MTT leads San Francisco Symphony in his final subscription concert

Michael Tilson Thomas © Brigitte Lacombe

Music Director Laureate Michael Tilson Thomas returns to Davies Symphony Hall this week to lead the San Francisco Symphony in his final subscription concert with the Orchestra. This series of concerts, featuring Mahler’s Symphony No 5, marks MTT’s 50-year partnership with the Symphony, and celebrates his amazing legacy in the City by the Bay.

Michael Tilson Thomas debuted with the Symphony on January 2nd 1974, giving three concerts of Mahler’s Symphony No 9, rapidly becoming the Orchestra’s favorite guest conductor, and by September 1995, he became Music Director of the Symphony. MTT held this role for 25 years, in what is regarded as one of the most productive artistic partnerships in the world of the orchestra. He became Music Director Laureate on his retirement as Music Director. In his aim to introduce classical music to as wide a national and international audience as possible, he has inspired countless music lovers, converts and scores of young people.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 on September 3, 2010 in Davies Symphony Hall.

Michael Tilson Thomas is also Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony Orchestra, and Artistic Director Laureate of the New World Symphony. Previous appointments include those with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Buffalo Philharmonic, and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Apart from leading some of the world’s major orchestras, he is an accomplished composer and has made a tremendous impact on the San Francisco Symphony and the entire classical music world as a conductor, composer, pianist, educator, mentor and visionary. 

During his tenure as Music Director of the San Francisco Symphony, MTT launched the Symphony’s in-house recording label, SFS Media, in 2001, winning 12 Grammy Awards. Included in these were seven for the Mahler cycle which encompassed all of Mahler’s symphonies and works for voice, chorus, and orchestra, and for which MTT won the Gramophone Artist of the Year award in 2005.  In 2004 he created the highly acclaimed multimedia education series Keeping Score, which aimed to make classical music more accessible to people of all ages and musical backgrounds.

Tilson Thomas pushed the boundaries of traditional orchestral performance through projects like his Festival of American Music and American Mavericks, expanded the symphonic repertoire and explored new concert formats. Included in the latter were memorable stagings of theatrical works such as Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Britten’s Peter Grimes, Bernstein’s West Side Story and On the Town, and his tribute to his grandparents, The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater. He led a Pride concert at a time when when the civil liberties of LGBTQ+ people were under threat, and he inaugurated the Chase Center in an unforgettable performance with the Symphony and heavy metal band Metallica.

On television, MTT has appeared numerous times, including series for the BBC, PBS and the New York Philharmonic’s Young People’s Concerts. He has been profiled on CBS’s 60 Minutes, ABC’s Nightline, and PBS’s American Masters. Tilson Thomas is an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, a member of the American Academies of Arts & Sciences and Arts & Letters, is a National Medal of Arts recipient, a Peabody Award winner, and a Kennedy Center Honoree.

A retrospective of Michael Tilson Thomas’ 25-year tenure as San Francisco Symphony music director, can be found on which includes audio recordings, videos, photographs and personal memories, sourced from the orchestra’s archives.

Most recently, Michael Tilson Thomas was honored with his own commemorative street in San Francisco, MTT Way, outside Davies Symphony Hall where he has conducted countless memorable concerts over the years.

MTT’s love of the music of Gustav Mahler is well known, and it’s therefore highly appropriate that this final subscription concert for the San Francisco Symphony should feature Mahler’s Symphony No 5 – a work which reflects the composer at his most joyous and life-affirming, even though he was going through a difficult time, struggling with his health and enduring artistic issues with his orchestra, the Vienna Philharmonic. He began writing the Symphony in 1901 and completed it the following year. It premiered in Cologne on October 18th, 1904, but Mahler set about revising it not long afterwards. He conducted it nine more times over the following seven years, revising it each time. The final revision was in 1911, during the last months of his life. The Symphony No 5 is perhaps best known for the achingly beautiful fourth movement, the adagietto, which is often performed as a stand-alone piece, and which was most notably used in the final scenes of Visconti’s film Death in Venice.

Michael Tilson Thomas leads the San Francisco Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No 5 at Davies Symphony Hall on January 25th, 26th and 27th. More information and ticket reservations are available on the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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Nice Opera presents modern-day version of Dvořák’s ‘Rusalka’

Poster courtesy Nice Opera

Rusalka, regarded as Antonin Dvořák’s most successful creation for stage, is the forthcoming production for Nice Opera. It stars Spanish-American soprano Vanessa Goikoetxea as the water nymph, Rusalka, with Korean tenor David Junghoon Kim taking role of the Prince. French mezzo-soprano Marion Lebégue reprises her role of the witch, Jezibaba, and direction, scenography and costumes are by Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeuil, with collaboration on scenography Christophe Pitoiset.

In early 1900, Antonin Dvořák was looking for a libretto for a new work for the theatre – preferably something based on Czech history. He was given a text written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil which bore the title Rusalka, (and was based on the story of Ondine – also known as Undine) – a traditional European mythological figure who, according to folklore, gave her love to a human prince at the risk of losing her life should he be unfaithful to her. Kvapil deliberately placed his libretto in the context of a Czech scenario, and the setting of Dvořák’s opera was almost certainly dictated by his well-known love of nature. Dvořák’s Rusalka premiered at the National Theater in Prague in 1901, and although his music was celebrated internationally during his lifetime, Rusalka is the only one of his operas to gain a following outside Bohemia.

In Dvořák’s original staging of the opera, the water nymph Rusalka falls in love with a human Prince when he comes to swim in her lake. Despite the warnings of her father, Rusalka longs to leave her watery world and marry him. She consults the witch Ježibaba who agrees to turn her into a mortal, but tells her that if she joins the world of humans, she will lose her voice. Rusalka accepts this sacrifice, but is soon disappointed, for the Prince leaves her for a foreign Princess.

In this production of Rusalka, Jean-Philippe Clarac and Olivier Deloeuil have brought the old Czech legend forward to the present day, in which the lake is represented by a swimming pool which becomes the focus of the moral dilemmas, broken promises and heartbreaking sacrifices.

Vanessa Goikoetxea is highly regarded in the world of opera as well as a concert performer. Recent operatic peformances include the title roles in Handel’s Alcina at Semperopera Dresden and Rusalka at Liceu de Barcelona, and she has appeared with the Basque National Orchestra and the Bilbao Orkestra Sinfonikoa in Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem. This current season will see Ms Goikoetxea take the role of Nedda in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci at Opera Limoges and in the title role in Puccini’s Tosca at Fondazione del Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.

David Junghoon Kim has, in recent seasons, made a number of notable debuts at London’s Royal Opera House, with Zürich Opera, Stuttgart Opera and at the Glyndebourne Festival. He has also sung the roles of Rodolfo in Verdi’s Luisa Millar for English National Opera, Rodolfo in Puccini’s La bohème for the Royal Opera, Alfredo in Verdi’s La traviata for Cologne Opera, and he appeared in concert performances of Donizetti’s Lange de Nisida for Opera Rara.

Marion Lebégue made her debut at the Opéra National de Paris in 2016 as Ines in Verdi’s Il trovatore, going on to appear in Puccini’s Il tabarro, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi at the Opéra-Théâtre de Metz, Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová at the Opéra Grand Avignon, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at the Opéra de Marseille, Massenet’s Manon at the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and Bizet’s Carmen at Opéra de Nice, the Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse and the Bregenz Festival. She has also performed at numerous prestigious opera house across France.

Also in the cast are Vazgen Gazaryan as Vodnik the water goblin, Camille Schnoor as the foreign Princess, Clara Guillon, Valentine Lemercier and Marie Karall as three nymphs, Coline Dutilleul as the kitchen boy and Fabrice Alibert as the gamekeeper and hunter.

The Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and Nice Opera Choir are led by Elena Schwarz, who is developing regular partnerships with a range of orchestras such as the BBC Philharmonic, WDR Sinfonieorchester, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Klangforum Wien, San Diego Symphony, Royal Philharmonique de Liège, Tasmanian Symphony and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras.

Three performances – in Czech with surtitles in French and English – take place at Nice Opera Côte d’Azur between January 26th and 30th.   This SUD Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Region initiative is a co-production Régie culturelle régionale, Nice Côte d’Azur Opera, Grand Avignon Opera, Toulon Provence Méditerranée Opera and City of Marseille – Opera.

Tickets are available online

Information sourced from:

Nice Opera programme notes
Ancient Origins

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Bartoli stars as Cleopatra in Monte-Carlo Opera’s first production of 2024

Poster courtesy Monte-Carlo Opera

Cecilia Bartoli, Director of Monte-Carlo Opera, stars as Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto (Julius Caesar in Egypt), opposite Italian countertenor Carlo Vistoli who takes the title role. This new production for Monte-Carlo Opera is to be staged by Davide Livermore.

Giulio Cesare in Egitto, a dramma per musica in three acts, was written by George Friderick Handel to a libretto by Nicola Francesco Haym, after a text by Giacomo Francesco Bussani.  It was the only opera that Handel composed for the 1723-24 season of his Royal Academy and was regarded as a masterpiece. It premiered at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket, London, on 20th February, 1724, where it was enthusiastically received, and ran for 13 performances.

It wasn’t performed at all during the 19th century, and was staged again, briefly, in Göttingen in 1922. After World War II, the opera made a comeback, but it was not until the 1970s that the score was reinstated in its entirety, with the original orchestration and tessitura. Largely due to the magnificence of the arias written for Cesare and Cleopatra, the work is now one of the most frequently performed Baroque operas.

The action, which tells the love story between Cesare and Cleopatra, takes place in Alexandria, Egypt, against a backdrop of war, political quarrels and domestic unrest. On the day after Giulio Cesare’s victory over Pompy, Cornelia, begs Cesare to spare her husband’s life, but Tolomeo – the king of Egypt and brother of Cleopatra – has him beheaded. Cornelia’s son, Sesto, is obsessed with killing Tolomeo as an act of vengeance, while Cleopatra uses her charms to win the support of Cesare and thus take sole control of the crown. Initially defeated by her brother’s army, she is rescued by Cesare. Tolomeo continues his pursuit of Cornelia, during which he is finally killed by Sesto, who, together with Cornelia, pledges his loyalty to Cesare and Cleopatra.

The general background of the story is historical, as are the characters – apart from Nireno, Cleopatra’s servant – but the details of Haym ’s story are fictional.

Cecilia Bartoli became Director of Monte-Carlo Opera in January 2023 and has been Artistic Director of the Salzburg Whitsun Festival since 2012, a contract which has been extended to 2026. This is her third portrayal of a Handelian character, following her memorable portrayals of Ariodante and Alcina for Monte-Carlo Opera. She will, of course be returning to Salzburg in May, before which she will appear in recital in Monte-Carlo with Lang Lang, and with John Malkovich in Their Master’s Voice as part of the Printemps des Arts de Monte-Carlo in April.

Following his performance of Tolomeo at Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in May 2022, Forum Opera wrote: “Carlo Vistoli burst into pyrotechnic vocalizations and adorned his song with dazzling ornaments”. He most recently performed at the Wigmore Hall in London in a programme of Italian Arias and Duos with Hugh Cutting and Les Arts Florissantes, and following these performances as Giulio Cesare in Monte-Carlo, will return to Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris in a debut performance in the title role of Handel’s Rinaldo.

Croation countertenor Max Emanuel Cenčić who takes the role of Tolomeo, was described by Opernwelt as being “… blessed with the finest countertenor voice of our day” in 2008, and ever since has continued to stand out amongst counter tenors with the purity of his tone and his passionate presentation. He will appear in Handel’s Flavio in Vienna, and make further appearances as Tolomeo in a staged concert in Versailles, and in Giulio Cesare in Egitto in Vienna.

Grammy Award-winning Sara Mingardo has collaborated with major orchestras and illustrious conductors the world over. Her concert repertoire ranges through Pergolesi and Respighi to Dvořák and Mahler, and her operatic repertoire includes works by Gluck, Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi, Rossini, Verdi, Mozart, Donizetti and Berlioz. Sara Mingardo’s next appearances include an orchestral concert featuring Mahler’s Symphony No 3 and Bach’s St John Passion in Zurich, Pamplona and Murcia.

Korean-American countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim who sings Sesto in this production, specialises in the Baroque, Mozart and contemporary music repertoire. He was one of OperaWire’s ‘Top 10 rising stars of 2019’ and was ‘Tipped for the top in 2020’ by Opera Now.

Also in the cast are Peter Kalman as Achilla, leader of the Egyptian army, Federica Spatola as Nireno and Luca Vianello as Curio, Cesare’s general.

This production is staged by Italian singer, stage designer and theatre director Davide Livermore, who has been directing operas since 1999. Among his most recent productions have been Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at San Carlo in Naples.

The conductor is Gianluca Capuano who will lead Monte-Carlo Opera in Brahms’ A German Requiem later this month, and Cecilia Bartoli and Lang Lang in recital in April. In this production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto he leads the Monte-Carlo Opera Choir and Les Musiciens du Prince – Monaco – in four performances from 24th to 30th January at Monte-Carlo Opera. Tickets for all productions may be reserved on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from:

Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes

Boston Baroque

This article first appeared in Riviera Buzz.

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