Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra to perform in Europe, the UK and USA

Many nations the world over have enormous respect for the resilience and determination of the Ukranian people in the defence of their country – a national characteristic which is also symbolised by the creative artists which it has produced – wherever they happen to reside. This is the background to the formation of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra – an ensemble founded and led by Canadian/Ukrainian conductor Keri-Lynne Wilson, which is about to undertake a tour which will include performances in Poland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Under the auspices of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera, this orchestra features first-class musicians from ensembles such as the National Opera of Ukraine, the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, the Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra and the Kharkiv Opera. They’re joined by recent refugees and Ukrainian members of European orchestras such as the Tonkunstler Orchestra of Vienna, the Belgian National Orchestra and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

With the co-operation of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture, and supported by the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine, musicians have been able to exchange their weapons for their instruments, in a palpable display of the triumph of art over adversity.

The programme includes the Symphony No 7 by Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov whose music is described by the BBC’s Andrew McGregor as “…. profoundly beautiful, timeless, and unforgettable”.

Also on the programme is Chopin’s lovely lyrical Piano Concerto No 2. The soloist is Ukrainian pianist Anna Fedorova whose interpretation of Chopin is, according to Gramophone magazine, “…. unfailingly sensitive, poetic and tasteful ….”. In March, she and Interartists Amsterdam organised a charity concert with members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, cellist Maya Fridman, and percussionist Konstantyn Napolov, to raise humanitarian aid for the victims of the war in Ukraine.

There will also be a performance by Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska of Leonore’s aria Abscheulicher from Beethoven’s Fidelio. Plays to See International Theatre Reviews writes that in her interpretation of this role, her “… passion, fear, and anguish are articulated with pitch perfect intensity and coloratura”. Ms Monastyrska recently appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot.

The programme also features either the Brahms Symphony No 4 or Dvořák’s Symphony No 9, From the New World.

The Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra is currently in Warsaw, preparing for the opening night of the tour on July 28th. The Orchestra then travels to the United Kingdom for a televised performance at the BBC Proms, to Munich, to the Chorégies d’Orange Festival in France, to Berlin, back to the UK for the Edinburgh International Festival and a performance at Snape Maltings, then to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Festival, and Hamburg, before departing for three performances in the United States – two at Lincoln Center in New York, and the final concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Maestro Wilson grew up in Winnipeg, home of the largest concentration of Ukrainians in North America. With an international career spanning over 20 years, she has led some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras – such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks – and operas at major venues, including The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Bavarian State Opera, Bolshoi Theatre and the Vienna State Opera. In forming the Orchestra, she says she “…wanted to bring the best orchestral musicians of Ukraine together, from both inside and outside of their country, in a proud display of artistic unity …. This tour is an expression of love for their homeland and to honor those who have died and have suffered so much.”

Both the Metropolitan Opera and the Polish National Opera have played leading roles in the cultural world in support of Ukraine against Russian aggression, and for the victims of the war. The Met was one of the first performing arts organizations to hold a benefit concert for Ukraine, conducted by its music director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, on March 14th, and the Polish National Opera has not only been harbouring refugees from Ukraine, but also presenting benefit concerts in support of its neighbouring country.

Funds raised from the tour will go to support Ukrainian artists, and donations can be made to the Ministry of Culture.

Tickets for the individual performances are available from the venues listed below:

Thursday 28 July 2022 –Teatr Wielki–Polish National Opera, Warsaw
Sunday 31 July 2022 – Royal Albert Hall, London (BBC Proms)
Monday 1 August 2022 – Isarphilharmonie, Munich (MünchenMusik)
Tuesday 2 August 2022 – Les Chorégies d’Orange
Thursday 4 August 2022 – Konzerthaus Berlin
Saturday 6 August 2022 – Usher Hall, Edinburgh (Edinburgh International Festival)
Monday 8 August 2022 – Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Snape
Thursday 11 August 2022 – The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Saturday 13 August 2022 – Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
Sunday 15 August 2022 – National Concert Hall, Dublin
Thursday 18 August 2022 – Lincoln Center, New York
Friday 19 August 2022 – Lincoln Center, New York
Saturday 20 August – 2022 – Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.

Information sourced from:

Keri-Lynn Wilson – Ukranian Freedom Orchestra

Valentin Silvestrov

Anna Fedorova

Liudmyla Monastyrska

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Sicily’s Opera Festival of the Stone Theatres

The Andromeda Theatre of Santo Stefano Quisquina, Sicily

The Opera Festival of the Stone Theatres is now an established feature of the summer season on the Mediterranean island of Sicily. This annual festival, launched by the internationally renowned Sicilian Lyric Choir – under the direction of Francesco Costa and chairman Alberto Munafò Siragusa – is a travelling event which runs from June to September, featuring operas, symphonic concerts, opera concerts, recitals and even film music.

The Sicilian Lyric Choir

What makes the Festival unique is the range of gorgeous ancient Roman and Greek amphitheatres, built of stone, marble or carved from rock, in which these events are staged. The theme of this year’s Festival is Il Risveglio (The Awakening), and the mission is the revival of what are known as the theatres of Mare Nostrum, through symphonic and operatic music, starting from Greek and Roman Sicily, arriving at the archaeological sites of Calabria (Locri, Soriano Calabro and the ancient Kaulon) and concluding in the Roman amphitheater of El Jem in Tunisia. There will also be concerts at the Timoleontee Walls of Gela and the Greek Theatre of Palazzolo Acreide, the archaeological area of Morgantina, and the cities of Milo, Catania, Adrano, Castelmola, Ferla, Falcone.

The Roman amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia

A novelty of this year’s Festival will be the rediscovery and promotion of authentic open-air theatres such as the Archaeological area of Gioiosa Guardia on 3rd August, the Marine Reserve of Capo Milazzo and the Andromeda Theatre of Santo Stefano Quisquina on 10th August, the Roman mausoleum of Centuripe on 13th August, the Hellenistic necropolis of Abakainon in Tripi on 22nd and 25th August, and the agora of Megara Hyblaea in the archaeological area of Caucana on 16th September.

The Greek Theatre of Syracuse, Sicily

Highlights of this celebration of the arts still to come include a tribute to Franco Battiato and Lucio Dalla, the Italian musicians, singers and composers, at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse on 22nd July, and the re-introduction of classical ballet to pay homage to one of the greatest dancers of the 20th century, Carla Fracci. Organised by the Milan Ballet Company exclusively for the Stone Theatre Festival, the Carla Fracci Memorial will take place on 23rd July at the cavea of the Temenite Hill in the Archaeological park of Neapolis in Syracuse.

Important anniversaries to be celebrated include the Renata Tebaldi centenary on 31st July at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse, with the Puccini & Verdi Gala, and a performance of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of the Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga on whose play the opera was based.

The ancient Theatre of Taormina, Sicily

There’s a tribute to composer Ennio Morricone on 2nd August at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina and on 8th August in Piazza Armerina, and a “film concert” La dolce vita will be held at the Greek Theatre of Tindari on 26th August. The featured opera this year is Bizet’s Carmen, and this will be staged at the ancient theatres of Syracuse on 6th August, Taormina on 9th August and Tindari on 12th August.

The Greek Theatre of Tindari, Sicily

The orchestra in residence for this year’s Festival of the Stone Theatres will once again be the Calabria Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Filippo Arlia – Principal Director of the Festival. The orchestra has collaborated with musicians such as Michel Camilo, Ramin Bahrami, Sergej Krylov, Ilya Grubert, Sergei Nakariakov, Yuri Shiskin, as well as with artists such as José Carreras.

For further information on The Opera Festival of the Stone Theaters, contact Coro Lirico Siciliano at

San Francisco Playhouse stages Sondheim’s ‘Follies’

San Francisco Playhouse opens another first-class musical this week – Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, described by The New York Times as “One of the greatest musicals ever written”.

Directed by Bill English, Follies has a book by American playwright, novelist and screenwriter, James Goldman, who won an Academy Award for the screen adaptation of his play The Lion in Winter. Goldman also wrote the screenplays for Robin and Marion, Nicholas and Alexandra and White Nights, and other stage plays include Evening Primrose – his second collaboration with Stephen Sondheim – Oliver Twist, Anna Karenina, Anatasia: The Mystery of Anna, and Tolstoy.

Dimitri Weisman (Louis Parnell) welcomes his guests

The late Stephen Sondheim – referred to by The New York Times as a “titan of the American musical” – is well known for both his music and lyrics. In addition to Follies – his seventh Broadway production – he wrote both songs and words for shows such as Saturday Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George and Into the Woods. He is equally well known for having written the lyrics for Bernstein’s West Side Story, for Jule Styne’s score for Gypsy, for Richard Rogers’ Do I Hear a Waltz? and additional lyrics for Bernstein’s Candide.

‘Beautiful Girls’ – a scene from Sondheim’s ‘Follies’

Follies is set in 1971 in the deteriorating Broadway theatre of impresario Dmitri Weismann, before it closes for demolition. It tells of a reunion of girls who had performed in Weismann’s Follies between the two world wars, and how they reminisce about their past in songs which they had sung in their earlier performances. The focus of Follies falls on two middle-aged couples, each with a failing marriage, as they face up to some unpleasant truths about their respective pasts, and confront the future.

As producer Ted Chapin says in his memoir about the show’s original production – When Everything Was Possible – “It is really about the effects the past has on the present and the future”. Music Theatre International says, Follies is “Surreal, sophisticated, compelling, heart wrenching and epic in scope … a true showcase for powerful dramatic actors.”

Chachi Delgado as Young Buddy, Samantha Rose Cárdenas as Young Sally, Danielle Cheiken as Young Phyllis, and Cameron LaBrie as Young Ben in ‘Waiting for the Girls Upstairs’

Follies earned seven 1972 Tony Awards, the 1971 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical, two 1971 Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Music and Lyrics respectively, the 1987 Olivier Award for Best Musical, and an Olivier Award for Best Musical Revival in 2017. 

This production of Follies stars Natascia Diaz as former showgirl Sally Durant Plummer, Samantha Rose Cárdenas as Young Sally, Anthony Rollins-Mullens as Sally’s travelling salesman husband Buddy Plummer, and Chachi Delgado as Young Buddy. Maureen McVerry is Phyllis Rogers Stone – also a former showgirl – Danielle Cheiken is Young Phyllis, Chris Vettel is Benjamin Stone her self-absorbed husband, Cameron La Brie is Young Benjamin and Louis Parnell is impresario Dimitri Weismann.

Phyllis Rogers Stone (Maureen McVerry), Sally Durant Plummer (Natascia Diaz), Solange LaFitte (Jill Slyter), Carlotta Campion (Cindy Goldfield), and the Follies ensemble (Emily Corbo, Ann Warque, Catrina Manahan, and Samantha RoseCárdenas) join in the fun

Music Direction by is Dave Dobrusky and choreography by Nicole Helfer.

Follies runs at the San Francisco Playhouse from July 20 – September 10, 2022. For further information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Playhouse website.

All photos by Jessica Palopoli

Information sourced from:
San Francisco Playhouse program notes
Everything Sondheim
MTI Shows
The National Theatre

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Met Opera’s ‘Live in HD’ season opens with Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’

Alek Shrader as Camille de Rosillon, Renée Fleming as Hanna and Nathan Gunn as Danilo, in Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This week, the Metropolitan Opera opens the first of the Summer Encores performances from its Live in HD season. Lehár’s The Merry Widow will be screened in cinemas across the US and in select locations internationally, on Wednesday, July 13.

Staged by five-time Tony Award winning director and choreographer, Susan Stroman, The Merry Widow is set in Paris and tells of the fabulously wealthy widow, Hanna Glawari, who is being courted by her former lover, Danilo, to ensure that her fortune remains in their home country of Pontevedro. The title role is taken by soprano Renée Fleming, “superstar of the operatic world” (according to London Theatre), with the role of Danilo sung by Nathan Gunn – described by The Mercury News as “the sensational baritone… with intense charisma and a voice like honey”. Soprano Kelli O’Hara is Valencienne, the flirtatious young wife of Baron Zeta, the Pontevedrian ambassador in Paris, sung by baritone Thomas Allen, with tenor Alek Shrader as her suitor, Camille de Rosillon.

A scene from Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

The original German libretto of this three-act comic operetta was written by Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, and based upon the book L’Attaché d’ambassade by Henri Meilhac. Die lustige Witwe (the German name) did not have an easy path to success, since the score by Austrian composer Richard Heuberger was not to the liking of the librettists. Lehár, who had not previously written this kind of comic operetta, was suggested as a composer by the secretary of the Theater an der Wien – where the operetta was scheduled to run – and although the theatre manager was not completely happy with the finished product, it premiered on December 30, 1905. Within a few years, Die lustige Witwe had become an international success and ultimately became one of the most popular operettas in the repertoire.

A scene from Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

Originally transmitted on January 17, 2015, This Metropolitan Opera production was translated into English by Jeremy Sams.

Andrew Davis leads the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, soloists and Chorus in Franz Lehár’s gorgeous score to The Merry Widow. Find your nearest cinema on this link.

A scene from Lehár’s ‘The Merry Widow’ Photo credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This Metropolitan Opera Live in HD season continues with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, starring soprano Patricia Racette in the title role in Anthony Minghella’s acclaimed production; Franco Zeffirelli’s lovely staging of Puccini’s La Bohème, with soprano Sonya Yoncheva and tenor Michael Fabiano; and Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, featuring soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Juan Diego Flórez.

Information sourced from:

Metropolitan Opera program notes

Susan Stroman

Renée Fleming

Nathan Gunn

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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‘Soirée 3 chorégraphes’ closes Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s ‘L’Été Danse!’

Poster for ‘L’Été Danse!’ © Alice Blangero

The final production of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s summer dance programme, L’Été Danse!, is a triple bill entitled Soirée 3 chorégraphes, which features works by the Company’s Choreographer-Director Jean-Christophe Maillot, Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián and Swedish choreographer Mats Ek.

J-C Maillot’s ‘Back on Track 61’ © Alice Blangero

Ravel’s Concerto in G has occupied a place in the mind of Jean-Christophe Maillot ever since his father introduced this piece of music to him when he was a child, and last year – as he celebrated his 61st birthday – he finally created a ballet, Back on Track 61, based on this Concerto – which could well have been written for this very purpose. Composed between 1929 and 1931, the Concerto was written – according to Ravel – “very much in the same spirit as those [concertos] of Mozart and Saint-Saëns”. He felt that the music of a concerto should be “lighthearted and brilliant, and not aim at profundity or at dramatic effects”. With its jazzy influence and a dash of Spanish flavouring, this Concerto certainly lives up to the composer’s ideal, opening with a breezy melody, followed by a lovely slow waltz, and ending with a rousing finale. Back on Track 61 reflects Maillot’s outlook on the passing of time and the constant need to create.

The ballet is performed to the recording of Ravel’s Concerto in G by the Martha Argerich/Claudio Abbado collaboration, with scenography and lighting by J-C Maillot and Samuel Théry, and costumes by Jean-Michel Lainé. It was premiered on 29th October 2021 at the Salle Garnier Opéra de Monte-Carlo.

Claude Pascal is described as a “tragicomic encounter between the past and the present”. One group of dancers, representing the era around the late 1800s, appears to be playing a form of tennis, while the other group – dressed in minimalist, contemporary costumes – dances to a contemporary score. The message which the ballet conveys is that the present, and future, will one day become the past. One of Jirí Kylián’s 100 creations, Claude Pascal, premiered on 29th May, 2002, at the Lucent Danstheater in The Hague.

‘Claude Pascal’ Nederlands Dans Theater 1 Choreografie: Jiri Kylian –
Urtzi Aranburu & Shirley Esseboom © Joris-Jan Bos Photography

Having become joint artistic director of Nederlands Dans Theater in 1975, together with Hans Knill, Jirí Kylián is credited with having given that company international status in 1978 with his ballet Sinfonietta – the same year in which he established NDT 2, which acted as a bridge between school and the professional company, to provide young talent for the company. In 1991, he created NDT 3, providing opportunities for dancers above 40 years of age. In 1999, Kylián retired as artistic director, but remained the company’s house choreographer for a further 10 years. He has since created ballets for companies such as the Stuttgart Ballet, the Opéra de Paris, the Munich Bayerisches Staatsballett and the Tokyo Ballet, and his works are frequently performed by dance companies and schools around the world.

Claude Pascal is danced to a score by Dirk Haubrich which was written in 2002, with décor by Kylian, costumes by Joke Visser, and lighting and technical co-ordination by Kees Tjebbes.

Mats Ek made his choreographic debut in 1976 with a work for the Cullberg Ballet – the first of many for the company. Having initially shared the artistic directorship of the company with Birgit Cullberg, Mats Ek was appointed sole artistic director in 1985, and it was then that he showed an interest in reinterpreting works from the classical repertoire, with his versions of Giselle and The Rite of Spring. These were followed by interpretations of Swan Lake and Carmen for the Cullberg Ballet, and The Sleeping Beauty for the Hamburg Ballet. As a guest choreographer for leading companies of the world, he has worked with those such as the Royal Swedish Opera, the Norwegian Opera, Stuttgart Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, La Scala, Milan, Metropolitan Opera, and Paris Opera Ballet.

Scene from Mats Ek’s ‘Casi Casa’ © Vallinas

Ek takes much of his inspiration from everyday life. “I watch a lot of film and theater and look at a lot of art,” he says. “But what’s important to me most is reading the newspaper, watching my children, watching animals move in the park, watching the traffic; things that are not made to be seen. The stage set at the social level is very rich”. His ballet Casi Casa, created in 2009, revolves around three very common household objects – a stove, a rocking chair and a door. These three objects are onstage throughout the ballet, and around them everyday things happen, but the audience is also drawn in by new elements which start to emerge. The ballet premiered on 4th December, 2009, at Théâtre Garcia Lorca in Havana.

The music for Casi Casa is by Flesh Quartet, originally a string quartet which has become an experimental group mixing classical music with dub and techno. Costumes are by Peder Freiij, lighting by Erik Berglund Ballet, and origination by Ana Laguna and Mariko Aoyama

Soirée 3 chorégraphes runs at the Salle des Princes, Grimaldi Forum in Monaco, from 14th to 17th July. Further information and ticket reservations can be found on Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo’s website.

Information sourced from:

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo programme notes

Jirí Kylián

Mats Ek

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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