Barenboim conducts Verdi’s ‘Requiem’ in Monte-Carlo

Giuseppe Verdi by Bice Lombardini – courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Daniel Barenboim leads the Monte-Carlo Opera Chorus and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic in a Choral Concert featuring the Messa da requiem by Giuseppe Verdi, with guest artists Marina Rebeka, Ekaterina Semenchuk, Michael Spyres and Ildar Abdrazakov.

Among the most well-known settings of the Catholic funeral mass, this masterpiece by Verdi was composed in 1868 for the first anniversary of the death of the greatly admired poet Alessandro Manzoni, a firm supporter of Italian reunification – as was Verdi. The work was inspired by a requiem, on which Verdi had collaborated in honour of Gioachino Rossini. This requiem was however never performed.

Verdi had written the final movement, Libera me, and although he did not use the exact version of it as written for Rossini, he did retain the spirit of the work. The premiere of the Messa da requiem – conducted by the composer – was held at the church of San Marco in Milan, on 22nd May, 1874 – a year after Manzoni’s death. This stirring homage to the Creator was a resounding success. The Requiem was subsequently performed at La Scala, Milan, followed by performances in Paris, New York, London and Vienna. For the English premiere on 15 May 1875, Verdi presented a new version of the Liber scriptus (Sequence) whereby instead of a fugue for choir and orchestra, a solo for the mezzo-soprano was introduced – the version that we know today.

Internationally acclaimed Daniel Barenboim was initially a solo pianist, regularly touring the United States, Europe, South America, Australia and the Far East. He made his conducting debut with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London in 1967, was chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris and made his debut as an opera conductor at the 1973 Edinburgh Festival. He frequently led the Bayreuth Festival, was Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was for many years General Music Director of Staatsoper Unter den Linden in Berlin, and Music Director at Teatro alla Scala, Milan. In 2000 the Staatskapelle Berlin voted him conductor-in-chief for life.

Perhaps one of Barenboim’s finest achievements was in 1999 with the establishment – together with Palestine literary scholar Edward Said – of the West-Eastern Divan Workshop which brought together young people from Israel and Arab countries to make music, thereby promoting coexistence and intercultural dialogue. As the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, the ensemble today performs across Europe, the United States and Asia.

Latvian soprano Marina Rebeka is well known for her interpretation of the bel canto repertoire, as well as for music from the Baroque era and Verdi heroines, through to the works of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. A regular guest at some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls and opera houses, Ms Rebeka will this season be appearing in the Messa da requiem with the Munich Philharmonic, as Mathilde in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell at Teatro alla Scala, as Lucrezia Contarine in Verdi’s Il Due Foscari in Piacenza, Italy, and again performs in the Messa da requiem at both Teatro alla Scala and at L’auditori in Barcelona.

Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk has been hailed as a magnificent interpreter of Verdian roles. She has a repertoire which includes the roles of Azucena in Il trovatore, Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, Amneris in Aïda, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Federica in Luisa Miller, Preziosilla in La forza del destino and the mezzo-soprano solo in the Requiem. Still to come this year are performances in the title role of Puccini’s Turandot at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Princess Eboli in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Teatro alla Scala, and Amneris in Verdi’s Aida at Teatro Verdi del Salerno.

Baritenor Michael Spyres – described by Opera as “A tenor who has the world at his feet” – has a wide-ranging repertoire. His career has taken him from Baroque to Classical to 20th century music, while he has become an expert within the bel canto repertoire and French Grand Opera.  Most recently he has appeared in Verdi’s Messa da requiem at the Volks Oper in Berlin, and in Mahler’s Song of the Earth with the Wiener Symphoniker. Following this appearance in Monte-Carlo, he takes the role of Erik in Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Staatsoper Hamburg, a concert appearance with Joyce DiDonato at the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg and the title role in Wagner’s Lohengrin at Opera National de Rhin.

Bass Ildar Abdrazakov has become a firm favourite at the Metropolitan Opera, and he is a regular visitor to the Paris National Opera, the Vienna State Opera and Munich’s Bavarian State Opera. The Independent refers to him as a “sensational bass … who has just about everything – imposing sound, beautiful legato, oodles of finesse”. This current season includes appearances as Filippo II in Verdi’s Don Carlo at Monte-Carlo Opera, he will participate in the Gala Verdiano at the Ravenna Festival, appear as Mustafa in Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri at Opernhuis Zurich, and another performance in Verdi’s Messa da requiem at Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia.

Daniel Barenboim leads the soloists, and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus (director Stefano Visconti) in a performance of Verdi’s Messa da requiem at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco on 2nd November, 2023. Tickets may be booked online, and further information is available on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from:

Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes

Artists’ websites

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Met Opera brings Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ to the international screen

Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean and Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

The opening work in the Metropolitan Opera’s award-winning series of Live in HD productions is Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s compelling masterpiece Dead Man Walking, starring mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny as death-row inmate Joseph De Rocher, soprano Latonia Moore as Sister Rose and mezzo-soprano Susan Graham as De Rocher’s mother. Direction is by Ivo van Hove and the conductor is Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in a scene from Act I of Jake Heggie’s
‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Dead Man Walking is the most widely performed new opera of the last 20 years. With a libretto by the late Terrence McNally, a leading American playwright, screenwriter and winner of numerous Tony and Drama Desk Awards, it is based on the memoir of Sister Helen Prejean about her ministry to condemned murderers on death row. Subtitled The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty that Sparked a National Debate, the book was described by The Washington Post Book World as “An immensely moving affirmation of the power of religious vocation… Stunning moral clarity.”

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

American composer and pianist Jake Heggie is – according to The Wall Street Journal – “Arguably the world’s most popular 21st-century opera and art song composer…”. He has written nine full-length operas and nearly 300 art songs, as well as chamber, choral, and orchestral works. A frequent collaborator with educational institutions and other performing arts organizations, he undertakes artist residencies, and offers mentorship services and master classes to performers and creators.

A scene from Act I of Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ with Raymond Aceto as Warden George Benton, Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, and Christopher Job as a Prison Guard. Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Sister Helen Prejean became a nun in the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph at the age of 18, and began her ministry to convicts awaiting execution in 1982, which she chronicled in the book Dead Man Walking.  The opera concerns her fight for the soul of a condemned murderer, Joseph De Rocher, sentenced to death for his role – with his brother Anthony – in the brutal murder of two teenage girls. He asks for Sister Helen to visit him in prison, and she urges him, during her visits, to admit his guilt and find forgiveness.

Dead Man Walking was written in the late 1990s and given its world premiere by San Francisco Opera, at the city’s War Memorial Opera House in 2000.  It was based on real-life events from the late 1970s and early 1980s, but Heggie set his opera in contemporary times, as questions about the value and morality of the death penalty remain relevant.

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Multi-Grammy Award winner and 2018 Olivier Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in Opera Joyce DiDonato has been described as “perhaps the most potent female singer of her generation” by The New Yorker, and The Times refers to her voice as “nothing less than 24-carat gold”. She returns to the Met later in the season to reprise her critically acclaimed appearance as Virginia Woolf in Kevin Puts’ The Hours, appears with her hometown Kansas City Symphony Orchestra for a series of subscription concerts, performs in Istanbul, Strasbourg and Paris and also appears in recital at Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, Wiener Musikverein and Carnegie Hall.

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Following Ryan McKinny’s appearance as Joseph De Rocher for Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Chicago Tribune wrote: “An indelible performance… McKinny proves at once menacing and charismatic. An acting tour de force buttressed by a warmly inviting voice.” This season, McKinny returns to Houston Grand Opera with appearances as Amfortas in Handel’s Parsifal and Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. He closes the season with a three-city tour of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s new opera Before It All Goes Dark, commissioned by Music of Remembrance, with world premiere performances in Seattle, San Francisco and Chicago.

Latonia Moore as Sister Rose and Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Latonia Moore has a wide-ranging repertoire which includes the title role in Verdi’s Aïda – for which she has received international acclaim – Serena in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Cio Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the title role in Puccini’s Tosca, Elisabeth in Mozart’s Don Carlo, Mimi in Puccini’s La bohème, Micaëla in Bizet’s Carmen and Princess Liu in Puccini’s Turandot. She also performed in the 50th Anniversary Gala of the Metropolitan Opera.

Jonah Mussolino as the Younger Brother, Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, and Susan Graham as Mrs. Patrick De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Grammy Award-winning Susan Graham, described by the New York Times as “an artist to treasure”, originated the role of Sister Helen in the opera’s premiere in 2000 – a role which was written specifically for her. Ms Graham is a frequent performer at the Met, as well as maintaining her links with Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, with Santa Fe Opera and the Hollywood Bowl. She is known for her repertoire of French vocal music, and won her Grammy for her collection of songs by American composer, Charles Ives.

Gary Halvorson will direct the Live in HD presentation for cinemas, with Grammy Award–winning musician, MacArthur recipient, and Pulitzer Prize winner Rhiannon Giddens as host.

Ryan McKinny as Joseph De Rocher, Joyce DiDonato as Sister Helen Prejean, and Raymond Aceto as Warden George Benton in Act II of Jake Heggie’s ‘Dead Man Walking’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the soloists, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, as well as the Young People’s Chorus of New York City (Artistic Director Francisco J Nunez) in a transmission live from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Dead Man Walking.

The transmission will also include an intermission feature filmed at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Led by Sister Helen and DiDonato, and in association with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, members of the opera’s cast and music staff, together with some of the resident men at Sing Sing, rehearsed and presented an abridged concert version of Dead Man Walking at the correctional facility.

Following the debut performance at the Met, amongst the rave reviews was this one from The Washington Post: “WILD APPLAUSE AND STANDING OVATIONS… Dead Man Walking makes its arresting Met debut … The finest and most engaged work I’ve ever seen or heard from Joyce DiDonato … Ryan McKinny sang the role of De Rocher with figurative and literal muscular force … Revelatory singing … Commandingly conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin.”

The transmission takes place on Saturday, October 21 at 12.55 pm ET. To find your nearest theatre, search this link.

Further information is available on the Metropolitan Opera website.

The Met offers the following content advisory: Dead Man Walking contains a depiction of a rape and murder, as well as other adult themes and strong language.

Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes

Artists’ websites

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San Francisco Opera continues Fall Season with Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’

Act III of Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

New to San Francisco Opera, David Alden’s production of Wagner’s Lohengrin is onstage at the War Memorial Opera House, starring tenor Simon O’Neill as the mysterious knight Lohengrin. Soprano Julie Adams is Elsa, the princess of Brabant, wrongly accused of a wicked crime, and baritone Brian Mulligan is Telramund – both making role debuts. Mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi takes the role of Ortrud, making her American debut as the scheming wife of Telramund, and that of King Heinrich is sung by Kristinn Sigmundsson. The conductor is Eun Sun Kim, Music Director of San Francisco Opera, leading this production of Lohengrin for the first time.
 
Wagner wrote Lohengrin – libretto and music – between 1848 and 1850. It was based on an old German legend of Lohengrin, Son of Parsifal, which featured in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival (written around 1210) and the novel Lohengrin written by Nouhuwius, a follower of von Eschenbach.

Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

The story revolves around Elsa, the princess of Brabant, who faced charges of murder regarding the disappearance of her brother, heir to the duchy of Brabant. Her savior, a mysterious knight who arrives to defend her, marries Elsa on condition that she never ask his name nor his origin. Later, Elsa forgets this promise, and he leaves her, never to return.

Lohengrin – described as a romantic opera in three acts – was premiered in Weimar on August 28th, 1850, a performance supervised by Franz Liszt. Wagner was absent from the premiere, as he’d been forced to flee Germany because of his revolutionary sympathies, however Lohengrin, with its epic score, was one of his earliest triumphs.

New Zealand-born Simon O’Neill is known for his performances of Wagnerian heroes such as Lohengrin, Siegmund, Siegfried, Tristan and Parsifal. He is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program, and made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2012 as Mao Tse-Tung in the Company premiere of John Adams’ Nixon in China. The Houston Chronicle wrote: “O’Neill’s golden tenor, with its easeful command and sweetness of tone, projects Lohengrin’s superhuman nobility”, and reviewing a concert performance of Verdi’s Otello with Sir Colin Davis and the LSO, the Telegraph described him as “the best heroic tenor to emerge over the last decade”.

Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Former San Francisco Opera Adler Fellow, Julie Adams was praised by The New York Times for her voice that is “rich, full and slightly earthy in an expressive way”. She has appeared as Mimì in Puccini’s La bohème for San Francisco Opera, and as Freia and Gerhilde in the Company’s 2018 performances of Wagner’s Ring cycle. More recently she was praised for her performance as Elisabeth in Wagner’s Tannhäuser at Wuppertal Opera, which Die Deutsche Bühne described as “vocally brilliant, sensitive and expressive”.

Judit Kutasi as Ortrud and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Romanian-Hungarian mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi makes her American debut – and role debut – as Ortrud. This season, she will make several more major debuts, including the role of Preziosilla in Verdi’s La forza del destino at the Metropolitan Opera. Ms Kutasi makes her house debut at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen with Verdi’s Requiem, and appears for the first time with the Salzburg Easter Festival performing the same masterpiece.

Brian Mulligan as Telramund, Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich, and Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Brian Mulligan – with a “voice that is rich, secure and really really big” according to the New York Times – makes his role debut as Telramund, Ortrud’s husband. Having made his San Francisco Opera debut in 2008, he has been a frequent collaborator with the Company. Highlights of the current season include his role and house debuts as Barak in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, and at Teatro Regio di Torino in the title role of Der fliegende Holländer.

Kristinn Sigmundsson as King Heinrich and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

This year, Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson has appeared as Fasholt in Wagner’s Das Rheingold at Atlanta Opera and as Bartolo in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro at Los Angeles Opera. His collaboration with San Francisco Opera goes back to 2019 and his appearance as the Water Gnome in Dvořák’s Rusalka, and he looks forward to appearances in a double bill of W G Still’s Highway 1, USA, and von Zemlinsky’s Die Zwerg at Los Angeles Opera.

Thomas Lehman as the Herald in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Also in the cast is baritone Thomas Lehman as the Herald, making his first appearance with San Francisco Opera.

David Alden is one of the most influential opera directors today, having won two Olivier Awards and the South Bank Show Award, as well as the Bavarian Theatre Prize for Individual Artistic Achievement to mark his long-time relationship with the Bavarian State Opera. He has brought this version of Lohengrin forward from medieval Germany to a mid-twentieth-century European state at war.

Judit Kutasi as Ortrud, Simon O’Neill as Lohengrin, and Julie Adams as Elsa in Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’
Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

A co-production with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and Opera Vlaanderen, this production of Lohengrin was premiered at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden on April 30, 2018, following which the Express wrote: “ Altogether, this was perhaps as perfect an example of opera at its best as I have ever seen”.

The set designer is Paul Steinberg, costumes are by Gideon Davey, the original lighting designer was Adam Silverman and the production will be relit in San Francisco by Simon Bennison. The projection designer is Tal Rosner and choreography is by Maxine Braham.
 
Eun Sun Kim leads the soloists, San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Director John Keene) in performances of Wagner’s Lohengrin until November 1st. The opera is sung in German with English supertitles.
 
 San Francisco Opera offers livestreams for each of its productions during the 2023–24 Season. The Saturday, October 21 performance of Lohengrin will be livestreamed at 7.00 pm PT. The performance will also be available to watch on demand for 48 hours beginning on Sunday, October 22 at 10.00 am PT. Tickets for the livestream and limited on-demand viewing are $27.50. For tickets and more information about livestreams, visit sfopera.com/digital.
 
 

Information sourced from:

 San Francisco Opera program notes 

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lohengrin-German-legendary-figure

https://www.opera-online.com/en/articles/lohengrin-metaphor-of-the-artist

Artists’ websites

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Nice Ballet stages Cannito’s ‘Marco Polo’

Poster courtesy Nice Ballet

This month Nice Ballet stages Marco PoloLuciano Cannito’s vibrant interpretation of the relationship which developed between emperor Kublai Khan and the Venetian explorer Marco Polo. Commissioned by the Company’s Artistic Director Eric Vu An, and inspired by the 1972 novel Invisible Cities by Italian writer Italo Calvino, the ballet is set to music by Francis Poulenc, edited by Marco Schiavoni.

A fascinating and exhilarating work, it explores the conflict in the relationship between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo is invited to the palace of Kublai Khan, where he marvels at the diversity of Kublai Khan’s cities, and the emperor is impressed by Polo’s travels – each man holding the other in a degree of awe.

Initially, Kublai Khan views Marco Polo as more of a captive than a guest, but after some time, warms to the traveller and begins to trust his advice, however the relationship inevitably evolves into a confrontation between the two. Gradually, their meetings become more and more acrimonious, because when the emperor looks at the souvenirs which Polo has gathered from around the world, he is reminded of his own limitations. Ultimately, Polo escapes from the palace, and the emperor is left examining and brooding over the contents of Polo’s travel bag once more.

In actuality, Marco Polo is considered to be the most famous Western traveler to have journeyed on the Silk Road. He began his journey to China as a young merchant in 1271, and during the 24 years of his travels, he became the confidante of Kublai Khan, founder of China’s Yuan Dynasty. His adventures and rapport with the emperor are told in his book The Travels of Marco Polo, and although other Europeans – his father and his uncle included – had travelled throughout the East, Marco Polo attained fame because of the stories told in his book.

To date, multi-award-winning director and choreographer, Luciano Cannito, has produced more than 45 ballets, three musicals, directed five plays, four video clips, and several works for the Italian broadcast television service. He has worked as a dancer in Israel, Germany, Austria and Italy, with some brief interruptions as an actor for commercials and television fictions, and made his first feature film La lettera in January 2003.

As a choreographer and director, he created Napoli Dance Theatre Company, was Artistic Director of Balletto di Napoli, Artistic Director at Petruzzelli Theatre in Bari, Artistic Director of Balletto di Roma and Artistic Director and resident choreographer of the Ballet Company of Teatro San Carlo Opera House in Naples. His works have been performed and co-produced by the most prestigious theatres and festivals, amongst which is La Scala Theatre in Milan, New York’s Lincoln Center, the San Carlo Opera House of Naples and the Opera of Rome. Some of his works, such as Marco Polo, Cassandra, Amarcord, Five Seasons, Mare Nostrum and Barbie’s World, have been performed around the world.

Alessio Passaquindici is a sympathetic Marco Polo, dancing with elegance and technical brilliance. Eric Vu An is a brooding, charismatic and volatile Kublai Khan – superb in his role – and Cannito’s clean, incisive and lively choreography is impressively performed by Nice Ballet. Costuming by Jean-Pierre Laporte is, for the most part, either sumptuous or sparse, and although the sets are minimal, the mood is eloquently captured.

Ballet Nice Méditerranée presents Luciano Cannito’s Marco Polo at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur between October 14th and 20th. More information can be found on the Nice Opera website. Tickets are available online, and by telephone on 04 92 17 40 40.

Information sourced from:

Ballet Nice Méditerranée programme notes

Artists’ websites

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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