Monteverdi Choir appears with Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’ ‘Ein deutsches Requiem’

Prom 64: Berlioz’s The Trojans (concert performance; sung in French with English surtitles) Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Dinis Sousa conductor © Andy Paradise

Brahms’ most ambitious piece of vocal music, Ein deutsches Requiem, Op 45 (A German Requiem), is to be presented by the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Monteverdi Choir, led by the Choir’s Associate Conductor, Dinis Sousa. The soloists are Dutch soprano Lenneke Ruiten and German baritone Christian Gerhaher.

Brahms completed this work in 1866, two movements of which he had begun prior to 1861 in memory of his friend and colleague Robert Schumann who had died in 1856. Four additional movements were completed by summer 1866, and together with subsequent revisions, the final total of movements was seven.

The Concertgebouw Orchestra © Simon Van Boxtel

Brahms approached his Requiem from a different angle to the Roman Catholic mass for the dead. Instead, he created a Protestant work in German, using Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible, and taking passages from both the Old and the New Testament which would not only mourn the dead, but create solace for those left behind. He referred to it as a “requiem for humanity”, focussing on the comfort of God and the afterlife. Four of the seven movements are set for chorus and orchestra, with three for vocal soloists. The most well-known, and beautiful, movement – which comes mid-way through the work – takes the text of Psalm 84, “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” (“How lovely are your dwelling places”).

Ein deutsches Requiem premiered in its initial form in Vienna on December 1st, 1867, and the revised version was first heard in Leipzig, Germany on February 18th, 1869.

Dinis Sousa, who makes his debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, is the Associate Conductor of the three Monteverdi ensembles – the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique – the first-ever conductor of all three in the history of the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras. He co-conducted the Monteverdi Choir’s highly acclaimed performance at the 2016 BBC Proms of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette which was televised on BBC4.

Handel – L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato – St Martin-in-the-Fields
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists
Dinis Sousa – conductor © Paul Marc Mitchell

The Choir, regarded as a leading force in the world of choral music, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It was recently named the world’s best choir at the Oper! Awards, and has in recent years undertaken very successful tours of Europe and North America. In May 2023, the Choir and the English Baroque Soloists performed at the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla. The Daily Telegraph subsequently wrote: “If the Monteverdi Choir isn’t singing when I get to the gates of Heaven, I want my money back.”

Soprano Lenneke Ruiten makes her debut with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in this performance of Ein deutsches Requiem. According to, she “… possesses formidable technique and a bell-like soprano ….” and performs on some of the greatest stages of the world. Described by as “a sensation”, she has an impressive career internationally in opera, concert performances and Lieder recitals.

Baritone Christian Gerhaher, together with Gerold Huber, is regularly heard at major international recital centres, such as concert halls in New York, the Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw Amsterdam, the Philharmonic Orchestras of Cologne, Luxembourg and Berlin, the Cité de la musique in Paris, the Konzerthaus and Musikverein in Vienna, the Teatro della Zarzuela in Madrid, La Scala Milan and the Wigmore Hall in London. They hold a class in lied interpretation at the Munich Academy of Music and Theatre, and occasionally teach at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

The programme opens with two songs, Selig sind die Toten, die in dem Herren sterben by Heinrich Schütz – of whom Brahms was a great admirer – and Der Gerechte, ob er gleich zu zeitlich stirbt by Johann Christoph Bach – a distant relative of Johann Sebastian. Both works were said to have inspired Brahms in their lyrics and treatment of text.

Dinis Sousa leads the Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Monteverdi Choir and soloists in Brahms’ Ein deutsches Requiem, on February 29th, and March 1st and 3rd, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. Further information and details of ticketing are available on the Concertgebouw Orchestra website.

Information sourced from:

Concertgebouw programme notes


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Metropolitan Opera presents Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ ‘Live in HD’

Lise Davidsen as Leonora in Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ Photo: Paola Kudacki / Met Opera

The Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino (The Power of Destiny) opens on February 26th, with a Live in HD transmission to cinemas around the world on March 9th. Direction of this tale of doomed love, deadly vendetta and family strife is by Mariusz Treliński, bringing the action into the contemporary world, and the production – the first new staging by the Met in 30 years – is led by Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Soprano Lise Davidsen makes her role debut as the heroine Leonora, tenor Brian Jagde is her beloved Don Alvaro and baritone Igor Golovatenko is her vengeful brother Don Carlo.

Brian Jagde as Don Alvaro in Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Giuseppe Verdi wrote La Forza del Destino in 1861. It was the 24th of the 26 operas that he composed, of which more than half are still part of the repertoire today. The libretto was written by Francesco Maria Piave who had provided the texts for a number of Verdi operas during the first half of his career. Verdi and Piave based La Forza del destino on Don Álvaro o la fuerza del sino – a play by Ángel de Saavedra, 3rd Duke of Rivas – with a comic scene adapted from Wallensteins Lager by Friedrich Schiller.

At first, the opera which premiered at the Imperial Theatre in St Petersburg on November 10th, 1862, wasn’t a success, and Verdi felt compelled to make some revisions. This he did with additional text by Antonio Ghislanzoni, the future librettist of Aida. The revised version was staged at La Scala, Milan, in February 1869 – which was most enthusiastically received.

Igor Golovatenko as Don Carlo and Lise Davidsen as Leonora in a scene from Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ Photo: Karen Almond / Met Opera

Set in Seville, originally in the mid-eighteenth century, the story tells of Leonora di Vargas who plans to elope with her beloved, Don Alvaro, of whom her father, the Marquis of Calatrava, disapproves. The Marquis is accidentally shot with Don Alvaro’s revolver, and her brother, Don Carlo swears to avenge his father’s death. The lovers flee, but Don Alvaro and Leonora become separated during their flight. Spain and Germany are now at war, and Don Alvaro and Don Carlos join the military, but as they have both taken assumed names, they do not recognize each other and become close friends.  Leonora has become a hermit, living in a cave and devoting herself to God. Carlo ultimately discovers Alvaro’s real identity and intends to take his revenge. Alvaro fatally wounds Carlo in a duel, Carlo smites Leonora with his last strength and she gasps that she will await Alvaro in Heaven.

Lise Davidsen, with “A one-in-a-million voice”, according to Antonio Pappano, Music Director at the Royal Opera House, follows her series of Met Opera successes with her role as Leonora. She will subsequently repeat this role at the National Theatre in Müpa in Budapest, and she has a Song Recital with Freddie de Tommaso in Salzburg in March. Ms Davidsen will sing Giorgetta in Puccini’s Il tabarro – part of Il trittico – at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the title role in Richard Strauss’ Salome in Paris in May and she will appear at the Reykjavík Festival in June.

Brian Jagde has been hailed by the Chicagoland Journal for the Arts as “… easily among the top tenors on the operatic stage today with a voice that is expansive, powerful and full of colour and depth”. He is due to take part in the live broadcast of La Forza del Destino from the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, he will repeat the role of Don Alvaro in Müpa, Turiddu at Teatro alla Scala in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and he will give his first performances as Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca at Teatro Regio di Parma.

Igor Golovatenko made his name on the concert stage with his 2006 debut in the Russian premiere of Delius’ Eine Messe des Lebens with the Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra. He will repeat his role of Don Carlos in Müpa, he takes the title role in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra with Opera Rara in Manchester, Jago in Verdi’s Otello at Teatro dell’Opera di Roma and Il Conte di Luna in Verdi’s Il trovatore at Bayerische Staatsopera in Munich.

Also in the cast are mezzo-soprano Judit Kutasi as the fortune teller Preziosilla, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Friar Melitone, and bass Soloman Howard as both Leonora’s father and Padre Guardiano. For the final three performances, soprano Elena Stikhina and mezzo-soprano Maria Barakova take over as Leonora and Preziosilla.

The performance of La Forza del Destino on Saturday, March 9th will be transmitted live to cinemas around the globe as part of the Met’s Live in HD series. For further information visit the Metropolitan Opera website, where you will also find details of local cinema screenings.

Information sourced from Metropolitan Opera program notes

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Monte-Carlo Opera stages Mascagni and Puccini double bill

Poster courtesy Monte-Carlo Opera

Monte-Carlo Opera presents an interesting combination of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi on the same bill. Each opera represents a different side of Italy – the fire and passion of Sicily, and the elegance and spirituality of the city of Florence. This new production is staged by German director Grischa Asagaroff.

Italian composer Pietro Mascagni is probably best known for his role in introducing the concept of verismo to the world of opera in the latter part of the 19th century. Already popular in theatre, verismo reflected the lives and passions, violence and honour of everyday people – as opposed to the somewhat distant existences of royalty and the gods – and it accentuated the importance of emotion over beautiful sound.

In 1888 Mascagni was just about to submit his recently completed opera, Guglielmo Ratcliff, to a competition held by music publisher Edoardo Sonzogno, but he then learned that his wife had already submitted his 1880 one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana. This opera was the overwhelming winner of the competition.

Cavalleria Rusticana was based on a Sicilian melodrama by Giovanni Verga. Set to a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci, against the backdrop of the religious celebration of Easter, it tells a story of love, betrayal, and revenge. The soldier Turiddu, from a humble working-class community of Sicily, returns from military service, to find that his fiancée Lola has married Alfio, a well-to-do wagon owner and driver. In an act of revenge, Turiddu seduces Santuzza, a peasant girl, and Lola becomes so jealous that she starts an adulterous affair with Turiddu. Santuzza publicly betrays the pair, Alfio challenges Turiddu to a duel, and Turiddu pays for his actions with his life.

Although Cavalleria Rusticana opened to a half-empty house at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, on May 17th, 1890, it was rapturously received, and has retained its popularity ever since, often being performed in tandem with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. It’s probably best known for the beautiful intermezzo between the opera’s two scenes.

Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri, interpreter of the most famous Verdian and Puccini heroines, with a repertoire ranging from bel canto to verismo, sings the role of Santuzza. Lola is sung by Italian mezzo-soprano, Annunziata Vestri, known for her most recent TV appearances in Rossini’s Le barbier de Séville, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Rossini’s La Cenerentola. The role of Turiddu is sung by Azerbaijani tenor Yusif Eyvazov, known for what the LA Times describes as his “metallic, stentorian and markedly Italianate” voice. Hungarian bass Peter Kalman, highly regarded for his character portrayals in the Italian buffo tradition, is Alfio.

Giacomo Puccini wrote the one-act opera Gianni Schicchi during 1917 and 1918 as the third part of his his triptych Il trittico, the other operas being Il tabarro (The Cloak) and Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica). With a libretto by Giovacchino Forzano, it is set in 1299 in the mediaeval city of Florence, and is based on an episode from Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which Gianni Schicchi (an actual Florentine) is consigned to the eighth circle of hell with other forgers and cheats, for his duplicity.

The opera tells of Gianni Schicchi who was brought in, after the death of Buoso Donati (also an actual Florentine), by the greedy relatives of the deceased man to make a counterfeit will, because they had been disinherited. Schicchi, however, managed to bequeath most of Donati ’s fortune to himself, while the relatives are forced to sit by silently. At the end of the opera, as Scicchi arranges for the young lovers, Lauretta (Schicchi’s daughter) and Rinuccio (Zita’s nephew), to receive their share of the inheritance, he turns to the audience and tells them that he concocted his scheme so that even if Dante has condemned him to hell, he hopes the audience will forgive him in light of “extenuating circumstances”.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, part of the Donatis’ great house, so coveted in the opera, still stands in Florence today, a crumbling tower on the Via del Corso, very near the house where Dante was born in 1265.

Gianni Schicchi, Puccini’s only comic opera, is possibly best known for the soprano aria O mio babbino caro (Oh My Dear Father) sung by Lauretta to Schicchi. The opera was premiered by the Metropolitan Opera in New York on14th December, 1918.

The role of Gianni Schicci will be taken by Italian baritone Nicola Alaimo, soon to be seen in the title role in Opera Rara’s 1857 version of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra. Lauretta is sung by Armenian soprano Nina Minasyan and Rinuccio by Uruguayan tenor Edgardo Rocha, admired for his bel canto repertoire and considered one of its most important exponents. Zita, Buoso Donati’s cousin, is sung by Italian mezzo-soprano Elena Zilio.

Also in the cast are Enrico Casari, Giovanni Romeo, Giovanni Furlanetto, Eugenio di Lieto, Rosa Bove, Mattio Peirone, Fabrice Alibert, Caterina Di Tonno, Egon Rostagni, Przemyslaw Baranek and Luca Vianello.

Speranza Scappuzzi, who in 2022 became the first Italian woman to conduct at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, leads the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Choir of the Monte-Carlo Opera and the Rainier III Academy of Music in the double bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Gianni Schicchi in four performances, between February 23 and 29 at the Monte-Carlo Opera. Further information, and details of ticketing can be found on the Monte-Carlo Opera website.

Information sourced from:
Cavalleria Rusticana:
Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encylopaedia Britannica
Opera Australia programme notes
Gianni Schicchi:
Monte-Carlo Opera programme notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica

A version of this article first appeared in Riviera Buzz

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National Ballet of Japan stages Darrell’s ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’

Ayako Ono as Antonia, Yudai Fukuoka as Hoffmann and Takuya Wajima as Antonia’s Father

This month, the National Ballet of Japan presents Peter Darrell’s interpretation of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, regarded as one of the finest of Darrell’s long narrative works. First staged by the Japanese company in 2015, the ballet was praised for the creative way in which it was interpreted.

Darrell, founder Director of Scottish Ballet in 1969, was said to be one of the most prolific choreographers of his generation, having created a repertoire of works dealing with subjects not normally dealt with in ballet. This particular ballet, representing his unique approach to story-telling, was first performed by Scottish Theatre Ballet in 1972. It was subsequently staged by the American Ballet Theatre, the ballet companies of the National Theatre of Belgrade and the National Theatre of Prague, the Australian Ballet, Tokyo’s Asami Maki Ballet Company and Hong Kong Ballet.

Kasumi Okuda as Olympia and Shun Izawa as Hoffmann

The German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach became world famous for his operettas during his lifetime – lightweight comedies which featured many popular melodies which have retained their popularity even today. He nevertheless longed to become well known for more serious operas, and his hope was that Les Contes d’Hoffmann – his opéra fantastique which he began writing in 1877 – would achieve this ambition. As it happened, the opera did, but Offenbach died in 1880 while the production was still in rehearsal. The premiere took place at the Opéra-Comique on 10th February, 1881.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann was written as a tribute to the German Romantic author, composer and poet, E T A Hoffmann, who was known for his stories in which supernatural and sinister characters moved in and out of men’s lives. It was based on a play by Jules Barbier (who wrote the original libretto) and Michel Carré, and takes the form of a sequence of three short stories, telling of a fruitless search for love, with the real life Hoffmann as its main character.

Yudai Fukuoka as Hoffmann and Artists of National Ballet of Japan

In the Prologue, Hoffmann is waiting in a tavern for his lover, prima donna La Stella. Accompanied by Lindorff, the devil in disguise, he is encouraged to talk of his previous loves – all of whom were conjured up by the devil. First there was Olympia – a mechanical doll, Olympia, whom Hoffmann believed to be human after donning a pair of glasses given to him by the devil disguised as Spalanzani. Then there was Antonia who was convinced by Dr Miracle (actually the devil) that she was a ballerina, and who danced to her death. Lastly there was the courtesan Giulietta in the salon of Dapertutto (again the devil), who seduces Hoffmann, but who vanishes with Dapertutto. Hoffmann finally falls into a deep sleep, La Stella returns, and disappointed in him, goes off with Lindorff. Hoffmann, realising what has happened, is left completely alone.

Yudai Fukuoka as Hoffmann

Opera directors, conductors and musicologists have all taken on the task of reimagining Hoffmann, and for 100 years after its creation, manuscripts of various parts of the opera continued to be found, and many different versions of the score have been assembled.

The staging of this production is overseen by Noriko Ohara OBE, ex-Principal Dancer of Scottish Ballet and Artistic Director of the National Ballet of Japan, and Kenn Burke, former Soloist of Scottish Ballet and Artistic Director of Dance at the Dance School of Scotland. Choreography and scenario are by Peter Darrell, and Offenbach’s music was arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchberry.

Maylen Tleubaev as Spalanzani and Artists of National Ballet of Japan

The Tokyo Symphony Orchestra is conducted by Paul Murphy, a member of Birmingham Royal Ballet since he joined the company in 1992. He was appointed Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Principal Conductor in 1997, is a regular conductor for the Royal Ballet, and has led many of the world’s finest ensembles.

Four performances of the National Ballet of Japan’s production of The Tales of Hoffmann take place at the Opera Palace in Tokyo between 23rd and 25th February. Further information and tickets are available from the National Ballet of Japan website.

All photographs by Takashi Shikama

Information sourced from:

National Ballet of Japan programme notes

Encyclopaedia Britannica

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San Francisco Ballet pays tribute to two icons of British ballet

Katherine Barkman and Isaac Hernández as the title characters in Ashton’s ‘Marguerite and Armand’ © RJ Muna for San Francisco Ballet

As part of Tamara Rojo’s inaugural season as Artistic Director at San Francisco Ballet, the Company stages British Icons – a tribute to two of the greatest names of British ballet, Sir Kenneth Macmillan and Sir Frederick Ashton. The works to be performed are Macmillan’s Song of the Earth and Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand.

Kenneth Macmillan – one of the most creative choreographers in the repertoire – choreographed Song of the Earth for John Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet in 1965, shortly after he’d completed his magnificent interpretation of Romeo and Juliet. He selected Gustav Mahler’s symphonic work Das Lied von der Erde, written in 1908-1999, and first offered the proposal to The Royal Opera House, but this was rejected by the board in 1959 on the grounds that Mahler’s music was unsuitable for ballet. Macmillan then offered the proposal to the Stuttgart Ballet, a suggestion that was taken up by his old friend, John Cranko, who had directed the German company since 1961. The ballet premiered in Stuttgart in November 1965, and it wasn’t until May 1966 that the work was first performed by The Royal Ballet.

Mahler took the text of the songs from Chinese poems of the eighth century T’ang dynasty, which were freely translated into German – described as bitter-sweet reflections on human joys, concluding with a farewell to the world. In Macmillan’s own brief description of the ballet, it tells of “A man and a woman; death takes the man; they both return to her and at the end of the ballet, we find that in death there is the promise of renewal.” The choreography speaks for itself – the ballet is danced in simple tunics, tights and T shirts.

Misa Kuranaga and Joseph Walsh in an excerpt from Ashton’s ‘Marguerite and Armand’
© Chris Hardy

One of Frederick Ashton’s most passionate ballets, Marguerite and Armand was created in 1963 for Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn, with original – and gorgeous – designs by Sir Cecil Beaton. Ashton – founding choreographer of The Royal Ballet – saw Vivien Leigh in a performance of Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias in 1961, and was inspired to transpose the play into a ballet in 1963. Ashton was so impressed with the magic created onstage by Fonteyn and Nureyev – not long after his arrival in London – that he included aspects of their shared charisma and passion into the intensely emotional choreography, which he set to an orchestral arrangement of Liszt’s La lugubre gondola and his B minor piano sonata.

Misa Kuranaga and Joseph Walsh in an excerpt from Ashton’s ‘Marguerite and Armand’
© Chris Hardy

The ballet – one of the most beautiful in the repertoire – tells of the tragic affair between the courtesan Marguerite Gautier and her lover, Armand Duval, the story which was also the inspiration for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera La traviata. The ballet takes the form of a series of flashbacks, divided into five scenes – a Prologue, The Meeting, In the Countryside, The Insult and The Death of La Dame aux Camélias. The lovers meet at a gathering, fall in love, and despite Marguerite’s suffering from consumption, move to a home in the countryside. Their happiness is threatened when Armand’s father asks Marguerite to remove herself from his son’s life, because of her past. This she does, with much sadness, and the final – and very emotional – scene shows her dying in her lover’s arms.

San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra led by Music Director Martin West, stages seven performances of its British Icons program, from February 9 to February 15 at the War Memorial Opera House. Further information and details of ticket reservations can be found on the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes

Kenneth Macmillan

The Rudolf Nureyev Foundation

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