González-Granados debuts with San Francisco Symphony

Lina González-Granados © Leona Campbell

In her first appearance with the San Francisco Symphony, Colombian conductor Lina González-Granados leads the Symphony in two concerts this week – at Davies Symphony Hall on July 30th, and at the Frost Amphitheater, Stanford University, the following evening. The program of music includes the Suite No 1 from de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat, Schumann’s Cello Concerto, with American cellist Joshua Roman as soloist, and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta,

Praised by OperaWire for her “attention to orchestral colours”, Lina González-Granados is known for her interpretations of both opera and orchestral music dating from the 17th century to the present. She has also caught the eye of the Boston Musical Intelligencer with her “lightning changes in tempo, meter, and effect”. Currently the Conducting Fellow of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Seattle Symphony – with whom she has recently appeared – she has also performed with the San Diego Symphony, San Francisco Conservatory Orchestra, Tulsa Opera, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional de Colombia and Filarmónica de Medellín.

Forthcoming debuts include those with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Louisiana Philharmonic, San Antonio Symphony, Rhode Island Philharmonic and Hawaii Symphony in the US, and further afield, the Oxford Philharmonic, OSPA (Porto Alegre Symphonic Orchestra), Norway’s Kristiansand Symphony and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra. Ms González-Granados is also Artistic Director of the Unitas Ensemble, a chamber orchestra she founded to promote and perform the works of Latin-American composers.

Joshua Roman © Hayley Young

Composer, curator and cellist of international standing, Joshua Roman is known for his vision, artistic leadership and versatility, with a repertoire of styles which ranges from Bach to Radiohead. He was principal cellist at the Seattle Symphony before embarking on a solo career, and in 2015 was named a TED Senior Fellow. Following his 2017 recording of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Cello Concerto – which was written for him – Roman was highly praised in a Gramophone review: his “extraordinary performance combines the expressive control of Casals with the creative individuality and virtuoso flair of Hendrix himself”.

Recent career highlights include appearances with the Colorado, Detroit, Jacksonville, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Princeton symphonies, and chamber performances include collaborations with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and the JACK, St Lawrence and Verona quartets. Musicians for whom Roman has written include the JACK Quartet, violinist Vadim Gluzman, and conductor David Danzmayr, and he has been commissioned by ProtoStar to compose a Musical Journal of shared experiences during the Coronavirus pandemic.

In 1917, Manuel de Falla – regarded as the most distinguished Spanish composer of the early 20th century – completed a work, El corregidor y la molinera, based on an 1874 Andalusian story by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón y Ariza. Impresario Serge Diaghilev persuaded de Falla to rescore this work for a ballet to be choreographed by Léonide Massine, which would be called El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-Cornered Hat). The premiere, by the Ballets Russes, took place in London in 1919, with Massine as one of the principal dancers, costumes and designs by Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Ansermet conducting. This San Francisco Symphony concert features the Suite No 1 from the ballet.

The San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall – © Brandon Patoc

Robert Schumann wrote his Cello Concerto in A minor Op 129 in the space of two weeks, during his tenure as Municipal Music Director in Düsseldorf in October 1850. It was a time of great stress, anxiety and mental breakdown for the composer, and over the following two years the work was revised, with final completion in February 1854 – a couple of days before Schumann threw himself into the Rhine in an attempted suicide. Schumann conceived the piece as a “Concert piece for cello with orchestral accompaniment”, with the three sections being played one after another without interruption, hence the departure from the usual concerto format.

The work was published in 1854, but with Schumann confined to a sanatorium, the work wasn’t premiered until 1860 – four years after the composer’s death – when it was performed by Julius Rietz and the Gewandhuis Orchestra, with Ludwig Ebert as soloist. The concerto was not particularly well received, and was rarely performed until the early years of the 20th century, thanks to the efforts of Pablo Casals.

The San Francisco Symphony at the Frost Amphitheater – © Brandon Patoc

The concert ends with Zoltán Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, written in 1933, and described by the composer as a piece that represented the folk songs and heritage of Hungary, from which he often drew inspiration for his compositions. Kodály spent part of his childhood in the small town of Galánta which had a famous Roma band, and it was the Roma themes from those songs of his childhood that he incorporated into these five pieces, which are both nostalgic and spirited.

Lina González-Granados leads the San Francisco Symphony, with soloist Joshua Roman, in music by de Falla, Schumann and Kodály, at Davies Symphony Hall on Friday, July 30th, and at the Frost Amphitheater, Stanford University, on Saturday, July 31st. For more information, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

The Three-Cornered Hat

Schumann Cello Concerto

Dances of Galánta

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‘Carmen’ features in Met Opera’s ‘Live in HD’ Summer Encores

Roberto Alagna as Don José and Elina Garanca in the title role of Bizet’s “Carmen.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera Taken at the Metropolitan Opera during the dress rehearsal on December 28, 2009

Bizet’s Carmen, regarded as one of the most popular operas in the repertoire, is the latest production to be screened in the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD Summer Encores season – a series of cinema screenings of some of the Company’s greatest productions.

Directed by Richard Eyre, this production – described at the time as “the talk of the town” – was recorded in New York in January 2010. Latvian mezzo-soprano Elīna Garanča – as the seductive, bewitching, yet defiant Carmen – was described by the Observer as defining “Met quality” with her “…. abundant, sumptuous tone and generous phrasing”, and by the New York Times as “… the finest Carmen in 25 years”.

French tenor Roberto Alagna is Don José, the soldier who falls in love with Carmen, willing to sacrifice everything for her, even when the swaggering toreador Escamillo becomes the focus of Carmen’s attention. Escamillo is sung by New Zealand bass-baritone’s Teddy Tahu Rhodes who, according to The Australian, has “…. an astonishingly powerful yet subtle voice” with a “…. silkily booming resonance …”.

Barbara Fritolli, with her “…. well-rounded and warm soprano” (Bachtrack) sings the role of Micaëla who’s in love with Don José.

Elina Garanca as Carmen and Roberto Alagna as Don José in Bizet’s “Carmen.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera Taken at the Metropolitan Opera during the dress rehearsal on December 28, 2009.

In 1872, Georges Bizet was commissioned to write a new work by the Paris Opéra-Comique – an institution known historically for its light, moralistic, safe and predictable pieces – and although the aim of this commission was to try and 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, 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, 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, no less, that within 10 years, it would become “the most popular opera in the world”.

To add to the lustre of this Metropolitan Opera production, the dance sequences are created by one of today’s most successful choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon who has not only choreographed works for the world’s leading ballet companies, but who directed and choreographed the Tony Award-winning 2015 revival of An American in Paris on Broadway.

A scene from Act II of Bizet’s “Carmen” with Elina Garanca (center) in the title role. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera Taken at the Metropolitan Opera during the dress rehearsal on December 28, 2009.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin – Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Orchestre Métropolitain of Montreal, Honorary Conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and Honorary Member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe – leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and dancers, in this production which screens at cinemas across the United States and the United Kingdom on July 28th. To find your nearest cinema in the US, follow this link, and cinemas in the UK can be found on this link.

Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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San Francisco Opera streams Strauss’ powerful ‘Elektra’

Christine Goerke in Strauss’ ‘Elektra’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Drama, bloodlust and murder rule in this dramatic production of Richard Strauss’ Elektra, starring soprano Christine Goerke in the title role – one of her greatest portrayals.

Mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens takes the role of Klytemnestra, soprano Adrianne Pieczonka is Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis, bass-baritone Alfred Walker – in his Company debut – sings the role of Orest, their brother, and tenor Robert Brubaker is Aegisth, Klytemnestra’s lover.

A co-production with the National Theatre in Prague and the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, this revival of Elektra, recorded at the War Memorial Opera House in 2017, is led by Hungarian conductor Henrik Nánási, directed by the Staatstheatre’s director, Anja Kühnhold, and staged by English director Keith Warner, currently director of theatre studies for London’s National Opera Studio.

The inspiration for this work – Sophocles’ tragedy, Elektra – is a dark tale, revolving around the descent into insanity of the central figure, Elektra, the daughter of King Agamemnon, who becomes fanatical about avenging her father’s death at the hands of her mother, Klytemnestra. Strauss’ opera, with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, premiered in Dresden on January 25, 1909.

Warner’s setting is a modern-day museum, where a girl becomes fixated by a display representing the fall of the house of Atreus in ancient Greece. She watches and re-watches a film relating the story of how Agamemnon was killed by Klytemnestra and Aegisth, in revenge for Agamemnon’s having sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to the gods. It shows Elektra’s brother, Orest, killing Klytemnestra and Aegisth, to satisfy his sister’s vengeance, and although these murders initially give Elektra and Chrysomethis cause for celebration, when Elektra is left alone, the terrible burden caused by the death of her father becomes too much for her, and she descends into insanity and dies.

Christine Goerke & Alfred Walker in Strauss’ ‘Elektra’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

To the museum visitor in this interpretation – who is also obviously in mourning, and in a state of mental trauma – this story triggers a series of memories, and in her mind she takes on the persona of Elektra. She, too, must face the truth of her circumstances, going through the same torment as Elektra, until the harrowing events of this fantasy eventually take the same toll on her as on the central figure of Sophocles’ tragedy.

Name some of the finest opera houses in the world, and Christine Goerke has appeared on their stages, and also performed with most of the world’s greatest orchestras and conductors. The New York Times describes her as “…. one of the most fearless and formidable dramatic sopranos of the day. …. she brought effortless power, gleaming sound and dramatic intensity to this unforgettable Elektra ….”, while the Houston Examiner simply states: “A voice like hers comes once in a generation…”.

Christine Goerke in San Francisco Opera’s production of ‘Elektra’
© Cory Weaver/SanFrancisco Opera

A former participant in the Merola Opera Program, Michaela Martens has become known for her portrayals of some of the most challenging mezzo-soprano roles in the repertory – such as Judith in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, Kostelnička in Janáček’s Jenůfa, Herodias in Strauss’ Salome, Ortrud in Wagner’s Lohengrin and Kundry in Parsifal. In this production of Elektra, Ms Martens sings Klytemnestra for the first time.

The role of Elektra’s sister, Chrysothemis is one that Adrianne Pieczonka has sung around the world, including performances at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona and the Staatsoper in Berlin. Internationally renowned for her interpretations of Wagner, Strauss, Verdi and Puccini, Ms Pieczonka has portrayed powerful women such as Senta in The Flying Dutchman, Sieglinde in Die Walküre, the Marschallin in Die Rosenkavalier, the title role in Tosca and Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera, in leading opera houses and concert halls across Europe, North America and Asia. 
Conductor Henrik Nánási, in his debut with San Francisco Opera, leads the cast, Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) and unusually large Orchestra required by Strauss for Elektra. During his tenure as general music director of the Komische Oper Berlin, the company was named Opera House of the Year 2013 by Opera World Magazine and Opera Company of the Year 2015 at the Opera Awards. He has regularly conducted at several major opera houses including The Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, Bayerische Staatsoper München, Opéra National de Paris and Gran Teatre del Liceu.

This production of Elektra introduces to San Francisco Opera the work of set designer Boris Kudlička, costume designer Kaspar Glarner, lighting designer John Bishop and video designer Bartek Macias.
Richard Strauss’ Elektra, sung in German with English supertitles, will be streamed free of charge from 10.00 am (PDT) on Saturday, July 24th, until 11.59 pm (PDT) on Sunday, July 25th. Log-in details are available on the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

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Netopil leads Monte-Carlo Philharmonic in Concert at the Prince’s Palace

The Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in the Courtyard of Honour – courtesy Visit Monaco

The traditional series of summer Concerts at the Prince’s Palace by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra continues this week in the magnificent setting of the Courtyard of Honour. The performance, led by Czech conductor Tomáš Netopil, features music by Francis Poulenc and Bedřich Smetana, and the guest artists in the Poulenc Piano Concerto are Katia and Marielle Labèque.

The Grimaldi Princes have a history of appreciation and patronage of the arts, particularly music, and in 1959, Prince Rainier III initiated the series of Summer Concerts in the Courtyard of the Prince’s Palace in Monte-Carlo, situated high on a rocky promontory overlooking the city of Monte-Carlo and the Mediterranean. Owing to its architecture, the Courtyard is known to have excellent acoustics and an unusual clarity of sound, and – with its sweeping staircase, and floor paved with millions of white and coloured pebbles – it forms an enchanting backdrop to these performances.

Tomáš Netopil – courtesy Harrison Parrott

Tomáš Netopil, a frequent guest of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic, is Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, and General Music Director of the Aalto Musik Theater and Philharmonie Essen, with whom he celebrates his eighth season. Recent highlights include performances of Orfeo ed Euridice, Salome, Così fan tutte, Rusalka, Lohengrin, Die Walküre, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Pique Dame, and Der Rosenkavalier, 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.

Katia and Marielle Labèque are described by the New York Times as “The best piano duo in front of an audience today”, and The Times in London writes: “Whether Mozart or Stravinsky, their musical line always sounds as if it’s being woven for the very first time… But the illusion of improvisation is the genius of their performances. In all their recordings there is a deceptive sprezzatura that is born of throwing the preparation to the winds and hanging onto each other’s ears.”

Katia and Marielle Labèque © Umberto Nicoletti

The Labèque sisters have played with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and Baroque music ensembles. They have appeared at festivals worldwide, and collaborated with some of the best-known contemporary composers. They played the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Double Concerto for Two Pianos & Orchestra with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra – by whom it was commissioned – the world premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Concerto for Two Pianos with John Storgards and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the first performance of this concerto by the Czech Philharmonic under Semyon Bychkov, and they will premiere Nico Muhly’s new concerto In Certain Circles with both the New York Philharmonic and Orchestre de Paris in the forthcoming 2021/22 season.

The concert opens with Poulenc’s delightful score to Les Biches, the one-act ballet choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska, and premiered by the Ballets Russes on 6th January 1924 at the Salle Garnier in Monte-Carlo.

This is followed by Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in D Minor, a work commissioned by the Princesse Edmond de Polignac, (born Winnaretta Singer, heiress of the American Singer sewing machine fortune). During his late teenage years, Poulenc joined a group of early 20th century young French composers known as Les Six who eschewed the accepted classical establishment in favour of a style of their own, nevertheless borrowing characteristics from composers ranging from Bach and Mozart to Stravinsky and even Maurice Chevalier – a style described by Poulenc himself as “wildly eclectic” – which rather characterises this Piano Concerto as well. Written as a work of pure entertainment, it was premiered by Poulenc and his friend Jacques Février in Venice, on 5th September, 1932.

Smetana’s Má vlast (My Homeland) is a cycle of six symphonic poems which he composed – as individual pieces – between 1874 and 1879. Smetana referred to the work as “musical pictures of Czech glories and defeats”, each movement being a self-standing symphonic poem with its own story, inspired by the legends and landscapes of his Bohemian homeland. The final work in this concert features the first and third of these symphonic poems – Vltava (the Moldau in German) and Šárka. The first poem traces the path of the Vltava River from its source in the mountains of the Bohemian Forest, through the countryside to the city of Prague. Šárka is based on the legend of a spurned maiden. Each of these poems was premiered separately between 1875 and 1880, and it wasn’t until 5th November, 1882 that Má vlast was premiered in its entirety in Prague.

In this performance in the series of Concerts at the Prince’s Palace, Tomáš Netopil leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and guest artists Katia and Marielle Labèque, in a programme of music by Poulenc and Smetana, on Thursday, 22nd July. Tickets may be reserved online.

Information sourced from Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra programme notes

Poulenc Piano Concerto

The Moldau and Šárka

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Stars gather in Verbier for annual music extravaganza

The Alpine village of Verbier welcomes some of the greatest names in classical music to its mountain home over the next two weeks, as the 2021 Verbier Festival takes place. Launched in 1994 by Founder and Director Martin Engstroem, the Festival – with its glittering selection of events, both large-scale and intimate – is one of the highlights of the international music calendar.

This year, the Verbier Festival Orchestra will not be appearing at all, due to quarantine restrictions, but, committed as the Festival is to presenting a summer of exceptional musical events, the programme as originally scheduled is being adjusted, and symphonic concerts will be performed by the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. All changes will be reflected on the Festival website, and the medici.tv website provides details of all performances to be streamed from Verbier.

Valery Gergiev, Music Director of the Verbier Festival Orchestra © Nicolas Brodard

Opening the 2021 Festival is the illustrious conductor Valery Gergiev, Music Director of the Verbier Festival Orchestra. He leads the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in two performances, the first featuring soloist Denis Matsuev in the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 1, followed in the second by Mr Matsuev’s performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3.

Further MainStage concerts are led by Gábor Takács-Nagy, with Josef Špaček playing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 3, Mao Fujita performing the composer’s Piano Concerto No 20, violinist Augustin Hadelich in Mendelssohn’s Second Violin Concerto, and Marc Bouchkov playing the re-creation of an unpublished concerto for violin by Eugène Ysaÿe – the second-ever performance of this concerto.

Antonio Pappano conducts the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra in a performance of Karol Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No 1 with soloist Janine Jansen, and Maestro Pappano will also lead a performance of Sergei Babayan’s interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 27.

Klaus Mäkelä leads a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto by Daniel Lozakovich, and another concert featuring Schumann’s Cello Concerto played by Festival favourite Mischa Maisky.

James Gaffigan makes his debut as Music Director of the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra in an all-Russian programme featuring music by Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev – with pianist Behzod Abduraimov playing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet Op 4. Maestro Gaffigan also leads a performance in which violin virtuoso Joshua Bell plays Chausson’s Poème for Violin and Orchestra.

Salle des Combins, Verbier © Nicolas Brodard

Exciting piano recitals include those by luminaries Behzod Abduraimov, playing works by Scarlatti, Schumann and Rachmaninoff; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet performing Haydn’s 31st sonata, alongside works by Clementi and Liszt; Evgeny Kissin presenting a programme of contrasting masterpieces by 20th century composers, alongside Romantic miniatures by Chopin; Nikolaï Lugansky playing Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux and pieces by Bach and Beethoven; Mikhaïl Pletnev preforming a selection of Beethoven piano sonatas; András Schiff with works by Bach, Mozart and Schubert; and Arcadi Volodov performing works by Schubert and Brahms.

The Chamber Music section features a fascinating array of talents. Think of the combination of Janine Jansen, Mischa Maisky and Mikhaïl Pletnev playing a Tchaikovsky trio; or Joshua Bell, Steven Isserlis and Evgeny Kissin performing a selection of works inspired by Jewish themes. Joshua Bell also appears with Lahav Shani, Michael Barenboim, Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Lawrence Power in a programme of music by Brahms. Augustin Dumay and Maria João Pires make their first appearances at the Festival, playing the music of Schumann, Debussy and Beethoven, as do Augustin Hadelich and Alban Gerhardt who appear in a performance with Alexander Sitkovetsky, Antoine Tamesit and Denis Matsuev. Steven Isserlis performs with Connie Shih in a programme of works by 20th century French composers, Sheku and Isata Kanneh-Mason play music by Britten, Rachmaninoff and Bridge, and Lawrence Power, Mischa Maisky, Lucas Debargue and Nikolaï Lugansky, together with wind players from the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra, play a selection of Festival favourites.

Open Air Music in Nature © Francesca Sagramoso

High profile names conducting Masterclasses include soprano Barbara Frittoli, Gábor Takács-Nagy, pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, cellist Steven Isserlis and baritone Thomas Hampson.

There are vocal concerts featuring Benjamin Appl and James Baillieu. Soprano Olga Peretyatko brings Summertime to the Verbier Festival in a recital of music by the masters, and Matthias George, accompanied by Nikolaï Lugansky, treats us to Schubert’s Winterreise.

Other performances of note include the results of Daniel Hope’s extensive research into composers of film scores who fled fascist persecution during the 20th century, and who relocated in Los Angeles. Also starring Thomas Hampson and Sheku Kanneh-Mason, this performance additionally features Lawrence Power, Stéphane Logerot and Julien Quentin.

One of the VF KIDS Storytellers ‘Les Trois petits cochons’ © Marc Philippin

The Sukhishvili Georgian National Ballet portrays the history of their country – the battles, suffering and heroism of the Georgian people. Singers and musicians of the Verbier Festival Academy perform numbers fro Cole Porter’s Great American Songbook.

In the category of electronic music, the Festival features a performance by jazz pianist André Manoukian moving between musical styles, and Jeanne Gérard presents Lost Heritage – an electro concert complete with video and lighting installation, described as “somewhere between electronic, classical and experimental music”.

As the Festival Finale, James Gaffigan leads singers of the Academy and the Verbier Festival Junior Orchestra in a concert version of Puccini’s beautiful tragedy, La bohème.

Full details of the Festival and programme can be found on the Verbier Festival website, and details of all performances to be streamed from Verbier can be found on the medici.tv website.

Information sourced from:

Verbier Festival website


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San Francisco Opera streams Berlioz’s ‘Les Troyens’

Scene from San Francisco Opera’s ‘Les Troyens’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera’s production of Les Troyens (The Trojans) – one of the most significant and impressive works in the entire repertoire of opera – will be streamed online this weekend. This magnificent five-act production of Hector Berlioz’s operatic interpretation of Virgil’s epic poem, The Aeneid, is by Scottish director Sir David McVicar.

Rarely staged, and not seen at the War Memorial Opera House for 47 years, Les Troyens is presented as it was originally written, in the form of two operas – The Fall of Troy and The Trojans at Carthage. Berlioz wrote the libretto for what is regarded as his most ambitious work in 1856, starting the composition of the score in the same year, and completing it in 1858. The first performance of the opera in its entirety took place in Karlsruhe on December 6th and 7th, in 1890.

Leading the line-up of operatic luminaries in the San Francisco production of Les Troyens are mezzo-soprano Susan Graham and Olivier Award-winning tenor Bryan Hymel – in his San Francisco debut – as the ill-fated lovers, Dido, Queen of Carthage, and Trojan warrior Aeneus. Sharing the role of the prophetess Cassandra are Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci and mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens – making her Company debut. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke is Dido’s sister Anna, and baritone Brian Mulligan is Cassandra’s lover, Chorebus. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn sings the role of Dido’s minister Narbal, and tenor René Barbera is Dido’s court poet Iopas.

For this co-production between San Francisco Opera, the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala and the Vienna State Opera, David McVicar has set his production of Les Troyens in the mid-19th century. Revival director Leah Hausman, with assistance from associate directors Richard Jones and Jose Maria Condemi, restages Sir David McVicar’s production, which is described as the biggest and heaviest physical production ever to be presented at the War Memorial Opera House, even necessitating the reinforcement of the stage. The sets, by Es Devlin, include a 23-foot-tall Trojan horse which becomes engulfed in flames. Costumes are by Moritz Junge and dramatic lighting, based on the original designs of Wolfgang Göbbel, are by Pia Virolainen. The opera’s ballets – based on the work of the production’s original choreographer, Lynne Page – are created by assistant choreographer Gemma Payne.

Susan Graham & Bryan Hymel in Berlioz’s ‘Les Troyens’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) are conducted by Donald Runnicles, former Music Director of San Francisco Opera, and now General Music Director at Deutsche Oper Berlin and Music Director of the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson, Wyoming. He is also Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Conductor Emeritus of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, having served as its Chief Conductor from 2009-2016.

Sung in French with English supertitles, Les Troyens forms part of the Company’s Opera is ON initiative, by which free opera streams are viewable on demand with registration at sfopera.com. It streams from 10.00 am (PDT) on July 17th, and is available to watch until 11.59 pm (PDT) on July 18th.

Information sourced from San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

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Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo celebrates ‘L’Été Danse!’

Jean-Christophe Maillot’s – ‘Core Meu’ © Alice Blangero

L’Été Danse! (Summer Dance) is Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s summer celebration of the joy of dance, and this year it falls into two programmes – Soirée “Créations” and Danse et Musique “Live”.

For over thirty years, Choreographer-Director, Jean-Christophe Maillot, has actively promoted emerging talent within the Company, and this first programme Soirée “Créations” features two World Premieres which have each been choreographed by a Company member – Tsunago by Mimoza Koike and Le temps du tendre by Julien Guérin.

Mimoza Koike’s Tsunago is a celebration of movement portrayed in a series of experiences, and tributes to people and places which have shaped her personality as an artist and as a choreographer. The work is danced to a score by French-Russian composer Ilia Osokin, with scenography by Shizuka Hariu, and costumes by Mimoza Koike herself, together with Jean-Michel Lainé.

‘Tsunago’ in rehearsal © Alice Blangero

Trained at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse in Lyon, Mimoza joined the Ballet du Grand Théâtre of Geneva, where she appeared in works by choreographers such as John Neumeier, George Balanchine, Giorgio Mancini, Lucinda Childs, William Forsythe, David Parsons, Nacho Duato and Michel Kéléménis. She became a member of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 2003, and within two years was promoted to principal soloist of the Company. Since then, Mimoza has appeared in a number of the highly creative works by Jean-Christophe Maillot, as well as works by choreographers such as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Jiří Kylian, George Balanchine, William Forsythe, Vaslav Nijinksky and Maurice Béjart.

Mimoza Koike has been a choreographer since 2007, Tsunago being her eleventh work, and in 2015, she became a Chevalier of l’Ordre du Mérite Culturel de la Principauté de Monaco.

Julien Guérin’s ‘Le temps du tendre’ © Alice Blangero

The second World Premiere in this programme is Julien Guérin’s Le temps du tendre (Heuristique du sentiment amoureux). Given that love has always been an elusive emotion, yet vital to life itself, the ballet suggests that a heuristic approach to love – an aid to discovery by experimental methods – is the ideal route to follow.

Prior to joining Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 2007, Julien Guérin had danced with the Atlantic Southeast Ballet in Charleston, South Carolina, English National Ballet, the Ballet of the National Opera of Bordeaux and Scottish Ballet. His repertoire includes works by choreographers such as Jean-Christophe Maillot, Ashley Page, Maurice Béjart, Derek Deane, Marco Goecke, William Forsythe, David Allan, George Balanchine, Davide Bombana, Nicolo Fonte and Emio Greco. As a choreographer, he has fulfilled commissions for the Académie Princesse Grace in Monaco, the Beijing Dance Academy in China, the Cannes Jeune Ballet Rosella Hightower for the festival le Printemps des Arts and Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.

‘Le temps du tendre’ © Alice Blangero

Le temps du tendre is set to the music of Antonio Vivaldi, with scenography by Drominique Drillot, lighting by the Company’s Lighting Director Samuel Thery, and costumes by French fashion designer Adeline André.

Soirée “Créations” will take place in the Salle Prince Pierre at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, on 15th, 16th and 17th July. Tickets may be reserved online.

The two ballets in the second programme, “Danse et Musique”: Live, take us to the shores of the Mediterranean and both are accompanied by musicians performing on stage with the dancers.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui created In Memoriam for Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo in 2004, the premiere taking place in December of that year – two years after the choreographer received the Nijinsky Award for Emerging Choreographers at the Monaco Dance Forum. The work focuses on the bond between the existence of the departed and the memories which they leave behind. The dancers explore themes of attraction and repulsion, illustrating how deeply ingrained in our memories are gestures of gentleness and violence. They are accompanied on stage by A Filetta, a vocal group which is steeped in the tradition of Corsican song.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s ‘In Memoriam’ © Alice Blangero

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is assisted by Nicolas Vladyslav and Damien Jalet. Scenography and lighting are by Dominique Drillot, and costumes by Hedi Création pour Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo.

Maillot’s Core Meu, which premiered at the Grimaldi Forum in April 2019, is an energetic, sparkling and highly charged work. Inspired by Maurice Béjart, it combines classical ballet with the traditional dancing of the Puglia region of Southern Italy, culminating in the dancers performing a frenzied Tarantella.

The compelling accompaniment is led by Antonio Castrignano and Taranta Sounds. Tambourine player and singer, Castrignano is a central figure in the revival of the centuries-old musical culture of the Salento region of Italy (Apulia). Costumes are by the international designer Salvador Mateu Andujar who has created for film, fashion and the stage. Lighting is by Samuel Thery.

“Danse et Musique”: Live takes place in the Salle des Princes at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on 22nd, 23rd and 24th July. Tickets may be reserved online.

Information sourced from:

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz.

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San Francisco Opera streams Janácek’s ‘Jenůfa’

Karita Mattila in Janácek’s ‘Jenůfa’ – © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

In the first of its July free opera streams, San Francisco Opera presents Leoš Janáček’s compelling family drama Jenůfa, staged at the War Memorial Opera House in June 2016. In this production, directed by Olivier Tambosi, the legendary Finnish soprano Karita Mattila makes her role debut as the domineering stepmother, Kostelniča Buryjovka, and Swedish soprano Malin Byström sings the title role.

The cast also includes tenor William Burden as Laca Klemeň, and tenor Scott Quinn as Števa Buryja – two half-brothers who are both in love with Jenůfa.

Set to to a Czech libretto by the composer, Jenůfa – regarded as one of the great operas of the 20th century – is based on the play Její pastorkyňa by Gabriela Preissová, and was premiered at the Brno Theater on January 21, in 1904. The action takes place in a quiet Moravian village in the late 19th century, where Jenůfa, who is betrothed to Števa, secretly gives birth to his child. Unwilling to be tainted by the existence of an illegitimate child, he deserts her, and Kostelniča – fiercely determined to uphold the honor of the family – is driven to commit the heinous crime of infanticide, for which Jenůfa ultimately finds it in her heart to forgive her stepmother.

Regarded as one of today’s most exciting lyric dramatic sopranos, Karita Mattila is lauded not only for a voice of beauty and versatility, but by her stage ability as well. Following her appearance as Kostelniča in a concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall just prior to this performance with San Francisco Opera, The Guardian described her portrayal as “devastating” ….. unquestionably glorious …. that engulfing sound still hits you in the solar plexus”. The Sunday Times wrote that “She sings Kostelnička’s notes more beautifully – and accurately – than any other soprano I have heard live (more than 40)…”.

Malin Byström and William Burden in Janácek’s ‘Jenůfa’ –
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Malin Byström, in her debut with San Francisco Opera, also makes her role debut as Jenůfa in this production. Following Ms Byström’s appearance opposite Plácido Domingo in Massenet’s Thaïs in 2012, Opera News wrote that “She commands a pristine soprano of distinctive color and strength”.

American tenor William Burden, in a return visit to San Francisco Opera for this production, follows his appearances with the Company in the world premieres of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene and Heart of a Soldier. He has acquired an outstanding reputation in many of the prestigious opera houses in the United States and Europe, with The New York Times writing that “Subdued emotional intensity permeates every line of Mr Burden’s elegant singing”. Included in his recordings is Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and he also appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD performance of Thomas Adès’ The Tempest.

Scott Quinn, making his San Francisco Opera debut in this performance, is a former participant in the Company’s Merola Opera Program, and also an alumnus of the Houston Grand Opera Studio. Following his appearance in Lucia di Lammermoor for Dallas Opera, Opera News observed that he “sang with finesse as well as power”.

Olivier Tambosi’s direction of this Hamburg State Opera production is designed by Frank Philipp Schlössmann, with lighting by Gary Marder. Following its opening in San Francisco. the San Francisco Chronicle referred to it as “A success of magnificent proportions!”, while the London Financial Times rated it as “☆☆☆☆☆”.

In this recording, The San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director Ian Robertson) are directed by the former Chief Conductor of the Czech Philharmonic, Jiří Bělohlávek CBE, in his final Bay Area appearance before his passing the following year.

Sung in Czech with English surtitles, Jenůfa is available to watch on demand with registration at sfopera.com from 10.00 am (PT) on Saturday, July 10th, through 11:59 pm (PT) on the following day.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

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SFJAZZ presents international line-up for ‘Fridays at Five’

Con Brio’s Ziek McCarter – on ‘Fridays at Five’ July 23/24 – courtesy SFJAZZ

The first three concerts in the July SFJAZZ Fridays at Five sessions feature a truly international mix – Portuguese fado singer Mariza, world music Ukranian group DakhaBrakha, and the Bay Area’s soul/funk/R&B band Con Brio.

Regarded as one of fado’s greatest stars of today, Mariza is the first Portuguese musician to have been nominated for a GRAMMY Award. Born in Mozambique, Mariza grew up in Lisbon, her voice known only to a small circle of local admirers. Following the release of her first CD, Fado em Mim in 2001, she appeared at venues such as the Québec Summer Festival, Central Park in New York, LA’s Hollywood Bowl, London’s Royal Festival Hall, and won BBC Radio 3’s award for Best European Artist in the World Music category. Mariza has subsequently appeared at the Frankfurt Alte Oper, the Paris Théâtre de le Ville, with the LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Madrid Teatro Albéniz and Barcelona’s Teatre Grec.

This performance by Mariza – which can be viewed on Friday July 10th at 5.00 pm (PT) / 8.00 pm (ET) and Saturday July 11th at 10.00 am (PT) / 13h00 (ET) – was recorded at SFJAZZ on October 28th, 2016, when Mariza was accompanied by a superb band which included Portuguese guitar master José Manuel Neto. For further details, visit the SFJAZZ website.

DakhaBrakha is a world-music quartet from Kiev with a program of music which blends an international mix of indie rock, pop, hip hop, avant-garde and traditional instrumentation. The name DakhaBrakha means ‘give/take’ in old Ukranian, and – having initially experimented with Ukrainian folk music – the group added Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian traditional instrumentation to their repertoire. They have appeared in concerts and performances across Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in Scandinavia, Great Britain and Ireland, celebrating their national pride through their music. This performance was recorded at SFJAZZ in June 2019.

It will be streamed on Fridays at Five on July 16th at 5.00 pm (PT) / 8.00 pm (ET), and repeated the following day at 10.00 am (PT) / 13h00 (ET). More information is available on the SFJAZZ website.

The third session of Fridays at Five in July features Bay Area group Con Brio – billed as “the most electrifying soul/funk/R&B band on the scene”, and named by PopMatters as “the best new live band in America”. Named after the Italian musical direction which means “with spirit” or “with fire”, Con Brio has appeared internationally, as well as at US festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands and Austin City Limits. They have also given performances at festivals in Montreal, Japan, Rotterdam, London and Paris. This performance by the seven-member ensemble, fronted by Ziek McCarter, was filmed in June 2017, during the 35th San Francisco Jazz Festival.

It can be viewed on Friday July 23rd at 5.00 pm (PT) / 8.00 pm (ET), and again on Saturday July 24th at 10.00 am (PT) / 13h00 (ET). Details on becoming a member of SFJAZZ and more details of the Fridays at Five sessions are on the SFJAZZ website.

You can also find details there of SFJAZZ On-Demand – a series of concerts selected from the SFJAZZ archive – and Alone Together – intimate concerts streamed live from the Miner Auditorium at the SFJAZZ Center. These videos are available to rent by SFJAZZ Members for $5 or Public for $10 (split 50/50 with the artists & SFJAZZ), which will provide unlimited access to that specific concert until its expiration date.

Information sourced from SFJAZZ program notes

Artists’ websites

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Concertgebouworkest in Berlin to mark state visit

The Concertgebouworkest © Simon van Boxtel

This month, the Concertgebouworkest appears in concert in Berlin to mark the occasion of a state visit to the German city by King Willem Alexander and Queen Máxima of the Netherlands.

Led by Iván Fischer, who has been appointed the orchestra’s honorary guest conductor as of the 2021-22 season, the Concertgebouworkest plays Mozart’s Violin Concerto No 4 in D major, K 218, with soloist Sylvia Huang, and Beethoven’s Symphony No.

The Concertgebouworkest had royal patronage conferred on it in 1988 on the occasion of the orchestra’s centennial. As patron, Her Majesty Queen Máxima regularly attends concerts and rehearsals, the most recent visit having been on 2nd June this year, during which she was introduced to the new management team, and toured the premises at which the orchestra has been based since 2019.

The last state visit to Berlin took place just over 10 years ago, in April 2011, and this month’s concert is being given as a mark of gratitude by the King and Queen to the German authorities. This performance also marks the first occasion on which the orchestra has played outside Amsterdam since the beginning of the corona crisis early last year.

Multi award-winning and versatile conductor Iván Fischer is no stranger to Berlin – he was chief conductor of the Konzerthaus Berlin and Konzerthaus Orchestra, of which he remains honorary conductor. Maestro Fischer also leads two weeks of programmes each year for the Concertgebouworkest, and regularly appears with leading orchestras in the United States, including the New York Philharmonic and the Cleveland Orchestra. One of his finest achievements has been the founding of the Budapest Festival Orchestra in 1983, an ensemble of which he is still chief conductor, which tours widely and is acclaimed for its recordings.

As a composer, Maestro Fischer has had works performed in both the United States and Europe, he has founded a number of music festivals, he is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, and he is opera director for his Iván Fischer Opera Company, having most recently led a Mozart cycle in Budapest and New York.

Sylvia Huang has been first violinist of the Concertgebouworkest since 2014, prior to which she was second violinist at the Belgian National Orchestra. In 2019 Ms Huang became laureate of the Queen Elisabeth International Competition, was awarded the Musiq’3 Audience and Canvas-Klara prizes, and was named Young Musician of the Year 2019, having been awarded the Prix Caecilia by the Belgian Music Press Union.

In this performance, Sylvia Huang is the soloist in the Mozart Violin Concerto No 4, written in Salzburg in 1775. There is no certainty about the date of the concerto’s first performance, nor about the violinist for whom it was written, but it is thought that this might have been Andrä Kolb, an amateur musician and friend of the Mozart family.

The final work in the programme is Beethoven’s Symphony No 4, composed not long after his Fourth Piano Concerto. It was written in the summer and autumn of 1806, a time during which Beethoven was composing his Fifth Symphony, but he set aside work on the Fifth in order to write the Fourth, and – unlike his Third and Fifth symphonies – this lyrical work does not appear to reflect any particular influences on Beethoven’s life. He led the first private performance in Vienna in March 1807, and also the first public performance on 13th April, 1808, in Vienna’s Burgtheater.

This performance by the Concertgebouworkest, which takes place at 7.00 pm (CEST) on 6th July, will also be live-streamed from the Concertgebouworkest website.

The Concertgebouworkest led by Gustavo Gimeno during lockdown
– courtesy Concertgebouworkest

In an additional piece of good news, the Concertgebouworkest is now making available the past year’s video recordings free of charge for the month of July. The ‘Lockdown Archives’: a unique retrospective of a historic period – featuring all video recordings made between June 2020 and June 2021 – is available on the following link: concertgebouworkest.nl/en/watch-listen.

Information sourced from:
Concertgebouworkest programme notes
Mozart Violin Concerto No 4
Beethoven Symphony No 4

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