stars is a pre-professional training program for high school jazz musicians in the Bay Area, providing students with mentorship and clinics with leading jazz professionals. Normally, the students rehearse and perform at the SFJAZZ center, get to record a studio album and appear at music festivals and competitions. Things have been a bit different this year, though, which has meant that the students have had to rehearse outdoors, in distanced sections, or via video conferencing. Nevertheless they’ve put together this fabulous online performance which can be accessed via the SFJAZZ website at 5.00 pm (PT), 8.00 pm (ET), 1.00 am (BST) and 2.00 am (CEST) on Thursday, June 24th.

Information sourced from:
SFJAZZ program notes
Ernesto Lecuona AllMusic
Artists’ websites

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From the New World Symphony archives: MTT honors Anne Frank with Audrey Hepburn

Michael Tilson Thomas with Audrey Hepburn – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Miami-based New World Symphony this week pays tribute to Anne Frank, the young girl who spent two years in hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, and whose diary detailing those years of captivity made her famous the world over.

Ju‌ne 1‌2th would have been Anne Frank’s 92nd birthday, and to mark the occasion, the New World Symphony are honoring her memory by recalling the work written by the Symphony’s Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, From the Diary of Anne Frank, for narrator and orchestra. The work was premiered by the New World Symphony in 1990 in a performance led by MTT, with narration by Audrey Hepburn.

Michael Tilson Thomas with Audrey Hepburn – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

From the Diary of Anne Frank was commissioned by UNICEF, and written by Tilson Thomas for Audrey Hepburn, a UNICEF ambassador at the time. Not only was Hepburn the same age as Anne Frank, but she also grew up in occupied Holland. “I now realize,” says Tilson Thomas, “that so much of this work is a reflection not just of Anne Frank, but of Audrey Hepburn. Audrey’s simplicity, her deeply caring nature, the ingenuous sing-song of her voice are all present in the phrase shapes of the orchestra. The work would never have existed without her, and it is dedicated to her.”

The New World Symphony commemorates the premiere of this work on its website with the story behind the composition, photographs of Anne Frank, MTT and Audrey Hepburn, an audio link in which Audrey Hepburn tells of her links to Anne Frank, and a video link in which MTT discusses both Audrey Hepburn and the music.

The 2018/19 season marked the 25th and final year of Michael Tilson Thomas’ tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony (he is now the Symphony’s Music Director Laureate), and to celebrate this remarkable partnership, MTT led the Symphony in a performance of From the Diary of Anne Frank, with narration by mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard.

‘From The Diary of Anne Frank’ – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

This performance was released as an album last year by SFS Media – the San Francisco Symphony’s in-house recording label. Available wherever music is downloaded and streamed, the album also features Tilson Thomas’ Meditations on Rilke, featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and bass-baritone Ryan McKinny.

Courtesy San Francisco Symphony

In March this year, the San Francisco Symphony was delighted to announce that From the Diary of Anne Frank and Meditations on Rilke was awarded a 2021 Grammy® Award for Best Classical Compendium, bringing MTT and the Symphony’s total number of Grammy® Awards to 16, and their ninth since launching SFS Media in 2001. 

Information sourced from:

New World Symphony

San Francisco Symphony

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Augustin Hadelich plays Brahms with Salonen & SF Symphony

Augustin Hadelich © Suxiao Yang

This week, the San Francisco Symphony’s Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Symphony, in a performance at Davies Symphony Hall, of Richard Strauss’s Serenade in E flat major, contemporary composer Daniel Kidane’s Be Still, and Brahms’ Violin Concerto, with Grammy Award-winning Augustin Hadelich as soloist.

Augustin Hadelich – “… a singularly gifted, characterful musician …” says the New Yorker – has a wide-ranging repertoire which embraces the music of composers from the Baroque era through to the present day. Winner of a 2016 Grammy in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category, he was also named Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 2018.

Now in his second year as Associate Artist of the Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, Augustin Hadelich made his debut with the San Francisco Symphony in 2013, and has now appeared with every major orchestra in North America.  Internationally he has performed with some of the world’s finest orchestras, including the Royal Concertgebouw, London Philharmonic, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the NHK Symphony in Tokyo and the New Zealand Symphony. Highlights of his current season include appearances with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia Zurich, Dresden Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and BBC Scottish Orchestra. According to former New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert, he is “Someone who wins audiences’ hearts wherever he performs”.

Gramophone magazine was “… wowed by Augustin Hadelich’s richly characterised and subtly coloured account of the Brahms Concerto” – the work which he performs in this concert. Brahms wrote it during the summer of 1878, whilst holidaying on the shore of the Wörthersee in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia – a landscape which he described as being littered with beautiful melodies. When the concerto was premiered by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra on January 1st, 1879, with Joseph Joachim as soloist and the composer conducting, it was politely, but not ecstatically, received. Viennese concertgoers loved it when they heard it, but the concerto took some time before it was fully accepted as a classic, and before ultimately becoming a popular work.

The concert opens with the Serenade in E flat major by Richard Strauss, a work which reflects the classical preferences of his father over the ‘Wagnerism’ to which Richard Strauss gravitated later in life. A short, lyrical piece for a wind ensemble, it’s an elegant work, possibly thought to have been inspired by Mozart’s Serenade for Winds. Franz Wüllner conducted the World Premiere at the Hotel zu den drei Raben in Dresden on November 27th, 1882.

This is followed by the US premiere of British composer Daniel Kidane’s Be Still, which was commissioned by Manchester Camerata, and premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor Sakari Oramo at the Last Night of the Proms in September 2019. The work is described by the Financial Times as ‘quietly impressive’, and by The Times as ‘tautly constructed’ and ‘vibrantly imagined’. Other works which Kidane has composed since then include The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash for Huddersfield Choral Society, with text by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, and Dappled Light for violinists Maxine Kwok and Julian Gil Rodriguez for the London Symphony Orchestra’s Summer Shorts series.

Esa-Pekka Salonen © Minna Hatinen

Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the San Francisco Symphony in a program of works by Richard Strauss, Daniel Kidane and Johannes Brahms – with soloist Augustin Hadelich – at Davies Symphony Hall on June 17th and 18th. For more information, and to buy tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Artists’ websites

Brahms Violin Concerto

Strauss – Serenade – Michael Steinberg

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Thibaudet plays Ravel with Bringuier & Nice Philharmonic

The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra presents an all-French concert on 18th and 19th June – with Lionel Bringuier leading the Orchestra in a performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major – soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet – and Bizet’s Symphony in C.

Multi-award-winning artist Jean-Yves Thibaudet is acknowledged as one of the finest pianists of today. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has a wide-ranging repertoire of solo, chamber and orchestral music – from Beethoven through Liszt, Grieg and Saint-Saëns to Khachaturian and Gershwin, and to Olivier Messiaen, Qigang Chen, James MacMillan, Richard Dubugnon and Aaron Zigman. 

Thibaudet has always delighted in playing music away from the standard repertoire – from jazz to opera – including works which he himself has transcribed for the piano. He is known as one of the foremost interpreters of the music of George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel, and is the soloist in the forthcoming Wes Anderson film The French Dispatch. He can also be heard on the soundtracks of Pride and Prejudice, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Wakefield and the Oscar-winning film Atonement.

He is the first-ever Artist-in-Residence at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, where he is able to indulge his passion for education, fostering young musical talent through individual lessons, masterclasses and performances with students, as well as the Jean-Yves Thibaudet Scholarships.

In this concert, Jean-Yves Thibaudet plays Ravel’s gorgeously jazzy Piano Concerto in G major – which rather underpins the composer’s own view of a concerto. “The music of a concerto,” he said, “should, in my opinion, be lighthearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects.” This concerto was written between 1929 and 1931, following Ravel’s exposure to jazz during a visit to the United States, and at a time when the influence of jazz was prominent in Paris as well. The work was premiered on January 14th, 1932, at a concert of the Lamoreux Orchestra in Paris, with Marguerite Long as soloist.

The Symphony in C – George Bizet’s first – was written when the composer was just 17. It was thought to have been a student assignment whilst Bizet was studying at the Paris Conservatoire in 1855. It was neither published nor performed during Bizet’s lifetime and was only discovered in 1933 in the archives of the Conservatoire by musicologist Jean Chantavoine. Bizet’s biographer, Douglas Charles Parker, took the work to the conductor Felix Weingartner who led the premiere performance in Basel, Switzerland in 1933.  A hugely popular and melodic work, it has remained a firm favourite of the classical repertoire ever since.

Lovers of ballet will know this symphony for the ballet, Symphony in C, which George Balanchine choreographed in for the School of American Ballet – which he founded – and which premiered the work in 1947. Balanchine first learned of the existence of the score from his great friend, Igor Stravinsky, and created one of the most beautiful four-movement, plotless ballets, which has become a favourite in the repertoires of a number of ballet companies.

Lionel Bringuier, Artiste Associé of the Nice Philharmonic, is regarded as a Ravel specialist, so these performances of the Concerto in G, in the hands of Thibaudet and Bringuier, should be absolute magic. Add to that the fact that Bringuier is on home territory in Nice – the city of his birth – and he should be right in his element.

Music Director of the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, between 2014 and 2018, Bringuier has held previous posts at the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León in Valladolid, the Orchestre de Bretagne and Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. He is highly regarded on the international stage – both as a symphonic and operatic conductor – having appeared with ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Philharmonia, the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Tokyo Symphony. According to The Washington Post, “…. in the subtlety of his musical imagery and the absolute mastery of his craft, Bringuier’s conducting brings to mind the great Pierre Monteux”.

Lionel Bringuier leads the Nice Philharmonic in performances of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G – soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet – and Bizet’s Symphony in C at Nice Opera on June 18th and 19th. Reservations may be made online.

Information sourced from Nice Opera programme notes
Artists’ websites
San Francisco Symphony programme notes:
Ravel Piano Concert in G major
Bizet Symphony in C
The George Balanchine Trust

A version of this article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Tributes to Thelonious Monk & Duke Ellington at the Virtual San Francisco Jazz Festival

This week, the Virtual San Francisco Jazz Festival, hosted by SFJAZZ pays tribute to Thelonious Monk, and features performances by Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, and Marcus Shelby & his Orchestra with their tribute to Duke Ellington.

Streaming on Thursday is the documentary and concert film Music in Monk Time: A Retrospective Tribute to Thelonious Sphere Monk. Rarely seen, this film takes a look at the life and music of the genius of jazz, 36 years after SFJAZZ presented the Bay Area premiere in March 1985. Although the film was televised throughout the world at the time, it has never before been broadcast in the United States. With this week’s transmission SFJAZZ has the honor of premiering this unique piece of jazz history for the second time.

Written and narrated by vocalist Jon Hendricks, the film follows Monk’s career, combing rare archival footage with photos borrowed directly from his patron the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. It features interviews and performance footage of Monk’s classic compositions by associates Dizzy Gillespie, Carmen McRae, and Milt Jackson, as well as Monk quartet members Charlie Rouse, Ben Riley and Larry Gales, with Walter Davis Jr on piano. It also recreates Monk’s famous 1959 Town Hall concert with a big band performance, featuring Terence Blanchard and Monk’s son, drummer TS Monk.

Music in Monk Time: A Retrospective Tribute to Thelonious Sphere Monk has its premiere broadcast on Thursday, June 10th, at 7.00 pm (PT) / 10.00 pm (ET). The encore broadcast takes place on Sunday, June 13th, at 6.00 pm (PT) / 9.00 pm (ET). For further information and tickets, visit the SFJAZZ website.

The Virtual San Francisco Jazz Festival continues with this week’s Fridays at Five session which stars GRAMMY-winning drummer, composer and founding member of the SFJAZZ Collective, Brian Blade, together with his Fellowship Band, in a concert recorded during their debut performance in the Miner Auditorium during the 34th San Francisco Jazz Festival in June 2016. The concert features music from Blade’s discography, including numbers from his 2014 Blue Note album Landmarks and selections from what was to become their fifth album, Body and Shadow, released in 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of the ensemble.

Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band are the stars of this week’s SFJAZZ Fridays at Five session. The first transmission of this concert will go out at 5.00 pm (PT) / 8.00 pm (ET) on Friday, June 11th, with a repeat on Saturday, June 12th, at 10.00 am (PT) / 1.00 pm (ET). These broadcasts are for SFJAZZ members only. For more information visit the SFJAZZ website.

The third concert in the Virtual San Francisco Jazz Festival this week features Marcus Shelby & his Orchestra – comprising some of the most highly respected musicians in the Bay Area. They present a Tribute to Duke Ellington – major figure in the history of jazz, originator of big-band jazz, composer of thousands of songs, and creator of one of the most distinctive ensemble sounds in Western music.

San Francisco-based Shelby conductor – composer, bassist, bandleader and educator – has composed several oratorios and suites, as well as a children’s opera Harriet’s Spirit produced by Opera Parallel 2018. He composed the score and performed in Anna Deavere Smith’s Off-Broadway Play and HBO feature film Notes from the Field (2019), and is also the voice of Ray Gardener in the 2020 Oscar-Winning Disney Pixar film SOUL.

Originally recorded in May, 2019, this Family Matinee Broadcast with Marcus Shelby & his Orchestra will be streamed on Sunday, June 13th at 11.00 am (PT) / 2.00 pm (ET) / 7.00 on (BST). Family Matinee Broadcasts are a monthly membership-based online concert series in which performers share their insights, encourage audience participation, and provide important context for young listeners while celebrating all that jazz continues to offer. Tune in by becoming an SFJAZZ Digital Member – further information on the SFJAZZ website.

Information sourced from:

SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites

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Met Opera presents Changing the Scene: Updated Settings for Classic Operas

Scene from the Met Opera production of Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This next week, in the online presentation of its Nightly Opera Streams, the Metropolitan Opera presents productions which have been brought forward to a more contemporary time than that in which they were originally set.

The first of these productions, to be streamed on Monday, June 7th, is a highly acclaimed interpretation of Verdi’s Rigoletto by Tony Award-winning director, Michael Mayer, who transferred the setting from a decadent 16th-century Italian court to a glitzy and depraved Las Vegas strip in the 1960s. The Duke – sung by Polish tenor Piotr Beczala – is a popular entertainer and casino owner. Serbian baritone Željko Lučić is Rigoletto, the Duke’s sidekick and comedian, who embarks on a course of murderous revenge when his innocent daughter Gilda – sung by German soprano Diana Damrau – is seduced. Slovakian base, Štefan Kocán, is the assassin-for-hire, Sparafucile, and Belarussian mezzo-soprano Oksana Volkova, makes her debut with the Met as Sparafucile’s seductive sister, Maddalena. Conducted by Michele Mariotti, this production premiered at the Met on February 16th, 2013.

René Pape as Méphistophélès, Jonas Kaufmann as the title character and Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite in Gounod’s ‘Faust’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Gounod’s Faust – to be streamed on Tuesday, June 8th – has been brought forward, by producer Des McAnuff, to the early part 20th century. Tenor Jonas Kaufmann sings the title role of the man who sells his soul to the devil in return for youth and the love of the beautiful Marguerite, sung by soprano Marina Poplavskaya. Bass René Pape is Méphistophélès and baritone Russell Braun is Marguerite’s brother Valentin. Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this production dates from December 10th, 2011.

Juan Diego Flórez as Elvino and Natalie Dessay as Amina in Bellini’s ‘La Sonnambula’
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Tony Award-winning Mary Zimmerman’s production of Bellini’s La Sonnambula – which airs on Wednesday, June 9th – transfers this tale from a village in the countryside, to a rehearsal room in contemporary New York, where an opera company is rehearsing La Sonnambula, and where the singers are actually in love with each other. In the original setting, Amina – who is about to marry her sweetheart, Elvino – is found asleep in the bedroom of a stranger, and it’s only towards the end of the opera that Elvino discovers that Amina’s sleepwalking is the explanation. Soprano Natalie Dessay sings Amina, tenor Juan Diego Flórez is Elvino, and bass Michele Pertusi is Rodolfo. The conductor is Evelino Pidỏ, and this production was recorded on March 21st, 2009.

A scene from Handel’s ‘Agrippina’ with Joyce DiDonato in the title role
Photo: Marty Sohl / Met Opera

Streaming on Thursday, June 10th, Handel’s Agrippina – originally written in the Baroque era – casts an eye on the political scheming and personal complexities of the Roman emperor Claudius, his advisers and his wife Agrippina. Sir David McVicar brought the action of this opera into the present day, with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato in the title role – the woman who was determined that her depraved son Nero should sit on the throne. Mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey takes the role of Nero, soprano Brenda Rae makes her debut as Poppea, counter-tenor Iestyn Davis is Ottone, counter-tenor Nicholas Tamagna is Narcisco, baritone Duncan Rock is Pallante and bass Matthew Rose is Claudio. The production, from February 29th, 2020, is conducted by Harry Bicket.

A scene from Act 1 of Thomas Adès’s ‘The Tempest’ with acrobat Jaime Verazin as Ariel.
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Thomas Adès based his opera The Tempest on what is thought to be one of Shakespeare’s last plays – a tale of betrayal, revenge and forgiveness, set in a world of magic and spirits. Baritone Simon Keenlyside is Prospero, the magician who causes the shipwreck of his enemies, which sets in train the ensuing events. Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard is Miranda, his daughter, and tenor Alek Shrader is Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, with whom she’s in love. Tenor Alan Oke is Prospero’s duplicitous slave, Caliban, and soprano Audrey Luna is the sprite Ariel who thwarts Caliban’s plan to rid himself of his master. Streaming on Friday, June 11th, The Tempest is produced by Robert Lepage, and Thomas Adès himself is the conductor in this recording from November 10th, 2012.

Verdi’s comedy Falstaff is the featured production on Saturday, June 12th. Based on two of Shakespeare’s plays – The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IVFalstaff is produced by Robert Carsen who has set his opera in post-war London. Baritone Ambrogio Maestri takes the title role of the overweight knight, Sir John Falstaff, who plans to seduce two married women to gain access to their respective husbands’ wealth. Soprano Angela Meade is Alice Ford, and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano is Meg Page – Falstaff’s intended ‘victims’. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe is Mistress Quickly, Baritone Franco Vasallo is Alice’s husband Ford, and soprano Lisette Oropesa and tenor Paolo Fanale are the young lovers Nannetta (Alice Ford’s daughter) and Fenton.  Former Met Opera Music Director, the late James Levine conducts this performance which was recorded on December 14th, 2013.

A scene from Mozart’s ‘Così fan tutte’ Photo: Jonathan Tichler / Met Opera

On Sunday, June 13th, the Met Opera streams Phelim McDermott’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, set on a boardwalk in a Coney Island-inspired amusement park in the 1950s. Here, the four young lovers – Fiordiligi (soprano Amanda Majeski), Dorabella (mezzo-soprano Serena Malfi), Ferrando (tenor Ben Bliss) and Guglielmo (bass-baritone Adam Plachetka) – play out the intricacies of the comedy against a backdrop of thrilling fairground rides, and emotional – and literal – ups and downs. The role of Don Alfonso – whose scheming is behind all the confusion – is taken by baritone Christopher Maltman – and David Robertson conducts the production, which was filmed on March 31st, 2018.

All Nightly Met Opera Streams begin at 7.30 pm (ET) and remain available via metopera.org for 23 hours. The performances are also accessible on all Met Opera on Demand apps.

Information sourced from Met Opera program notes

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SFJAZZ presents virtual 2021 San Francisco Jazz Festival

Festival poster courtesy SFJAZZ

SFJAZZ opens the San Francisco Jazz Festival tomorrow – and this year it’s to be an all-digital affair, enabling not only US jazz enthusiasts, but late-nighters in other parts of the world, to enjoy some of the finest jazz around today. Featuring 18 concerts throughout the month of June, this celebration of jazz – which started life as a two-day event in 1983 — will include highlights from past Festival performances, world premiere concerts, a rare film on Thelonious Monk and events such as Juneteenth.

The first Festival performance opens on Thursday, June 3rd, with a concert featuring the Harold López-Nussa Quartet Live from Havana – the first online SFJAZZ presentation to originate from outside the continental US. A classically-trained pianist who only started playing jazz when he was 18 years old, he is now regarded as one of the brightest stars in Havana’s jazz firmament, with a style which combines classical, folkloric, jazz and popular elements, reflecting the full range and richness of Cuban music.

Having won First Prize in the Jazz Solo Competition at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2005, and toured widely with Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Omara Portuondo, López-Nussa debuted as a bandleader on the acclaimed World Village album Herencia in 2009. His latest release is Te Lo Dije (I Told You So) on the Mack Avenue label, in which he performs with the quartet featured in this concert – and which includes his brother, drummer Ruy Adrián López-Nussa. Violinist William Roblejo, percussionist Yaroldy Abreu and vocalist Kelvis Ochoa join as special guests for this show, which will feature music from the new album, as well as compositions by artists such as Chucho Valdés and Ernesto Lecuona.

Live From Havana: Harold López-Nussa Quartet opens the San Francisco Jazz Festival on Thursday, June 3rd at 7.00 pm (PT) / 10.00 pm (ET). The program will be repeated on Sunday, June 6th at 6.00 pm (PT) / 9.00 pm (ET).

The first of the SFJAZZ Fridays at Five sessions for the month of June features tenor saxophone artist Melissa Aldana. Described by Jazziz Magazine as a “…. a bandleader and musician at the top of her game”, and by The New York Times as “ . . . one of the more exciting young tenor saxophonists today”, Melissa has become one of jazz’s brighter stars since winning the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition – the first female musician, and the first South American musician, to do so. Taught by her father, professional saxophonist Marcos Aldana, and influenced by artists such as Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and Michael Brecker, she began by playing the alto sax, however, on hearing the music of Sonny Rollins, she switched to the tenor sax.

Another powerful influence on her work was the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, with whom Aldana sees a parallel in that, like Kahlo, she has had to face the challenge of asserting herself in a male-dominated environment. The latest of Melissa Aldana’s five albums is Visions, released in 2019, and she’s currently working with pianist Renee Rosins’ all-star ARTEMIS project.

The performance by Melissa Aldana and her quintet which features in Fridays at Five this week was recorded at SFJAZZ during the 2017 San Francisco Jazz Festival. The program is available to view online on Friday, June 4th at 5.00 pm (PT) / 8.00 pm (ET), and will be repeated on Saturday, June 5th at 10.00 am (PT) / 1.00 pm (ET).

These online transmissions from SFJAZZ are open to members only. Membership can be purchased for $5 a month, or $50 for a year. See the SFJAZZ website for details.


Information sourced from:
SFJAZZ program notes
Artists’ websites

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