Nice Opera opens new season with Delibes’ ‘Lakmé’

Poster for Nice Opera’s production of Delibes’ ‘Lakmé’ – courtesy Nice Opera

Nice Opera presents Léo Delibes’ Lakmé in a new staging by Laurent Pelly, a co-production between Nice Opera, the National Theatre of the Opéra-Comique and the National Opera of the Rhine. Lakmé stars soprano Kathryn Lewek in the title role and tenor Thomas Bettinger as her lover Gérald. Her servant, Mallika, is sung by mezzo-soprano Majdouline Zerari, and the role of Lakmé’s father, Nilakantha, is taken by baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra.

An opera in three acts, Lakmé was written in 1883 and based on a book by French naval officer and novelist, Pierre Loti, who had travelled widely and written a number of novels with an exotic theme. The idea of composing an opera based on Rarahu ou le Mariage de Loti (telling of his romantic liaison with an exotic Tahitian girl) was suggested to Delibes by Edmond Godinet who was keen to write a libretto for two stars of the Opéra Comique. Delibes apparently loved the idea, and set his opera in an exotic and beautiful location, with mysterious religious rituals, and the added intrigue of Western colonials living in a foreign country. The score was completed within a year, with a libretto by Godinet and Philippe Gille. A concert version of Lakmé premiered at the National Theatre of the Opéra Comique on 14th April 1883 – where it has been staged over 1,600 times since then.

The opera tells of a Brahmin girl, Lakmé who falls in love with a British officer, Gérald, whom she meets on a river bank where she and her servant Mallika had gone to gather flowers and to bathe. When her father – the stern Brahmin priest Nilakantha – discovers that a British soldier has trespassed and defiled the Temple of Brahmin, he swears vengeance. In the bustling bazaar Nilakantha forces Lakmé to sing a distinctive aria, the Bell Song, to attract the attention of the British officer, and as he draws closer to her, he is stabbed by Nilakantha.

Only slightly wounded, he is helped by Lakmé and Nilakantha’s servant, Hadji, to a secret hiding place deep in the forest. Gérald knows that he has been ordered to a new post, and realises that he must fulfill his duty and leave Lakmé behind. On hearing this, she tears a leaf from a poisonous tree and bites into it and as Nilakantha arrives on the scene she dies.

American soprano Kathryn Lewek may be remembered for her performance in the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor for Nice Opera last season. She has made her name as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), a role in which she marked her 50th performance at the Metropolitan Opera last season. According to the New York Classical Review, she is said to be “…. the finest contemporary Queen of the Night, bar none”. This season she will reprise this role at Semperoper in Dresden, where she will also sing the role of Olympia in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, before performing the Queen of the Night at the Metropolitan Opera and appearing in Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall. Future seasons include reprisals of the roles of Konstanze in Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata, as well as role débuts as Juliette in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette and Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto.

French tenor Thomas Bettinger – who appeared in Nice Opera’s production of Massenet’s Werther in May – has a voice described by Forum Opera as “warm, powerful and well conducted”. He has performed in most of the major opera houses across France, including the Opéra Garnier in Paris, in a wide range of roles such as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Lt Pinkerton in his Madame Butterfly, Chevalier des Grieux in Massenet’s Manon, Lenski in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata and Don José in Bizet’s Carmen. In the concert hall, Mr Bettinger has sung the tenor part in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Madeleine Church in Paris, and in Bordeaux and Avignon, and in Haydn’s Creation at Avignon Opéra.

French mezzo-soprano Majdouline Zerari sings the role of Mallika. She has most recently appeared as Annina in Verdi’s La Traviata at Opéra national de Lorraine, also at Wiener Staatsoper, the Festival d’Aix en Provence and in opera houses across France, at which she has also sung the roles of Dritte Dame in Die Zauberflöte and Chamira in the World Premier of Thierry Escaich’s Shirine. As a concert performer, she has sung in Bartók’s Village Scenes, Mozart’s Requiem, Shostakovich’s Jewish Folk Poetry, Ravel’s Mélodies populaires grecques, Vivaldi’s Judita Triumphans and Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été.

Last seen at Nice Opera in the role of Albert in Massenet’s Werther in May, French Baritone Jean-Luc Ballestra takes the role of the Brahmin Nilakantha. His repertoire includes the roles of Masetto in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Silvano in Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera, Marcello in Puccini’s La bohème, Lescaut in his Manon Lescaut and Escamillo in Bizet’s Carmen. He made his American debut with the San Francisco Symphony in Ravel’s L’Heure Espagnole, and has also sung at the Salzburg, Vienna and Aix-en-Provence festivals. This summer he sang the role of Méphistophélès from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust in Erfurt and during this current season, he will sing Le Dancaïre from Carmen in Zürich and El Tío Sarvaor from La Vida Breve by Manuel De Falla in Metz.

Also in the cast are Guillaume Andrieux as Frédéric, Lauranne Oliva as Ellen, Elsa Roux Chamoux as Rose, Svetlana Lifar as Mrs Bentson and Carl Ghazarossian as Hadji.                                       

The conductor is Jacques Lacombe, regarded as one of the great specialists of French opera. He was appointed the new Artistic and Principal Conductor of the Orchestre Classique de Montréal in February this year. Following this appearance in Nice, he leads the Montreal Orchestra in Slava Ukraïni on October 17, in Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires and Handel’s Messiah. He leads the soloists, Nice Opera Choir and the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra in three performances of Delibes’ Lakmé – sung in French with surtitles in both French and English – on September 29th, October 1st and 3rd at the Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur.

Tickets may be reserved online.

Information sourced from:

Nice Opera programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Monte-Carlo Philharmonic opens new season with Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony

In the year which celebrates the centenary of the birth of Prince Rainier III, Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra (OPMC) in the opening concert of the 2023-24 season. The programme features Sir Andrzej Panufnik’s Symphony No 3, Sinfonia Sacra, and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2, Resurrection.

The soloists in the Mahler Symphony are Australian soprano Eleanor Lyons and German mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger, backed by the impressive City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus (CBSO), directed by Simon Halsey CBE.

Kazuki Yamada and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra – courtesy OPMC

Artistic and Musical Director of the OPMC, Kazuki Yamada is also Chief Conductor and Artistic Advisor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Permanent Conductor of the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra, Principal Guest Conductor of the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra and Guest Conductor of the Seiji Ozawa International Academy.

Soprano Eleanor Lyons, according to Resmusica, has “A straight and powerful voice, capable of the most delicate nuances, with seemingly unlimited highs”. Ms Lyons’ current season includes performances of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 Lobgesang with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, Strauss’ Four Last Songs with the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, a New Year’s Concert with the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, as well as Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang with the Balthasar Neumann Choir & Ensemble.

As a concert performer, mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger has a wide-ranging repertoire which covers all major contralto and mezzo-soprano parts in the oratorio and concert repertoire – including the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, as well as 20th century music. Highlights of her career include Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Paris, with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra – part of the International Music Festival in Hamburg – with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon and in Mahler’s Symphony No 3 with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus, comprising 180 vocalists, is one of the world’s great choirs and has been trained for almost 40 years by Simon Halsey CBE. With four Grammy Awards to its credit, the Chorus performs in the main with the CBSO, and has also appeared with some of the world’s greatest orchestras, such as the Vienna and Berlin philharmonics. It has a wide-ranging repertoire, from Bach to Henze, the Mahler symphonies and the CBSO’s famous annual carol concerts, and has toured Europe, Asia, Australia and North America.

Warsaw-born Sir Andrzej Panufnik is one of the most important and original symphonic composers of the second half of the 20th century. Having won international admiration and honours in his own country – he became the “father” of the Polish avant-garde – he was appointed chief conductor of the Kraków Philharmonic Orchestra in 1945, seeking out instrumentalists scattered all over Poland, and in 1946 he was also asked to restore the Warsaw Philharmonic. From 1957 to 1959, Andrzej Panufnik served as Chief Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, before deciding to dedicate his life entirely to composition.

Symphony No 3 Sinfonia Sacra was composed in 1963 as a tribute to Poland’s Millennium of Christianity and Statehood in 1966, and – as the composer says – “as an expression of my religious and patriotic feelings”. As a result he was keen that this work would be Polish in character, with an emphasis on the Catholic tradition. He based the symphony on the first known hymn in the Polish language, the Bogurodzica, a Gregorian chant, the heroic and religious aspects of which were incorporated into the symphony. It was premiered by the Monte-Carlo Opera orchestra, conducted by Louis Fremaux on 12th August, 1964.

Austrian pianist, composer and conductor Gustav Mahler is today known for his emotional, large scale symphonies – characterised as part of the Romanticism movement – and choral works such as Das Klagende Lied, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) and the song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). During the early period of his composing career, his work was met the the public lack of comprehension which he was to experience for most of his career. Turning to conducting, he served as director for the Vienna Court Opera from 1897 to 1907, and later led the New York Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Mahler ultimately composed 10 symphonies, and is now regarded as a pioneer of 20th century composition techniques, and an influence on composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitry Shostakovich, Benjamin Britten and Alban Berg.

Mahler completed the first movement of his Symphony No 2, Resurrection, in a few months. Four years later, in 1893, he composed an andante in the style of an Austrian folk dance, and a scherzo based on his own setting of the Wunderhorn song. Inspiration for the final movement came during the funeral service for the conductor and pianist Hans von Bülow, in which a boys’ choir performed a setting of the Resurrection Ode by the German poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. The first three movements were heard in Berlin on 4th March, 1895, and the premiere of the complete work took place on 13th December of that year, with the composer again conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

Kazuki Yamada leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, soloists and CBSO Chorus in the opening concert of the 2023-24 season. The performance takes place in the Grimaldi Forum, Monaco, on 24th September. For booking information visit the OPMC website.

Information sourced from:

OPMC programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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Dutch National Ballet opens new season with Balanchine’s ‘The Four Temperaments’

Anna Ol, Victor Caixeta, Jessica Xuan and Constantine Allen in Balanchine’s
‘The Four Temperaments’ © Marta Syrko

The Dutch National Ballet opens its 2023-24 season with a fascinating programme. The largest ballet company in the Netherlands performs George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Hans van Manen’s Frank Bridge Variations and two new works – The Chairman Dances by artistic director Ted Brandsen and the world premiere of Full Frontal by Juanjo Arqués.

In 1946, George Balanchine choreographed The Four Temperaments to a piece of music which he’d commissioned some years earlier from Swiss composer, Paul Hindemith. Balanchine described the ballet as “an expression in dance and music of the the Greek and medieval notion that the human organism is made up of four different humors, or temperaments”. Each one of us, according to this notion, possesses these four humours, but in different degrees, and the dominance of one of them — melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic and choleric — determines our characters. Neither the music nor the ballet itself makes specific interpretation of the idea – it was merely the point of departure for both the composer and choreographer.

Victor Caixeta and Maia Makhateli rehearsing Balanchine’s ‘The Four Temperaments’
©Altin Kaftira

The Four Temperaments – an early experimental work for Balanchine – reflects the genius of the choreographer. A powerful and abstract ballet, the first of his so-called ‘black and white’ – or leotard ballets – with no costumes or stage set, was the forerunner of a number of consecutive works of this kind, a format which proved enduringly successful for the choreographer.

Hans van Manen – winner of numerous awards – is recognised internationally as one of the grand masters of contemporary ballet, having created more than 150 works, which all bear his distinctive signature. A former dancer with the Netherlands Opera Ballet and Roland Petit’s Ballets de Paris, van Manen has worked with the two most important companies in the Netherlands today – he co-directed and has been resident choreographer for Nederlands Dans Theater, and is now resident choreographer with the Dutch National Ballet.

Sem Sjouke, Dingkai Bai and Conor Walmsley in Van Manen’s ‘Frank Bridge Variations’
© Altin Kaftira

His Frank Bridge Variations is set to Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. Written in 1937 as a tribute to Britten’s first composition teacher, Frank Bridge, this piece comprises ten variations, each of which is intended to represent an aspect of Bridge’s character. The ballet reflects the simplicity of van Manen’s choreography, which is just beautiful, and again is unobtrusively costumed and set against a plain background.

The Chairman Dances, the third work on the programme, has been created by the company’s artistic director, Ted Brandsen. It’s billed as “a new ballet for a big ensemble’, and is set to John Adams’ compelling piece of the same name. This piece of music, written in 1985, is said to be an ‘out-take’ from Adams’ internationally acclaimed opera Nixon in China, and the first part of the piece depicts the scene in which Chairman Mao and his wife dance a foxtrot together.

Rafael Valdez and Sebia Plantefève-Castryck rehearsing Ted Brandsen’s
‘The Chairman Dances’ © Altin Kaftira

John Adams is arguably America’s most well-known and successful composer. Winner of numerous Grammys, a Grawemeyer Award and a Pulitzer Prize, he has recently released a 40-CD box of his entire output since 1973. He has longstanding connections with both the San Francisco Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, wrote the opera which opened the San Francisco Opera centennial season and this coming season will see a new production of Adams’s El Niño at the Metropolitan Opera. Also a well-known conductor, Adams has led some of the major orchestras of the world, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Chicago Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera.

Guillermo Torrijos rehearsing Arqués’ ‘Full Frontal’ © Altin Kaftira

This programme by the Dutch National Ballet closes with the premiere performance of Juanjo Arqués’ new piece Full Frontal. A former dancer with the Company, he has achieved international success as a choreographer. This latest work, inspired by the effects of stress on our daily lives, explores the physical obstacles and challenging conditions that we face today. Full Frontal is set to Weather One by Michael Gordon, an American composer and co-founder of the Bang on a Can festival and ensemble.

Dutch National Ballet presents The Four Temperaments on the main stage of the theatre of Dutch National Opera & Ballet from 16th to 30th September. The Dutch Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Matthew Rowe. Further information and tickets are available on the Dutch National Opera and Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

Dutch National Ballet programme notes

Artists’ websites

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San Francisco Opera opens new season with Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’

Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’ with Ekaterina Semenchuk as Azucena and members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Eun Sun Kim, Music Director of San Francisco Opera, continues her Verdi cycle, as the Company stages Sir David McVicar’s production of Il trovatore. This story of passion, drama and revenge stars soprano Angel Blue as Leonora, tenor Arturo Chacón Cruz as Manrico, the troubadour of the title. Baritone George Petean takes the role of Count di Luna, who is obsessed by Leonora. The mysterious gypsy Azucena is sung by mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk, and Ferrando, captain of the troops, is bass Robert Pomakov.

Robert Pomakov as Ferrando with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in
Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

An opera in four acts, Il trovatore was composed by Giuseppe Verdi between 1851 and 1853, with a libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano. It was based on the 1836 play El toreador by Antonio García Gutiérrez, but Cammarano died before completing the libretto, and Italian poet Leone Emanuele Bardare, a friend and collaborator of his, completed the text. The opera premiered at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on January 19th in 1853.

The original setting of the opera was Aragon and Biscay (now Vizcaya) in 1409, during the Spanish civil war. David McVicar has moved the action to 1808 and set it against the backdrop of the Spanish War of Independence against Napoleon, taking inspiration for his designs from Francisco Goya’s 82 prints, Desastres de la Guerra.

Angel Blue as Leonora and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Manrico in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Il trovatore tells of Leonora, a young noblewoman in the queen’s service, who is in love with Manrico, a troubadour who serenades her every evening. Count di Luna, however is obsessed by her. He has also sworn to avenge what he believes to be the death of his infant brother at the hands of a gypsy woman, Azucena. Manrico has been brought up to believe that the gypsy is his mother, but he isn’t aware that Azucena accidentally killed her own child, kidnapped Manrico and brought him up as her own – and he is actually the brother of the Count. The actions of Azucena all those years ago affect each of the main characters in the story, and lead to a train of events which end in tragedy.

Angel Blue as Leonora in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Grammy Award-winning Angel Blue was also the recipient of the 2020 Beverly Sills Award and the winner of the 2022 Richard Tucker Award. She earned international acclaim in the role of Mimí in Puccini’s La bohème in her house debuts at the Palau de Les Arts in Valencia, Vienna State Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Semperoper Dresden, Hamburg State Opera and Metropolitan Opera. Future highlights of Angel Blue’s current season include a performance at Vienna State Opera of the title role in Puccini’s Tosca – following a recent performance of which Seen and Heard International wrote: “Angel Blue soars as the divine Tosca in Los Angeles” – in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony, a soloist in the Celebrating Maria Callas Concert at Carnegie Hall and as Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera.

Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Manrico with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in
Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Arturo Chacón Cruz has sung over 60 roles in 30 countries during his career, including those of Rodolfo in La bohème and the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto for San Francisco Opera. Other performances include those of Manrico and the title role in Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Oronte in Verdi’s I Lombardi in Monte-Carlo, Jacopo Foscari in Verdi’s I due Foscari in Paris, as well as one of his signature roles, the title role in Massenet’s Werther at the State Opera in Stuttgart.  Upcoming performances this season include those of des Grieux in Manon in Tenerife, Riccardo in Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera at Teatro Regio di Palma, Gustavo in the same opera at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and Don José in Carmen in  Liege.

Ekaterina Semenchuk as Azucena and Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Manrico in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Ekaterina Semenchuk has previously appeared at San Francisco Opera as Federica in Verdi’s Luisa Miller, as Amneris in Aida and as Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. She is a regular guest at the Salzburg Festival and has also performed on stages of opera houses such as the Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Opéra de Bastille in Paris, the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, the Berlin Staatsoper unter den Linden, the the Arena di Verona, the Opera in Rome and Teatro alla Scala Milan. Her wide-ranging repertoire also includes mezzo roles in operas such as Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, Bizet’s Carmen, Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame, Prokofiev’s War and Peace and Wagner’s Die Walküre.

George Petean as Count di Luna in Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

George Petean is known for his performances in Verdi operas, and has performed the title roles in Simon Boccanegra with Opera Australia, Macbeth at Wiener Staatsoper and as Giorgio Germont in La traviata at Dutch National Opera. He appeared in numerous roles as a member of the ensemble of the Hamburg Opera between 2002 and 2010, and has also performed as a guest artist in leading opera houses such as Madrid’s Teatro Real, Paris Opéra, Staatsoper Wien, Teatro Regio di Parma, Berlin State Opera and the Metropolitan Opera.

Robert Pomakov as Ferrando with members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Verdi’s
‘Il Trovatore’ © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Robert Pomakov made his company debut with San Francisco Opera as Monterone in Rigoletto, and later returned to sing Mathieu in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier. In recent seasons he has made house debuts with Opéra National de Paris as the Bonze in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and with Den Norske Opera as Gremin in Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin.

Eun Sun Kim leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (director John Keene) and soloists in six performances of Verdi’s Il trovatore at the War Memorial Opera House until October 1st. For further information and details of reservations visit the San Francisco Opera website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Opera program notes

Angel Blue

Arturo Chacón Cruz

Ekaterina Semenchuk

George Petean

Robert Pomakov

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